It must have been, what, three years ago now? When we were sat at that cafe across the road from cofa and I said, “I don’t want people to think that I just went to art school and got spat out ‘queer’”. And you said, “well maybe people should realise that there was a reason why you were drawn to art school in the first place.” You blew my mind with that line because suddenly I could imagine a world where my psychic instincts might not be to deny and repress, but to uncover that which I have denied and repressed. What a concept. I return to that conversation now because in the years since we had it, I’ve often wondered: why did I have to do a degree in art theory to start to understand myself? Is my academic interest in desire sublimation, reparation, reclamation or a mediated way of understanding my fears, impulses and traumas? What attracts me to this industry and what keeps me here? What keeps any of us here?
We were walking in loops around the block because the pub had shut but there was more gossip to share. We had been talking about how there’s this awkwardness that can crystallise in queer friendships when neither party directly resolves the ambiguity between platonic and romantic intimacy. Then you kind of brushed it off, in that charming way you have, as not really mattering because everyone in the art world is in and out of love anyway. You said, “I fall in love with someone new everyday – is it their work or them or both? Who knows? It doesn’t mean anything.” We laughed and left it there but, of course, I was left wondering if you’d ever been infatuated with me and whether or not that mattered.
We had breakfast about a week after you’d graduated from art school. We talked about the institution, as we always do, and then the industry, as we always do, somehow circling back to the recurrent existential crises that come with working in the industry, as we always do. You were exhausted and wondering how rational it was to now put yourself through the unnecessary pain of carving out a career in an industry where anxiety and exhaustion are normalised – and expected to the point where, even if you don’t feel anxious or overwhelmed, you feel a social compulsion to perform anxiety so convincingly that you end up feeling that way anyway. I shared with you what I’d learnt from my year away from the institution, after I dropped out of my honours year: this whole hot air operation isn’t worth it. I said, “honestly, I don’t know about you, but I have anxieties that I can’t avoid outside of work – I don’t know why I would choose to be in an industry with this much anxiety.” You nodded in agreement and, smiling at how wise we’d become, we drank our Morris coffees as expats instead of patriots. A week later I was re-enrolled and you were asking me if you should do your postgrad in coursework or research.
Walking out of campus with you, I saw someone I recognised (from social media and ‘the scene’) finishing a conversation with a tutor, and we smiled at each other. I said hi and how are you and then asked what their name was because we’d never ‘properly’ met before, and then told them my name. After we were out of earshot, I turned to you and asked, “was that awkward? That felt awkward. I feel like they didn’t want to talk to me.” I’m still unsure as to whether or not I once went on a date with someone I think this person is friends with, so I was reading into it. You had a very different take, saying, “no it wasn’t awkward, they seemed excited to see you? That power play was heavy though.” On instinct, I was embarrassed by your assessment of me but I also didn’t understand what you were really saying until you explained: I thought I was showing this almost-acquaintance that I cared enough not to go through the charade of seeing their face for three years without knowing their name; you thought I was trying to assert to this almost-stranger how nameless and unimportant they were.
Sometimes it feels like the art world is a riddle we’re trying to solve by figuring out who is and who isn’t important, and in what ways. The other week I admitted to you that I finally met someone whose work I’d already been critical of to other people, and I was uncomfortable with how nice this person was to me. I posed the question: “don’t you feel like there are so many people in the art world whose work you like but who you don’t like as a person, and then others who are really lovely people but whose work you can’t stand politically?” Under the pretense of humour you, cuttingly, observed, “yeah, kind of like us”. I was shocked at your bluntness but I know better than to break the fourth wall when we’re telling the truth through clowning. So I laughed too and said, “yeah, and I don’t even know which side I fall on, in your eyes.” I didn’t really realise I was phrasing a question as a statement until you just responded with laughter, and I realised how serious the joke was.
Just another art girl with a museum-gallery complex is an ongoing series of sexy art scene confessionals published the last Thursday of each month on Conversations. Don’t be so vain that you think this column is about you.
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