Art Pact 109 - The Previa Hemsfoot Interview, pt 3

Fifteen years ago no-one had heard of Previa Hemsfoot, but now it is a household name. As its careful approach to Jack suggests, it has no natural inclination towards self-publicity. A lot of this is the work of the charity's PR department, headed up by Bellami Coil. Coil is undoubtedly a genius at his work, but he is also notorious for his past work advertising for the cosmetics industry. I have my own grudge to bear against Coil, his advert for Clairol Corporation's Mane-Ribbon oil having cost me a girlfriend in university. I don't hold this against Previa, of course, but it has always given me a rather ambiguous attitude towards the charity's work. Not my most level-headed attitude. I mention Bellami to Previa, and am pleased to learn that it is also not as enamoured of him as their success as a partnership might imply.

"Uh, yeah. Well, Coil's Coil, right? He's been good for the charity, but there was a little tension between us. Certainly the first time we were both at a meeting there were - well, let's say some fireworks."

I have already spoken to a couple of Previa's colleagues at the charity, and its tactful subtext covers up quite a fight. The meeting lasted three days (having originally been scheduled for a morning), and Previa and Bellami almost came to blows over the idea of breaking the charity's tradition of not showing the faces of sufferers in advertisements. Bellami argued that there was a vital need to put a human face on the condition (specifically a Myrmian face, since the public was to some extent already familiar with Fothergill himself). Previa's argument (which seems quite reasonable to me), was that publicising the faces of sufferers would only make them more self-conscious out and about. This is already a serious concern, Previa says. It is part of the psychological aspect of Fothergill's Syndrome - although the inability to change between forms is a confirmed chemical problem and is completely indetectable without medical tests, typical sufferers are consumed with a sort of paranoid obsession with their appearance. Fothergill's original analysis of "Pol", before confirming that there was a biological basis, was that it was simply suffering from an extreme form of the neuroticism that affects everyone nowadays. Jack (who I notice it now fiddling with his camera gear pretending to put it away rather than actually getting ready to leave) suggests that the world of advertising, particularly cosmetics advertising, is in large part to blame for that neurotic behaviour.

"So Bellami's contribution has been to a problem that affects everyone," Previa muses, "and actually slowed down the first diagnosis of the condition. Yes, that could well be. Still, it could be worse. He's helped out since the charity brought him on board, so I suppose we can consider it some sort of penitence."

Previa also pointed out a corollary of this psychological problem - that there is nothing apparently wrong with Fothergill's sufferers, certainly nothing that could be easily displayed on a poster. Previa itself looks perfectly healthy, indeed it is probably one of the healthiest graciles I've met here, possibly a result of its confinement.

"I do spend a lot of time away from the sun," it agrees. "But you see my point of view, yes? When you can still see undernourished children on the evening news, or the faces of kids with premature hatch scars, or... you get the idea. A perfectly normal warrior or gracile is going to look quite boring. There's no way of looking behind the face and seeing that there's something important lacking."

I wonder at this - because what I saw earlier of Previa made me feel just that, and quite acutely. I want to make an excuse to look at Jack's photos, to see whether they have captured what I saw, but I cannot find a reasonable excuse.

"The odd thing is that I sort of threw myself under the bus as a result of that meeting, but it's worked out well for me. No-one was interested in being the face of the condition, and I argued for a long time that there wasn't any need for it, that it would be counter-productive. But eventually Bellami prevailed - he's got a good line in persuasion, but I suppose that's his thing, yes? So to prevent it from becoming some sort of Miss Fothergill's competition I volunteered to do it myself. It was pretty grim at first, but then I started to come to terms with it. I suppose it was something that I had to do, so I did it and as a part of that I sort of changed inside even if I couldn't change outside."

Previa shrugs. It has been wearing the warrior mask this whole time, giving its voice a weird muffled quality. It removes it carefully, and I can see something that reminds me of the girlfriend who left me as a result of Bellami's advert - the closure flaps of Previa's air-holes, at the side of its temples, are rippling subtly. It is a subtle emotion, a sign of a sort of nostalgia that my girlfriend was unable to describe to me. My textbooks do not mention it, but it is my theory that it is a genuinely unique emotion, something that Myrmians can feel but that Terrans cannot.

"It's a tricky thing," Previa says. "I hated publicity, but then the more I got of it the more indifferent about it I felt. Bellami used to say that I'd get to like it, but I don't think I would have. Even now - I'm feeling a little uneasy about giving this interview."

I look over to Jack, who has stayed much longer than he'd intended to, and I see that he is thinking what I am thinking. I thank Previa for its time, and the relieved look on its face tells me that I have timed our exit just right to avoid overstaying our welcome.

I never get to ask about the genetic question. Whatever it is that Previa thinks about the controversy, it will have to remain (for the moment at least), its secret. It seems fair - it has been in the spotlight for long enough, it deserves to go back to a world where there is plenty of privacy.


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