Lisa Teasley: “Death is Beautiful”

15 June, 2022
B. Yaghi, “Lav­ish,” acrylic on can­vas, 169 x 233 x 4 cm, 2021 (cour­tesy artsper).

 

 

Lisa Teasley

 

At Imag­i­nal Cells, the new L.A. Jef­fer­son Park gallery, own­er Max­im Wilbourne wel­comes Farid Pour back into his dan­de­lion-hued and expan­sive office. It is their first meet­ing since the artist installed his work for the com­ing group show.

“Wow, this is stun­ning. And it also reminds me of an Ellen Gal­lagher piece,” Farid says, look­ing around at each wall, which has vary­ing ver­sions of elec­tric yel­low canaries encased in what appears to be white blood cells the size of a can­taloupe. The artist has a gen­uine look of awe on his hand­some angu­lar face, and he grasps the crisp ironed col­lar of his egg­plant shirt as if pro­tect­ing his larynx.

“Actu­al­ly, it was inspired by Vir­gil Abloh, whom I total­ly adored,” Max­im says, sit­ting back in a deep choco­late leather chair framed in dark wal­nut, not unlike the shade of his skin. “May he rest in pow­er. Sit down.” He ges­tures to the chair near­er him rather than the one across the table, which Farid takes.

“Right. ‘Canary yel­low.’ I met him once, in Mia­mi, maybe three years ago. He was kind. Unpretentious.”

“Exact­ly. Were you with Baadir then?”

“No, did you think we were see­ing each oth­er?” Farid asks too quick­ly, widen­ing his eyes.

“Baadir was curat­ing for Basel then, I thought maybe that’s where you met, where he first saw your work and brought it up to me.”

“No, I was nev­er in Art Basel, but I have some good friends in Mia­mi, one of them knew Abloh.” Embar­rassed, Farid straight­ens in his chair.

“Real­ly?” Max­im rais­es his brows flir­ta­tious­ly as Farid rubs the pads of his thumb and fore­fin­ger togeth­er, a years-long ner­vous habit. “You have beau­ti­ful hands. I noticed dur­ing your install.”

Farid stops rub­bing, say­ing noth­ing to that. He looks at the floor, his fox-col­ored eyes deadening.

“I’m sor­ry. I didn’t mean to make you uncom­fort­able,” Max­im says in a fake tone. “You know your work, the first time I saw it, remind­ed me of Rachid Koraïchi’s.”

“Oh?”

“Just now look­ing at your hands again remind­ed me of my first impres­sion of your work. I admire Koraïchi a great deal. And I have been mean­ing to get to Tunisia and see the memo­r­i­al he cre­at­ed for the hun­dreds and hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of immi­grants who died cross­ing the Mediter­ranean. He bought the land him­self. He is not spir­i­tu­al in word alone, as so many peo­ple are these days. He is love in action. What is not to admire about that?”

“Noth­ing not to. I just don’t see his work in mine or mine in his.”

“There is a med­i­ta­tive qual­i­ty to your pieces, and where there may not be a kind of soul spillage in his, but rather rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what has already been cleaned up and ful­ly real­ized, yours reveals most of life’s seem­ing­ly uncon­quer­able mess.”

“Okay,” Farid cocks his head to the side. “I do appre­ci­ate your opin­ion.” He hes­i­tates. “I appre­ci­ate being here, and I thank you for hav­ing my work in your space.”

“I seem to have offend­ed you?” Max­im leans for­ward, look­ing Farid in the eyes. Maxim’s enor­mous hands are clasped as he puts his elbows on the table between them. He has a few near-black freck­les on his deep brown skin. He is wear­ing a rose-pink shirt with green lines, like flower stems, run­ning through it.

“No, not offend­ed. The per­son­al inter­pre­ta­tions of one’s work may be valid for the inter­preter, but of course, almost nev­er for the artist.”

“I take it you have not got­ten a review that feels right? Like no one has got­ten it yet?”

“There have been some kind ones.”

“And when does kind­ness become spine­less? When is kind­ness just a puff?”

“I don’t know that true kind­ness ever has any­thing to do with pre­tense, mind games, or fear. I would argue that kind­ness is always strength. It takes a lot of courage to cut through so much bull­shit, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the art world, and with noth­ing oth­er than one’s heart.” Farid pierces Max­im with his eyes.

“I have a propo­si­tion for you,” Max­im says in less than a beat.

“Oh?”

“A cou­ple of weeks into the exhi­bi­tion I am going to Toron­to, then to Switzer­land for meet­ings, and there are a few col­lec­tors I would like you to meet.”

