The opening night of the Alternity
show featured an exclusive live performance by Grant Morrison and Ysanne Spevack. Inspired by Steven's pictures, Grant's deep, dark,
illuminating and ironic words were intensified by Mee's pulsating, rhythmic
and phat breakbeat soundtrack... Mind blowing!!!
is fifteen minutes inside one of Steve's photographs'
Nights like these always begin with the arrival of a mysterious time-travelling stranger intent on dismantling everyone's cherished ideas about cosmos, self and identity and tonight will be no different so don't get your hopes up.
Drowned below the sour green moons of paris, these pressurised cellars of the Café Momus are kept open 24 hours a day as a gift to a poverty-smitten but culture-enriching bohemian demographic. We self-proclaimed aesthetes like to gather nightly in the navy blue shadows of places like this for peer group validation and the performance of DIY poetry. And this too is where you'll always find me and my insomniac droogies quacking back the milk and raw absinthe, osmosing creamy green booze in the style of those for whom only minutes remain before the prophesied arrival of ten thousand suicide archangels programmed by Jehovah to kickstart the apocalypse.
Baudelaire, the bad samaritan, is the first to lurch onto his heels, spilling five eighths of the drinks order in his chaotic wake. Fuming, fluorescent puddles of flaming alcohol spread across formica, turning three half-finished erotic sonnets to fag ash and gas.
Baudelaire is winking and positions himself smartly in front of our new arrival. The stranger now obsessively waxing a moustache deformed by the stresses of journeys in dimensions beyond dignity.
Only post Einsteinian maxi-mathematics or Buddhist zoology can ever hope to explain why the dazed traveller's handlebars have evolved themselves into a crude wheel which encircles his entire upper head but, framed by this alarming modernist halo, are exactly the kind of features you know you'd find if you ever got hungry enough one night to eat the apple off a René Magritte print.
'Need a hand, friend ?' barefaced Baudelaire is a stranger to shame; the comradely hand he's offering has already completed a lucrative fact-finding tour of the man's pockets.
'Mislaid your penny farthing then, brother ?' I sneer, punkish in middle age. There's no point trying to conceal my lifelong hatred of the bowler hatted british empire so I let it all hang out and hope he'll take the hint and leave without referencing the strand magazine.
The traveller's a frenzy of receding hair, hunger and adrenaline, as if determined to reinvent the ancient mariner for a low budget steampunk homage to coleridge. Brimstone and temperance, strung out on toffee apples, stormy with nervous tics and impending asperger's syndrome, he's never going to be anyone's idea of prince charming, that's for sure.
'I saw Jackie O rising from a diamond jacuzzi,' he's telling the bar staff. 'Buckled and lashed and stapled into a radioactive rubber twinset ordered for her by celibate priests who spend their lives in service, hunched over online illuminated catalogues from fetish design outlets..'
In those lonely binary eyes, as drifting and disconnected as the panicky moons of Mars, we can find no spoor of reason. This is the expression murderers compose to have their pictures taken for the tabloids. Eyes hammered in like nails, unreflective metal heads looking in not out. The kind of eyes great visionaries are jealous of, like Meister Eckhart, dusty with the golden talcums of the abyss or Bill Blake, filling the pockets of his coat with priceless white coal mined at the quarries of the new Jerusalem.
'I saw Kennedy, headless in the inferno. President of the nations of night, belching incandescent gas loops thousands of miles high, a black star, ten to the power of ten thousand times more massive than the new Renault Megan.'
'I don't believe a word of this,' says the waitress, speaking for us all.
'Two in one day! See how they always bring me the worst luck'
Shuddering, the stranger points to the window where the light grows dim and imbecilic. A pair of ghostly Air France Concordes glide across the Seine to roost ominously in the bony wreck of an oak tree. Aircraft of ill-omen.
'More vodka,' says Andy Warhol very slowly...Sniffing blood the way sharks do. Grey skin, abrasive enough to cut flesh like coral. Even ten miles downwind, andy can tell the red cells from the white.
Cursing his fingernails for failing to be gold coins, Baudelaire gets up and makes his way to the gents urinals, there to scribble another instalment of Fleurs de Mal on the back of the shithouse door next to his mum's phone number.
'I tell you I saw self-operating stairways and glass pavilions, ten thousand moving parts like the face of a crab working away at a happy meal.'
The stranger is still chewing at the limits of comprehension and I feel obliged to step in and ask him to condense these remarkable philosophies into a few simple words then leave.
'The head is severed, deleted, then refrigerated in the editing suite prior to pasting back or forward through time. They take the heads from one body and time and put them with another.'
Linking time travel to decapitation has never occurred to me before but as a potential tourist concept I imagine it might be difficult to market.
