Issue 19: Felix Bazalgette
Blissel and Ritland
He poked a hole in the soundscreen, using a meat skewer on set and dirty from this morning’s performance. Putting it to his eye he was reminded of an eclipse.
Blissel refuses to release any of the forthcoming funds until he’s had something he can use from the current stage. Grainy colour images of yellow jackets in red dinghies in the rough blue seas blend to grey under his eye, on the light box. We need action, not comics. Enough annotation. Photographs that speak. (He imagines saying this to the President. Afterwards there is always applause.)
Blissel and Ritland then spent years on the same research project, developing things like: I can split my vision and make each eye focus separately. We had to take their word for it. Note that every assistant seconded to them quit after a maximum of four weeks, most only lasted around ten days. In the years 73-79 they burned through some of our best young men and women.
Blissel, unusually for a modern Major General, exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennial every year, and every year his works provoked consternation among local artists. Countless times the austere canvasses were slashed.
As his iris lined up with the fraying hole a moving image of upside-down Theda Bara was projected into his body, much to his excitement.
Fading in: we hear Blissel telling the story in his own words, in conversation with Ritland sixty years later. They drink some kind of futuristic tea, and are relaxed according to the standards of the time. We don’t use traditional establishing shots here but instead focus in on places of their bodies that feel like intersections, internal and external. As they talk, reminisce, we see the slight rocking movement of the nerve ganglia at the point where the spine meets the head, see the wrinkles in the flap of skin where the thumb meets the hand, see the shit sliding past like a proud ship from the larger to the smaller intestine (slight internal scar tissue visible).
Then, as Blissel tells the story, we cut back to archive footage that shows (from above) hundreds of Blissels surging around the soundscreen, Theda Bara in the centre like a source of light, all the Blissels are holding dirty meat skewers and are jostling silently to be allowed a place in front of the white four-sided canvas soundscreen, carefully needling a hole using the skewer, some manage despite the constant jostling, working around each other high and low across the canvas until all around Theda Bara on four sides the canvas screens are pierced with thousands of tiny holes, we see this from above, her in the centre bathed in light, then the four walls of the canvas soundscreen and beyond that darkness cut through with thousands of projected images of Theda Bara forging into the soft interiors of all the thousands of eyeballs of the Blissels, now frozen in rapt silence.
We cut back to the room, sixty years on, as Ritland puts a friendly but incisive question to Blissel, asking him to imagine the effect of one of his phosphorus flash bombs on morale. Devastating, says Blissel, smiling. Devastating. A feeling of total powerlessness. Absolute inferiority. (The audience begins to question his motives.)
We cut back to the archive, but now in place of Theda Bara there is a mound of radioactive material up to the height of a human navel, glowing slightly. The soundscreens are gone. The Blissels remain, but they are no longer fixed on the centre with their eyes but moving around it in roughly coordinated circles, going through movements that approximate calisthenics – arching and stretching, bending and pausing at moments of tension. The walls of the studio are coated in a reactive sheen, reflecting the fatal gamma rays, showing the projected outlines of the bones of the Blissels on the walls. As they circulate around the room their skeletal outlines remain but their soft internal organs break down, unseen, and their skins sag and begin to slide off into the darkness like wet plaster.
The politics of the cretaceous
“In Europe Villon was the first person to realize the deleterious influence of the sun and to associate it with the forces of oppression...” (Stephen Rodefer)
One hundred and ten million years ago a heavily armoured nodosaur was grazing by the banks of an estuary when a flash flood suddenly washed it out to sea. It quickly drowned, its nodules pressing into the finely silted mud. In 2011 Shawn Funk, employed by the mining firm Suncour Energy, was operating his excavator machine, blasting through layers of that same mud, now transformed. Funk noted a number of strange walnut-coloured fragments tumbling down onto the ledge among the usual sandy, bitumen-laced deposits.
The exterior of the nodosaur fossil contained a thin layer of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen, indicating the presence of the skin pigment red melanin, a russet hue similar to deer or gazelle. This was solid evidence – for the first time – that nodosaurs made use of ‘countershading’, an evolutionary camouflage mechanism that disrupts predatory visual calculations. It took millions of years for death and the sun to burn this pattern across the skins of countless weak and terrified animals (rhinos don’t have it because they don’t need it).
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During the last months of war they sent him to the prosperous Ruhr region because of his knowledge of all the lensing relations mapped out onto a sheet of paper. Driving from the belly of the cargo plane to the Zeiss boardroom, a friendly sniper took a potshot at his jeep. The bullet hit the windscreen and passed out through the passenger side door. Later they stopped and ran a string between the holes. If the string was allowed to sag it brushed his groin, but when pulled taut it sung clear.
Felix Bazalgette is a writer from London whose poetry and non-fiction had been published by 3:AM Magazine, Wide Range, The White Review and the London Review of Books blog among others.