Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Return of the Salon

Art is the most elitist thing on earth. The most valuable thing around the dinner tables of the middle classes is to be able to talk in an educated manner about fine art, high literature and classical music. You don’t want everyone understanding.
Will Martyr, artist.

At the age of twenty-four, I began to read Proust. I don’t know why; I had built up a reputation for him in my head that was completely uninformed other than through the perceived gravity of the name – I hadn’t even ‘googled’ him. Proust. It even sounds like a great master.

First of all I went into one of the old bookshops on Charing Cross Road, reminiscent of that which Harry Potter frequents for his Hogwarts materials, because I believed that works of such sacred reputation must be read in their original hardback form, dusty and prone to disintegration within one’s hands. The acrid smell of old paper and its aged parchment shade of brown would add greatly to my experience of transition into this sublime world of which the great French novelist writes. I asked whether the assistant had any ‘Prowst or Borderlaire’. ‘You mean Proust?’ she replied, mentally searching the shelves. Her facial expression didn’t appear hopeful. She led me to the international fiction section. ‘No, it doesn’t appear so,’ she said. ‘Try Foyles. They’ll more than likely have the Proust in the new Penguin translation, which is apparently the best ever.’

Of course, publishing lines such as Penguin Classics, Oxford World’s Classics and Wordsworth Editions are invaluable in their devotion to bringing history’s greatest literature back to the masses, but this was Proust, and I had mentally prepared myself for assimilation to the gentry, imagining myself in front of an open fire, bloodhound at my feet, pince-nez looking down on my original, preserved copy of one of the novels of Proust.

Failing all else, I trudged up the hill to Foyles. I had never been there before, and came to appreciate their policy of displaying fiction simply in alphabetical order, whereas most stores would display classic novels in their own little section. Towards the back of the ground floor I came to Proust, and saw seven novels in paperback, some Penguin and some Vintage. I took out the one whose title looked most interesting, Sodom and Gomorrah. The blurb referred to it as the ‘fourth volume’; I dismissed this to mean that this was his fourth novel, his cannon so sacred as to be appraised since as one. It continued, ‘Proust’s novel takes up for the first time the theme of homosexual love.’ And that was it. I took it to the counter. £8.99.

I took it home, and within several days, read up to about page 150 before realising that the characters were sketched as if I was already supposed to know them; gentlemen such as Jupien and the Baron de Charlus had implied histories which made their current actions more shocking than they perhaps would have been if their characters had been defined as such from the start; in my desperation to devour this work short of tearing out the pages and eating it, I had neglected to read what was written on the book’s spine: ‘In Search of Lost Time 4’. I went back to Foyles, and purchased the first volume, translated by Penguin’s scholars as The Way By Swann’s, to my ear clumsier but more romantic than the otherwise-popular ‘Swann’s Way’.

So I began The Way By Swann’s and thereby entered this time through the conventional front door, the world, introduced through a dream of sleep, of Proust, a journey that took me physically back to Foyles several times as I purchased the next volume just short of finishing the current, but spiritually, back to turn-of-the-century France, when there was still an aristocracy of the highest order in the world, one in which the narrator becomes deeply involved such as to document the very minutiae of even their most banal proclivities; the Duchesse de Guermantes admiring an actress in the street takes on far greater importance than a maid admiring the same actress, who, in comparison to the Duchesse, takes on the persona of the maid. It took me to a time I would like to have lived in, although my existence, should I have been allowed anywhere near these nobles at all, would have likely been spent in the kitchen or basement, rather than the drawing rooms of Mesdames de Guermantes, Verdurin or de Villeparisis; perhaps I might have found myself included in the circle of Mme Swann in her more coquettish (cocotte-ish) days, but only as her eunuch, so in the absence of the possibility of time travel, I had to be satisfied with the inside account given by Marcel Proust.

I had always wanted to become a writer, but had never known what to write about, so sought to write about everything, just as Proust did, aspiring to this ‘giant miniature’ as In Search of Lost Time was once described by Jean Cocteau. For Proust’s cork-lined room on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, read my Spartan seventies-decorated room in Whetsone, London borough of Barnet; for the fading French aristocracy, read the tenuous positions of thousands of previously-untouchable City gents; for the rise of the middle classes, read the rise of the starving artist.

It seems that in such times as we find ourselves living in, we are required to communicate more than ever, and to look after one another. Those without means must befriend those with; artists rely on curators, curators rely on artists. Gallerists can ill afford to shop around for spaces in which to display their loans and acquisitions, so open up their homes, and in doing so, create salons in which these artists, and their friends, hang out to make their intellectual contribution. Artists, in order to create their work, must be alone, unless in collaboration, but in order to show their work, must become spontaneously social.

