As my good friends tumbleweed and crisp packet will attest, I don’t get out much. When I do, it’s usually to expedite the necessaries or to grease the wheels of someone else’s deal. Just occasionally though I force myself to break from my free fall and I step into the local art gallery.
I spent many years trying to get a job in London and the whole thing was a dismal bloody nightmare culminating in me working for two years just outside London and living in Greenwich, barely earning enough money to exist. Treading water, trying to metamorphasise into the thing I needed to be. I was kicked out on my arse when redundancy came around and put back in my place. London did not want me in it.
Regardless I had a certain dreamy idea of what London meant to me. A big part of that was going to galleries. Galleries are almost like embassies for a country that doesn’t exist – no matter where they are in the world, you’re stepping onto the same sovereign territory. Different rules apply. A tacit etiquette that no-one ever wrote down but which everyone knows. The air tastes different.
So for me, going there is as much about exercising those muscles, than seeing whatever’s on display. But don’t get me wrong, I am interested in art too. The process, what was in the mind of the person making it. How it plays with the viewer, how it interacts with the space it is presented in. And some other pretentious nonsense that makes me sound more interesting and knowledgeable than I really am.
Alas, I hear the blue meanies at the local council are trying to close our gallery down under the pretext of Brexit, or Austerity or some such bullshit excuse for them to pocket some more coin for themselves and their criminal buddies at the luxury apartment company. A lot of uncanny arson attacks on listed buildings in my home town. This vexes me since the gallery’s literally the only redeeming feature of my local town. You think I’m exaggerating. Yet I’m not.
Criminal negligence aside though, I have enjoyed my trips to the local art gallery over the years. I don’t always dig what’s on display, but they have a fairly impressive selection of stuff in their permanent collection:L a Brecht, Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Epstein sculptures, Lucien Freud paintings(which I do dig) and much more which I cannot even remember now. But just occasionally there’s a temporary exhibit that leaves a lasting impression and this was one of them.
After failing to obtain roof garden access to test my mettle against some half-baked future permutation, I walked tentatively towards a square dimly-lit room on the top floor. The only remaining room pertaining to the current exhibit, and home to its crowning piece.
It appeared to be unlit and there didn’t seem to be anyone in there so I stopped and asked the lady on the chair outside if it was OK for me to go in. She said it was fine and it was just about to start again.
Just about to start again?
What’s just about to start again?
What the hell am I getting into here?
Is this the end of Soylent Green???
This had better not be one of those presumptive creepy interactive affairs where they surprise you and make you get up out of your seat and dance. Cos you’re seriously messing with the wrong guy on the wrong day people.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Trust in the gallery! All things are good in the gallery.
There are certain benefits to being completely out of the loop. You get the odd nice surprise.
I crept into the unlit mystery room, trying to act all respectful-art-enthusiast-like. The godless sinner over-compensating in church when he’s forced to be there because of a christening he couldn’t get out of. Unnecessarily hanging his head and crossing his hands, genuflecting in all the wrong places, every gesture amateur-hour effete. The priests don’t want to discourage him so they pretend not to notice but have a bloody good laugh about it afterwards over the communion wine.
My eyes adjusted and I could make out a giant circular mound, dappled with pointy extrusions, lurking in the shadows in the middle of the room. It smelled of mischief. I didn’t know what to expect.
Right on cue, as if the whole thing had been arranged just for me, the room slowly illuminated to reveal the detail. It was like a giant wedding cake. Multiple tiers with exquisite detail in fondant icing. But as the details came into focus it was clear this was no wedding cake. Not unless Hieronymus Bosch was getting married to David Lynch this week.
Concentric rings of miniature sculptures adorned the tiers. Some had more than one ring. The sculptures appeared to be identical within each ring but completely different between the rings. They had a classical leaning, maybe Greek or Roman. Moreover there was an unsettling grotesque quality to them. The apparent beauty belying implied violence, wrongdoing. A Venus Fly Trap.
The cake began to spin around. Faster and faster until the detail was all a blur and I was afraid I was in imminent danger of being speared to the wall by centrifugal fondant daggers.
And then it happened. The lights went out and a somewhat aggressive strobe light simultaneously kicked in.
The whole thing was a 3D zoetrope!
I’ve never seen such a thing before. As I circled it in enchanted awe, I struggled to piece together what it all meant. Lots of ancient men beating women or babies, one even throwing a baby through a window. Maybe a tongue-in-cheek comment on child abuse? Or weddings?
I’ve never been good with metaphor.
Whatever it meant, it was quite a spectacle to behold. They had gone to some trouble to get the lighting right I think. It made for an engaging yet disturbing spectacle. It felt a little bit special seeing it without any hype and having the room all to myself like that. So I called in a “danger-close” on whatever treacherous OCD BS was clambering for attention in my mind(which it surely was because I remember); and I just tried to soak up that happy artifice there in that lofty oasis. So that I could pickle it and put it on a shelf for later on when I needed it.
I have since discovered that the sculptor, Matt Collinshaw, based it on The Massacre of the Innocents – the bible story where King Herod got spooked by prophecies of a Jewish baby-king usurping his throne. So he had all the male babies in the vicinity of Bethlehem put to the sword. Herod was your atom-bomb-to-swat-a-fly kind of guy I suppose.
Sculpted by Matt Collinshaw, here is a short film of All Things Fall: