Always Steal Never Borrow

Lanka Tattersall

today i’m stalking someone who looks

both like a grandmother and a person who

could be my lover and who is

triggering, triggering …

so this is about love and

i walked into this place, not knowing

but expecting everything.

and in the first room, there you were,

a specter video projection, dressed

like joseph beuys in renegade wear

with your head buried in a pile of fat,

just holding still. the church lady guard

in the room making a sketch

of something else. her grin is disconcerting

juxtaposed with the image of you,

now lowering your legs into the fat.

A throw of the device doesn’t abolish chance.

I’m just trying to walk through the door

here, enough

[somebody else, somewhere else asks:

What should change?

What should stay the same?

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t

do what you do?

the brutal truth.

the relationship between original and

originality, as well as accessing space for

new thinking.

A wild throw of the dice.

Hate, violence, our hot desire for death.
Definitely not “the same.”

Raising a lot more hell.]

here’s how I’d like to tell the story:

I’m standing in a room, around me are some

of the things you’re most (un)known for—

precisely imprecise repeats of iconic works

by privileged mostly white male artists,

many created just before these men became

canonized as “masters” of the 20th century.

what’s catching me by surprise

in this showroom is the live go-go dancer

in tiny silver shorts. Surrounded by repeats

of warhol, johns and lichtenstein, my man

is shaking his thing and his thing and

his other thing, listening to headphones on

a low blue platform that is bordered with

small light bulbs in the middle of the room.

this is repeat as well, a gonzalez-torres

moment. made from her recollection

of the work and from the available materials,

its details differ slightly from the ones

i’d seen in photographs, smaller light bulbs.

the dancer in this case wasn’t a muscle man

with a buzz cut, but a thin tattooed twink,

dancing in the silver lamé short shorts and

with the yellow sony sports walkman that i

know from the books. that particular walkman

catches my eye because it is inscribed

in my childhood memories of the 80s;

it’s one the kids in the know had (not me)—

the first status symbol of cool.

I wanted to hear what he was listening to,

or ask, “Hey, what’s it like up there?”

“How much are they paying you?”

“Maybe we could talk when you step off that

pedestal, what are you doing after this?”

Language is not jargon, but language is

jargon—demanding and diminishing it to

non-function with the powerful reversal of

negative usage.

Always at stake is pushing the silent power

of art to create a hovering force and energy

that leaves the spectator rocking and reeling.

The work is done predominantly from

memory, using the same techniques,

making the same errors, and thus coming

out in the same place.

That might be a bit abrupt. But still,

you’re sending these signs that I can read

and maybe those tourists taking your photo

can’t. you’re on live display every saturday

from 12 to 3, I’ll be back. I’m distracted

by the other objects in the room.

the lichtenstein hot dog in a bun painting,

a repeat of this enduring symbol of the

fast-food penis … and then, the big flat

endless warhol flowers, oversized,

the image pirated originally from a kodak

advertisement, repeat repeat repeat.

and then there are these johns

plaster and bronze casts of light bulbs,

resting on top of little blocks that are like

oversized soap bars. just lying there

a little flaccid, a bit testicular, a little bit

like the way a body with a round shape

might lie on top of a body with a square

shape. i find these little beasts sexy,

and absurd. i’d never seen them that way

before, some kind of echo/shadow

being cast …

this might be an exhibition hall, but it occurs

to me that she’s staged a takeover.

reco(r)ding an exhibitionist/deeply queer

disco/hot dog/decorative/light bulb/orgasm

space. something is turning me on.

Reading Michael Jackson was My Lover

by Victor M. Guttierez (self-published,

1997)—the super reality of truth as falsity.

And always in between, Gilles Deleuze and

Michel Foucault to prevent brain damage;

using horizontal thinking.

remake reuse reassemble, recombine—

that’s the way to go. the force of the work

lies in the premise that thought is power.

ruptures and leaps, tensions and

intensities, and strident repetitions that

bring to full force the blatant exterior:

the outside brutally dismissing the interior.

she doesn’t go to porn movie houses

to jerk off, doesn’t wear her collar up …

the work is loaded with guts and passion …

those who came were moved to tears

prior assumptions (the icons, the art history

lessons, the neutralizing figure illustrations)

quietly accepted come unhinged.

things that are recognizable: hot dog is a

hot dog is a flower is a dance step is a pulse

strips down what happens when one

object stands next to another.

how to image-name the system,

that one that gives some things surplus

value while undermining others,

that turns declarations into logos,

that whitewashes our ability

to see for ourselves.

it is something primed for detonation.

now. it’s time to start, (re)new. i’m watching

my seeing unravel. this is a moment


there never has to be something else.

There is no end. The head doesn’t go dead

after you understand it. On the contrary

there are many places to go …

fraught with linkage and displacement;

a tight play between screens that shoves

originality has its limitations and requires

superseding origins

every kid with a lollipop knows … absolute

clarity is a rigorous



Sturtevant, “Sliding Parameters of Originality,” in Original, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 1995.

“Questionnaire: Sturtevant,” frieze, October 2004.

“Sturtevant talks to Bruce Hainley,” Artforum, March 2003.

“Bill Arning Interviews Sturtevant,” in Sturtevant, Munich: Oktagon, 1992.

“Sturtevant as Sturtevant as Sturtevant is John Waters as John Waters as John Waters is,” in Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004.