Lutz Bacher: The Gift 
September 2011

The following is an exchange between an artist and writer. It departs from a larger project by Lutz Bacher. Each image by Bacher documents a gift without naming the receiver. Each text by Fionn Meade responds to the image of a gift given.

Lutz Bacher: The Gift
Essay PDF Download 


If you have walked a long distance and come to the dividing line between a forest and field long harvested that now grows up again, fresh and green. If your cap is pulled down low at the moment you see travelers approaching from the opposite direction, halted there at what is now a meridian below and between. If you desire to welcome them on, even tell them of what lies ahead, how the buildings align and water is channeled, how the shape and colors of the past are nothing but cardboard now. If you desire fluency, to jump ahead and warn them, convince them even. Think twice. Logos may not be entirely broken to the touch. The flow and remove of light can be a detour from you to you. And perhaps that is enough, that detours exist and attention does not predict exact arrivals. Think twice.



What do you mean by talking of exposed pipes along the sidewalk and strange tortoises in the zoo? What does that have to do with the “splendid burden of time?” And don’t you think it’s a stretch to talk about your daily commute and Eden in the same breath? To be honest, it seems like you’ve collapsed things together merely for poetic effect or to make yourself feel better about how things have turned out.

Really, if you want to talk about how the present and past collide, maybe travel to the Yangtze River Dam and take a look at a true feat of engineering, or go the opposite direction and hire a flight over the disappearing ice floes in the Arctic, or at the very least discuss the sprawling city skyline? I don’t know what your morning walk past the butcher and a construction site has to do with the ancient past or how a ride on public transportation might figure into an experience of war?

To be truthful, your story reminds me of a friend who recently told me about how the day their laptop crashed going to buy a skirt changed their entire view of life’s successes and failures. Or when a co-worker described how they heard voices after entering a museum to get out of the heat on their lunch break. All just a bit far fetched. It would be like you asking me to take everything I saw in a day and recount it to you in six minutes, or someone trying to tell the story of Orpheus by cutting out images from newspapers and magazines.

I think the best thing would be if you take a deep breath, start over, and tell me what really happened.[1]



                        Flowers growing on the hill

                        Dragonflies and daffodils

                        Learn from us very much

                        Look at us but do not touch

                       Flowers are the things we knew

                       Secrets are the things we grew

                        Learn from us very much

                        Look at us but do not touch[1]


“Early morning in the universe, and there’s my coat on the chair, been there for three days next to neck ties and tortured socks. And what’s it all for! There’s nothing out there but a million screaming sixty-year year old men being run over by gasoline trucks.

Jokes often resemble art. We turn over our purple moonlight pages in which our secret naked selves do show, our secret scatological thoughts, and that’s what they really want to see. Gesture all the, Die all the, Golgotha all the!

You see Apollinaire wrote a poem at the grave of Balzac and fell down, but I could tell you poems that would make you weep with long hair. Isn’t it true we’re all in paradise now and just don’t know it? Angels and ministers that do stand before me! Cockroach, mirror, boom, bang! After all, doing something and saying goodbye and saying goodbye and doing something are really the same thing. Goodbyeology. So up you go little smoke!”[3]   


“From a rock, Ariadne watches Phaedra on her swing. Their mother Pasiphaë hangs herself. Ariadne hangs herself. Phaedra hangs herself. Erigone hangs herself.”[4]But this last is the least known, Erigone the daughter of Icarius of Athens who himself was killed and thrown in a well by shepherds after having given them their first taste of wine, the same Erigone who wandered for months and months before her dog Maera found the trail that led to the body of Icarius. The same Erigone who buried her father and then climbed up the tree, to become the infamous source of copycat suicides that befell the city of Athens. The same wandering unassimilated spirit who inspired German dramatist Frank Wedekind to write his first play Spring Awakening, in 1891, banned and not performed until 1906.

And is it not the same Erigone that partly illuminates the night sky on Saturday, March 9, 1918, to accompany a young Bertolt Brecht’s fond remembrance: “Last Saturday night we sang his songs to the guitar as we swarmed the Lech under the star-dusted sky: the song to Franziska, the one about a blind boy, a dance song. Then very late on, as we sat on the weir with our feet almost in the river the one about fortune’s caprices and their exceeding strangeness, which suggests that the best answer is to turn a somersault every day. On Sunday morning we were horrified to read that Frank Wedekind had died the day before. It is hard to believe.”[5]



“Life is filled with holes,” sings the poet.[6]“Et ce monde rendait une étrange musique,” responds a sympathetic listener.[7]But what to make of a composition that is covered over in parts, rewritten and re-deployed to perform its own undoing. What to make of the image that readily becomes its opposite? A friend offers up that this seems obvious, pushing things a bit further by asking: “Is the distortion of an already existing image the only game in town?”[8]   

Upon entering the collection of the Smith College Museum of Art in 1929, the painting was titled The Preparation of the Bride (La Toillette de la mariée) and was dated to roughly the same period as Gustave Courbet’s Burial at Ornans, 1849-50, both images depicting provincial customs on a grand scale. But X-rays revealed that the young girl seated in the center of the lesser known image was originally nude, that her attendants wore black rather than white, that her left arm was limp across her lap and held no mirror. Altered and re-titled after Courbet’s death in 1877, the under-image was listed in the artist’s studio inventory ledger as an unfinished work The Preparation of the Dead Girl (La Toillette de la morte), likely painted over following World War I to make it more marketable. Sold at auction in the summer of 1919, the centenary year of Courbet’s birth, by Madames de Tastes and La Pierre (heirs to Courbet’s sister Juliette), the sellers finally acquiesced and carried out Juliette Courbet’s last wish, exhuming the corpse of Gustave Courbet from its temporary grave at La Tour-de-Pielz, Switzerland—where it lay for more than forty years—and reburying it at Ornans.


[1] This is a partial response to Josef Strau’s recent text What Should One Do, as well as a short story by Vladimir Nabokov, A Guide to Berlin, written in 1925.

[2] Excerpted lyrics from Some Velvet Morning, written by Lee Hazelwood and performed by Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra for Sinatra’s 1967 album and television special Movin’ with Nancy.

[3]Excerpted from a somewhat unfaithful transcription of the voiceover to Pull My Daisy, 1959, a film by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, narrated by Jack Kerouac.

[4] A quote from Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Knopf, 1993, p. 41)

[5] “Frank Wedekind,” in Brecht on Theater: The Development of an Aesthetic (Hill & Wang, 1957, p.3)

[6] Patti Smith in her song “Land” on the album Horses, 1975.

[7] Charles Baudelaire in his poem “Une Charogne (A Carcass)” written in 1857, published inFleurs du Mal.

[8] Bruno Latour, “What is Iconoclash?,” in Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art (MIT Press, 2002, p.36).

Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated