It’s strange when you remember things. You could be doing anything and all of a sudden, you are there again. Even 6 years down the line, you are right back in that moment but this time, as the spectator. I mean, It’s always been like a “it seems like only yesterday” moment but last Saturday evening just as I was about to switch off the hall light. I was right back there again, right back at the start, right back on that day, right back at that time, right back outside that door.
There I am, I’m standing outside the door of the world famous conceptual artists Mildred & Maude. The door hangs on the hinges of a house in a terrace on a very well appointed street and this door, it seems enormous. Of course I’m wearing my best clothes, first impressions and all that but these two are also known to have a penchant for younger men. I look again at the door and it’s then I spot the camera, I smile and press the buzzer.
It was a good 5 minutes before the door opened and I’m sure I let out an audible gasp when I first saw the women M & M call father. She looked like a really bad Sindy Shermen piece. The make-up was almost a prosthetic and my first thoughts were, “poor cow she must have been in some accident”. I stepped into the hall took 3 paces forward and looked up. It was not as I had imagined at all, the inside of this building was cylindrical. There were no rooms on this the ground floor but 2 spiral staircases wound there way around the walls and each other and I was never sure but I could have easily counted 11 floors in this house and on each floor I counted 8 rooms.
Father opened her mouth, I couldn’t believe it, she sounded just like my mother. I don’t mean she was from Derry, she really had my mother’s voice. Father was talking but I was finding it hard taking it in. I heard “privileged”, “work hard”, “well rewarded” and all the while we were climbing these spiral staircases. I think it was the 5th floor but it may have been the 3rd and father and I stop outside a door. I listened and thought, there seems like there was going to be a lot of people in there, as I could hear lots of voices, male, female and such a range of different accents. I was feeling a bit uneasy as I was expecting to be interviewed alone by M & M.
Father opened the door and I followed her in and looked around. The carpet was black and thick so fat I felt like I couldn’t hear my footsteps. The room was empty apart from 2 large leather swivel chairs with the backs toward the door where I stood. I turned to say, “thank you” to father but she had gone. I turned back to face the chairs and they were turned to face me. I smiled because there in front of me was the legendary Mildred & Maude. They wore identical Issey Miakie Pleats Please and their hairs were cut in the exact same sharp blonde bob. They had been around since the 70’s but they looked amazing for women in 50’s, I’m not sure but their complexions, they had a translucent quality.
Mildred spoke she still had a German accent, well, she had been born in Berlin during the 2nd World War, her father had been a cross dresser who sang in clubs, “we have chosen you from among thousands, you will join our elite staff who are identified by a team of scientists, we have really come to appreciate your interpretation of self and others identities, we have heard you are looking for as job and a position has become available which we feel you could fill”. Maude continued I could just make out her Scottish drawl, she also had been born in the 40’s, in Edinburgh the daughter of a prosperous Baptist minister whose mother had committed suicide on her 8th birthday, every Sunday she would sit in the front row of her fathers church listening to his sermons of fire and brimstone, it was her 17th birthday when she had come home early, that she found her father, naked apart from a pair of fishing waders receiving oral sex, from what looked like in profile to be the man who dresses up as tourist destination’s and stands outside the travel agents, “we are not the easiest of employers, we are not the friendliest of folk, this is a family and we are the mothers, we work our people hard but we treat them well, you will maybe see us monthly, all studio direction will come from father, she’s the woman who let you in, you will be here working 4 days, 2 days you will continue with your own work, 1 day you will rest, now go Cornelius Brady”. I felt someone tug my sleeve and turned it was father. I turned again to M & M and the chairs were again facing the other way.
I follow father again, out of the door and up a further 3 flights, all the while she spoke it was my mother, telling me to get ready for school, do my homework. Father opens a door and we walk into a long box square room, the lighting came from the floor and ceiling, long benches ran down either side of the room and by these benches’s stood people, I count 16. A young woman steps forward and smiles, I immediately feel at ease. She tells me her name is Solange and as I start to tell her my name she stops me saying “we know your name, we have almost been expecting you” and starts to introduce me to the other people in the room.
My first 4 days pass and as I am going towards the door I hear my name. I turn and there is M & M. I’m a little taken aback as I try to compose myself Mildred asks “Maude and I wondered what you thought of this sentence?” I recognised the sentence immediately, well, I had embroidered all the vowels, Solange had embroidered the B’s, L’s G’s, V’s and S’s. That was how we worked. We would arrive at 11.00 and father would be waiting for us in the studio. We each would be given a list of letters, these letters we would embroider in vast quantities. When the day was finished we would leave and when we returned the next day, the letters had been turned into sentences. I look at them and say, “this sentence for me sums up the unstoppable excitement of the spectacle”. They look at each other turn to me and smile and Maude says, “we hoped you would say that”. I try to say something else but they are already walking away. So I open the door and leave. The next day I get up to work on my own pieces and when I look at the time and see it’s 20.00. I take a step back from my work and realise I had found part of the answer to the question. That night I slept deep and sound and dreamt of M & M.
