‘Pigs are actually very clever,’ someone replied. ‘The average pig is as intelligent as a three year old child’.
‘Yes, but they are still ignorant of their own existence,’ said the voice again. A long haired guy next to me was drooling, but I don’t think he realised. A television was making noise somewhere, and I realised I had gone too far.
‘Fuck you. Fuck all of you!’
A horrible fear was kicking in – everything was moving too fast, too many thoughts, none of them satisfying. Time rolled on, and I realised I had no idea how long we’d been sat there in the dark silence in our New York hotel room.
‘What time is it?’
I think that was me, but I couldn’t be sure. It couldn’t have been the drool guy because he was now dozing quietly, a long trail of saliva running from his mouth down onto his crotch.
I realised I had been slurring my words rather torrentially, and tried to start again.
‘In the – er – morning?’
I got up and stumbled to the window, opened the thick red curtains a crack, and a shaft of white light stabbed into the room.
They say every action has a reaction, to which this one was ‘Oh fuck. Errgh…’ Someone was evidently not happy with the light. I shut the curtains again with a determined yank.
‘We must leave’ I announced. ‘I need to get out.’ We’d been in there for what seemed like days, and I was starting to lost track of why we’d even come to this city. Ah yes, the ART!
‘Come on you sordid fuckers, we’re in New York! Get off your arses, let’s go!’ The sick feeling in my stomach was gone now – day had given me a second wind, and I wanted to go PS1.
And so we found ourselves on Lexington Avenue, and after a quick bagel at Scotty’s Diner – mostly to stave off the absorption of any more booze from our stomachs into our blood stream for at least another half hour – we headed off towards Central Station to get the subway. Lighting up a cigarette, the sharp cold wind hit my fingers. Leaving your warm hotel in February in New York is like jumping in a lake in Cumbria in Winter. We sped up, and soon we were huddled in a speeding metal tube on our way to Queens. We’d only been there a week, but one of New York’s many virtues is how welcoming it is. The city is laid out in a simple, logical way, so after a single day you feel completely confident navigating around. Complemented by the friendly Manhattan people, always prepared to help, we already felt like locals.
On arrival at Queens however, we realised how wrong we were. This was a different place altogether – no high rise buildings, less hustle-bustle, and the familiar brand names that we found so comforting in Manhattan were nowhere to be seen. The sun was shining, however, and its warmth was beginning to cut through the icy breeze. Time for another cigarette, and on to PS1.
‘This is the place’ Ralph said.
‘What do you mean?’ I replied, confused by his abstract, random remark.
‘Things really mean stuff here. Or stuff really means things. I’m not sure.’ But he was right. In New York, if you did something, it would have an effect. Back in England, I felt that anything we said, did or made would spread a short way like ripples in a pond, but the ripples would slowly die our before they got anywhere. Here, do anything, and the effects were almost immediately visible. Before you could start thinking about what to do next, the ripples would be coming right back at you. I suddenly understood why so many artists and musicians had found fame in New York.
PS1 truly was a headfuck, helped in no way by our somewhat fragile states of mind at that time in the morning. We’d been up all night, and like Raoul Duke, were in no mood for coffee or donuts. The idea behind the place was bizarre – a cross between a college, a commune, and a gallery – a concoction so fucked it could only have been created by an American. Upon entering, a lady made me give her two dollars. I didn’t really know why, but the big angry looking black guy stood next to her made me feel like I should. After we paid our money to see this freak show of ideas, we started to explore.
Any of you who have been to a normal gallery will probably have taken some solace in it’s user-friendliness – without realising it you walk around the gallery in the same way as everyone else – big writing explains to you what is happening, who the artists are, and what they did, and this comforts you. You feel reassured, safe and happy. Needless to say, I was neither reassured, nor safe, nor happy. My head hated my body, my body hated my head, and all of me hated this place. We didn’t know where to go, what we were looking at or why we were even there.
We wound our way cautiously through the facility, which used to be a school, or so they told us. It reminded me more of an old hospital or prison – all brick and iron. However, it had a definite charm, and as we stumbled upon random drawings, etchings and scribbles on the walls, we asked ourselves who did them. Was it the students? Perhaps it was some visitors. It couldn’t be the teachers, could it? Were there teachers? Too many questions again, rushing around and around, spiralling away and making my head hurt. We entered an underground room with exposed piping – an old basement storage room perhaps – and began looking around to see if there was any art here, or if it actually was just a disused room. A security lady was looking round the door at us with an expression I couldn’t quite discern. She seemed a little confused, as if she had even less idea what was going on in this place than we did. All of a sudden, a blast of sound emanated from huge speakers. Others began to make noises too, and we realised there were five or six of them around the room. Vast, mechanical noises, so loud you could comprehend nothing else. Then silence. I began to understand what was going on here.
Later, we came to a room with nothing in but two ladders going up through holes in the ceiling.
‘Is this art?’ asked Fergus, obviously as confused as the rest of us.
‘I don’t think so,’ Owen replied, ‘but I can’t be sure’.
We must have done too much last night, I concluded. We didn’t even know what was art, and what was just stuff. And we were art students; we were supposed to understand this shit. Had other students from our trip come here? I bet they’d understood it, the bastards. I had to do a write up on this stuff. How could I possibly do a write up on ladders – if they even were the art? Ladders for Christ’s sake! We’d fucked up. We’d be found out, kicked out of college, and resigned to working for B&Q for the rest of our days. This was a disaster.
However, looking around, I realised no-one else knew what the hell was going on either. This made me feel better – it was simply this place that was so backwards and stupid. I noticed a sign on the wall:
CLIMB LADDERS AT YOUR OWN RISK
‘I’d better do what it says,’ I thought. ‘This isn’t the kind of place you want to upset.’ Poking my head through the holes in the ceiling, I was overcome by an intense rush of blue and white. I nearly fell off the ladder, but some part of me realised this would be a bad idea. I looked out across what can only be described as an ocean – crisp white icebergs were floating on a blue sea, and my head was emerging from the depths of this ocean. Suddenly, Owen’s blonde mane popped up opposite me – he must have been on the other ladder.
‘Fuck!’ he shouted. ‘What the tits?!’ The two of us collapsed in laughter at the insanity of what was going on, but at the same time we were both stunned by its genius.
The ‘Emergency Room’ was even stranger. Scribbled notes were pinned up everywhere, videos showing Bush and Iraq were playing with no sound, and nail bombs with name tags of the London bus bombing victims sat in the middle of the room. Next door, the delay room attempted to offer some vague explanation of the idea behind this delay room. The basic idea was one of immediacy and improvisation – nothing should be planned or contrived, and the work is changed every day, replaced with new ideas. This was the cutting edge of contemporary art, we had been told – hotter even than Matthew Barney, aka ‘The Shiz’. This was the now artscene, it was immediate, it was happening – but was it just pretentious bollocks?
It was certainly beyond my comprehension, especially considering the circumstances. Ralph was stood next to me, shaking his head in utter despair – he later explained to me that the experience had changed the whole way he saw art, and to an extent it had changed my views and understanding too. There was only one answer. More gin.