Originally published in EXIT STRATEGIES by the Royal College of Art Photography Department (Black Dog Publishing, May 2015)
Shame on you.
Shame on you.
Shouted at visitors.
Approaching the entrance, a card in your pocket. This is your ticket and it says Community Leader.
Blowing whistles, banging drums. Among their number, a three-piece band, a man with a GoPro on his forehead.
Smile, one shrieks.
They stream video, tweet images of your arrival.
Security—This way, keep moving.
Crowd barriers separate them from you. Security is holding the crowd barriers up at either side of the entrance.
They wave placards, punch the air and jostle Security. There are smoke bombs.
Head down, walk fast. Don’t look.
You get in and the door is forced shut behind you. The light is hard and bright. A Venue Manager holding a chain. Confusion. She wraps it around the push bars, pulls it tight and clips shut a padlock.
There is a couple having an argument.
There is pounding at the door.
Security is still out there.
Before we begin, says the Venue Manager, can I get a bit of housekeeping out of the way?
hand over your phone, take off your watch
the drinks sponsor, a rum-infused crème de cacao
Platters of Trapeze-based cocktails are offered with a question—Live dangerously?
a man running, an arrow, an open door
But that exit is chained shut.
A man hiding
cap and sunglasses, beard and headphones
tick tick tick tick from his headphones.
There is also an old classmate – avoid – now is not the time.
Waiters suspenseful, bear colourful cocktails—Live dangerously?
Calm gathers. There is mingling, you meet people. Consultants, Analysts, Executives, Fundraisers. Leaders in their fields.
A man’s voice, approaching from behind—I’ll be your Guru.
You turn and share a look.
Show me your card, he says.
Community Leader, he reads. Those protests came from Community Leaders.
He takes you from the crowd.
Conversation coming like—
Do you consider yourself an extrovert?
Would you prefer to be a private person?
What are your traditional goals?
This is taking place in a corridor when – quick, hide – a former teacher passes. Recognising an opportunity, your Guru presses a false moustache under your nose.
Though it looks ridiculous, it is a cloak of invisibility.
Governed only by pleasure, could you be like that man in cap and sunglasses? Could it be he does not wish to be recognised? His T-shirt has written on it GHOST STORIES.
Another exit sign.
Its green light throbs. Feelings of disconnection. There is no air in this place. It is bright, windowless and hot.
Have you looked into yourself lately?
Watching your Guru, wondering how far to take this—
We’ve met before.
That was a long, long time ago.
Should we talk about it?
Picking up an artist CV, he reads—Born in 1991, lives and works in London, what else is there?
Live dangerously? a waiter asks.
I am discovering new stations in life
Walk to me, walk to me, says a woman walking backwards.
She is taking pictures.
You follow, imagining she is an Official Photographer.
Your Guru, head tilted, inscrutable smile—This isn’t the first time your photo has been taken today.
You can’t go back. Out there, your image shared, email hacked, every detail of the mundane, dispersed and etched permanently. No friend, new lover will know this figure. Who stands before me is obliterated. Hashtag Shame will be your new name. The right to be forgotten? You can only wish. In their portrait, you are bleached, disingenuous. A drained face of hatred. Is that something to show the grandchildren?
picturing green-skin flesh-eating pink-eye zombies
Waiting for a sign.
Dragged past a man whose arm has tattooed GHOST STORIES in a swirling scroll. A tell-tale moment that calls—
I’m leaving, said the wind
it doesn’t take much to bring you back
sober and reasoned
collect those stated facts
meaningful and plainspoken
who will break the Debt Machine?
Creature of Alternative Education,
justify yourself, Debt Keeper
What are you studying?
AKA the human condition.
I am a survivalist.
Distracted, you see, over your Guru’s shoulder, an old flame – they’re all here tonight – it was a bad breakup.
A room of murals, not quite observed. It is crowded. Faces painted red and glittering.
Overhearing—I don’t know how much I believe in art education. I believe in art-history education. Don’t tell anybody what art is, tell them what other people have done.
Can’t we look at the work? Isn’t that what we’re here for?
Soon, says your Guru. First, I want you to meet someone. You’re familiar with Lawrence Weiner?
Entering the conversation, a man with a beard—If you have a Master’s degree in anything, you have to write a research paper in another language than your own. They want to accredit one of the last professions that you don’t need a license in order to do.
Is this really him?
A teacher is a very dedicated, really involved human being. The only trouble is, in order to do their job correctly, they have to assume authority. As an artist, I chose a long time ago to try to not have to assume authority.
Something draws you to him. Just as you get close, the statement—
And then he bummed her in his fucking Vauxhall.
Women, men. Short skirts, tight suits.
One storms off.
One calls after—Phil, when was the last time you licked her fanny?
Another—He’s fuming. Look at him, he’s a fucking cunt.
Too coarse and out of character. This must not be pretend. Every now and then—Shame on you.
The Official Photographer pushes through. The Duke of Bedford is here, she hisses. The Duke of Bedford is here.
The Duke of Bedford?
Codeword for cocaine, says your Guru, again with that smile. Sharing a look, dramaturgically you are placed lowly.
Crowded in an office, drawing lines on a glass desk. Your Guru laughs. The lines disappear.
Back outside, there is that couple, still arguing.
Girl—I am trying to understand you.
Boy—You shouldn’t need to try. Love doesn’t try.
