I knew M in Athens for a month and when I think of him now I see a series of fixed scenes like film stills. Each one is composed. M’s body bent forward into the bed and everything in the room still except the wind that comes in through the big windows that he has opened onto the evening. Swollen purple light etches the contents of the room (glass, dresser, unlit lamp), everything is permanent, the hollows and mounds of the sheets are as heavy and durable as concrete. His skin is like concrete and I think that I would need diamond tools to shift him from this posture. It is femme and suits him though he will only show it to me as part of some other game that I still then did not fully understand - a sex game that was also the playing of one another; M to me and me to M; playing as a movement together from our real bodies into a series of sharply defined images. They are his images, the first time I can remember that I would have preferred the postures of someone else because they were more vivid than mine, even if less precise. They are images (they were never for me only) that face away from commitment to sequence, and that work to break down every relation of cause and effect.
The body disappears in these moments; the body begins to vibrate so finely that it loses coherence; the body is stretched over, is abstract curves of back and rib and hip bone; the body is the dark centre of gravity that keeps the chaos of wind and light outside of these rooms from tearing the apartment to rubble; the body is a diamond tool instrumentalised in the name of this shared project of image making. These are not compassionate sketches. They are the pre-conditions for the excavation of a figure, of a type of alliance between individuals that is also a spatial configuration - even sculptural, or in communication with what we call installation practice.
M has cut muscles from stone. M is thinner these days. He injects, cuts slashes across stripped muscle like tied ribbon, scrapes out and refills swollen limbs or the cavity of the chest with gravel and crushed glass. He has a small tattoo on his chest - Arabic calligraphy that I cannot read.
When I think about X I think about the distinction between excavation and composition - you compose an image and then you must use the tools you have to excavate it. You can get facility with one or the other and X is magnanimous when I bitch with him about another artists who I think are sloppy, he says that composition also is important. He is right, but I think that it is the work of excavation that hooks his pictures into the untimed spaces that he moves around in circles in his shows. He tells me stories about weeping, and about dedication, and a rigorous commitment to formalism over many years. Composition is dramatic and demonstrative and discursive - composition is the predator smile from the foxes head in my favourite of his drawings magic mountain. It is also the condition of digitality that insists against the formalism of everything X produces, and that makes his drawings sharp and timely. It holds the pictures in tension inside of their framing. But it is not so uncommon to find young, intelligent artists with this fluency - our training is obsessed with the choppy endless churn of formal experimentation. It would be trite to insist on mastery of form as some point of difference and I want to avoid this at all costs - I think that instead of an appeal to conservatism or formal stability (a good investment) it is the slippage outside of productive, critical time that animates this process that I have called excavation. Watching X in the studio working under the big lights is like watching a technical (even an industrial) process, and his shows and texts are contextualised by this commitment to a time scale that cannot be dissected using our readymade critical tools - at least not without bad faith caricature. We have spoken often about this type of dumb informal conversation that seems to power the whole apparatus that X produces in, and that we here at school think we recognise as the enemy.
Athens in summer. Smells of garbage in the neighbourhood I was living in. Yellow mountains that also fade purple in the evening. I remember trying to walk from my apartment on the outskirts to the top of one of these mountains, looking for a clear view out over the city, but the military had closed the roads down to set up new camps outside the CBD. I would waste hours and then days skirting around kilometres of chain link fence and barbed wire, trying to find the way out into the residential construction zones further up the valley slopes. Eventually I would discover one of the arterial truck roads that services the city and follow this and spend more afternoons and evenings in the cafes that hem the freeway; a new one each day; I was reading GB then and excited and would spend the hours not in the camp reading and taking notes and trying to set up his abstract models of economy and desire into a form that I could appreciate whole and complex. I wanted a discursive machine that I could plug my own desires into; wanted to see if you could do this (GB could, or came close) using nothing but language. I still use these notes even now to write stories since they are still capable of surprising me. When I got to the top of the mountain everything was saturated with light, unsheltered, the houses there were just cinderblock shells, and some of them had big dogs inside chained to iron stakes, each one with just enough slack to patrol its small domestic zone - I guessed to keep the homeless back down in the squats in the centre, and in the tents in the parks and along the merchant quays.
After that evening the only options left for us were brilliant, hard edged, fanatical; honesty and betrayal and cruelty. When the body disappears it is the prefiguration of a entire world sketched in terms of absolute clarity. I think that what I loved in M first was his easy movement through this space. For me the breakdown of sequence is like a horizon that I could slip into and never resurface from. For M these are only games of modulation, where humour is still possible; teasing, softness. My own relation is stuck in abjection - I cannot see past paranoia; I am still tied to old shame, and to neurotic demands for transparency. M could reverse any posture or sex act like the spells in The Exterminating Angel; reverse and play them backward so that all of our damage was undone and his body was made new again.
A city in summer can be organised into a composition; so can a body; so can (as here) a series of drawings. But even arranged in series the pictures are opaque and interior. I want to say this: that to produce this type of opacity takes time, and that this time cannot be cleanly or critically accounted for. When skin (or a face) begins to toughen and swell and lose its openness it is duration that grows up beneath the surface; grows in dark shadows, in the clarity of light, in slow movements around the body of another, your senses telescoping backward out the window and into the openness of wind and empty sky. To excavate these spaces (flooded buildings, burning facades; scenes of disasters now long in the past) is to labour under the strict conditions of this opacity. It is to treat your own clear vision as contact with the face of another. You really love this other. You can trust them never to betray their human origins. The face is tough as diamond but I think that, with time, an excavation is possible.
Original Text commissioned for Praz Delavallade under the title Opaque Bodies, November 2018