Bored, I smoked a vial of 20X salvia and made my way across town to the 'Sk-Interface' exhibition I'd seen advertised at Fact. I tried to picture the person who'd come up with the name 'Sk-Interface,' but my imagination failed me after 'dropped out of college in second year to explore east Asia.'
What first struck me wasn't the darkness, or the fear of the unknown. It was the feeling I'd arrived somewhere.
I walked past two students crouched together on the floor. They were laughing about something.
Sometimes it's difficult to imagine I'm a student too. They all fit so many stereotypes in that they're trying to escape stereotypes. Autumn-coloured scarves, long or spiked hair, satchels, Converses. Proud avatars being washed unwittingly away in a sea of conformity. They might as well be wearing uniforms. Maybe the next dictator will let people choose what they conform into forever.
I approached the first exhibit. To say it was repulsive would be akin to calling the Eiffel Tower tall: in the right area but nowhere near the right word. They were what appeared to be threads of skin hanging in round glass jars. My guidebook informed me they were 'semi-living' sculptures in the form of miniature jackets. 'Victimless leather.' I knew somewhere someone was celebrating, but just for the moment I couldn't imagine why.
Supposedly, due to the value of the incubators, they were still growing, and would continue to throughout the exhibition. Maybe if I came back in a week they would fit a mouse.
My way only sparsely lit, I made it over to the far wall, where a projection showed an operation taking place. Despite an eerie David Lynch-esque soundtrack and the mechanical whirring of a nearby 3D clinostat providing the only narration, I quickly got the picture: a man was having an artificial ear inserted into the inside of his forearm. This, I later discovered, was an ear with Internet and Bluetooth capability. Again, I'm quite sure I missed the point.
It reminded me of an Australian I'd once met who'd had rare earth magnets installed under his fingertips. When asked what was the point, he told a long-winded story about being able to distinguish between different types of catfood tins. He claimed he was able to amuse himself for hours on end simply going through his girlfriend's cupboards and handling her cat's meals for the week. I had to ask whether there was any practical benefit (besides becoming a serial molester and connoisseur of tin cans) before he told me it had saved his life. Once, whilst working on a construction site, he had very nearly laid his hand on an unlabelled electric cable before a sensory phenomenon in his fingertips warned him not to. He learned not soon after that the cable contained a voltage charge of around 1,000. Consider, he told me, that it would only take about 60-100 volts to kill a man of his size through atrial fibrillation. When I asked him why he hadn't been wearing gloves the conversation quickly dissipated.
Other exhibitions were equally 'alternative.' A magnetic resonance scan of an artist's brain filled out with luminescent moss. A patchwork quilt of animal cells, both human and non-human. A collection of vaginal cells with a shape cut into them, designed to symbolically 're-virginize' continually.
After that I needed a bit of a breather, so I knelt in a corner before the surgical video. Hopefully, this made me look mysterious. By the minimal light I read through what exhibits I had not yet visited. They were located in Gallery 2, which I knew was upstairs by the bar. Simply thinking of going back out into the light, away from the vacant faces of artsy students and the comforting sound of the Random Positioning Machine, felt akin to having to get out of bed too early in the morning. My sense of 'arriving' had been replaced by one of belonging. As little as I liked it, this gallery of grotesqueries had briefly become my world.
A girl stood by me staring in my direction. She was dressed like an art chick; boots, tied back hair, glasses, scarf, overcoat, fingerless gloves. I'm sure I'd never seen someone stand so still before. I thought she was looking at me, but as I came to my senses somewhat, I realised she was looking above me, reading the description of the ear man's surgical procedure. From her face beneath her bifocals, I imagined she got the point far better than I did. But it was only imagining.
She left me crouching beneath a 50 x 50 photo of white-gloved hands scissoring through someone's skin. Soon after, I too stepped out into the light.
The light, and two other exhibits. One, above me, was a series of national flags made out of leathered skin. They repulsed me until it dawned on me that that was the desired effect. Beside me was a corridor of coloured fabrics, painted with 'thermochronic inks.' A troupe of teenage girls were having fun pushing their hands and faces into the fabric, then recoiling to see the perfect white imprints they had left behind. Aware that people were watching me deface this work of art, my slightly-trembling hand likewise pushed hard against a strip of bright purple, and made a similar impression in the ink. I put it back on again slightly skewed, so it looked like I had ten fingers.
Upstairs held perhaps the most unnerving exhibit. A small, out-of-the-way area was bathed apathetically in a white light that, while pale, was enough of a contrast to the rest of the gallery to make it seem like a twisted, metallic version of the corridor promised us when we near death. I had to squint.
Slightly thrown by a feeling of uncertainty (perhaps mirroring the comfort this white semi-corridor seemed to have with itself), all I could register was writing on the far wall, and a woman sitting perfectly still to my right. I wondered if she was part of the effect, or even whether I should be there. I didn't look at her but I could feel her stare in my temples.
I began to read. The piece read like a confession, or a manifesto. It told me things about Randy, things I wish I could remember. All I know is that Randy is not like you or me. He's a concept, a clown, something to be feared and pitied, a dark spokesman. I don't know why I remember this but I do. The light was too bright.
You can go through there if you like, the woman said to me.
There's a door. There.
She pointed to the end of the corridor. Stepping forward, I saw a white outline of a doorway. I thanked her and, after a brief hesitation, gingerly pushed my way through.
I immediately wished I hadn't. The tiny, badly-lit room I found myself in struck my brain hard through the salvia. I thought of war bunkers and clanking steel and the Ministry of Love. Worse, there was a noise I found infuriating. Supposedly, it was the same wavelength interrogators use in sensory deprivation torture.
There was furniture in the room. A desk, a cabinet, and a television table. On the television was something's face: a round mass of curly black hair with a foam ball for a nose, wearing dark sunglasses. This, I fancied, was Randy. The film treated me to his face and body from a series of angles. The psychological effect was undeniable. I wanted out but I couldn't help stay. My feeling of curiosity was undulled by drug-and-audio-assisted fear.
In a drawer of the cabinet I found a portable television showing the same film of Randy. I left, only catching the other exhibits briefly on the way out.
Techo-advanced gimp suits. The effect of napalm on human cells. Through door, sunlight. Streets and streets of vacant faces all branches in the hive. If you're looking for a good time. Vomit on Seel Street and a drone becomes a queen briefly before losing itself in the crowd once more. Honey for the children.