Saturday, September 16, 2006

An Art Story!

In 1993, on spring break from my second year of art school, I drove down to visit some of my old high school friends in Monterey, California. I thought I would impress them with tales of my exciting life in the big city, dazzle them even.
My first night back in town was celebrated with an enormous amount of pot smoking at the apartment of an old friend (this was back when I was still struggling desperately to convince myself that I enjoyed smoking pot, and didn't find it a hellish nightmare-like journey into shrieking paranoia and utter despair.)
There were about 8 people there, most of which I'd gone to school with, and a few others I'd never met before. I was amazed to find that, in the three years I'd been away, most of my little band of goofy wannabe-punk/stoner friends had become suprisingly stoic, laid back surfers. I barely recognized some of them anymore. Everyone was deeply tanned and large, or larger than I remembered them anyway, with that blissed out look over the eyes, like a scrim, that seems unique to surfers. I felt small and frail, a pale ambassador from a cold city of disembodied, hung-up intellectuals.
There were boards stacked at the entrance to the apartment; enormous, cigar shaped longboards coated with wax and patched dings, and shorter, more aggressive looking freestyle boards with triple fins on their undersides. A light film of sand seemed to cover everything in the place, like moondust in a landing module. It was a part of the clothes, the carpet, the air. Outside, seawater dripped off the cuffs of black, hooded wetsuits.
The lighting in the apartment was low, practically subterranean, and the conversation was slow and relaxed, cryptic; a language of insiders. Tides, sets, points, lefts, rights, overheads, wash cycles, glass rooms. Framed above the mantle, candlelight flickering across it's surface, was an enormous colour photograph of a white shark, smiling through a haze of murky water. The Man, The Boss, The Landlord, Whitey, White Pointer, White Death, the Man in the Grey Suit.
"The Shrine" somebody said, smiling at my slack jawed appraisal of the photo.
Joints were passed. Pipes, bongs. Somebody put on a record that sounded like Bob Marley in a wind tunnel. I began to feel extremely out of place. Like a man without a body, without the slightest connection to a natural world my friends seemed to be card carrying members of. I began to bug out. What was I doing with my life? Was I any happier than these guys? No, I was miserable. Art seemed suddenly pointless, and these guys, they seemed...connected somehow. To something I feared and admired and yearned for. The elements. I began to think about the elements.
My friends, sensing something amiss, tried to lure me back into conversation.
"So, whats it like up there?"
"Yeah, is the Art School in a big igloo or what?"

"What's "Art School" like anyway?"
Wracking my brain for something in my art school experience that seemed physical and immediate enough to gain the respect of the room, I made, in retrospect, a very cynical decision. I chose to try and awe my friends with the "weirdness" of art, rather than tell them what I really thought of it.
I began talking about Chris Burden.
How he'd crawled naked through glass, how he'd had his body stuck full of pins, how he'd crucified himself on a volkswagon. I went for shock value, using that same pseudo-awed voice, full of dramatic gravitis, that all stoners use when they are telling you something heavy man. The room tittered and snorted, grins all around. Not the reaction I was going for. I went for maximum effect.
"He even had himself shot in the arm with a rifle." I said.
Peals of laughter from the whole room. I'd missed something. Had I shit my pants and not realized it? ( this was a common pot induced paranoia of mine.) Everyone began pointing at a tall, tanned guy with long hair sitting to my right, who was shaking his head. Something was going on that I didn't understand. When the laughter finally died down he leaned over, grinning like a maniac.
"That is so funny that you brought that up, man." he said. "Because my dad was the one who shot Chris Burden."