GERTRUDE STEIN

My name is Alice B. Toklas.

I live with my partner, Gertrude Stein, in an apartment on the West Bank. Of Paris.

Yesterday, we travelled to Dundee. So that, today, we could see what the Canadian artist, Eve Fowler, meant when she told us in a letter that she has 'appropriated' Gertrude's writing into her art.

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What a slight? I can tell that Gertrude is nervous as we enter the space. What a universal shudder? That's her and me trembling together, arm in arm.

As soon as we are inside the gallery, we realise that Eve Fowler has done Gertrude's work a great service. Just as the walls of 27 Rue de Fleurus have long shone, thanks to the presence of works by Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, so do the walls here shine. In a different way, though. Without the accompanying smell of testosterone.

Gertrude's
Patriarchal Poetry, just the merest fragment of it, has been writ large across the longest wall of the gallery.

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Patriarchal Poetry, Eve Fowler (2018).

Gertrude turns to me. She speaks from the heart. Just as she has always done. She speaks from the heart of her work, from
Patriarchal Poetry, that utterly non-patriarchal poem:

"Let her try. . . .

To be shy.

Let her be.

Let her try. . . .

Let her be shy.

Let her..."

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"...Let her try

Let her, let her try to be, let her try.

Let her try.

Just let her try.

Let her try.

Never to be what he said.

Not to let her to be what he said, not to let her to be what he said.

Never to be - let her to be, never let her to be - what he said. Never let her to be what he said."

But what more have we here in this seemingly serene, enlightenment-filled space? There is so much more here. As well as so impressively little.

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"Alice, the line of text on the floor is the same as the line of text in the blue painting. Do you recognise it?"

"It is from
Many, Many Women."

"Let us approach... The white on blue, Alice. Read it aloud, please."

"
Any one she is kissing is one she is kissing then, not kissing again and again and again, not kissing..."

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anyone she is kissing. (2018) Screenprinted acrylic and car paint on canvas Eve Fowler.

"...and kissing, any one she kissed then, is one she did kiss then, one she kissed some then."

"Lovely words, Baby Precious. Kissing and kissing. My words. From my lips as well as my pen. Do you remember the kissing years? All those kisses?"

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I answer: "How could I forget? And Eve Fowler has put it so beautifully. Here on the floor beneath my feet."

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Detail of anyone she is kissing. (2018) Vinyl. Eve Fowler.

I have tried to keep my feet out of this photo. Not thinking that they go with kisses. But then I remember how often I have polished Gertrude's shoes until they shine like her mind. And I realise I was wrong in trying to keep my feet out of it. My feet. Gertrude's feet. Our often scuffed but always shining feet.

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Gertrude is moving quickly now, moving away from the text on the blue panel, following the vinyl letters on the wall...

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Detail of one is the same as any two halves. (2018) Vinyl. Eve Fowler.

She is moving back and forth about the gallery to try and get an overview of the line of text - a sentence she has recognised as coming from her book,
Geography and Places.

'One is the same as any two halves and this is not a bit outrageous, it is a sign of splendor.'

I try to keep up with her, and the text, which Gertrude says has been 'cornered':

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Installation shots of one is the same as any two halves. (2018) Vinyl. Eve Fowler.

Gertrude is smiling. She tells me that this sentence is not necessarily a significant sentence in the original text. But what is significant is that Eve Fowler has focussed on a particular word: OUTRAGEOUS. Is that not what she, Gertrude Stein, has always been?

"Gertrude, that is so. You have always been:
OUTRAGEO."

She knows it.

I love her.

She knows that too.

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We sit down and look at the two text paintings. They come from another story in
Geography and Plays, which was published when Gertrude was in her forties and we had been together for fifteen years.

Gertrude gets up (I can't stop her; nothing stops her) and approaches the painting. She tells me that the yellow changes colour as you get closer to the pink. Turns green almost. Makes her want to puke. Then she stops and looks the painting up and down.

"A full-stop is missing!" she shouts.

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By That Time. Drenched. By That Time. Screenprinted acrylic on canvas. (2015) Eve Fowler.

She means the stop after the second 'By'. To tell the truth I had been putting that stop in when reading the text over to myself. I now do so when reading it aloud.

"By. That. Time.
Drenched. By. That. Time."

Gertrude responds as I knew she would. She always responds to words, whether spoken to her by Picasso or Matisse or Cruz, or written to her by Eliot or Fitzgerald or Hemingway. Or any of the hundreds of artists and writers who have made their way to 27 Rue de Fleurus over the years. Artists, writers and their 'wives'. I know my place. I have been and am one of the 'wives'.

"By. That. Time.
Drenched. By That. Time. Drowned. By. That. Time. Honoured. By. That. Time. Wasted. By That Time."

