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Emergency and Emergence

A Soft Spot

(after Heidi Bucher, partly; pantoum-inspired, from afar)[1]

Brush latex 2.
on the walls of your abandoned family
home, thin layers of it,
With familiar abandon, layer again this
latex of yours.
an emulsion of all things, proteins and
starches and sugars and oils and resins,
and more, ‘usually exuded after tissue
Secure the stability of the coagulating
milk with the thinnest cloth, ensure
every particularity of surface is tended
in order to trap the stories the place
once held.
Articulate with care the difference
between trapped and held stories,
so that there is a bonded structure to
hold on to, once dry, as you pull it away
from the wooden walls.


Milk any stability you can secure. 4.
I imagine tiny splinters stuck in the latex,
each indent remembered, each texture
Imagine holding onto a splintered
structure, stuck.
A wooden pull brings you something like a
While you listen to songs of whales
long dead,
purge thin veneer strips, all veins on display. a display of purging, no veneer:


Figure 1: Heidi Bucher, Untitled, Wall with Window, Ahnenhaus Obermühle, Winterthur (detail), 1980 – 1981, textile, paper, latex and mother of pearl color, 250 × 380 cm. From Heidi Bucher, Mendes Wood DM, Brussels. Photo author’s own (2022).


Eventually, dead whales stopped listening.


The day you learnt the name of what
your immune system was doing to your
brain and spine, you went to the
supermarket, and bought a packet of
bad kitchen roll, a brick of gazpacho,
and four oranges – three naked, and one
wrapped in paper.
The day you learnt the name hiding in
your immune system, your brain was
wrapped in tissue paper.
All rest, in pieces. Paper comes from pulping trees. The
bark has to be stripped. Logs are
chipped. Lignin is broken down. The
resulting pulp is meshed, screened,
dried, pumped, stretched, squirted,
moved, spread, squeezed, heated,
coated, cut, wrapped.[3]
The sight of the four oranges broke me
a little. You had been craving them, you
said, and the doctor asked you to eat
plenty of fresh produce. But you only
bought four, as if your craving was very
little, as if four oranges would fix you.
I produced a fresh craving to fix you,
asked you –
why the wrapped one?


My voice tried to screen a pulped
You explained you had liked the tissue,
even if you could tell by touch that they
were a bit mushier, a bit bruised,
The touched one turned out bruised.
if wrapped. I got a vision of care as a pliable
surface, a shelter.
But you still got yourself one, a soft spot,
You got yourself a soft spot,
held like a red summer burst, barely, not
really, bright – a second of bloom


I started to weave a plea for sheltering,


for something holy.


Some holey thing,
I could barely hold your brightness, that
in a limbic room, waiting for a mark on a
spectrum of disease, not healthy, not
sick, foreign both here and there.
In a saint’s life ‘the end reiterates the
beginning. . . Saints are individuals who
lose nothing of what was initially given
to them.’[4]
Reiterate your given sainthood, lose
The English word care comes from Old
Saxon and High German sorrow, a
lament, in turn, a cry.[5]


We waited for limbo to be no longer
there, made room for health
in a magnetic field of etymological
The magnified logic of walls, again.
You never cried, not once. You glowed all the way through, like a
worm or an old lightbulb or nuclear
Care and careen are not related, other
than by a sudden immersion in their
You joked with gusto about future
‘Peel the skin off everything? she asked.
Yes, from everything.’[6]


The way this became a wormhole, the
warning glow of it.
It was plenty, this mess of margins. There was such thing as plentiful
Skin peeled off. When your future self broke into many,
all unpredictable, we were busy fixing up
a neglected apartment in what used to
be a garage.
We laughed and it was genuine and I
still cannot explain how.
We still laughed, explaining how we
were going to tackle it all.
‘The laughter came from an inside, with
a commitment to share the problems of
a community.’[7]


By fixing up I mean busying up crews of
men to do the actual work, while we
poured over excel sheets to see if in the
future we were going to be broke.
The first step was a thorough
demolition, rubble and noise and
purposeful destruction.
Some stuff self-destructs as if to serve
an illustrative purpose, a first step
towards declaring that modernity was
this, rubble and noise.
Whether this interior was laughing at us
or with us, we shared the commitment to
care for it, come into this community
intimacy became the confidence to
invoke future ramps, and imagine all of
us there while you wheeled yourself
around a place originally meant for cars.
Closest friends, on hearing the news,
would know you well enough to jest
about serendipitous timing and the
opportunity to design for accessibility
from scratch.
Your friends knew enough to keep close
and accessible.
‘An excess of layering might be the
weak spot’.[8]

Figure 2: Heidi Bucher, Closet (detail), 1979, textile (gauze), latex, bamboo and mother of pearl, 192 x 255 cm (approx.). From Heidi Bucher, Mendes Wood DM, Brussels. Photo author’s own (2022).


