THE LOOP THAT CANNOT BE BROKEN • by Helen French

Deep in the concrete bowels of the Tate Modern, I grow large and choose my form.

I become strips of aluminium, curved into arches, then glued together, banded into long cylinders. When I am ready and no one is looking, I step forwards. Each of my many aluminium limbs lands with a solid crash on the floor, but when anyone turns to see what is happening, I am static again. In any case, moving art is well within the norm here. Tourists shrug their shoulders and move onto the next exhibition.

If or when they do see me, they decide I am supposed to be the hardened sea or a breeze reflected in metal or something in-between. I enjoy their myriad interpretations.

Nevertheless, no one looks for too long. I copy art but am not art. I am made from one sort of magic, skimming the energy off the visitors here, but it is not the same magic that powers real works of art. That requires human intent and vision and I am not strong enough to pair with one just yet.

People see me but do not see me. They glance over rather than stare. I keep on moving.

Out in the corridor, the aluminium no longer seems appropriate. I transform, one piece at a time, into delicate wooden crates that can be stacked any which way by the curators. People’s gazes roam over my body as they pass by, but no one touches me and I am relieved.

I shuffle forward through the crowds in those brief moments when their attention is elsewhere, one small crate after another.

I stack up high to the edge of the stairs then ripple up and over the banister in one smooth movement. By the time I land on the floor a short distance below, I am soft blue fabric, dyed the same colour all over, ends sewn together so that I am the loop that cannot be broken, the sky or the sea, viewer dependent. I roll along the floor when visitors are otherwise occupied.

Many hundreds of people pass through here. Their inspiration tastes like sugar or manna or whatever it is that you can’t get enough of. I steal snippets of it here and there, building myself into something bigger.

I turn into Perspex blocks, each a different colour. The sun casts a strange light through them, changing the colours a little so that they are not quite right. If anyone were to look for more than a few seconds they would notice and feel forced to move away. But they do not.

One moment I am upended vertically against the wall. The next I am colourful stepping stones across the floor. A toddler, who cannot tell yet that I am not real art, is tempted to run along my back, but his mother grabs his arm and pulls him towards a display that is literally bubbling over.

Near the exit, I become a simple chair that is well designed but otherwise very ordinary, for I have sensed another presence like mine and wish to be small. It is cruel and mean and I am scared.

There is hope and beauty inside these walls. It collects in the corners until it is big enough to turn into me. But humanity’s dark side is also on show. This presence grows by collecting the darkness. It is pure shadow; it does not hide in art forms. I pity the man or woman that it will eventually inhabit.

We normally avoid each other, for we have our own ways and means of choosing a subject. But it has knocked me over before, shattering my energy into pieces that took many days to rebuild.

I must act quickly if I want to get away this time.

I cannot become shadow, but I can become paint. I splash across the wall near the ticket desk. No one will remember that I was here.

The shadow approaches, greedy and great, but I am quicker today. My paint unravels into string of uneven lengths, hanging from the ceiling, shifting from one side of the room to the other. No one looks up.

Every part of me yearns for completion, yearns to find someone I can live with and inspire.

It works best when I find someone on their way out of the gallery, their head dizzy with motivation. If I catch them at that precise moment, when they are eager to create something wonderful, whether it’s art or writing or music, we can find perfect symbiosis.

I soak up the last few pieces of energy needed from exhausted but happy souvenir hunters in the gift shop. Complete at last, it is time to find the right candidate before the shadows catch up.

A young woman with a notepad and pen strolls casually towards the exit that faces the River Thames. She can’t stop writing and I know she is the one for me.

My strings disappear, and for a second I am as intangible as the shadow. Invisible and indeterminate, I leap onto and into this human. I pass through her skin, skipping through the spaces in-between her cells. I fill her heart and her mind. She exhales contentedly, although she does not know what has happened.

She will carry me now until the end of her days, unless she sickens of me first. We will create art together, turning one form of magic into another.

A fragment of my consciousness stays behind to start the process all over again. The shadows recede. The new me is too insignificant to attack right now.

When I am large enough, I will become a painting that no one understands; or a sculpture from wax, slowly disintegrating; or a white porcelain slab saying nothing, yet so much.

I could reform next to you and no one would even notice. You might even take me home. Would you like that?


Helen French is a full-time writer, biased parent, book hoarder, and TV-soaker-upper. She also looks after digital projects (from websites to webinars) on a part-time basis. You can find her on Twitter @helenfrench.


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