The Osseous Collapse

Posted on April 15, 2011



I was never good at telling difference between certain sounds. I frequently mistook a screeching train brake for a piercing scream, no matter how the flashing scenes outside have so often reminded me that I was sitting inside a subway car. Sometimes the screech went unheard, except when a deep muse got me carried away. Just after the shock, I saw my imperfectly transparent reflection in the window gazing back at me impassively.

The mundane wall inside the tunnel gave a strange tranquility, something the private railway above could not. I was sitting in the corner, on the priority seat I usually avoid. The evening train than rushed through Marunouchi line was not very packed that day, yet there I was, like any other underground civilians sitting in every chair they could possibly cram inside. Just across my seat there were school girls, boys, ladies, and workers with their eyes locked on their sleek or decorated cell phones. Same as other people next to me, whom I realized later were not the elderly, expecting mother; nor they were the disabled.

They were too busy connecting themselves with the world above to care for the red spots on the whites of my eyes.

I glanced at the mirror on my left, watching red spots swimming in my eyes. They were all questions, a tsunami of questions overflowing that couldn’t express an encounter I just had.

It was the third winter since I made the capital city of Tokyo my new home. A new home that was one-eighty to the home we have left six thousand miles behind. A new home that came upon my husband’s industry’s habit of sending people all over the world, that may have caused us to leave what we had to follow his transfer.


I climbed outside the station, where huge crowds of businessmen were milling in the color of black and grey. I would usually blend into them, unobtrusively passing those who would give second glances to foreigners, some would have the corner of their eyes checking secretly; yet I have gotten used to them, those neutral eyes, which were never eager to judge. Despite of the people’s strangeness, there was nothing such like street harassment that would get so serious here. For 27 months, I have been striding this new world, studying their curious customs, figuring their political showdowns, using a new kind of moisturizer cream, I was easily in love with everything here.

Back in the earlier days, my husband had only permitted me to go around by taxi. His habitual xenophobic reactions have gotten softer after I told him that, aside from its unreasonable fare, I missed the subway. It did help me a little to remember our hometown, without the angry people and fearful street corners. It has always been safe here in Tokyo, a place where there seemed to be only a thin gap between the commoners and the highly sophisticated ones. And to my unfathomable sense of profiling, the winter culture simply filled this gap. It was the similarly distinctive ‘winter’ scent these people shared through the season. Almost visibly similar scent, as though beneath every different layer they put on, they all emitted the similar substance.


It was a rather colder evening after I went to drink with friends at Roppongi Hills. I was crossing under the spider statue when a poster stole my attention. The image lingered until my feet got too heavy to step into the escalator. At the same second, I received my husband’s text saying that he was going home late. Then I decided to stay and wait for the evening by myself, after a fit of cheerfulness. I routed back to the Mori building front gate where I found the poster of solo exhibition by a mix media sculptor.

I paid for one ticket and entered a room, where the neatly decapitated body parts, taxidermy, bones, teeth, hairs, wax, woods, video screen, and mirror illusion were. I stopped in front of them to read the titles and found the muse for every dramatic explanation they suggested. As I wandered inside, I was bewildered having to explain about everything to myself. I could not understand why did I find all of the objects easy to relate to—was it because of their closeness to living creatures and the life itself? I couldn’t figure further than imagining myself coordinating the humanly, the Godly, and the ghastly aura that emitted from my own bodies.

A strange revulsion stirred inside me in the way the artist acted like God. The whole senses were so familiar yet new to me—I just could not identify the particular sensation that sparked off my mind and body, I was perplexed. It haunted me in amorphous shape, through the intimidating white spaces with high ceilings.

I read the brochure on my hand.: Jan 22 // Closing and Q & A with Artist.


I came back that day. I found it a bit upsetting to know the artist was way younger than I imagined him to be, and 8 years younger than me. He also didn’t cut the artfully disheveled person I imagined him to be. Sitting there in leather jacket and boots and black framed tinted glasses, with a fair effort in grooming, he looked like someone who knew much less about arts, but would talk about them incessantly whenever given the chance. Despite this swanky annoying appearance, his explanation was, apparently, admirable. As I grew to realize the nature of this attitude was important when you are a branded artist, I decided to stay longer in the room.

The interview stretched no longer than an hour and his works were demystified. He has admirable sense of humor, making his rather mainstream options for lifestyle—as in music, foods, or choice of clothing—finally unbraided, even though he never actually stated any of them. I alternately laughed and fell into silence between the audience, where our eyes met twice.

Just about two hours later, we sat inside the same lounge I went to with my friends last week in the 52nd floor. He opened the door for me, ordered me the cosmopolitan, and for the first time in my life, I let a stranger paid my bill. I told him that when I was younger, all those chivalrous gestures used to smell highly of sexism to me.

He chuckled and told me that I have the kind of funny accent when I speak Japanese. He then apologized for having been staring at me during the Q and A, simply because he wanted to make sure if we’ve met each other before. The he told me he was interested in my questions and wanted to hear more of my words.

