Xaver raises his eyes from the screen of his laptop and watches for a few seconds, without really seeing, a scene that would be astounding if it wasn’t what he sees everyday – since he established his office in the backstage of the cabaret. A tall and spidery dancer with blue hair is stringing a violin while chatting with an old guy with a low and booming voice – both are naked but for a long white wig worn by the man (a famous Australian actor seeking a fresh kick in the European underground scene) and a rope tied in karada style around the torso of the woman (a Canadian ballet-trained yogi with an impressive Internet visibility).

As the computer chimes, Xaver quickly reads the message that just arrived on his IM, types a few words for an answer, closes the laptop while standing up and goes to the door, interrupting the conversation as he has to pass between the two chatting at the door.

 In the next room, a girl in fuchsia bathrobe and cleansing mask brushes one of three black wigs resting on Styrofoam display heads. He addresses her with a strained voice: ‘Here we are, I have my appointment with Johanna right now! I’m on my way!’ Without turning her head, she retorts: ‘Good for you…’ Clearly expecting no better, he heads to the exit door when she ask him: ‘Was it Aika I saw the other day in Amsterdam, what was she doing there? - No it wasn’t, if it had been her, she’d be all around D’s new double-neck Telecaster, you know her, she’s the only female guitar geek in Europe’ – even in a hurry, Xaver cannot help telling stories – ‘I guess you saw Yu, this Chinese-something dancer who came to audition. I was ready to sign her up right away, but I haven’t heard of her since… Must go now, ciao-ciao!

Xaver doesn’t know yet that, in spite of her successful audition, Yu suddenly decided to fly to Jakarta in a desperate quest for meaning about her life and imminent death - he will learn it from Skullface much later, once Yu’s comatose body is brought back to Amsterdam, and won’t get all the details. But he will never forget her bizarre mix of violence and indifference, the troubled but vibrant sexuality expressed in her dance, and above all the vertiginous blankness of her Buddha face, even as she was rolling on the floor tearing off her clothes as if they were burning her skin (her personal idea of strip-tease it seemed).

For now, Xaver drives his coupé (he has a indulgence for sport cars and managed to keep this one through the last decade of financial ups and downs) on the way to finally meet Johanna, after weeks of almost humiliating negotiations with an endless chain of in-betweens. How she achieved in half a year what he’s been trying to do for more than twenty years could not only be the result of the money invested, or the professionalism of her communication staff! He has to know more, to find out how he can use this knowledge for his own agenda – or maybe join her cause.


As Skullface queues at the check-in desk at Airport Schiphol, this familiar state of paranoia that rises on such occasions (they always regard her as if she’s some suicide-bombing prone death-cultist), combined with intense airport-specific boredom, triggers flashes of intuitions about the events of the last weeks. She might have been a little bit too busy being cool about the whole Alicja/Devyani thing, could it be that she ended up manipulating herself in fear of being manipulated?

Reaching the control desk after more queuing, she notices the panic look in the eyes of the security woman (who presses discreetly a red button on her walkie-talkie), and her peripheral vision fills with converging uniforms. No big deal, she doesn’t have much baggage but anyway she had her suitcase put in the luggage hold, since she doesn’t want to be controlled with her metal toys prototypes – she’d rather avoid prompting a small-scale post-porn Brancusi controversy. Also she’s not wearing her favorite steel-toe Doc Martens or any superfluous metal, so the metal-detector gate doesn’t ring, but she’s body-searched anyway and adopts spontaneously a resigned crucifixion pose. ‘So much for death-cult’ she broods, as usually in this situation.

While standing there with wide open arms and being thoroughly scanned, Skullface thinks that she now has a clearer understanding of what is wrong with Alicja. Not morally or psychologically wrong like it would appear at first, that she doesn’t give a shit about, but deeply disloyal. She had forgotten the nauseous feeling of betrayal, for many years she – softly – managed to make clear that she’s not someone you want to mess with. But Alicja’s lunacy makes her both difficult to read and quite blind to elementary signals.

Skullface doesn’t care about legality, but if she has to do something illegal, she wants to do it purposefully, in full control and for worthy reasons. She decided to keep remote from the law like from any other kind of institution, to avoid as much as possible any kind of grip society could have on her. Now Alicja not only selfishly endangered her social autarchy, but she didn’t make her know it at any moment, leaving her store in her workshop materials that – if you think of it – cannot have legal provenance. While unsettled with the whole project, she’s been unaware that what felt at first innocuous could be actually the source of trouble.

The control people seem even more nervous than usually, apparently because of the increasing amount of travelers wearing little mirror disks in badges or pendants that signal them as supporters of Johanna - supporters, followers, adepts, fans, it’s not clear. They reluctantly admit that Skullface is not a threat to airborne transportation, and actually the woman who gives her back her handbag slightly smiles at her, but she’s wearing dark red nail polish and a ball-ring in her left tragus.


 When Yu comes to the Lumpenkabarett the next day for the audition, she somehow manages to arrive one hour too early, takes this as a bad omen, and decides to give up the whole thing and to leave. She walks down Warmoesstraat in a dumb state, but when she reaches the Dam, she changes her mind again, goes back to the theatre, dives down the stairs in the dark and sits at the bar to wait for the manager.

 On stage, a loose rehearsal is going on, or maybe the performers are having a break, because they’ve just been casually talking for the last ten minutes. It’s quite odd to see them in full costume but in non-performance mode – it has somehow more impact than when they are dancing or playing music! The front woman in expressionist black and white make-up is wearing thigh high boots with twelve centimeter heels, opera gloves, a leather choker and not much more. She seems to suffer from backache since she keeps twisting her spine and stretching with painful grins, locking her arms behind her head, or leaning frontwards completely – like dancers do –, still talking.

