UNINVITED AND DISENCHANTED COME TO TOWN: A MODERN-DAY FABLE*
by Nat Muller with drawings by de Beeldvormers as published on de Appel
*Inspired by word sorceress Anne Sexton, my childhood nightmares of the Brothers Grimm, the jackals Kalila wa Dimna and the recently discovered work of Sabatino Scia. I am indebted to all the artists for gifting their work.
It so happened one day that the two foxes Uninvited and Disenchanted came to Town. Town, a midsized and somewhat dilapidated city in a former industrial region, was celebrating the opening of its first art biennial. Town’s mayor, all dressed up in his velvets and silks, looked like an overfed capon, snug and limp on the butcher’s countertop. “We will be put on the map and folks will come here and spend spend spend. And all this delicious culturally responsible money will disappear disappear disappear into the municipal coffers.” You see, he too had read Richard Florida. The mayor had struck lucrative deals with Airbnb, Uber and a low-cost airline to facilitate hassle-free travel and accommodation. Yes, Town wanted to earn its brownie points, if not for elegance and refinement then at least for service and authenticity. That story.
By now, a small crowd had gathered around the stage. The townspeople looked on curiously while the other guests, dressed to the nines, were sipping their prosecco and munching their dainty canapés. “Oh I just luuuuuuuuuuuuuv Town”, quipped one. “People are just so real here. This place is just so invested with precarious performativity and peripheral chic.” “So true”, answered the other one. “I hope they’ll start up an artist-in-residence programme soon. Obviously the most rundown part of Town would be preferable. I have a few excellent ideas for a project I’d like to develop involving the local communities.” And so it went. That story.
Uninvited and Disenchanted sat under a site-specific sculpture eyeing the buffet table, which was – as is always the case in fables - heavy-laden with all kinds of delicacies. There was sushi and sashimi, falafel and eggrolls. There were canelés, éclairs, and macaroons, as well as Town’s traditional pastry specialty: short crust pies with cinnamon custard toppings. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” drooled Uninvited. “I do fancy those custard pies.” Disenchanted, the more timid and analytical of the pair, was more cautious. What if they got caught? Surely the greedy mayor was not going to show them any mercy. Au contraire, they would be accused of theft and of spoiling the fancy opening. A major milestone in Town’s history ruined, gone, kaput. No, no, they had to be more cunning than that. After all, weren’t they foxes?
Uninvited rolled her eyes and spat “You’re such a wuss, Disenchanted! Such a party pooper!” But Disenchanted was unperturbed. Didn’t I mention she was the smarter one of the two? A strategy was needed. Uh oh, there came the mayor, sliding like a garnished pork chop to the stage. On his left he was flanked by two most beautiful youngsters dressed stylishly in the smoothest and hippest black. Their hair was perfumed, their countenance pure, their hands so delicate, so pretty pretty pretty. They were introduced as Prinz Kurator und Prinzess Kuratorin. On his right he was flanked by Mr Bank, Ms Market and Mx Fund. They were more conservatively dressed, as one would expect. Tweeds, cotton shirts, flannel suits and sensible shoes, apart from the dazzle of Ms Market’s gargantuan ruby ring and golden necklace. Mr Bank and Ms Market looked as if they would rip each other’s clothes off and get it on right there on stage, were it not for the buffering factor of a miserable-looking Mx Fund wedged right between them. The mayor of Town looked smug. Oh yes, glamour, sophistication, money and a sliver of public policy. How glorious. That happens when this little piggy goes to market. Aye, that story.
So the mayor did his shpiel and Prinz Kurator murmured something about amazing opportunities in dark times, while Prinzess Kuratorin cooed something about urgency and resistance. So genuine, so lovely. Oh my little turtle doves. Sing your song that has been sung a thousand times. Sing it anew. In the meantime, Uninvited was growing seriously hungry and seriously impatient. She looked as if she was about to pounce on the buffet table, much as Mr Bank and Ms Market on each other. Disenchanted had to buy more time so struck up a conversation about the sculpture that was providing them their spot for their stakeout. Being a fox, she was not sure how to approach the subject matter. There was also Uninvited’s short attention span to take into account. “So”, Disenchanted started carefully, “what you think of this sculpture then? I feel that its metal mesh structure blends really well with the environment. I mean, it’s not necessarily monumental but does command a certain presence.” This brought out eye roll number two from Uninvited who snarled that she could not eat the damn sculpture and her belly was empty and her mood increasingly cranky.
