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Tight schedules, fake marble and sexy fish
“It’s just another Manic Monday,” the North American philosopher known to literary scholars as The Bangles once proclaimed. Some people may think of it as a playful song about a woman who’d rather make out with a man named Valentino than go to work. I look at it as a sharp, finger-on-pulse critique of the incessant demands of capitalist society and a bitter j’accuse against the relentlessly exploitative diktats of modern life.
It all begins in the morning, when the alarm goes off and I have to produce a mental estimate of how long it will take me to get ready. Teeth, shower, hair - sometimes at the same time, so I allow myself and my flatmate enough bathroom time before we go to our respective jobs. Any flaw in my calculation will result in me having to brush my teeth on the No8 bus into Central London (which is still not the worst thing I’ve done on the No8 bus into Central London).
Then there’s public transport - where planning is key. Check CityMapper, the Transport for London dashboard and the Ministry of Defence website. One knows where one is going, but one never knows whether one is going to get there, so one inevitably always end up screaming and crying in the middle of Bank station. Traffic, disruptions, roadworks, Extinction Rebellion protests, the district line. My journey to and from work has become like a game of Super Mario, advanced level, but at the end you actually die.
A packed bus during rush hour is, paradoxically, the only place in which I’m able to relax. I don’t dictate its pace, it’s out of my control, and there’s nothing I can do to make it go faster, so I delegate responsibility to the bus driver and the notoriously capricious Gods of London traffic.
But then I lose myself in intricate mental calculations. Do I have any clean underwear left? Negative. Will I have time to do some laundry tonight? Unlikely. Am I going to resort to wearing pink swimming shorts instead tomorrow? Wouldn’t be the first time.
Breakfast before work? I don’t even know her.
Work, of course, is the place I spend the majority of my waking hours, but I refuse to complain about it. When I look at people in my industry, I think I might be one of the lucky ones: I go to bed when the sun goes down and wake up when the sun comes up. I have dinner at dinner-time, a luxury many of my colleagues are not afforded (e.g people who work in Breakfast TV and start their shift at midnight, bless their souls).
But work takes priority: not because I buy into the toxic culture of stakhanovism that has resulted in 176 book deals on millennial burnout and countless essays analysing the ramifications of late capitalism on modern business culture - but simply because the sense of urgency that comes from being one paycheck away from bankruptcy doesn’t leave me with much energy to actively promote groundbreaking societal changes.
To this you must add the predictable accidents of daily life. A mistake in your latest electricity bill (50 minutes in a virtual line to speak to an unhelpful customer service assistant who tells me to send an email instead). A leak in the bathroom means I need to take a day off to let the plumber in. The plumber will of course discover that there’s a second, more severe leak that I hadn’t noticed and that the shower tray needs replacing. Turns out there are more leaks in my bathroom than in the British government - who knew.
And don’t even get me started on the daily upkeep of my 100 sq meters mansion (ha!) which requires a disproportionate amount of daily maintenance and upkeep (time to invest in a Dyson vacuum, I tell you) because dust accumulates and cat hair is shed and the litter tray needs changing and the bin bags are, you guessed it, leaking!
And while you’re busy attending to the crisis of the day, the messages pile up: friends I haven’t seen in months ask why I didn’t reply to their invitations to dinner, my mum wants to know when I’ll visit next, my cat demands I throw his monkey toy so he can catch it (he thinks he’s a dog). Life has become a rollercoaster: I go up and down, left and right, spin and drain and up again.
At the end of the day the work is done and the house is clean and the monkeys are thrown - and I am impossibly tired. So one question remains: am I a stressed millennial - or am I just a shit friend?
ART RADAR: “MUSCLE BEACH”
In the exhibition “Muscle Beach”, artists Ana Kazaroff and Hannah Bays explore the link between inanimate objects and human desire. Before I went in to see their collection of painting and sculptures, my slightly unrefined mind wondered if this had anything to do with vibrators and sex toys, which only reveals the narrow-minded view of desire most of us ascribe to in modern society, where the concept of desire is dressed with an exclusively (and explicitly) sexual layer of meaning.
“Desire is a broad term encompassing all motivating impulse and life force,” Bays tells me.
“Throughout time the human relationship to objects has embodied desire – from the decorative embellishment of early tools, to fetishistic objects, to the co-option of our desires by advertisers of consumer products,” she adds.
The magic of Hannah’s and Ana’s work is that it encourages us to see desire from points of view that we may never have considered before, experimenting with the dialectical tension between death and desire.
In Bays’s painting Slow Dance, we can observe what looks like a person trapped in a fire, partly fighting it, partly abandoning themselves to it. “As individuals we have a limited time alive, we are aware of this whether we choose to dwell on it or not. In Slow Dance the tragic, comic, face of the fire reflects this awareness of its fate as it burns,” Hannah explains.
Argentine-born Kazaroff’s take on desire, instead, goes from the literal to the metaphysical through an intricate game of deception aimed at reversing common beliefs of hierarchical order. One of the most striking elements of her work is the use of fake materials, such as wood sculptures that are painted to look like marble: “I’m interested in the status of materials. Faking is a way of questioning this hierarchy as it has the added value of the handmade.”
The use of disguised materials is a way to take ownership of one’s own desirability, by showing desire as something not innate but that can be acquired and earned through hard work: “Through labour, the fake, cheaper materials become objects of desire as much as the real materials they imitate.”
Her vision is deeply influenced by her upbringing in Argentina, and by aspects of macho culture she seems to have internalised and then eviscerated, as seen through her trophy collection: “Small local sports clubs in Argentina often have a display of trophies, which are phallic symbols related to macho culture and the exotic.”
“In Argentinian popular culture, having the second prize also means being a champion. I like playing with hierarchy and bringing the second place to the podium, like a kidney trophy,” Ana says, rewriting the idea of desirability of inanimate objects by expanding their attainability.
You can see Muscle Beach curated by Victoria Gyuleva at the Kupfer Project Space in Hackney. On until September 25.
IN THE KITCHEN
Stuffed Butternut Squash with Sage and Butter Gnocchi
This is another Val’s original. The recipe is a celebration of my favourite season (autumn, duh) and also a gift for my gnocchi-obsessed friend Jessie, who is half woman, half gnocchi at this point.
Just to reiterate my fearless approach to cooking, I will say that Butternut Squash is one of my cooking nemeses: it’s not particularly hard to cook (as a matter of fact, it’s almost foolproof) but peeling the bloody thing can often be very hard work and I don’t have enough pent-up anger to deal with the rock-hard texture of its skin. But don’t let that put you off cooking this - the result is 100% worth it.
I anticipate this to be an absolute hit among my dinner-party guests this fall (ok calm down Martha Stewart, everyone knows my table can’t fit more than four people). Full recipe on my blog.
WHAT I WATCHED
A British film censor links a disturbing horror movie to her sister's mysterious disappearance. I have no idea what happened - but I still enjoyed it. If only for the immaculate 1980s vibes.
Zella Day doesn’t want to be a man. She doesn’t want to be a woman. She just wants to be golden.
Wait. Did somebody say 1980s horror film?
This BBC Science article about how sex may have originated in Scotland. Those prehistoric fish sure knew how to have fun.
One from the archives: in this Esquire essay, American humorist David Sedaris goes back to school to learn French - with mixed results. Hilarious.