Around the art-world in fifty weeks
Harry Bensley was an English rake and adventurer who in 1908 set out to circumnavigate the world on foot pushing a pram and wearing an iron mask.
A surreal successor to Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg, it’s said that he did it because he lost his whole fortune in a card game and accepted the extravagant wager of £21,000 as a forfeit, along with fifteen bizarre conditions including having to find a wife in spite of being married already.
These indecorous but hilarious terms suggest he did it not entirely for the money: the whole venture smacks of the most gamesome English eccentricity.
Nobody goes around the world in a metal mask like Harry Bensley, or in eighty days like Phileas Fogg, for anything so un-Romantic as a wager. An adventure must have drama, ambition, grandiosity, all for their own sake. There has to be a grand challenge to stir the senses. There has to be the strong likelihood of a spectacular and embarrassing failure.
I am pleased to announce that I am on the brink of a glorious, glittering, sensational failure!
Fifty weeks ago on the 8th of January, one boring winter Thursday I messaged a friend saying I was going to swing by the ICA to check out this new project called Fig-2 that was going to put on a new art exhibition every week for fifty weeks:
“50 weeks. I’m going to *try* to go every week. I may even notate my thorts.”
The blog started off innocently, even hesitantly, with short-ish quite technical pieces in which I teased out the meanings of each week’s exhibition.
Contemporary art often presents you with a box of parts and no assembly manual. Whether you build a car or a sex sling says as much about you as it does about the work itself.
The blog rapidly got out of hand as my historical and theoretical sweep broadened, with the intellectual breadth of the exhibitions requiring hours of extra study in esoteric fields from anthropology to crypto-zoology.
It took over my life, but I fell behind writing a long short story about an infinite library, though this made later writing a 600-line modernist poem about going blind seem easy. The pieces aren’t reviews, aren’t criticism. It’s experimental writing but it’s also documentary.
I’ve covered thirty-eight weeks (three ably helmed by Alix Mortimer) and four ancillary seminars, and today it’s Tuesday in the last week of Fig-2. I have twelve write-ups to finish by Sunday. This is of course impossible. It was impossible from the start. Fig-2 is an intellectual banquet, and writing about each week takes weeks of research, thought and experiment.
I’m working on these last pieces all at the same time as if they were one monstrous dissertation, the last chapter in a terrible anti-thesis on Fig-2, the universe and everything. It’s taking up all my time, and I’m not even getting anywhere. People keep asking me if I’m going to things at the London Contemporary Music Festival but I just can’t.
I’ve got the usual chronic FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but recently this has turned into a sanity-preserving energy-retaining JOMO — Joy Of Missing Overtiredness. JOMO is gonna be the big thing of 2016.
At the end of every version of Verne’s Eighty Days there is a now ubiquitous cinematic trope. The heroes think they’ve won, everything seems brilliant, but then, no! It’s all gone wrong! There’s nothing that can be done, nothing. At least they tried. Everyone starts to disperse, but then, what’s this, wait! From the jaws of defeat is snatched the, I dunno, the salmon of victory. Joy, elation, and a happy ending for some reason.
It’s by no means certain whether this salmon will be forthcoming.
What is certain is that I have visited all fifty weeks. This blog is named after the Fig-2 loyalty card, which is a sheet of paper (pictured below) bearing the promise “Visit all 50 projects and endorse this loyalty card by each week’s unique artist’s stamp. Upon completion, you will be granted a copy of the fig-2 publication.”
There’s a small bunch of us with all fifty of these stamps, winners of the Fig-2 wager, each due one of these documentary books that will commemorate the year.
The publication is currently being crowdfunded (check it out!) with rewards including personalised postcards, posters, VIP drinks, prints, tea with Bruce McLean, and the apotheotic grand prize of a box containing all fifty of the actual loyalty card stamps (pictured). The crowdfunder is unlikely to achieve great failure. The team already pulled off the fifty weeks with only mild onset chronic alcoholism and then only toward the end, and I imagine the book will fly (if books could fly).
The £995 box of stamps is obviously beyond my means but I have never wanted it so much as now, now that I’ve found out that someone else has actually gone ahead and bought it.
Perhaps we could discuss some kind of deal, maybe some arrangement by way of a wager…
With special thanks to Fatoş Üstek, Jessica Temple, Irene Altaió, Yves Blais, Alix Mortimer, Huston Gilmore, Adam and the other loyalty card heroes.