Qoheleth — Chapter 26
Ioan Bălan — 2305
The grin and sense of pride with which Dear had greeted em with did not last.
“Thanks again for the offer of space,” Ioan repeated. “I know I was driving #tracker nuts. I guess I talk to myself.”
“Of course.” Dear’s partner picked up when the fox did not reply. “You can stay as long as you’d like. It’s no trouble. You could probably scream bloody murder over there and we wouldn’t hear.”
“I’ll try not to, all the same.”
Dear’s partner grinned. Dear merely nodded.
“Hey fox, I’m going to get some writing done. Why don’t you show Ioan the gallery?”
“Right, yes, of course!" Dear straightened up, invigorated at having something to do. Something to declaim about. “How much art history do you know?"
Ioan stood to follow Dear as it padded from the living room back to the front of the house where the gallery was situated. “I studied photography and imaging quite a bit before uploading. Film, too.”
“Let me guess: documentaries?"
“You seem like the type, yes. An historian searches for stories in the past." True to eir guess, Dear was now smiling more easily. It gestured to a painting on the wall. “All artists search. I search for stories, in this post-self age. What happens when you can no longer call yourself an individual, when you have split your sense of self among several instances? How do you react? Do you withdraw into yourself, become a hermit? Do you expand until you lose all sense of identity? Do you fragment? Do you go about it deliberately, or do you let nature and chance take their course?"
The speech felt rehearsed, all those questions. A lecture? It hooked Ioan all the same. “I suppose that is what an instance artist is, then? Finding the stories inherent in forking.”
“Yes. Forking is instantaneous, or might as well be, and yet in that instant, a story is told. There is a question implied to which the answer is ‘I must create a copy of myself’. Is it to accomplish a task, like you have done? Is it to sequester some emotion unable to be contained by one mind?" Dear forked, another instance of it standing to the other side of Ioan. “Perhaps it is to prove a point."
Ioan jumped at the sudden duplication. Both foxes grinned. The original Dear quit. “Who is the audience for this story, then?”
The fox laughed. “Fuck if I know. The universe? That is not my job."
“I mean, you’ve got your exhibitions. Don’t you have an audience there?”
“Those who attend the exhibitions do get to watch and participate, yes. But are they truly the audience? If they are reacting to my work, and I am immediately reacting in turn, does that not make them part of the story, instead?"
Ioan shrugged. “I suppose so. It seems a bit like a distinction without a difference.”
Dear made a graceful setting-aside gesture, as though the statement was in some way irrelevant. “All this to say that, for all of my fancy shenanigans, I still see the stories in the art around me. This painting — a replica from way back when — tells a story with the image it shows, yes, but also with its construction. The paint is applied with a palette knife in thick globs, see? It looks haphazard, but it is not. It is very carefully done. The story is the artist’s choice in tools, in technique, as well as in the subject of the painting."
The painting itself showed a riot of colors. Abstract, and yet hinting at some cyclonic force. Blue on green. Splotches of purple, of red. The paint shone under the lights.
Ioan and Dear stood in front of the painting a minute longer, each thinking their thoughts. The fox, with its paws clasped behind its back, looked to be trying to puzzle out the order in which the gobs of paint had been applied to canvas.
Ioan found emself wondering what this cyclonic force was reaching towards. What it was destroying.
It was Ioan who broke the silence. “Why are you upset, Dear?”
The fox wilted. “That obvious?"
“Right. It is the clade."
“Of sorts. A silent one, or one on a very base level. I believe there is a story here. There is something going on that is worth researching and learning about and getting to the bottom of."
“And others don’t?”
Dear shrugged. “I am perhaps in a minority, on this subject. I think that there is a story, and there are a few others who see it my way. Most of my stanza does. But much of the clade is concerned only about the Name."
Stepping over to the next picture, Ioan formulated their response, but was preempted by the fox.
“It is not that I am not. I am, in my own way. But these puzzles…" It trailed off.
“Are they the story?” Ioan frowned, backtracked. “You think there’s a reason you’re being led down the path. The puzzles are part of the story, but they are, as you put it, the answer to the question that necessitated their creation.”
Ears perked, grin returned. “Yes. Puzzles are puzzles and sometimes worth solving in their own right. I want to know why, though. Why say the Name, yes, but why build up tension like this?"
The painting: a landscape, perhaps the prairie just outside. A cloud-dotted sky, nigh photorealistic. And in the middle, a black square.
Not just black paint, but a black that seemed to eat light. A black the hurt to look at. It made Ioan uncomfortable.
“I think I see why you approached me,” ey said. “You are interested in the story, and want someone who lives and breathes stories.”
That grin widened, and was joined by a swish of a tail. “Precisely that. There is art to be had here. It is stressful and, if my suspicions are correct, it bears a message beyond just…what, a jape? A jab at the clade? There is a point to be made here."
“The amount that you seem to differ from the rest of your clade is surprising. Are there no other artists?”
“Oh, we’re all artists of a sort. Actors, mostly. A few sim designers. One of the other stanzas' lines painted this," it said, nodding to that unnerving black square. “But yes, we are all quite different. Perhaps you will see some day."
Dear’s grin had faded to some expression more thoughtful. Thankfully, not as glum. When it spoke, its voice came from some place remote, from some emotion happening elsewhere, to someone else. “Artists, yes, but increasingly few storytellers."