October 29, 2010
Due to a shortage of gallery space brought on by the city’s ever mounting over-population crisis, and a state government cut to arts-funding so severe that the support-budget had technically become a levy, Pascal Kitts found himself having to subdivide and let out more and more of his floor space.
First he had had to get a fold-out bed from a Salvation Army store so that he could sleep in the gallery after his small but persistent number of guests had been shooed out. The attic he had til then been using as a studio-apartment he let out to an expanding brothel owner, who had had posters put up around town, advertising good money for discreet rooms. For a while Pascal had managed to make the most of the affair by selling the constant comings and goings of Asian women with questionable work visas and white men with questionable marriage certificates as a post-modern performance-art piece exploring the nature of human sexuality in a context of post-industrial social-entropy, but an officially unrelated libel suit from the State Treasurer’s office had regulated that particular sideline to death. The out-of-court settlement had required him to install a ladder and a backdoor to the second-floor.
Under the weight of the lawyer’s fees Pascal eventually had to make the difficult decision to sell one of the rooms of his gallery. Deeply attached as he was to the gallery itself- he had long since passed by any hope of developing a useful skill-set and an actual career, leaving him, at this point, three weirdly decorated rooms beneath an outsourcing whorehouse to show for his whole life- he was reluctant to part with a square-inch of actual display-room. After a couple of hours carefully spent with a tape-measure and a by now uncharacteristically dour air, he figured out that the back-left room was by two-and-a-half square metres the smallest one he had, and, with the aid of an irony-drenched bottle of champagne, he sent an ad for it in to the local paper. The next week, a Wendy’s franchise moved in.
As he lay awake at night, Pascal put a lot of thought into how he was going to run a post-modern, urban art gallery that had a Wendy’s in the back. One option was naturally to stop running a post-modern, urban art gallery, turn his exhibits into displays, and start stocking product-lines aimed at a disposable-income saturated tween market. ‘Option’ was perhaps not the right word for that though. It was more a series of demands, of angry demands and wrathful ultimatums delivered by the Wendy’s franchisee, usually in some form along the lines of “stop chasing away my customers and get a real job, you fag-mo-hipster!”
Another option, the first which he actually tried, he got out of a self-help book that the owner of the Wendy’s franchise accidentally left on the floor of one of his rooms after he’d closed up and gone home for the night. “Accidentally” was actually a pretty generous word, since a lot of the chapter headings, like “Stop Being a Human Being and Start Being a Human Winning!” and “Overeducation Doesn’t Have to Be the End,” were phrases that the guy running the Wendy’s had repeatedly and insistently used on Pascal when trying to convince him to convert his art gallery into a retail-space.
The idea was that you could maximise the “impact” of your floor-space by exploiting “fourth-dimensional space-factors” to “intensify” the “retail-experience.” (This book had a very specific idea of how you were going to help yourself). Among its suggestions were the use of “music and other auditory cues” to “stimulate a buying mood” in the customer.
So for about a week Pascal would record the sound of the upstairs brothel’s after-hours clients filtering into his gallery at night, and play that back during the day in reverse. He upheld his right to do this on the grounds that if he could record the brothel’s customers with an MP3-player on the floor next to his bed, then he wasn’t invading their privacy, they were invading his, and that since he was playing the sound backwards what he was producing was not porn, but art, and therefore not in violation of his original lease-agreement with the council. Needless to say, he stopped doing this at the exact same time as the Attorney-General dropped some further unrelated libel charges against him.
After his new concept had run its course, Pascal started staying up at night, sitting on the floor against his bed, staring off into the fire-exit, which he couldn’t remember if it still opened correctly or not. After two or three days without sleep he called up the guy who owned the brothel and asked him if he needed another room.
“What part of discreet rooms, don’t you get?” answered the dulcet tones of getting woken up at three twenty-three a.m.
“I don’t know man,” responded the entrepreneurial genius of not having slept in three days. “Don’t you have some kind of sideline in catering to perverts who need voyeurs around to get it up?”
“No one has such a sideline,” added his tenant. He waited for a moment, gauging Pascal’s desperation, before continuing, “I do have a sideline I could use one of your rooms for, but I’m not sure you’d like it.”
“I just offered you a room in my public art-gallery where you can sell illegal immigrants to unattractive middle-aged men.”
“Still,” insisted the brothel-owner, “I don’t think it would fit with the image of the kind of thing you’re trying to run.”
From upstairs: a moan so loud it dislodged half a rotting milk-shake from the end of the Wendy’s counter, destroying five-hundred dollars of unwanted art as it fell.
“The thing is,” he continued to explain to Pascal, “I run student-accommodation for Chinese accounting majors.”
“What?” blurted Pascal, surprise and confusion momentarily cutting through his weariness and poverty. “How is that even remotely comparable to the crap I just tried to sell you?”
“Well,” explained the brothel-manager cum slum-lord. “These aren’t exactly the children of Politburo members. They can’t pay very much on rent in absolute terms, so I have to pack them in pretty hard.”
“How hard are we talking?”
“I told you you wouldn’t like it,” sighed the entrepreneur.
“Wait,” Pascal exclaimed, “are you that guy who was renting out a two-bedroom cottage in Torrensville to twenty-seven people?”
“It was forty-seven,” that guy corrected, “and that was years ago. Markets’ve changed. Competition, supply-and-demand… I think I could get forty between the fire-exit and the Wendy’s now.”
“I live between the fire-exit and the Wendy’s!” cried Pascal.
