Life has a tendency to demand decease in its wake; there is nothing without cost.
Relative size. Emi remembers learning the term in art class back when she was in high school. She remembers the scraggly hair of her teacher, and the weird mismatched hippy clothing she used to wear. Everyone said the art teacher was crazy. If you have ever had the misfortune to attend an art class on a ‘theory day’, you will be well acquainted with the disappointment you feel when will not be dipping crusty paint-brushes into ‘just good enough’ paint, smearing it onto large sheets of blank paper, being quiet with intense concentration, and listening to trashy pop songs on the crackly radio, which was eternally covered in dried-up Clag (for some unknown reason). These were the kinds of lessons she liked. These lessons were fun, they let her imagination run wild, enveloping her angsty, adolescent mind in a sensation that felt like peace. For two hours, each week, Emi could pretend that she was no longer a painfully ordinary sixteen-year-old, full of self-hatred and petty worries. In art class, students were transformed into tranquil, ageless beings. They were nothing but harmonious brains and dexterous fingers, and it was the best time, space, universe in the world. Well, she cannot speak for the other students really. At least, that’s how Emi felt.
Theory classes, on the other hand, were a pain for everyone concerned. To this day, Emi has never met anyone who has expressed anything but complete disdain for the practise of art theory. “Have you got your books?” Our crazy art teacher would whisper, a vacant stare lingering passively on her wrinkled face. Sometimes she spoke so loudly that it was borderline aggressive. Other times her voice was too quiet, and Emi could barely hear her at all. This was one of those days. There was usually one smart-arse who would raise their hand. This was always followed by a domino of eye-rolls. Emi swears every art theory class she took at school was the same. Elements and principles – every time. It wasn’t particularly difficult; the art teacher would draw examples of all the art principles on the whiteboard, and the mass of half-hearted students would have to copy them down into their workbooks. Usually the back of an exercise book designated for some other subject, like English or Maths. There was no point having one specifically for art, considering the lack of written work required.
‘Cropping’ was always accompanied by a drawing of an eye with the rest of the face left out. ‘Contrast’ was always two circles – one black, and one white. They were easy enough – it was just that nobody cared about this sort of stuff. Pupils were happy to meddle aimlessly with random stuff found while rummaging in the messy art cupboard, making their own discoveries and getting ink and glue all over their eager hands. ‘Juxtaposition’ was the theory term that was intriguing – the one Emi found just a little bit difficult to get her head around. The teacher always drew a wine glass next to what Emi assumed was a bottle of wine. No one got it. “I don’t get it” they would mumble as they copied the illustration, still annoyed that it was theory and not ‘prac’. “Relative size” the art teacher would whisper back as she stared into space, batty as ever. Everyone said she had overdosed on Zoloft once, and that’s why she was so offbeat. “They define each other”, is what she said after a pause that was too long to indicate continuity, but her students were so used to her eccentricities of speech that they accepted this additional utterance without much thought.
Emi does not notice the ants, the microscopic organisms she destroys as she prances upon the smooth, white-grey footpath. She is the greater force; the bottle to the glass. Other people move around her on the pavement, and everyone subconsciously takes part in the subtle – but critical dance that must be performed in the presence of society. It is dependent on visibility, self-awareness, and on all of the participants knowing exactly where to stand, when to duck, and when to sway to one side. Everyone has their own special role; if you’re a child, you cling to a guardian so that their mobility is slowed. If you are small, but no longer a child, you weave in and out of the crowd, a master of stealth and adaptability. The entitled move ahead without thought, the disadvantaged make way for others. The more important a person feels they are, the less often they will assume the role of the chameleon. The less likely they are to mould themselves around others. The dance is dependent on the awareness we all have of relative size. Bottles of rich red wine plummet down the white-grey footpath. Tacky plastic shot cups lurk at the edges. Everyone’s eyes are drawn to the tall sparkling champagne flutes, lithe and elegant, slight but noticeable.
The journey is short; her destination is close-by.
The art gallery is the most majestic building Emi has ever laid her eyes on. The great, looming building diminishes her meagre body to a tiny cluster of biological matter.
Emi often feels like there is so much art in the world that maybe it makes up for all the bad stuff. She likes being surrounded by things that humans have made – stuff that doesn’t really have a practical function, but that means something to people. It’s nice to think that not everything has to happen for the sake of progress.
When Emi enters her office, there is a large sculpture of – well, she isn’t quite sure to be honest. It looks like a massive bee – or a beetle perhaps. The sculpture is at least three metres tall, and must be as wide as her dinner table at home. It’s made of silver wire and coloured wool. Emi thinks it is a truly hideous creation, but gets to work assessing the work for curation. A child gawks at her through the state-of-the-art windows, that pose as walls but fail miserably. The downside of working at the gallery is the general preference for aesthetic over comfort and privacy. The child’s eyes flicker to Emi, and then to the giant bug, and back again. Emi, not one to be distracted at work, offers a grimace and resumes her assessment. She thinks that if the school-group tour guides weren’t so fixed on lecturing children on the theory of art (which no-one, absolutely no-one cares about – especially not little kids), then perhaps fewer students would ‘go missing’.
We are giants, but we are also mice.
Never are we more minuscule, more insignificant and minute than when our bodies and minds unwillingly surrender to the terror of greater forces.
As she arrives at the station after work, Emi is informed of an accident with the trains. Someone was hurt, and she cannot help but hear the noises – the sharp, loud cracking cacophony that must have sounded; the voice of a human creation claiming one of Emi’s own as its prey. She thinks of the giant sculpture, and the small child, her dinner table back at home, the art gallery and her own humble body. She thinks of the train, and the person it hit.
And she thinks of the wine glass, and the bottle which is probably full of wine.
And Emi is faced with her fundamental insignificance, demonstrated, symbolised, emphasised, by relative size.