Waiting by the telephone

‘Look, there are two seats under the heater over there, quick’ says Aurore as we arrive at Le Progres. It’s a cold March evening but there’s only one place to be, the terrace and seats are rare at this time, it’s l’apero. Sitting here in Paris, it’s strange to think that I was in London this morning, having a second interview for my dream job. 

I  left the office early, jumped on the tube across London with my travel bag and a big knot in my stomach, changed into interview clothes in the toilets of the museum, and ran to the members room to meet Sheena Wagstaff for the informal chat. There were no tables available so we sat on the windowsill. I answered her questions with calm and assurance. She was hard to read and quickly had to go. 

“I’ll call you by the end of the day”, she said. I finished my tea and rushed to catch the Eurostar. 

On the train, I couldn’t read or listen to music. I kept reliving the scene in my head, repeating the questions again and again, picking holes in my answers. I couldn’t wait to get to Paris, I wanted to fast track the time. I was dying for a cigarette, I was dying to know. 

And here we are, Aurore and I at Le Progres, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, trying to talk about what’s been happening in our lives since we last saw each other but my mind keeps wandering and I keep staring at my phone hoping that if I look at it long or often enough, it will finally ring.

‘Do you think she’s going to call today?’ It’s already ten past six in London, this is fucking torture!’.

Aurore tries to distract me with the story of her last office crush, Nicolas. He works on the floor above, he’s one of the associates. She doesn’t know how to approach him. I look again at my phone, it’s nearly seven-thirty in London and I’ve resigned myself: it won’t be happening tonight. 

‘You never know’, says Aurore, ‘maybe they will call tomorrow’. 

‘Hmm, I think they’ve already called the successful candidate and I’ll get a ‘thanks for your time…’ email tomorrow.’ This is usually how it works.

We decide to order wine and then, the phone rings. It’s her. I get up and move away from the crowd. 

‘Thank you so much for coming back today’ she says with an apologetic tone. I’m not hopeful. 

‘I could really do with your help and I would like to offer you the position’. 

I hurry back to the table with tears in my eyes. ‘I’ve got the job, aaarrgggghhhh’.

Each time we talk about that night again, Aurore never fails to remind me that after we celebrated the news with a bottle of champagne, I turned into a broken record and bored her to tears as I could not stop repeating ‘I can’t believe it, I’m going to be the PA to the Chief Curator of Tate Modern, she curated Jeff Wall and Edward Hooper, can you imagiiiine?’ again and again and again.

CCA, 4 May 2019

It’s nearly 5.00pm and the crowd is getting thicker in the former bath house water tank turned gallery space. There’s a pale yellow light coming through the clerestory window which brightens up the dark cast iron interior. We are over the capacity limit, it’s becoming hard to move and I’m getting concerned about the artworks – thin metal structures draped in appliqued translucent fabrics – precisely placed around the space. Too late to worry about it, let’s hope for the best. Suddenly, it feels like someone has turned the volume down. I struggle to make my way to the back of the room, this is where it’s happening, the performance is about to begin.

Adam Christensen hides in a hut-like structure also covered in precious fabrics, behind a beaded curtain but we can all hear him. He reads a text about lost love, gay sex and an extended trip to LA. He doesn’t need a microphone. Once the reading is over, Adam comes out of the hut and climbs on a set of steps. Now we can all see him. He’s wearing a fitted yellow dress with puff sleeves, thick heeled yellow stilettos and a dark brown shoulder length wig. His lips are MAC Ruby Woo red and match the two dots painted on the inner edge of his eyebrows. He carries a piano accordion. 

Adam takes a sip of white wine and starts playing the accordion, just a few notes, the crowd is silent. And then, out of nowhere, coming from deep inside, a long loud raspy howl…THAT voice. It’s bluesy, raw and powerful. It takes you by surprise, it grabs you by the balls, it gives you goosebumps. It sounds like a modern Fado with a campy twist. I don’t understand the lyrics but I can feel the pain and the emotion. I don’t understand the lyrics but it sounds weirdly familiar. Adam told me later that it was a cover of the Cranberries’ No Need to Argue.

That trip to the shop

Mask? check. Gloves? check. I’m ready to go to the shop. Down the stairs and up the hill, my pace is slower than it used to be. No more rushing. Time under Covid is elastic, life unfolds in slow motion, panic is over for now, at least for me. I pass the boarded up pub and put my mask on. Gloves are next, just before I reach the crossing so it’s safe to press the button at the traffic light. Why do I still feel the need to press the button? I will wait. Why do I even feel the need to press the button when I know it doesn’t make the traffic stop? Well, the world is upside down but there’s one thing that I know: the autopilot inside me is still on.


