Category Archives: dialogues

Cronus With His Sickle

It appears that the vain quest for perpetual youth and immortality now includes the ingestion of a powder made from human babies. While contemplating the philosophical implications of such “health food”, we remembered a conversation many years ago with the famous purveyor of corporeal memorabilia Walter Sculley, and in particular his complaints (which seemed outrageous at the time) that so much quality material disappears from the memorabilia market straight into the digestive tracts of wealthy elders hankering for the vitality and priapic potency of days long gone.

Searching for some glimmer of illumination within the shadowlands of such a perverse scenario, we arranged a brief conversation with Mr. Sculley, who agreed to speak with us from an undisclosed location:

DP     A number of years ago, you complained in an interview about the impact of so-called specialty medicines on the corporeal memorabilia market. Now we hear news from South Korea about thousands of pills allegedly manufactured in China from pulverized fetuses and babies.

WS     Yes, well everyone knows about the rhino horns and the panda livers and what not, and the same thing has been going on with human materials for as along as I’ve been in the business, more years than I care to remember.

DP     Specific examples?

WS     OK, just last year, a perfectly good clump of Marilyn Monroe hair was floating around the wholesale market. I was doing my due diligence preparing a bid, then some nut job nobody ever heard of bought the clump, mixed it up with high fructose corn syrup, gelatin and other glop and then he churns up these batches of edible lozenges, sold them as Marilyn Love Drops or whatever. Well, maybe he was not such a nut job after all, because they sold for over a thousand a pop, and he made probably a few hundred of them, so that’s a hefty profit on a single clump of hair, no way he gets that kind of moolah from a legit collector.

DP     You sound upset about it….

WS     Yeah well the thing is, once you do that, it’s gone from the market for good, you can’t really pick it up again at the other end, if you know what I mean, so in terms of  market value, you have to consider that hair fully flushed. Now that’s a quality item, you could build a whole collection around a primo item like that. Very sad.

DP     So who are the buyers for this sort of thing, such as the Marilyn Love Drops?

WS     For the Monroe hair candy it’s men, maybe a few women, I mean I don’t have the invoices so I’m speculating here but I’m thinking it’s mostly men who want that little taste of intimate contact with her, and this is the only option that’s left until they cook up some sort of genetic resurrection, and rent her out by the night. You know, guys who wanted a tiny little suckle, and this little gum drop is as close as they’re ever gonna get. Other items, they’re looking for a little more punch in the pajamas, OK, and those little blue pills aren’t doing the job anymore, so they’ll pay a fortune for a JFK toenail or whatever, and chew on that for a while, and think they’re off to the races. Most of the time, it’s all in their heads, and the sad thing is if they would just whack a tennis ball around now and then, they might have the same effect but somehow they think, yeah, that JFK toenail, that’ll do the trick quite nicely, thank you very much.

DP     But it’s all in their heads.

WS     Yep. It’s like the relic is a trigger for the imagination, and the act of chewing pulls the trigger, then blam! they’re off to the races on a painted pony.

DP     In terms of long term trends, are you seeing more of this sort of ingestion of items that would normally be bought and sold as collectibles?

WS     Oh definitely. If not for performance pills, then for DNA speculation.

DP     What, you mean harvesting items just for the DNA?

WS     Yeah, that’s something that’s really spinning out of control. I mean there are even a few hedge funds set up, all chasing the same asset, celebrity DNA, so that the raw material is banked and ready, waiting for the science to catch up. Once that happens, presto chango, you pay the piper and you can have a baby Elvis or a baby God help us Kim Kardashian, or whoever you want.

DP     What’s your reaction to all that?

WS     It’s really depressing. I’m just glad I’m coming to the end of my career, because in a few years the memorabilia market will be ding dong kaput. I get contacted by young people wanting to intern here at the warehouse, learn the business, and I tell them forget about it, no future in the bone trade, poof.

DP     Any comment specifically about the pills filled with pulverized Chinese infants and fetuses?

WS     Horrific. I mean, what else can I say? I’ll tell you this, though – it looks like an extreme case and it turns my stomach, but let me ask you, isn’t it just a sign of the times everywhere?

DP     I’m not sure I understand.

WS     OK, as you know, I left the USA years ago because I just got fed up with the whole stinking enchilada, but I still consider myself a patriot. Shoot, I named my own private collection “Bones of the Founding Fathers”, so you can see where I’m coming from. Isn’t eating babies pretty much what we’re doing in terms of all the debt, spending the future? Sending young people off to ridiculous wars while the old codgers flip through the pages of their portfolios, same deal there, too. Might as well eat them when they’re born, get it over with from the get go.