The salons as depicted by Balzac and Proust have returned, but without noble titles and great dowagers of immense wealth and family history. For the salon of Balzac’s Mme de Bargeton, in which the ambitious but shy young poet Lucien de Rubempre gives recitals, or of Proust’s Mme Verdurin, in which the violinist Morel charms with his exquisite technique, as the composer Vinteuil does with his sonatas, read Danielle Arnaud, Man & Eve, First Floor Projects and The Corridor, examples of London spaces in which the residents have opened up their homes to show their own, and their friends’ art.

The Corridor, for one, launched with its first exhibition in November 2008. Set in a former commercial unit in London’s Hackney, its residents, three architects, a fashion designer and an artist, felt that their entrance corridor and stairwell would be an ideal space in which to show art, and short of opening up as a public space (which wouldn’t please the landlords), by private appointment anyone can visit their shows. The opening nights are packed with artists, architects, musicians and writers, mostly assembled through networking sites such as Facebook, all of whom are forced to mingle in the tight space; champagne and wine are on hand to rouse the shier characters, and inspiration and collaborations frequently result.

The previous show, SCULPTURE NOT SCULPTURE, saw the aforementioned Will Martyr, as well as Adam Nathaniel Furman, Beverley Bennett, Alex Booker, Sarah Boris and Rhiannon Hunter, each in their own way provide commentary on the economy, sustainability and recycling, community, and regeneration. For The Corridor’s five curators, Christoph Klemmt, Amita Kulkarni, Emma Barrow, Vikrant Tike and Akiko Inette, and their democratic approach to selecting art to show based either on a unanimous decision or a compelling argument on the part of one, read the method of the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, evolved from the implacable Paris Salon of the fin-de-siècle.

‘Our house is known for great parties,’ says Klemmt, a graduate of the Architectural Association. ‘We always get a lot of people, interesting people on the creative side, and people interested in buying art. One of the reasons to start the Corridor was to network. Architects seem to have a problem of only knowing other architects; artists only seem to know other artists. So this seemed an interesting way for us to expand and bring people together.’

I, for one, attended the opening evening of the previous show, to see my old friend Beverley Bennett’s work, and have become friends with, and reviewed the work of, most of the other artists involved. It has kick-started my response to writing just as the entrance into high Parisian society did for a young Marcel Proust.

The Corridor’s next exhibition, ‘TF002’, an installation by the multidisciplinary design group TextFields: Amita Kulkarni, Vikrant Tike, Jerome Rigaud and Rajat Sodhi, opens on May 7. To book an appointment to view the piece, visit www.thecorridor.co.uk. For more information on the installation itself, visit www.textfields.net.

Will Martyr's 'Big Cock Capitalism'

On first contact with Will Martyr’s work, a series of three inflated PVC rhinos, I fail to see the humour and point immediately to its seeming anti-capitalist stance, replete with Constructivist graphics, boardroom scenes and propagandist slogans, that, concurrent with a shrinking economy and panic in the streets of the City, strike as an ‘I told you so’ slap in the face.  

I call to meet him at the Architectural Association, where he is preparing, for the AAI SALON show at their Bedford Square premises on May 1, to exhibit an inflatable sofa designed by a Dutch furniture company that he is painting on with a combination of special paints and sealants that won’t react adversely with the robust PVC. I somehow neglected to ask him about the obvious S&M connotations.  

After attending schools and colleges in Kent and Oxfordshire, Martyr won a place to study his BA at Slade, progressing to study his MA at RCA, from which he graduated in 2007 – a spell in New York sandwiched these two programmes. He has since shown across Europe, the USA and the Far East, acquiring along the way private commissions as diverse as for ABN Amro in Sydney, Vidal Sassoon in Los Angeles, the British Consul of France and a glut of other individuals, particularly in Italy.  

Word of mouth also bought to one of his shows a professor of the Architectural Association, whose interest was stirred by the architectural and pneumatic qualities of his work, felt to synergise well with the AA’s 2009 projects. He was thereby invited to join the AA as a ‘professional participant’ in their inaugural ‘International Professional Studio’ programme, in which a group of architects, designers, engineers and other professionals give some of their free time, of which there may be much in a recession, to work with students and with each other, out of their comfort zones, on projects that may result in an art installation, a building proposal, a piece of literature, or whatever their collaboration conjures. He is also teaching a Foundation course at the AA and feels it to be a generally enriching experience – it is a massively important organisation, and he is ‘there to make waves’.  

As his work seems to be primarily concerned with money, and its accumulation and maintenance, I ask him where he, as an artist, stands within the ‘art as cash cow’ or ‘art for art’s sake’ debate. His answer is refreshingly unambiguous. ‘Let’s not be romantic here,’ he says. ‘Art is a business. You only need to look at the way galleries operate to see that it is a business, and it is only in the last ten or fifteen years that artists have come around to the idea. I am a professional. If I don’t work in the studio from 9am to 8.30pm I won’t make any money. I have no other job. This is it.’  