Sly Warhol slides me the traveller's prized pocketbook under the table while distracting the stranger with the old wasp in a matchbox trick. I flip the spider skin wallet open for a look, taking note of the communist party membership card and secret cyrillic decoder ring inside. And there, in biro on the back of a brown V.A.T. Envelope, is the man's name underlining the proposed title of his impending foray into paperback sci-fi.
'The Time Machines: A Scientific Romance... By L. H. Oswald,'
'And that's you, is it ?' says Warhol. 'Well Mister Oswald...Have you ever wondered what a New York city police officer would look like nude ?'
The photo on his charabanc license shows the sinister Mister Oswald quite clean shaven and non-Victorian on the happiest day of his life: smiling from low Earth orbit, he takes aim at the desert heart of America. Through troposphere, ionosphere, high altitude cloud layer and through racks of chemical smog, with Dealey Plaza anchored there, 600 cold kilometers below his feet.
It's an odd choice for a passport picture. The only sound in the frame is of blood rushing in his head, choppy breath noises and the endlessly disapproving hiss of the air tanks. Stringy finger muscles contract around the trigger then relax. Tease and release until the pregnant, lascivious gun he married moans with frustration and excitement, almost audible in the airless Van Allen belts.
Genetically-modified by ballistics experts for zen purity of purpose, the next step in bullet evolution waits patiently to be born and to slide from its steel canal, joyfully burrowing through the atmosphere at twenty five hundred feet per second in search of a human host. The infant slug knows it can only successfully impregnate its chosen president if his head is made empty of all thought; otherwise, there will be no room there for the shell to grow to maturity and riflehood. It's delicate, improbable work, impregnating a man from space with bullets.
In texas, a polished skull farts, cracks along its fissures then hatches into a full-grown 1961 Lincoln convertible. Kennedy descends from the sun to his white leather seat and awaits Jackie's freakish arrival from the rich soil of the lone star state.
'Time and space are an editing suite. The cut and paste has already begun. Look around you! We've been invaded and colonised by the future and we don't even know it.'
As if to confirm Oswald's paranoia, doctors on the ten o'clock news can now be seen injecting a World War 2 U-Boat and its crew into Elton John's bloodstream as if nothing is wrong with a world where events like this can seem perfectly normal. Beginning next week, viewers will have a chance to decide which of the courageous nano-submariners will live or die when the race to save Sir Elton from a potentially-fatal blood clot in his left aortal valve intensifies to fever heat.
They say that if you freeze the frame during this story and look closely enough into the reflection curved across the newscaster's glasses, it's possible to make out Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, the ill-fated crew of Apollo 1 strolling arm in arm with Joan the maid into a white hot cloud of rocket fuel. The kind they use for cooking witches.
'They're here!' Oswald says finally, drained of all urgency by the degenerative effects of absinthe and milk. 'They're already here moving it all around with their machines !'
Half a mouse click away in alternity, John F. Kennedy's escape capsule survives explosive re-entry to splash down in the thames on Oliver's Island near Kew. An opportunistic ten month old urban fox and seventeen early birds eat the tasty remains of the brave little landing module but the astronaut himself is found alive by six year old Larabelle Croft, the computer-generated daughter of John Hammersmith Croft, a strict methodist missionary with regular gigs on the heathen shores of the Yangtze river. Kennedy shivers as she picks him up, all damp with lunar dew in the lush jaggy nettle patches of a freshly-minted early morning universe.
Larabelle asks if she can keep the wounded spaceman as a pet and her dour dad agrees, both heart and mind softened by the culturally programmed innocence and sweetness of his tiny digital offspring.
Blowdried tranquilised and reassured by kindly Scots vets, Kennedy allows himself to be carried weightlessly to a steel table where aloof, clever scalpels edit his testicles under general anaesthetic.
Kennedy is barely aware of his journey home in a wicker basket but the comforting smell of antiseptic becomes associated in his mind with a cosy feeling that his days as a rover are over.
The Sun-King of Camelot, docile, hazy and way too tired to get into a fight with fate curls up in a drift of photographic debris and begins to snore softly, dreaming of Marilyn Monroe's shoes and birthday cake.
Baudelaire's back from the toilet, whey-faced after another devastating bowel upheaval.
'Here's the pitch,' he says through gritted enamel, 'some great, undying Miltonic figure. A Satan, a Frankenstein Monster with a rifle, sent through time to kill the president at precisely the most embarrassing moment of his life.'
There is an awkward moment of white noise as this provocative author of countless volumes of literary criticism is forced into a confrontation with his limitations as a screenwriter. In a brief sulk of gilded barathea, Baudelaire denounces us all, activates his boot jets by snapping his heels together and is gone...Puttering off into the soaking red night to polish his prefect's badge in the Cimetière de Montparnasse where his grave is already being dug, where his headstone has already crumbled into dust, where he knows he can forget and be forgotten.
Oswald the assassin knows better; Photoshop never forgets.
© Grant Morrison 2002