 The tall musician – wearing similar but rougher make-up, and a black suit – just stands there looking in the void, answering with few words, and seems absorbed in intricate and somber thoughts – though this might just as well be an impression due to his make-up. Then he slowly puts down his guitar on its stand, walks to the black curtains that he tears open and rolls a wheeled mirror to the centre of the stage. He then undergoes an astonishing transformation: in a few gestures, he opens his black shirt, unbuckles his trousers that drop on his boots, messes up his long hair, twists his upper body like a hunchback and distorts his face in a grotesque grimace. It ‘s as if he conjured out of nowhere an obscene, hellish clown with a toothless and drooling mouth wide open, bulging eyes turned white, twisted fingers writhing with crustacean movements, the whole body seemingly moved by a slow cramp resolving in a silent scream, like in horror of seeing itself in the mirror…

 Then, as suddenly as he had turned into this misshapen freak, the musician straightens up, quickly puts his clothes back on with a sulky pout – but here again it’s hard to tell – and a clearly skeptical sniff, and mumbles: ‘I’m really not sure’. The woman is now hanging upside down from a rail fixed on the upstage wall, loosening her sore backbone – she asks: ‘So, can we work on the new Johanna sketch, now?’ Since he doesn’t answer, she goes on: ‘Did you watch this YouTube video I e-mailed you yesterday? Johanna on some Austrian TV show, just baffling!’ 

 At the sound of heavy steps descending the stairs, Yu switches from the stage to the forthcoming meeting, quickly recalling the pitch she prepared for the cabaret manager. It’s hard to tell if she belongs here, but at least she has to try.


‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please applaude The Dead Weather’.

While Mosshart, White and their colleagues leave the stage under the applause of the audience, the robot-crane camera flies to the lounge part of the set, where Johanna, sitting on her throne-like armchair, is as carefully lit as the band, in a quite similar way, with a subtly balanced mix of white, blue and ultraviolet. She wears light-reactive body make-up that makes her skin glow almost imperceptibly, her lips and nipples as pale as her skin, making her look like a living statue. A hidden tubular fan directed to her face slightly accentuates the movement of her long hair, and her voice is lightly pitched down, compressed, equalized and phased. It is as if she belongs to a faintly shifted dimension, where gravity, time and light are somehow different, and the fact that this is obviously artificial and the result of elaborated special effects seems to even increase its impact.

The program’s host seems very happy with himself, he obviously has an ace up his sleeve: ‘Johanna, I would like to show you something my crew shot yesterday evening in a Berlin cabaret... They have this show that claims to be a training program to survive what they call the inevitable collapse of the capitalist society’ – he grins ironically – ‘they are probably very happy that we advertise for them tonight because I doubt that anybody else pays attention to this kind of artsy-fartsy underground show...’ 
The camera frames Johanna’s face in close-up to catch her reaction but the director notices immediately how she de-focuses her eyes in a way that conveys a feeling of tremendous boredom, even though her face stays impassive. They have to keep this frame at least five more seconds or they’ll break the rhythm, but he whispers in the host’s ear-flap to cut the smart-ass comments and get to the point.

‘Or maybe they will be the next sensation, because for sure they caught the spirit of the time, as you will see right away. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to introduce you to the Hardcore Kunst Lumpenkabarett Dancing on Ashes!’

On the screen behind them, the logo of the show decomposes in accelerating squares, colliding with each other and vanishing in pixel explosions, revealing what seems to be a crouching bear, agitated with sudden quakes. A hand loaded with shining rings emerges from the creature, pulls what appears to be a heavy fur-coat to expose bare buttocks on top of high-heel boots. The soundtrack mixes drum-rolls, laughs and a high-pitched shriek that is probably guitar feedback. At the other end of the fur-coat a head rises, wearing a long blond wig and a latex mask bearing the features of Johanna. The fake Johanna crosses the stage ringed with black curtains on all four, growling like a wolf, while a recorded voice starts to tell the life of the Death Angel of Consumerism.


Boris has been very enthusiastic about his blog for eighteen months – it got high rates almost instantly, good reviews from peers and a few hundred followers within a few weeks, then thousands. People love his highly literary approach to fashion, his jaunts into imaginary worlds, his old-school dialogues with his cat, his hilariously hypochondriac fascination for body modifications, his cool-hunting in the underground, his way to never really follow trends while always being up to date somehow…
It did him some good for his work also, for which reputation is valuable, and he’s been a guest poster on some big blogs with international and mainstream visibility, remuneration, invitations to a few select fashion shows and parties… There he has more or less the status of a gifted dilettante and he’s OK with it, he doesn’t want to push his design work in the spotlights yet – doesn’t feel ready for it. But most people he gets to work with know him by reputation now, and have for him the kind of positive a priori famous cool people draw.

But lately the excitement has been fading away, maybe since he started to work and hang out regularly at the Lumpenkabarett – he thinks. For a while, the whole costumes, make-up, accessories thing was like an intense and hyper-focused fashion laboratory – combining playful twists of classicism and cabaret clichés with a total absence of the restrictions ordinarily due to modesty, though never indulging in easy extravagance. The DIY dark glamour he contributed to develop there appeals to his own contradictions, from the hysterisation of genders (like they say) as an anti-gender statement to the formidable efficiency of the alliance of futile entertainment and political subversion.

