Aris Kalaizis

A second story by Christoph Keller after a Kalaizis-painting

Aris Kalaizis | The Interference of Angels | 43 x 59 in | 2009
Aris Kalaizis | The Interference of Angels | 43 x 59 in | 2009

In Switzer­land born and in New York liv­ing author Chris­toph Keller "The Inter­fer­ence of Angels" sketches with the second story to an oth­er Leipzig-Kala­izis paint­ing an absurd par­al­lel world

A mir­acle has even deep­er roots,
Some­thing like error,
some pro­found defeat.
‑Mur­i­el Rukey­ser, Fable

He needed the money Pen­tagrass offered him for mod­el­ing, if that was what you wanted to call it: put­ting on dirty jeans, an unwashed under­shirt, a silly wig and a sur­prised look. People stayed away from the res­taur­ant in Grimma, where he worked as a waiter, and more and more often, when Johan arrived for work, he found the door shut and a Closed sign on it. He had taken the after­noon off, without ask­ing the res­taur­ant own­er. Even­tu­ally, Robert would let him go any­way, with the eco­nomy what it was. Johan stopped. He leant the shovel against the closest tree, next to the pile of soil, heavy with last night’s rain. He felt exhausted. He looked up. Above him noth­ing but an aus­pi­cious can­opy of leaves. Good, Pen­tagrass thought. Johan had come early. >He had brought the rusty green Wart­burg he wanted in his paint­ing, and he had parked it exactly where he had told him. He had built the make­shift tent out of the sticks and the dust­sheets Pen­tagrass had provided him with, and he had even star­ted to shovel. Now that Pen­tagrass had arrived with the rest of the equip­ment and with Mar­ie, the mod­el for the angel, Johan had put the shovel aside and assumed his pose. “Just look sur­prised, Johan” Pen­tagrass said, stepped out of the clear­ing, where he was part of the wood, and looked at the scene through the lens of his cam­era. It was under­stood that they wouldn’t acknow­ledge each oth­er dur­ing the pro­cess of set­ting the scene for the paint­ing. It was the essence of the paint­ing. It was the only way paint­er and mod­el could get lost in the paint­ing. W353. Mys­ter­i­ous as ciphers, as clouds, cru­cial as the right light, a part of the license plate of the pickup was vis­ible between Johan’s legs. Behind Johan, there was now a stable, the preg­nant sky.

Aris Kalaizis, Detail: The Interference of Angels
Aris Kalaizis, Detail: The Interference of Angels

The trees looked fresh as though they had just been planted. All sorts of peace­ful sounds could be heard, the rust­ling of leaves, the rap­ping of a wood­peck­er, the flut­ter­ing of wings. Pentagrass’s pre­vi­ous work, The Ritu­al, had also ori­gin­ated in the clear­ing. Here, months ago, col­lect­ing mush­rooms, he had found the giant root that, half-freed from the earth, had become the center­piece of the paint­ing. He had dragged the root to his liv­ing room, to the annoy­ance of his wife. For weeks bugs and ants had crawled around their apart­ment, try­ing to find their way back to the woods. The Ritu­al showed Pen­tagrass in an under­shirt (the one Johan was wear­ing now) and sus­pend­ers from the back, hold­ing the roots in midair with the help of a rope while a woman is watch­ing dis­ap­prov­ingly. (The woman in his real life came to appre­ci­ate the paint­ing.) He looked at Johan intensely. Like an act­or who knew his role but not the movie he was in, Johan knew what to wear and where to stand, but he didn’t know any­thing else. He didn’t know what to expect, if any­thing. He cer­tainly didn’t know that Pen­tagrass felt forced to come back to the scene of crime of his pre­vi­ous paint­ing. Johan didn’t know that Pen­tagrass felt mys­ter­i­ously com­pelled to paint anoth­er angel paint­ing after Make / Believe and Mak­ing Sky. It didn’t occur to him that he could become part of the paint­ing, with maybe no way out. He had been told to look sur­prised but he didn’t know that his sur­prise would be genu­ine. Quickly, Pen­tagrass stepped into the scene, put a crown of feath­ers into the still-open hole, and withdrew.

Johan felt sick, fall­ing apart. He felt it phys­ic­ally, cheeks nar­row­ing and pal­ing, blood thick­en­ing, heart­beat slow­ing. Was he out of work by now? He couldn’t check the time, not while pos­ing. It must be past four, the res­taur­ant had opened, and his, and the pick-up’s, absence noticed. He glanced at Pen­tagrass, who nod­ded: that was a viol­a­tion of the rules! Ligh t— a gey­ser of light — shot out of the hole, and it filled with feath­ers, white as those of a goose, a swan. Johan did what people often do when they don’t under­stand — he went on a search for his cigar­ettes. He didn’t care about abandon­ing his pose, even leav­ing the scene. He found them on the passenger’s seat. The car smelled of age and abuse. Back at the hole, it felt inap­pro­pri­ate to light up.

Clio, preg­nant, banned smoking in her pres­ence. Some­times Johan did it any­way. She was in her tenth week. There was still time for decisions. They didn’t have the money for them­selves, much less for a child. He had prom­ised her — the last time only a few hours ago when Clio had thought he had left for work — to pull him­self togeth­er, to work even harder, smile more for tips and maybe even a raise, des­pite it all. He flipped the cigar­ette into the hole. It was swal­lowed by the feath­ers, teeth of the earth. Anger hit­ting the wrong tar­get. He longed to be in the res­taur­ant, smil­ing, with the Wart­burg unstolen, Clio unpreg­nant, the cigar­ette smoked, wait­ing on impa­tient cos­tumers, hungry for Robert’s over­priced organ­ic gour­met meals. Instead he was here, wear­ing some­body else’s dirty under­shirt, this ridicu­lous long-haired Jesus wig. Click!, and Johan’s sur­prised face was cap­tured. Pen­tagrass put the cam­era on the ground, stepped into the clear­ing and slowly lowered Mar­ie. Mar­ie, who assisted Pen­tagrass’ wife in her tail­or shop, was wear­ing a climb­ing har­ness under­neath her set of swan feath­ers and her light white under­shirt. She was attached to a set of ropes, and the ropes were attached to two trees. When her head was on a par with Johan’s, Pen­tagrass secured the ropes and stepped out of the clear­ing. Mar­ie was look­ing into the light com­ing out of the hole, Johan, entranced, was gaz­ing at the angel’s golden hair. “Now bend your right knee, Mar­ie,” Pen­tagrass said. “The oth­er one and not so much, good, stop right there. And extend the left arm, point two fin­gers at the hole. Do not look at Johan.”

Pen­tagrass had nev­er worked with Mar­ie before, but now that she was solidly hanging from the sky he had a pre­mon­i­tion of per­fec­tion. Instinct­ively, Johan opened his hands toward the angel. “Shall I …,” know­ing how help­less he soun­ded as he said it, “… catch your fall?” “That’s not neces­sary,” the angel said with the most angel­ic smile. “But thanks any­way, Johan.” She stopped in midair. Her wings didn’t move. Her hair was a mys­tery in the light com­ing from the hole. Her shoulders were naked, and so were her arms and legs. As she was des­cend­ing head first, her shirt had slipped, expos­ing her crotch which she covered with her right hand. Johan’s wor­ries grew. He didn’t want the angel’s long­ing naked­ness to come between him and Clio. He felt the des­per­ate urge to hug Clio, to put his ear to her stom­ach and listen. Help­lessly, he announced, “I do want the child. I really do and … I hope it’s not too late. I hope she hasn’t gone to the doc­tor yet. I hope she still loves me. And some­how, Clio,” he said as though she was stand­ing in front of him, “some­how we’re going to make it. We are, Clio, I know it.” It had got­ten so dark sud­denly. For a moment, there had been no sky bey­ond the trees. Johan knew that the angel wasn’t Clio. But he was con­vinced that Clio could hear him through the angel. The angel didn’t say any­thing. It wasn’t neces­sary. Then the col­ors came back, fiercely, they were the col­ors of the dying sky, dusk sip­ping its misty blue, its once so reas­sured cerulean. Johan stared. Empires col­lapsed but chil­dren were born. Finally he said, “No more excuses. I’ll talk to Robert. Maybe it’s not too late. I’ll work for tips and a raise. Times will get bet­ter, they always do. I’ll stop smoking, Clio, I’ll do any­thing you want me to.” Then the angel was gone, and the forest settled for a dose of heav­enly silence.

Like all great paint­ings, Pentagrass’s new one became the illu­sion about an illu­sion: real­ity and its flip­side. A paint­ing that is more than a paint­ing is a vis­ion. It is an allegory of paint­ing. That has maybe nev­er bet­ter exem­pli­fied than in Johan Vermeer’s paint­ing of that name, in it a mod­el pos­ing as Clio, the muse of his­tory (why of his­tory in an allegory of paint­ing wasn’t of Pen­tagrass’ con­cern so many cen­tur­ies later), in it Ver­meer as The Paint­er from behind. It is a paint­ing that puts each of its objects in its pre­cise con­text. Noth­ing is left to chance. Noth­ing else becomes pos­sible. This is also true for the paint­ing The Ritu­al: Just look where the red cur­tain is and how it folds. How the root hov­ers. How the woman dis­ap­proves. Look at the ropes. How they hang. Look at The Paint­er, how he holds the rope that holds the paint­ing togeth­er. Look at the mys­ter­i­ous sign, how green it glows, how we’re not sup­posed to really under­stand it like a gey­ser of light erupt­ing from the wounded earth.

Intensely, Pen­tagrass stared at the new work. He had worked on The Inter­fer­ence of Angels for six weeks, and now it was fin­ished, lean­ing against a wall in his naked stu­dio. Now the only con­sol­a­tion was the slow dry­ing of paint. He stood back and thought of Johan who, in the mean­time, had lost his girl­friend and his job. It was over­whelm­ing, the per­fec­tion of art and the imper­fec­tions of life. He looked at the angel’s hand, cov­er­ing her crotch, but could only think of the lay­er of green primer and the can­vas under­neath. “Mir­acles have even deep­er roots,” the angel said. Johan’s child — a girl — grew inside Clio. She would do well in this dif­fi­cult life. Quickly, Pen­tagrass turned the paint­ing upside down, and sud­denly everything made sense.

©2010 Chris­toph Keller/​Aris Kalaizis

Christoph Keller in his flat (NYC, 2007)
Christoph Keller in his flat (NYC, 2007)

Chris­toph Keller, born in 1963 in St. Gal­len, is the author of sev­er­al nov­els, essays and plays, most recently the novella “A Few Famil­i­ar Things” (2003), the auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al nov­el “The Best Dan­cer,” (2003), the play “The Found­a­tion,” (2004) and the pho­to­graphy show “Eye Catch­er” (New York, 2006). In the spring of 2008, The State of Last Things was pub­lished, the third nov­el with Hein­rich Kuhn as Keller+Kuhn. He divides his time with his wife, the poet Jan Heller Levi, between St. Gal­len and New York City. “The Inter­fer­ence of Angels” (The Ritu­al) is his second story after a paint­ing by Aris Kalaizis.

© Aris Kalaizis 2024