Fantasists: a reminiscence

Today I got talking to someone about fantasists and I realised I’d come into contact with a few of those in my time and they all seem to revolve around art. In fact the worst fantasists I ever met suffered from curator fantasy, a peculiar tendency.

'Pictures (not) in an exhibition', video still

Let’s see, when I was starting my Film & Photography degree a woman I knew slightly from around and about told me she was organising a little show in a health centre we both used. She asked me for a piece of work and although as a first year student I didn’t think I would have anything worth showing I agreed. Then I heard nothing. Time passed. The college year was winding down. I had a few decent projects completed. Suddenly she appeared again with exciting news. It wasn’t a show in a little health centre it was to be a local art festival, taking over the whole High Street of the district, involving all kinds of venues and an important art TV channel was going to be supporting it. Not only that, but she has now an office and a business and was working full time on the project. I was impressed. But then she asked me for my work and I – mindful of what I still had left ot learn – said “Well, no. My work is far too undeveloped for me to show it in that kind of big event. Wait till I have finished my degree.” I didn’t hear from her again until much later I heard that it had all been a fantasy. Worse, she actually had rented an office and spent all her savings but had not actually organised anything still less got the TV involved. Even weirder, in my first group show after graduating she suddenly appeared again as an artist, contributing some bafflingly irrelevant drawings that the curator hid away in a corner of the show. It was all very odd. I never saw her again after that. Little did I know that Curator Fantasy is a real affliction.

The next instance of it came some years later in Berlin. A very colourful character, a sort of old-school style impresario,came to the studio where I was working and offered the studio group a big show in a venue he had acquired outside the city. A medieval building no less. We drove there and saw it, it was quite fine. He held court in his local winekeller, twirling his moustaches and talking about past glories and his new career as curator of contemporary art. We collectively shook hands on the deal. The following spring he confirmed that he had received a huge grant from the state arts fund and was ready to put the show into action. We drove there again and this time we did not visit the building as it was “under preparation” but we did visit his winekeller again where all arrangements were concluded. We then went back to the city; we sent him all the PR materials and he said he’d confirm the final dates. Time passed. I went back to London. Not long after my friends from Berlin called me. They had had no word from the impresario and so finally went down to the place to find out what was going on. They went first to the site of the show the medieval building. Still empty, but for an estate agent. Who told them that it was not rented and had never been rented. He recalled a funny old man who had come and talked to him about renting it but never got back to him. My friends made their way to the winekeller despite it being quite early and he was already there, enjoying a vintage. Confronted, he finally admitted there had never been a project, never a grant from the state art fund and never had he any authority whatsoever to offer anyone anything. He was an old retired man with a younger wife who fancied herself a bit arty so he wanted to seem a bit “with it” and have something to do. But he had no ideas and no resources to do any of it. Mystified, my friends had a glass of wine and then went back to the city.

'Pictures (not) in an exhibition', video still

The third fantasist is the weirdest. She was again nothing to do with art but was a professor of literature and she had received a grant to make a project to mark a particular occasion. Instead of doing what she knew, which was literature, she decided to curate visual art. I was invited by her assistant, to whom the whole job or organising fell. I made the work that was commissioned, based on the place and dimensions that were supplied to me, and I gave a list of materials that would be needed to install it (mainly a roll of light reflective colored gel). Ominously, soon before the show was mean to happen I learned that the venue had changed. Still I went there and tried to get to see the space. This was denied to me repeatedly. I hug around the city for several days waiting and waiting, till she deigned to see me. I had not met her by this point. When I did I found her very odd. First she invited me to dinner in a restaurant and even though I said I was not hungry and going to a party after, she ordered food and insisted I eat while she sat next to me smoking. SO not comfortable, on every level. This was made even weirder when, as we left she suddenly bent down and picked something small off the sidewalk and put it in her bag. I looked puzzled and she told me “I can’t resist anything I see lying on the sidewalk. I have to pick it up and take it. I keep the things I pick up in jars in my house.” I must have looked quite freaked out, which empowered her and so she confided further that sometimes if it was food, she was unable to stop herself picking it up and eating it. Now my gorge rose and I wanted to vom up the unwelcome dinner. Clearly she was enjoying this because she went on to on tell me that for many years she saved all her finger and toenail clippings in jars too. I was reminded of one of the worst things I read in my adolescence: Simone de Beauvoir’s account in her autobiography of discovering that her prim and proper neighbour was a coprophile. If I recall, they discovered it when the woman died. I was traumatised by this news that such people existed. Now I am not saying that my curator friend was coprophile but I had the same shuddery feeling of horror that I had had when I read De Beauvoir’s own account (which itself was still redolent with her horror).

We made it to the site of the forthcoming show. Now the worst unfolded. This so-called curator had in her unwisdom decided that an installation that was meant for a large space, two projectors and a wall of light reflective gel, was actually going to be a single screen projection onto a small window in a staircase. Worse: she planned to balance the equipment on a chair on the staircase. Asked her dumbfounded, what was expected to happen when people walked up the stairs. She pondered. I asked her if the system could be fixed to the celling. She didn’t know I went and got the site manager and he told us that no, in fact no fixings could be made anywhere. I realised that my work was not going to be shown in the way I wanted, and my best bet was to just give her the work and be done with it, which I did, the work and the invoice. I had no further dealings with her but needless to say she never showed her face as a curator again for any reason or in any capacity. One odd thing, a curious friend of mine did go to the show to see how she did end up screening the work, and found they were charging a hefty admission fee. I wonder what happened to the grant money? Fishy, fishy.

In the great scheme of things, these fantasists were pretty harmless, unlike the fantasists who think they are doctors and actually get jobs in hospitals or do dodgy plastic surgery on sad vain people (usually killing them). But it is a weird tendency.

(This is not be confused with the lesser bred, the technology fantasists. The ones who get an i-Phone and call themselves photographers, or buy a video camera and call themselves Cinematographers. I guess these are more victims of marketing.)