Hey guys, this is going to be one of the longest Instagram captions ever, but I guess I’ve been pushing it to the limit for a while so we’ll see. I apologize if I get cut off, just screenshot it before they find me I am writing this as fast as I can. I just feel like I need to do this for Khloe and put some of the rumors to rest.
So last night was the launch of Kanye’s new project, masque, which has been under wraps, even from me, for a long time. It’s his latest collaboration with Vera Zielowski, the conceptual artist and financial consultant, you’ve seen her on the cover of Time or Vogue or whatever.
The launch was at an undisclosed location but I can tell you it was somewhere in Brooklyn, like, deep Brooklyn. The invite list was insanely exclusive, lot of names you would recognize, Instagram influencers and celebs, but also lots of people whose names you don’t know, the big-money people who run the world behind the scenes; plus, there were the art-world major leaguers: your Gagosians, your Deitchs, Europe’s big six, plus a lot of new Chinese collectors.
No matter who you were, though, you had to get there by boat, and first you had to go to some hotel room in Midtown where security picked people up and drove them one at a time to the waterfront. The whole elaborate system was mostly Vera’s idea I think, to create some kind of “illusion of value.” She talks that way because she was in the Velvet Revolution. Kanye has started to talk that way too, but I have no idea what it means when he says it.
He was in a weird mood. He hadn’t been able to look me in the eye for days, and when we had spoken he’d made these little comments and questions as if he was sort of testing me. Of course when you get tested like that, you’ll always fail. We’d gotten into a fight in the Phantom on the way there (we were allowed to drive up, obvi). He can be such a baby sometimes. He always acted like I didn’t understand the difference between my image and reality. Like I’d never experienced any difficulties.
The fight started when I’d asked him if he’d had a chance to look at the text my assistant and I had drafted as a potential Instagram caption for his new product. He said no and sighed heavily, looking out the window, then at his phone, holding it so I couldn’t see who he was texting.
“Sorry, god. I mean, I don’t have to post it,” I said. “It’s not like I’m getting paid for it so it’s no problem.”
Then he exploded. “Is it that hard for you that I’m working with someone that understands my work?”
“You want money? You want money.” He got out his wallet and threw some hundreds at me.
“Thank you!” I said in a singsong voice. I rolled up the bills and put them in my cleavage. It worked: He couldn’t help but smile. He kept talking about work and career stuff but at least he was talking. It was the usual monologue: that I don’t understand what it’s like to be him, I haven’t had to work like he has to get where he is, that part of his work is about challenging the limits of forms and identity and markets and he needs to work with people who see his vision, who have a strong vision of their own, who know what it’s like to be an outsider. People like Vera.
I was being quiet looking out the window and letting him finish. We pulled off the highway and stopped at a red light on some side street, next to a little bodega with its door open. I could see a skinny kid handing the cashier some change through the little opening in the bulletproof glass, and getting a couple of airheads back.
“You need to center your energy,” I said, once he had stopped talking.
“Yeah, I should call Vera,” he said, which wasn’t what I meant.
The light changed, Kanye got on the phone with Vera, just as a bunch of loud four-wheelers went by us. We drove past a park. The sun was setting. I texted Khloe, “r u close?” and she said, “yeah omw this is hilarious they’re making each of us take a different motorboat lol.”
When the four-wheelers had passed, Kanye was saying, “No, no it’s okay. I know, yeah you’re right. You know how I get.”
After they got off the phone he apologized and said he was just feeling upset, because he felt like these art-world people always treated him like a little bitch and laughed behind his back.
“Also, right before we left I found out Jay isn’t coming,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and squeezed his hand, but I wasn’t disappointed because they are both always so shady to me. Then Kanye said I looked incredible and that it meant a lot to him I was there, that he needed me by his side tonight, and I was like okay fine just don’t be a baby about it, and we hooked up a little in the backseat, so things were good.
I have to say, once we got to the gala it was super cute. It was in this old decrepit ballroom from the 1900s, but they’d made it look elegant with star lights floating in the air and a garden of bio-engineered glow-in-the-dark rose bushes planted around the edge of the room. A string quartet was playing Kanye’s new album on instruments made out of glass and latex. Most of the light was coming from the three tall glass bell jars spaced throughout the room, each of which contained a container of #masque cream, suspended by invisible wires, illuminated like a diamond in a heist film.
They also had live swans walking around, which so over, but they’d given it a twist: these swans all had tubes around their necks made out of some kind of flatscreen, showing some music videos. Everyone was loving it and trying to get those sick #swanselfies.
