THE WEDDING PARTY
From The Forked River Anthology, a bouquet of feuilletons about Bras de Venus, a small Mediterranean port on the border between France
Evening on the quayside. A crouched figure in a long overcoat sweeps the pavement with a hand brush and pan, watched by a patient dog. The wind is up and the folds of the coat flap like a bellows, while the corsetry of the sailboats in the leisure port rattles. It’s not the street cleaning service moonlighting. Since the new mayor introduced breathalysers after lunch for council workers, they sleep by night.
Eberhard, the abstract artist, is trying to collect dust for an installation. It runs before him with a curious puffing, a passing sea breeze. His muse, Geraldine, sulks at his side. She likes to retrieve objects of interest, such as dead birds, and lay them at her master’s feet. But the alcove of a boarded-up shop offers nothing worthy to carry in the mouth of an Irish setter. She lopes off to the sandpit reserved for toutous and crouches down to express her disgust.
The centrepiece of Eber’s work of art is overlapping circles of blackish dust chalked on the hardboard. Red and green paint runs through them. Vertical footprints traverse the boarding diagonally. They look recent. I wonder if Eber can walk up walls, like M. Hulot on holiday. The blue side panels are dabbed with white. Doves. Fag-butts, sweet papers and a condom are stuck on the bottom and, where you might expect a signature, ‘Babou et Fils’ is boldly printed, upside-down.
If you chanced on it cold you would think, another graffiti artist with latent gifts as a colourist and a makeshift sense of form gained from spraying aerosols on passing trains, and you’d wonder who the kid is, and what will happen to him. Maybe the town should club together to send him to Art College. But they would need to catch him first.
‘I see something of Jacques Tati in it’, I say to Eber.
‘And Picasso’, he says. ‘They really saw things nobody notices.’ He performs the art of their sighting technique, hand peaked, jigging around like a sailor who has lost his monkey.
‘I see’, I say, and ask him what’s the subject.
‘Two lovers lying side by side.’
I touch the sole of a footprint and the dust comes away. ‘Real life intruding on art.’ Eber is delighted. I hold my finger to the wind (a sandblasting sirocco. The pipsqueak breeze has been blown away) and smell it. The pastel of dust is mixed with Geraldine’s influence, I think.
‘How are you going to exhibit it before it’s wiped by a storm?’ I ask.
‘It’s all up here’, he says, and points to where he thinks his brain is.
‘Ah! Conceptual Art? The body goes down, the idea stands up.’
‘No. Art Ephemera. I see it in my mind’s eye and that’s enough. Though if anybody else notices, it’s a bonus. I sit on the bench over there watching people pass. Nobody has stopped yet, except a man from the council who pasted up a ‘pas de pub(licité)’ notice.’ (Welsh, the Scottish-Catalan artist, would like that, I think. Publicity was Eber’s métier before too much time in the pub lost him his pas.)
I don’t believe Eber when he intimates he’s making art merely for his own and Geraldine’s sake. PR in Paris has sharpened his self-promotion skills. Now he works for himself, dropping the part of his surname that makes it harder to remember. Le Journal regularly reports his latest project. Last time it was ‘Art for the Dying’. Welsh points out that he’d sell his mother for a by-line, abusing her in interviews for never having understood him. ‘I was an unloved child and that is why I drank too much.’
This goes down well with art therapy groups, less so with Welsh whose work is about itself. Value-added features are Eber’s selling point on the lecture circuit where he presents himself as a singe en hiver, a monkey in winter, who found art when he gave up drinking. He has the simian features to go with it, and the dog.
There is not much doing tonight in Bras, other than Eber’s installation, and the sirocco which is now peppering sand from Africa on to it. I’m feeling strangely hot. Then I realise the wind has suddenly dropped. I wonder if it could have been the phantom migjorn pretending to be a sirocco.
Eber takes a sprig of jasmine from a council flowerbed and sticks it above the lovers with a smudge of what I think is Geraldine’s best mixed with grass. ‘Yes’, he says. ‘Love is being made all over this town, but who cares?’
We are joined by the Unquiet Soul, poet and local journalist, who seems to know all about Eber’s doomed masterpiece. ‘It may be all in Eberlue’s head’, he says, with characteristic poetic licence when it comes to names (eberlué is French for a dumbo), ‘but dust is dust, and life is death.’ His yappie toutou is peeing on the ‘Babou et Fils’ signature on the bottom right.
Even though a boarded up shop window touched up by a conceptual artist may not be considered good pub for Bras, the Unquiet Soul’s piece on Eber’s latest appears in Le Journal entitled ‘Monument to Ephemeral Amours by the Artist Gerald and his Dog Loulou’. Eber and Geraldine pose against the backdrop of the lovers and street rubbish as though they were being married by the mayor, who stands in front of what could reasonably be mistaken for the work of vandals using materials the newly-sober street cleaners are on contract to remove. He was elected on a ‘Keep Your Town Hygienic’ ticket, and would, I think, look even uneasier if he noticed the street sign in the foreground. ‘Pour garder notre ville propre, toutous, ce coin vous est reservé’. To keep our town clean, doggies, this spot is reserved for you.
Eber and Geraldine are now man and bitch.