When I meet the artist known formally as ninerevolutions, it is in the butt of a darkened bar on one of the first warmish evenings of this year’s hard-begotten spring. We have a friend in common, one of those effortlessly beautiful sprites living in an art-filled apartment in an edgy part of town, the type whose acquaintance makes me, for no justifiable reason, feel hip by association. Offhand references to an Argentine mum, Italian dad, Indian nanny, and Bahraini childhood ensconce nine rather suitably within the spritely creature’s crowd. What in dogs makes a mutt ends up being quite the pedigree for a person.
She’s droll and relaxed, in her element, amongst her peers. They are all finely bred, globally marketable products created by an assortment of influential families, elite boarding schools and multinational corporations. Understand: they are not twats, I like them, but when a thought is difficult to express in English, it comes out in French, or Arabic, and everyone understands. Plates are insouciantly ordered from the kitchen, dabbed at with forks, then pushed vaguely away. Cell phones thin as five business cards are flicked open and shut, trilled into in Spanish. Their mild, staccatoed accents are hybrids, instantly recognizable to those familiar with the inflection—from nowhere in particular, they are nevertheless telltale and revealing. ‘I come from everywhere,’ they say.
Another day and age would have seen our witty repartee over brandy and cigars and under a fantastic pair of antlers (or tusks, perhaps), but it’s 2007, so we are in a dim East Village dive vehemently drinking Stella, and eventually I have to head west, but not before I hand nine a card, explain the project, and invite her to lunch the next day.
O the distrust then! O the paranoia!
Let’s be clear, I say. I’m not hitting on you; I’m not a muckracking journalist. You seem interesting and you like to talk, right? If you’re up for it, call me tomorrow.
She calls me a few minutes later, up for it. “It’s not like I’ll ever read it or anything.”
In a coffee shop on Bleecker Street the next day, we sit down for tea. She looks different in the light of day, but not as different as she thinks she does. Even though this time I’m holding a pen instead of a pint glass, I still have trouble untangling the lines of the story. They flow out of nine’s mouth biologically rather than chronologically, and my notebook becomes a failed mess of a family tree. There’s a mother forced to flee Argentina for political reasons, taking refuge first in Peru and then in finishing school. There’s a “crazy fuck” for a father who taught himself six languages and helped found a major Middle Eastern Airline, then fled Bahrain in the middle of the night, after being a non-Arab wheeler-dealer there got a tad too hot and being friends with the King ceased to help. She describes him as “intellectual and heady;” her mother as “tactile and warm.” Both had multiple love affairs: Mom, with a French dentist whom nine bribed into not filling cavities (a Scandinavian was later recruited do the dirty job); Dad, with too many women to count. nine also thinks she might be Jewish. “Ovarian cancer runs in the family. That’s a Jewish thing, isn’t it?”
A lifetime spent centrifuging around the globe has splattered the family across it; nine’s older sister now lives in London, mom’s in Buenos Aires, and dad’s in D.C. Well, shit has Gone Down. nine’s family has a flair for dramatics and a talent for disorder.
When she was very young, nine and her sister were playing with fireworks in the backyard, and a magnesium flare burnt nearly half her body off. She spent three months in Paris in a burn unit, and although her skin, with the help of multiple grafts, has finally healed into a ribbed patchwork of flesh, much of whatever else got burnt still hasn’t. Her mom, for instance, became an alcoholic. Her father, never very affectionate, became even more absent. This enraged her mother even more. When he finally did visit the hospital, her mother threw a bedpan at him. “Maricón de mierda!” she shrieked. At the Sacré Coeur in Paris, she held a shouting match with Jesus, and a priest had to usher her out. “Like a Latino soap opera,” says nine, shaking her head.
“I disassociated myself from gender in the hospital,” says nine. And then, in art college in London, she fell in love with a girl. “She had the most beautiful collarbones. This vegetarian with absolutely crazy hair.” Her fluted voice fairly sings with the recollection. “We collaborated on this art project that was a book we’d pass back and forth to each other, and I fell in love with her through her words. One day there was a page that said ‘I am an elephant. What would you think of that? I was born in Morocco. What would you think of that?’ And then it said, ‘I’m terribly in love with you. What would you think of that?’”
That was that. nine’s grandmother, whom she adores, told her “Your biggest downfall will be women, just like your father.” She may be onto something. After leaving the bar at which we’d met the night before, nine texted her girlfriend. “Will you be my wife?”
She's a woman of dark passions, nine. “I love melancholy,” she admits. “Sometimes it’s so heavy it hurts. The measure of love…is loss.” She gets away with statements like these because her eyes are so dark, because her clenched fists are so tight, because her whole body fairly vibrates with sentiment. And at the same time she is so measuredly spoken, so academic and psychoanalytic, so self-admittedly non-existential, all of it in that damned lilting patrician cadence, the voice of a tilted foreign pinky finger. She has, I can tell, dissected herself with others besides me, to the point almost of having reified herself into whomever she described. She is both her father and mother: intellectual, heady, tactile and warm.
nine’s art reflects her global outlook and postmodern, fuck-it demeanor; flat, collage-y aesthetics, scorched colors, stylized fonts, industrial iconography, snippets of powerfully naked faces, an overall post-apocalyptic feel. Her website opens with a Borges quote and a loop of swingy ambient music, like the kind London’s hippest boutique hotels pipe into their lobbies. She makes me think of another Borges quote: “All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”
Language is something we talk about for a very long time; she anthropomorphizes it, gives it character to the point of personality. Spanish she associates with children’s talk, but it also communicates anger; Italian possesses elegance, a ‘fastidious kind of beauty.’ “In English I’m a condescending fuck,” she says. But English transmits information effectively, and also carries humor. “France reminds me of the hospital,” she says. “Doucement…le bassin, s’il vous plait. J’ai soif, merci. But it also does arrogance and discontent so well.”
Never far from language, however, is emotion, and we teeter back into its depths when nine describes a vision so grisly all I write is “I can’t write,” and all I remember is the image of a cheese grater grating skin into a stainless steel tub. “The burn ward is the worst place in a hospital,” she says. At once private and public, she refuses to reveal her middle name, then calls me after we part to tell me not to use her first name either. But much else of what we speak is intimate. “It sucks to date me,” she admits. “I’m fun, I’m a child, but my angst—” She laughs. “It’s being Argentinean. What do you expect of the people who invented the tango?”