Miss La Tsekk’s Immaculate Conception
by Paul Sohar
Yesterday afternoon a would-be suicide bomber added an unexpected premise to the contemplation of reality and fantasy at the Museum of Deconstructive Existentialism. According to the press release issued by the governing board, “The event highlights a hitherto unexplored facet of this venerable institution and no doubt will serve to open new avenues of research for years to come.”
The statement went on to assure the public that the physical damage to the facility was minimal. After a night of cleanup the doors would be open today as usual but with extra police protection promised by the City and graciously accepted by the Museum.
The alleged perpetrator managed to make his escape in a getaway car waiting outside, but he is already known to the police, and his capture, whether dead or still alive, is imminent. He was recognized by the museum staff as the same person who caused a minor disturbance a few weeks ago and had to be escorted out. His name was given as Emilie Sedlatsek, aka Miss Emili La Tsekk, a performance artist who strives to create conceptual art using his own body on the stage.
However, there is no stage at MODE, as the museum is known among the cognoscenti — both its avid supporters and its severe critics — and the visitors are discouraged from making exhibits of themselves.
For those who have not ventured behind its walls a brief descriptions of the place will help to guide the reader through the still-developing story. It’s a rather austere structure, a converted warehouse in the old meat-packing district, consisting of a series of large, empty halls, all painted white and plastered with lime, in addition to the usual museum lobby, gift shop, and café.
Each large hall has an anteroom of special purpose; in the first one the visitors are asked to surrender their shoes and socks and hoses before proceeding further barefoot. Inside the first large hall proper the visitors walk around looking at the blank walls and one another’s bare feet. Of course, it’s not polite to study other people’s faces.
In the anteroom of the second hall the visitors who want to continue are asked to remove their outer clothing, suits, dresses, skirts, jackets, etc. Savvy habitués make sure they come in clean, sometimes fancy, underwear; but of course they refrain from examining the cleanliness of others. Instead, they concentrate their attention on the clean walls. Of late, though, there have been reports of some visitors sporting spots of various colors on their undies: brown, red, yellow, purple, etc., perhaps adumbrating Emili La Tsekk.
The third large hall has an anteroom for the underwear; beyond that, the visitors must proceed completely naked. They must take care not to bump into one another and to cast but casual glances at other people’s genitalia as they go around examining the blank white walls. Some newcomers hold their visitors’ tag in front of them or even their hands, but most make sure to look natural and at ease.
This is the last place where a visitor can decide to turn back and not complete the tour of the museum, the last place where a visitor can backtrack to the lobby collecting all his belongings, if he or she can find them. From here on the visitor must either turn back or go all the way to the end.
The fourth hall requires total commitment from the visitor; there’s no return. Its anteroom has a storage shelf for billfolds, wallets, reticules, jewelry, watches, and other identifying tags or marks some visitors may still have with them. Even the guards can only be distinguished by their fierce black moustaches and their superior physique.
Yet in the fourth hall many visitors begin to recognize one another and even nod to those whose eyes they caught earlier in another hall, though usually few words are exchanged and only about the exhibit or the few visitors who start having physical contact, even sexual intercourse, natural and unnatural, without any interference from the guards.
This is the space where anything goes, as long as it does not involve unwilling participants and it is done quietly so as not to disturb those who are not interested in watching. This is the hall that in its totality reflects what is seen on the walls by the visitors eyes. And of course everyone sees something different, but most people keep it to themselves as they walk around with the bemused smile of the enlightened Buddha.
From this room there is only one exit, and it leads to the final, the fifth hall. Some visitors are overheard mumbling to themselves or their companion “Lasciate Ogni Speranza” as they enter this last station of their path to higher consciousness and receive a pair of flip-flops and an umbrella in the short passageway.
The last hall is not really a hall, it has only three walls — also plain white — but the fourth wall is missing, and so is the ceiling; this area is more like a courtyard open on one side through a wrought-iron fence and a one-way turnstile to 11th Avenue, a busy thoroughfare with lots of traffic but only a sprinkling of pedestrians, mostly locals passing by, but also some tourists, sightseers, day-trippers, and curiosity seekers.
The departing museum-goers can hop into a taxi or a limo or a waiting friend’s car. Parking is of course impossible, as in most parts of the City. Only the sturdiest souls — and those from the neighborhood — walk home as they are supposed to, holding high the umbrella with MODE emblazoned on it.
The idea is that the visitors are supposed to continue their lives in the nude and with the irrelevant trappings of existence discarded, but of course the lesson is brought home to most visitors by a few minutes of exposure to the outside world without the symbols of their identity, without the protective but also disfiguring props of our civilization, all simple measures designed to make sure the experience of existence on a more basic and human level during their visit will follow them to enlighten their humdrum lives.