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By That Time. Drenched. By That Time. Screenprinted acrylic on canvas. (2015) Eve Fowler.

Seeing that I have Gertrude's attention, I carry on: "By-by, that time. Time that by drenched. Time that drenched time that by. Time-worn. Time-torn. Time-drenched. By that time..."

"Stop, Alice! Leaving out a full-stop is one thing, but adding words, changing the order of the words and pulling out all the stops is
OUTRAGEO."

"Do you mean
TRAGEOUS?"

"What part of 'Stop, Alice,' do you not understand?"

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By That Time. Drenched. By That Time. Screenprinted acrylic on canvas. (2015) Eve Fowler.

I keep my big mouth shut. By. That. Time.
Silenced. By. That. Time.

The silence is broken by the gallery invigilator putting on a record that has been made. Gertrude was first to sexualise the words 'gay' and 'queer' to the enrichment of the English language.

"And your name is?" asks Gertrude.

"Kirsteen."

"A lovely Scottish name. It almost rhymes with mine. Gertude Stein, pleased to meet you."

The record starts. We listen.

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words doing as they want to do. Sound work on 12" vinyl, 28 minutes 38 seconds (2018). Eve Fowler.

"They stayed there and were gay there, not very gay there, just gay there. They were both gay there, they were regularly working there both of them cultivating their voices there, they were both gay there. Georgine Skeene was gay there and she was regular, regular in being gay, regular in not being gay, regular in being a gay one who was one not being gay longer than was needed to be one being quite a gay one. They were both gay then there and both working there then."

I get the impression that Gertrude is loving hearing her voice put over by the American or Canadian voices of the several women who take turns to read 'Miss Furr and Miss Skeene'.

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"They were in a way both gay there where there were many cultivating something. They were both regular in being gay there. Helen Furr was gay there, she was gayer and gayer there and really she was just gay there, she was gayer and gayer there, that is to say she found ways of being gay there that she was using in being gay there. She was gay there, not gayer and gayer, just gay there, that is to say she was not gayer by using the things she found there that were gay things, she was gay there, always she was gay there."

The limited edition record is for sale for £27. I explain to Gertrude that this is not much money. We will buy the record and play it over and over again when we get home.

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words doing as they want to do. Sound work on 12" vinyl, 28 minutes 38 seconds (2018). Eve Fowler.

"They were quite regularly gay there, Helen Furr and Georgine Skeene, they were regularly gay there where they were gay. They were very regularly gay. To be regularly gay was to do every day the gay thing that they did every day. To be regularly gay was to end every day at the same time after they had been regularly gay. They were regularly gay. They were gay every day. They ended every day in the same way, at the same time, and they had been every day regularly gay."

Gertrude is lapping this up. She is lost in her own delectable words given back to her by Eve Fowler.

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"They were regular in being gay, they learned little things that are things in being gay, they learned many little things that are things in being gay, they were gay every day, they were regular, they were gay, they were gay the same length of time every day, they were gay, they were quite regularly gay.

"She came to using many ways in being gay, she came to use every way in being gay. She went on living where many were cultivating something and she was gay, she had used every way to be gay."


When the record ends, we slip into the small gallery at the back of the DCA. The room includes a surface on top of which rest a selection of Gertrude's books. Books containing texts that Gertrude had so much difficulty in getting published.

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"Look at this, Alice. Doesn't it make you feel proud? Read the bottom of the verso and the top of the recto."

Gertrude passes me the book. She means me to read from 'HOW TO WRITE' at the bottom of the left-hand page.

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And this is what it says at the top of the right-hand page:

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Gertrude picks up
Geography and Play, which was written a few years earlier, and reads from 'Johnny Grey'. She tells me she wants to link up the two texts that are on the wall we've primarily been looking at.

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"All.

The.

Time.

Me.

Extra.

My.

Baby.

Scenes where there is no piece of a let it go.

No I am not pleased with their descriptions..."

I realise I needn't listen to Gertrude at her most obscure. There is something I want to check out for myself. Gertrude is not the only one who can be outrageous. If Eve Fowler can be outrageous. Alice B. can be outrageous...

Ah yes, got it: 'PEELED PENCIL, CHOKE.'

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OK, back to what Gertrude is reading aloud:

"I forgot to drink water.

No I haven't seen it.

He said it.

It's wonderful.

Target.

They don't believe it either.

Call it.

That.

Fat.

Cheeks.

By.

That.

Time.

Drenched.

By.

That.

Time."


When Gertrude finishes reading aloud, I take the book from her hands and I read the whole piece again to myself. This stimulates me even if it leaves me unfulfilled. By the time (drenched by that time) I have finished, Gertrude has disappeared.

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One of the books they do not have here is
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. This is a pity because it is so funny. The first chapter concludes by saying that I, Alice Toklas, have met three geniuses in my life, the first being Picasso and the second, Gertrude Stein. Ha! Miss Furr and Miss Modesty.

