ADAM CULLEN: A Death Like No Other



4 Feb - 1 Mar 2009

 |  A Death Like No Other
Exhibition Text by Erik Jensen, 2009

It is the second weekend of the bullfights. The Plaza de Toros half full. More men than women, but not a marked split. Fat Texans sit near the front. Hawing voices give them away. Mark them out as they struggle to contain their thoughts, point to the royal stand and say corporate box. Corpulent stooges. Why we live in groups.

There is no real reason to go to Ventas. It is the last stop on a metro line to nowhere. An appendix which might once have been a stomach and opens up that way each October.

The train fills with every station. Some tourists; mainly locals; moustaches and cushions of a regular trip. On the plaza there is the sense of expectation and regret - the before and after you rarely get at the same time; that you sometimes have in paintings, and comic books, but almost never in real life.

Nut sellers hawk salt-dusted almonds. Sunflower seeds that will later husk the stands. A Japanese girl argues the price but her Spanish won't hold.

A flourish of trumpet. Squat Spaniards with black hair and brown sweat.  A man on horseback, hat like a cake stand, stabs the bull with a pike. "Oh, man," say the Americans. "He didn't see that one coming."

Trumpets again, then each of six spears are forced into the bull’s back. Tall men do this, banderilleros. It is the comedy of the fight - unprotected, gangly, streaking across the ring as they shelter from the horns. The clown in a picture with a mutilated man. "Oh, yeah," say the Americans. "See that, it went right in him."

The bull is bleeding profusely now. Mouth open, drool flailing. Blood is a sheen against the black coat, turns red as it pools on the sand. The muscles in his legs begin to tremor. Pucker up, then release. Tight flesh shockwaves. Each pass of the red cape is more pathetic. The crowd cheers. "Come on bull," say the Americans. "You're his bitch now."

More trumpets. Four men draw the bull around the ring. Catch its attention, then pull out of view. Again. Then a third time. The matador comes forward to face the bull. Stands in front of a picture. He has been on the side, had a cup of water, selected a weapon. "Okay, bitch," say the Americans. "Here comes the kill sword."

The matador makes a few more passes. Muleta pulled close. The bull is exhausted, has bled steadily for twenty minutes. He turns to face the matador, bows his head to see the red cape. The final sword is forced in his back behind the horns. "Oh yeah, bitch. He got him good."

He didn't. The matador is a debutante, early in the season. This is not supposed to happen. The bull rights himself, makes another charge. The tremors make him stumble. Blood runs from his hanging mouth. His tongue arches.

The bull is stabbed again. Then again. The crowd boos. The matador is barely a teen. His stance loosens, jacket slumps. He looks a boy, is sulking now.

Men clear the ring. Leave the bull snorting, bleeding. Nine larger bulls run into the arena, nose the pools of blood. The largest tries to mount the wounded bull. He is twice its size. The crowd cheers. The bull dies of exhaustion - humped into martyrdom. "That's it, bitch. That's it."

Five more bulls are killed. Some quick, some slow. Two matadors are trampled, caught on horns and thrown in the air. Trumpets play on.

The final bull has its ears cut off. The matador holds them like flowers, kisses them, looks up to the stadium and bows. It is night now, the artificial light playing off his sequins. Traje de luces, suit of lights. The scene is ridiculous, hetero-camp.

There is laughter on the train home. The metro full but the air empty. Adam Cullen is still on the square. The nut sellers are packing away their carts. He is in his studio, still thinking. It is three years away but he is still drafting his emotions.

``It's still, quote, 'percolating'. The basic draughtsmanship,'' he says. ``The camp and the blood and then the gore and the drama.''

There is a toy bull on a shelf in Cullen's home. Toy blades in its back. On the bed in the spare room, among the yellow down of burst bedding, is a copy of Schopenhauer's Philosophical Writings and what might be a shotgun or maybe a steal pipe.

- Erik Jensen