Why do you kiss unknown lips?
asks Greta Brentano
When I sit on my terrace and look at the sky, again and again I discover clouds that resemble kissing lovers. But by the time I glance back from my cup of Earl Grey, the wind has already blown away the amorous clouds. That is how fleeting the joy of love can be.
Everyone knows it, but no one wants to accept it. That is why trashy kitsch and genuine art both claim “Love is eternal!” We see tattoos reading “True love forever!” And with their world-famous sculptures called The Kiss, both Auguste Rodin in 1886 and Constantin Brancusi in 1908 created epitaphs that attest to “immortal love” with the imperishability of stone, and with this magic debunk the ephemerality of love (see fig. 2 and 5).
“In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened, love was dead,” wrote Algernon Charles Swinburne in The Forsaken Garden in 1876. Richard Wagner also swore that “immortal love” was moribund: “Shall I breathe, shall I listen? Shall I sip, submerge? in their fragrances sweetly expire? … sink down, unconscious – highest bliss!” sings Tristan’s lover in Isoldes Liebestod (Isolde’s Love Death) (Tristan and Isolde, first performed 1865).
René Magritte’s The Lovers II (fig. 1) also suggests something morbid. Why are the heads of the kissing figures wrapped in cloth, stopping their lips from touching? And are the cloths not reminiscent of those used to respectfully cover the visages of the dead? Indeed, art historians tell of a childhood trauma that may have inspired the painter: when he was 13, his mother drowned herself in the Sambre, a river in Châtelet (Belgium). And when her body was recovered, her face was veiled with her white chemise.
A generation later (1993), Lucian Freud, the great English neorealist, painted the sleeping married couple Nicola and Leigh Bowery. Exhausted from sex, two lovers lie here in harmony, although they could hardly be more different. He is a colossus, powerfully claiming the bed as his own; she is a fragile, almost childlike being, with one foot tenderly lying on his sinewy thigh. Who says you have to match in order to be together?
We, those lucky enough to be around in the 21st century, have understood that love is a momentum, the intensity of which is inversely proportional to its duration. Only the conservative maintain that feelings should be preserved. The moment about which we would gladly say “Stay a while, you are so beautiful!” (à la Goethe, Faust I) longs for brevity so as not to become ennui.
Only a few women are able to experience this happiness – those with a talent for xenophilia. “I love the adventure of meeting with women and men who are complete strangers,” is one way aspirants describe their motivation for applying to me (Greta Brentano – a Muse tonight®) as muses.
The heart is a lonely hunter – the title of this novel by American author Carson McCullers shocked me early on. We modern nomads of art, politics, or management don’t want to be stranded alone at a Berlin bar after a stressful day.
A little flirtatiousness can without doubt blossom into “true love,” perhaps fleeting, but unforgettable. And the kiss of your muse will inspire you to become a connoisseur of the arts of love and life. But the xenophile does not indulge in affairs for the feeling of security that only lasting friendship, marriage, and family can provide. She is looking for adventure, an expedition into the kingdom of unknown and subconscious longings. Playing with the constraints of respectability – frivolity in words and actions – can often be even more enjoyable than breaking them down.
In Fergus Greer’s photograph (fig. 4), British performance artist Leigh Bowery (who also modeled in Lucian Freud’s painting, fig. 3) parodied the kind of sexual acrobatics that became fashionable thanks to pornographic role models. You can come across transsexuals, drag queens, lesbians, gays, swinger couples, and whole groups of exhibitionists in the bars and nightclubs of Berlin. But if you prefer things a little more subtle and sophisticated, Berlin has four opera houses, 60 theaters, 113 art museums, 440 art galleries, 85 public libraries, and 14 Michelin-starred restaurants. Your muse will guide and seduce you wherever you choose …
I look to the sky again – and see the vagrant clouds are kissing once more.
For more inspiration, please visit: www.greta-brentano.com
I recommend the following reading:
- Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra – A Handbook of Possibilities. Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2011, 243 pages with 176 mostly color images; ISBN-13: 9783775728201 and ISBN-10: 3775728201
- Leigh Bowery, edited by René Zechlin. Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2008; ISBN-13: 9783868280333 and ISBN-10: 3868280332
- René Magritte, by Siegfried Gohr. DUMONT Literatur und Kunst Verlag, 2009, 320 pages; ISBN-10: 3832191518 and ISBN-13: 978-3832191511
- Kleiner Versuch über das Küssen, an essay by Alexandre Lacroix. Matthes & Seitz Verlag, Berlin, 175 pages; ISBN 978-3-88221-033-0
- Vom Küssen. Ein sinnliches Lexikon., by Otto F. Best. Reclam Verlag, Leipzig, 2003, 260 pages; ISBN 3-379-20056-5
- Die Zunge, a novel by Lea Singer. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002, 378 pages: ISBN 3-423-12954-9