What Happened To Vermeer?

“Up-skirting”…Frottage…The perils of peanut butter…Mutilators and regurgitators…

I’ve spent the better part of the week debating on whether to move to Massachusetts or New Mexico. On the one hand, in Massachusetts, it has been ruled legal by the State Supreme Court to take photos up women’s skirts on the public MBTA trains. On the other hand, in New Mexico, Costco is set to dump 2.6 million dollars worth of tainted peanut butter into an open landfill, or as I like to refer to it, New Mexico now has all-you-can-eat peanut butter. Life is full of tough choices and as a philosophical individual, I never want to rush into any of them. The practice of taking photos up women’s skirts is so common that there is a term for it. “Up-skirting.” I suppose if you approach from above it is called “Down-blousing,” and if you “up-skirt” with a zoom lens it is called a sonogram. After mulling it over for a few days I decided against moving to Boston. It is too cold most of the year to walk from place to place and getting on the transit system now would be like packing yourself into a nightclub full of douche-bags and perverts while a few women in corduroy pants huddle in the corner with canisters of mace out in front of them. That is not the way I prefer to travel. If Massachusetts keeps this up pretty soon “frottage” will be ruled a seasonal way to keep warm and “indecent exposure” a seasonal way to keep cool.

Frottage (noun) — The act of rubbing against another person, in a crowd, to attain sexual gratification.

Indecent Exposure — (Self-explanatory.)

I decided against the move to New Mexico as well. I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter, a dislike I can trace back to the first job I had when I was sixteen, a short stint in a family friend’s dry cleaning shop. The manager, a corpulent woman who smelled of mothballs, was explaining something or other to me about tagging the drop-offs and because it was important to maintain an efficient time schedule she was also eating her lunch, which turned out to be a peanut butter sandwich. In the middle of her explanation, here comes this monster sneeze and a blast of peanut butter spray that glued me to the wall. The owner had to get a crowbar from his trunk and pry me from the sheet-rock. I quit two weeks later and considered suing. I had endured a similar experience once when I was in first grade during a field trip to a petting zoo. In this case it was a llama that sneezed on me with a look afterwards like, “Fuck you kid, I might be in this cage but which one of us is covered in corn kernels and millet?” Looking back on both episodes I would take the llama experience every time.

Speaking of emetic responses, I was made good and queasy by the British performance artist Millie Brown, who creates paintings by regurgitating neon-dyed milk onto a canvas. She made news recently when she was brought out on stage by Lady Gaga, who encouraged the artist to puke on her. Bad taste creates a lot more millionaires than good taste, they say, and if that is so Lady Gaga should now be as rich as Bill Gates or the Koch Brothers. Ms. Millie Brown was on the record explaining her motivation. “I just wanted to use my body to create art,” she said. Sure, I can appreciate that, but, and I might be obsessing on a minor point, if artists are using their HANDS to paint, and their BRAINS to direct it, these minor limbs and organs would still satisfy the use-of-body definition when creating art. Working with a paintbrush also avoids the unpleasantness of having to shove your fingers down your throat and convulse repeatedly while neon dairy products rush from your nose and mouth. Of course if she could regurgitate The “Waterseller of Seville” by Diego Velazquez or “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, I would be dutifully impressed. Predictably, her paintings result in how you might expect them to, like Jackson Pollack with bulimia. You can get the same art for a lot less money searching the floor of a fraternity house after a keg party.

It’s moments like these when I feel like I should push the boundaries of my disgust to the limit. Never just satisfied with a marginal creep-out, I decided to do a little search of other performance artists to see what the general trend was, and boy was I sorry that I had. Millie Brown is like Norman Rockwell compared to some of these people. It’s the mutilators that really make you grit your teeth. I found a picture of the Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who nailed his testicles to the cobbles in the street in Red Square to protest Russia’s imperial crackdown of free speech liberties. He has also been known to sew his mouth shut and wrap himself in barbed wire. (Google images are plentiful.) The French artist Orlan had her face surgically reconstructed as a hybrid of famous beauty ideals like Artemis, Psyche, Mona Lisa and such, which seemed to unintentionally result in her looking like a cross between Frank Langella in drag and Cruella De Vil. The ancient Aztecs used to skin unlucky slaves and wear their hides as a symbol of regeneration, sometimes for days on end. Imagine the stench? No wonder they aren’t around anymore. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, a Japanese artist named Mao Sugiyama served his surgically removed testicles to his friends in some type of soup to protest… to protest… well who gives a shit what he was protesting, really. What he was successful at was never having another houseguest over for dinner ever again, ever. Artists are strange people. No doubt. They thrive on the unexpected. So it pays to be very cautious when you go to a performance artist’s dinner party. First thing you notice is the host hopping around on one leg and then before you know it the main course arrives.

“This foot is delicious. Where did you get it?”

“You can’t find foot like this around here anywhere, especially out of season.”

“I’ve give my left foot to know where you got such good foot.”

“Served with corns. Delicious.” So on.

For all I know that strange woman that sneezed peanut butter at me all those years ago could’ve been a performance artist. “A Study in Spew,” she might’ve called it as she secretly detailed my horrified reaction. She probably has a residency at the Guggenheim these days, lecturing to art students about deconstructionism and the tension of opposites. Form and meaning, nature and technology, the intelligible and the sensible. The arrogance of youth (represented by me) neutralized by a tickle of the nose and the spray of the pasty legume (represented, I suppose, by the peanut butter). Nature attacks man. The consumer is consumed. A revolution of the natural order. For me the trauma lingers. It was like being raped by that cartoon peanut with the monocle and top hat. The nutty aristocrat, or whatever they call him. I’ll just chalk it up to the formative struggle. Contraria Sund Complimenta. We are what we are against. What happened to Vermeer? The art of quiet diligence and great heights paves the way for commercial bodily functions and general desecration. Maybe it is the only new territory left. So be it. Generations from now the edgy art of today will seem prosaic and dull. The artist who hasn’t eaten radioactivity is no longer relevant. Art itself is resourceful, though, I believe. It makes me wonder if humans are in charge of it or the other way around. That being said, I would find it both bizarre and entirely appropriate if, after a number of years, the regurgitation artist Millie Brown, upon being examined by her dentist, discovers a tiny replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted on the back of her teeth. More Alembics to come.

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