Heart Hissed

He traced the sigil on her flesh with the scalpel and watched the red line turn black with deep sprung blood. She smiled revealing nicotine stained teeth and a black tongue. He remembered her saying that she liked to chew tobacco; he remembered that she liked to spit; there were spittoons all over the room like a litter of disconnected gargoyles.

‘I want to create obscene art’ he announced to no one in particular ‘that makes innocent eyes cry tears of blood.’

She smiled and he found it aesthetically unpleasing so he punched her in the mouth. She stopped smiling. He picked the bits of broken tooth from his knuckles and went to get the digital camera.

‘I am a misogynist cunt, you know that, right?’

People should not have been surprised at the direction that Flint’s art took given that his father had chosen to create performance pieces based around the idea of legitimised paedophilia targeted at the Catholic church and his mother had dedicated her life to glorying in the acts of the far right — painting portraits and images of atrocities in a religious way. How could you be raised in that kind of environment and not emerge out of the other end as fucked up as he was? He had survived — his sister bowed out with a system full of prescription drugs.

He put on a t-shirt which said ‘Onanism is self belief’ and went to the door to dowse the suicidally persistent Jehovah witnesses with a week’s worth of stale urine that he had been saving up in Perrier bottles. ‘If God really loved you I would have missed wouldn’t I you sanctimonious bastards? Why don’t you take your tubercular kids home and feed them up instead of dragging them around every fucking doorstep in Christendom?’

You could say that Flint was a misanthrope but that somehow didn’t quite capture the conscious way in which he inflicted his hatred upon the world — his was a high concept loathing; nothing as simple or mundane as dislike. He did not consider what he was doing to this girl as violence because it was something that she wanted and something that he was happy to give — if he had been some common wife-beater then he would have understood the things which the public daily attacked him for. He hated feminists and their narrow world view that did not allow for the fact that some women liked to be treated in this way. His sculpture The Feminist & The Eunuch had been attacked with a sledgehammer. The subsequent civil suit where he went after the person responsible was groundbreaking in that the perpetrator agreed to have his own hands smashed with the self-same hammer instead of having to pay for the damage he had inflicted. The resultant video of the act, Reciprocity, was a hot property in the art world and amongst teenagers who liked sadistic reality TV — Flint became a household name.

The performance piece which he called Mission where he created an amazingly realistic womb and subsequently had an abortion five times a week won him a dislocated jaw from a pro-lifer and ironically three broken ribs from a pro-choicer. He felt that this validated the statement — if someone hated what you were doing or felt passionately enough to attack you for it then you had to be doing something right; that your work was the stimulus for such an act had to be some cause for celebration. People were too curious about who the artist was and he was purely interested in giving them the art and stepping back from it — art should exist in a vacuum away from the artist and ideally away from the grubby hands of ill-educated critics who came to bear on subtlety with their hatchets and reduced everything to godawful pull-quotes.

Icarus Politicus pictured the latest US President being assassinated by the mother of a soldier who had been prominently featured on the news — it lasted two days before someone sprayed it with lighter fluid and flicked a match at it. The act brought him to the notice of people who had barely glanced in his direction throughout his whole career. One of the President’s official aides made an appointment with him to discuss the possibility that he might tone down some of the content of his work for fear of public outrage. Having informed said official that he intended on recording their meeting the government found themselves without a leg to stand on when they tried to force him to withdraw the tape which then shot to the top of the music charts under the name Censorship with a remix by Byrne, the latest political rapper causing uproar in polite society.

Flint was a hot topic and he was getting offers from all over the place to design things for magazines and to comment on what the state of the world was. He got offered columns in several well-respected papers where he would be given free reign to write about anything that came to mind. He turned it all down — saying that they were outmoded mediums as far as he was concerned and that if he wanted to get a message out there that his art was the perfect vehicle for that. His caché increased and paintings which had barely been worth anything began to rocket in value — he ignored it all. If it hadn’t been done before he would have burned the money that his infamy won him in a very public way. He hated the troglodytic morons that came up to him in the street and spoke to him like they knew him; like he owed them something. He hated the critics who talked him up because he was the in thing as much as the ones that tore him down because they were jealous of his talent. There barely seemed to be anything in the world that truly gave him pleasure save hurting the girl who stood by him through it all and subjected herself to some of the worst treatment that one human could inflict on another without killing them. All for the sake of art.