He said as he laced his fingers, “You know.. the art world somehow can be very insular and pretentious. It makes me want to distance myself from public pressures—”,  and though I didn’t mean to cut his sentence, I continued, “—by talking to a random stranger because they can be more objective?”. He couldn’t resist smiling.

He asked me about my doings. But I didn’t seem to find interesting aspect of the activities of a foreign women association who have been brought here through their partners career, in which nothing much than strolling around for cultural observations, attending evening lectures, or writing for the bulletin; so I told him I was just a housewife who had also worked as occasional writer.

Just before we parted at the station, I asked him, “So. If you think working with dead trees is just the same with dead animals, is there anything carvingwise you haven’t tried?”. He nodded, matter-of-fact. “I’d like to carve human.”


The same day next week, I was browsing through a bookstore near the exhibition gallery. I was surprised to find my book in a shelf with my name embedded on it, I myself have never even think about reading it again. A man’s voice appeared from behind my shoulder, “300 pages of allegory about Asian mythology in art? That’s pretty ambitious.”. He adjusted his glasses, smiling, as his other hand requested me for the book politely. I was surprised. I never expected to see him there, or anywhere.

“So you wrote this?”

“No, I don’t know—I mean, well, artists and writers came to me with their resources, I re-wrote them, they picked them up and sent it to publisher. So, in a way, it was sort of a fluke.”

“That’s how it goes with the arts. Oh, you know it.”, he nodded at my book.

I told him, with a little embarrassment, if he was disappointed by the fact I knew a little about his world. He said he was going to work in his studio, if I’d care to join him, while putting the book into his shopping basket, between  tape measure and some other tools I could never understand.

It was an unheated studio littered with work in progress. The smell of paraffin and wood flakes roamed, making a cold, comforting mixture inside the room. Junks were piled in the corner near the staircase, mostly chunks of wood, wax and sketches. There was almost nothing on the enormous, rustic, peeled wall. After he showed me the other much neater rooms, he put on his gloves and started to work in silence. The energy in the room was extreme. It didn’t take too much time, for a single ting of tool that tickled my ear or the raging sound of chainsaw, to get oddly familiar to me. I picked my pen and wrote for the association’s bulletin on an industrial, cold, iron desk. That way, I could feel some kind of resonance.

Those were the days where my husband was regularly invited to conferences in Milan. I had been showing up at the young artist’s studio constantly and he had never forgot to invite me to watch him working. We had always made ourselves available for each other. We shared good conversations about many things and we spent more of time together. When my husband asked me what sounds good for a fine dining, I was thinking about future Tuesdays I would spend with a younger man who might have his chainsaw and knives.


One night in his studio, I asked him a question I had been mulling over, about the winter scent. “That’s probably.. a chlorine bleach. Because most people in Tokyo use the same detergent.”. I actually laughed in disbelief as I heard his reply. The next morning I woke up with an uncommon stream of daylight, through the window that wasn’t mine, and I got my winter smell redefined as the mix of of chlorine and faint undertones of cement and semen emitted from Uniqlo fabric I was wearing.

The bodily bonding had always felt transdimensional to us, and none of us loved to talk about it. We could not remember who initiated it and when it started. Strangely, it was rather compelling, as though we did it to save each other’s life. I surely knew both of us felt that way all along. And strangely enough, I found other physical connections as satisfying, like just lying on the winter smelled sheets, listening to his chainsaw song, and anything else I could only passively accept.

Though I refused the idea so many times, he introduced me as his muse to his friends. What to expect, they looked at me as a woman or a foreign old girl, who didn’t understand anything about their world. So I pretended like one. He was the only one who made me able to critically examine myself outside the marriage and geographic context.

One morning I asked him to make something for me, “Yes, something like memorabilia I could hang on my wall. Something that could accompany my aging journey”.

“You, will never get old. Look at you, this is what you asked for.”, he said, stretching his arms to my shoulder.

Indeed, I was his figurative sculpture. To my keen observation, the way he scooped me in his arms was the same with the way he guided the chisel with his careless hand. And when I was with him, I behaved like somebody else. Only when I was with him, I became someone else who likes to go spend the night at Izakaya, who listens to chamber pop, and has his kind of laughter lines.


One evening while waiting for him before a dinner on Omotesando, I was drawn to make a stopover at a new art space which was just a crammy warehouse only a week before. There were some people inside. A young man in his late 20s came up from the doorway, holding spray paint cans and stopped in front of a medium-sized painting. He used his elbow to adjust the frame. Dust sprinkled down onto his spiked up brownish hair. Unable to use his hands, he tried to blow the dust out of his face. I took the spray paints from his hands to help and he smiled apologetically.

A bearded guy came over and told me that the place was actually closed and they were installing for tomorrow’s exhibition. I apologized and headed to the doorway as I realized a giant mural installed on the wall beside me allowed me a stream of ideas for the bulletin’s writing material. As I turned over to ask, I found the young man fixing his eyes towards my direction, his small lips parted, with either a slight nod of acknowledgement, or bewilderment, as though the obvious telltale of infidelity was written on my face.

A voice came up from my back and I realized the young man wasn’t looking at me. He was dazing at my lover, or should I just say, him.

