“Trisha Erin” was originally published in Spanish in the chapbook Un pequeño recuento sobre mis faltas (Ediciones Overol, 2015).
“This is a third-world shithole!” T. E. said. She didn’t say it to me, but I heard
about how she had said it while she was upset to Alexander, the curator at
the National Museum of Fine Arts. He was the one who had brought T. E. to
Buenos Aires. She was wearing a Vivienne Westwood dress that copied the
design of the British flag though, following the body’s curves, the pattern
was hard to follow.
In my purse, I had a folded-up sheet of a poem that used her name as the
title. I had written it as a sort of homage and considered giving it to her that
night. It was the only thing in my otherwise empty purse. This was the poem:
Sometimes pain is like someone cut off your arm, but I have a thousand
arms, and a thousand legs, and a thousand hearts.
I guess I haven’t made enough of an effort in my life, that’s why I feel pain.
If I were truly a solipsist, what reason would I have to feel pain? I’d look
at the moon and know that the moon is me. The moon doesn’t feel pain.
It’s water that feels pain. And I am water, I’m a castle of water and my
entrails lie scattered in the sea.
That night, the museum had organized a dinner with T. E. in a Peruvian
restaurant in Belgrano for some of the major players in the local art scene:
critics, journalists, curators, gallery owners, and a few artists … I was only
invited because I had translated a book of her columns, which the curator
and I titled Proximity to Love. I later found out that she absolutely loved the
title and the concept. Just about the only thing she said to me when I met
her briefly on the night the exhibit opened was, “I love the title. How did
you come up with that idea?” I told her the truth. That it was something
she had said, which I’d taken from one of her articles where she wrote about
her mother, who was nearly eighty years old, coming to her studio and making
her pancakes. I think that’s all we managed to say to each other. It was
in the coffee shop just next to the museum, in front of a park, on the day of
her exhibit’s opening. It was a beautiful night, because summer had begun
to show hints of itself and was on the verge of bursting forth. I remember
there being a lot of people surrounding T. E. Alex was there, as were Dalia
(my artist friend) and several English women who were friends of T. E. It was
the only thing I managed to say to her, but I didn’t even manage to finish
the phrase. She wasn’t interested in hearing that the book’s title had been
inspired by her mother’s volcanic love (“volcanic” in the sense that it’s inevitable
and overflows like lava; now that I’m a mother, I understand this). I
think that a class on love was not what T. E. was expecting at that point in
her life. A mother’s love is not the right thing for the stage of existence T. E.
was in. All Trisha could think about was getting a boyfriend. And because
she was famous, she couldn’t stand hearing anything that didn’t fulfill her
desire. The desire that somebody love her romantically and passionately. She
simply turned around and started to talk with her friends who had flown
from Australia to Buenos Aires just to be with her for the show’s opening.
(People with money always have friends in another part of the world that fly
in for their close friends’ important events.) I stayed there, hands in my skirt
pockets, trying to smile.
During the dinner, Trish (which is what I heard her close friends call her)
seemed a little annoyed with the whole situation. They had placed me at a
table quite far from hers, with other second-tier artists. The important ones,
like Guillermo Kuitca, a few of the art critics for the major newspapers, and
the two or three important art patrons that Buenos Aires has, sat at T. E.’s
table. As I ate, I thought about what a huge disappointment it had been to
meet her. About how much I had dreamt of that moment as I translated her
impassioned texts and how evil, cold, and monstrous she seemed to me, calling
Buenos Aires a “shithole.” But, on the other hand, I also had to admit that
twentieth-century artists had all been sort of monsters. Monsters screaming
their deformity at the world in high-pitched screams. From Yves Klein, who
painted women blue, to Jackson Pollock’s disgusting drips and splashes (not
to even mention that French artist with her gigantic spiders). Ah, and lest
we forget the psychotic Chinese artist who saw red polka dots in the sky and
all around. Or was she Japanese … In any case, at some point in the night,
Trisha Erin made a scene because they served smoked salmon, and she was
allergic to salmon. Distraught, the museum’s PR person ran out of the restaurant
to cry, and then the curator followed, heading out to console her. A
few moments later, Trish laid her head on the table and slept.
The night went on, and the poem was still in my purse. Obviously, I
stopped caring about giving it to her. All I wanted was for everything to wrap
up as soon as possible so I could go home. Another thought that occurred to
me: how much money I wasted buying a silk, beige-colored skirt and black
linen shirt especially for a dinner that, in the end, didn’t lead to anything.
When I was shopping for them, I fantasized about different possible scenarios:
what if Trisha Erin became intrigued by my personality and decided to
invite me for a month or two to her house in southern France to write a novel
together; what if Trisha Erin fell in love with Buenos Aires’s underground
scene and decided to open and finance a totally non profit gallery with her own
money in Villa Crespo, naming me as director with a salary of five thousand
pounds a month; what if Trisha Erin fell in love with my friend Javier Barilaro
and proposed to him and asked me to be the witness at their wedding. Two
days earlier, I had tried on every single item at a local clothing store before
I picked the best outfit for the occasion. I wasted a whole afternoon and fell
behind on a French theory book I’ve been translating. But it was all in vain.
And what’s more, I had put it all on my credit card with installments. Now,
each month’s payments would be like a dose of venom reminding me of the
bitterness of that night.
Alexander came over to our table from time to time trying to appease
the different groups of people so nobody would end up upset with him. Each
time the curator moved at all, the English artist’s eyes were like two magnets
fixated on his neck. But the truth was that Trisha was in love with Alexander,
and the only thing that had inspired her to come to Buenos Aires was the
illusion of having a night of sex with her curator in the Recoleta Four Seasons,
where she was staying. That was the only reason she agreed to come without
an appearance fee to this sad, gray, distant country. In the end, Alex turned
her down. At least that’s what he told me, and I believed him. Although he,
too, was a rather shady character.
While translating the book, Alexander and I wrote each other exactly
1,436 emails, according to Gmail. From his iPhone, he would send me photos
of him and Trisha together: the two of them eating caviar in London; idyllic
images of a trip they took together to the Bahamas to visit I-don’t-know-which
collector; photos of him organizing one of Trish’s shows in Doha; photos of
the work Trish had made for and gifted to him—a pencil drawing that said,
“You loved me like a distant star.” Obviously, I answered each and every message,
even though I didn’t fully understand why he would send them to me.
Was it an exhibitionist urge? Do curators, in addition to putting together
shows at museums and galleries, have an impulse to exhibit their own life as
if it were an extravagant art show on the Internet?
I had become the perfect voyeur, the passive spectator who lovingly
accepted all I was told to look at, even if it was foolish, ugly, or boring. In
order to be close to international art, I wasted precious hours of work paying
attention to the emails Alex sent me. Furthermore, I spent a great deal of
time searching for the most ingenious responses, ones that would take him by
surprise and convince him that it was worth it to be friends with me. Seeing
as I knew that he had studied classical languages in college and loved Latin
poets, I would search for quotes in Latin to embed in my emails like precious
stones to impress him with my knowledge of the ancient world. (Although,
really, who can’t just Google a quote?) One time, I started a message with a
verse from Catullus: Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire. Perversely, he would forward
me the lewd messages Trisha sent him: “I bet you fuck me up the arse
before the walls are even painted Prussian blue,” and the like.
I don’t really know what reason I had to play witness to the failed romance
between Alex and Trish. Perhaps because I’m Argentine, and for two first-world
citizens in the global arts scene, an Argentine translator is like a black maid
in front of whom you don’t mind airing your dirty laundry, because you
don’t think of her like a real human being. In the days following the dinner,
Alexander asked me to accompany him to all of his meetings with Trisha. I
imagine he did it as a way to avoid sleeping with her. My presence served as
a symbolic chastity belt against the psychotically uncontrollable impulses
of that British woman. We went to restaurants, to millionaires’ houses, for
strolls along wide avenues, to English pubs and traditional Buenos Aires cafés.
The situation was always more or less the same: Trisha would get drunk and
begin calling Alex “Alejandro” (with an aspirated j, obviously, like any English
speaker), saying incoherent things that somewhat resembled sexual advances.
After a few hours, desire would convert to hatred, and she would insult him.
Until the alcohol became too much to handle, and she would fall asleep in
some nearby armchair. Then, we would revive her, prop her up, and take her
back to her hotel in a cab.
But a few days after the exhibit opened, on the night before both of them
were to head back to the northern hemisphere, Trisha got really violent. We
were at the house of a collector, who had organized a cocktail hour. Amidst
crude sculptures by young artists made with trash bags (which were blended
with the black carpaccio trays circulating around us), Trish gathered all of her
lust for Alex and funneled it into her last attempt to get him to sleep with her.
“It’s our last night in Buenos Aires. You have to come with me,” she told
him, in a demanding tone. But upon realizing the curator wouldn’t give in
to her demands, she stood on a table and began to scream, pointing at him.
“What are you? You’re just a curator. You’re nothing. You are nothing. You
are nothing. Just a curator—nothing! You’re nothing!” She repeated it over
Alex stayed quiet. Then, a tray full of tall glasses with a blue drink in them
passed by. Without thinking about it, Trish bent down, grabbed one, and
drank it in one swift chug. The sugary alcohol seemed to give her a moment
of lucidity before her consciousness collapsed again and she continued on.
“You are nothing. And I am a great artist. So if you want to talk to me,
make a work of art first and then call me.” And with those words, Trisha got
off the table, grabbed her coat, and stormed down the stairs.
After having downed a few of the blue drinks trying to emulate Trisha, I
threw up three times in the cab on the way home. Luckily, not inside the car.
I was caring enough to do it while stopped at red lights, leaning out the open
car door. It’s not something interesting to share—the fact that I puked after
four caipirinhas and two blue curacaos. Cause that could happen to anybody,
especially in that kind of an environment. But with that bodily action, I felt
like, once and for all, I had left behind the glamorous and pervasive world of
contemporary art. A world that, although I never really pertained to it, I had
spent months dreaming of becoming a part of it.
People who make a business out of art exchange their souls for money. And
a work of art can’t be trapped in a mansion. It must fly freely through the
atmosphere and leave a trail in the air that surrounds our planet. At least this
is what my teachers taught me.
Three months later, I found out that they had fired Alex from the museum.
Within a few days I got an email from him, saying he’d written his first poem
and would soon show it to me.
Translated from the Spanish by Jacob Steinberg