a performance tour
"Blackout"; Qsquare; Singapore. 2009
It is said that when love arrives, reason departs. Fortunately, when love departs reason returns. A fresh heartbreak precipitates a few moments of clarity, and it is suddenly obvious why the relationship failed so spectacularly.
Throughout each evening, audience members join me on a walking tour through the dark warehouse space. As we amble along, I narrate excerpts from love letters† written by historical figures (King Henry VIII, Napoleon, Voltaire, Beethoven, Wilde, Chagall, Frank Lloyd Wright, Emma Goldman, et al) – to their partners in romances that crashed and burned.
From time to time, I take a flash photograph of a blank wall. The blinding light charges up various sentences – my own ’heartbreak revelations’ †† – written in glow-in-the-dark paint: the text glows and is visible for a few moments, then fades back into the shadows.
For example when I narrate, “...I loved you from the first moment I saw you”, the glow-in-the-dark sentence would read: ’LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT’ IS PROBABLY JUST LUST. (See below for full text and corresponding revelations).
Now, all of these realizations seem pretty obvious, post-heartbreak. But it is somehow hard to see them when you are madly in love. Even more annoying, it is hard to remember them after the heart has healed (hence, the fleeting visibility of the glowing pigment).
Reading about the romances of great men and women who shaped the world as we know it, I saw that they were not immune to the follies of love either. They similarly struggled with relationships; some succeeded while others failed. I also gathered from their letters that several of them probably made the exact same mistakes I did, such as falling in love with someone just because they were really gorgeous.
* * *
“I have something stupid and ridiculous to tell you. You will laugh in my face. I am in love with you. I was struck from the first moment I saw you.
My angel, my all, my very self. I came, I saw, and I was conquered.
I have not been able to eat, sleep, or function at all since the day I set my eyes on you. I cannot stop thinking about you. I am madly in love with you.”
’LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT’ IS PROBABLY JUST LUST.“
My dearest. You have opened up the prison gates of my womanhood. And all the passion that was unsatisfied in me for so many years, leaped into a wild reckless storm. How could I stay away from you? You are the spring that quenches my thirst… If I had to choose between a world of understanding and the spring that fills my body with fire, I should have to choose the spring. I will give you my soul only let me drink, drink from the Spring of my master lover. There. You have the confession of a starved, tortured being…”
ITS PROBABLY A BAD IDEA TO BEGIN A RELATIONSHIP WHEN STARVED FOR AFFECTION.
“I am reduced to a thing that wants you. I miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain.
I do not love you anymore; on the contrary, I detest you. You are horrid, very awkward, and very stupid. You do not write me at all, you do not love me. Ah! wretch, how have I come to deserve this misfortune? Hell has no torment great enough! Have you ceased to love me? My heart, obsessed by you, is full of fears which prostrate me with misery. You alone are the torment of my life.
I thought my tears dried up forever the day you left: but as I write this they stream again. If they did not, I think my heart would burst.
Life is tough as hell without you, I miss you so I could die. I’m not impatient - I’m just desperate.
I seek not to conceal my state. It is not sorrow, it is not wretchedness; it is pure anguish.”
WHEN YOU SUFFER, IT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE HOLDING ON TOO TIGHTLY.
“I only have to open the window of my studio, and blue air, love, and flowers enter with Most Beautiful You. All dressed in white, you have flown for a long time over my canvases, guiding my art.
My precious one. You are beautiful, astonishingly beautiful. All evening, I said to myself “She is mine!” The angels are not as happy in Paradise as I am.
You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty. My sweet rose, my delicate flower, my lily of lilies… From your silken hair to your delicate feet, you are perfection to me.
You complain that I love only your beauty. Why may I not speak of your beauty, since without that I never could have loved you?”
GOOD LOOKS ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT IN THE END. INORDINATE ATTRACTION TO BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE IS AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD OF VISUAL ARTISTS.