He adds that ‘it’s the biggest compliment an artist can get that someone is willing to pay money to take your work away and put it up behind their desk’ or whichever side they hang. Fine, he has to ‘make paintings to make a living’, but worries for the time when he might have to make compromises in his art in order to sell it, and requests to be tapped on the shoulder and advised to stick to his roots 'before going through with that ad commission for LIDL'. A painting takes a long time to finish, but once it is done, it exists by itself; he no longer owns it, and there can be no sentimentality.  

Martyr quickly refutes my suggestion of anti-capitalism in his work. ‘It is about the sexy rhetoric of big business, big-cock capitalism, the phallic towers of rich industrialists, pure expressions of wealth and power encapsulated in the emphatic words and images of the Financial Times or Economist, satirised. When someone buys work like this they do so to take the piss out of themselves.’ They have the money and power to lean back on, in lieu of an inflatable sofa. 'Dream! Do! Dare!' roar the charging rhinos.  

These pieces comprise contemporary images, in common with those of M.I.A., particularly in the repetitive use of Mercedes-Benz logos, and the propagandist references of Marinetti, Mussolini and fascism in the economy of images and words. ‘All modern advertising,’ he points out, ‘uses these tried and tested methods.’  

Finally, I put to him the JJ Charlesworth quote that ‘the British mainstream public no longer knows whether to support contemporary art or kick its fucking head in.’ ‘Who gives a fuck about what the British mainstream public thinks?’ he half says, half laughs. ‘Art is the most elitist thing on earth. The most valuable thing around the dinner tables of the middle classes is to be able to talk in an educated manner about fine art, high literature and classical music. You don’t want everyone understanding.’  

I have to agree with him, even if I would class myself as a member of the everyone. In his world of private clients and big-business commissions, all is well.

Outside Inside Spaces

Twenty-two year-old Rhiannon Hunter appears to be in physical conflict with her own work. Her prints depict cold, empty, derelict spaces primed for the wrecking ball, that could be filmed to a soundtrack of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. She blushes keenly when I compare the graphic qualities of these prints, which she completes by hand, eschewing computers and machines, to the cinematography of films such as Waltz With Bashir and Sin City. She herself adds Metropolis and Dr. Caligari. Either way, it is all in contrast with the girl herself – think Amy Winehouse/Ipso Facto, blonde hair, red lips and Fifties summer dress. Blissfully unaware, although she is surely not, men’s heads turn as if on magnets as she glides voluptuously by.

Hailing from the Lake District, Hunter moved alone to London at the age of 18 to study her degree in Textiles at Goldsmith’s College, and remains resident in New Cross, a stone’s throw from Dalston, recently described by no less than The Guardian as Britain’s coolest postcode.

Growing up in the Lake District, Hunter recalls, imbued her with a real sense of ‘inside and outside’. Anyone who has visited Cumbria’s famous tourist-puller will testify to the expansive beauty of its landscapes, amongst Britain’s finest. Her work explores the dynamic of being an individual within an externally controlled space. The Lake District is sparse and open, and illustrates the great outdoors, though one also feels a sense of interiority, being amongst nature. Compare this to built-up London and the sense of being indoors even when outdoors; Hunter’s works capture the ambience of empty, derelict warehouses of London’s East End, essentially interior spaces, but large and airy enough – perhaps with a few broken skylights – to have an outdoors feel.

These elements of warehouse space sit amongst Hunter’s depictions of life in transition, in walkways, corridors and stairs. There are no people in her works; she is satisfied that the people are there already as viewers, and furthermore, as people traverse these transitional spaces, individuals only exist in each others’ lives for a brief moment before their face is replaced in that space by another, then another, a sentiment suggested in Gerhard Richter’s portrait of Gilbert and George, where one’s ear blurs into the other’s nose as time and space together merge into a broth.

Furthermore, there are so many people, it is as if there are none. We do not want to be disturbed by people; we read books and listen to our iPods on the Tube so as to avoid the invasion of our personal, intellectual space by an unwanted intruder; we want to live in a city full of culture, spectacle and opportunity but simultaneously shut it out. Most of us would reflect the thoughts of Arthur Schopenhauer, who said: ‘We will be civilised only when… it is no longer anyone’s right to cut through the consciousness of every thinking being… by means of whistling, howling, bellowing, hammering, whip-cracking… and so on.’ One could add ‘eating smelly food on the Tube’. We don’t mind other people there – there’s nothing we can do about them in any case – but often others disappoint by seeking always to be at the centre of attention, and so we would often rather do without them and be at the centre of a chosen space by ourselves.