Girl—Then how can I tell you what I don’t know?
Are our stories honest? your Guru muses. Inspired by folklore, consumerism, nationhood, fuel, I am interested in your voice.
I like art but I want personal and unique experiences and I never feel like art gives me that.
To be the only one who sees what I see.
An exclusive relationship.
You are not going to believe who’s just walked in…
You wish you could ask—Were you ever alone at the end of the night carrying a guitar and amp at Kilburn Station after a show waiting for a train to take you home, wondering why you do what you do?
I can’t go back, you say.
Which is when you are led.
See that door. Go to it. Pull back the curtain. Don’t be frightened. I’m right behind you.
A man running, an arrow, an open door.
Its green light dims, slowly, and very there, in dark, a blue projected. White words NO SIGNAL. Loud speaker relaying human screams.
Speak quietly of art, plucked from the realm—If this is the home of art, it is a house of horrors.
Just a voice—You find comfort in walls. Rooms, yellowed papers, paper weights. Books leather-bound, pipe tobacco and draped over a chaise longue, a younger lover who chimes, ‘Tell me all you know about Giacometti.’
Empty, bewildered and wanting this to be over.
I can’t go back, you repeat, unsure of the meaning in GHOST STORIES.
Give me incomplete thoughts and complete adoration.
Out of the dark and into Speeches
Guru—A practice impossible to legitimise. It is best we not discuss or acknowledge the matter. No good can come of it.
Don’t mind if I do, your Guru says, taking a Trapeze.
about to open his mouth—I promise I won’t keep you long. I just want to thank you all for being here in the face of difficult circumstances. By coming tonight we send a clear message. Were those people encountered upon arrival willing to listen, I would tell them this. Ours is the voice of free speech, yours is one of censorship, and as such, you will not be heard.
As he speeches, you and your Guru whisper the following
Let me feel connection.
Wait until it gets mysterious again.
Is this connection? Or just the twist of emotion, taunting the lonely? Do you feel maybe we’re going off-script?
Are you deeply in love?
In need of the hard stuff, you answer—No, but I am looking.
A man phalanx.
Opprobrium features. Dark suits marching.
Credit Suisse, whispers your Guru.
Is that a bank?
Murmuring—Credit Suisse, wondering what they do and what they are doing here.
The men march away, taking your Guru with them.
Grows that cry—Shame on you.
You are so far from home, whispers the wind
Silence mind, give me moments
A pram is a plinth holding a baby aloft.
This is an opportunity to see what is on the walls but the pram draws you to it. You peer in.
Flashback: looking into a black hole, waiting for the light of an oncoming train.
Not looking at protestors.
Are you wrong? You did not know you were part of that – repression – yet their message remains—Shame.
Can you take comfort in art when you cannot look away from a baby – I am looking at a mirror that does not look back or tell me anything – closing your eyes
Are you the artist?
Quizzical expressions. The Official Photographer hands you a card
Every time you start
it has to be big
For the memory of protest, cry.
At the foot of the door, a stainless steel bowl. Inside it is something green. Trapeze? Reminding you of a night this once was.
Now come phantom vibrations at your thigh – where your phone should be – phibrations – as if it seeks to tell you something. Your phone wants to give you a warning.
To be loved to be told—Hark, it’s His Royal Highness, and when you are loved you want more love
you want more
Overlooking where you have been. Those people below having original experiences.
A puddle of spilt Trapeze and broken glass.
Likewise characterised as a Community Leader when – ghoulish tremors – teacher, classmate, lover – you see The Three Exes.
We have a situation.
‘Lawrence Weiner’ wearing a GHOST STORIES T-shirt and it could be deliberate you are aware of multiple roles.
I want to see.
Say what? says the waiter.
What is it you want to see? whispers the wind in the voice of your Guru
Try picturing that baby’s face.
tick tick tick tick
Back where you started.
Hello Gruesome, says Bad Breakup, looming with a demonic smile.
Must this be done, now and here?
As it really is him, will you break character?
Recruitment Development Consultant
Practice Support Analyst
Policy Safeguarding Executive
Client Delivery Fundraiser
Bad Breakup laughs—You always were barking mad.
You need a drink.
Tapioca Tea Trapeze, the waiter says. Threat level moderate.
Down it. Escape. Bad Breakup follows.
We need to talk.
Where is your Guru?
boom – they pound at the door – the door swells and, as if by the hand of a devious ghost, the chain unravels…
tick tick tick tick
The door opens partially – only the padlock holding it closed.
Naked and grasping arms reach in.
We never did really finish things properly.
Girl—If you want out, just say.
Boy—I don’t know what I want.
Enter Chris Martin.
A drum strapped to his back.
Turn and run.
Collide with a waiter.
The padlock breaks – doors open – a gust of wind and pause – face off with the braying mob – silence.
Chris Martin sings—For a second I was in control, I had it once, I lost it though.
He bangs his drum. The three-piece band seen earlier are his bandmates from Coldplay. They join the song, accompanied by the drumbeats and whistles of the protestors.
The waiter takes off his shirt and dances. Clouds from smoke bombs cushion the light. Security, ‘Lawrence Weiner’, the Official Photographer, everyone is there, arms aloft. Phil reunited with his group and the arguing couple kissing. Through the clouds, your Guru reappears, smiling—Feel good? He puts his arm around you.
Chris Martin sings—Just tell me you love me, if you don’t then lie.