The Sandman

Dec 11 2013

“He went even so far as to say, that it is foolish to think that we do any thing in art and science according to our own self-acting will, for the inspiration which alone enables us to produce any thing, does not proceed from within ourselves, but is the effect of a higher principle without.” – E T A Hoffman, “The Sandman”

It was a big day for us all because JANE was walking for the first time and we were going to be in the same show after her. It was a great honour to walk alongside this very special talent, whose star had risen so quickly only by the strength of her editorial work for just a single high-end but small atelier. The photographs of her performances had been reproduced all over the world. Mr. Coppelius, the little hairy-fisted director of that studio, accompanied her wherever she was seen, along with photographers and stylists and sometimes a brand administrator or executive. And it was not at events that she was seen, but only ever strolling the streets of Paris or New York or Milan and being photographed in the most thrilling couture.

JANE was a mystery girl, said to have been discovered out of complete obscurity. For any of us it was difficult to say exactly why we wanted to be JANE. Was it her angelic countenance, always so perfectly composed in those photographs? The somewhat strange bend of her back inwards, the wasp-like thinness of her waist, so striking that it appeared to be produced by a too tightly laced undergarment that must never exist? Perhaps it was the endless inspiration of her pose, with which she presented herself contorted into the most expressively natural attitudes. It may have been her skin, which was faintly, softly glossy, like a magazine page. But it seemed that nothing charmed so much as the fixity of her eyes, which might almost be said to possess no power of apprehension; she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.

It was unusual that so silent a woman could attract photographers to her; but the truth was that she didn’t have to talk, because the camera was fascinated by her. Fans were making art of her, they were multiplying and distributing her proliferated likeness over the internet. Every single image was compelling regardless of whether original or reproduction, and all agreed she was a great silent actress. Personally, I was not obsessed with JANE in this way; I was only an admirer.

There was muffled commotion backstage as she entered followed by Coppelius. Near her fitting rack, a special dressing table had been unfolded for her use only, at which she now seated herself, and began dabbing her face with cosmetics. Her application technique was naive, even childlike, as she used only short stabbing motions, rather than any fluid strokes, and frequently drew beyond the beautiful contours of her features. The others working in the room pursued her furtively with curious glances. The peculiar rhythmical steadiness with which she moved was discussed in scarcely-suppressed whispers, and amidst this hushed murmur two of the models who are bitches appeared to have taken a special dislike to JANE. At first they were silent, surreptitiously glancing and hissing to one another, but then they begin to openly point and laugh.

Gathering my confidence, I walked straight up to JANE and grasped her hand to introduce myself. “Don’t worry about those stupid fucking bitches, they’re only jealous of you,” I said. “Ah-ah,” she said, and submitted meekly to my touch. The ugly little Coppelius was standing a few feet behind me, but I was too intimidated by him to notice his presence, and pretended I was absorbed in JANE – which was not difficult. She folded her hands on her lap as I removed the poorly applied colours from her face, and repeated “Ah-ah,” as I chattered on idiotically about the versatility and accessibility of the ephemeral Coppelius collection. She was tall and slender like all of us but most symmetrically formed, perhaps more liberated of imperfection than any model I had ever seen. Her legs were like the legs of a doll, and I was wondering about her skin, which possessed a strange diffuse light reflective quality; I remembered that Marilyn Monroe wore hormone cream to stimulate a fuzzy growth on her face, to make her look more beautiful on the camera. This is the way that the skin of JANE appeared; however, it would be unacceptable for a model to have body hair, and of course this woman simply possessed incredible skin. For the first time I was seeing up close the wondrous beauty in the form of her face: —only the eyes seemed to me singularly stiff and dead. But nevertheless, as I talked to her, it was as though the power of seeing was kindled in them for the first time; the glances flashed with constantly increasing liveliness. Before long I was ushered away by hair and makeup artists, who proceeded to work on JANE – and I too took myself under their brushes and blowers and razors.

In her first change, as we waited for the show to begin, JANE looked magnificent. In her step and deportment there was something measured and stiff, which struck many as unpleasant, but it was ascribed to the constraint produced by the company. The show began, and we could hear that she was received very well by the crowd, with great quantities of raucous applause. It appeared that her strangely measured pace, which seemed to depend on some wound-up clockwork, worked wonders on the runway. I modeled my own appointments without event. Backstage once more, she twitched in and out of her garments with the unpleasantly correct and spiritless measure of a dressing machine.

As she was guided once more towards the runway door, the two hateful bitches who had laughed at her earlier deliberately tripped her. She fell over and her face hit the floor and fell off, while her legs continued to stride aimlessly. The atmosphere backstage erupted in shrieks of terror, and in her haste to escape, one of the other models tripped on JANE, piercing her buttock with the spike of a stratospheric heel. The heel popped right through the buttock and lodged there as though the skin were only a sheet of latex rubber, and the model kicked out of her shoe and scrambled away. The wardrobe manager was urging the women to ignore the wind-up doll and continue walking the runway, but it was not of any use. I noticed the stubby Coppelius evacuate the building.

I summoned all of my courage and grabbed the disembodied JANE face, which although it had come away from the mechanisms inside her head, was moving with the propulsion of its own inner works. I slipped it quickly into my handbag and bolted through the fire escape, and did not take it out again until I was safely speeding away in a taxi. “JANE, we are running out of time for your next fitting!” I explained. Its lips formed the shapes for the sounds “Ah-ah.” I stared into the glorious eyes and contemplated offering explanations about saving her from indignity, but I knew deep down that she was not aware of me. I turned it over and looked at the configuration of chips and switches and plugs, and I silently vowed that I would keep the face safe from violation of any sort. Only I was lying to myself; I knew that as soon as I walked in the door of my hotel room, I would be detaching my own face, and screwing the new one on. After all, what separated her skin from mine, but a few nuts and bolts?

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