The second work, entitled “Wanker”, may as well have been self-titled. The Artist, the genderless (read: male), ageless (read: twenty-year-old), classless (read: leafy suburbs), raceless (read: white) and timeless (read: wanted-to-be-a-part-of-the-‘happenings’-of-the-‘60s-but-wouldn’t-have-got-it-even-if-he-had-been-born) performance artist (read: title of his second work) strode to the middle of the space (read: dead-end of not-trendy city alley with unemptied dumpster stinking up the place) and knelt, head upon knees, with his black cape strewn around him. His fifteen adoring fans (read: mother, father, brother and wife, sister and three friends, five uni buddies, the over-enthusiastic university lecturer, and a confused homeless man) stood, strewn around the alley on specifically chalk marked spots. The Artist knelt for a moment. His assistant, The Assistant, who had placed them carefully on these markers as they arrived (and muttered beneath his breath just before show commenced “I knew we didn’t need two packets of chalk”) pressed play on a retro tape player and shone a torch down on The Artist. The tape took a moment to kick in, and then the audio montage commenced.
John Howard: There’s no way that GST will ever be part of our policy… Never ever. JFK: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. Nixon: I am not a criminal. Clinton: I did not have sexual relations with that woman. Whitlam: Well may we say God save the Queen, for nothing can save the Governor-General. Obama: Yes we can.
Only, none of them were quite right. It seemed that The Artist had done impersonations, and not very good impersonations, of each of these. Then, he started singing Also Sprach Zarathustra and on the first series of drum bursts, he flung the black cloak down to reveal him kneeling in a very revealing black Lycra cat suit with a skeleton painted on the front. The Assistant flung his jacket off and onto the lid of the dumpster also, revealing the same outfit but without the skeleton. This caused the light to flicker as he got his hand free. As the notes continued to swell, he started to rise up. It was on the second burst of drums that the high-pitched beeps joined the music. It took a moment for anyone to notice the rubbish truck reversing down the alley. His brother’s wife spotted it first and said, “Is that part of the act?” On hearing that, The Assistant looked at the truck with panic, leant down to The Artist and whispered, “Did you know about the rubbish truck?” “Stop it!” The Artist hissed. The Assistant started to run away, and then, realising he was still holding the torch; he raced back, grabbed the brother’s wife and pushed her into the space to hold the torch over The Artist. “Hold this!” The effect was not quite what was intended, given that the brother’s wife was barely five foot tall and The Assistant was well over six feet. The light no longer came from above, but from somewhere near his armpit.
The voice on the tape recorder was now had The Artist singing “Strawberry Kisses” by Nikki Webster, a song which had lost any possibility of relevance or controversy half a decade ago, whilst he writhed in apparent discomfort. Most of the spectators had one eye on this and one on the argument The Assistant was having with the truck driver. It seemed the truck driver was not interested in having a discussion with a tall, skinny man in a black Lycra cat suit. The university lecturer went over, but it seemed the truck driver was not interested in the argument “But this is ART” no matter who it came from. It was only when The Artist overheard the words “permit” and “cops” that he stopped the tape player. “Audience, please, do not applaud. It seems we must take an unscheduled interval. Please, wait outside the alley until the interval is over.” He then grabbed the tape player, the cloak from the ground and the torch from the brother’s wife and strode out of the alley. The bewildered audience followed. The Artist handed the torch and tape player to The Assistant and flung his cloak around him.
The truck backed in to the alley. The audience stood on one side of the alley, the university professor, The Artist and The Assistant on the other. The Assistant, standing awkwardly, trying to hold the tape player over his crotch area, leaned over to speak to The Artist who flung his hand up in The Assistant’s face. The Assistant blushed and went silent. A group of extremely well dressed people heading in to one of the higher arts (opera, a recital, theatre… well, even a good one-man-band was higher art than The Artist) approached, falling silent as they passed. When they were a few metres down the street, a man from the group turned, stopped and clapped. “William! What are you doing?” his wife hissed. “Don’t you see, dear? It’s street art. One of those flash mobs. Bravo!” he called out to them. His wife, unsure of whether she was missing the point or not, clapped hesitantly three times then grabbed his arm and dragged him away.