Instructions for when self-isolating (sic)

  1. Find a space in your home where you do not spend a lot of time. This could be anywhere from a whole room, to a corner, to a windowsill.
  2. Make a change to this space so that you want to spend more time there.
  3. Document this change and record how you have spent time in your new environment.

I received the email on 21 April. The instructions are anonymous, it’s part of the game. They come from another artist in need of a challenge in these times of confinement. Mine have gone to another participant. We have a week to create an artwork in response, it can be anything as long as it can be shown online. This is the first deadline I’ve had in weeks and I’m really excited.

I walk around the flat in search of a space I don’t often use. I start in the living room. There’s not much I could change here. There’s a comfortable sofa, a dining table, artworks on the walls and lots of plants. It’s colourful and functional, every object is in the right place, any shift would create disorder.

I need a new perspective. I sit on the armchair in the middle of the room, I never sit there unless we have visitors as it doesn’t face the television. My mind starts drifting. I think of Joanna Piotrowska’s photographs of people making dens in their homes using furniture and blankets. I could tip the sofa over and use books, magazines, plants and lamps to build a small fortress around it, and hide there pretending that I’m the queen of the castle. I smile when I think of the look on C’s face if he was finding me there.

Next, I move to the studio which is used as a workshop right now. C. has been furloughed and he is making doors for us. I’m thinking about reclaiming part of the desk, I need a space to work from home and this is where the best light is in the morning. I could lift up the tarpaulin cover, attach it to the ceiling and create a partition, one on each side, we can share. Pointless, I can’t work surrounded by dust and power tools noise. The only thing that could make my environment better at this moment would be to own ear defenders.

I move on and sit on the bench outside the front door. If we didn’t have the bench, the bench would be the perfect idea for this project. We’ve been in lockdown for nearly a month now, the weather makes me feel I’m in the South of France, the bench saves our lives every day. Our flat is at the end of an open walkway and we’ve reclaimed that space as our own, added a few plants and a retractable bench. We now have a balcony. We get the sun in the evening and it’s a great way to stay in touch with the other residents on the estate. Real people in the flesh: little Djianne on her scooter declaiming to the moon or ‘doom and gloom’ El on his way back from the corner shop, a connection with reality.

I’m going around in circles. Excitement turns into frustration. I decide to bend the rules, to think about how we inhabit our home instead, and how we could change the way we live within these four walls.

I could really do with a break from the new routine, even so slightly.

I could sit on the left side of the sofa or facing the wall at the dinner table or away from the door in the kitchen. Too subtle, I need something more drastic.

I wrote:

I always sleep on the same side of the bed, the right side if you look at the bed, the left side if you lie in it. I’m not sure how it became my side. Maybe it was when I moved into your flat, two flats ago. You already had your side so I had no choice.

I don’t think we even discussed it when we found the next flat: you got the door, I got the wall and the same happened here, except that I’ve got the window now.

I sleep on my side even when you’re away, remaining between the edge of the bed and the imaginary boundary in the middle.

I try to remember what happens when we’re staying somewhere else. Hahaha, of course we replicate the pattern without even thinking about it. Remember Margate, Marseille and all the places in Mexico. Religiously.

Today, I’ve moved my clock, my books and my pillow to the other side. Let’s swap for a few days.

It’s bedtime and I inspect my new environment. I want to believe that less than a metre shift will not make much difference but the strangely off-centered ceiling light looks even more misplaced from your side.

I always fall asleep on my left side, facing out of the bed. I now fall asleep on my right side. It seems like facing out is what matters in the end. I wake up in the middle of the night, reaching for water, finding your face instead. I’m confused and disoriented for a few seconds then I remember where I am, on the other side.

It’s day three and I still don’t like standing so close to the wall when I get up. I miss the view from the window too.

I will move my clock, my books and my pillow back to my side today. I hope you don’t mind.

I was happy enough with my response to send it for publication on the project website. I didn’t like the idea much though so we didn’t swap sides in the end, not even for a few days. Creature of habits, yes I guess we are.

As for my own instructions, just a simple question: Where do you draw the line? My forced collaborator took a rather radical approach and simply crossed my words. I liked it very much. Simple, performative and powerful.