Back home from the cabaret, Boris usually feels quite inspired and lyrical about it, and writes his most praised posts, shamelessly reinventing the show, the people or his costumes more than actually describing them. The cabaret as much as his blog are fictional zones, where it is necessary to add a serious dose of fantasy, desire and imagination to reality to precipitate it into denser matter. He wrote somewhere about this that it is essential to address art, love, politics, religion and every important mental artefact with the same suspension of disbelief that is required for a B science-fiction movie.

But the Lumpenkabarett feels more and more like the only place in town where the air keeps breathable in an otherwise noxious atmosphere. It’s as if a titanic sulphur cloud has settled over Europe in the last few years, everybody seeing it coming, but half of the people being busy making it bigger, while the other half tries to do anything not to think about it. And since the cabaret people added the Johanna sketches to the Dancing on Ashes show, Boris started to look at this phenomenon as something more significant than the last empty hype it seems to be when you purposefully avoid TV and standard mass-media. 
Then Boris realizes that both Johanna’s crusade and Dancing on Ashes’s travesty of it, while just shows, reach a level of reality that had utterly escaped him so far.


After dinner, Alicja spends her daily half-hour in the hothouse, watering the orchids – just moistening some, soaking others –, trimming what has to be trimmed, raking the dirt, devotedly scenting the complex perfumes of flowers, wet earth and decay carried by the damp atmosphere, improvising monotone songs in glossolalia to cheer up the delicate blooms…

Fulfilling these tasks leaves her relaxed and a bit high. Then she usually perfects the moment with a glass of Vieux Cognac served in a large balloon, and a figurado – at day time she favors cigarillos but back at home, she allows herself more serious smoking.

Biting her cigar tight, she wriggles out of her frock with the big glass still in her hand, struggling as the silk sticks to her moist skin, then kicks the cloth across the room – she is in a really good mood today! She goes to the big jewellery box resting on a tripod in front of a psyche mirror, rummages in it and fishes out a heavy white bronze necklace ornate with a huge sard stone that she casually puts around her neck. She admires the result in the mirror, blows a cloud of smoke to the ceiling, takes a sip of liquor and searches carefully for matching bracelets – she sets for an assortment of silver bangles.

While slipping them on her forearms, she thinks of Devyani’s recent account of how she used to use her bangles as brass knuckles in street fights when a teenager, and tries to imagine the luscious young woman as a brawling riffraff: the idea is quite exciting! Alicja puts the last ring around her knuckles, raises her fist to the mirror and tries to look threatening, then chuckles and wonders when Dev will be back – she’s been on tour for a few weeks now. Her absence is getting tiresome.

Slowly she walks across the big living room, exaggeratedly swaying to feel the metal jewels slither on her skin. From Devyani, her thoughts wander to Skullface, then to the bull excavation model she had her build – this is also exciting! It will be finished within one week, and she agreed with the craftswoman that she would deliver it herself at her place the next Friday, after office hours. She will wait for her in the greenhouse, open the door with a watering can in her hand – her gardening dress impregnated with the rich tropical scent –, and invite her to see her orchid collection. Then it’s double up, she’ll have exposed herself to Skullface, who either will enter her universe, or run away.

Alicja picks up a kimono, wraps herself in it and drops into the leather sofa in front of the flat screen. She’s planned to enjoy this solitary evening indulging in one of the very few pleasures she’s almost ashamed of: she will watch TV – or precisely she will watch Johanna on TV. She’s enthralled by how powerful and uninhibited Johanna became over the last months, taking control of the mass media by doing the contrary of what is expected, with an agenda opposed to all the standards usually hammered into the passive audience, opposed to the average commercial and political propaganda vomited by TV. And like everybody else, Alicja wants to know how far all this will go!



 Skullface slowly unwraps Devyani’s present. Spontaneously, she feels like incising the tape with a blade, unfolding carefully the Kraft paper (hand-pencilled with black paisley patterns) and saving it, but she doesn’t want Devyani to think she’s tight-assed, so she tears it off – it’s part of the ritual. Part of the ritual also is her face staying impassive while she extracts plum organza and lace, trimmed with purple and ivory embroidering and narrow satin ribbons. The slightest hint of a smile or a breath that could pass for a sigh would tip the scales of the amorous power game at stake.

 Devyani has been struggling – gently and subtly, but still struggling – to have Skullface give up some of her austerity. Not that she is overly stern or dull – on the contrary, her steady mood makes her an agreeable companion, and she can be extremely funny, though she reserves this to a strictly private circle. But she usually leans toward a moderate behaviour, talks only when she has something to say worth breaking the silence, always chooses reading, working or training over partying or hanging out with friends.

 Similarly, she favours plain simple clothes – workwear having her preference –, self-maintains her boyish haircut, and never wears the jewels she brilliantly makes, or any other (though of course a mere glimpse of her face tattoo makes obvious that she once has been wild beyond what most people can conceive).

 Devyani never wanted Skullface to change for her, but she managed to open her to some of her fantasies – actually erotic fantasies (this is what it’s all about). After a period of passionate physical love, mutual discovery and utter tenderness, their foreplays started little by little to include negotiations about the use of some peculiar garments, jewels or gadgets...

 Skullface plays her part with a sheer gravity and Devyani is never sure if there is genuine annoyance or if it is just game, because Skullface always surrenders in the end – though she almost never spontaneously initiates anything (she just has this thing with dildos but it’s another story). This ambiguity is actually enjoyable in itself, and the possible rejection – however unlikely – keeps Devyani’s heart beating with fear and excitement.

