George Polke (or, what, exactly, is in a name?)
James Ford is sitting outside the warehouse that is the venue for George Polke Invites, the second of three Polke happenings over this month. No one seems to know who George is or if he even exists. He's like a mysterious Svengali figure. I say hi to James. He says he's already seen my piece inside and that it looks like all that crap behind it is my work too. I have no idea what he means. I got someone else to bring my work down and said it could be put anywhere, hung in any way, whatever, I wasn't bothered.
So I go in. The place is enormous. It's some old factory. Most of the delapidated contents, old machinery, broken down bits of gears and metal sheets and rods, have been moved down to this end and marked off with hazard tape to clear an area for the show. And propped up at the front of all this junk is a large white board with my name on in black letters.
That'll be my work, then. Or maybe James is right. Maybe all that huge amount of stuff is my work too. I don't know. Could be. It's difficult to know where any of my works start or end.
Anyway, I'm here for the view so better get a beer and get looking around. There's already quite a few people here and - hang on, there's a queue for the drinks. And I mean, like a really long queue. I join it. It takes me 12 minutes to get to the front and to the poor guy who is handing the stuff out. Seriously, 12 minutes. That has to be some kind of record for a private view, I'm sure. It's like the worst bar service at a private view this year. (It may even get a special category in my end of year round up...)
'Hi,' I say, 'three beers, please,' thinking, I'm not going to be queueing here again.
I take my bottles and look about. There's some really nice works here. I'm pleasantly surprised. I get particularly taken with a grey ball, about the size of a football, that has a small castor attached to it and sits both dumbly and smartly on a white plinth. I also see a piece of fabric hanging up on a wall that has a castor at each corner. I figure they must be by the same person, surely, and I really like them. I pick up a map of the show but don't check it for names of who's done what. I figure I just want to see what grabs me.
Holly Pester is there. I went to the launch of her strange little magazine, Bats. I tell her that I've just sent a copy of it to the Sunday Times who rang me asking for information on the current zine scene. I sent them a whole bunch of stuff, so it's up in the air what they'll use. They're probably looking for fashion and lifestyle and I've sent them a quirky little thing about foxes, spiders and bats...hmmm. Anyway, turns out that Holly is a good friend of Louise O'Hare who organised this show tonight. I ask her for information about George. Who is he? What does he look like? What colour is his hair? How does he smell? Does he wear cravats? etc etc. She's vague, but she says she'll try and find out...
John Summers is there with two works, not quite happy about where they are placed and desperately wanting to get some lights shining on them to pick them out. John Tiney's also not too happy about where his work is, worrying about it getting covered with pigeon droppings. 'Look, that's where they all hang out.' He points way down the factory and there, up in the rafters, is a pigeon blustering about. Apparently he had to do a lot of cleaning up of pigeon droppings when he got here. He was here installing his piece last night I think.
Someone comes up to me and says hello. I recognise him, but am struggling with a name. 'It's Tom,' he says, 'Tom Dale. I used to be at the ICA.' Ah, that's right. I remember. 'And you're...er...Sam?' he says, guessing a bit. I give him one of my cards with my name on. 'Russell, right.' We have a chat. Turns out he has some work in the show (but then again, who here doesn't?). 'What stuff is yours?' I ask. He mentions a ball with a castor fixed to it and a piece of fabric hanging up. I'm thrilled. I quickly flick back through the photos I've taken tonight (and it's been a nightmare trying to get photos tonight - the place is too underlit to go without flash and too large for a flash to do much at all) and show him my two favourite works. I think he's impressed. Or maybe surprised. We talk about how rare it is to get feedback on your work. This is true. When you start putting stuff in shows you always think people are going to talk to you about your work, or the ideas behind it, all that stuff. Actually, for most of your life as an artist, no one will say anything to you at all. It's like there's a hole in everyone's conversation where a discussion about your work should be. You put stuff out there thinking people will be really interested in what you are trying to do. And even the people who are actually, genuinely, interested in what you do don't say much. Your life is a monologue, chuntering away, waiting for a dialogue that rarely comes along. The most feedback you'll ever get is after you're dead.
And thinking these happy thoughts I decide to head off. I walk past the white board with my name on it. There can be little doubt who has done this work (and I do find it quite pleasingly ironic, given that my contribution to this show is simply my name, that in all the accompanying literature for the show my name has been misspelt), but I still wonder how much of all that junk over there tonight is actually my work. Maybe some. Maybe none of it.
Maybe that's not even my name.
Maybe my name is George Polke.
Names, I think, can be tricky.