It could be said to have started going wrong when his model was found overdosed outside the front of a hospital with a note from Flint which read ‘Fix the bitch who broke with a fix.’ If art was cruel but sent a message then you could get away with it to a degree (his whole career had been based around that idea)– if you were cruel and sent a message then it was a whole different ballgame. Someone, a lawyer or a talent agent, obviously saw that the model was their way in to money — they got hold of her and began to talk about the kind of money that she could make selling her story; the kind of money she could make when she sued Flint. No one wanted to side with Flint — the people who knew the both of them did nothing to dissuade her from her course of action. She was a greedy junky with a cauterised personality and he was  a narcissistic arsehole with never a nice thing to say to anyone. If they wanted to start fucking each other over and fucking each other up even more than they were already then there wasn’t a single person that was willing to step in and stop them. People love to rubberneck at an accident.

Flint went from cause celebré to leper — the rumour mill turning and amplifying every bad thing that he had ever done and adding more. He had done some pretty nasty stuff so why they felt the need to fabricate anything he couldn’t fathom, but story after story piled up and they each got more fanciful than the last. He backed away from a world that simultaneously shunned and harangued him. His art for a while became angry and reactionary and served as little more than a diary for his battered emotions. At the end of this period he went through every single piece that he had painted or sculpted and either kept it or destroyed it. He had no model except himself and no external referent in the narrative of his pieces — he became more eccentric and more egocentric, once more dreaming the moon and everything else in the sky was following him around. He had never been alone until now — never been conscious of how important the need for human touch was; true he had been cruel when he had touched others but that was the only way that he knew how to communicate. He had been broken but functioning — now he knew that he could not dare to claim that.

And so he somehow persuaded someone to put on a show — a show with the title Flagellation. It was a small gallery with a growing reputation and even if this show flopped the notoriety of having what was being billed as the final show that Flint would be putting on would work in their favour — that was how the guy that did the bookings sold it to the gallery owner. Flint had stipulated that no one be present while the show was being prepared on the opening night — he said that he wanted everything to be just so. There was some perturbation over the fact that he had no assistants to help him mount the work but they all knew how much he hated people and his eccentricity was to be given full reign in the hope that something could be pulled off that had never been attempted before — that was how it was talked about.

On the night of the show everyone made their way into the gallery, standing in a small section that had been separated off from the main floor space by a large black curtain. A gong sounded and a long velvet rope dropped from the ceiling and hung in the way that a bell ringing rope might hang — attached to the rope was a small sign which said pull me. People were hesitant, unsure of what exactly it was that they were a part of but excited because it promised to be very edgy.

‘Who’s going to pull it?’ asked the gallery owner ‘It doesn’t seem right for me to do it — it should be one of our esteemed guests. Perhaps Mr Eugene, the critic who seems to need to be impressed by something of Flint’s work before he despairs. Mr Eugene, will you do us the honour?’
‘Of course, my friends, of course, though I must say that thus far I am not impressed by the level of gimmickry that he feels he needs to employ to get us on side.’
‘OK,’ said the gallery owner.

Mr Eugene stepped forward and gave the rope a massive tug. High above them they heard a loud click and the curtain began to float down to the ground. Watching the curtain it took the audience a few seconds to re-focus and make out the shape of a figure suspended by what appeared to be meat hooks. A few seconds later there came a racheting noise and it became obvious that something was either winding or unwinding way up there in the ceiling. No one quite understood what they were watching until it was too late. Flint dropped through the air like the weight on the end of a fishing line, straight into what everyone had thought was a glass-sided tank filled with water. It was not water — this they discovered later. They thought that he acted as he writhed and screamed in the tank. They thought that when the water turned red that it was some superb special effect. There were several critics that were preparing to write amazing reviews as they watched this daring and provocative piece of work unfold. The true story made the front pages the next day and not a single person thought of what had occurred as an artwork.

They found a video of Flint purchasing all the ingredients needed for the act, a receipt that confirmed what initial suspicion and later testing had proved to be hydrochloric acid. Flint was once more the talk of the town and his work soared in popularity. There was barely anything left of him to cremate. The memorial plaque in the crematorium garden was simply his dates and his name. Extravagance had been replaced with minimalism and it seemed more than fitting.

She sat there and ran her finger over the design Flint had carved into her flesh. She had loved him and she had sold him. As the heroin travelled from the needle mark on her bruised inner thigh around her body and towards her heart she smiled in a distracted way, touched the broken tooth that was her other souvenir of her time with him, and spat a big black gobbet of chewing tobacco into a spittoon shaped exactly like Flint’s head.