HTML Backgorund Color

  About   /  Archive   /   Seasons   /  Print   /  Tenement   /  Shop



A new retrospective of work from the last twenty-five years by the controversial sibling art duo the CRAIGGOWIE SISTERS opens this weekend, curated by surviving sister Lilian CRAIGGOWIE.

When I asked my sister for a divorce ten years ago she screwed up her eyes and smiled. The light from the window was blasting her in the face. She probably couldn’t see how determined and tired I was. What are you talking about. You don’t mean it. I made myself keep standing at the side of her workbench where she was scratching away at scraperboard surrounded by photos of ruined castles for reference, the apprentices shuffling about around us. We’re the Craiggowie Sisters. We always have been. Hazel. Lilian. Hazeland-Liliancraig-gowie. She knew that she had done it this time, she was laughing too openly.

She had got back half an hour before I did after another dismal meeting with a gallery. She’d got bored of compromising, walked out, got on her motorbike and come straight back to the studio. We’d just won that big award at the time and I had the feeling that this would be the end of us. After we’d said our thank yous and were smoothing down the backs of our black satin suit and peach chiffon dress to seat ourselves at our table with the rest of the gang she said what I thought she might over the applause: now we can start the production line. She said it just as I was about to shout ‘a new start’ into the abyss of the commotion.

She was stubborn. If anyone questioned her conception of an exhibition she would either clam up and shut down, fold her arms and stare into a corner, or flip out, throw notebooks, knock over chairs, shout that they were questioning her integrity. It wasn’t the first time that I thought what she was saying was without substance, another pitch about commenting on large corporations and capitalism to an engorged gallery, but this time there was a funny kind of shame at being associated with her, even and especially after all these years. I repeated what I had just said, that it was time to separate, and to make it official. It was for the good of the both of us, and, more importantly, the work. One of the apprentices tried to make their eyes look out the back of their head by tilting their chin towards us slightly.

We’d divorced our parents when we were fourteen, and with such fantastic results. We both moved out, broke all contact with Phil and Sue Craiggowie, changed our names from Amy and Emily, and went on to lead independent, successful lives the way we wanted – but always together. Living, working, eating, socialising together. Working on the same projects, the same subjects. Seeing and sleeping with the same people, washing together, sometimes sleeping in the same bed. Applying for the same individual artists’ grants and awards, being unanimous when judging prizes. Critiquing everything the other did, making alterations to each other’s work so that it would ‘fit’. It had to recognisably be a Craiggowie. Make it a Craiggowie!

She kept smiling and looking at me. Sure. Let’s talk about it later. 

I said that things wouldn’t change much. We could still work together, but maybe we should think about living apart. She seemed very calm, but then so did I. When we left our parents, who sobbed and screamed at us, we smiled serenely. We, of course, were leaving the past behind and moving on from our false, stagnated lives.

We continued to live together while I looked for another house with or next to a studio.

After dinner she would do the washing up and say ‘just popping out’ and wouldn’t be back for an hour or two. I assumed that it was to work on something in private in the studio next door, or to avoid me.

One day I went into her side of the house to ask her about a delivery of enamel paint coming in that afternoon. The floor in the bathroom was wet, so she must have showered recently.

I went into her bedroom expecting her to be there, but she wasn’t. I noticed that her low coffee table had been pushed to the side, leaving an expanse of carpet. There was the smell of sweat hanging in the air. Something green caught my eye on her desk. It was a stack of photos of gardens. I wondered if they were someone else’s, but I recognised both our neighbour’s yards, and the large garden over the back of the fence at the bottom of ours.

Though our final dinners in the house had become silent, as if our cutting, chewing and swallowing was the process for a new piece of sculpture in the workshop, I asked her about the photos.

Is this what you’ve been doing? Spying on people?

Though there weren’t ever any people in them. They didn’t include windows or backdoors, they were just of the gardens, all taken in dulling daylight.

Lilian said it was for a new project, but she couldn’t tell me what. Oh, something to do with corners, back corners of gardens, the shadowy parts of them, how they remain the same all year round.

I hadn’t noticed that all the gardens in the photos had patios. I also didn’t notice that there wasn’t a photo of our garden. We had a patio.

She told me that all would be revealed tomorrow.

The photos were all out on the dining room table when the police came a week after she’d reported me missing. What are these? Have you been going in people’s gardens, Miss? What for?

You’re not looking hard enough, Lilian stated. It didn’t sound like an accusation.

Miss Craiggowie, we’ve been questioning local residents and making searches, please don’t trespass on other people’s property. There’s every possibility that your sister is still alive.

They talked about whether anyone had called making demands. If I’d been acting strangely recently. Any stalkers, super-fans. If I had any former lovers who might want to hurt me. Whether I might have wanted to end my own life, questions she’d already been asked so were easy to answer again.

If they’d looked around the garden properly on day one they would have smelled the glue used to stick the moss to the newly-laid, artfully-aged paving stones, and maybe they would have investigated the muddy footprints made with brand new boots. They might have seen that the bird shit along the patio was still wet and too thick and that brushstrokes were clearly visible on the lichen overlapping the slabs. They could have even discovered that underneath a terracotta plant pot in the corner of the garden was a perfect miniature recreation of her stabbing and decapitating me in the hanger-sized pristine white basement of the studio.

She lured me down there to see what she’d been working on one evening after that dinner when she had a good mood that was off the scale.

She ballroom danced me through the workshop, down the stairs, to the centre of the room, telling me that she was going to miss me when I was gone. I was kissing her face, laughing, tripping over myself, spinning, and then I was winded irreparably with a hiss. Those press ups in her room had paid off.

After slipping me into a metal tank of prepared chemicals, she power-washed the tiles and colour-matched some of the paint from our recent works for bold splodges, and collected up metal filings and wood splinters from our latest sculptures. She arranged everything over the floor with the careless precision only an artist possesses. Any sprays up the walls she added to with complimentary tones of guilt orange, squeal yellow, shame pink. The knife? Incorporated into our infamous blade chandelier picked up and revealed the next day at the seafront gallery out of the city.

Hazel Emily Craiggowie, 32, missing. Foul play likely. Body never recovered.

In the first year, the worth of the work in our name quadrupled. Lilian opened up a second, larger studio – The Craiggowie Sisters: Station B – and took on fifteen more full-time staff.

At the end of the second year, she had the Hazel Craiggowie Art Foundation created, where a small fraction of my owed earnings were used to pay for students to go to art college.

Midway through the fifth year, she unpacked my notebooks and went through my sketchbooks, a minute spent on each page. Reread interviews with me in art journals. Re-watched our hysterical appearance on that late night art show on repeat. She started having a weird feeling, like, perhaps regret? Or, no, perhaps it was the twinge of the yawn of her lack of inspiration caused by viewing mine?

In year seven she was commissioned to write a book about me. She did meticulous research:

Hazel always thought that carpentry was the finest of all creative pursuits because of its closeness to nature, obviously now in its deadest, final form –
Hazel would have enjoyed the new trend for taxidermy –

At the opening of the retrospective, filled with the architecture sketches and suited men paintings and recreated scenes from famous street protests in miniature, my bleached skeleton was arranged in my green work overalls standing at a blackboard with an illegible scrawl across it.

A number of visitors would mill around in the vicinity of me and mouth to their companion ‘Her sister, they never found her you know. How sad’, or ‘Is that supposed to be Hazel? How crass.’

Lilian gave a little speech about how the Craiggowie Sisters were still going strong and that I had never really left, indicating me in the corner. There was some mild, low laughter at this. I loved Hazel for who she was, I know her inside and out. We’ll always be a team.

I was a museum piece, surrounded by art that was being viewed and reviewed in the context of my absence, of my former, now permanent self. Art that meant nothing to me anymore.

If I still had a stomach I would be sick to it from being so static. All the things I have not known and have not done and have not changed and have not become.

Lilian looked so happy. The heroine of her generation. Not our parents’, but ours. Craiggowian had entered the dictionary that year. She had got to redraft the definition.

Lilian had maintained our trajectory, even when I had wanted to swerve.

Jen CALLEJA is a writer and literary translator from German. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Ambit, 3:AM, Somesuch Stories and the new anthology Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry. Her debut poetry collection Serious Justice is published by Test Centre and she is currently working on her debut novel. Her latest translation is My Father was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water by Swiss author Michelle Steinbeck and she is also columnist for literature in translation at the Brixton Review of Books. She plays or has played in the bands Sauna Youth, Feature, Monotony and Mind Jail.

Two extracts from ‘Due Process’ appear on the third Sauna Youth album—Deaths—out now from Upset the Rhythm (see here). 


Submissions     ︎      ︎

Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

Mailing List