 Sometimes the game strays beyond erotic fantasies and enters surrealistic areas – like the day Devyani challenged Skullface to wear the ugliest bunny outfit – white plush long-eared hood, hoses and sleeves on top of a crotchless pink fishnet body stocking, with the inevitable fluffy white tail on top of the buttocks. Skullface had a perfect revenge by subduing without protest, then wearing the costume all day long, parading in front of Devyani torn between shame and arousal. She could do nothing more than close all the curtains of the flat and witness her lover pursuing her day in the most normal manner, even going down to her workshop to pick some tools – it was a Sunday and it was closed, but still with a wide window to the street.

 It took over a month before Devyani dared making Skullface another erotic gift, and she will never erase from her mind the disturbing image of her unsettling face and sharp body debased by this silly attire (and of course the bunny tail is still hanging from the bathroom’s mirror – Skullface’s own sense of humour). The elegant – almost luxurious – piece of French lingerie the woman just unpacked and now holds in front of her with an expressionless face but a slight and encouraging hips movement is probably an enduring consequence of the episode. ‘You could actually wear it in real life’ suggests Devyani, trying hard to sound unconcerned.

Dancing on Ashes (Welcome to)

Aika is a little bit from everywhere
She doesn’t want it, but she’s a little bit from everywhere
Aika is genetically cool
She can’t really do anything else, but this she does perfectly
In such a cool world, she even can make a living out of it
But then she can never leave
She can never leave the cool world
Tonight Aika is at the Lumpenkabarett
Because it’s the cool place to be
And of course, she’s a friend of one of the musicians
The one with the spooky make up
(And she is a friend of the sister of the PR of the place
Who sometimes subcontracts the cabaret program layout to her)
When Aika entered the cabaret,
She noticed right away this hip costume designer
She absolutely has to talk to him after the show
Boris first of all checks the outfits he made for the show
The chick with the flute is going to dance at some point
That’s why he put zippers on the sides of the leather mini
Quite sexy for a girl, Boris thinks absent-mindedly
Somehow he dumbly expected actual glowing cinder on the ground
I’d put her in a see-through black lace Victorian dress, he chuckles
Boris discretely takes a photo with his iPhone
It will be on his blog tonight
When does the show really start? he mutters
Boris looks around
And gets a glimpse of the girl with the tattoo on her face
Somewhere at a table in the back of the Lumpenkabarett
Fuck, Skullface looks as serene as ever
How does she do that? he wonders
Skullface appreciates the fact that people in the audience are so quiet
So far she enjoys the show – its slow unravelling
She likes this kind of focused work, it helps her to refocus
It’s easy to lose your point even when you have an imperious agenda
She’s so used to being looked at with her eerie face tattoo
That she herself became a very good watcher
But tonight Skullface worries that people will think
That she’s part of the show or something
And then she gets angry at herself
For having such insignificant thoughts
And tries to forget herself
And to open her soul to what happens on stage
Johanna is not at the Cabaret show tonight, of course
Later she will be on Das Erste again
Guest starring on Harald Schmidt’s new night-show
For the moment Johanna is still in her apartment in Cologne
She just sits still and concentrates
The people around her spontaneously became silent themselves
Like always
She just wears a long white cotton tunic
Like always
That she will drop when she enters the TV set
Like always
Because she is the naked truth
Because she is dressed with the sky
Dressed with the four cardinal points
Because when she comes naked into the spotlights and speaks
They listen to her
They let her preach about the malevolence in our consumerist society
They let her tell her story again, because that’s what the audience wants
Because she is the last TV guru
But they don’t get that she could really be the last TV guru
Still, she’s missing the Lumpenkabarett show tonight
And then the flute player puts the flute on the floor
And starts a slow dance
And Aika watches but she doesn’t see her
She sees Iggy Pop and she sees Akira Kasai
And she sees herself at the age of 10
And Boris feels drawn to the dance
He feels his thigh muscles contract in unison with her movements
And Skullface notes how the dancer’s movements create
A strange cluster of invisible lines in space
Lines and shapes that grow their own liveliness
And Johanna would have observed how the smoke slowly stirs on stage
And wraps the artists and the audience in an almost mystical fragrance
And Aika loves the transparent black Thunderbird bass
Everything on stage seems to revolve around it now
And Boris remembers the taste of his new lover last night
Then he observes himself remembering, then he dives into himself
And something in Skullface thinks of how the aspen leaves tremble
In the late spring breeze up north
And Johanna could have felt something about humility and casualness
That she will never reach again 

And he bartender stretches and gets ready for the post-show beer rush 
Though the show lacks the excitement that makes people thirsty 
And Aika smiles genuinely at Boris 
And Boris wishes he would play guitar 
And Skullface resolves a long lasting problem 
And nobody thinks that Johanna could have come to the show tonight
And Aika marvels at the sight of a rotating wrist
And Boris hasn’t ever been so at peace for months
And Skullface feels like going home to work right now
And Johanna is told that the limo is waiting
And the dancer leaves the stage, the musician stops playing and it’s over.

