Art Pact 107 - The Previa Hemsfoot Interview, pt 1


I meet Previa in its apartment, a neatly-kept five-room space on the third floor of a block that had once been offices. The exterior of the building is in a fairly advanced state of decay - the metal cladding that once covered it all the way down has (almost unthinkably) rusted near the top, and at the bottom to a height of about four or five meters the panels have been removed, presumably stolen for scrap by the local gangs. I note with interest that it is about as high as a normal ladder could reach, so the thieves must not have had access to a cherry picker. Under the cladding the building is a morbid grey, and the whole scene feels like some frightful photo from the new world, a dead body having its clothes slowly stolen, lying face-up in some slum in a parody of sun-bathing. Graffiti on the walls suggests that there are (or have been) DKB supporters in the area. I wonder why anyone would choose to live here, much less a Myrmian, much much less a Myrmian with Fothergill's Syndrome.

"Hey there!" Previa answers the door cheerfully, though, and I can see that the flat is spotless. After the ruin outside, and the damp corridors and stairways that led up here it's like walking into another world. "Come in, come in!"

I came with the cameraman from Novvivo, Jack, and at first Previa is unsure about his presence, but it soon warms to him when he compliments the oil paintings that line the walls of the little corridor that leads from Previa's front door to its lounge (later on he will phone me to tell me that he blew up one that was caught in the background of one of the photos, and a friend of his who runs a gallery had expressed interest in meeting Previa). The first picture inside the door is a strange melange - clearly thick paint applied with a knife, but styled so as to appear to be a composite picture made from magazine cut-outs. It shows a Myrmian of many parts - the right side of the head a warrior, the left side a breeder, both stuck atop a gracile's torso, and so forth. As with a composite photo the colours of the various skins do not match, and the limbs join the body at odd angles. The effect is disjointed, somewhat jarring.

"That's how I painted it," Previa agrees. "And I put it here so that it would be the first thing people saw when they came to visit me. It's a test, I suppose, an insight into a person's empathy."

I relay my feelings of unease, wondering whether I have passed the test.

"Too soon to say," it says coyly. Then: "but unease - /dis-ease/, you might say, is a good start. That's the way I feel all the time, in parts."

"Because of the Fothergill's?"

"Partly because of that, but partly the way we all feel, all humans. Everyone has their own disjunction, the space between what it is they are and what it is that they want to be. It's worst for me"--it laughs--"sorry, how arrogant! It's worse than usual for me, I should say, because of my condition. Then there's what all Myrmian's feel, being late to the party when it comes to being a human, being not quite right because we don't fit into those categories the Terrans settled on long ago. But even you two leggers have the same thing, right? That's part of it, not being quite at ease in your skin, or with your voice, or your job, or... god, the list is endless!"

I agree, although something about Previa's list troubles me. Does it think that things would be much better for it if there were a cure for Fothergill's, I ask. It scratches its mane-ribbons, perplexed.

"I see what you mean. No, it would definitely be better. I mean, maybe not for me, but there are going to be more people hatched with the condition, it would be better for them as children."

As we set up for the photo shoot I point out that it has referred to "the condition" twice in response to my questions. Have I made a faux-pas in calling it by Fothergill's name?

"No," it says. "No. I don't, because Fothergill himself wasn't very keen on the idea. He said at the EHO that he wasn't fond of the idea of naming diseases after people anyway, you know, because they were discoveries not inventions. But also he said to me - I met him once, at a conference - that someone in the old Myrmia must have discovered it first anyway. He couldn't believe that it was a new thing, although the genetic basis for it was only discovered a year or two after he died."

Jack and I exchange slightly surprised glances.

I don't mention my misgivings while the shoot is going on, instead focusing on Previa itself. I had not noticed when it came to the door that it was wearing prosthetic warrior's legs over its rear leg-spines. The prosthetics gave it a jaunty walk (perhaps jaunty isn't the right word, but it is hard to describe). I ask whether it made them itself.

"Oh, no - there's a company that does fancy-dress parts. They make them for two-leggers. I've heard people say it's all a bit racist, but they've been very good to me. I wired them a few years ago, asking whether they would consider making them a bit sturdier. Their chief designer came to see me, and they made these specially for me."

I ask whether Previa thinks there might be a market for prosthetics.

"Well, maybe. Probably not, I suppose. You know there are only nine of us with the condition on Earth? And of those, five are warrior-form, so the local target market would be me plus three others. I don't think anyone would be getting rich that way. I did tell them to put the design into the collection, though, so who knows? Someone on one of the outer planets could print it out. Maybe someone on Myrmia's wearing a set right now!"

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