The Samsa Generator
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There’s this place people call Backdoor SoHo. It’s a fun name, really. You can get into it walking past the right Ray’s on Sixth Avenue if you’re in Manhattan, or you can sometimes encounter it while traveling from Málaga to Almería on the N-340 road, or if you cross Aberdeen Street, stepping into the right store wearing the right clothes, knowing the right code. The Aberdeen street on Sheung Wan, by the way. No other works.

Wherever you get in through, once you’re in, you realize the gentrified, claustrophobic streets that never see the light of the day all exist in New York, and in Spain, and in Hong Kong; they all converge on the same place. Like a fucked up Portland, a mezcolanza of cultures, all rotten to the core. All because they’ve allowed a parasite to invade their bodies, filling their lungs with mud and clogging their atria.


Art is the parasite.

“Art can’t be a parasite.”

At the gallery, a man stops me. He’s wearing a burgundy suit, coupled with a pure-black cane and a top hat, having been pulled from either a costume play convention or a Bentley’s corporate meeting during the late 20s.

“Why not? Because art… Art, my friend, is profit.”

The man smiled, his teeth on full display. Whatever wasn’t tobacco-yellow was straight up made of gold.

“This gallery wouldn’t exist without the kind patronage of the Marshalls, and SoHo would be nothing without the Critic’s people ready to fund anything he so desired. This place’s birth is tightly linked to the connections he made back during the birth of Dada. He helped found the Cabaret Voltaire. Did you know that?”

I didn’t, no. History has never been my forte. Not like I would have cared about the parasite’s past, anyhow.

“What would the artist be without capital, without the coin that gives him bread to eat and water to drink? Why would the artist paint if not for the expectancy of their art to be sold to the highest bidder? And why would art matter if it didn’t generate money?”

He laughs. It rubs me the wrong way.

“Art, you see, is nothing but another type of currency. One may say there is more impact to it, more feeling, More of a… More of a je ne sais quoi. At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to how many zeroes it adds to your account.”

The man finished his rant, then went back to the gallery. His gallery, because a parasite knows how to make the most out of the meat it gnashes; out of the nutrients it steals. The parasite latches onto ideas, onto concepts, and perverts them. Suddenly, a simple life becomes advertisement, and a war becomes marketing, and hunger becomes a brand, and anger, politics. Ideas are diluted and expanded, destroyed and formed into homeopathic remedies, a conceptual rasashastra that collapses unto itself and leaves tasteless amalgamations that people stare at and point with their fingers and call ‘deep, and rich, and brilliant’.

“Well, maybe they’re right.”

I turn to a woman who has no face. No, that’s not right. Rather, her face is fake. It’s a mask made of flesh — maybe the flesh of her previous face, but it’s not her face anymore. Her body looks broken and skinless and wet and fleshy. It has too many arms, and not enough legs. It has wings, and a tail, but they’re made of sinew and bone and fat. None of it is hers.

“Deep, and rich, and brilliant. Amazing words any artist would like to hear. Because why would one not wish to be complimented. Why would an artist not want to be acknowledged, and praised, and adored? What kind of artist wouldn’t want to become God, with their art becoming their Apotheosis?”

The flesh spoke, and her words resonated through mucous membranes she did not have where her vocal cords should have been. Her face didn’t move, it couldn’t, but just like the gallery owner, she smiled.

“Oh, don’t compare me to Chrysler. That old fool… He couldn’t tell a Serov apart from a fucking Kinkade. All he cares about is which one would put more money in his pockets.”

The answer to that would be a Kinkade, of course.

“Of course it would be a Kinkade, even if it's nothing but smeared shit. That’s why he could never get art. Art is not about profit. It’s about the accolades. About the honor. Art… Art is an artist’s life. It’s their meaning.”


“An artist lives, and then dies, but their art… I told you, it’s their apotheosis. Van Gogh was a poor schizophrenic bastard who blew his brains out because he saw no point in life. But now? Now, now he’s in the Louvre, and the d’Orsay, and- And he’s been all over the world. A parading corpse, yes, but only the most important get a procession.”

I turn to her performance: A troupe of reanimated corpses parading a coffin made of obsidian-colored steel and flesh, a box chained with barbed wire. As the rotten bodies moved the box around, I could tell something was trying to get out of it. Something that couldn’t scream, because its lungs could not function anymore.

