A repost from my old blog, somewhat rewritten. Enjoy!
“[Maurizio] Cattelan himself drifted through a series of jobs, working as an accountant, a “cleaning lady,” a mailman and, finally, a nurse at the local morgue.” – from “A Fine Italian Hand” by Alexi Worth, in T, The New York Times Style Magazine, The Milan Issue, Winter 2010, page 70.
I was moved by the sentence above to write a comic monologue involving a character who happens to be named Maurizio. Though the ideas were drawn from Maurizio Cattelan’s life, the character is not Mr. Catellan. He bears the same resemblance as do composers in motion picture biographies – Liszt in Ken Russell’s film Lisztomania (1976), or Schubert in The Great Waltz (1933). This is not the first time Catellan has been impersonated. Cattelan sent out his friend, curator Massimiliano Gioni, to pose as the artist for interviews, and Cattelan was the subject of a spurious “autobiography” written by curator Francesco Bonami. As Bonami wrote in the introduction to the book, writing as himself and not as Cattelan, “Cattelan is a contemporary Pinocchio, and I’m like some poor Geppetto forced to to listen to endless tall tales and half-truths.*” With those antecedents in mind, I feel I can safely introduce another Maurizio, related yet as much a part of my imagination as the real artist, if not more.
To Maurizio Cattelan I can only say that appropriation has become such a regular part of art that I hope you take this feuilleton in stride. Absit Oman.
(For those of you who don’t know, the Latin phrase Absit Oman, roughly translated, means “No offense.”)
It only takes a second to fold back the sheet. I touch a frigid wrist, feel the cold down to the bone. The cold of stone, but yielding as stone never is. I press at the neck for the carotid artery. Zilch, nichts, nada. All my patients are dead, as it should be.
God, this is depressing.
Who needs a nurse in a morgue? Am I here for the Rapture, to tend to the dead as they rise? And what sort of tending would they need? “What’s that? You need your blood back? And your kidneys? I’ll have to ask around. Someone might be using them.” I don’t know a patella from a pancreas, but that would only matter if they were alive. The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…except for that fellow there. What a mess. Perhaps they would ask for IVs, which look like the Roman numeral four. Intravenous, intra-Venus…maybe there’s an idea there, if the dead would stop rising long enough for me to work it out. I could distract them with my knowledge of Roman numerals, amuse the newly reborn with a little creative mathematics. Chalk them all up in the debit column, which wouldn’t amuse them one bit. Life is the asset, death the liability. In the end, the death rate is 100%.
I listen for hours as the night crawls on. Like the man in The Tell-Tale Heart, I’m waiting to hear the steady beat, waiting for that eye, that vulture eye, to open. But none of the people here know me, except perhaps that man in the corner. I recognize his paunch under the sheet. I think I did his taxes for him one year. Would he wake grateful that I saved him a few thousand lire? Would I have to explain the Euro to him?
And that woman there, I think I used to deliver her mail. There were letters from her son that she tore up without reading; the checks from the government (Why was she getting checks from the government?) that she welcomed every month. I think she would remember me. We spoke most every day, and when it rained she would give me something warming to drink. What would she feel, what would any of them feel, if they arose and saw me? They might be disappointed, as they are probably expecting to see Jesus.
Perhaps I should wear a robe and sandals to work.
I look out the window. The streetlamps are airbrushed against the sky, softly washing away the stars. The moon sits comfortably in its corona. I am alone with the dead, wrapped in the velvet night. The dead, though all kept together in this room, are alone also. They are not reminded of life by my presence, but they are reminders of my own mortality. This was Paulo; that was Sophia. Say hello to them, Maurizio. You won’t be expected to entertain them, but you might have to clean up after them. That’s okay, I think. I still have the dress I wore as a cleaning lady. I called myself Viktor and spoke with what I imagined was a Ukranian accent. They only found out the truth because I’m allergic to borscht.
I’d like to give Death the finger, a big finger, in marble, bigger than the hand of Constantine the Great. I have one handy. I’d like to see someone face the Grim Reaper, succumb, then bounce back to his feet, laughing, no three-day wait, no time to wail or gnash teeth. Up and about, in motion; life is motion. I’d like to see the stone that fell from the sky roll off of the pale man enrobed in vestments, preferably assisted by members of the Polish government, and have the man spring to his feet and walk on undaunted. No more being carried to the public audience, no more struggling to speak, using the last trickles of life trying to teach one more lesson. Living is an art, dying a crime. Death spits in the face of life’s beauty; art holds the hand of life and says “Don’t worry. You won’t be forgotten.”
Good night, Paulo. Good night, Sophia. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…
Breathe, bastardi, breathe!
* Bonami, Fracesco, Maurizio Cattelan: The Unauthorized Autobiography. Translated by Steve Piccolo. Milan, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2013