The third chapter of
my supposed autobiography concerns Paris before I even got there, those years when Gertrude began as a writer. In fact, there are big chunks of the book where I don't appear at all, except as a conduit to explain how Gertrude was getting on with her writing career! And who she's in with. And who she's out with. How stupid Matisse was. And how impossible Picasso. In the long run. Her best friend. In the long run. Picasso.

There is a touching bit near the end of
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that comes to mind. When Gertrude was in her mid-50s I decided to publish Gertrude's writing. Of course, it meant we had to sell a Picasso, but we felt it was worth it. The publication gave Gertrude a childish delight amounting almost to ecstasy. She had never seen a book of hers in a shop window before, and she spent all her time wandering about Paris looking at the copies of Lucy Church Amiably in the windows and coming home and telling me about it. She is getting that same amount of pleasure today, thanks to the art of Eve Fowler. Her words singing from the walls.

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Installed across the galleries: A Spectacle and Nothing Strange. Colby letterpress poster series (2010-2012). Eve Fowler.

I go back into the main gallery and see that Gertrude is talking to people beside the record player. A basic rule of cultural life: wherever Gertrude goes, a salon is soon established.

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Installed across the galleries: A Spectacle and Nothing Strange. Colby letterpress poster series (2010-2012). Eve Fowler.

Right now I don't want to talk to Gertrude. Instead, I want to... What do I want to do?

I walk around the gallery. As I do, particular words of Gertrude come to mind. (I can't get away from them!)

"After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes, is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there."

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What is Gertrude saying now? Now that her salon has been up and running for thirty minutes and I have been circling endlessly?

"You have to know what you want. And if it seems to take you off the track, don't hold back, because perhaps that is instinctively where you want to be. And if you hold back and try to be always where you have been before, you will go dry."

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It's funny. The further I go away from Gertrude, the clearer I hear her beautiful voice. Up close, there is her day to day jealousy, her lazy garbage, her failed experiments. But at a distance, one is left with the jewels:

"A creator is not in advance of her generation but she is the first of her contemporaries to be conscious of what is happening to her generation."

By. That. Time. Drenched. By. That. Time.

"In the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling."

So very true, Gertrude.

"I could never be one of two I could never be two in one as married couples do and can, I am but one all one, one and all one, and so I have never been married to any one."

Oh, Gertrude!

I sit down in front of my love and, through my forlorn silence, manage to break up the salon. It's Gertrude and me sitting together now. As it should be. I wait for her to say something wise and wonderful.

"Look at Evelyn Waugh, there! Can't even wear proper men's trousers. Go and spit on his calves, Alice."

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Installation shot showing: one is the same as any two halves (2018), All. The. Time. Me. Extra. My. Baby (2015). By That Time. Drenched. By That Time. (2015) Eve Fowler.

Gertrude has held a grudge against Evelyn Waugh ever since Hemingway said Waugh's piece was the best thing in
Georgian Stories. Seeing Gertrude's upset at his remark, Hem immediately retracted it, suggesting instead that Gertrude's story and Waugh's story were the two best - the two most modern - things in the book. Too late, my friend, too late.

Not being able to stand the sight of Evelyn Waugh any longer, Gertrude gets up, even though what I want most in the world is for Gertrude to stay sitting down. Beside her wife.

She is looking at me. But really she is determinedly
NOT LOOKING AT EVELYN WAUGH.

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Detail of: By That Time. Drenched. By That Time. Screenprinted acrylic on canvas. (2015) Eve Fowler.

Then something wonderful happens. Kirsteen plays Eve's record again. And Gertrude is immediately happy as if someone has thrown a switch in her mind.

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"She was gay exactly the same way. She was never tired of being gay that way. She had learned very many little ways to use in being gay. Very many were telling about using other ways in being gay. She was gay enough, she was always gay exactly the same way, she was always learning little things to use in being gay, she was telling about using other ways in being gay, she was telling about learning other ways in being gay, she was learning other ways in being gay, she would be using other ways in being gay, she would always be gay in the same way, when Georgine Skeene was there not so long each day as when Georgine Skeene was away."

The record finishes. Gertrude speaks:

"All. The. Time. Me.
Extra. My. Baby.......Eh, Baby Precious?"

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I am beside myself with joy.

I am Alice B. Toklas and I give you Gertrude Stein.



Notes
1) The exhibition is at DCA until Sunday, August 26, 2018. For talks and events, see
here.

2) The exhibition was curated by Eoin Dara, Head of Exhibitions at DCA. Perhaps he even co-signed the letter to Gertrude Stein inviting her to the show.

3) For more of Kate Clayton's art personas - Silver Swimmer and Art Scrubber - see her
website.