Obscenities

by: Ann Fisher

“What to do with a book full of glistening bodies, cuffs, and leather whips? Something important, something magnificent and worthy.” A work of nonfiction that flogs “obscenities” that immolate, while praising thoughtful repurposing of art…

“The Expectations of the Prescribed World features nineteen works that include a total of precisely nine thousand hand-crafted butterflies — an ode to those butterflies killed for Damien Hirst’s In and Out of Love exhibit at the Tate Modern. In response to Hirst’s obscene act, I cut out nine thousand butterflies from pages of gay pornography, material that society has deemed obscene. This simple and obsessive act became a meditation I believe to be thoughtful and filled with potential, with possibilities.”

Truong Tran, The Georgia Review, Spring 2018

A man I’ve never heard of gathers the name “artist” from materials he collects as he goes about his day. He carries them in his leather satchel through a world that aims to shut him down. This artist, Truong Tran, walks the streets building an arsenal with scraps of cloth, fallen feathers, a discarded antenna, and cobbles them together into visions of himself and the world around him. He builds the world back into being, collaged through himself. One offensive act leads to another. The artist scissors nine thousand butterflies from genitals and the bare skin of pornography magazines. He twists the act of beauty dying for our obscene pleasure into an answer of obscene pleasure dying for our beauty.

Troung’s work draws to mind a similar obscenity of beauty: Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos. On a whim, I picked his book entitled Mapplethorpe from a pile on the side of the road, an enormous and impressive retrospective of his work cast away alongside a broken chair, a cracked step stool, all leaning tiredly under a sign labeled “Free.”

What to do with a book full of glistening bodies, cuffs, and leather whips? Something important, something magnificent and worthy. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to have it in my house. Instead, I stationed the book in my garage to gather dust the way the angle of his camera allows light to gather on the rounded arc of human flesh. After months of abandonment, I buried it in a sack of garbage, let it fade out, shamefaced, into the hauler. For so many reasons. Because the photos captivated something dark and unhinged in their crisp brilliance, something I couldn’t quite see yet couldn’t let go. Because I could not understand, could not fathom, what the artist wanted to say, now long dead. The way we captured him, like Hirst’s butterflies, pinning larva to canvas, allowing crowds to watch hatchlings fan out across the white-walled museum, only to die under our glossy gaze. The book and the artist and the complex messages captivated my own confusion, compelling and offending like the grinding of the bodies stark on the page. The massive work heavy in my hands but clearly light enough to toss easily into un-being.

It never occurred to me that I could make butterflies out of the pages. That I could fumble while still grasping, give wings to something I had no idea how to understand.

 

Ann Fisher is a fiction reader for Mud Season Review based in Burlington, VT, and co-founder  of The South Street Writer’s Cooperative in nearby Bristol. A counselor by trade, Ann lives, works and writes at the base of the Green Mountains. She has previously published fiction and non-fiction work in ZigZagLiteraryMag, Longridge Review, Heartwood Literary Magazine, and The Sonder Review.

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