The Open House Problem
Sun, 28 Jul 2019
I was woken early one morning by the sound of complete strangers talking outside my back door about my collection of broken flower pots.
"What a beautiful sculpture, the broken nature of the pieces reflects the harshness of the island landscape."
"A wondrous demonstration of art as an act of destruction. So refreshing."
"Er, I think they're just some broken flower pots. The exhibits are usually inside the house, and this doesn't have a catalogue number."
I should explain.
The previous day I had been woken early by a hammering on my back door. I had rushed downstairs to find Alun in an excited mood.
"We're in the OAP, Jed," he had said.
"I don't understand, which OAP?"
"The Open Archipelago Programme, Jed. Happy Island is listed for the first time as one of the islands open for the public. It means we'll get people coming here to our little island, to look at the works of art displayed in our houses."
"But we don't have any art to display," I said. "Neither of us is remotely of any artistic leaning. Why on earth did you put us in the brochure."
"Because they've never let us be in the brochure before, Jed. Every other island is in it, even Uninhabited island."
"Uninhabited Island has the old rocks, which might be ancient artworks."
"Exactly Jed, they're just a bunch of old rocks, but if the island is in the brochure everybody thinks everything is art. All we have to do is look round the island for things we can pass off as art."
"Like what, the original Mona Lisa in my toilet?"
"Probably best not to mention that Jed, the Louvre will have a tizzy fit if they find out the original is in your loo. The last thing we want is a bunch of annoyed Frenchmen haranguing us again."
"What about the spare toilet?"
"Now you're talking, Jed. If you take the toilet sign off the door and label it 'contemporary art installation - please flush after use'. That's the sort of thing they love."
"Well I can call my toilet an exhibit, but there's no other art in the house."
"What about the contents of your spoon drawer, Jed. We can place them in a glass cabinet and label it as art. We can call it 'representations of spoons'."
"But what if I want to have soup? There won't be any 'representations' left to eat it with."
"Honestly Jed, can't you do without soup for a while, for art's sake. It's only for the six months of the Open Archipelago season."
"It's still not much of an art exhibition."
"What about your ducks, Jed? You could get them to sit on display and pretend to be art, duck sculptures are really trending right now. Just get them in a row."
"Is squabbling ducks art?" I asked.
"Not that meaning of 'row' Jed, I mean sitting in a line."
"What are you going to display?"
"My inventions, Jed. I'll pass them off as sculptures."
"Just be careful to switch them off. We don't want art critics disappearing into the time vortex."
All of the above explains the appearance of three strangers on my doorstep. I quickly dressed and printed out a sign saying 'broken flowerpots' and the catalogue number 7, then changed my mind and printed out a sign which read 'broken dreams'. I then rushed downstairs and opened the door to a middle class couple and their cynical child, I could tell the latter because he was wearing a T shirt which read 'cynical child'.
"Sorry, I've forgotten to label this exhibit. Just bear with me."
"Ah, broken dreams. I knew it was art."
"The main gallery is inside the house."
"Is this an exhibit?" asked the cynical child once they were inside the main gallery kitchen.
"Yes, I said."
"Only I need to use the toilet."
"Ah, yes use that, it's a performance art installation. There's spare paper in the cupboard if you need it."
"These representations of spoons are incredibly spoon-like," said the woman.
"Yes," I agreed.
"It's almost as if you put the contents of your spoon drawer in a display case."
"That was the very feeling I was trying to get across. These could be anybody's spoons. Only they're not spoons, they're art."
"Your duck sculptures are following me around the room," said the man.
"You mean it feels like the ducks are watching you as you walk round the room, that's the sign of good art."
"No, the ducks are literally following me around the room. I think they're after my sandwiches. You said they were sculptures."
"They're living sculptures. This is a contemporary art exhibition."
Meanwhile the cynical child had completed his performance art and was exploring the backyard, or the 'rear gallery' as it had been christened.
"Look, there's a Dalek, a real life Dalek."
"The Dalek was left by a member of the TV crew from Dalek Island," I explained. "It was filmed here you see." What I didn't mention was that the particular Dalek belonged to my life's love, Jane, a Dalek actor who had been here for the whole nine month shoot. Our relationship had ended when the programme wasn't recommissioned.
The family turned out to be just the first of dozens of visitors, I spent the day dealing with their inquiries, and attempts to purchase my ducks, spoons, broken flower pots and toilet at extravagant prices.
Later that day I saw that there was someone sitting in the Dalek.
"Don't play with the controls," I said. "That's a real Dalek, you might exterminate me by mistake."
"Maybe that's my intention," said Jane, stepping out from the Dalek.
"Jane," I said.
"Hello Jed," she said, "It's been a while."