Most people would associate a derelict building, waiting to be demolished and cleared for a new shopping mall or Olympic stadium, as ‘dying’ or ‘dead’, but for Rhiannon Hunter these spaces are ‘very much alive, with potential ambience’. I can’t imagine what she might mean, apart from the pigeons hanging out in the rusty roof beams.

Asked to respond to critic JJ Charlesworth’s assertion that ‘the mainstream British public no longer knows whether to support contemporary art or kick it’s fucking head in’, Hunter is ‘bang on’ in agreement. She accepts that there is a continuing learning process, both for the artist and the viewer, but most people still believe there to be little skill involved in the creation of contemporary art, where painting is reduced to coloured spots and sculpture to piles of bricks. Why should tax-payers’ money be taken by the Arts Council in its millions to fund the purchase of something one’s four-year-old daughter could knock out in a jiffy?

‘Art is about conceptual, rather than conventional, thinking,’ she adds; ‘the role of the artist is to present life as it is but from a different angle. A tactile quality to the work helps because something to have and to hold would mean more to the potential buyer.’

As far as British art is concerned, she reveals it to be hampered by an unexpected factor. On a recent visit to Berlin, she came upon a show in which an artist set an array of glass bottles in an otherwise empty room and encouraged the visitors to participate in the installation, by throwing and smashing the bottles in any way they pleased. Of course, everyone knows how dangerous flying glass can be; it is ingrained within us not to play with glass as it is not to put our hand in the fire, so each participant is implored to use his or her sense of responsibility, common sense, in order for no injuries to occur, whilst taking the rare opportunity to be politely careless and violent in public. This would be impossible in London – the Health and Safety powers would swoop on the artist’s plans and, if they were to allow it to go ahead at all, perhaps only from the balcony overlooking the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, with special protective clothing, an exclusion zone and only people of a certain height allowed to participate.

The laws of the nanny state, therefore, still, even in the twenty-first century, encumber artists. The artist’s role then, Hunter implies, is to kill granny.


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Review: du.ra.tion. @ House Gallery

In the television series Life After People, a coterie of the world's greatest scientists, across many fields of research, combine to speculate upon Earth's future in the aftermath of complete human disappearance, from 'day zero' in which pets run wild to demonstrate our theory of 'survival of the fittest', to ten thousand years hence, when our once-thought-indestructible Towers of Babel crumble like shortbread in the jaws of plant life.  

As the planet's most advanced species, alone capable of conceptualising and documenting art, literature, music and the sciences (fair enough, a chimp probably could paint a masterpiece, but only under intense human prompting), we may expect our contribution to world history to be indelible, but indeed, even our most steadfast detritus would fade in a relatively short time, such that our presence would quickly become largely untraceable (according to this documentary).

Du.ra.tion., the outgoing exhibition at Camberwell's House Gallery, shared by four female artists of varying levels of experience (Beverley Bennett is in the final year of her Fine Art MA; Susannah King is, amongst other placements, ex-Saatchi & Saatchi and currently teaches at City of Westminster College and University of Middlesex), is suggestive of such an event, in its study of the 'physical gesture' and 'the anatomy of space and time'.  

Sally Jones, showing photographic pieces such as 'Sitting Room', 'Bedroom' and 'Kitchen', seems to have set her camera to document the very first moments. Right from the extinction, or wholesale Star Trek-style conveyance into another dimension, canteen seats are left empty and lights left on, in spaces both dreamlike and wholly recognisable. The nineteenth-century photographer William H. Warner was convinced of the then-commonly held belief that a dead person's retinas 'photographed' their final image, such that the perpetrator of a murder could be identified, within a certain time window. One could speculate whether the final frame in the eye of a petrified foetus might record something resembling Susannah King's 'Shot 01 Overview Watered'.  

In the works of both Beverley Bennett and Laura Davidson, it is suggested that to truly possess a space is to tarnish it. Thoroughly domesticated cats and dogs dig and spray to mark their territory and warn off all-comers. One can imagine the feral claws of an abandoned dog scratching frantically at the manifestation of recent human presence, at curtains and cupboards, delaying the need to hunt and compete. In Bennett's works, such as 'Tomorrow Is Uncertain', given pride of place in the front window of the gallery, there is an attempt to articulate this primal language, in which these feral claws, bereft of words, issue their deadly warning.  

Laura Davidson refers to her room-filling work '30' as having been completed with similarly 'somatic' actions. Again a new language is evoked, one simple enough to dispense with human words. The semiotics of the space express in the viewer memories of camping or attendance of a muddy music festival, and furthermore, the markings left behind by the departed crowds. The deadly human touch is equally felt by her 'Galveston' sea shells, on which the coastal devastation effected by an upturned oil container is captured, or so it seems. 'Warm as the sun, dipped in black', Lauryn Hill sings in my mind as I see them.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Review: Sculpture Not Sculpture @ The Corridor, Hackney, London

In these times, the art world is as much at the mercy of the economy's tantrums as any other facet of civilisation. Young artists, with varying degrees of talent, find their paths to stardom blocked by armies in tracksuits descending scaffolds or with their bums in the air, drilling pipes, as only the construction and plumbing industries continue apparently to flourish.  

