Elizabeth Jaeger, Bird, 2023, ceramic, bronze, 22 x 9 x 10 cm. © Elizabeth Jaeger, Courtesy: the artist and Mennour, Paris. Photo: Archives Mennour

Estelle Hoy: saké blue

Zodiac hate crime, going a decade without meals, seeking revenge in Roland Barthes – wisdom is a fruit of the most regrettable choices, truth only what you can annul.

I. Whatever Is Anachronic Is Obscene. Maybe.

Like a Nietzschean asshole, I say yes to everything, which is why I’m in Bedstuy in yellow socks waiting for my marriage to be annulled. An impulsive grammatical slip of the tongue or shy parapraxis, it’s hard to say. The power of grammar is almost always immediate.

I’d look for signs, but of what?

It was a Tuesday, and I’d said yes to the custom to escape the grumpy nirvana of flipping opportune real estate in downtown Brooklyn. And besides, it was something to do. We grabbed our ticket at city hall to wait our turn to regret just about everything while the bride-to-be ahead of us in pearl and enamel lectured us on the shift in the sentiment of values and zodiac hate crime. She asked inappropriate questions about our relationship and handed us some flowering orange fruit and two Marlboros, eyes glazed over in preemptive disinterest. Her involvement in detachment was a whole other thing – detachment is too disparaging a word, let’s call it reattribution. Etiquette even. On and on she went about common blackbirds that mate for life, paired up, monogamous, steely ethical commitment she put on a pedestal. I seriously envisaged suicide.

Three or four ashy feminist dictums later, a Caribbean noni fruit and low-key Jagermeister, we signed the indecipherable amorous text (which was hardly a text at all) in psychological paltriness. Seemingly fussy matters of punctuation and tongue slips made way for the heavenly intercession of Jehovah and the business of not caring. You can count on my intercession. That should be clear by now.

Estelle Hoy, saké blue, 2024

Estelle Hoy, saké blue, 2024. Coutesy: After 8 Books

II. For the Three Modest People Left on Earth Today.

You can annul a marriage for up to 48 hours, repealing absoluteness, a reality foreclosed. Withdrawing reality is good manners, really; reality is a system of power, after all. When we signed the certificate, for better or worse, we used a pink pen with impermanent ink – gays in clichés wearing sapphire Judy Garland shoes nobody should want. (Catastrophic clichés are a pigeonhole I can really get behind.) Signing marriage certificates in illegible pink is not especially kosher, but the meeting of fashionable ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable changes every goddamn season.

Whether or not I believe this changes from day to day.

For the three modest people left on Earth, a 6-minute marriage is an ineffable no-no, a lover’s discourse of indecent mockery, half a declaration of a whole, purple crescent moons, cracked and suffering. After the matrimony, or shall we say patrimony, we headed three blocks over to the de facto bodega in upper Bushwick for a bottle of wine, pillars of black licorice, and no-brand hypnotics. Waters of disreality spilled, and we stared at ourselves in a rotting mirror that didn’t exist. Bodega receptions and a respectable liquid lunch are entirely more virtuous than low-lit ballrooms, fancy horseshoe driveways, and tiered cakes in cracked strawberry marzipan.

Museum-goers looked at me swaddled in lapses of intelligibility and an eggplant tuxedo as old as Barthes himself, wondering if I too was an artwork they should “discover.”

III. An Andy Warhol Foundation Grant that Clearly Wasn’t Enough

Getting an annulment is just a minor setback.

My never-husband-to-be was a badly behaved know-it-all on an Andy Warhol Foundation Grant that paid for the cheap bouquet of frangipanis from Ode à la Rose on 28th and Broadway. Tacky plumeria are more Odor à la Nose, but what is to be done about futile problems of class?

Besides, I’m not a man of “acting out,” my madness is tempered, and I love doing things I hate – I’m Catholic, after all.

I exhaust myself deliberating about irritable nothings of substance and do my best to slip into the threat of choosing not to choose, or if I absolutely must choose, I choose the unbearable. The reasonable sentiment of what can or cannot proceed is preceded by the antiquated notion of getting up ten times out of nine.

I choose nine times out of ten.

Once the exaltation of marriage had collapsed, the exaltation of breathy abnegation began, and we found fulfillment in the conviction that everything works out, but nothing lasts. To our advantage, the Warhol Grant covered the bodega tab in full with enough left over for a Daruma doll from Dollar Plus; this could last only so long. I was courageous to put an end to it. I suffer without adjustment.

IV. In the Kitchen with Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes – a man of the cloth – reminded me that some things are simply unviable, and all annulments can be substituted with art. I tend to believe people.

My now never-husband was older than Giorgio Agamben, or at least looked it. Agamben was mindless but had perfect theories about mindlessness we could occasionally learn from; his work was a series of lone philosophical blunders that showed him to be a very careless boy. The war against intelligence has a long and torrid history, which I’ll forgive, considering Agamben himself argued for the state of exception. I’m living proof of what mercy can do.

