There comes a point in your life when you can’t go on being scared. For me that point comes most often after my third glass of free wine. I say ‘free’ because I do most of my drinking at posh gallery openings. I stand in the middle of the space, look around at all the glamorous individuals muttering appreciatively and I make believe I’m in my natural environment. I pretend I’m an art collector and select pieces for my many rooms in my many mansions, and then I get the bus home.
If Londoners complain that booze is too expensive, it’s because they’re not making the effort to track down the free stuff. There must be a show opening every evening of the week in this city and as long as you can stomach a bit of pretentious chatter then you can succeed in having an entertaining and cheap night out.
My partner in crime tonight is my best friend Farrell. He works in a bookshop and is as broke as I am. Pretending to appreciate a bit of random art is a small sacrifice to pay for a few complementary beverages. We’d volunteer our comments if it meant getting free nibbles, but unfortunately the art industry runs on a liquid diet only, and no one particularly wants our comments.
A lot of strange things make it into art galleries. Personally I don’t know what went wrong with creating something you might actually want to put in your living room. I like landscapes but a landscape in the world of conceptual art could be anything from a peanut on a stick to a video of a talking meringue.
The show is called Life & Death of a Ghost and is made up of five paintings and a stuffed chicken. The artist, who goes by the name of ‘Ghost’, has only used two colours: grey and green. According to the explanation displayed at the entrance, the greener the subject the 'deader' it is. The chicken is a grey lump. This means the chicken is alive. Yet it is stuffed.
I stand in front of the artist’s self-portrait and try to summon some emotion. I know it's a self-portrait because I’ve seen a picture of the artist and can identify the bald head and thick handlebar moustache. Although I suppose the giveaway is the little label beneath it that says, ‘self-portrait’.
'I expect you'd like to share your thoughts,' a voice whispers at my neck.
I turn to find the artist himself, leaning forwards, his hands clasped behind his back.
'Everyone else does,' he adds.
There’s nothing worse than being put on the spot in an art gallery. People expect so much more than ‘I like the pretty colours’. Not that I do like the colours, which remind me of the sludgy vegetable remains at the bottom of my fridge.
'Actually I was just wondering whether that chicken is organic,' Farrell says in his cheerful Irish lilt.
The laughter in his green eyes makes me want to giggle into my glass.
Ghost looks suspicious. 'Let me guess... RSPCA?'
'Oh, no! Just a curious fan.'
'To die for art, what greater aspiration can poultry have? I've set it free, haven't I?' He turns to me. 'And you, Madam, what are your thoughts?'
I blink away an image of a squawking, sacrificial chicken running for its life.
‘I’m still trying to get my head around the concept...’
‘It's going to blow you away,’ Farrell says, and takes a quick gulp of wine to hide the fact that he can’t keep a straight face.
Ghost just stands there smiling strangely, one hand propped up under his chin.
‘Of course there is the possibility that you lack a certain artistic sensibility,’ he says. ‘You know our first five years of life can determine so much about how we perceive art...How we perceive life...I’ll try to help you if I can,’ he continues, with an affected sigh. ‘But either you have it or you don't, and my feeling is that you're more than a little disconnected.’
I swallow the urge to defend myself and point at a picture in the corner labelled 'Old Man'.
‘That man...' I say, trying to keep calm. 'He’s turning grey, but grey means life. Shouldn’t he be turning green because he’s dying?’
‘And then there's your self-portrait... why is it green? That would suggest you’re dead.’
He opens up his arms and nods, as if I’ve answered my own question.
‘But I don’t get it. You’re not dead.’
‘Technically I am,’ he says, with a wink.
To argue pointlessly or to nod and get back to enjoying this free wine?