A studio is not a room. You walk in, and from wall to wall there is infinite space. Distances grow with the touch of your brush. You walk behind a painting and you’re hung up there, motionless. This is how you walk your whole life long. Quietly panting, the studio walks out of you. Looking back, it casually locks you up inside yourself. You bump into rags, paints, and chisels in the darkness, fall, and then sit down to think. Locked up by the studio and layer upon layer of canvas, you can die without worrying about others passing themselves off as your murderer. You die behind the pencil sketch of a skeleton, and it’s only the smiling pigment that dies. In the void you become whatever part you play.
You’re not one person. You’re many. Only when the studio fills up with people is it really empty. Every day you try to paint. Unable to paint others, you paint yourself. You extend your long skinny claws and grab the air. One face, many faces. Behind the many faces even more expressions and accents. Somehow, you have always felt that a face and a leaf have something in common. Changing expressions are to a face what the passing seasons are to a tree. A leaf can be seized but not the sound it makes in the wind. You look in the mirror every day and it’s like sitting by the window watching this tree slowly turn yellow. The veins in the leaves gradually protrude. Blood vessels on pale skin clog up with dead blood. And the voice turns dry and sharp. It reminds you of the feeble laughter of a hoarse and ageing throat. Is it your own? You can’t say when your laughter began to sound worse than crying.
Painting begins with composition, and the self-portrait begins, as usual, in a place where you can’t see yourself. Is it brush and blank paper or the darkness of the womb there in front of you? You got used to it long before you were born – life fermenting in a bottle, with death as a necessary premise. So, paint it. Paint aimlessly. The first strokes – randomly scattered bits of flesh and blood – by the fact of painting directed into trenches under the brush’s tip. Only in one’s wildest dreams could they gradually become a body, learn to crawl, move around, replace the one that fell and grazed its knees at the street corner yesterday. The other you, buried under years and years of accumulated filth, tries to escape. The more it fails to escape, the more desperate it becomes. The more it seeks, the less it finds. Stripped naked, mashed flat, and framed, you at last disappear in the place where you exhibit yourself. What the sunlight mercilessly exposes is one who has always lived underground.
Because there is no reason, living becomes its own reason. You don’t know why you laugh, so you laugh. The skin at the corners of your mouth peels off with the slightest stretch. Add creases that go deeper. They look as if they were carved by a knife that doesn’t draw blood. Is that laughing? You feel the muscles cramp, out of control. Like a bull that’s been stabbed in the heart. Already it kneels on its front legs but on its hind legs it still tries to stand. Is that laughing? In fact animals can’t laugh. They weep when they’re in pain, or when the cold winter night is filled with danger, but they don’t laugh. You see a horse prancing in the sunlight, rolling on the ground, but its face is passive despite the excitement. It reminds you of the stone faces on ancient sculptures. Only you humans are not spared the punishment of laughing, because you hate so deeply.
Then what? To the sound of your own laugher, you split into pieces, like a bird smashed by the sky. The sticky fragments of bone splatter against the sky, and the sky acquires the smile of a dying man. A man sentenced to death forgets how to cry in the end. As the beheading nears, he smiles stupidly, looking around searchingly as if beseeching onlookers to compare the expressions on his face before and after execution. You’re alive and you, too, look around searchingly, looking at every cheap portrait walking the streets, all exactly like you. If you don’t laugh, you may be put out like a pot of fake flowers to gather dust. At worst you will rot unnoticed like a piece of wood. But if you laugh, nothing is left but lies. Your laughter gives voice to a lie, proves there is no joy. Betrayal should always be done unknowingly. A frog with its hind legs severed will continue to swim in a pool red with its own blood. You continue to wear that indelible smile you hate. The pain slowly drills into your flesh. It penetrates to the core and becomes a finger that tickles you. You can’t help laughing. As you laugh, death really comes. Once that tiny foot, like a child’s, steps on you, you begin to rot openly. Your crooked nose sniffs and sniffs. Our nostrils fill up with a smell both sweet and putrid. It’s a smell everyone publicly scorns. The sound of their scornful laughter makes you laugh loudly back.
You move from painting to painting. The paintings move from you to you. Or, are you the paintings? Is a person nothing but portraits of nothingness? As a child you worried that your heart might forget to beat. A moment’s negligence and you would’ve been dead and gone. Now you open yourself up and paint your way inside. Open up the face by its features and paint a skull with dark eye sockets. Open up the belly and paint the guts wriggling out of control. Stones in the organs, like beans strung together with flesh, when packed in a box would go click-clack. Cellular renegades in the interstices dig tunnels from next door. Cling-clang go the shovels of disease. Hand it all over! You’re not intimidated. You can hand it all over because there’s nothing left to hand over. One painting, a lot of paintings. Don’t care how you appear to others. Anyhow, the day will come when you set your mind to be one who stops his heart from beating.
What are you still afraid of? Afraid of yourself? So much talk of you. But, in fact, there has never been a you. Afraid of the lies? But every one of those faces suspended on canvas is only too real. When a painting is finished, slap on more paint and rub it around until it becomes something else. You’re changed. You change every day. Every minute. Hung up inside a frame, or hung up outside a frame, it’s equally real. As with a cobweb falling carelessly from a roof beam, a hundred years can be wiped away with a flick of the wrist. You, too, can only wait to be flicked away. The studio makes you realize: the drab lies of this world are actually simple truths. Couldn’t be simpler, like taking a breath. And so you can’t fathom it but neither is there any other way out.
In the end, only you are colourless in the dazzling array of proliferating colours. As you move invisibly from painting to painting no one lays eyes on you. Look down at your hands, your arms, transparent in the sunlight. Moisture flows from your flesh into the air. Your blood is also colourless, more colourless than pitch. And so you can alter yourself radically at will. Dyed green, you’re grass. Yellow, you’re earth. Put on the light rouge make-up of a smile and you’re a loathsome and cowardly person. You know there are no hypotheses without reality as a premise. Living in a studio, deceiving becomes most natural. It’s not even art, it’s reality. You can’t flee into a painting. Instead, painting after painting flees from you. Whatever you pretend, you become. Whatever you resemble, you are. Only when you’re nothing do you enter into everything. You see a fly buzzing – crying out – on the window pane. You can only let it buzz. If a person can’t stop fictionalizing himself, how can he stop this fictitious world? There is no other way. Laughing is the end. Colourless laughter, poison dripping on the body, corroding it, melting it away. Your very last work of art is to lock yourself in the studio and die. Laughter is the murderer of this world. All those who have learned to laugh over the centuries are its accomplices. In the museum, on the wall, a face turned to stone. The wrinkles, meticulously carved, bring out all the terror that has been. Shrinking into a corner, you become the painting’s only superfluous thing.
Berlin, 18 September – 20 November 1991