DP     Those are harsh words…

WS     Harsh? I don’t think so. I mean, think of those kids who got pepper sprayed,  splashed full in the face, coated with the stuff. I saw that and I remember thinking damn, won’t be long before the fat cats get to slicing up those kids for pepper pot soup, and that’s no joke. So before anyone gets bent out of shape talking about the barbarian Chinese and all, I recommend taking a long hard look in the mirror.

CRONUS SITS DOWN FOR SUPPER


The Hopkins Feet

Somewhere in the misty recesses where the Berkshire foothills converge with a storyteller’s imagination, we find a highly exclusive social club born during the previous Gilded Age, and which now services the social climbing aspirations of an entirely new generation of robber barons.

The Club is also world renowned for its very special art collection, housed in a windowless room adjacent to the library: a collection of sculptures known colloquially as the Hopkins Feet. As special interlocutor for Desperado Philosophy, I recently spoke with the Club’s very own resident docent, Hilary Dillamore:

HILLARY DILLAMORE PREFERS RED

GW What exactly are the Hopkins Feet?

HD Well, they are seven alabaster feet, each missing its little toe, and they were created in 1915 by the famous local sculptress Frieda Hopkins to commemorate one of the Club’s most compelling traditions. To me they represent, in their beauty and in their perfection, even though they are missing pinky toes, something of a higher order, symbols of just such a different time and a different mindset, when women were willing to sacrifice what they sacrificed for their men, and that they gave up a part of their body to create the special moment that for all time – for all time they will exist for us to gaze upon.

GW What do you mean by “sacrifice”?

HD At that time, the women of the Club were eligible for a special honor, the honor of being selected for the Fest of the Winter Equinox, and whomever was selected would donate her left pinky toe to the ceremony.

GW So now can you tell me what you mean by “donate” and “ceremony”?

HD The evening began with a feast of local mushrooms – we have fantastic mushrooms here in the Berkshires – and champagne, plenty of the very finest French champagne, and then a surgeon, Dr. Franklin Pearce-Diddle, would perform the little operation, I mean it was little more than a quick hand gesture, and then the  honoree would be taken to the special bedroom upstairs to rest and recuperate, and then the men would sort of collectively and individually pay tribute to the toe, and this meant at that time, by — I mean I know it sounds impolite, but remember all of this was done with the most pronounced solemnity and respect – and so the fact is, well, each male member of the Club would have a little suck on the toe, and it would pass through the ranks like this, with the more established and senior members getting the early nibbles, and then the morsel would pass on down on to the initiates, les nouveaux, as they were called, so you see it was also a sort of celebration and acknowledgement of all those complex social relationships.

GW More than impolite, this sounds positively barbaric…

ROLE MODEL

HD No, I mean you have to understand and imagine what it was like, they would enter a sort of, I won’t say drunken, but let’s say medicated, there was a medicated trance that people seemed to go into, and it was a tremendous honor for the woman who was selected, and all the ladies would compete for this privilege, compete to make the sacrifice. The one sad bit, I mean once each man had their taste, they then fed whatever was left to that awful dog. There was a club Doberman called Siegfried, and they actually just threw the bones over the side of the porch railing to that beast, and it just breaks my heart because wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have them now? I mean I do have this anthropology side to me that wanted to line those little toe bones up right next to these alabaster feet, it would have been a real coup, from a curatorial perspective. On the other hand, Siggy would always do, you know, his “business”, he would always takes care of his business on the croquet court, and it would fertilize the grass, and there was something really nice about that, because sometimes ladies would play croquet in their bare feet on grass that was nourished by themselves.

GW I understand you have devoted a good deal of your life to the study and stewardship of the Hopkins Feet.

SIGGY IN HIS POMP

HD It’s something that has just been very personal and moving in my life, to gaze upon these icons really, and people come from all over the world, you have to understand how big this really is, that these feet are just so perfect, they are perfect in their incompleteness. And Frieda Hopkins captures the spirit of the times so perfectly in these seven wounded white feet. I mean each one is missing its little piggy, the one that went wee, wee, wee, all the way home but, they’ve meanwhile become symbols of a time when, I don’t know, they are radical in the truest sense I guess, I mean in so many societies the Mayan and Aztec, I mean that was all part of it, the sacrifice and then, you know, they were eaten. To consume it, to take it internally is all part of a religious experience, isn’t it? I mean it makes perfect sense to me, I can’t even, I mean I don’t even know why all this was outlawed, I guess because it got out of hand.

GW Out of hand?