At this, the sister and her friends started to giggle. They’d been to the pub on the way in, anticipating the performance, and now a combination of a couple of wines plus the applause unhinged them. The mother looked to the father to stop them, and the father gave them a disapproving look. And a wink.
The truck drove out, and as it hit the street, The Assistant gasped “Our clothes!” He went to chase the truck, and then stopped, thinking that their op-shop mis-matched suits weren’t worth chasing after, especially after being mixed with the remains from the Chinese, Italian and Indian restaurants that backed on to the alley. He looked at The Artist who gave a wretched nod, then looked down at his sad form in the Lycra and sighed. The tram ride home to Coburg was going to be tough. At least he’d had the sense to tuck his wallet into one sock and his keys into the other.
The Artist clapped once and headed back down the alley. The Assistant chased him. The Artist got himself in his last position – laying on his back, both arms out flat, one leg up – as the audience made their way back to their positions. The Assistant cleared his throat. “ The Artist’s performance, “Wanker” will continue.” The girls started to giggle again, The Assistant gave them a death stare. They attempted to stifle their laughs. “As there is no rewind button on the tape player, we will continue from this point.” The father laughed loudly then, looking around and seeing it was not a joke, he stopped.
The Assistant pressed play. He then turned the torch on to illuminate The Artist’s leg. The Artist’s voice was counting down from seventy. “Seventy… sixty-nine… sixty-eight… sixty-seven..” At each count, his leg lowered slightly. By fifty, the audience was looking around, trying to figure out if they had missed something. At twenty-two, his leg slipped to the ground, and he had to put it back, hoping no one noticed. At one, he stopped. The Assistant flicked off the tape player, then the torch. The alley was silent (apart from the usual city sounds – and the sound of a drunken businessman taking a leak at the other end of the alley). The audience looked to each other. Was this it? After a moment, The Artist jumped up and bowed and then pulled The Assistant forward for a bow. The audience clapped. The Artist smiled, and ran to the corner of the alley, to gather himself. The crowd talked to each other confusedly as they waited for him. The meaning of the piece was lost, as was the length of the piece and the costuming, the choice of music, the make-up. One of the university students used the term “existential” and got nods and pats on the back from the university lecturer and the other students.
The Artist re-joined the group. “Let’s get a drink!” he spat out, sounding as exhausted as if he had run a marathon, and led the audience through a small door up to a funky bar above the alley. The bar was empty apart from the two bar staff that rushed forward to push tables together when the group came in. As soon as his father had given him a beer, The Artist shouted, “So, what did you think?”
Before the inevitable moment’s awkward silence which such a performance deserved, the sister said “Dear brother, that was marvelously…. existential.”
The uni students gasped (the loudest gasp coming from the one who had suggested such it in the alley). The Artist shrieked, “That’s just what I wanted!” and kissed his sister on the forehead. “I knew you’d get it one day!” The sister gave a smarmy smile at his condescending comment and the father, spotting a potential outburst, shoved his merlot into her hand. She was surprised, then took a long swig,
A few hours later, mother and father had left, as had brother and his wife. The Artist and one of the sister’s friends left together, she slapping his Lycra clad arse on the way out.
After they left, the sister and her remaining friends roared with laughter. “What?” slurred The Assistant. “Well,” said the sister. “we had a little bet. To create our own artwork.” The Assistant looked confused. “What do you mean?” “The Artist has no other clothes. So in the morning, he will be making his way from West Brunswick to Camberwell, on public transport, hung-over and in a skin tight lycra bodysuit with a skeleton on the front.” One of the sister’s friend’s jumped in. “We’re calling it ‘Wanker 2: The Long Walk of Shame.”