The first thing that you see, it stuns you actually, is that the multiple planes and perspectives in this scene are beyond what is possible to comprehend as a whole. There is, at the center of things, the foreshortened bed; it nearly springs out of the frame at you. As your eyes move between the horizontal lines of the headboard and the horizontal lines of the footboard in a frantic back and forth motion, you notice that the mattress area between the headboard and footboard, with its dark, cross-hatched sheet, is soon compressed into a single throbbing band of energy.
Then in contrast to the headboard and footboard you have the verticals of the curtains above, and the floorboards below, which are disappearing under the bed, and shooting along both sides, rushing to meet the curtains. The feeling of imminent action, of collision, of a rush towards danger, presses upon you again as you follow these lines, and they all meet up at that same place: the bed, the bed, the bed, that mattress, with its dark sheets, its matching pillows, and the peculiar scene taking place there (more on that later).
But then we notice that there is more to this submission, outside the borders of the work of art itself… This is when the whole thing begins to tilt into madness. The drawing itself, sketched in black and white (ink pen?) rests on a table or something. Like the curtains, like the floorboards, this table also has boards running vertically, up and down. But on closer inspection these boards are in fact not going up (even though they are in the same plane as the curtains), since the orientation of the legs (or is it arms?) of the person seen at the bottom of the frame indicate that gravity is pulling directly back behind the drawing and the table. What is horizontal anymore? What is vertical? Are we looking down from above? At this point I lost all sense of direction and wasn’t sure about anything anymore, not even whether, as I riffed, I was now in the picture or looking at it.
I noticed at this point a surface that appeared to be an actual floor (the one in the photograph, not the drawing). What a relief! It struck me as the only place that held out the possibility of a grounding, a place to rest and assess what exactly is going on here. But looking more closely I saw that the floor is out of focus. Its floorboards (more floorboards, echoing those in the drawing, but this time a rich amber-orange color!) run horizontally, raked slightly downward, spotted with dark knots (nails?). It’s not clear where this floor begins and ends.
Still, we think for a moment: this is a place to rest our weary legs, to take a breather. So we think. Until we see the triangle of white looming at the top left corner of our frame. Is this a white wall? Is this a section of the moulding that runs along the bottom of a wall? Or is this a wainscot? Let it dear god not be a wainscot — I don’t even know what a wainscot is. For if it is a wainscot, or a moulding, or section of wall, then what we thought was the table is the floor, and what we thought were someone’s legs (the artist’s?) are in fact a pair of arms outstretched… And what we thought was a bunny is some kind of humanoid-feminine-anorexic-sexual figure, having pushed down its lumpy quilt, which come to think of it looks more like stepping stones, pushed it down provocatively, and is cradling a baby bunny, also humanoid, though better fed, who is sucking on one of its nipples while tugging at the other.
Now the whole thing really begins to draw us in… We are no longer concerned with the fucking floorboards or the multiple planes or perspectives of the framing photograph. We are inside this world now.
There is a bedside table — no, two — that appear to be shaped like Hallmark card hearts. They buckle, as if with the weight of oversold love, some past act of passion, heavy with sentimentality, cloying, seemingly perfect but actually toxic. Is this a visual representation of what got the bunny into such a state in the first place? Were there boxes of chocolates and lavender roses and doggerel (O your ears so long and furry! / Why must you always be in such a hurry? / etc.) recited by some unnamed seducer, delivered to his mistress’ eyebrows?
Was it even a bunny, her lover?
Or was it a man?
But the bunny is clearly trying to recover from this horrifying past, this seamy episode of inter-species passion (only the bunny knows that dark secret, so I suppose we shouldn’t speculate to far on this). We notice the books stacked on the table on her side. We notice more books scattered on the floor. Something is crumpled by the wall — a newspaper? A tea set, now surely cold, sits in the center of the heart table nearest to her. The bunny is reaching up with her right arm, grasping her right ear from behind. The fragrance of the bunny’s sweat, her arm upraised, is palpable. Have they washed in days, this mother and child? Do they ever leave this bed? Who waits on them? The answer comes quickly with a glance to the right bottom corner. A basket of wash seems to stand there. Someone is doing something practical to make this bearable. A friend? The lover? Wait a second, what is that black thing on the floor behind the basket? What —
No! — No! —
What is that long racquet, like a squash racquet, but stretched into a butterfly net, falling through the air? Down, down it falls, towards the mother-bunny’s head. Yet it is too small for her head! But will it fit the baby’s? Why does everything in me cry out for that racquet, or net, to fit the diameter of someone’s head? What is this strange geometric pillow? Merely something for nursing? Or is it a message? A marker for the absent mate? A stand-in?
We recognize by now that we are in the territory of hell. Think Bruegel. Think Hieronymus Bosch. Think Groening. Yet we are also in the territory of worldly bliss. What could be more beautiful than a mother nursing her infant in bed? And a bunny-mother, after all, symbolizing spring and rebirth and fertility? She does not look uncomfortable. She appears to be stroking her ear. The baby bunny appears to be fondling her right breast, like a determined lover, not wanting to leave it out. The tea, though cold, was once hot. The books, though scattered, were once read. The quilt, though pushed down, could be pulled back up…
It strikes me that this drawing is celebrating the thin line between sensuality, repose, and devotion on the one hand, and misery, claustrophobia and self-indulgence on the other… It all comes down to the racquet, tumbling through the silence, aiming for her or her bunny-baby’s head. Our pleasures are swift and cannot last. The racquet always falls. Someone will open those curtains. Someone will clear the tea. Someone must finish folding the laundry. The black mass on the floor will have to be swept away. The books restacked. And the relationship between mother and child? Doomed. Doomed by time and growth and change.
We look at that bunny, now after examining the picture closely, and we see: we are the bunny.
I am the bunny.
You are the bunny.
Our ground for viewing this picture will not be found outside in the color photograph as we had initially hoped. It only serves to disorient us, despite its realism. No, we find our ground, our resting place, for this scene inwardly, in our recognition that we know, we know deeply, what it is like to be this lanky bunny, emaciated, sticky-sweet, wide-eyed, reeking of pleasures, bored, longing for freedom but perfectly content also, bound as we are to our child, flesh of our flesh, offspring of our liaison with the world.