HD That’s probably what happened. Somebody had to say, you know, this isn’t right, this isn’t what we do. There were a few newspaper editorials and so forth. What a shame, because it is so basic and original and instinctive, probably, is a good word, as instinctive as anything. I don’t mean just to eat flesh but you know, it’s part of one of those wonderful religious experiences that so many societies experienced and ritualized and celebrated – before we stopped it. I mean the simplest things like sitting down to dinner with our families is almost lost now, but back then there were so many traditions and so many rituals, and so many special things that society had, ways to connect with each other, so to come back and gaze upon something that does represent such sacrifice and meaning, and (…) I don’t know – courage.

GW You mentioned that people come from all over the world to see the Hopkins Feet…

HD They have to come in person, because you see we strictly prohibit any photography, you know, to protect the privacy, I mean as a gesture of respect. And so they come, and they sign a guestbook, just in the very first page I have…  people have come from France and Rome and  – Odio! Magnifico! says Betsy August 11 2004. Aahh… moved, I’m so moved by this, says this young man from Brooklyn, New York. What an extraordinary moment. Thank you for doing this. Yes, just little messages they leave… Diana from New Zealand writes, thank you for taking me, thank you for this journey to a different sensibility, to a different time. That was a visitor from July, 2011.

GW To a different time? Yet I have heard there are some members who have tried to revive the tradition.

HD Really? I don’t know, women today, the younger women I know, I’m not sure there is that same spirit of sacrifice. Even the men, I don’t know many who would have the stomach for it. And of course the Doberman, Siegfried, he’s long gone, and now everyone seems to have bichons or toy poodles, and I don’t know how that would work, it wouldn’t be the same, I mean Siggy did have his role to play, in the fête.

GW I notice you have donated a few other items to the collection, obtained in the course of your own journeys. For example, this cage?

WOUNDED BIRD

HD I’ve always loved it, with its sad little bird inside. I’ll just wind it up and let you hear it, if I may (winds up). Because part of the magic is seeing the little bird move its head and sing its little song. And it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just so charming. I guess this is just my own personal foible. And this simply represents to me an earlier time, a time when Frieda Hopkins and all of her feet were created and it just brings warmth and happiness to me because I just love the fact that the little bird can’t fly free, he’s in his little cage, and following the rules, and he sings when I tell him to sing.

GW And what about these little shoes?

HD My husband and I were in Peking, I mean, yes I know, Beijing, and we found these little tiny lotus shoes and I adore them because they are so elegant and perfect as objets and I just love the fact that for women at that point in time, it was fashionable to simply break your foot, remold it and really take control, you know, take control of your body, and come up with something better, which is I guess what I’m saying about all of these things. I mean something better comes from it, when you take control and you say  “let’s do it!”

CHINESE CHANGE AGENT


Woundscapes

A remarkable selection of Morgan Bulkeley’s paintings is presently on view at The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. At the show’s opening earlier in February, Bulkeley referred to Henri Rousseau’s painting “La Guerre” in relation to two of his own woundscapes, “Love and Death” and “War Wounds”. We later engaged in the following email dialogue:

HENRI ROUSSEAU, LA GUERRE

DP   Can you describe your response to Henri Rousseau’s “La Guerre”, on first viewing?

MB   Insane horse and rider– eyeless horse extended over ground composed of corpses – the rider not really seated on the horse – almost floating in front of the steed defying gravity and sanity – putrid blood pink clouds. The whole image eerily without hope or humanity, a world dedicated to death. Who is this tattered imbecile leering with her sword and smoking stick reveling in the apocalypse? Horror.

DP   Yes, and the wounded, scorched landscape. What do you make of the tree in the foreground, the snapped limb and the gashed bark? It almost seems as if the berserker, having run out of bodies to cut down, is now on the rampage against the trees. And the use of color, for the bodies, the “greening” of the dead, the blurring of the line between landscape and woundscape. The corpses seem to be sinking into the ground; or maybe the earth is sucking them in?

MB   It seems all life is being snuffed out; the leaves – what few there are – look wilted, and the crows are feasting on death. In the background, there are trunks and stumps. Cut or maybe just giving up, the limb seems to be overcome by the assault. Why should the crows be alive; death is their food. I was always fascinated by the horse’s tongue and the silver slivers of horseshoes, maybe the only remnants of technology along with the sword, and that weird splintered dress.

MORGAN BULKELEY, WAR WOUNDS

DP   Was Rousseau’s “War” on your mind when you began working on your own painting, “War Wounds”?