Which is what makes The Corridor, one of London's newest - and smallest - art galleries, so necessary. A renovated former commercial unit, its five young residents, three AA-graduate architects, a fashion designer and an artist, have turned their hallway and stairs into an art space, with the first floor appropriated as a salon, complete with co-ordinated hand-towels, in which emerging artists, writers and other creative minds can mingle and initiate collaborative relationships.  

Its most recent show, SCULPTURE NOT SCULPTURE, itself illustrates the bold current trend of building and regeneration in the face of recession. On entrance (via buzzer, viewings are by appointment only), one is greeted immediately by Alex Booker's 'Copper Fleet' installation, a score of boats seemingly rescued from the bottom of the Atlantic and polished like precious jewels, ready to conquer once more. Equally exquisite are Adam Nathaniel Furman's fragmented plaster structures, new objects of beauty created from the destruction of materials formerly deemed sacrosanct.  

Rhiannon Hunter's prints 'Along Walkways, Down Stairs' evoke dark, dying East End warehouse spaces; the spatially sensitive feel the ponderous presence of the wrecking ball, but instead turn to find Will Martyr's inflatable rhinos, which bridge the gap between painting and sculpture whilst mocking the bullish (rhinoish?) charge of the American Dream, the indiscriminate horns of which have precipitated the current crisis. Discarded materials from such events are gathered for use by Sarah Boris, whose 'Fake Art More Sex' adds welcome glamour.  

In Beverley Bennett's 'The Breakdown', once-convergent lines eventually split like the ends of fibre optics, each with its own new purpose; the work itself, in the shape of an arrow, points the way upstairs, where the artists themselves converge for mutual dialogue. At the top of the stairs, a TV plays Adam Nathaniel Furman's thirteen-minute second piece, 'Objectification: A Parable of Possession'. Narrated by the artist, a young man, inspired by Wilhelm von Gloeden's perfect set-pieces, contrives to destroy the entire ornamental stock of a fabled island, to produce bespoke objects such as the pair Furman has put on display. In this beautiful circuit, the role of art is to destroy the past, that which was once held dear, and capture its essence in a single, exquisite object, that introduces a fine new talent.  

Links  

Friday, 10 April 2009

Two Women Chatting in the Waiting Room at the Doctors'

Look at this bloody advert, 'ere, d'yer know what, it meks me bloody sick.

Why, what is it?  What's wrong with it?

These big drug comp'nies, right, yer see their adverts everywhere fer supplements fer yer bloody joints an' yer bloody teeth and to reverse the bloody ageing process.  I bet the cheeky buggers're payin' off the entire bloody media fer the recommendation.  They're in every bloody magazine yer read from bloody 'Eat to bloody Vogue, 'n what's this?  Bloody thing out one o' t'bloody newspeppers!  Pregnant women'll think if they dunt tek all these supplements fer every stage o' yer bloody pregnancy, yer bebby'll be born deformed and yer'll poison it to death wi' yer bloody breast milk.  'N bloody Social Services and the police'll be after yer 'cos yer killed yer kid.

Aye, yer prob'ly right 'n all.  It were on'y saying in t'pepper t'other day about 'ow they reckon these drug comp'nies're doin' a deal wi'the doctors to overprescribe the patients so they can get more money out the NHS.  'Cos 'oo gets it free anyway?  Pregnant women, old folk 'n kids, 'n that's 'oo they targetin'.  All comes out tax-payers' money 'n all.  Chloe, 'ow many times've I told yer not to play in t'bloody bin!  Come 'ere, let me wipe yer 'ands.  No wonder yer bloody ill.

Playin' in the bins, eh, yer wanna watch 'er, she'll be t'new Tracey Emin.  Eh, look!  That boy's boots 'n coffee cup're t'same colour as t'bloody birthmark on my bebby grandson's face.  D'yer know what, I should sue t'bloody lorruv 'em.  Don't worry, love, t'int your fault.  'Ts these bloody drug comp'nies, bloody crooks, the lorruv 'em!  No better'n them bloody cocaine dealers in bloody J'mekker or wherever.  No offence, love.  Whe'yer from anyway?

Well I was born here, but my family do originate from Jamaica.

Ooh, yer see wharrappens when y'open yer gob!  Dunt worry 'bout 'er, she dunt know what she's sayin'!  Shudder tekken'er bloody supplements 'gainst bloody Alzheimer's, shunt she!

