The Fire this Time - Tale of a Student Art Thief
By elsie katz
I could not make myself drown the picture! Gripping the frame beneath my
armpit I hovered under the tree facing the artificial loch. I had seen someone
from the newsagent who had seen me and I needed to move. I parked
it facing the water, on the side less visible from the path. I walked
briskly back to a campus phonebox. Then I went back to bed. It was 6am.
How? What? Why?
Yesterday lunchtime I had taken a break from 'Oppression and Freedom in the
Work of Virginia Woolf'', my final year dissertation, and joined the feminist
girl gang in the coffee bar. Everyone was incandescent about the new Art
Exhibition in the Uni Gallery. 'It's sexist! It's about rape! We are having a
meeting here to protest. Some of us are speaking.'
A three minute tour of 'Super Humanism' was enough. Me too, I was in!
My turn came to address the crowd of supporters, anti-supporters,
spectators and circus gawpers.
'This exhibition is called Super Humanism' I said 'Well it doesn't look very
human to me and there's nothing super about it.' There was a groan from the
back. 'Shut up' I said and pointed out the artist's modern version of 'the Rape
of the Sabine Women' where hefty bikers were carting
away denim-clad hippie girls with pre-Raphaelite locks
and ripped tops from a barbecue in a park.
Neil Keeble, English Studies Senior Lecturer, ten inches taller than me
and infinitely more important, at least in his own self-estimation, spoke next.
'It's ironic' he said. His suave elegantly pointed emphasis contrasted
with our heartfelt impulsive anger and our 'are you with us or are
you against us' student demagoguery. This was the
prisoners we support you' and 'fight the student cuts.' And those were the days
when our local Education Authorities paid our fees! Too easy to judge us as a
bunch of spoilt brats wanting to make a fuss about nothing but many of my
friends were from council houses and understood injustice.
Can we talk of irony and rape in the same breath? I'm now nearly sixty and I
still don't know.I felt frustrated. Our crowd could rant red, the other lot
would rant blue and what would change? Nada. The exhibition would still
I wanted to 'do something'. I asked around, no-one else shared my urgency. I
overslept my alarm and rose at half five. The Sabine Girls were locked behind
glass, likewise the wicker picnic basket where you opened the lid and saw the
hairy cunt and the 'Fallen Fairy', a middle-aged rouged man in a tutu falling
down drunk in a backstreet. This was the one that offended me. I dropped Art at
14 because I do not draw well but I felt the picture was cruel and cold. It was
The less weighty pictures, aesthetically and commercially, were on hooks on
the walls of the MacRobert Centre that surrounded the gallery. The lightest to
lift was 'Lesbians Ignite'. It was a collage cut entirely from women's
fashion magazines; high heels, stockings, bra and panties and its
How long did it take the artist to create? Maybe half an hour longer than it
took the wild lesbians out at The Biggins to burn on a bonfire. This was not
the plan but after I had phoned my only friend who owned a car I did not
have one. Four hours later when I woke up again I had a plan, I wanted us
to ransom the picture and then return it after we had raised money for Women's
Aid. Too late.
That afternoon one of our number was asked if we would speak to the Art
Gallery Manager. I liked Debbie Butler and I volunteered to represent the
Women's Collective. 'No it wasn't us. I don't know who did it. It might have
been someone who wants to discredit us.' Blah, blah, blah, I too could be
smooth and suave or at least tell blatant lies and get away with it;
polevaulting the social norms of truthtelling and obeying the law. I was not
usually like this and I wondered if I had been 'overdoing it' recently.
Would I do it again today? No, right now I lack the inner fire to care.