“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I said with conviction. Fuck it.
“Oh, that’s very cool.” He nodded in approval. “I know you must hate when people ask you what you write about, so I’ll skip it.”
“So, I hear you’re an artist – installations, right?”
“Yep, that’s what I’m working on now. In the future who knows? I’ve got a show at The Boiler next week.”
As we spoke, I couldn’t help but stare at his hair. All my life I’d wanted thick luxurious locks like his; I’ve always been stuck with a tenuous straggle, ever-threatening to abandon me at a moment’s notice.
“You’re showing at The Boiler, huh? That’s a big deal.”
“It’s been a nice recognition after all the years I’ve spent at it.”
“Years? You’re just a baby.”
“I’m going to be 27 next Friday, that’s pretty old to be getting your first exhibit.”
“Yeah, you’re ancient.”
“I’m just saying…”
“You know, I once saw a Richard Serra installation at the MoMA, I was nauseous for a few days after. It just threw my whole internal balance out of whack,” I said.
“I’m sure that was intentional. Serra’s not really an installation artist, though, he’s a sculptor.”
“Right,” I said, making a face. “So, what’s your show like?”
“Well, the idea for it started with a very early memory of mine, it might’ve been before I was even two years old, when my family was still living up in the Bronx.” He took another swig of beer. “Late one night, I was woken up by this strange light buzzing above my crib. It looked like the ‘Raisin Bran’ sun, you know, the one on the cereal box? All jagged. It talked to me, in this strident voice. I swear to God. From what I could tell, it was teaching me lessons about life, stuff I’d need to know down the line. That’s how I perceived it anyway. The encounter left me empowered, as if I was given entrée to an unconscious world where anything was possible. This work I’ve been doing is an attempt to recreate that memory in an interactive setting. In the middle of the space, I’ve hung a large glowing orb which people can lay their hands on, talk to – generally communicate with. Then, through a hidden speaker in the room, it relays a short message – a ‘life lesson.’ There are sensors inside that react to touch and sound. Through this tactile approach, each participant receives their own unique experience, hopefully something akin to what I experienced that late night in the Bronx.”
I had to admit to myself, the concept seemed kind of interesting, in a half-assed sort of a way.
“So, this Raisin Bran sun of yours doles out life lessons…what are they about, exactly?”
“Some of them are abstract, but they all essentially revolve around engagement and action, promoting the idea that anyone is capable of effecting global change; it’s about affirming the power of the average individual, returning to them their autonomy – decentralizing our current state of thinking.”
“It’s sounds intriguing. I’m not sure how much I agree, though.”
“You don’t?” he asked with interest. “Why not?”
“I suppose I just don’t have all that much faith in the average individual. The problem with the world today, is that too many muldoons have taken it upon themselves to ‘effect change’ as you put it. As a result, we’re all living in a watered-down bouillabaisse of mediocrity, and it’s only getting worse.”
“But don’t you see, the paradigm has shifted. We’re living in a more interconnected world, facilitated by social media and technology; there’s a lot more opportunity for people to make their voices heard. The floodgates have opened, the platforms are in place, it’s no longer enough to sit on the sidelines allowing others to speak on our behalf. We need to define ourselves, in our own way.”
“What good is making your voice heard if you’ve got nothing to say?” I asked, stifling a bitter chuckle. “You Millennials are a funny lot, so starved for attention, so desperate to be recognized – it’s your highest aspiration. But recognized for what? Those twinky little video clips you’re always posting on the internet? All with the fervent hope that they become viral. Is that your idea of engagement and action?”
“That’s a cynical way of looking at it, don’t you think? Do you really believe that culture is best left to a select few arbiters deemed worthy by the power elite, rather than a diverse, inclusive, egalitarian construct which affords us all the chance to fulfill our promise, and yes, effect change?”
“Jesus, you can’t even see it, can you? There is no more culture! It’s been replaced with Snapchat and Instagram. Goddamned ‘Selfie Generation,’ right? Well, it’s your world now, do what you want with it, I guess.”
“Laying it all at our feet, are you? I can’t help it, I don’t think it’s as hopeless as you make it out to be. I’ve got faith.”
I could tell that he was determined to turn the rest of the night into a pajama party, bull session. The last thing I wanted to do was encourage him further.
“Hey, what the fuck do I know?” I said, dropping my hands in my lap. “I don’t even wanna have this discussion, it bores me if you want to know the truth.”
He shot me a look like I’d finger-banged his grandmother.
“Accept my humble apologies,” he said, wounded. “I didn’t mean to bore you.”
Don’t get me wrong, the kid was nice enough but his masturbatory, academic self-indulgence gave me a true pain in the ass, and listening to all his bullshit while that glorious mop of hair swooped in his eyes was making me start to hate him. I didn’t relish coming off like an insensitive bastard, but at least I’d gotten him to shut his pie-hole for a couple of seconds.
Sometimes, it’s the small victories in life that matter most.