Eh, gerroff, you!  I wunt to know, was I? [sic]

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Woman with Two Children on the Bus

Will you stop that child pressing the button!
You're lucky I can plait hair.
Because you're ugly and your hair won't grow;
No amount of pink would make you look pretty.
Sit down!
Because I don't want you to hurt yourself.
See!  See!  One day you're gonna feel it,
One day you're gonna feel that ouch.
Thank you driver!

Monday, 6 April 2009

La Naissance de Paulette

I struggle to my feet.  My knees wobble.  What's wrong with me, with this solid body on such fragile legs?  I can barely stand, but as a brown colt gallops towards me I realise I can run, and head towards my mother, but an enormous white mare, who warns me to stay away, blocks me off.  A foal is thrashing around in her great stomach, which looks like it could burst.  Even though I am hungry, I do as I am told.

The colt who charged me has turned his attentions to my mother.  I want him to stop.  I do not like his smell.  My mother is grazing but he is trying to mount her while the placenta still hangs down with her soiled, straw-coloured tail.  She wants to move away but her movements are exhausted.  The great white mare rears almightily at him and he dances insolently away, blowing raspberries over his foolish shoulder.  This opens a path to my mother, so I point my nose and run, only to be hustled away by the great white mare, whose giant hooves hang in the air, ready to drop down on me, but I am small and quick and new, and get out of the way easily.

Another pregnant mare, a brown one with a black tail, comes across and joins the colt and great white mare in surrounding my mother, who is still grazing, such that I can no longer see her, except for two or three patchy grey-and-white legs amongst the others'.  They are staring down.  I try to run around them but they have my mother impenetrably surrounded.  When I attempt to crawl beneath their legs the great white mare frightens me away with a snort.  I am very hungry now.  They won't let my mother feed me.  They don't want to feed me either.

Eventually the brown mare bows her head to graze, and in doing so, leaves a gap.  I try to run in but the colt pounces and buffets me hard in the flank with his snout.  I don't know if he wants to trample me or just play with me but he chases me round and round, and before I know it I choke on a length of cord that I didn't see, and tumble on my back into a ditch, but I recover quickly - I am getting stronger - and climb out of the ditch.  I find myself on a dirt track.  I don't know what to do.  I am waiting for something to happen.

There is a horrible growling sound that gets louder, then stops.  I can hear steps, and see something approach, but they are not the frequent trots of a horse, and it is walking upright on its hind legs, and has a very short neck and small head.  It is blue and white and pink and green but has the same mane colour as my mother and the great white mare.  I consider running away but it wraps its two strangely short forelegs around me, and although I am scared, I am also tired and hungry.  It rubs my neck dexterously and with strange little legs on the ends of its foreleg, opens my eyes wider in turn to stare intently in, and pats me on the back, and with its foreleg around my body, leads me back into the paddock, letting out a loud noise to frighten the other horses away.  I walk by its side as it reaches out for my mother and leads us both to a different part of the paddock, where there is water and hay, and where we can finally be reunited.  The colt is behaving wildly but the new creature barks and chases him away.

My mother's great lips kiss mine.  My poor mother!  I am so pleased to see her, but want to feed.  She nuzzles my head.  I lick her nipples.  The warm milk fills my mouth.  I can't get enough.  I hear the growling noise again, fading into the distance, then the gaining sound of a gallop.  It is the colt, followed by the great white mare and the brown mare!  My mother is too weak, so I have to run.  But I can't run fast enough - the colt is so quick and powerful and, oh!  For a moment I stumble and he is almost on top of me with his tough hooves but bash!  The great white mare has muscled him out of the way, and warned the brown mare whose son she has chastised, to keep him under control, allowing me to slip quietly back to my mother, the sheepish colt retreating.  The brown mare skulks away dumbly.

I lick my mother's nipples again and the lactate gushes through, but I am still afraid, because the great white mare is coming towards us, massively.

'Maman,' I say.

'It's alright,' she croaks.  I freeze as the great white mare's tremendous shadow covers me.

'I will allow you to survive,' says the great white mare, 'although it is clear that you are sick, and it is not normal for us to keep you.  But you are my grandchild, and I suppose I must give you a chance.  Stay with your mother.  I will make sure no harm comes to you.'

'What's wrong with me?' I ask.

'You were born too early,' my grandmother replies.  'My foal is not yet due but should have been born first, as your mother fell pregnant after me.  You are premature and weak, and of no use to anybody.  You will not grow.'  And she bows her enormous head down to graze.  The veins in her neck, coursing through her body to nourish her unborn foal, are thicker than my legs.  I look across at the colt, an ugly, wiry thing, and have a terrible thought.

'Maman,' I say.

'Yes?'

'Is the colt my father?'

She snorts.  'I don't know who your father is, but it's not him.'