What was this supposed to represent, anyway?

“An artist’s desire to keep going, even past death, because if an artist’s life is their art, wouldn’t their death mean the same? And thus, the artist becomes art too.”

So is an artist inside the coffin, then?

“His name was Burden. Chris Burden. He loved this kind of stuff. I’m sure he’s proud of what I’ve done to him. He’s become a God among mortals, an unforgettable figure amidst smudges.”

Wouldn’t that make her a smudge too? A stepping stone for a corpse to stand upon. A corpse who wouldn’t care at all what this woman had done to him. At the end of the day, it was still parasitic, a bag of flesh using another to fill a hole that could have used any other filling. Instead, a larva had made its way in, digging into the flesh with its mandibles, not letting go. And like a larva, it had desecrated even the corpses. Because why would anyone believe that peace could be granted after death? No, even after death a parasite could latch onto you, feasting until there was less than bone.

“But that’s what art is all about, is it not?”

In front of me stands another woman. This woman has a normal amount of limbs. No wings, no tail, no desire for pain. Unlike the previous one, her face isn’t a facade, but one with emotions I can read. She seemed bored.

“Art’s about suffering. About death. About the pain that one goes through to make art, because all that emotion, all that illness goes into one’s painting, into one’s sculptures, and that’s what gives art impact. That makes it special. More special than all of that we don’t consider art.”

Pain? Why pain? Why not love? Or fear? Or any other concept?

“One could argue that love is another facet of pain. Or a respite from it. Between two moments of love there is a world of pain, a world of suffering, and we’ve known this since our epoch. Since man has thought, and since they’ve pushed their thoughts onto other people, they’ve known that pain equals life, and life equals art. Maybe that’s one thing Mari gets right, but she hasn’t been alive in the natural sense in ages. She’s nothing but a meat circus: A laughable attempt at mimicking a life that was barely there in the first place.”

There seems to be animosity between everyone I’ve talked to today. Or has talked to me, rather. Could art’s true meaning be war? Or is it just another facet of the parasite?

“Art could be war. Rather, war is art. Art dismantles, only to build anew. All suffering creates content. Do you think Russia could have entered the art world without Vereshchagin painting the atrocities of Samarkand? He’d be nothing if he hadn’t seen Persians tied to cannons and fired, their entrails painting the way for the empire to flourish at the cost of another. Beautiful paintings, each carrying hundreds of Uzbek lives. Each tied to the collapse of the Bukhara.”

For some reason, artists were really good at history. Go figure. Instead of another history lesson, I turn to her performance. A series of lights tied to cameras, tied to phone booths, tied to projectors; a potpourri of technology that seemed to serve no purpose.

“Each is a memory, a visage of terror — a known moment in history where suffering has concentrated. Be it a massacre, a war, a famine. A literal Holocaust. A literal Holodomor. Step into the booth, make a call, and you will be there, without memories of your life. You will live miserably, die miserably, and then you’ll be back.”

Interesting. But, why?

“If you’re not an artist, maybe you’ll learn to appreciate your life a bit more. Maybe you’ll understand that for everything we do, there is another side that we choose to ignore, a less fortunate one. And if you’re an artist, maybe you’ll be inspired by the suffering, having suffered without really having suffered. That’s what my art is all about.”

So have you used it?

“Of course I have. Why limit one’s suffering to a single moment, to a single life?”

She kept talking, but I tuned her words out. I did not want to keep listening to what she was talking about: About the lives she lived in Vietnam and Cambodia and Georgia, and the deaths she went through. I could never understand the desire to hurt oneself, the desire to suffer for the sake of this parasite. Of this insect. If art was suffering, then I didn’t want anything to do with it. I already had this belief, and the more I listened to what art was, the stronger the foundation of my belief became.

If art was money, then just like real money, it was ultimately worthless.

If art was life, then just like real life, it held no meaning.

If art was suffering, then just like real suffering, it served no purpose.

Maybe it was no parasite, but some sort of amensalistic bacteria, something that hurt and hurt, and gained nothing from it. A bleeding cut. A dying fish. A tree that falls to empty ears.

“Intricate words. Almost poetry. You wouldn’t expect them to be referring to something ‘worthless’, as you’ve said.”