I have been with the family for over a year now and I have been so happy, not only that but my own work has progressed in ways I could never have imagined. Its now Thursday my last day in the studio for the week. I’m taking the spiral staircases to the door when I see father. She is standing by the door of the room, where I first met M & M. Father smiles and for once she looks almost human, “they would like to see you, they are very happy with your work here”.
I follow her into the room she closes the door and stays. The chairs are gone and M & M stand behind a long clear glass table, they are resplendent in Yohji Yamamoto. They both start to speak at the same time and I almost fall over from the share encapsulating joy and fear I feel wrapping around me. “We have been watching you and we are very happy with how you have progressed not just for us but for yourself as well” I feel completely overwhelmed and try to steady myself on my feet, then father is beside me, she is holding my arm and smiling. M & M continued “your time with us may be at its end, we have something for you, this will always make you apart of us but will also make you everything you want to be, all you do is ask it for 3 things, these 3 things will be freely given but in return there will be a payback”. The voices stop, I fall to my knees and put my hands on the carpet, sweat falls from my forehead, then as I stand, runs horizontal down my face. I hold out my hand and I feel almost in a trance. The voices start again but this time it seems less intense, take these and in your home, sit on your bed and ask it your 3 wants”. I look into my palm and there sit a box of thumbtacks. Father is now walking me to the door of the room and as we leave I hear Mildred say “ you won’t need to work for us now” we are walking down the stairs to the exit and father is talking “listen to what they say and remember there is always a price to pay, there is always a price to pay”.
I must have sat on my bed for 5 hours thinking this is a complete wind-up. A box of thumb tacks for fuck sake how thick can I be and what was with those voices. I bet those 2 met at the circus not at art college at all. I mean a box of thumbtacks how can they give me 3 things I really want and what’s with the there is always a price to pay shit. I mean if they don’t want me there they only have to say, I mean enough of the Hammer Horror. I look at the thumbtacks and think well I could give it a try. No one is here so when it doesn’t
Work no one will be any the wiser and I won’t look like a complete fool. So I hold tight unto this box of thumbtacks and say out loud, “1. I want a beautiful house and studio, with enough money in the bank always to be able to produce work and live sumptuously. 2. To be able to have sex with any man I want just by saying hello, 3. I mean it’s here I should be wishing for world peace or something but it’s not going to come true anyway and when it comes down to it I’m selfish. 3. I want to win the Pepsi Contemporary Art Prize within the next 3 years”. There is no thunder and lightening, there are no doors opening and no bright lights. I knew it was a load of BS. I go to sleep.
I hear my doorbell and look at my bedside clock. It’s 10.00 and I’m not expecting anyone. I get up put on some underwear and try to find some pyjama bottoms to go downstairs in. I open my flat door and there is a rather attractive man standing there in a suit. “These are the keys for your new house, the builders will have finished the final section of painting in the studio by 17.00 and you can’t use the garden for 24 hours, other than that enjoy, you have bought a beautiful house” and he drops a bunch of keys in my hand. I look at them they are all Banham keys and attached to one of them is an address. I go back up to my bedroom and sit on the bed. I open my hand and look at the keys, then the phone rings and it gives me a start. I turn and my leg knocks the box of thumb tacks to the floor where they spill out on the rug, I ignore the phone pick up the thumb tacks and put them back in their box.
I turn around and look at the man beside me in my bed, his name is Yves and yes I have had no problem meeting him. We have been up all night and I’m exhausted, Yves turns the light off at the side of the bed is sleeping. I turn to look at the door and see I have left the light on in the hall downstairs. Yves asks, “are you going to turn off the lights downstairs? I thought you arty types were very carbon footprint aware” and he gives a little laugh. “Of course I’m going to turn it off” I say. I drop my left arm from the bed and my hand hits the floor. I walk my fingers along the reclaimed wood floor to the door. My hand turns left down my corridor followed by my arm and head towards the stairs, down the stairs my hand goes followed by my arm. I remember the first time this happened I was completely spooked but it doesn’t hurt anymore so I enjoy doing it now and there is always a price to pay. My hand is at the bottom of the stairs and moving up the wall to the Phillip Stark light switch. As my index finger and thumb turn off the hall light downstairs. I turn to Yves and say “goodnight”.