“Not anymore you don’t,” the slum-lord cut in. “I need the room to have access to the fire-exit so I can get the kids in and out without them being visible from the main-street. I can sell being next to the Wendy’s as a catering facility, which is basically the only way I see your space turning a profit.”
“Wait- I just-”
“I’m going to sleep now Mr.Kitts,” he concluded, “my people will be around to see you with the papers in the morning. Good night.”
After he hung up the phone, Pascal could vaguely remember falling asleep. The next thing he could clearly remember was that he had his head pressed between two pillows so he could hear his phone over the noise of the localised, Chinese squalor, and the unrelenting barrage of complaints from the Wendy’s franchisee.
“I need to talk to Tim,” he shouted into the receiver.
“I don’t know any Tim’s,” the voice on the other end shouted back, competing with an overwhelming presence of Danish techno.
“The Tim behind the women’s toilets,” Pascal specified, “out the fire-exit and to the left a bit.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” the other voice maintained obstinately.
“You’re drug-dealer, man,” yelled Pascal, “I want to talk to the goddamn drug-dealer of your night-club.”
“Are you with the police?”
The question took Pascal aback for a moment. He thought for a bit, before responding drily, “yes. I am with the police. The mother-fucking police who call up to check that you’re dealer is around before picking him up, instead of just doing a walk-through before you have the chance to tip him off.”
The other end was quiet for a minute. Eventually the answer came over the other end, “I’ll put him through.”
A little while later Pascal heard a heavy, breathy voice. “Tim. Who’s speaking?”
Pascal explained that to the drug-dealer that his used-to-be art-gallery had been overrun with financial problems, the excesses of consumer-capitalism, and a Cantonese slum, and that the only way he could keep running his establishment was if he went over into micro-psychedelics.
Developed by a Swiss military-laboratory in cooperation with the psychological-warfare branch of the Pentagon, micro-psychedelics were a family of hallucinogenic drugs that could be manipulated on the molecular level. As a result, they could be used to create extremely vivid, and at the same time very predictable and detailed hallucinations in subjects. Though they had originally been intended to provide a non-physical and thus humane alternative to torture for use by the CIA, like LSD, extensive field-testing on the French population proved micro-psychedelics to be impractical and expensive compared to conventional methods of covert warfare, and the project was ultimately abandoned.
Like LSD, however, the drugs were later discovered by a counter-culture carrying out its own experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. Artists’ established studios in squats and disused industrial installations all over the Western World. Everything from 4D re-imaginings of Avatar, to perfect, subjectively endless recreations of Dante’s hell, to the life-story of an octogenarian Bengali peasant, the experimental hippy-pharmacists produced practically everything in their ever more and more sophisticated pseudo-realities. Their exhibits defied the limits of space and time themselves, and, as a result, had become substantially the only way that Pascal could continue claiming to be running an art-gallery from what very little was left of his floor-space.
“I’ll talk to some people,” is all Tim said before hanging up.
About a week later a man in an unnaturally thin, black suit and a pair of dark-glasses he never removed turned up at the front of Pascal’s building. He introduced himself only as “Volant,” and remained silent in the face of any further questions.
After he had barely managed to set up his equipment in the cloistered corner that Pascal was still managing to cling on to, Volant asked, “Would you care to test the system?”
Pascal hemmed uncertainly for a moment. “How so?”
“Name the kind of experience you would like me to produce,” explained Volant, “provided your hallucination is largely atmospheric- that is, it doesn’t contain any cued-events that need to occur in any particular series- I should be able to make up a solution in a little over half an hour.”
Pascal examined the complex nest of computers and chemistry equipment that Volant had brought as he thought the proposal over. He was snapped out of his reverie when a passing student brushed over a stack of glass-pippettes, which Volant caught with an ease that suggested he had worked in a barracks before.
“So it’s not really art?” asked Pascal.
“What is art?” replied Volant.
“Well,” Pascal tried to explain, “you’re not really presenting the audience with anything of you here. You’re just facilitating their own fantasies. There’s no act of communication going on, so I don’t see how this can be art.”
“I am giving you my interpretation of it,” Volant assured him. “It will be different to how anyone else in the world would make it.”
Pascal fell silent for a moment. He looked around at the forty-, fifty-, sixty-, five thousand-strong crowd that had inhabited his life; how: he could not understand, why: he could not ask them. Across the room the Wendy’s manager and his teenage casual-employees made a hectic profit selling hotdogs and milkshakes and hotdogs in milkshakes to people too tired and harried and hungry to care. He looked to the ceiling, from which he had been unable to hear any sound in days. He was certain there must be the same old sound coming from there as ever before. He began to think that perhaps he missed it. He didn’t know though. He understood nothing.
“Put me in the Chinese Room,” he told Volant.
“The Chinese Room?”
“It was a thought-experiment,” began Pascal, “dreamt up by this philosopher last-century-”
“Intended to demonstrate the falsity of the strong AI hypthesis that a computer-program capable of passing the Turing Test by convincingly simulating a human conversation is intelligent,” Volant finished. “In it a man is placed within a room with a codex that provides him perfect instructions for processing any series of Chinese characters slipped under the door to him. As he receives these Chinese characters and writes responses based on the information in the book, he simulates perfectly the responses of an actual Chinese speaker.”
“How did you-?”
“I have Wikipedia on this system,” explained Volant. “Pirated CIA pharmaceutical software and Wikipedia.
“So can I ask if you think the Chinese Room is intelligent or not?”
Pascal did not have to think about this for an instant. “I don’t care.”