Review by Andrew Pembleton-Fotherington-Wright
On Thursday afternoon I went to The Squiggle to hear Jean-Philippe Drécourt’s One Second Sound Art. I wandered through Kensington Gardens on a perfect sunny afternoon, sipping a peripatetic coffee. I was feeling complacent and satisfied, as though the whole universe had been rolled out especially for me. Which, when you think about it, is more or less true. God and the Tories created this England and its pleasures with someone almost exactly like me in mind. Perhaps if I were two inches shorter, things would be even better — but then again, maybe it’s best to remain only practically perfect in every way. I wouldn’t want to get big-headed.
I milled about in the gallery with the other culture vultures, sipping my second coffee. It was an invigorating experience, as usual, seeing as I am barely on speaking terms with any of them. I have taken great pleasure in debunking all their cherished little theories, and, to be frank, insulting them for the fun of it. A good feud, preferably played out in my favourite medium, the written word, is marvellously energising, and a wonderful way to sharpen one’s prose. I recommend it to all young writers. Tragically my enemies are all very earnest and insipid. It’s a pity. I long for the days when I had nemeses worthy of the name.
As the minutes stretched out I felt increasingly resentful about being kept here by some upstart nobody’s ever heard of, so we can listen to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one second of sound. What could there possibly be to say? How presumptuous, to think that one second of anything could be a profound experience. I suppose it’s like a haiku, this minimalism, this idea that small is beautiful, that bigger is not always better. Thinking of Haiku, these words, supposedly penned by Basho, came to mind:
Ah, ah, Matushima, ah!
He wrote that being so lost for words at the beauty of Matsushima mountain. Or somebody did. But that’s not relevant. I got so bored I digressed, which is unlike me.
I considered popping out for a nice G&T, but I worried I would miss the great event. Of course, I could always enquire about it later and make something up, but on these occasions all eyes are on me. Somebody would be sure to rat me out. And it’s the principle of the thing, isn’t it? I can hardly claim to be above being influenced by the crowd, and then just say what everyone else has said. Then I thought about openly admitting that I’d left, and reviewing my G&T instead, like those Will Self restaurant reviews where he resolutely refused to mention the food. Quite witty. But possibly passé? And what if this actually was a truly remarkable noise, a profound artistic experience, something would change my life? And I was the one twat who missed it?
The others, clearly waiting for my cue, waited. The chattering stuttered a halt and became a tense silence. Even art critics run out of things to talk about eventually. Everyone was waiting to see who would crack first and leave. The silence was full of abrupt, darting eyeball movements, like the opening scene of a Sergio Leone movie. Nobody wanted to be the first to break. The longer it went on, the worse it became. Every eyeball in the place was dancing like mad.
Was this, I wondered, a comment on our ever-increasing reluctance to wait, our need for instant gratification, our urban obsession with speed? Surely that’s a bit facile and derivative? After 4.33 do we really need any more enforced periods of boredom to remind us of how much we all hate them?
Well, all that coffee started to catch up with me eventually, and I felt an urgent need to move my bowels. If I miss it, I miss it, I thought. Much as I hate defecating anywhere except my own lavatory, needs must. I want you know at this juncture that I have excellent sphincter control. It was one of the only useful things I learnt at Eton. Latin rarely comes in handy these days, not even for an art critic. Just look at the Prime Minster. On second thoughts, better not.
Anyway, I decided to chance it and nipped into the lav. The stall was clean and there was plenty of toilet paper. I sank down gratefully onto the seat and relaxed. Then I heard the door open and someone else come in and walk to the urinals. Still, it was too late now. A great tsunami had started. I let rip with a massive, stinky spurt of windy shit. It shot straight out of my bum, noisily. In fact, it was the loudest shit I’ve ever done. I was horrified. The chap at the urinals gasped in shock. I hadn’t felt so humiliated since I made that embarrassing spelling mistake in 1996. I hoped to god that whoever it was wasn’t the new chap from The Times. I waited until he left — without washing his hands — to extricate myself from the sticky situation.
When I stepped out of the lavs the whole atmosphere had changed. Everybody was cackling with laughter. To my horror, I realised that they were all talking about the shit. That bastard, I thought, he told everyone. Then I realised that nobody was looking at me.
I overheard Art World Quarterly saying, “It’s all very 1993, isn’t it? Abject art is making a comeback. God, that miserable bodily function stuff was bad enough the first time around.”
Ah! I realised they were talking about the one-second sound art! Mr Drécourt’s truly remarkable noise, was the sound of his own shit! Sighing in relief, I stepped out into the forecourt for a breath of fresh air. Waves of art chatter surged around me.
Listening to them all blathering on, I thought, what a chore all this psycho-analytical, critical theory nonsense is. All that Freudian obsession with inner and outer, with the liminal in-between spaces, the anal fixation. It’s all been done before. Is poo even transgressive anymore? What comment does it make upon the postmodern condition, on identity politics, on the socio-cultural moment we are living through? More to the point, what sort of weirdo takes a microphone into the lav with them? It takes self-obsessedly going up your own fundament to a whole new level. How very French. But on the other hand, I must say I’ve always wondered whether my poop sounds exactly like everyone else’s. I still don’t know, because the sound of my poop drowned out the artist’s. I suppose I could come back tomorrow, to find out. But honestly, I’m not that interested. Thank god it wasn’t one second of smell, that’s all I can say.
Access a digital version of One Second Sound Art here .