The next person I meet is a guy like any other, his clothing an opposition to the baubly air of the gallery. He sits on a reclining chair in front of a rainbow circle, butterflies made of jewels dancing around the room.

“Of course, people who despise something so openly tend to believe in antinomies: logical paradoxes between how they feel and how they present it to others.”

So you say I believe art has meaning?

“Of course you do. You wouldn’t have come to a gallery otherwise. You would have stayed at your home, if you have one, and watched TV, if you had one. Maybe go to a bar, or a library, or anywhere but here.”

The man gets up from his chair.

“So why are you here?”

I’m here to have my beliefs proven true, of course. Art is nothing but a parasite, a worthless- No, less than worthless bug whose only purpose is to dig into the skin of society. Because that’s what art is; that’s what art has done.

“I see. Well, you could have gone to any art gallery to have that proven to you. Why here?”

Because here people can manipulate reality, and thus is the purest form of art.

“So art has purity.”

Everything has. Everything is less or more of ‘it’.

“And… This is the purest form of art, then? This gallery’s items?”

Where else would I find art made of flesh, art made of memories, art made of tears and rot and everything it truly represents?

“… I guess you have a point. Here you find things you can’t find anywhere else. Like money, and life, and suffering. Yeah?”

And here we see the pain the parasite inflicts. Art is pretentiousness: It’s one-upping each other for the sake of being the blind idiot that stands atop the pile of other blind idiots. Art is a measuring contest with no other metric other than seeing which Atlas carries the biggest ego on their shoulders.

“You should write a book, you know? You have a way of putting words together to emulate meaningfulness. Wonder if that’s art too…”

I roll my eyes and turn to his performance. I see the butterflies flap their wings and… That’s it.

“Well, no, there’s more. Pass through the circle, and you’ll become a butterfly.”


“Of course. All these are people who’ve walked through.”

I see. What does it represent?

“You’re still on about that? It represents nothing. It doesn’t need to.”

That’s not true. Art always has meaning behind it.

“You just said art was pretentious. Wouldn’t that infer a lack of meaning?”

So I’m right.

“Sorta. See, there’s this guy, Zhuang Zhou. He once dreamt he was a butterfly, and so, he wondered: Am I a man dreaming of a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of a man? It’s a simple quote: sounds like something Descartes would say if he’d been born a thousand years before, and also in China.”

What’s your point?

“Cut the chase and turn the man into a butterfly. Art may have no meaning, so turn yourself into art. Become the meaning you seek.”

Is that it? That’s what your piece represents? The end of uncertainty?

“I wouldn’t put it that way, but sure. It’s art in its purest form. Art for the sake of art. Something that can’t be appreciated because butterflies are incapable of doing that.”

He sits down again, pulling out a box of cigarettes. He tunes me out, I can tell. I did the same to the woman before. He was sick of me, just like I was sick of him.

I turn to leave, to step into the next room, talk to the next artist, see what their beliefs are and how wrong they are, but something stops me. It’s the butterflies dancing around me. Parasites, trying to suck the blood off my body, attempting to guide me to the circle, make me join their ranks.

It’s an idea that I haven’t considered until now. Wouldn’t I be proven right if I were to become art? I would know all that art is, because I would know all that I am. The man was right: I would cut 'to' the chase and get to the point. I wouldn’t need to wonder anymore. I wouldn’t need to paint ever again. I wouldn’t ever need to see another painting again. I would be absolved from the sins, from the guilt, from the suffering.

“The end of uncertainty…” I repeated to myself, then I turn around. One step, two steps, three steps. Like a waltz, I end up in front of the circle. I stare at the colors. Nothing but pastiche, a pale imitation of natural works. I want to heave. I want to step through. I don’t heave. I step through. I become the bug; I become the parasite. I am art. I am meaningless. I am complete.

As I flutter around, the man gets up again, staring at me through the circle. He smiles.

“You can’t turn back, by the way.” He explains. I would be shocked, but I am a butterfly. “I would have told you before, but I think this is for the best. I mean, you’ve found your meaning, and I’ve found a way to have one prick less visit this gallery.”

I keep fluttering around, not letting his words hurt me. They can’t, for I cannot comprehend them.

The man stares at me, or maybe at another butterfly, before lighting up a cigarette, and leaving the room.


The Samsa Generator

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