In the queue for the lift at Regent’s Park station I could hear a series of pops, which I now realised were tiny explosions of air extruded from chewing gum in the mouth of the head behind mine. It belonged to a student whose face was perfectly expressionless and flat apart from the rhythmic mandibular manipulation of gum, as though the bottom of her skull had different wiring. I was swept across the Marylebone Road in the wake of a vast French exchange, and into the perimeter of the park where the white-and-black hoardings of the art fair had set themselves up.
I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. It would be a lie to say that I went there naively hoping to see some art. I had a sort of idea that there might be some interesting insights into material things that, upon closer inspection, are not quite what they seem, that being the mainstay of uncanniness. I had a sort of idea that that was what most contemporary art was about, the manipulation of the appearance of things so that the reality exposed behind it had unexpected qualities.
I queued in a long corridor to ditch N’s old UN rucksack, which was so vast and obviously not handbaglike that there was no way it was coming in. An affable security man remonstrated with people holding, or claiming to hold, VIP tickets; another security woman worked the queue, sniffing out people who didn’t need to be there, terrierlike; people who had all thought a great deal about what to wear walked past in the strange stiff uniformity of movement that besets the self-conscious.
It was like a slick conception of an airport, one of those glassy, glossy airports that Tyler Brûlé would get exercised about. Through security, on the other side, artside, the gates were marked out with big-brand gallery names in which objects noisily jostled for attention alongside all the people.
Eventually I got through and could see the objects. They weren’t as interesting to look at as the man dressed in maps and a lampshade, although perhaps he had set out to be an object anyway. There were huge geometric trompe l’oeil patterns, smarter that the neon throws at a psytrance rave but essentially the same sort of idea, blurry tits and lips and cunts, possible attempts at encapsulating the cosmic and any number of inverted or perverted things – an upside-down drum, banging itself, a head-shaped vase bearing a cactus. You take a thing and put it out of context and then it becomes weird, or at least edgy.
The problem with edginess is that it operates on a basis of sense, which is the slipperiest sort of basis for anything at all: as soon as you chase it successfully and fix it, it has ceased to be edgy and is merely kitsch, which is where edgy goes to die. Perhaps what you have to do in order to avoid this paradox is avoid adopting what seems to be edgy now and, instead, speculate what might become edgy in the future, so that with a bit of semiotic investment your social capital, in reading the trend-led cues around you, sublimates into the cultural capital of canny curation, which you can then sell on. If my theory was correct, its outcome here was a vast inflatable cartoon cat juxtaposed with a photographic close-up of a man, or men, seemingly masturbating in football shorts.
I soon tired of the art and looked at the passing figures instead. The people, insofar that they were people, for some of them had a ghostly presence, moving through the space or at least appearing to do so without actually being present in it, all had strange faces. There were men with caricature eyebrows and noses, like clownish Groucho Marxes, in crazy glasses, loud glasses, dark glasses; women balancing heads on improbably pointed bodies with too-tight cheekbones and eroded facial musculature, as though they all had the same surgeon who speciality was the uncanny valley, the nearly-but-not-quite mimicry of human form and movement that forms the sweet-spot of unheimlich.
I sat by the tables outside where tree-trunks emerged from the floating floorboards and everyone spoke either earnestly in German, or ostentatiously in English, like the American man with a faketanned plasticine face who leaned into me leerily as he passed and said “Nice chapeau,” the foreignness of the noun italicised to impress. I drank sugarless green juice, which, though expensive, was remarkably effective at clearing my hangover, and watched them.
It was as though the extremes of social stratification peculiar to the concentrations of wealth in cities like London had evolved their own posthuman species. Perhaps some new Lamarckian process would see lines of straw-boatered prep school children wander the streets behind the park, gender dimorphised into overdrawn features for the boys and beatific facial paralysis for the girls, children whose newly divergent metabolisms would now run entirely on capital, liquid capital, so that the indignity of eating need not trouble them.
It was not yet clear what would happen to the restaurants in this eventuality, when the need for food abstracted from food finally reached the point of nonfruition where it ceased to be food altogether, and became instead a holographic representation of the memory of food or something like it. That would need work. Perhaps the new congregations would all take place in the consumption of art, at endless private views, where new tweaks to the Krebs cycle would see capital transformed enzymatically, deep in the mitochondria of wealth, into social and cultural analogues ready for transfer and exchange.