When NASA detected signs of intelligent life in a galaxy several light years above the island of Tonga, it was decided that a space probe filled with human artefacts should immediately be dispatched to the alien beings as a message of goodwill.
The probe was duly built. But its launch was delayed for several months by a great scandal. The row broke out when it was announced that 'Adam et Eve', a work by Pierre et Gilles, had been selected to represent to the extraterrestrials the appearance and character of the human race.
Instantly there was uproar. Prudes complained that the girl and boy were naked. Old people were outraged that they were so young. The ugly were disturbed by their physical beauty. People with dark skins wondered why Adam and Eve should be white, and gays questioned the perpetuation of a heterosexual stereotype.
Looking down from their bare, grey galaxy far above the island of Tonga, the extraterrestrials, scaly creatures resembling rhinoceroses, wept to see such strife. To them, the earth was an Eden and human beings uniquely beautiful. In fact, this belief was shared throughout the universe. Only the humans themselves seemed not to realise it.
There was a solution. The rhinoceroses decided that a probe must be built, filled with the work of Pierre et Gilles, and sent to earth.
The story of Henri Rochard, heir to the Rochard chocolate empire, could serve as a cautionary tale to all those cynics (and there are many) who doubt the sincerity of Pierre et Gilles.
M. Rochard loved his chocolate and took an active role in all aspects of its making. He scripted and appeared in his own advertisements. In one he played the part of a sad clown whose implacable petulance could only be assuaged by a box of almond Rochards. 'The secret ingredient is love,' he told the camera.
Then one night a security guard discovered M. Rochard swimming naked in a vat of molten chocolate in his own factory.
In court the defence stressed Henri Rochard's childlike sincerity, his genuine love for chocolate. The prosecution's line was more basic. He was a sensualist, a cynic and a pervert on a scale not seen since the days of the Emperor Nero.
He was acquitted. But it seems the public found it easier to believe in him as a monster than a saint. Rochard chocolate continued to sell, but many ribald remarks were made about its goaty aftertaste. Henri was obliged to emigrate to Bolivia, where he started a small cacao plantation.
In a cynical world, sincerity and love are more than incredible. They are the ultimate taboos.
The Girl From Ipanema
Conceming the girl from Ipanema there has been a great conspiracy. That foolish song cast her as a domestic beauty with a fondness for bathing. In fact she was a creature of terrible divinity.
She was called Lio, and for a while I shared a flat with her in Sao Paulo. Her room was always knee-deep in brocade, nets, books, drugs, harnesses and gunpowder. We all knew she was marked out for some extraordinary destiny. One night, as we watched the TV news, we saw what it was.
High mass at the Cathedral of St Teresa had been disrupted. A madwoman in the guise of the Mother of God had leapt from the balcony of the cupola and swung through the nave on a length of pantomime wire. Simultaneously, a volley of flash bombs of the type used in vulgar rock shows had gone off with a deafening roar.
For weeks the Madonna from Ipanema was the talk of Brazil. A cult of followers sprang up. The government, worried about Brazil's image abroad, decided to act.
Astrud Gilberto was called in to write a devastatingly catchy song which would replace the memory of the blasphemous Madonna with the image of a bland girl, fond of bathing.
The ploy succeeded, and the world is duller for it. But, thanks to Pierre et Gilles, a few still remember the true splendour of that outrageous anarchist, the girl from Ipanema.
Krootchey was a musician with a dream. His music spoke of a world in which our clumsy culture of clocks and dollars has finally learnt the grace of the ancient tribes, and North has joined with South.
But just as Krootchey and his work were gaining the fame which was their due, a strange coincidence occurred. The Freedom Tobacco Company launched an extensive billboard campaign featuring a grinning model who resembled Krootchey in every detail. In Wenceslas Square and the Nevsky Prospect Krootchey's double appeared with the caption 'Enjoy the Freedom of the West!'
One particular press agency shot - the onion domes of Red Square blocked out by a gigantic Freedom hoarding - became as common a cliche as the tank-stopping student of Tiananmen Square.