“I’ve been waiting for you. It’s freezing outside.”, he turned his back and stepped quickly before me.


Two weeks later, winter has gone a little mad. The prints of association’s bulletin was finally came out, with my article about the young artist’s exhibition at the small art space. I carried it inside my beloved Loewe tote when we had dinner at a newly launched restaurant where a coterie of people in the know were willing to wait in line forever outside. It was the coldest day of my last month in Japan.

“Why are you wearing those?”, he nodded at my trekking boots.

“I like it. Why?”

“You don’t seem like a type who’d wear it. Or let’s say, a woman in her forty doesn’t wear this.”, he laughed.

“Well.. look at what you have there.”

“Well, what am I supposed to be?”, he said with wobbly smile.

I teased him if only he acted more like how his works represented how pain-obsessed he actually was, rather cynical and depressed, with complains about society, he would’ve achieved such image, an image of an artist.

“I bet those are prestigious in the world of art.”, I smiled, as he couldn’t resist laughing.

“I don’t want to. Famous people are usually pretty stupid. First, you have to dress right. You have to hang out with right people, right parties, date some right personthere has to be some oversimplified ideas about everything, I just want to fly below the radar”.

I asked him about the young artist and the new art space on Omotesando. He then mentioned it as an ignorant art, the boring, crummy art everyone can make, and asked me if I was interested in that. He told me that the young man, who was an emerging artist in panting and mix media sculpting, was actually a movie actor, a newbie to the art world, and it was such pretty young age to have a fair experience on them all.

“Then that’s exactly my point, his no-acknowledgement. He might have drawn some startling figures for the audiences to ponder, perhaps without meaning to. At least he does what he likes. If you’re too smart you’ll get bored to death.”

“Are you insinuating something?”

I paused to think.

“Nowhy? With his age, with the freedom he has now, he’s probably one of them who aren’t entrapped by anyone’s expectation. Now, do you feel jealous about this?”

“Am I being jealous? Impressive. All my life I’ve been trying to live with a broad cross of people to pay for a freedom of creating, but still I can’t escape this boredom of so-called-expectation. If only you could stop expecting me to be someone.“, he looked up, coldness raised in his voice. We continued to drink and eat in silence, except for the spoon and fork which were making sound against the plate, communicating what we couldn’t. It was when I realized that I could never learned his complexity, which was topped off with his obsession for his muses and everything about them.


We arrived at his studio late at night. At first I didn’t bother to show him or talk about the bulletin, but eventually I did.

I told him that some of my friends had been asking me if there was something going on between us. I asked him, if he enjoyed going out with an older woman, a married one, as something like artistic trend, something challenging yet naturally conventional. I asked him how did he enjoy displaying me in front of the public eyes as the quickest way to establish his sexual value. And I asked him a little something along these lines: How did I become your musewhat did you find in me? How does my presence give you the honor to grab the chance of rising above another artists?

I didn’t realize myself panting as the words came out of me. I could not stress my words enough. But I was ready for everything. There was nothing that could have been a better ending. Then again, this may have been a moot experiment since the first time. I startled, and felt my words choking myself. He then took a metal baseball bat near a sculpture he was working on, one that might worth million yen, and bludgeoned it in such way, that if the sculpture were a human, he might have just caused its death so many time. “The fact that I’m acting just like another tortured artists.. Does it make you proud?”.

His voice drained of emotion, “Go.”

The word tasted like frostbite on my ears. There was an impulse, deep inside me, to take his coldness, keep it inside me, and let it stays until it gets warm, but nothing could come out of me. The way he looked at me with now, recalled me the painful sensation I’d once felt in the exhibition, only the painful part. I set my belongings on the couch and walked to the doorway. I once told there was no lucid cure for such kind of artist’s madness than leaving them alone and giving them more time to think forever about himself. I was glad if he was all about himself, I wish I had never been actually part of his life.

Just before the spring came, he texted me, joking about a real-time sculpting, how exciting it would be if he could perform himself juggling with chainsaws and gambling which hand would be cut off, then attach it to his masterwork.

I stated that it sounded like a high risk.

He replied: I guess. But you know, high risk, high return. Sounds pretty boring actually. Ah, I’ve always been a boring person.

For the first time, I failed to remember the sound of his voice. Have I lost him? I didn’t bother to find out.


Ten months had passed, when I saw an uncommon event in the city. That day, snow fell down. From our balcony, I could look out over all snowy Milan. Everything was even more gorgeous surrounded by the snow: the cathedrals, street lights, everything looked like white sculptures. I was writing reports for a theater, when I ran into online news and found an article gushing over an art exhibition opening in New York. And then I saw the picture of him, posing in front of a human sized sculpture.

Both of his hands were intact.

I left my desk. I’ve always been able to distract myself with the stuffs. Housecleaning, in particular, was helpful. As I was listening to the comforting sound of vacuum cleaner, I was sure I have forgotten what does the squawking sound of chainsaw like. I went to the washing room and inhaled the washing powder deeply. Something like chlorine, and, I sensed some significant details being omitted from the scent. Something I didn’t force to recall.

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