'But he keeps trying to...'

'That's what they do.'

The colt continues to jog about between mouthfuls, as if waiting for another opportunity to attack while my grandmother's back is turned.

'Maman,' I say.  'What was that other creature that saved me?'

'That was a human man.  He's nice.  He comes over now and then to feed us bread and carrots.'

'What are bread and carrots?'

'Rich food for grown-ups.'

'Oh.  And what is a human man?'

'A man is like a stallion, but with a much smaller penis,' my grandmother interrupts.  'A human woman has breasts to suckle her young, just like your mother does.  Humans themselves, however, are just another species of animal, like cows, dogs and pigs.  But they are different.  They are immensely powerful and own everything.  They control the lives of almost every animal in the world; even those said to be wild are contained in enclosures.  Us horses have worked as their slaves for millennia, pulling all their weight, building their great palaces and stadia, fighting their wars and glorifying them.  And then they invented motorcars and tractors and reduced our numbers, rendering most of us that do exist largely redundant.  But if you're a fine horse, pretty and strong, they'll dress you up in nice shoes and feed you delicate food and brush you every day and plait your hair and enter you for races.  If you can run fast, or are supremely elegant, they love you.  But us normal folk?  We're here simply to graze, process what we eat so their vegetables will grow better, and give birth incessantly.  If they like the look of you, they'll breed you.  If not, they'll eat you.'

I gasp.  'Are they going to eat me?'

'This is France, they eat anything that moves,' my grandmother says, as my mother follows her lips to a more succulent tuft of grass.  'Don't you worry yourself though.  You're too small and weak, with no sinew to strip from the bone.  Now, run along and let your mother build her strength back.  You might be small, but you're hardly a kitten.'

Knowing my grandmother to be so strong and wise gives me the freedom to discover the world around me, unthreatened, for the first time since I left my mother's womb.  My home is green and blue, and flowers of all colours are blooming, with little bees and butterflies passing sweet love messages between them.  Baby birds and mammals sing and cavort and feed.  The grass is sweet and fragrant in the air and on my mother's breath, and in her milk.  It is as if nature itself is celebrating my birth, but oh!  The colt is running around again, and this time won't be stopped by my immobile grandmother, whose foal is moving around heavily inside her.  He leaps up onto my mother's back - should I run, or try to protect her?  She is grazing, and moves forward, but his hind footsteps follow her.  And he can't quite get his penis to point in the right place before she moves, and he is nodding his head up and down and neighing and pulling funny faces, and I laugh because he is so ugly and pathetic, but he sees me and jumps down from my mother's back to chase me, right into the bushes as the bottom of the paddock and oh!  That wire had thorns in, and I have torn my neck and fallen into a ditch, this one deeper than the first, and hurt my leg.

Well, that is it, I thought.  Who will find me here?  None of the human men will see me here, the ditch is too deep and their motorcars won't pass.  I can hear the neighing lips of the colt above me, discouraged by the barbed wire but guarding against my re-entrance regardless, if only I could.  But I am safer here than there, at least; the horses are scared of the wires, and now I know why.

A short time ago I was still inside my mother's womb.  It was warm and cosy, and she was very careful not to shake me or bounce me off anything.  I was never hungry and always felt safe and comfortable.  Now she has expelled me into this jungle of violent colts and thorny wire.  I am her foal and she should care for me, but she seems to be more interested in chewing tons of grass and teasing the stupid colt with her smelly, open vulva.  Maybe I should stay here and stay hungry.  Perhaps that will be better.

When I wake up I can hear the growling noise again and the voices of humans.  I don't know if I'm happy about this but then I feel my empty stomach.  I do not understand their language but think that if I let out a little snort they will come and rescue me like the man did earlier.  Their motorcar is still growling but seems stationary, a little further away.  All of a sudden some branches move out of the way and more light comes in, and then there is a human standing there, who looks different to the man who saved me earlier, and must therefore be a woman.  She has a black coat and long hair, almost as long as my mother's tail, but it is a bit like the colour of the colt's coat, so I don't know if I can trust her.

A second woman follows her, who has hair the same colour as my mother and grandmother's tails, and looks like she has her own young inside her.  They point and giggle a little when they see me, and start to talk to me in high-pitched voices.  I don't know what they are saying, but the woman with the reddish hair climbs down into the ditch and gently strokes my nose, and noticing the wound in my neck, rubs the skin around it.  Then she rubs my legs, and of my own accord, I stand up in the ditch, and feel that my leg isn't as hurt as I first feared.  But still I need help to get out of the ditch, so the woman with the straw coloured hair lifts me from under my forelegs and the woman with the reddish hair pushes my rump up from behind.  It is a bit humiliating but I am very impressed with how easily humans can use their forelegs for such complicated tasks.  This must be how they conquered the world.

