Eva Heisler

Dreams about Art

1. Baroque Interior

In the Immigration Office, I chat with an Icelander seated on my left. As I tell her about the novel in my lap—Substance of Forgetting—I look into the Icelander’s right ear and see a meticulously painted room, a French baroque interior. I don’t know her well enough to ask if the interior was painted in her actual ear, or if the scene is a custom-made insert.

2. Architecture

On a moonless night, I am ice skating without skates on a pond surrounded by evergreens. I ice skate in thick-soled black Doc Martens. Again and again I circle the pond, happy to find myself at the center of a friendly darkness. Toward morning, the trees stiffen into stone turrets, and I see the pond on which I skate is a flooded courtyard.

3. Conceptual Art Theft

Preparing to leave a rented room in Amsterdam, I notice pencil shavings
in corners. I ask H. to find a broom,

and he returns with an enormous vacuum cleaner sprouting three hoses
and a dozen nozzles. The vacuum is the size of a washing machine, and it is so white

it gleams. In my dream, I vacuum scatters of pencil shavings
with H.’s machine.

I report the dream to H. and he exclaims,
Yes, always my gestures are too grand.

Months later, H. opens an exhibition in Berlin.
One of his new works is a scatter of pencil shavings on a plinth.

This is my work, I complain.

No, he replies, that was your dream but it is my work.

4. In the Archives

I arrive at the archives of the National Gallery of Iceland and ask to see G.’s paintings. The paintings arrive in pieces, each piece stored in a Ziploc sandwich bag. The pieces are amber liquid, and I hold each plastic bag up to fluorescent lights, in search of brush marks.

5. Sculpture

E. asks me to install a work by H. I am sent to a tiny house of corrugated iron and instructed to put a circle of dyed eggs on its doormat. “After you do that,” E. says, “add something that addresses the question of nature.” I stoop over the doormat, arranging eggs and worrying about what to add that would address “the question of nature.” I pull up grass and scatter the blades over the eggs.

6. Painting

The studio is cluttered with painted things, but none deserve the name “painting,”

I reach for a rag and wipe my brush.

Grandmother walks into the studio and cries, “Look what you’ve done!
You’ve put a mark on your mother’s blouse!”

I explain I found the blouse in the trash. I unfold the white cotton
to reveal ink and lipstick stains.

Grandmother is blind to the stains; she sees
only the marks from my brush.

She pushes the painting rag into my backpack,
orders me to launder my mother’s blouse.

7. Installation Art

I return home to find the lock torn from my front door.

Upstairs, in a former studio, paintings are wedged in an open window.

Steamer trunks have been emptied and re-filled with curls of adding machine paper.

This is an installation! I exclaim to friends. The burglar made installation art in my house!

I uncurl the adding machine paper and read descriptions of dreams and memories.

These are my dreams and memories, I say. Who stole my dreams and memories?

A friend replies, “He’s over there, in the hall, looking at you.”

I see my husband, wearing a plaid wool jacket from college days.

I go to him, grateful for the writing in the trunks.

I hug my husband, but he is mannequin-stiff.

I wake, remembering the dream-burglar is dead.

Eva Heisler is a US art critic and poet currently living in Germany. She lived in Iceland for nine years, researching Icelandic art and drafting the poems in Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic, a book forthcoming from Kore Press in 2012.
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