Installation

by Ashley Sandeman

Peter dragged me along to abandoned warehouses, filled for the evening with one-night art shows.

We joined a crowd of people, all umming and ahhhing at a soiled bed – one of those mechanical ones for the elderly – the recipient of past incontinence.

‘It’s very deep,’ a woman in front murmured to her husband, sipping Champagne. Claude’s made a comment on Emmin’s piece, but for the older generation.’ She lowered her voice, ‘How do you think he made it?’

No question of what it she referred to.

At which point I turned to Peter and said, a little too loudly,

‘Held his breath and pushed I expect.’

My voice amplified around the emptiness in which we stood. The lady in front coughed, turning to glare at me as Peter dragged me away swearing he’d never again bring me to one of these things. He was only invited because of his failing gallery. He left me by a wheelchair surrounded by a puddle of urine.

An attractive gum-chewing girl with red hair and dark, square-rimmed glasses joined me.

‘And what,’ she said, gesturing to the bed with a flick of her head, ‘do you think of the main piece?’

‘Between you and me, I think it’s a piece of shit.’

She laughed. ‘It’s all real you know.’

‘What is?’

‘Everything on the bed.’

‘Oh? You know the artist?’

‘Kind of. Claude asked if I could help with the bed, as my parents own an old people’s home. The bed’s broken. It’s welded into that position. I sold him the bed and helped with delivery. He won’t tell me how he gets the shit not to stink. Freeze-dried or something I think. But who’s to say?’

I shrugged.

‘You know, you don’t really fit in here,’ she said.

‘I’m with him,’ I said, pointing to Peter, who was in conversation with a large man wearing a pink waistcoat. He wasn’t really listening to Peter, who looked like he was trying to drum up interest for the gallery. The man was more interested in picking finger food from the passing caterers.

‘Boyfriend?’

‘What?’

‘Not doing so well is he?’

‘Brother. No. No, he isn’t.’

‘He’s an artist then?’

‘Yes. You know the little gallery on Mark Street?’

‘Yes. Full of clichéd landscapes.’

‘He owns that.’

‘I’d look that desperate if I owned that gallery too.’

‘Most of the stuff in there’s his.’

‘Well, he can paint. But who wants a boring landscape? I can walk out of my door any day and see a landscape. I can’t see a bed covered in someone else’s shit – not unless I visit my parents’ old folks’ home. That’s why the bed will sell and the landscape won’t. Supply and demand.’

‘Isn’t it a good thing you can’t see a bed like that when you walk out your front door?’

‘That’s not even the point. Look at this,’ she said, pointing to the wheelchair. She removed the piece of gum from her mouth, and, leaning over the urine, pressed it into one of the wheelchair’s handles.

‘There. I just increased its value by twenty percent.’

‘You can’t do that.’

‘Claude’ll thank me for it eventually. The chewing gum represents the link to youth. Was the person’s niece or nephew pushing them when they peed the chair? What happened to them both? It brings into question the relationship between family members, and how youth sees the aging process.’

‘But it was so lonely before. Like the person had no one in the world, and no strength to get to the toilet. Think of the desperation. Now you’ve diluted the message. It’s lost its impact.’

The man wearing the waistcoat had managed to escape my brother, who looked around for another catch.

‘The bed already did that. Nothing says desperation more than shitting the bed. Or,’ she added as an afterthought, ‘seeing a middle-aged man try to save his failing gallery.’

*

Peter was agitated on the way home.

‘The trouble is people don’t want talent. They want a headline. Art isn’t about art anymore; it’s about shock and awe. People only listen when the message is shouted right in their ears and pasted to their eyeballs. We’re supposed to be entering an ecological age. Save the planet. That’s what everyone’s saying. People should be queuing up for landscapes before they all disappear. Instead, every two-bit nut who can shit the bed is being heralded a genius. Isn’t normal life interesting any more?’

‘You could always join them. Make some money. Keep doing what you do.’

‘No.’

‘What’s to stop you?’

‘Integrity.’

By which I assumed he meant pride.

Ashley Sandeman is a writer, photographer and artist based in Bristol. His work has appeared in various publications.

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