I left the bodega with my Daruma Doll and caught the J-train to the Whitney Museum of Art to read Barthes on hard museum banks and escape a history that never existed. The Meatpacking District is a clever neighborhood substituting unrevivable nullification with Jackson Pollock’s urinary tract infection, which is about the same as art, so again, Barthes was right.

Museum-goers looked at me swaddled in lapses of intelligibility and an eggplant tuxedo as old as Barthes himself, wondering if I too was an artwork they should “discover.” Mercurial eyes and open-gaped mouths calling for proof that the howls of conversion disorder could manifest just about everywhere. Half a century later, the semiotics of eggplant uncertainty drew dilettantish, ill-bred crowds like the scene of a crime.

And truly, who leaves Goldman Sachs? Inflated black balloons and inflated self-worth are radiations that touch us all, signs of failed higher thinking in hermeneutic nihilism. It’s definitely fulfilling.

V. I Was a Skeptic Well Before Andrea Fraser

The Whitney must’ve had a balloon budget to spend before the end of the financial year, their vast fortune spilling out in rows of black and purple in solidarity with the latest cause. I was a partial charlatan myself, so didn’t really mind. Can highly-strung balloons help humankind recognize its bias and structural role in neoliberalism like good little social Darwinians? Hardly. Adjusting your manners takes all kinds of time.

But there’s a kind of political clout that grows for the museum that’s difficult to ignore. Contemporary art is a spectacular world, truly – a world where art and deference are monstrously restaged.

Being a partial or complete charlatan played into my prodigious ability to take flight from, well, just about everything. In the realms of annulment, either insouciance or (oddly) excessive labor will earn the accusation of an existential swindler. Still, we make the best of it through a questionable (yet convincing) performative personae – my never-husband was a temporary stand-in for an occulted level of sincerity I never actually had. But crime is normal for those who draw their power and affluence from it.

I drew neither, but pursuing truth with absolute dishonesty is my modus operandi. And truly, who leaves Goldman Sachs? Inflated black balloons and inflated self-worth are radiations that touch us all, signs of failed higher thinking in hermeneutic nihilism. It’s definitely fulfilling.

VI. Ugh. My Psychic Promised I’d Be Dead By Now

Women of a certain vintage know the calories in just about everything, surviving on sachets of sweet ń low from Starbucks. I hadn’t eaten in just about a decade, save a pink lady apple here and there, or pear cut down the middle; my never-husband had a way of never pointing this out. I suspect he’d cheated on me and wasn’t regretting it.

Couples fighting in inappropriate settings was just about my favorite thing, razzle-dazzle thinking most can only ever dream about. I’d been thinking about going east to Chinatown to blow my diet on some Yumcha Heroes until two hot, pre-Raphelite waifs started going at it as though the Whitney was a pay-by-the-hour karaoke bar. They were a sensation, screaming five or ten repackaged insults across the white cube, fencing it out, bearing all like a Gucci underwear campaign. I was waiting for the end scene to finally announce itself so I could get on with breaking my decades-long fast, but the soi-disant Cineplex had me out of commission. There’s no straightforward documentation, but I suspect humanity’s obsession with holding onto things has something to do with our desire to be ever amid mellowdrama. It’s not about spite; it’s about ... ok, it’s about spite.

Shooting myself in the foot or in a wild dispatch of self-contentment, I stole one of the black balloons, looking for unsympathetic mirror neurons in the eyes of the invigilator – she was a teenage Lolita figure nibbling on a chickpea salad. Yumcha dumplings it is! Roland Barthes’s intellectual ménage assists in formulating a method for getting back at everyone. My authenticity was hanging by a thread.

VII. Passive Expressionist

Self-induced, ascetic fasting rituals and keeping away from starch had become an integral part of my conception of red-blooded love. A hard hat is required for this type of activity.

I’d appeared in the New York art scene in 1997, fully circumcised, ready with my snarky comments and faux-braille passport, and met my never-husband (customs officer turned arts writer) by mistake. The sham-marriage had all the beauty of an accident, but what do accidents actually memorialize? Accidents are the space where all things are abolished and potentially transactional, where writing controllable subjective narratives disappear — the real Death of the Author. I likely ran into Roland Barthes at the Whitney Museum and failed to recognize him amid my half-assed grief, unprecedented co-dependency, and self-inflicted anemia. The fact that he didn’t say hi himself only shows him to be part of the art-school generation that is overly dependent on anonymity. Which, Roland might say, is the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance. But it’s actually just pretty rude.

We probably reap just what we sow.

New York was already long a city sold, and nothing could deliver me from myself; neither the menacing flex of braille passports, nor golden showers of Pollock would change the fluke narrative of unartistic reason. Since the marriage had failed or never existed, I had a handle on nothing and would be letting blood and hemorrhaging cash for the rest of my life. Artistic intubations pose a real threat, you know.

___

This series of texts was written on the occasion of “Carte Blanche,” a 2022 exhibition of works by Camille Henrot, Elizabeth Jaeger, and Estelle Hoy, at Mennour, Paris. saké blue is available for purchase from After 8 Books.

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