Invoke intimacy by ramping up the
future, imagine it all, a wheel of fortune
in a spinning frenzy.
After all, artists who work with latex care
more about the sensuous than the
Artists who work with latex sense
that there is more than permanence.
Mighty but weak layers, a spot of excess. Apparently, ‘extensive research has
been carried out into the . . . ethical
options for conserving these often
seriously compromised sculptures.’[9]
Consequently, museum conservators
worry about repairing something
intended for decay, about whether it is
ethical to change an artwork’s natural
inclination towards mild disaster.
These works conserve a worry about
metamorphosis, about distinctly
changing the surface of one’s physical
being, maybe in hope of changing, too,
the mild disaster of one’s essence.
Latex, like memory, is organic: it looks
like skin, it flakes like skin, it tans like
skin, it cracks like skin. Its fight against
time is futile.




As compromised as they may be, it feels
like these structures are still capable of
carrying much serious meaning.
You could say that, for the artist,
softness is a form of freedom; an
alternative to the prevalent rigidity,
made by herself and taken by herself,
Softness forms freedom, but it takes an
alternative violence to do so. Not that
you’d ever say that.
She skins memory as if it was a fight, Meanwhile, we can reject that ‘had the
care been good enough (from the artist,
the curator, the museum, the university
teacher, etc.), we would not have been
exposed to the bad thing and would not
now be suffering.’[10]
the white laundry of snake shedding. A snake biting its own laundered tail
after shedding, tissue too tender to
slither on dirt.
Hear the warning against a reductive
definition of care, proposing instead that
it is ‘a negotiation of needs that involves
assuming strength in the other.’[11]


For now, you were not suffering, and
that was good enough, given that you
are not an artist, nor a teacher.
Skinning is never a gentle matter.


Skin is never a gentle matter.
You warned me your strength was non-
negotiable, you did not want to be
reduced to an other that needed
involved care.
We discuss the love with which we have
not had children, the choice to spare
them the burning world and our
respective bodily faults.
‘Our relatings have consequences.[12] ‘Not only do relations involve care, care
is itself relational,’ and one must be
After the diagnosis I wondered, selfishly,
if I’d regret not having a distant future
where a grown-up son’s shoulders might
look just like yours.


We discuss the choice of love, how to
indulge our respective burning bodies
and their faults.
You said it was good, the impossibility of
leaving me alone with babies. I asked
you if you were planning to die soon.
You didn’t. It was just that imaginary
children do not grow up.
You said it was all good. You wanted to
be left alone. You did not want to
imagine not having a plan for growing
The diagnosis was only threatening in
such a distant future, that I hoped I’d
have time to grow wonderfully unselfish
‘The alternative between care and
wound, as well as that between love and
violence, is . . . a predisposition to respond.’[14]
make ‘with’ a practice. So, we widened our practice,
leant on the conjugation of being.


There was never an alternative to the
its faithfulness full of skin. We had skin in this faith.
Being as conjugal as a leaning, ‘Peeling off the skin is detachment from
the past, . . . I am freed from the sins
that surrounded me.’[15]
we drafted a ‘geometry of
We were a draft, responding to the
geometry of the events.
We kickstarted the early days of all this,
entered their tunnel with a prayer.


Feeling skin freed us from the sin of
What I wanted for you was precisely a
metamorphosis. A chance to moult. For
you to emerge soft and big and bare
and raw and whole.
At the moment of bare, raw emergence,
the brand-new ‘room skins are
transparent, soft, and light.’[17]Then,
eventually, they morph.
Oh please, started the prayer, let all
days be like this from here on. Let all
days be the early type.
They tapped your spine in a room I later
asked you to describe for me.
You were calm even in those videos
where your brain appeared slice by
You were calm even as its appearance
seared in your brain,
the fluorescent light above the bed
where they ordered you to rest.


They tapped you, like a rubber tree. 30.
But what really struck you was the liquid
they obtained. You asked them to show
it to you. It was just like water, you said,
You asked them to show it to you, this
thing that struck you liquid.
not even fluorescent. And then, a possible evaluation: not
quite a best-case scenario, but
contained, manageable.
They watched you and watched you and
watched you.
I watched you and watched you and
watched you.
A forecast of mildness, a release of
controlled normalcy.


In this impossible scenario, you were
the best.
Wear the latex skins on your shoulders
like a lion pelt. Parade them down the
corridors, a procession without lights.
Unroll it down a balcony, make them a
flag to celebrate the triumph of the
passing of time.
Wear your own skin at the procession,
light up with triumph. Celebrate having
time to pass. Drag along, the world
proudly on your shoulders.
Some release, the normal control
granted by mild things.
The artist mixed in mother of pearl
particles, hinting at a higher calling for
all this violence.
We took the provisional gift with both
hands, not daring to breathe. Caring
turned into a performance of stillness.
Take the gift now, however this thing
dares to perform. Take the gift, and take
its guilty provision. Remember to
Iridescent nacre meant as defence for
the softer, fleshier tissues.


Call your mother: only some violence
mixed in these particles.
After exuding the tissue injury,
soft, iridescent.
Brush the latex on.

Figure 3: Heidi Bucher, Closet (detail), 1979, textile (gauze), latex, bamboo and mother of pearl, 192 x 255 cm (approx.). From Heidi Bucher, Mendes Wood DM, Brussels. Photo author’s own (2022).