MB   “War Wounds” was a partner piece to “Love and Death”, the first painting of the second line on my website. Both were a response to the horror stories coming from Iraq and Afghanistan.  When I started these paintings I was thinking of Rousseau’s horror story, but also of the small paintings (the size of playing cards) that nuns did in the 16th century to meditate on the pain and suffering of Christ and the Saints, to try to enter the state of mind and share the terror and passion with them.

DP   The birds in the painting are not carrion eaters. They seem to inhabit an entirely different dimension, maybe even a different time. Yet at the same time, they are a haunting presence.

MB   The birds in my pieces are an assortment of passers-by or watchers (the wood stork and godwit) ; I think Nature is more of a constant, a mix of beauty and death, that is just the matrix of human actions, not a cause or contributor to the story.

DP   Unlike the passive blue sky background in Rousseau, your sky is highly charged with all sorts of objects and figures. For example, what are those wormlike tangles?

MB   I found the sky in my paintings felt flat and empty next to the turmoil in the land. Suddenly, I realized that the clouds could be anything, knots, abstracted hats, barbells, even people writhing in the sky. They gradually became more complex. The flecks and daubs of paint added a physical energy (almost like molecules, atoms, strings) and I was amazed to find that they seemed to add up to “Sky”.

DP   In contrast to how the bodies seem to bleed directly into the earth with Rousseau, the way the wounded and destroyed bodies are placed in your landscape, it almost has the sense of a sculpture garden, almost as if they have been found, possibly washed up on the beach, and then carefully arranged, put on display. And also, while they are broken and contorted, they are not yet dead.

MB   Yes, most of my figures are still alive. I’ve always wanted to walk a tightrope between hope and despair, or horror and beauty as it seems that is our lot in life.  In “Love and Death” two adversaries have just cut each others heads off– one head staring at it’s former neck, the other staring at the head it has just severed. Much of this came out of the news at the time of beheadings, and I suppose it’s a theater of the absurd choked chuckle. My Mom used to trudge up to my studio, and after staring for a while, she would say ” It’s beautiful…. Do you feel alright?”

DP   I am very struck by the hands rising from the wounds, indicating some obscure semiotic. I have always loved the Brothers Grimm tale about the young girl who is very stubborn and willful, so much so that when she is dead and buried, her arm keeps pushing through the dirt, as if to say “I am still here”, and of course this is one quality that is both admirable and dangerous about humans. What are those willful hands telling us, signing from the dunes?

MB   I think “I am still here” is a fairly accurate translation of the wounds and severings. One person lovingly cradles his/her hands with bloody stumps. Hands appear over the hill in a V-victory sign, or pointing like a kid’s play gun, or with a raised index figure “I’m no. 1”, absurd gestures in an absurd world.

MORGAN BULKELEY, LOVE AND DEATH

DP   You have spoken about your desire to find a way of figuring the human body that is drained of specificity, abstracted, yet also quite identifiably human. Can you tell a bit more about how you arrived at your aesthetic of figurative abstraction?

MB   As I mentioned, I used to paint portraits and anatomically accurate (or somewhat more accurate) figures, but I found that people would look to see who the person was and what their emotions were. I wanted to tell less specific stories, ones of ideas not personalities. It took some fumbling and messes to arrive at these fleshy, generic approximations of people, but they seemed to represent life, and I could bend them in any way I wanted.

DP   Finally, I am struck by the paint tubes in the foreground, part of the flotsam and jetsam of the battle, or whatever it was. I immediately thought: yes, art is part of this woundscape, too. Where is the artist in our larger landscape of everyday atrocities, the endless tales of cruelty and violence?

MB   The paint tubes, I feel, are an optimistic statement of creation; this landscape can be changed by a little paint, in fact the whole vision is only paint, but it can tell any story. The landscape is a matrix: we exist in it, but it also exists without us. It may go back to an empty Eden without us. I believe in “humanity” and I hope for a rational wrestling with our “problems”. I think of my paintings as prods and lures, meaning to push toward an alternative way of thinking.  I think we are still in Eden with a last chance; think that we can find beauty and meaning in Nature; think that there are alternative ways of doing things.

DP   Yes, and there is also the sense not of complicity but of entanglement. The same human hands that create paintings might also create corpses. You refer to nature as the matrix of human actions. Could you mention your father‘s influence in all of this, his keen naturalist eye for detail, and how you pay homage to that tradition?

MB   My Dad understood that Nature is a foundation, that it is a spiritual ground, a way to meditate and escape instant gratification and the speed that our culture foists on us. Of course in his day all the crushing realities hadn’t completely formed yet.