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The spit | Shir Handelsman


We stood there for a long moment, facing each other in nightmarish silence. Any moment and he spits in my face, I told myself. Here, it’s happening, any second now. And I didn’t feel any urge to resist, only anticipation and a fearful tremble. I almost wanted it to happen, just to be proven it can become reality, see the wonder come into being, as if it were detached from my own body. As his terrifying pupils fixated on me, I had already started picturing in my mind the initial splash pushing its way in slow motion through his dry, chapped lips; a splash that would at once morph into a disgusting, slimy mass emerging from the depths of his wounded, aching throat, like a newborn in distress, ejected at the very last moment from their mother’s body. And it shall be sent forth as an arrow, that white-yellowish paste, thick, disgusting and uninhibited, darting across its steady path, hurled in my face at the speed of a bullet. And when it hits the cheek, the forehead, the eye, it will leave a sign on my skin, in the slow, defeated dribble of bodily fluids.

2 cocktail glasses filled with white creamy cocktails

Still from video, "The Master's Tool," LA(HORDE) collective, Terrain SNCF – Halle Hébert, Nuit Blanche, Paris 2017

My feet are walking on their own, stumbling upon the Canal Saint-Martin. The heart gradually regains its normal rate. And though nothing actually happened between us, apart from hostile, prolonged stares in that dark alley, I can’t let go of these words: An old French homeless person spat in my face tonight.

The stench of fish is suffocating in the crowded metro, loaded with bodies washed in the gush of that spit. I get off at La Chapelle station, and a few moments later make it to the massive queue. Hundreds of Parisians are anxiously waiting, glancing around, covered in their warm coats. When it’s my turn and the gates open, I pause. The security guard looks at me in suspecting awe, trying to rush me, and I instantly come to my senses.

Segment from "The Master's Tool," LA(HORDE) collective, Terrain SNCF – Halle Hébert, Nuit Blanche, Paris 2017

I go into a huge, dark industrial hangar. The floor was moist and the way got very long. I was intermittently blinded by bright lights scintillating from the dark, as if emanating from lost lighthouses. My feet keep moving forward, but my body is pushing me back. My eyes search for the light, and in my ears, slow, muffled music begins to play.

All of a sudden, like animals pouncing on capitulated prey, they appear before me: frozen bodies, clutching from all sides a shiny black limousine that was defaced. Its front windshield was smashed and its doors sprayed with large, yellow graffiti: WE THE PEOPLE. Every few minutes another person would join the group, placing their body in a new position, clinging to the car, holding still for a long time.

As I got even closer, I was surprised to see the bodies alive. They spread their lips, kissing the limousine, like inanimate sculptures, reposed and peaceful. Hundreds of people stood in a circle, surrounding this spectacle, like in the midst of a sacrifice ceremony or some tribal ritual.

People looking like police or guards at a big prison stood in the windows of the buildings surrounding us, overseeing and supervising this vandalist-dystopian scene from above.

It was in fact a marathon kissing contest, a cultural phenomenon that has gained popularity in the United States over the past years. In earlier reincarnations of it, participants had to touch a car for hours and hours to win it. But with time, the nature of these contests, broadcast live online and on TV, transformed and shifted to focus primarily on the act of kissing. Certified judges are careful to verify the participants don’t doze off and that all throughout the event, their lips are fully pressed against the car’s body.

“We the people” are the first three words in the US constitution. During the 2016 presidential campaign, they covered many limousines as a form of protest. Many demonstrators in the United States’ big cities have used this image to protest Donald Trump’s divisive and violent policies and perceptions. Limousines — a symbol of power and socio-economic status of the capitalist era, repressive and Western — become the erotic and fetishized subject of the human body’s desire at the very moment they are destroyed and broken. The car loses the body driving it, its ignition force, its aim and its seductive material qualities. It now functions as a broken bed of dreams, far from being a coveted reward, signaling paused time, hanging by a thread, stretched to infinity.

Still from video, "The Master's Tool," LA(HORDE) collective, Terrain SNCF – Halle Hébert, Nuit Blanche, Paris 2017

I found myself standing there for hours, dizzy and immersed into the work of the members of LA(HORDE), a French art collective composed of three young multidisciplinary artists, Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel, working in the disciplines of performance, video and installation work. They have led the Ballet National de Marseille since September 2019, performing with its artists elongated choreographic pieces for multiple dancers and in diverse spaces. This performance was the third chapter of their work, The Master’s Tool.

At the heart of this daunting, gloomy and estranged space, deserted and extraterritorial, the group of performers play a delicate, gentle, intimate, meditative, enticing and addictive game. The composition of bodies spread against the car constantly changing, dictating the slow, repetitive act of clinging onto the shiny metal. The bodies obliterated themselves by kissing. And then there’s me, watching them from a distance, yearning, captured in a deep, prolonged illusion of belonging, spiritual and liberating from fear.

Still from video, "The Master's Tool," LA(HORDE) collective, Terrain SNCF – Halle Hébert, Nuit Blanche, Paris 2017

A moment before I was going to leave, my eyes were drawn to one of the characters, who was walking over to the limousine’s front bumper. They climbed up, laying with their entire body on their stomach, and put their arm over one of the car lights. Their lips were pressed against the hood, surrendering to a blind kiss.

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief: I’m in a dream, an alluring fantasy of a nightmare. Yes, it was him. The old French homeless man. Like a kid confined to their bed, he rocked back and forth, nearly falling asleep. I watched him for some time, and left.

I was out onto a bustling, flooded street. I got caught in a rainstorm. I had lived in Paris for six months by then, and that was my first time witnessing such strong rainfall. I was wet to the bone. I got back to the apartment exhausted and soaking wet. Without even trying to dry myself, I collapsed onto the bed and instantly fell asleep, never to wake up again. That was the last night of my life, departing from this world with a kiss of death.

Segment from "The Master's Tool," LA(HORDE) collective, Terrain SNCF – Halle Hébert, Nuit Blanche, Paris 2017


Nuit Blanche 2017

Shir Handelsman

Multidisciplinary artist and musician whose works have been featured in festivals in Israel and abroad. Handelsman began his artistic career as a saxophonist and composer. He has a B.A. in literature and philosophy from Tel Aviv University and a B.F.A. from Shenkar College’s Department of Multidisciplinary Art.


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