I saw Vera whispering to a couple in Margiela for Galliano, with her best friend Daphne at her side. Daphne kind of creeps me out: She’s really into taxidermy and anorexia.
Vera was wearing a flowy simple tunic in white, which I think Givenchy made for her, and her bright red hair was loose and clouded around her face like a frizzy mane. You’d never guess how old she is from her skin, which is the palest and smoothest ever, but you know she’s at least sixty because she got famous for all this work she made in 1968, where she crushed eggs under her feet and tied her nipples to wheat threshing machines as a political gesture. So, she’s definitely had work done. We waved to each other and she put her hand on her heart, like, “I’m sooo happy you’re here,” but didn’t come over.
I noticed people were sort of avoiding looking at the bell jars with the cream, no one stood anywhere near them. That might have been because of how much each one cost; no one actually knew how much, because anyone who decided to buy it (though most people at the party had preordered) had to sign an NDA before hearing the price. The major Instagram influencers and celebs at the party had each been given very small free samples though, just enough to insta.
Khloe and I were sitting at our table having a pretty chill time, drinking and talking about the past. She was blowing my mind with the stuff she’s uncovering in her therapy (she’s been trying this Lacanian therapy and loving it). It turns out this guy she always just said she fucked when we were like sixteen, who we all thought was so sweet, had actually kind of date-raped her and it was actually nonconsensual. It really pissed me off because I’d invited him to my birthday. Fuck that guy, I told her.
Usually I would have been hanging with Kanye, but he was working the crowd with Vera, and honestly it was kind of nice having a little break from it being “my” thing. I really rarely just get to be the wife.
I was telling the curator at #DominiqueLevy about the morning sickness drug I’d been taking “—and it’s completely free from animal testing and all organic!”
“Really!” she said.
My sister made a little face, which I ordinarily would have ignored.
“What, Khloe?” I asked.
“It’s just the French thing. It’s like, a little… you know.”
“I speak French. I’m sorry.”
“Oh my god, chill.”
“Please don’t ruin this for me, Khloe.” What I meant by this is that Khloe thinks she can lash out at me when she feels jealous, which leads to me feeling really upset and awful, then I get emotional and can’t perform at my best. The other thing is that I really actually have done so much for her, and she has no idea how unfair it is to be negative toward me.
“Seriously?” she asked.
By the way: We were obviously saying all this in whispers and smiling the whole time in case people were taking pictures.
“You did not have to come if you were going to act like this,” I said.
“Wow,” she said, “so you think I like sitting here watching you act so, like… I can’t.” She stood up and walked away, pissed.
I knew what she had been about to say because she had said it before to me: pretentious or loud or something like that, like she’s always implying that I’m selfish. But she doesn’t realize how much of an actual burden it is to be the center of attention, like, as if I could help it. I can’t help being emotional, and that people notice I’m feeling emotional and tend to like me and take my side.
It just sucks so much because Khloe more than anyone should be able to understand how it’s actually really difficult being me: like the amount of scrutiny on your appearance, the way people push you to represent their brands. Then on top of that everyone thinks they know the real you because they’ve seen your life. What do you think it’s like to know people see you, your actual life, as a guilty pleasure? I mean, have you ever thought about it? When I treat my life as work, I let America into my home life, and then people can only respond to it by using my body as a carrier case for their own guilt and bad feelings about themselves.
Kanye saw what was going on and came over. “What’s up with Khloe?” he asked.
I shook my head. I was too annoyed to say anything except, “She’s really…”
He looked worried. “She’s still going to post, right?”
“Yeah of course,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure.
He looked at me with a lot of stress in his eyes.
I’m so tired of going back and forth between Khloe and Kanye! Why do I always have to be the diplomat?
I found Khloe at the bar, doing a shot of Patron and checking her phone.
“Hey,” I said softly, “I’m sorry I said that.”
“It’s ok,” she said.
“I really appreciate what you’re doing for me and Kanye. You know this is important to us.”
“To him and Vera, you mean,” she said. This pissed me off but I took a breath and said, “You know what’s good for Kanye is good for us, and I mean…” I didn’t want to bring up how much we have done for her, so I held back. “Please? I know Kanye can be pushy, but could you do the post for me, just as a favor?”
I did this little move with my head that she thinks is funny and said, “Please?”
“Okay,” she said, “But I’m not waiving the fee. Forty thousand is ok?”
I told her that was fine and thanked her.
We were both reflecting a lot of light off our Balmains, on top of the ambient spinning lights in the space, so both our faces were specked with little flecks of moon-colored light. I like when my sisters and I look like aliens, like we’re all from some other world.