“I am ready to sacrifice everything for your sake – even the hope of being loved by you. My duty is to surround your existence with mine, to offer my head as a stepping-stone, to place myself unceasingly between you and your sorrow. If you would only allow me to give my life to anticipate your every caprice, if you would but permit me to kiss your adored footprints. Yet you play with my devotion, repay my services with indifference, and repulse my idolatry with scorn.
I arrive at Milan, I rush into your apartment, I have left everything to see you, to press you in my arms. You were not there; you leave me when I arrive, you do not care for me. My sorrow is immeasurable. I shall wait for you here till the 9th in the evening.
You have no conception of the misery you put me through. You give me stones when I ask for bread. I resent my heart having been made a football. You have broken my spirit, yet I want nothing but to be with you.
I am unhappy that you should be tempted by other women. My love for you keeps me faithful, why is not so with you? I will try to be even more tender and loving and pray that you may be kept from temptation. I appeal to you by the blood of Christ: Do not write to me if you have done anything which would have pained me to have seen. If you have touched another – I do not want to live – I wish this night to be my last. I shall hurl myself down to meet death.”
A LITTLE COMMON SENSE CAN SPARE YOU A LOT OF TROUBLE.
“My beloved angel, I am mad about you: I can no longer think of anything but you. Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the scent of your skin. My body is filled with you for days and days. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain inside me.
Oh! How I wish to remain pressing my lips to your bosom. To breathe in your hair, to kiss your voluptuous mouth... its warmth, its sweetness, and its melting softness… With trembling in my limbs, and fevers in my soul, I ravish it.
Last night, there was a moment before you got into bed. You stood, quite naked, bending forward a little. I saw you and I loved you so – I loved your body with such tenderness – Ah my dear. Every inch of you is so perfect to me. Your soft shoulders – your creamy breasts – the feeling of your belly - & your thin young back…
Dear and Beloved. You left me while I was still moist from your arms, perfumed by your being… I beg you to return. With both arms around your neck I beg you. I kiss each hair on your adored body. I ask a hundred thousand pardons and beg that your lips be given back to me.
So it is today that I shall see you! My heart and penis greet you most eagerly.”
GREAT SEX CAN KEEP A LOUSY RELATIONSHIP GOING FOR FAR TOO LONG.
“My only good in this world is to spend my life with you. My soul encircles you – and I live in being yours. However much you love me, my love for you is even greater. I whirl around in a delicious dream, overcome with love, feeling love in every pore, living only for you, my immortal beloved. Never doubt your lover’s most faithful heart. Ever yours. Ever mine. Ever ours.
O most cherished of all created things, I love you, I love you, my heart is a rose which you have brought to bloom, my life is a desert fanned by the delicious breeze of your breath. Wherever you go you exhale the perfume of the cassia tree. Love me always, love me always. You are the supreme, the perfect love of my life; there can be no other. O sweetest of all boys, most loved of all loves, my soul clings to your soul, my life is your life.
I shall become insane with joy if I could simply spend my whole life at your feet. Ever and ever yours.”
DO NOT TAKE SWEET NOTHINGS TOO LITERALLY.
* * *
†Lowenherz, David (ed.) The Greatest Love Letters of All Time, New York: Crown Publishers, 2002. And, Ursula Doyle (ed.) Love Letters of Great Men, London: Macmillan, 2008.
†† Several of these realizations arose from conversations with wise and compassionate friends. Thank you Sam Trubridge, Simone Chan, Lorraine Robert and Nigel Helyer. Also special thanks to Martyn See and Tan Ngiap Heng.
photos by: Tan Ngiap Heng and Lynn Lu
"I have not been able to eat, sleep, or function at all since the day I met you. I loved you from the first moment I set my eyes on you..."
"I only have to open the window of my studio, and blue air, love, and flowers enter with Most Beautiful You. All dressed in white, you have flown for a long time over my canvases, guiding my art..."
"I shall become insane with joy if I could simply spend my whole life at your feet. Ever and ever yours..."