The Book of Water
He reopened the book after five or ten minutes. The story was not bad, though not very well told. In the absence of other activities, he went back to it. He knew he could carry on reading for another fifteen, twenty minutes max. The cover had already started to soften and suck his fingers in, like an aquarium floating in the atmosphere of his hands. When the book eventually turned a greenish hue, he knew he had no more than a minute left. He tried to read faster but, anxious as he was, he found it impossible to understand what he was reading. He was forced to reread the same parts, hoping he would understand them the second or third time. Before the minute was up, just at the moment when he knew he would be forced to give up the book, the same thing always happened. He could never tell whether he liked it or not. The book would start liquifying, its pages turning into undercurrents and its phrases into reflections of geological lassitude. And yet it did not seem to dissolve like any mass of liquid would, nor would it slip out of his hands. It remained there, somewhat sticky but also teasingly present; like green apple jelly mixed with brown sand, dulling its lustre. He liked that phrase and, if he could, he would hold it in his hands for longer. The problem, however, was that his fingers—perhaps his entire hand, up to his arm and further up, maybe eventually his whole body, including the room with all the furniture and the window with the afternoon light streaming from out- side and the city with its sounds and the world with all its squeaks—it seemed to turn into liquid, more liquid than the book itself, an encompassing sparse density, light like the wind, slow like the sun, hazy like an ending. He finally let the book go, not because it was slipping from his hands, but because he himself was slipping from the book, like a character no longer demanded by the plot, dragging down with him a piece of the world that was held together by liquid bridges, stretched ropes made of jelly, trembling hands of waves. Maybe what bothered him was that, in fact, he liked this watery fall. Above all, he liked the hush he could just hear the second before letting the book slip off his hands and the world return to water.
She always began with the streets. She drew them on the ground with a twig—not necessarily parallel, or even straight. She just let the twig lead her. Sometimes she covered the whole area close to the slides. She filled it up with streets, alleyways and byways, tunnels, boulevards five or sometimes six lanes wide. Then she made room for the water, either a river cutting the city in half, or canals intersecting the streets, or a bay stretched beside the city. In any case, she always made bridges bringing together the various boroughs, arching proudly over the ditches, which she then filled with water from the playground’s tap. She left the buildings for last. Her city didn’t have a centre and outskirts. It was all mixed together. Sometimes the noisy district with the tall buildings and the museums rose where the shadow of the plane tree fell; other times, a bit further, near the see-saws. In between them she would always scatter little houses for the elderly, the refugees who had just arrived to the city, children who wanted to live on their own surrounded by animals, and other friends of hers. Once she had the mayor live in one of these small houses. Why not, she thought. But most times she placed him near the City Hall—a large building that always required many cartons—next to the cathedral. She wasn’t particularly interested in making her city pretty. In fact, it usually resembled a rubbish heap ready to be recycled. People who saw her wondered, how can this child play in such filth? Her concern however was something different: her city never lasted long enough. It’s not that other children would come and ruin it. No, they all knew she was odd and avoided her. The problem was her. More than the streets and their baroque curves, more than the walls of the museums and the shops, more even than the roofs and their antennae, what she liked the most were the windows. As soon as the walls were up and the rooms started to warm up and become more habitable, she went about tearing the buildings apart in order to open up windows, big or small, narrow or gaping wide, left open so that the sun-drenched water could rush in. And the outside would flood the inside with watery embraces, wide chambers of frothy waves swallowing up the buildings. She never managed to complete the city. Sometimes she would begin a new city right there, in the middle of the previous one, when the buildings had already turned into mud as the water engulfed them and the bridges had collapsed, as if they were made of rum-dipped sugar cubes. All her cities suffered the same fate. And in the end, she would climb on a piece of carton and float out in the open, pushed by the aquatic boulevards and the submerged palaces that gushed through the windows. Maybe that was her city after all: an oceanic metropolis of failed beginnings.
––translated by Sakis Kyratzis
You can read a review of The Book of Water (Eris Press, 2022) here.
Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos lives in London and Venice. He is an artist working with performance, photography, sculpture, and other media, and has shown his work in the 58th Venice Art Biennale 2019, the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale 2016, the Tate Modern, Inhotim Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Brazil, the Danish Royal Cast Collection, the Royal Music Academy of Sweden, the London College of Communication, the Arebyte Gallery, and the Palais de Tokyo, among other institutions. He is also Professor of Law & Theory at the University of Westminster. He is the author of ten academic books and numerous articles, art catalogue entries, and short stories.