Word Count: 958
Related works: N/A
“Not everyone understands art. Not everyone needs to. But everyone foolishly thinks, if they just found the right words, they could. Just place the painting on a white wall in a large hall, and give them a pen and a pad.”
-Hester, Within the Wires
You are waiting in line for an exhibit, pamphlet in one hand, phone clutched tightly in the other. You are well-dressed. You wear a dark blue skirt suit with the jacket buttoned over a pale silk blouse, low heels, shining hair in an elegant bun. Others around you are not dressed quite the same, but this is, after all, your job. You look professional.
You look nervous.
You look eager.
You look perfect.
The others in the queue are ushered one by one into a room with the piece itself, and then ushered through the exit by a path that doesn’t cross the path of the queue you wait in. You open the pamphlet for the eighth time, reading words meant to describe an exhibit that is, according to your colleagues, indescribable. It mostly consists of random anecdotes from the artists’ life. Closing the paper and turning to the back, you look again at the picture of the artist. She is younger than you, and the way she has made eye contact with the lens makes you feel as though she is studying you, or perhaps was studying the photographer.
PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT ALLOWED IN THE EXHIBIT, reads a nearby sign.
Time has passed more quickly than you thought, as you are next in line, in front of a heavy metal door. A security guard waves a wand over you, then opens the door and users you inside.
The room is quite large, and completely empty with the exception of a tall glass box in the middle and a projector on the ceiling. The inside of the box is lined with a heavy red curtain.
You jump, startled. The projector has whirred to life, and displays the artist’s image on the surface of the curtain inside the glass box.
“There is no need to be frightened in here. While the simulation is highly interactive, it is only a simulation. It will begin when you say, ‘begin’.”
The artist disappears again, but you haven’t quite found your voice yet. You know the viewing is limited in time, but you find yourself frightened nonetheless.
“Begin.” You say, as calmly as you can.
The projector whirrs again, and the curtain drops. You gasp.
Inside of the box is a person, definitely a person, one who looks very much like the artist herself. Each wrist is handcuffed, connected to a long chain that extends to the top of the box, where two large figures tug and pull. The caged person is too high to stand; only the tips of her toes reach the floor of the cage.
She is naked. She hangs her head and breathes shallow breaths that make her chest heave slightly. Without thinking, you take small steps toward the box, and she lifts her head suddenly. There are no tears, but her eyes are filled with an endless pain that makes you ache inside. The rage you feel as you look upwards at the figures that imprison her emboldens you.
“Let her go!” You yell, the room echoing your voice back at you. The figures flicker, groan, and drop the chains suddenly. The prisoner lands hard on her knees and covers her head with her arms as the chains fall around her.
The noise seems to surprise you both. The person lifts her head slowly to look at you. Her wet eyes begin to smolder with curiosity as she stares at you, just on the other side of the glass.
You don’t dare to breathe. She is the naked one, and yet you feel so exposed. She is imprisoned, yet you feel vulnerable. She stands on shaky legs, places her hands against the glass. She is eager to connect, to know you, to understand. You place your hand against your side of the glass to mirror her bravery. The spark in her eyes pulls her lips into a smile, and you feel your own sparks and smiles in return.
Symmetry is beauty. Two figures, one on either side of the glass. Two figures up high, on either side of the prisoner. You don’t notice them, searching the depths of the persons’ dark eyes as they search your light ones, but they still notice you.
Soon enough, you notice them. You notice the figures releasing small clumps of matter from their hands that erupt into flames as they fall down the cage. You want to warn the person, but you don’t have time. As stoic as she was being shackled, she still screams as she is set ablaze.
If they can’t have her, no one can.
You hear the voice but you do not, cannot, move. You feel a hand on your shoulder. You realize that you are sitting on the ground with your back against the cage.
“You know…no one has made it that far yet.” The artist says, brushing a stray lock of your hair behind your ear.
“What?” You asked, confused. She is smaller than you expected, but taller than you are. Her eyes sparkle with curiosity.
“It hasn’t occurred to anyone that they can ask the puppeteers to let her go.”
You nod, not fully understanding. “Oh.”
The artist offers her hand and helps you to your feet. She waits patiently for you to rearrange your clothing before speaking again. “Would you like a cup of coffee? I think…I’d like to tell you some things.”
In spite of the horror behind you, you smile, and accept.