Dancing on Ashes (North)

Just imagine a cold morning, a very cold one
After a wild party in the woods, a wild wild one
The cabin reeks of cold tobacco, sweat, spilled beer and kerosene
Skullface - who is not Skullface yet, but will be very soon -
Wakes up from pain, then cold, then more pain
The kerosene heater is far from enough, the wood fire is dead
She has to pick a few logs outside to start a new one
Or these drunken morons will freeze to death
Adrift in the vapors of their alcoholic sleep
Her face is burning like hell
She also feels frozen and nauseated, but this is more familiar
Wrapped in a rough blanket over the clothes she slept in
(For at least five days now)
She loosely puts on her army boots and drags her feet to the door
She stands shivering a couple of minutes in the doorway
Staring at what seems to her an almost petrified forest
Until she notices the liveliness of morning birds’ singing
Moving has reactivated her blood circulation
And revives the pain, and blood starts to drip on her face
She enjoys every bit of it
Because she wanted it so badly
And now she is the queen of her tribe
She reached the acme of her street credibility
And she’s lost forever to the Christian capitalist bourgeois society
She can’t smile because of the crusts on her lips
She puts three logs in the rusted cast iron stove
And adds a glass of kerosene to start a quick fire
They won’t call her Snow White anymore
Like these suckers used to
And they won’t call her the Austrian Virgin anymore
(She used to pretend to be a virgin
It aroused the guys
Who talked of sacrificing her to Satan, or Odin, or Hitler
But of course she hadn’t been a virgin for a while already
Wasn’t she raised in the Commune
Under the rule of free love?)
She softly touches her swollen face with icy fingertips
It relieves the pain for a short while
She has a pocket mirror somewhere in her rucksack
But she wants to feel it from the inside before seeing it
And she knows that for a few days
Her face will be bruised and bleeding
Right now she probably looks as scary as the Krampus
The devil that hunts children on the 5th of December
Every year she expected and feared its celebration
When she visited her grand parents in the Berchtesgadener Alps
She also brought some healing cream and her favorite painkillers
But yesterday’s cheap and strong Estonian vodka
Still keeps her numb enough for the moment
A growl comes from one of the human shapes
Cocooned in sleeping bags on the cabin’s floor
It’s big Varulv, who spent half of the night
Drunkenly screaming to the trees
His hatred of humans and society and above all Christians
Varulv who sang of destruction and blood and fire
Imploring unresponsive Nordic Gods to assist him
In his desperate fight against Christian capitalist nihilism
That allows the weak to rule the powerful
In Norwegian police files
Varulv is recorded as the leader of this Black Metal gang
That gather today in the woods north of Lillehammer
Half celebrating loose spring rites
And actually half running from the police
After the last wooden church arson reactivated
The media’s hysteria against the rising Black Metal Satanism
And the gang’s latent and constitutive paranoia
She plays with the thought of Varulv’s reaction
When he sees her ravaged face
Despite his outrageously staged misanthropy
He’s a sensitive and ambiguous boy
Though struggling with his appetite for personal power
He will love her and hate her for what she did
She will be the living icon of this gang of wrecked kids
She who sacrificed her juvenile beauty to the Darkness
When most of them are mere turbulent teenagers
On vacation from dull parents, schools and futures
But where she’s from, standards are different
Otto will hate her, she can tell for sure
For the same reasons that Varulv will
Because she overpowered them
The old Viennese actionist
And the young Black Metal thug
She is both a living piece of art walking the earth
And a bloody spit at the face of society
And she did it alone, she’s only sixteen and already far ahead
Well she did it almost alone
The Russian guy who tattooed her claims to have learnt his art
In a Uralian gulag
Not a political prisoner though, but what they called a hooligan
A street kid re-educated in camps
Who learned to love the Soviet Union like the mother he never had
And still does, though it has collapsed a couple of years ago
He had plenty of tattoo practice on his fellow zeks
Including shocking face tattoos
Once relocated in the west (it’s not clear how this happened)
He realized that there, tattooing pays much better than thievery
The metalhead kids in Oslo love his genuine Mafiya tattoos
They line up in front of his tiny shop to get inked
And they invite him to their crazy parties
Sometimes they do quite scare him
These little spoiled brats have no principles and no limits
The girls are particularly scary
In Motherland they never had to display this level of machismo
The German one he’s tattooed last night
Seemed to have plotted for months
For this conjunction to happen
The group of kids gathering in the forest away from Oslo
Him invited to supposedly the wildest party ever
The presence of an unusual amount of fierce alcohol
Everybody collapsing a little bit to soon
Himself drunk enough to be convinced to do a face tattoo
On an under-aged runaway
(He would never have done this in his renowned tattoo parlor
In fear of loosing his license – wild days are behind!)
But still he was able to hold firmly the needle and draw the lines
Of a stylized skull
On this pretty face.

Dancing on Ashes (Amsterdam)

A few months before she flies to Java
To die on the land of her ancestors
(Well not exactly her ancestors but this is another story)
A land she never visited before
Or doesn’t know much about actually
Yu is in Amsterdam
She just had the confirmation that her Jonson syndrome
Has reached the lethal point she feared all her short life
Since her parents’ restaurant on Zeedijk closed
She hardly goes back to the Red Light District
And not at all since the dance studio on Koestraat closed as well
That was a couple years ago, and things changed a lot since
The new city council, under the pressure of EU
Started the gentrification process of the area
Now at least a third of the famous windows
Are rented to fashion designers
Who probably think they are so cool and daring
To share the district with prostitutes and drug dealers
Like on American TV series
Now the only guys dressed like pimps in the place
Are hyped young trendsetters and art students
Between their flea market phase and the minimalist one
Yu also used to wear layers of 1€ clothes from Waterlooplein
She wore hideous woollen skirts over Adidas pants cut knee-high
Over ragged jeans stuck in big flashy leg warmers
And AFC Ajax scarf and ski cap she was particularly fond of
Today for the very first time she wears heels and a miniskirt
(It’s springtime in A’dam)
Because on the list of what she has to do before dying
There are a few things related to sex
First Yu passes by Oudekerkplein
To see this renowned anonymous ground sculpture
Of a hand grabbing a tit
Today she takes the time to really look at it
And slowly she feels the bronze hand
Holding her own bronze breast
First she expects to sense nothing
Like usually
Dreadfulness and excitement cancelling each other
But today in this sluttish outfit
Yu catches something different
Something violent
Rising through her shielded perception
As she stands over the sculpture
A fat black woman in a white lace basque
Looks at her from her window, smiling
Strangely she reminds her of these Matongué mamas
Who board Euroline coaches at the Brussels bus stop
Then she remembers this trip a few years ago
When she first met this girl with the tattoo on her face
Who called her Buddhaface
Like Yu was the special one
By then the stone Buddha had already started growing in her
And had already taken control of her heart
And brain
And body
And face
Now, before the weight of the mineral Buddha
Drags her to the tomb
She must start her own quest
And experience… well, everything
Or at least something else
But there’s nothing she can share anymore
Neither with friend or lover
She was never deprived of either
She was always eager to bathe herself in warm feelings
But now she’s beyond that
Beyond the illusion of love and friendship
Now it’s time for the body to be crude and raw and free
Yu walks by the sex-shop windows along the Voorburgwal
As a teenager she used to come around with her gang
Pointing at giant dildos, crotchless panties and riding crops
Bursting into laughter and squeaky screams
Hissed away by half-irritated half-amused hookers
Alone she’d usually just look straight and walk slightly faster
Today she stops and looks for good
She looks to see and see beyond
The whole city revolves around merchandised sex
And later in school when amongst a group of foreign students
It’s understood that you talk casually and slightly blasé
About sex toys, porn, prostitution, group sex and stuff
But kids have a way here to develop selective blindness
About grown-up matters, and later on it’s simpler to go on like this
So today she really looks
For the first time
She tries to imagine manufactured objects loving her
How their technological indifference would be stimulating
She tries to imagine herself attired in fishnet and rubber
Warmth underlaid by cold and soft by hard
Being exposed in this ineptly inverted intimacy
Would somehow feel right again in our upside-down reality
Yu checks around if people noticed her staring at a window
But here it’s all very normal, and it looks mostly
Like a cheap souvenir shop window
For loudmouth Russian businessmen who couldn’t come home
Without a penis-shaped crystal bong and a few salacious stories
And aroused French couples on extended weekend trips
Yu wants to get inside one of these shops
But not a cheap one with plastic day-glow gadgets and pink lace
So she walks around to find a more attractive place
Until she remembers
That the only shops that are not targeted at philistines
Sell fetish clothes and bondage accessories
Then she knows where to go
Yu contemplates a wall-display covered with leather masks
Surgical steel butt-plugs, handcuffs, anal hooks, ball-gags, whips
Corsets, slave collars, hoods, chain harnesses, chastity belts,
Cock rings and cages, nipple clamps, leg-spreaders, straps, ropes
Strap-on dildos, spanking skirts, love balls and designer sex toys
Slightly high with the heady smell of rubber
A part of her feels overwhelmed
But mostly she feels distant and a little bit sad
As if all this belongs to a past that never occurred
She can’t be burdened with objects
She can’t be hidden or disguised
She’s standing there for a long while in front of this love weaponry
As if entranced
The shop hostess leaves her alone
A pretty, sexy and seemingly crazy Asian girl
Staring at the complete paraphernalia
Meant to turn her into the ultimate sex slave
This is good for business
Yu knows now what she was looking for in the Red Light District
She wants to be looked at
With nothing between her and the viewer
No clothes, no dance, no love, no feelings
She wants to be freed from saṃsāra
She doesn’t want to think too much because she will be scared
She has to do it right now
She remembers this club on Warmoesstraat
A kind of underground place mixing sex shows and cabaret
One or two girls from school have been dancing there
For the thrills, quick money and street credibility
It is open 24/7, but you have to know how to find it
They pretend to be illegal, that’s the best advertisement
This strong stench of beer yeast and sweat
People have to get used to since smoking is forbidden
Rises from the descending staircase
In the hall there are big photos of live sex acts from the 80s
And black and white posters announcing the current show
“Dancing on Ashes” aka “the Lumpenkabarett”
The room is very dark but the stage is brightly lit
A half-naked girl in kabuki make-up just stepped in the spotlights
Yu sits at the table closest to the entrance door
And waits for the end of the sketch to try to get noticed by the crew.

Dancing on Ashes (Lovers)

Should someone ask me about my occupation,
I would say that I’m a lover’ she indulges in saying
‘Love is always what draws the course of my life’
Devyani looks at the sweating bodies around her
Senses the mix of excitement and exhaustion
After two hours of exhilarating dance
Precise stepping, grounded feet, nimble legs
Intricate and expressive waving arms
Hands and fingers telling tales of desire
Swinging hips and bouncing breasts
Serpentine spines and floating heads
Lascivious eyes and fluttering eyelashes…
‘Some women have to sweat more than others
to get a grip on their desires’ she often tells her students
Now Devyani asks them with a soft and smiling voice
To sit in the cross legged position - or the lotus for those who can
In order to close the session with a breathing exercise
‘Close your eyes and, as in the beginning of the class
Focus on your base chakra - the muladhara
Located between your anus and vagina
The root of Kundalini energy’
Her voice lowers and becomes monotonous, almost chanting
She allows herself a little bit of Hindi accent she otherwise doesn’t have
‘Breathe in through this center underneath the coccyx
The seat of the subconscious, the undiscovered
Where human and animal energies merge
And let your breath - prana - travel all the way up to...’
As she says so, she hears a deep and disdainful sigh
Ending in a little tongue click
‘All the way up to the sahasrara chakra at the crown of your head.’
A strong wave of bad vibes comes from Zsófia on the right
The girls sitting next to her seem slightly distressed
Though they try to remain concentrated and keep enjoying
The endorphin rush that brings fullness to the dance class
Devyani feels rising anger but continues talking with a toneless voice
‘Inhale and exhale deeply through your nose
Slow, deep inhalation
Slow and deep exhalation…’
Zsófia is not a dancer, but a trained yoga practitioner
Since she joined the class a few weeks ago
She’s been displaying righteous indignation at Devyani’s loose use
Of yogic concepts and terminology
Two weeks ago she started to argue in front of the other students
About mulabhanda, the perineal lock
How it totally didn’t make sense to introduce
Such an advanced Yogic practice to beginners
How dangerous it could become
And that she should know what kind of energies
She’s messing with, blah blah blah…
‘Zsófia you little fucker who do you think you are?
You think that you can teach me about the body!’ Devyani broods
Fuck me! I never meant to be a dance teacher
Any professional or just serious dancer could call me a fraud
But what I can teach to these white ass chicks makes them happy
It makes them feel alive and sexy
They will never be good dancers
Not the kind that can perform for an audience
But I can feel their sexuality and liveliness bloom through dance
It’s just beautiful’
Devyani loves women
She loves their hips, their breasts, their shoulders, their smiles
She finds vaginas the most complex yet beautiful thing ever
And the clitoris is an endless field of exploration – for her and others
With women she knows exactly what to share and when to surrender
She loves strong and sensual women, happy to be women
Women with jewels and tattoos (she’s a Suicide Girls early fan)
All the jobs she does for a living are about making women beautiful:
Nail paint, African style hair braiding, make-up for cabaret shows
This Bollywood dance class for Prinzlauerberg bachelorettes…
‘Thank you, Miladies, see you next week’
She lashes a significant stare at Zsófia with her kohl-laded eyes
And with a headshake invites her to stay in the studio
Zsófia starts folding her silken scarves on her thighs
Not looking at her until she comes near and starts to talk
‘Listen Zsófia, honestly I don’t give a shit about Yoga’
Devyani continues the conversation from the previous week
‘Indian people don’t practice Yoga anyway
Yoga is for white people, because yoga sells good
To me it is just another of these obscurantist burdens
That holds India back; it drains people from their desire
Inhibits sexuality, suppresses love and promotes submission
Who wants that but people like you, who have everything
And are not happy with it yet?’
Devyani surprises herself with the fierceness of her attack
She doesn’t really believe in what she says
But just wants to hurt the bitch and shut her up
‘But then why do you use pranayama and chakras?
And why wrongly, most of all?’ Zsófia laughs at her face
‘I just use these words to open up pathways
And it works; the hyper-oxygenation makes them high
And they have their dose of exotic mysticism!’
Zsófia shakes her head pityingly and inhales deeply
Obviously she prepares for a long principled speech
In the dressing room, the girls are giggling and trampling
They are now naked and like usual half wrestling, half tickling
Devyani lays her right hand on her thigh, loosening her arm
She lets her wide plain copper bangle slide over her wrist
And grips it tightly around her knuckles as an improvised cestus
A mean trick she made up in her street-fight years
And gave up for more than a decade
'Fuck Ahimsa' she snarls, and strikes Zsófia in the face.
Zsófia falls backwards on the floor, screeching with pain and shock
A bunch of startled naked girls rushes into the studio
Devyani stands there, surrounded by flustered nymphs
Her victim sobbing at her feet, her face in her hands
An ardent feeling of love and peace arising from deep inside
She closes her eyes and breathes deeply.

Dancing on Ashes (Fascinus)

