<i><b>She loves like</b> was written as part of SEVENTH Gallery's 2019 Emerging Writers Program. The program pairs writers with exhibiting artists and asks them to create a piece of writing that engages with a particular body of work. I was lucky enough to be paired with multimedia artist <a href="https://jesstaylorartist.com" target="_blank"> Jess Taylor</a>, and wrote a series of short pieces in response to her exhibition 'Love Works'.</i>
<b>She loves like a vase of feathers. A kind of love that makes me arch my blood. I am her mother.</b>
My mother knows how to hold her head up to get the best blood drip. Tonight she is taking us to get midnight snacks at the new supermarket in the center of town. She pushes a shopping trolley full of all of us up and down the aisles, dropping stolen pick and mix nuts directly into our mouths. Her head sits cradled in the children’s seat, dripping long strands onto the wheel-scuffed floor. I feel my own blood being pulled to the surface of my skin by the fluorescent lights, and it stings a bit, like the brush of a feather across my face. I arch both towards and away from her, my mouth wet and open. I need her to know that I am just as thirsty as my sisters.
Our mother fits her groceries around us in the trolley. We try not to knock things out as we fight to catch blood strands before they leave trails. As we come around the corner into the packed meat aisle, one of my sisters starts to scream. It takes me a minute to see what she is looking at. Just a small, wall mounted mirror, the kind that supermarket employees use to see around corners, to catch people slipping things into their pockets. I roll my eyes, but our mother stops. She takes her head from the metal cradle and holds it up to the glass. As her face spreads out in the mirror’s curved surface, the blood starts to congeal, pieces falling in concrete chunks and pebbling across the floor. She throws her head back into the trolley, in with us and the groceries, and for a second I think that I’ve also been petrified. I latch onto the base of her neck, trying my best to squeeze more blood from the stone. “Don’t look at me like that,” she says when she sees me doing it, “I am doing this because I love you.”
<b>She loves like a loom of snakes. A kind of love that makes me grow my knees. I am her lover.</b>
My lover fell in a car park last week and skinned her knees on the concrete. She says that she’s okay, that she tried to clean the wounds as best she could - but there’s gotta be some dirt still in there, why the fuck else would my knees be sprouting leaves instead of scabs? She’s come to see me at the fish and chip shop after her supermarket shift, she doesn’t start at the pub for another couple of hours yet. She told me that she tripped during the day, in the supermarket car park - collecting trolleys - but I know from someone she works with that she fell at night, leaving the pub - just walking to her car. She is sitting on the counter, so I can get a better look. The leaves are greener and thicker than in the photos she posted to her Instagram. She sighs, kicking her legs, shaking the foliage. “This sucks,” she says, “at least if I had turned into a whole tree I could hang them all upside down from my branches. I mean, these knees are pretty, but they don’t really offer me much in the way of protection.” I snake an arm around her leg and pull her towards me. She smiles, and plucks a few leaves from her sore spots to throw into the deep fryer.
<b>She loves like a mirror of blood. A kind of love that makes me devour my hair. I am her sister.</b>
My sister accused me of cutting off my snakes to spite my head, so I cut off my own head to spite her. I told her that sometimes I think about renting a hotel room with a mirrored ceiling,mostly just to freak her out. She thinks she knows best, just because she is pre-Perseus and I am post-. She thinks that I don’t love myself enough, that I’m carting my own head around just for attention. I mean, she’s only sort of wrong. I’m not going to get that hotel room, but once or twice I did think about getting a bus down to the shopping center, the new one with all the mirrored walls on the first floor. My sister acts like the mirrors are a targeted attack against our family, but I think they were actually just put in to try and make the space look much bigger than it really is. Anyway, I do love myself, it’s just that sometimes I’ll be out walking through the old town square and I’ll find myself getting jealous of the stone fountain. I don’t know, maybe I could start performing as one of those living statues in the shopping center - paint myself red head to toe, set up in front of a mirrored wall with a sign and a container for coins. I wouldn’t do it for all that long. Just as long as it would take for my sister to figure out how to change me back. I’m pretty sure she would do it. She’s my sister. She’d at least have to look after my snakes while I was gone.
<b>She loves like a ring of flowers. A kind of love that makes me open my head. I am her lover.</b>
My lover runs the fish and chip shop at the end of Marigold street. On our first date she told me this and I laughed, I couldn’t help it, and I said something really fucking stupid like “we serve calamari at the pub I work at, but it’s not nearly as good as yours.” I remember wanting to open myself up and crawl completely inside, I was so embarrassed, but my embarrassment seemed to make her laugh, which I’d never seen her do before, so. This afternoon I sit on her counter and watch as she coats strips of herself in water, flour and bread crumbs. “Are you hungry?” I want to say starving but instead I just shrug. She throws pieces of herself into the metal basket, checks the temperature of the oil with a metal thermometer. “How was your shift this morning?” she asks, and I say “Fine.” I want to tell her that I think it’s so cool what she’s doing, taking a terrible curse and turning it into one of the most successful small businesses in this ailing town. Instead I just sit and swing my legs against the counter, I pick a scab on my knee and think about offering it to her to deep fry and eat, like a laurel leaf, or a potato chip. I want to tell her that I’m just as happy to eat the frozen calamari rings you can get at the supermarket, but I don’t know if that’s entirely true.
<b>She loves like a mirror of wings. A kind of love that makes me skin my eyes. I am her partner.</b>
Our partner in crime keeps the security guard distracted while the other two of us steal maxipads and jellybeans from the new supermarket in the center of town. There is something about the way we love each other that freaks people out. By day we stand in a line with our feet in the fountain in front of the shopping center, also brand new and built on the bones of the old town square. We hand out fliers and sing about bargains and lure people into thinking that all the love they’ll ever need is just behind the automatic doors. The pay sucks, but we are good at our jobs. At night we spend our money at the pub near the turn off to the highway - the music is bad but it’s good to dance to, and there’s this cute bartender there that gives us drink discounts and asks us to text her when we get home. We are careful to only lip-sync with the songs we know, and to refract the cheap disco lights into other people’s eyes so they can’t see us properly. They’ll still try to break into our dancing circle, trying to braid their limbs into ours like they’re meant to be there, like they’re adding something and not just taking up space. This just makes us circle closer, weaving ourselves with the tightness of a laurel wreath until there’s no space left, not even in the center. When we turn our faces to each other we see each other - reflected, repeated- like the segmentation of a snake. Anyone who gets in between us ruins the effect, like a cheap trick, or a broken security mirror left discarded out back of the supermarket.
<i>When researching Jess Taylor’s work for this piece, I was particularly drawn to the way she worked in the digital space, or rather the creative space that opens up when the digital starts to break down. I knew that I wanted to use tech in some way in my response to her exhibition, and settled on a generative text model as a way to explore this kind of digital disconnection. I used the open source program Tracery to build a twitter bot, the basic structure being ‘She loves like an [object] of [object]. A love that makes me [verb] my [body part]. I am her [relationship].’ I input words that came through when viewing pieces from ‘Love Works’ - the outputs can still be viewed @sheloveslikebot on twitter. Each of the five segments that make up this piece grew from an output I pulled from the feed. The thing I like most about this bot, and about generative text bots in general, is that even when they write things that are grammatically correct, there’s often something about the outputs that doesn’t feel quite right. It’s a feeling I found quite similar to that of looking into the face of one of Jess’ sculptures and seeing my own reflected back. </i>