Two little old ladies who were both shorter than me in huge black sunglasses and Balenciaga pantsuits walked up to the bar, one of them shouting into the other’s ear,
“It’s a piece that happens at the level of late-capitalist miasma”
“What??” shouted the other old lady. “I thought he stopped taking the Viagra!”
“NO!” the one who wasn’t deaf was screaming. “IT’S LIKE THAT CHANTAL MOUFFE, FROM THE GRAMSCI READING GROUP AT THE WHITNEY.”
“Well, maybe,” said the other one, “but it’s the only thing we’ve tried that works! Otherwise he can only get it up for his cousin.”
Khloe and I looked at each other like, omg we are nonplussed.
The old ladies moved on with their champagnes and we both started cracking up.
“These people are making me drink,” Khloe said. “We’re doing a shot.”
I agreed that it was a super-weird scene. Once we did our shots of Patron, Adrien Brody emerged out of nowhere (he has a weird tendency to do that) and made us do another one.
I don’t usually drink except to bond with my sisters, so I was pretty buzzed by the time the music stopped and the lights went down for the cream presentation. The room went completely dark except for the faint illumination of the glow in the dark roses, and then a spotlight came up on Kanye from above. He wore a headset like he was doing a Ted Talk. It was an impressive effect. The room was completely quiet.
“I used to think that fine art was a way of speaking to culture from the outside, you know?” He paused, looking around the room. “Now I see that the only thing that really matters, the only thing that any of us really are… is money. Social media.”
People shifted around. Everyone had their iPhone out, recording.
“By which I mean, image. I mean, look at Vera.”
Vera was standing on the sidelines, and put up her hand like she didn’t want the attention.
“You think about someone who’s done that much. In your life you’re not allowed to think you could do that much. That idea suppresses humanity. Now, I understand that I’m just serving, and with my voice and my ability to build relationships, going to go inside your ideas of what a person is, to sink into your skin. Art used to be about reflection, but with selfies it’s like… there aren’t any reflections because there aren’t people. We’re all vampires. They need to do an awards show for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of my biggest problems has been my ego. And if I, Kanye West, can remove my ego, I think there’s hope for everyone. This project is about… no ego. No self.”
He went on for a while. I remember him saying something about posthumanism, which I’d heard him talk about before. At the end of his speech, one tear came out of his eye and he let it run down his face while he looked around again as if making eye contact with everyone in the room. He was standing in a spotlight and gestured toward the cream in one of the bell jars.
“This is the future,” he said. “This stuff is going to let us live forever, and to disappear.”
He pulled off his headset and dropped it on the ground in the spotlight. Vera walked to where he’d been standing. She didn’t use a mic but we could hear every word.
“My friends. The art market has now become such an abstraction that the way money moves is magical to the point of being scientific. The question we want to answer is: To what extent does the imaginary value actually give something power: physical, corporeal power?”
“Art has always been about the combination of the highest forms of beauty with the highest forms of intelligence, and now we finally have a cream that does both: a scientific product with magical capacities. Once, I spoke about changing the political landscape through art, by stepping outside of the system. Now politics and money itself have ceased to exist. Identity has become an abstract value, a self-producing market economy, a distant reflection of physical reality such that the only way to step out of the system is to step in, into the body. Money has lost its social function, the way painting did with the invention of photography, and the way photography did with the invention of the selfie. Money is talking to itself, and so in turn is art. This product, this work of art, is not a conceptual piece about wealth; wealth is the art piece. That is why each vial of cream is priced accordingly: You will own the concept of wealth, along with a moisturizing serum that will literally stop the process of aging.
People started quietly freaking out around the room, including me. Like, was she for real? Vera smiled out at the room, like, “Yes, I’m for real.”
“I prefer not to speak in public. My English, sometimes, is not very good. I can only say what the work is, and nothing more. It is value itself. It is life.”
The spotlight shut off, and the ballroom was dark for a moment as it filled with applause.
The lights came back on gently, and there was a general scurrying movement around the room as people rushed, as elegantly as they could, to their phones to contact their financial managers.
Then the string quartet started again, and people started drinking again, everyone keeping one eye on the back room where, one by one, people were going in to buy a container of the cream.
Later, Kanye found me and started waltzing me around, giggling hysterically, when Khloe came up to say bye. She congratulated Kanye.
“I’m going to post right when I get home,” she said. “I can’t wait to try this shit!”
Kanye hugged her emotionally and said thank you.