Thus a visit to MODE is not undertaken lightly; it’s not something to do on a lark. The atmosphere is not stuffy, not even solemn, but deliberate and mind-engaging. Most visitors behave with decorum, and the guards have little else to do besides directing visitors, helping then comply with the gradual emergence from the corrupting cocoon of everyday life, and sending them off defiantly naked into the mechanistically oriented world.
Never in its history did MODE ever require police attention. Even Mr. Sedlatsek’s first appearance caused hardly a stir, maybe a slight glitch in the smooth flow of intellectual congress with the whitewashed walls, and it was never made public, it can only be pieced together from hearsay circulating among the regulars.
Apparently, Mr. Sedlatatsek first aroused suspicion already in the second hall, because he appeared in his stage persona, La Tsekk — as he identified himself — wearing a lace-hemmed, wide but short slip over a protruding belly that would have looked like pregnancy except for the male genitalia very much in evidence. This kind of exhibitionism is not encouraged, and the guards asked him to leave through the first hall and make himself look decent.
But the performer took the occasion to deliver a talk on his immaculate conception watching the blank walls. If the museum did not believe him and in the power of imagination, then it forfeited its function, its reason to exist. Therefore, he (or she) was prepared to blow up the place with the device attached to his stomach under a silky, flesh-colored fabric and covered up by the slip.
Luckily, it was either an empty threat or else the device failed to detonate. It was not determined which was the case, for the suspect refused to let the guards frisk him and thereby violate his privacy. The officials had no choice but to hustle him out with the admonition that no one was supposed to compete with the exhibits on the walls, especially not by tawdry, artificial means such as a fake bomb or pregnancy, no matter how cleverly attached to the performer’s body. In order to silence his loud imprecations, he was given a ride home in the director’s own limousine.
Even less is known about yesterday’s incident. The police report is as yet incomplete and obscured by a dispute with the governing board of the museum over either side’s handling — or mishandling — of the affair.
The police were first alerted by a tourist, obviously an unsophisticated country bumpkin, who dialed 911 to report seeing a naked man stumbling out of the so-called fifth hall onto the sidewalk with blood spurting out of his mouth and a brown trail behind him, clutching his stomach. Every step of the pitiful wretch was punctuated by a popping sound, not the ordinary noise of breaking wind, but more like muffled firecrackers. Police and rescue workers responded immediately but could not find the injured man; he had presumably sped off in a taxi or a waiting car or jumped into the Hudson River.
The situation was further complicated by the Museum’s denial of access to the police to the inner halls; the officials insisted on police compliance with the rules concerning divestment, especially since the incident was initiated in the most severely restricted hall, the fourth one, where nudity was strictly enforced, and bringing a bomb in there was deemed impossible.
The director initially refused to issue a statement until some of the visitors volunteered the information to the TV news cameras that the man, now bearded and potbellied without question, made an attempt to put on some show, announced his name as Emili La Tsekk and began to deliver a passionate performance about his immaculate conception as a result of his having had intimate knowledge of the Museum walls.
When the guards rushed in to hustle him out he threatened to blow up the whole place with a bomb he had swallowed and was hiding in his stomach unless he was allowed to address the visitors present or to proceed through.
Perhaps the situation could have been saved even then but for one of the guards who start scratching the skin on the performer’s stomach to look for a hidden bodysuit and a bomb of some kind inside, in order to prove the man was a hoax, as before.
However, the guard turned out to be tragically wrong. The threat was real this time, only its dimensions were somewhat exaggerated. The first pop that issued from the bomber’s body was rather muffled and had no immediate effect on the bomber, except that it did light up his already fiery eyes and those of all the visitors as well while the guards stepped back in consternation.
The man was not joking, he must have filled his stomach with small homemade bombs or firecrackers, but they didn’t go off all at once or were detonating one by one, prematurely, as their casings were eaten through by stomach acid. The resulting show was less than spectacular, there was no big blowup of the body or the building, only a series of puny pops big enough to cause serious internal injuries to the bomber but to no one else.
Seeing the failure of his scheme and the pitiful state of his body, the performer staggered out of the Museum through the fifth hall and disappeared in the traffic.
Only when confronted with the sensational news reports did the museum officials relent and started revealing the full extent of the incident, which was probably Miss Emili La Tsekk’s last show. Its message — and whether it was delivered as planned or aborted or just fizzled out on its own — is likely to be the subject of debate among the devotees of the Museum and material for MFA dissertations for years to come.
Police set up a special number to call in case Mr. Sedlatsek was seen, and there were hundreds of calls, but none of them led to the suspect. After all, the streets of a big city like this must have hundreds of men that fit his description: inappropriately dressed, bleeding at the mouth and making strange sounds. The artist’s tortured body has probably washed out to sea by now.
In this morning’s press release the Museum sounded a more conciliatory tone, less eager to disavow the cause of its unfortunate visitor. It may yet yield to public pressure to rename the institution, or at least a wing, after this great artist who became a martyr to the cause of demonstrating the power of art over mere existence.
Copyright © 2013 by Paul Sohar