Monthly Archives: December 2016

Virtual events occur in spirit

“When’s Michael Caine arriving, then?” was one of the questions we hadn’t really anticipated. It’s true that my booklet – distributed on the banks of the Thames recently as part of the event A River Enquiry, for the mayor’s Thames festival – had explicitly stated that Caine would be there, “re-sinking a scale replica of Atlantis”. But most people had figured out from the tone that the events in my brochure, which I’d named “Cold Water Fun”, would not really be taking place as advertised.

There were certainly no crowds milling at the appointed hour to see Boris Johnson dropped naked into the river from a helicopter in the “SPLASH CONTEST”, and no one formed lines later that afternoon to watch “beggars from the eurozone” perform poems to the river in cockney rhyming slang.

Over the last year or so I’ve done a series of related works, creating pamphlets to announce – often in overzealous capitals and small print – the dates, times and locations for imaginary, scurrilous and often impossible events. The first booklet, produced for the Frascati Theatre in Amsterdam, promised among other unlikely things a nine-hour apology from Tony Blair concerning his conduct over Iraq. More recently, potential punters in Paris were misled to expect the appearance of “biologically female” strippers and a “reflationary discothèque”; and up in Edinburgh last year, at Forest Fringe, a few sorry souls searched in vain for a genetically enhanced arm-wrestling contest in which Bob “the octopus” Brown was slated to take on Karl “the monkey man” Malone.

Back in London, the delight people seemed to find in my Cold Water Fun booklet came from its ludicrous disruption of the proper and the everyday. Standing on the banks of the Thames in the sunshine, people could look out at the serene river and imagine it filled with a replica Spanish armada in combat with Sudanese pirates.

Mimicking the contemporary appetite for reality as cruel spectacle, parroting phrases from tabloid headlines, internet spam and talent-contest announcements, the booklets contained more than a whiff of the unsavoury. The promised mix of theatrical performance and real-life spectacle mirrored our contemporary media landscape, where footage of distant disasters appears alongside fake paparazzi shots of minor celebrities having drinks with TV-coached politicians. Reality, we can say quite surely, is not what it used to be.