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On the Back of Sleep

008 / 31 March 2015


Somewhere on the back of sleep lies the territory of that other wakefulness. Not of dreams.



You told me once as we sat on our crumbling balcony, with its skin flaking in chunks into the sea, the sea with its legs open, coming and going, groaning into our spirits creating this endless gorge of longing, that I had seen that place  the excited state  as a consciousness.


In bed, when your horns would emerge and you would lick your fingers and suck and swallow on mine, I would fall in love with you. I would walk and rest comfortably, calmly, in that mad consciousness we began to believe in, breathe and live, that exhaled only a haze of red smoke and stale fire.




I would see ourselves coloured red and dotted with beads of sweat against the constant crackling of the slow consumption in the background. I'd see us in that scene, sitting in the room instead of the redhead in that film about self-obsession and infinity mirrors, imagining us, like her, dying of asphyxiation from the smoke of a fire that had been burning her house down for seven years. I see you looking at me lovingly and hungry. And in that haze, I'd tell you about the excited state and its fetish, like a delinquent mouth, for abridged limbs, and dark matter and the logic to its consuming intelligence. You would tell me you were the same; that your matter and being would sponge all the blackness and sadness and become you. You cried as you said that sometimes it would intoxicate you and you would become none.




On some mornings we would leave our burning, crumbling house and you would take me to the sites of your monochrome old world of string instruments, chicken and fish bones in disheveled dens and long noir shadows  and when you showed them to me they looked like thin images that moved in and over the city as emaciated and elegant plumes of smoke, indexes of the destroyed leisure land which lay in the magma below.




When we came home in the dark of night I would whisper the shapes of the new techni-colour leisure land with its abridged characters in a shadowless perpetual high noon. I would tell you about caches of discarded sensual qualities that I found there, which seemed to have been abandoned by their real qualities that had moved into other more lucrative territories. I would tell you that at first these sensual qualities felt deserted and scared, like un-ionized atoms, but eventually they became ready, yearning, excited for any form of coupling. I would tell you that in techni-colour these sensual qualities had become loose pigments, colouring promiscuously things they should have not been able to, like how in monochrome they were like mischievous peter pan shadows casting dimension to things that had already gone. And these qualities, being left behind in the territories of the excited state became licentious sight forsaken by narrative, courting endless possibilities, breaking hearts, forming false illusions, like visions of futures and pasts that one sees in a fire.




But you were not smoke, nor colour, you were both thicker and thinner than that. You called all lascivious colour to decorate you, all shadows to grovel and swirl at your feet, all illusion to be projected on to you. You became the matter of fantasy embodied in iridescent skin, like a fire.


Later one noon, your fire licked my face, and as it entered into me, I saw the sun set. This planted in me the desire to know all of the darkness, to feel it in my bones, to feel my bones like charcoal.




Your love for burning spreads through to the bones of all you speak to. You make us want to grind ourselves into particles and turn ourselves into ink. You scream at the shaping of your matter and by the end of it I hammer at the shape of mine, too. You bolt us in till we burn, you reduce us to the faces of walls, we clammer all the colour out of each other, until all illusion is gone and we are its residue. You say, 'now we are both none and all.'




About the author

Malak Helmy

Malak Helmy, born in Alexandria (1982), is an artist and writer. She sets up environments and narratives in which language and landscape collaborate to perform and possess each other's actions and qualities at will. Helmy's work has been exhibited in the 64th and 63rd Berlinale Forum Expanded (2014, 2013) Agitationism, EVA International Ireland's Biennial (2014); The Disappearance, CCA Singapore (2014); Weather Permitting, 9th Mercosul Biennial (2013). Her recent solo shows include The Passions of the Trash Drive at Nile Sunset Annex (2013) and Lost Referents of Some Attraction at the Sharjah Gallery at the American University in Cairo (2014). Malak lives and works in Cairo, Egypt.