NOTE: “To protect myself, to support myself, to sustain myself” is a remark made by Giacometti about art.


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Yu Jian

from Watching a Documentary Film of Giacometti at Work

slowly     gradually adding
a kneading in here     a squeezing out there
building up the left a little     pinching in one side a bit
adding salt     adding sugar     adding clay
in the emptiness his hand     is holding on to something
womb-wise     something is about to be
born from that place     to grow and take shape     here, it manifests
a little     there at another point it disappears     the artist hesitates
like a lion     roaming at the edge of night
gleaming     it wants to come in     its quarry
begins in the shining gypsum      darkness intervenes     and on the other
side there is
bronze      ultimately     one of them in the emptiness
fluttered its eyelashes      another, however, stays buried beneath rock
iron spectacle frames     like Empire furniture      you simply cannot budge
the artist is exhausted     joints ice-cold
a battle with death     'To protect myself
to support myself     to sustain myself'
apoplectic hands     fondling a breast     shameless
hands     chewed by the fire's sharp fangs     hands
probing      moaning     shaking     caressing     rubbing
like wind     toying with     an unpredictable tree
there is something about to emerge     to emerge     something about to
gradually emerging     this is not a formula in teaching material
sound appearing     once you've learnt about ears     sentences appearing
once you've learnt the tongue      every time     you must     start from
every time is a pall of darkness
his own hands, invisible   every time he gets to work
he has no idea     never any idea     what the next thing is
that he has got to grasp hold of     an iota of what?
A?     B?      X + Y?     or is it the moisture content?
hands always empty     always an ungraspable anxiety
an insupportable anxiety     an insistent but not long-lasting anxiety
anxious that ability is not equal to ambition     a strange bashfulness
where is it he should let go?     it won't do to be discouraged
hardening too quickly     he worries about cracks     so many battles
he has fought     with those elements urging him to come too soon
o     but he has plenty of time     he goes off to Paris without impatience
he can work from morning to night     work on the tops
the bottoms     sticking together then moving apart
working on the backs     fronts      using hard and soft tactics
tumescent places     declivities     dry and then moist     a pairing of fast and
searching     hunting     bending only to straighten out
from shallow to deep     from outside working in
going in then coming out     coming out only to go back in again
he is a lover made of the flesh of spring-time
and when he can move no more     only then does he
stop work     and that's because     God in His darkness
has slammed a foot down     on the brake
there is something that props up
the world     this hollowed crone
opens her shrunken womb
once the shoulders have emerged
the process should by rights result in
the appearance of a     proper head
filled with meaning and promise     but no
there instead
all you'll find is a small lump of bronze
that looks like an error
the end     or just a beginning
who knows?
2 July 2001

Translated by Simon Patton