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6th May 2019

"I was not friends with Duchamp on entering. We are not friends on leaving. We do share some things" – David Stavanger

By David Stavanger

Image of "I was not friends with Duchamp on entering. We are not friends on leaving. We do share some things" – David Stavanger

“My attitude toward art is that of an atheist toward religion. I would rather be shot, kill myself, or kill somebody else than paint again.” Duchamp

I entered this room. It was a room of mischief. High-drama. Privilege. Genius/Prankster/Master. The male lens. Readymade. I unmade the bed, scratched his head and put my laptop on my lap. There was no pen.

I was not friends with Duchamp on entering. We are not friends on leaving. We do share some things: a fear of flying, chess, a love of chocolate, a strained relationship with hair, a manifest curiosity in latent desires, a call to mayhem (though his seems a siren, mine these days a bell.)

We are also both male artists, with all the power and heavy baggage we packed with it. At times I felt discomfort looking behind his eyes to see my own. Other times I saw Picasso’s bull, my conman father who steals time, I saw all the men I try to stay clear off these days ­– the gaze that grabs and owns. I didn’t need a crayon map to get close.

My process was mainly one of interrogation & play, to find the depth in the surface, reading for the joke in the linear notes. Cut up with moments where the punch line fell short and he was exposed. The lost receipts for readymades, one nicknamed Hedgehog; the beauty of plagiarism when it hurts no one; the ugliness of colonialism when it is so casual, so cartoon, so crudely exotic; deconstructed phobias and godheads; the ultimate Jackass episode involving not enough string and dozens of Ubers; sixteen degrees of separation; the dreams we walk up from; the holy power of the curator and the western pedestal of art(e)facts; throwaway quotes about suicide on days full of self-harm; the intimacy of a chess game / the distance from my son; the way he wanted a woman and had her on the canvas, uninvited.

Now I walk away from this project. Privilege/d. I walk away having walked through the catalogued lines, skipping the vast queue before the exhibition opens, before the masses gather deciding what is art and what works against the space they live in. Cafes nearby will fill with couples talking each other apart. The world is an installation.

I want to thank Red Room Poetry for commissioning me for this project despite my doubt and whispers that the avant garde will have me for brunch. That’s why it is the leading producer of poetry projects in the world today – it pushes poets into places they’ve been before and asks them to open their blind spots. Then write their way out.

Special thanks to their director Tamryn Bennett for inviting me to be one of the responding artists and for creating constraints to strain against: your generosity, inclusivity & collaborative spirit are priceless (except when it comes to grants, where Red Room Poetry’s current market value is €1,000,000,000.00 repeat, acquit.)

 

Read David's poems responding to the artworks of Marcel Duchamp. These poems were commissioned for Red Room Poetry's event Punch Lines: Poets Play Duchamp, held in May 2019.

 

Liked reading this reflection? Check out our other poets' reflections on Punch Lines: Poets Play Duchamp: