We are so glad that Roy isn’t alive to see what’s happened to us because, oh my Lord, he would die.
Yes, we’re comic-strippy — not exactly the Rokeby Venus — but we are of-our-time, same as old Mrs Rokeby. Whoever she was. And, we are not pleased that some weirdoes want to get at us because we are undressed. And that there are fancy-schmanzies who think we’re dumb because we were modelled from models. Hullo, that is how it operates, and our models loved their work and were good at it. How many of you can say that?
I am going to speak for both of us — I’m the forefront figure in Nudes in a Mirror — so I saw what happened a lot clearer than what’s-her-face in the back there. I guess I should begin by saying that we are Americans, so Europe and Austria were all new to us, and I, for one, was nervous about the trip.
But the Bregenz Gallery was a real nice place and the curators took such care hanging us. Our canvas is B-I-G, but they gave us a vast cement wall, prettily spaced from Female Head (one of Roy’s seventies gals). We were more than pleased, hollering back and over to each other when the gallery was empty.
Boy oh boy, then it all changed.
Saturday afternoon, in strolls a perfectly decent-looking woman, with glasses and boring hair. Let’s call her Brigitte. She stands in front of our canvas and I watch her, watching me. Brigitte appreciates our benday dotted skin and my faintly concerned expression as I primp; she acknowledges the artful diagonal slashes that tell her I am looking into a mirror. She is wise enough, I can tell, to appreciate the bubblegum wrapper-ness of Roy’s style, and the madcap border of yellow paint that frames us. Brigitte is a discerning woman; she likes a day out at the gallery. All that is missing is a bench for her to park her ass on, so she can study us in comfort.
Brigitte rootles in her purse; maybe my frosted pink lips have reminded her to reapply her gloss. She glances over her shoulder to where Friedrich, the security guard, is slumped in a chair, carving black crescents from under his nails. Brigitte steps closer to me, clutching her purse in front of her chest, like an external womb.
I am suddenly alert; this kind of furtiveness usually means only one thing: she is going to try to use her camera. Seriously, I don’t mind. Most people become giddy in galleries and want snaps for their photo albums, to show their relatives back home how cultural they are; to show themselves the same thing when they are back in their rut. But the Lichtenstein Foundation don’t want unauthorised pictures of Roy’s pictures here, there and everywhere, if you get me.
Friedrich looks up, rakes his museum-glazed eyes over the patrons, then yawns hugely; he gazes at his fingernails like he’s in love. Brigitte holds the zipper of her purse together, looks over at Friedrich, then turns back to face me. Okay, here goes; she is feeling in her purse again for the camera, her eyes riveted forward. I see this all the time — ‘rigor mortis nonchalance’ I call it; people looking tense when they are trying to be casual.
But, oh my Lord, she suddenly leaps towards me and I see a jack-knife plunge through the air in four sharp shots: slash, slash, slash, slash. This Brigitte is purposeful and mean. Friedrich is on her in seconds, grabbing her arms and screeching, “Nein, nein, nein!” and a man who was admiring Female Head, runs and clutches her by the waist from behind. Brigitte drops the jack-knife and her purse.
“Es ist eine Fälschung! It is a fake!” she hoots, struggling and writhing, trying to get away.
She scratches Friedrich in the face, and he and the man wrestle her to the floor. Brigitte bites the man in the leg, gnashing like a dog. He screams and pulls her off his leg, but he holds her down.
A female security guard grabs Brigitte’s purse and searches it; she pulls out a screwdriver and a can of red spray paint. All the onlookers tut and shake their heads. Friedrich and the man huddle on the floor over Brigitte, pinning her, until two policemen arrive and haul her away.
I look down at my canvas; the wounds are long and threaded, I am cut from boob to belly. A flap of canvas falls forward like a lolling tongue and I wonder if I will ever see the inside of a gallery again.
Born Dublin 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway, Ireland. Her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú (Arlen House, 2007) was shortlisted for the 2008 Strong Award. Her two short fiction collections were also published by Arlen House. She is fiction editor for Southword in 2008; she will represent Ireland at the Tokyo International Poetry Festival in November. She blogs at http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com/.