“I was plan­ning on stay­ing in L.A. for the dura­tion of the show.”

“I said, ‘two weeks in,’ and whom you would be meet­ing will not be com­ing to L.A. to see your work in a group show in a new gallery. One of them is an investor here. He is a tran­shu­man­ist, a fas­ci­nat­ing person.”

“The tran­shu­man­ists would have it that death will be optional.”

“Right. It’s inter­est­ing. An attain­ment of immor­tal­i­ty of the body. It’s unavoid­able at this rate in AI. Fait accompli.”

“But that’s arti­fi­cial immortality.”

“It brings into ques­tion exact­ly what is ‘arti­fi­cial.’ I don’t know if you saw the film After Yang or not—”

“I didn’t,” Farid inter­rupts, shak­ing his head quick­ly and curtly.

“Well, I thought it was love­ly because the family’s robot nan­ny was bro­ken — maybe it was more of a cul­tur­al informer/helper to fam­i­lies who adopt chil­dren of a dif­fer­ent race, as the par­ents were Col­in Far­rell and Jodie Turner-Smith — ”

“I don’t know who those actors are. I don’t keep up with pop cul­ture,” Farid inter­rupts again.

“Col­in Far­rell is white, Turn­er-Smith is Black, and their child was Chi­nese in this film, as was the robot nan­ny, and when some­thing goes wrong with him, Far­rell has to take him to get fixed, and we find on this com­pli­cat­ed jour­ney that the robot has mem­o­ries and emo­tions they didn’t know about. It’s touch­ing when Far­rell looks at his robot’s mem­o­ries and sees that there is a depth he could have nev­er imag­ined — it’s even soul-touch­ing, which made me ques­tion my arro­gance regard­ing human supe­ri­or­i­ty to AI. In oth­er words, might they, or shouldn’t they, these robots whom we know exist all over the globe, peo­ple who keep up with this know how sophis­ti­cat­ed this world has become — ”

“This is what can be so mad­den­ing about the so-called West,” Farid inter­rupts again, “it deems cap­i­tal­ism as the god that takes them to a such an extreme that they would sell the idea that a robot, that AI has a soul.” Farid grits his teeth behind tight lips caus­ing his sharp, hand­some jaw­bones to protrude.

I can­not or will not tran­scend what is human. I have no inter­est in arti­fi­cial­ly extend­ing my life. Death is beautiful.

“I under­stand your out­rage. But I like to weigh ideas until I am ful­ly con­vinced one way or the oth­er. There is this philoso­pher called Bostrom, I am for­get­ting his first name in this moment, and he may have been the one who coined the word ‘tran­shu­man­ism’ and those who fol­low this world, fol­low him, and I read almost all of one of his papers con­cern­ing the ques­tion, or the knowl­edge actu­al­ly, that if an AI is capa­ble of informed con­sent then it should not be used to per­form work with­out its informed con­sent,” Max­im says, sit­ting straighter, broad­en­ing his chest, his face ani­mat­ed with a kind of child­like glee. “In oth­er words, the con­sid­er­a­tion is that they should be designed and treat­ed in such a way that they can and would approve of hav­ing been created!”

“Absurd, absurd. This is all so absurd. Now I should be respect­ing Siri and Alexa and what­ev­er Google assis­tant and their assis­tant and its rights?”

Max­im smiles with plea­sure. “Deep­ak Chopra has a dig­i­tal clone of him­self, where he has uploaded his mem­o­ries. Many peo­ple are doing this. And many have enhanced their phys­i­cal bod­ies with parts and abil­i­ties that are mind blow­ing. I think it’s smart to befriend AI, it is here, and it is here to stay as long as we’re on this earth. We can’t go back or unlearn or unsee or uncre­ate what is here.”

“I can­not or will not tran­scend what is human. I have no inter­est in arti­fi­cial­ly extend­ing my life. Death is beau­ti­ful. It’s part of the human process. It’s our oppor­tu­ni­ty to fin­ish this par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive, which was always going to be finite, from the eyes of God.” Farid puts his right hand on his col­lar­bone, his voiced tone with allegiance.

“Come with me to Toron­to, I have enough miles for the tick­ets and from there to Switzer­land, you couldn’t pos­si­bly be sor­ry if you go, but rather have much to be sor­ry for if you don’t. I am think­ing of your career. I wouldn’t have you in this gallery, I wouldn’t be in the gallery busi­ness if I didn’t invest in the careers of the artists I show.”

“Let me think about it,” Farid says firm­ly, get­ting up from the chair.

Max­im stands, squint­ing in such a way that his bot­tom lids cov­er almost half of his eyes. “Con­sult­ing Baadir, I take it?”

