CRAVE at SET / London

Sam Cottington and Jack O’Brien 

29/09-30/09 – 2021

SET, Lewisham – London

I let myself in and sit down behind John’s desk for a cigarette. I know I should be grateful
to John for letting me clean his office, but I’m not. I hate doing it. It depresses me and it
tears up my arm, which was injured in a car accident and then ruined by a doctor. John
shares a bathroom with the pet photographer, who has filthy habits, and I have to clean
up for both of them. I used to know John; we used to be friends. Even now, he sometimes
talks to me about his insecurities, or advises me on my problems- smoking, for example,
and how terrible it is.
I have some codeine to prep the arm, then walk around the office smoking. I look
at the photographs on the walls; John’s got pictures from three decades. The ones from
the seventies are the best. The models aren’t professionals; they are just people John
knew. They are male and female and they are all naked except for boots or a hat or
underpants, something to give them style. Most of them don’t have good bodies, but they
are looking at the camera like they are happy to be naked, either just standing there or
posing in the combination of relaxation and sexual nastiness that people had then. They
all look like people whose time had given them a perfect style suit to wear, a set of
postures and expressions that gave the right shape to what they had inside them, so that
even naked, they felt clothed.
I drop ash into the potted plant by the desk and rub it into the dirt with my finger. I
get up and go into the bathroom for the cleaning supplies, a yellow bucket full of rags and
spray bottles of cleaner so potent, I once killed a spider with it. I put the bucket in the sink
and run water into it. I spray the mirror with cleaner and fine blue poison twinkles into the
filling bucket, bright ammonia and dull smell memories of cafeteria food and public piss,
my mother kneeling and cleaning. I wipe the mirror with a store-bought rag and drop it in
the bucket.
There is always a style suit, or suits. When I was young, I used to think these suits
were just what people were. When styles changed dramatically—people going barefoot,
men with long hair, women without bras—I thought the world had changed, that from
then on everything would be different. It’s understandable that I thought that; TV and
newsmagazines acted like the world had changed, too. I was happy with it, but then five
years later it changed again. Again, the TV announced, “Now we’re this instead of that!
Now we walk like this instead of that!” Like people were all runny and liquid, running over
this surface and that, looking for a container to hold everything in place, trying one thing,
then the next, incessantly looking for the right one. Except the containers were only big
enough for one personality trait at a time; you had to grab on to one trait, bring it out for a
while, then put it back and pull out another one. For a while, then put it back and pull out
another one. For a while, “we” were loving; then we were alienated and angry, then ironic,
then depressed. Although we are at war with terror, fashion magazines say we are sunny
now. We wear bright colours and choose moral clarity.

Veronica, Mary Gaitskill