On her way out Khloe texted me. “That was so weird lol I bet we are both glad it’s over.”
I wrote back the head massage emoji and “get me out of here. sorry about earlier.”
She wrote back, “pshh no worries c u at mom’s thing sunday xoxo.”
I decided to leave too. Kanye was busy in a group of people congratulating him, so I decided to French exit with a text. I texted him I was taking off, congratulations, and that I’d do the post for masque from home, once I’d put it on. Wait, he texted. Wait for me by the rose bush by the men’s room near the back entrance.
I found the place he meant, far at the back of the building near the emergency exit, removed from the party. I stood there holding my fur till he showed up. He looked kind of crazy-eyed, but that wasn’t too unusual. He grabbed my hand and pulled me behind one of the glow-in-the-dark rose bushes. It was pretty hot, but he wasn’t acting like it.
“Don’t put on the cream,” he said. “Don’t put it on, baby.” He looked at my face and then down, his face sort of twitching.
“I don’t want anything to happen to… just please don’t put it on, ok?”
“Why? Is there, like, something wrong with it?”
He looked a little sad and stepped away. “I actually love you,” he said. “I didn’t really at first but now I do.”
I got angrier. I kept asking him what the fuck he meant, but he just kept repeating himself, asking me not to put it on, and then said he had to get Vera to explain. I was too stunned to follow him. I thought about Khloe and my heart started beating. Kanye was probably just wasted, but I had to get out of there.
I pushed through the back exit and texted my driver to pull around and pick me up there. Then I texted Khloe, “Hey u don’t actually have to do the post with the cream don’t put it on will explain later.”
The alley was dark and gross. I felt a wave of relief as a rat came out and grabbed a piece of trash to snack on. He was so natural acting, just being himself, doing his rat thing. You know what I mean? Like, that’s what animals offer us, that’s why we need them. They connect us with the natural, with what’s really real.
The door from the building opened behind me, making me jump. It was Vera. “Keem!” she said warmly, stepping toward me and reaching out for my arm.
I stepped away from her into the alley, and her face took on a motherly confusion, her eyebrows raised in reproach.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Her back was to the building, her face obscured by darkness.
“Why did Kanye tell me not to put on the cream tonight? What’s wrong with it?”
“Oh, nothing is wrong with it, nothing.”
“Is it toxic or something?”
“No, no. It is very safe for the skin. But I do have one little confession.” She stepped toward me again and I took another step back. Her hands moved in a beam of light for emphasis as she said:
“It’s really you, Kim, not Kanye, who drove my interest toward posthumanist cosmetics. In your perpetuated image, that careful balance of natural and artificial, I find an intuitive gateway to transcendence, to transparency. Your skin, Kim, is the transparency of capital, its commodified image. Now the face can truly dissolve thanks to this cream. The subje—”
“Hold up,” I said. Some of my hair was caught in my lip gloss but I was so angry I didn’t even pull it off. “Dissolved? It’s not a moisturizer?”
“Oh, it’s a moisturizer, we’d never want to deceive our customers. It is a phenomenal moisturizer, and offers a great toning and regenerating complex for under-eye bags and early wrinkle formation. It works so perfectly that eventually the cream perfects the image of the individual to the point of, ha ha, of invisibility, ha, excuse me.” She started laughing for some reason.
Headlights passed across Vera’s face as my driver pulled around the corner, and I saw that her eyes were lit by some strange excitement, her lips wet with some unknown appetite. She was still laughing when I got into the backseat of the Phantom, telling my driver to drive fast, my phone in my hand. I had a text from Khloe.
“fuq did it already… shd I delete? lmk”
I called Khloe, shaking a little. It went to voicemail. Khloe Khloe Khloe, I started to say like a chant or something. I started crying and I think the driver asked if I was okay, I don’t know.
I clicked on her Instagram account. The post was there, captioned with how excited she was to be a part of the masque family, etc. She was standing there, holding the little vial of masque up to her face in one hand, taking a selfie in the bathroom mirror. Her Balmain dress was glinting like an ocean of stars in the mirror, but she was somehow not right. I turned up the brightness on my phone and screamed.
The parts of her I could see through the dress, where her skin was exposed, were see-through. Her body was transparent, the towel rack and tiles on the wall behind her showing as if through a fogged-up camera lens. Her body went fainter and fainter, fading out of the frame. I screamed her name as I watched her vanish completely.
Cecilia Corrigan (b. 1986, US) is a writer and performer. Her first full-length book, Titanic (&NOW Books, 2014), won the Plonsker Prize.