Luxury Complex: Remembering Satan
By Simon Crump.
On Friday night I found myself in a windowless room in East London with a complete stranger. We were wallpapering the room using a paper that only Peter Stringfellow could love.
It had already been a very strange day. There was an underwhelming solar eclipse in the morning and then an overwhelming example of antisocial behaviour on the train down from Sheffield by a group of off duty WPCs on a hens’ jolly to the West End.
By teatime, I was halfway through hanging five rolls of dire damask black and silver wallpaper in the name of art.
I was a fine artist myself in a previous life, before I got disenchanted and became a writer. My practice as an artist had become unfulfilling, and frankly, ludicrous. The works had vitality in progress, but on completion, felt too heavily veiled in aesthetic formality. Each time I embarked upon a new project I felt as if I was trying to organise a loveless wedding. I eventually reached the stage where after attempting (unsuccessfully) to photograph a local Elvis impersonator in the deep end of a swimming pool, very nearly drowning us both, I decided to go for ‘the big one’. The greatest picture I was ever going to make. The one I’d been talking about making for years. I bought a dead horse from a firm called Casualty Cattle in Derbyshire and arranged for it to be delivered to my studio by trailer. From that point on, things began to go wrong for me. Horses are actually quite a lot bigger than you think. The ‘great work’ never got made, I finally realised how bloated my practice as an artist had become, and looking back upon the whole grisly business, I am still amazed that nobody tried to stop me.
Luxury Complex: Remembering Satan is a uniquely collaborative project. Artists Lisa Cradduck, Marc Hulson, Dean Kenning and Andy Sharp take the title and plot from E.L. Palmer’s book (Impress, 1972), as inspiration. Palmer’s book depicts a 21st Century upmarket housing development, built on the grounds of a derelict children’s hospital, as part of a secret programme to convert public health facilities into secure residencies for the wealthy. When the new owners move in, sentient spores of black mould begin to seep through the walls of their luxury apartments and into their dreams. Contagion becomes parasitic control and gentrified apocalypse ensues. Whether the book exists or not is a matter of conjecture.
Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely business. It does eventually become a collaborative process of sorts, but only at the bitter end, working through final drafts with editors and quibbling over fonts with cover designers.
Last Friday was a very different experience for me. It was fun even. For a short while I became involved with a gang of artists. I was only the wallpaper guy for a day and hardly a key player in their collective action, but it was the closest I have ever come to being involved in any kind of collaborative art project and I now wonder if a similar mob-handed approach might have saved the day for me and my lovely horse.
Over the course of the day it was fascinating to see the variety of creative decisions that were required and the speed and confidence with which they were executed.
I cringe at the idea of collaborative fiction, any loss of creative control of my stories would negate the reason I became a writer in the first place. Even though Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman collaborated successfully with Good Omens they wrote their plotlines separately and only collaborated intensively when preparing and revising the final manuscript. I however, am not a team player.
Luxury Complex: Remembering Satan steals a literary approach to visual art. Billed as ‘an exhibition as serialised novella’ it makes use of the author’s toolkit staple of an ‘overall controlling idea’, in this case an idea which is passed from artist to artist, who each shift the focus of the narrative thread, adding subplot, dream sequences, plot twists and red herrings as they go. The lasting effect of this project is greater however than the sum of its parts. Over the past three weeks the space has evolved mutated and degenerated to represent the redevelopment of an East End Children’s hospital into a luxury compound. The show represents the dissent of the artists as a fantasy supernatural resistance in a science-fiction-tinted horror show.
It’s been an unsettling weekend for me. The show includes probing investigative phone calls to developers, recordings of actual past life regressions, and artworks being eaten alive by black mould. And then of course there is the wallpaper. Just when I thought I was done with art, I’d quite like to be the wallpaper guy again, to be part of a gang rather than just a loner swearing at his computer in a freezing shed.
For me the most engaging art, whether visual or written is about powerful ideas, and how you communicate those ideas is the killer. Luxury Complex is as much an artistic response to the escalating gentrification of London as the current student occupation of Central St. Martins, and both actions share many sensibilities in their collaborative structures.
Luxury Complex: Remembering Satan ran until March 29th at Five Years Gallery, Unit 66, Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Rd. London E8 4QN. The closing event was on Saturday March 28th and included a set by English Heretic and segments of previous performances.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Crump is a novelist and short story writer. He is the author of My Elvis Blackout, Monkey’s Birthday, Twilight Time and Neverland. His books have been published by Bloomsbury, Old Street and Galley Beggar. He is currently working on a new novel and a collection of essays about Emile Zola.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 30th, 2015.