On stage the pleasantries and niceties continued. The dignitaries and the crowd drank and nibbled, not necessarily engaging with the art, and our two foxes grew hungrier. All of a sudden the monotonous buzz of people socialising was drowned out by angry chants. A small group of very upset Town’s people had gathered with placards and banners and were threatening to destroy an artwork that referred to a 400-year old tradition of throwing ripe apples at each other and then mashing it into cider. The artist in question had assembled a mound of putrefying apples, their decay and stench signifying ephemerality and the rotten state of the world. He had also placed an empty cider vat at the decomposing mountain of fruit to illustrate the unfair distribution of wealth in the world. “Hands off our traditions”, “No to instrumentalising our history”, “My culture is not a readymade”, read the placards. The mayor huffed and puffed his way to the protestors, the beautiful people tottering in heels and loafers in his wake. “What’s all this commotion here,” the mayor shouted, looking extremely agitated, a red tomato about to explode. “We feel that our culture and tradition are misrepresented and have been appropriated for an arts spectacle and commercial gain. We have been ignored and insulted, and this will not stand!” said one of the protestors. The mayor’s face became redder and redder, a Bloody Mary over-spiced with too much Tabasco. “You are an embarrassment to Town!” roared the mayor. The protestors looked nonplussed. The artist, Prinz Kurator and Prinzess Kuratorin all blushed and bowed their heads in shame. “We are so sorry”, they muttered, “We never meant to be so insensitive.” The beautiful people nodded in self-righteous agreement. Then together they all destroyed the work and mashed and mashed the apples until it became a pool of applesauce. Done, gone kaput.
In the meanwhile, with most of Town and its guests embroiled in this kerfuffle, Disenchanted and Uninvited made their way to the buffet table. Uninvited stuffed her face with tuna sashimi. “I really don’t get humans”, she wheezed from the wasabi. “Tradition, identity, history, art. In the end it’s all just apples, and rotten apples at that!” She licked her paw dripping with soy sauce. Disenchanted, being the more empathic and less gluttonous of the two, suggested that perhaps it is not up to foxes to judge the ways of humans. She was not given much time for contemplation as people, including the angry Town’s people, were making their way back to the stage and the buffet table.
It so happened that the mayor got another shot at finishing his insignificant speech, as if nothing had happened. Yes, memory is short and history serves us poorly. Mr Bank and Ms Market were making out somewhere in the bushes, their smack smacks and muah muahs annoying Uninvited who was hiding quite close to them in a rabbit’s warren. The mayor apologised for the brouhaha and invited everybody, especially Town’s angry people, to enjoy the festivities. He had hardly finished his inconsequential sentence or again loud noise ensued. BANG CLANG BANG!! Everybody rushed to where it came from. And there amidst a rather thoughtful land art project stood a herd of rabbits loudly banging pots and pans. This explains why Uninvited could hide so easily in their warren. “What now?!”, bellowed the mayor, steam coming out of his ears, his face a boiling cauldron of empty fumes. The alpha bunny moved to the front and challenged: “How dare you appropriate our woods, our home, our intricate warren design for your own spectacle and financial gain?” The poor artist, visibly shaken by the accusation, offered that it was meant to celebrate and honour their ingenuity and skill. A gesture in crossing interspecies boundaries and bringing speculative realism into practice. But the bunnies weren’t having any of it and kept banging their pots and pans. And so it happened that eventually the artist, Prinz Kurator and Prinzess Kuratorin blushed and bowed their heads with guilt and apologised to the rabbits. The beautiful people nodded in self-righteous agreement and together they broke down the whole work until nothing but dust and timber remained. Done, gone, kaput.
While everybody was partaking in destruction, Disenchanted and Uninvited made their way again to the buffet table. “Jeeezzz, can you believe those crazy rabbits?!”, commented Uninvited while scoffing down custard pie after custard pie. Disenchanted, being the milder of the two with more interspecies sensitivity, commented that it is perhaps not up to foxes to make pronouncements on rabbit heritage. Moreover, taking into account that rabbits often end up being a fox’ dinner, it may seem wholly inappropriate to have an opinion on the matter at all. This caused eye roll number three from Uninvited, who indifferently brushed the crumbs from her whiskers and gobbled up the last custard pie with much gusto. “Foxes have always eaten rabbits. That’s how it is. That’s how it has always been. What is everybody left with now? A pile of wood, a heap of earth and hurt herbivorous feelings? Worse, now they’re just all eating from the same buffet and there will be nothing left for us.” It was true. The rabbits had come back with everybody to the buffet table, gorging themselves on the crudités.
And so it went on and on until every work was destroyed and nothing was left. BAM, gone, kaput. And the nameless mayor, furious and hot as a cake just out of the oven, stamped and stamped his feet like a true Rumpelstiltskin, until the ground split in two and gobbled him up like a custard pie. VAVOOM! And Prinz Kurator und Prinzess Kuratorin continued to bow their heads in humility until their next project, happily ever after. And in between Uninvited and Disenchanted managed to fill their bellies till they were round and full full full and nothing was left but crumbs and stains on the buffet table.