Krootchey found himself more famous than the Marlboro Man. He played more concerts than ever, was recognised on the street, and earned enough money to live happily ever after. But he was not happy. Wherever he appeared, people said his music made you think of freedom. The freedom of the West.
In this era all our meanings and messages can only be provisional. The pictures we make today might mean something quite different tomorrow. We are still living in the age of clocks and dollars.
Two young monks, Brother James and Brother John, were walking along a clifftop. Far below the sea thundered foam onto the rocks.
'You know,' said James, 'I have often been struck by that line in the Lord's Prayer, 'Lead us not into temptation'. It seems to suggest that temptation is a place. A beautiful walled garden, for example.'
'Beautiful?' exclaimed John. 'But you know that temptation is an inferno of boundless evil, presided over by Satan!'
James bent to pluck a buttercup. 'Of course you are right. But have you never felt longings?'
John cleared his throat and said nothing .
'Sometimes our longing for sin is more exquisite than the continence with which we crush it.'
They stopped on the clifftop and faced the sea.
'Imagine, just for a moment, one who has sinned to the hilt, and wears the horns and tail of the fully-fledged devil. He is lost deep in the garden of temptation. But still he longs. His longing is for the one thing he has not yet tasted: pure sanctity, utter sainthood.'
The idea was so beautiful that John felt suddenly weak at the knees. 'But of course!' he exclaimed. 'How exquisite purity must seem, in the depths of that garden!'
And in their joy they embraced one another, while below the sea exploded against the rocks.
The Sailor is your love, lost at sea.
At first, he is simply the mirror image of your secret longing. He is the lingering pornography of your adolescence, a confection of schmalz and purity. But one day - in Marseille, of course - he becomes real.
You have stopped before the window of a tattoo shop. Something about those painful swallows, those burning, speared hearts, those dragons the colour of veins, reawakens your embarrassing dream of The Sailor. You blush and, looking up to check your face in the reflection, are startled to see him beside you.
Is his face really there, or is it just part of the window display? You turn quickly and speak the necessary words. The precious days of shore leave pass and are gone, and soon you watch the frigate taking The Sailor away from you, over the horizon to the zone of danger.
Months pass. You try to remember his body but see only the brilliant white of a standard-issue uniform. You try to remember his face but see only a cipher of synthetic perfection.
He is already dead when you receive the telegram. 'The Sailor died fighting bravely for his comrades. His last words were of you.'
Your eyes flood with tears. You run to the docks and, sobbing uncontrollably, gaze into the tattoo shop window. The Sailor is still there, a hand-coloured photograph faded by the sun.
These stories, commissioned from Momus by Taschen Verlag, were used in a series of little books about French photographers Pierre et Gilles.
Pierre et Gilles in Purgatory
The story is told that Pierre et Gilles, whilst in the best of health and the prime of life, nevertheless found themselves one day at the gates of heaven.
At first, too shy to announce themselves, they approached the table where St Peter was sitting engrossed in a paperback copy of Jean Genet's 'Our Lady Of The Flowers'. Reluctant to disturb him, they began gingerly to rotate one of the postcard stands nearby, examining the beautiful and garish images of Jesus on the cross.
One in particular caught their eye. In it a blond, blue-eyed Christ gazed upwards, his eyes brimming with tears. But from a different angle his face changed, the eyes closing and a beatific smile appearing on his face. As they laid down the beautiful card on the table before St Peter with a coin, he looked up, startled. In a single glance he took in their muscular, tattooed figures, Gilles' austere architect's look and the roguish face of Pierre, a sort of circus knife-thrower. Their matching jerseys emblazoned with the letters P and G made it quite clear who was before him.
'Thank God you're here!' cried St Peter. He jumped up, his keys jangling at his belt, and took them both by the arm. They began to walk around the apparently endless perimeter of heaven. As St Peter spoke, they could hear from inside the walls not the gentle sound of harps and organs but the dull thumping of a disco track, oddly reminiscent of 'YMCA' by The Village People.