“What exact­ly do you con­tin­ue to infer about the role Baadir plays in my life? He is a cura­tor whom I great­ly admire and to whom I am grate­ful for bring­ing me to this gallery. There is no dis­re­spect here, and I hope that is the case the oth­er way around.” He empha­sizes bring­ing his chin down­ward and his eyes upward as if peer­ing over glass­es at Maxim.

Max­im sits back down in his chair, he gen­tly bites the inner cor­ner of his bot­tom lip, his nos­trils slight­ly flared. He runs his hand over his close-shaved hair, which he used to wear long and free in an uneven fro before buy­ing the gallery with his mother’s estate.

Farid con­tin­ues through the first to the sec­ond room, stop­ping to look at his pieces, fea­tured on arguably the best walls for the light­ing. He stands there long enough to hope for Max­im to join him, but he hears him close the office door. Farid swal­lows, cross­es his arms, then paces in front of his large red piece, made with blocks of Sty­ro­foam and con­nect­ed with stones he col­lect­ed at the Palos Verdes beach behind the Don­ald Trump golf course. His boyfriend from four years ago had grown up in the area and had tak­en him to meet his par­ents. He was baf­fled by his ease with both par­ents, as if they were both his con­fi­dants. It was like a corny movie he would have rolled his eyes at. They even seemed to approve of their rela­tion­ship, as opposed to what he assumed was their inte­ri­or dia­logue: how far can an old­er Iran­ian assem­blage artist take our MBA wasp son in their respec­tive worlds? When per­haps it was rather only his own inner monologue.

Farid walks out to the street, nar­row­ing his eyes to the shock of an eerie glare in gray sky. An ice cream truck dri­ves by play­ing “Frère Jacques.” He has no idea why this gives him a painful pang of miss­ing New York. The song is entire­ly unre­lat­ed. What is hap­pen­ing, he won­ders as he makes his way around the build­ing to where his new Jeep Glad­i­a­tor is parked next to Maxim’s Tes­la. He won­ders then why he overex­tend­ed him­self with a lease at a time like this. What arro­gance, his father said to him in bare­ly cov­ered fury that had so much less to do with the lease of a high-end truck.

As the lock clicks open, Max­im sticks his head out of the gallery side door.

“Have a minute?” he asks.

“Sure,” Farid says with an enthu­si­asm that sur­pris­es himself.

“Baadir texted me that he won’t be able to make the open­ing because of a fam­i­ly emer­gency. He’s still in Jor­dan with his uncle. He wants me to let all of the artists know.”

“Thank you.”

“Lis­ten, I meant no offense to you what­so­ev­er in there.”

“I know that, but thank you.”

“Okay.” Max­im nods, look­ing like a lit­tle boy, though he is tall and com­mand­ing in presence.

Farid opens his truck door, then looks at Max­im. “Email me the dates you were think­ing of for the trip, and the spe­cif­ic places in Switzer­land, when you have the chance.” He returns the nod to Max­im and gets inside and starts the engine. As he backs up, he looks at the screen keep­ing Max­im in his periph­er­al vision, and what seems to be out of char­ac­ter for both, they wave to one anoth­er as his truck nears the street.

A car lets him in to make an ille­gal left across traf­fic into the boule­vard, he waves to the car too. When at the red light, Farid touch­es the mic on his phone and asks, “Siri, would you rather be friends with a human or a transhumanist?”

“I’ll be your friend in fair weath­er and foul,” she answers.

“Bull­shit. All of it, such bullshit.”

“I don’t under­stand,” she says.

“Nei­ther do I.”

Farid rolls his eyes, then smiles as gen­er­ous­ly as his face can allow while luck­ing upon the green light.

 

artartificial intelligenceEllen GallagherimmigrantsIranianRachid KoraïchiVirgil Abloh

Lisa Teasley is a graduate of UCLA and a native of Los Angeles. Her critically acclaimed debut, Glow in the Dark, is winner of the Gold Pen Award and Pacificus Literary Foundation awards for fiction. She has also won the May Merrill Miller and the National Society of Arts & Letters Short Story awards. Teasley has a new story collection coming out on Cune Press, Spring 2023. Her novels Heat Signature and Dive (published by Bloomsbury) have been praised in publications such as the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, the Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Her work has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and Arabic, and she has taught writing workshops around the world. A visual artist, as well, Lisa Teasley’s last solo retrospective exhibition, "Paintrospective," was at the Marie Baldwin Gallery Spring 2019. Her last group show was LA Forum for Architecture and Design’s "Every.Thing.Changes," Summer 2020. She tweets at @thelisateasley.