When I am out of the ditch I see that I am standing in a field of beautiful long grass, waving gently in the breeze, surrounded by a stadium of forest.  My mother would love all this grass.  Perhaps she and I can come and live here, with my grandmother and her foal, and let that horrible other family eat all the scratchy tufts in the paddock until their hearts are content.

The first human woman strokes my mane gently, and I trust her now.  She has a nice smell too.  Then she puts a cord around my neck, which worries me as I don't like wires, but she continues to stroke me gently, which I like, and leads me out of the field of long grass, past their motorcar, which has stopped growling, and back out onto the dirt track, where there are now lots of humans, men and women, with their motorcars, none of which are growling.  When they see me the humans all start pointing and waving, and talking and calling, and some have funny black things with which to cover their eyes, that make clicking sounds, and they are saying something like, 'Bonjour, Paulette!'  I don't know what they are saying.

Two of the human men have entered the paddock, where the woman with the reddish hair is leading me back to my mother, having released the cord from my neck.  The woman with the straw-coloured hair is checking on my mother.  The colt rears as he sees me rejoin my mother, so one of the men chases him into the far corner of the paddock.  But as soon as the man's back is turned the colt comes tearing back down the sloping paddock, with terrifying speed and determination, dodging the challenges of the humans, and before I can get out of the way he knocks me over, and all the humans gasp, and now everyone is chasing him, two of the men with sticks, followed by his mother, and my poor grandmother, but my mother has turned away to the end of the paddock where the forest is, to keep out of it all, and I follow her, having got up immediately, more shocked than hurt by the shoulder-barging colt.

A large number of humans have now entered the paddock, and have formed a sort of human barrier between my mother and I, and the colt, while one of the human men ties a cord to the wire, and wheels out more of the cord as he strides across the paddock.

'Maman, what is he doing?'

'He is creating an enclosure for us so that the colt can't get to us anymore.'

When he has finished the same human man gets into his motorcar and gallops away, kicking up lots of dust on the dirt track, to the consternation of some of the humans.  The colt, in the distance, is circling around angrily, conscious of the presence of the humans who will chase and beat him if he makes one false move.  His mother gently nuzzles him in a half-hearted attempt to calm him down, but he skips away and rebukes her and rears and snorts and neighs and shakes his head, and here he comes again, this time without fear of human or switch, he just wants me dead!  He has even crossed the wire, that most feared of barriers!  I run, and I am now being chased by the colt, his mother, my grandmother, and all the humans, who are shouting and screaming, some of the women putting themselves in between us while the men give chase, and behind me I can hear and see the whipping of a long switch through the air, and thwacking across the colt's back, and eventually, the subsidence of his chase, as he gives up on trying to kill me, for now.  While the humans surround the colt I sneak back to the enclosure, and my mother.

'Maman, why can't you stop him?'

'Because I've just given birth,' she says.  'You don't understand.  I'm tired and weak.  Really I'm too young to foal but our human master insisted, you know, the one who created the enclosure.  He doesn't care.  I'm barely older than you and he's started me already.  I'm sorry.  For now, you'll have to fend for yourself.  Let's just hope he makes the wire buzz so the colt won't come back, because he will kill you when it's dark and the humans go home.  You've made him very frustrated.  Anyway, look after yourself.  I'm sorry that you have to suffer.'

And with that she falls asleep, standing.  Regardless, I lick her nipples and the milk once again gushes out.  Before long I am in ecstasy and only the cheering of the humans as I feed reminds me of the tenuous situation I am in, and my mother wakes up and turns around, and the milk I am suckling squirts into my face.

'Look,' she says.

The human men, including the one who owns us, have returned with a bigger motorcar.  They get out and one of them opens the back.  Although it is quite far away I can see and smell the mixture of hay and manure inside.  One of the human men comes into the paddock and confronts the colt, skillfully putting a cord around his head and snout despite his bucking and thrashing.  'It's a harness,' my mother says.  The human men use the harness to lead the colt, somewhat forcefully, out of the paddock.  His mother seems to panic and gives chase, but is warned away by one of the human men, who waves his long switch and roars.  The colt is bucking and rearing and digging his heels stubbornly, but eventually, they drag him out of the paddock, having temporarily removed the wire, and force him into the back of their motorcar, closing the door behind him before galloping away.

'I've a feeling we won't be seeing him again,' my mother says.

'Where are they taking him?' I ask.

'To the butchers, I suppose,' she says.

'They're going to eat him?' I shudder.

'There's not much else he's good for,' she sighs, and bows her snout down to graze.  The brown mare, usually so stoical, is pining already, staring blankly at the part of the hedge behind which she last saw her son being stuffed into the back of a motorcar, poised for his unlikely return.  My grandmother, awaiting her foal, is staring down.