The other day I visited two current art exhibitions, at galleries across the road from one another. Physically proximate, their contents could not have been more different, and it is instructive to compare them. Well, not really instructive, as that implies learning something, and I learned nothing. My head grows ever emptier as days go by. This is entirely deliberate, as I am signed up to a course of evening classes in the mystic oriental discipline of Goon Fang, the aim of which is to achieve a state of oneness with the universe by emptying the head of all non-essentials. For the true Adept of Goon Fang, almost everything is inessential. I can by no means describe myself as an Adept, for I am at the “Wearer of a Dashing Cravat” level, so low in the hierarchy that, to deploy an analogy with sea creatures, I would be one of those weird blind flat albino beings that skitter near the sea bed, demersal rather than pelagic. I still have far too much in my head.
Thus it was on the recommendation of my Goon Fang Master that I visited the first exhibition. While hitting me repeatedly on the bonce with a stout stick, he explained that whole swathes of my brain would be emptied of content by my spending half an hour in the gallery. He was right, but then he always is. So decisive was the emptying that, in order to write this piece, I have had to reconstruct the forgotten details of my visit through a Goon Fang technique I cannot divulge to the hoi polloi.
The exhibition at the Cosmo Hoxtonwanker gallery presents a series of “installations” and “interventions” which aim to “interrogate” notions of “reified re-re-re-representation” in late capitalist “faff”, “twaddle”, “the Other”, and “pap”. I apologise for all those inverted commas, but the expensively-produced catalogue insists on them. So what did I see? Well, in one room – sorry, “space” – there was an “Occupy” tent, which had apparently been erected outside a cathedral for months on end, next to which was an opened milk-carton, an abandoned mitten, and some breadcrumbs. The title of this “work” was a lengthy quotation from some preposterous Slovenian “philosopher and cultural critic” whose name I cannot recall, other than that it had at least two ‘Z’s in it. Several nanoseconds spent gawping at this “installation” made me realise the great wisdom of my Goon Fang Master, for I could actually feel my brain emptying itself out. Had I spent more time in the gallery, and taken in some of the other exhibits, I might, to return to the sea creature analogy, have been floating upwards from the sea bed so rapidly that I would suffer from the bends. I shall have to ask my Master what to do in those circumstances.
But quite frankly, I could not bear to spend a moment longer in the midst of this drivel. I went outside for a cigarette and it was then I noticed, across the road, another art gallery. On impulse, and narrowly avoiding a collision with a bicycle wanker, I pranced towards its entrance, not even bothering to find out what was on show.
It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic display of over three dozen Vanbrugh chicken paintings. They all looked remarkably similar – a white chicken with a red crop, pictured in a sort of generic farmyard setting – but I am one of those people who know the great secret, that within each of the paintings there is hidden a tiny, talismanic emblem. Find them, and correlate them, and you end up, not just with a series of Vanbrugh chicken paintings, but with an esoteric key to unutterable mysteries. As they are unutterable, I can say nothing more about them. What I can say is that I spent a profitable seventeen hours closely scanning the paintings with my pocket microscope, until I was thrown out of the gallery by a factotum. I was back, waiting impatiently at the entrance, the next morning, and for several days after that. There were lots of paintings to study, some of them quite huge, and finding all those hidden emblems was no easy matter. In some cases, that tiny little brushstroke you think is the edge of an emblem turns out, after all, to be nothing more than an exquisitely rendered Vanbrugh chicken feather. In others, you can spot the emblem relatively quickly, but wreaking the meaning from it can send a man mad.
On one day, I asked my Goon Fang Master if he would accompany me to the gallery. How naïve of me! I fully deserved the bash on the bonce with a stout stick I received. My Master explained to me, in an exasperated manner, that to seek ultimate meaning in the Vanbrugh chicken paintings went against all the tenets of Goon Fang. The sooner I returned to the Cosmo Hoxtonwanker gallery and gazed upon twaddle, the sooner would my brain empty out, and the sooner would I rise to the surface of the sea, become pelagic rather than demersal. He had a point.
He had a point, and I had a throbbing head. But I could not tear myself away from the Vanbrugh chicken paintings. I had found all but three of the hidden emblems, but the jottings in my notebook, made with my trusty propelling pencil, were worse than meaningless until those last three were added. Find them, and I could correlate them all, and be given the key to unlock whatever it was I had to unlock to gain access to the unutterable mysteries. I was driven on by the thought that, if I was privy to those mysteries, I could get hold of a stout stick and bash the Goon Fang Master’s bonce in retaliation. That might teach him a thing or two! As I said, I was hopelessly naïve.
Thursday came, and I was distraught to discover that the Vanbrugh chicken exhibition had been taken down, the paintings loaded on to a lorry and driven to an important sea port and loaded on to a container ship and taken away to a far and foreign land. I wrapped my cravat tighter around my neck and slumped in the doorway of the Cosmo Hoxtonwanker gallery, ruined by art.