Had Skullface googled Alicja’s name
She would have put things together much sooner
But would that have changed anything?
Because of the tattoo on her face
Skullface is used to provoking strong reactions in people
Rejection or fascination, both actualizing in quite different ways
Over time, she built a complex combination of indifference –
Carefully dosed to not become cold, blasé or distant –
Vigilance – danger is never very far when you’re different –
And a slight taste of vanity that she prefers to acknowledge
Better than to be in denial
She has spotted Alicja for a while
The tall woman is around a little bit too much
As if she suddenly became the friend of all her friends
While obviously avoiding to get in direct contact with her
Skullface knows it will happen, but cannot figure out yet
What form it will take
She is not upset nor obsessed, just aware
It’s not the first time this happens
Then at some point Alicja is a good friend of Devyani
They share a taste for gossip, dirty talk and salacious innuendos
They hang together in straight bars and play flamboyant femmes
Devyani adopts Alicja’s trait of smoking cigars in an affected way
And her deep loose décolletés allowing occasional nipple slips
(Though with just slightly bigger breasts, Devyani lacks the chic of it)
Now when Alicja walks by the atelier – a few times a week! –
She casually waves hello through the window
But her face loses its mobility, like she tries to control herself
Skullface is used to Devyani’s posse of vivid lesbians
More the partying kind than LGTB rights militants
She likes most of them but doesn’t join often
After all, when she has a boyfriend
She doesn’t hang with people for the sake of their heterosexuality
So Alicja’s flirtatious ways with Devyani are quite familiar
Even if she’s a little overage for Girl Power plays
Then comes the opening of a craft arts exhibition
Where Skullface shows a few things she makes
In addition to her successful silver jewels line
On her spare time she fashions these ambiguous objects
Between evocative sculptures and one-off designer sex toys
Made of exotic woods and polished aluminium
She claims it’s not art, not sex toys either
They are not for use, though fully functional
And they are not for sale (but she keeps them
In a little display in her atelier, for occasional amateurs)
Alicja is there with Devyani and Boris and a few other friends
She wears a light grey pantsuit over a wide-open white blouse
A big chiseled bronze medallion rests between her breasts
And she has the gaze of a panther
She browses sneeringly through everything else in the show
Blowing the smoke of her thin cigarillo to the ceiling
Whispering comments to her friends who burst into laughter
Her trajectory is obviously calculated to reach Skullface’s window
After thirty minutes of display of her social skills
Skullface waits for her, chatting with a friend of her mother
Who comes to see everything she shows, buys her jewels
And even shows up regularly at the Cabaret
She usually feels a little bit embarrassed to talk about sexual topics
With elders, or anybody related to her family
But she likes the intensity of this woman
Who was an early member of the Commune
And an ardent advocate of its free sexuality rules
Of course Alicja cunningly manages to join the conversation
And almost without noticing
In spite of her awareness that it would happen
Skullface has her first conversation with her
Well not exactly a conversation actually
Alicja has a special way to inconspicuously control discussions
And have her interlocutor voice either a variation or her own opinion
Or a point that would allow her a brilliant contradiction
Her words are like chiseling blades reorganizing mental matter
And each of them comes with sharp hands and head movements
She shapes meanings with wide-open hands and tense fingers
Until they turn into objects that one could see and feel
But Skullface is somehow disappointed
In a way, she enjoyed Alicja’s slow and convoluted approach
She took it as a one of these gratuitous seduction games
She would never initiate herself but enjoys being the object of
And suddenly Alicja is all over and takes all the room
Skullface feels like she’s just another pretext
For the woman’s endless self-indulgence and inflated ego
Even though Alicja emphatically praises her sexual artifacts
Calling them ‘sacred objects devoted to a love cult
Ultimate intermediates between organic and inorganic
Timeless epitomes of human craftsmanship
And even ‘cosmic communion prosthesis
(But Skullface is not sure, she lost track at some point)
A circle of marveled listeners formed around them
Shaking heads and grinning in approval
As if Skullface should be proud and delighted to be the object
Of such brilliant understanding and appreciation
When she actually feels dispossessed and almost fooled
Sensing that beyond enthusiasm and flattery lays a hidden agenda
Then Alicja lets other people talk – mostly commenting on her words
She goes to the display and looks again carefully
At the shining curves of the stylized organic shapes
Thoughtfully tapping with a fingernail on the window
Seemingly struck by an unexpected aspect of Skullface’s work
She talks now to Devyani
But her voice is clearly understandable over the other conversations
As if carried on overhead by the smoke of her cigarillo
'You know, however beautiful these are, they lack something
Actually, they lack dangerousness
They can for sure fulfill aesthetic and physical high pleasures’
(As Alicja leans over the window, her blouse opens wider
And one can see the reflection of nipple piercing shields)
‘But for those who expect more from being alive
Willing to embrace life totally and reach the ultimate thrill
Hazard is what brings you to the heroic dimension
Out of which living is not really living
The one who could make such an object
Equally pleasurable and dangerous would be a great creator!’
By the time Alicja finishes her speech
Skullface managed to be in the courtyard
Smoking her cigarette-of-the-month and chatting with Boris
And clearly visible through the window – her back at least
After that episode, Devyani is away for a few weeks
Touring Western Europe with the Cabaret show
In charge of make-up, hairdressing, wardrobe and high spirits
Alicja manages to not have completely disappeared
She goes to a gym in the neighborhood or something
She sits at a café terrace near by with a pile of books and her laptop
Once she’s at the local flea market on Sundays
With an old lady that might well be her mother
(What seems to be a heroic demonstration of normality)
She waves casually, like she’s too busy to stop by but will soon
Then one day she materializes in Skullface’s workshop
Kisses her hello Belgian style as if it’s understood
And skipping the usual social talk, says straightforwardly:
‘I need you to help me with something’
‘Here we are’ Skullface thinks
‘You know my work at the Brandenburger Schlossmuseum
It’s not very sexy but still so inspiring for me
I’ve been busy for years with recreating ancient rites
And I’m tired of waiting until I find an institutional frame
To make an important project of mine happen’
She reaches to her designer bag and digs out a grey Muji notebook
Opens it to show a roughly scribbled sketch
‘I need to visualize an idea I have, and I can’t do it on my own
I need someone to make a model of an archeological excavation
Showing the extraction of an antique bigger than life bull statue’
Now Skullface is dumbfounded, she expected something dodgy
Some twisted scheme fitting to this bizarre woman
She often attracts morbid people tripping on her tattoo
Trying to involve her in some lame and macabre games
But Alicja seems too self-centered to credit her as special
And just needs her handicraft skills
That feels good, she has no reasons not to do it
A few hours work, reasonable money, quite an unusual project
Alicja talks about blank spots in European mythology
Three horned bulls Gaulish statuettes
Hermaphrodite white bulls dedicated to the moon
Zeus turning into a bull to ravish Europa across the sea
Only a couple of weeks later Devyani will tell Skullface
About Alicja’s personal understanding and practice of hierogamy
Her fantasy about having a sacred bull statue
Ridden by young lascivious bacchantes in full moon
Also how Alicja is absolutely dedicated to have
Her fantasies actualize, and how this attracts people to her
But by that time Skullface and Alicja were already tied.