'Pierre et Gilles, we have called you specially to us,' St Peter declared
solemnly. 'You see, there is a problem in heaven. Once upon a time
humans died young and beautiful. Carried off by plagues, attacked by
wild animals, they would arrive here with the fresh glow of youth still
upon them. Heaven then was truly a beautiful place. But now we see
only wrinkled bodies, white hair, feeble and ugly beings who have
clung to life for eighty years or more as if they no longer believed in the
richness of their eternal reward.
'At first we employed a team of nuns to spruce these people up before
they entered heaven. But frankly they weren't very good at it. And
God, a great lover of beauty, complained. We racked our brains. God
suggested Michelangelo for the job, but he's become so fussy these days
he refuses to step outside heaven for even a moment. So we had to
search the world for people currently alive. We tried PR people, adver-
tising people. But all their images were too literal, too worldly. Someone
suggested Cindy Sherman, but I vetoed that. Therapy and role playing
have no place up here. Jeff Koons would have been ideal. But I'm told
he has already been booked by the Other Place . . .' St Peter pointed
'Then we had a brainwave. Vasari, who maintains a keen interest in
the art world on earth although he has been absent for almost 1000 years
now, suggested you. It seems you are the closest living relatives of the
great papal portaitists of the Renaissance, and your work is full of optimism,
empathy, and spirituality. Or something as close to those things
as your ghastly post-modern age will allow. Even the Marquis de Sade
put in a good word for you.'
'Sade is here?' asked Pierre, astonished.
'Oh yes,' said St Peter. 'God moves in mysterious ways. But now to business. The Lord has authorised me to make you the following proposition. You are no doubt aware that you have both committed very great sins, very great indeed. And yet the Lord wishes to have you in heaven, for you also have very great talents. He will therefore agree to reverse your inevitable damnation in exchange for a little work. Here, follow me...'
And, suddenly lifting a trapdoor which seemed to appear out of nowhere, St Peter waved Pierre et Gilles onto a ladder which appeared to dangle over a greyish, whitish void in which leaves, stars, snow and jewels seemd to swirl and glitter.
'Now, let go the ladder and fall!' commanded the Saint. They descended slowly for several minutes. A vast crowd of people began to come into view below. Soon they landed softly on the floor of what looked like a vast airport departure lounge. 'This,' St Peter explained unnecessarily, 'is Purgatory. I'm afraid we've had to store everybody here until they could be beautified enough to be admitted to heaven.' Pierre et Gilles looked around in dismay. Never had they seen such a mess of ugly, wrinkled and, to be honest, dull people. Their hearts sank. It had always been their policy to portray only those they loved. Ever since meeting at a Kenzo party in 1976 they had moved amongst glamourous, worldly and sinful people. And now they were being asked to portrait untold millions of ugly, aged individuals who had probably been too cowardly to commit the sins they dreamed of.
Like twins they communicated all this to each other in a glance. Then Pierre turned to St Peter and said, 'May we withdraw a moment to discuss your proposition?'
'Certainly,' said St Peter, and led them to a secluded corner. Nearby, built into the wall, was a hatch. 'You will not be disturbed here,' intoned their guide ominously, 'you see, this hatch is the entrance to Hell...' And with that he withdrew with a jangling of keys.
It was certainly very hot by the hatch. Yellowish smoke seeped out and, if you stuck your head in, you could hear music playing many miles below. Surely it wasn't Marc Almond's 'Mother Fist?' Pierre et Gilles craned to hear better. Suddenly there was a lull in the smoke and down below could be seen a pretty blond man standing naked in a bath, about to change a lightbulb. It was Claude Francois, the vulgar French idol of the 1970s.
As one they shouted 'Clo-Clo! Don't do it! Water conducts electricity!'
'Nonsense!' cried back Clo-Clo. 'Why don't you come in, boys, the water is wonderful!' As his hand touched the live socket there was a terrific explosion. But when the smoke cleared he was still standing there, smiling as before. 'Come down, boys, it's wonderful!' cried CloClo, looking more radiant and vulgar than ever.
Without a glance back at the grey hordes of the Holy behind them, Pierre et Gilles hoisted themselves over the sill of the hatch and flung themselves happily down into Hell.
Copyright Taschen 1993