Switchback had made a hasty, unfathomably incident free break for it up Parramatta Road in the FFF FM ‘You Beaut Cash Bonanza Ute’.
Vehicular manslaughter wasn’t high on the Rooty Hill filth’s list of critical response incidents, apparently.
Chris Billy had charted a sketchy course off the main drag into the heart of peak hour Sydney, made a few haphazard navigation choices - including a shortcut across a busy post work Hyde Park - and had finally beached the ‘You Beaut Ute’ on the steps of the Art Gallery of NSW.
There was an opening shindig in the offing, which the permanently toasted band naturally assumed was a pre-gig open bar affair.
The band clambered out onto the red carpet, all fuckeyed insouciance, and announced to the gathering throng of tuxedoed establishment chinless wonders and an oppugnant smattering of tutting cybergoths:
“Fuck yeah Syd-a-neee! We’re Switch-m’fucken-back and we are fucking heeeeeerrreee for the Harvest festival opening night paaarrrrtttaaayyyyyyyy!”
Disapproving bronze statues glared down as they swaggered up the gallery’s sandstone steps, cutting a liquid swathe through the gathering of Sydney’s desperately boring cultural elite.
One punter muttered darkly into his chunky Casio digital watch, affording the band a healthy dose of side eye.
Johnny hit the bar, scooping up an armful of eye wateringly shit gallery wine. He regarded the ominous black banners hung along the east wall of the atrium.
In Blade Runner font:
‘SOFTNESS IN HARDNESS: NOTCHES ON A PSYCHOGEOGRAPHIC BEDPOST’
‘collapsing worlds - the new flesh, dismay + entropy - 1978-1992’
The banner depicted a series of doll/robot hybrids submerged in a claggy, viscose substance stained with clotted blood and shot in infrared.
The name beneath, appallingly kerned, rang a bell:
Fuck, where had he heard that name before?
It occurred to Johnny’s munted senses that this probably wasn’t their gala pre-tour knees up, but fuck it, an open bar was an open bar was an open bar.
Chris and Hopesy were off unnerving the po-faced gallery invigilators with their latest bout of loose hijinks. Several large, brutalist marble sculptures were presently being threatened with crass fates at the drummer and bassist’s reaching spidery hands and juvenile performative innuendoes.
The polite but insistent tinkling of ceramic fake nails on champagne flute chimed through the auditorium, silencing the rumbling murmur of the amassed clot of high society tossers in attendance.
The owner of the nail was interim AGNSW Director Celeste Powder, a wiry wraith decked out like one of Tim Burton’s more excessive monochrome fever dreams. She nursed a similarly wiry pedigree sokoke named Rowland S Howard.
Standing next to Powder, dressed in a bandolier/ belt combo made of pilfered Mercedes badges, was - fucken Jesus H Christ with a strap on, Johnny thought - Echo Deconstruction Meme her very self.
As in Echo Deconstruction Meme from Adelaide just the other weekend with that hall of carnal horrors and quite a lot of muckhole stuff that probably happened during an extended black out and oh fuck this tiny tiny scene -
Johnny gulped down three reds in gag reflex torturing successsion, then grabbed another three from a hovering waiter. He checked the exits, which were choked with late arrivals and, he barely registered, a surprisingly high level of security.
He resigned himself to a profoundly awkward encounter and resumed his liver dissolving session.
Celeste Powder was handed a mic, which she demurely tapped twice. A gallery serf took Rowland S Howard from her and petted the green eyed beast warily.
“Welcome, friends,” Celeste began, voice nasal and brittle, regarding the room with a pale, critical gaze.
“Also, welcome luminaries, colleagues, friends, critics, citizens, humans, post -ah, heh - humans,” she continued. “I’m particularly pleased to welcome Infrastructure and Development Minister and Arcadia Trust executive John Brain -” she gestured to a tall, rumpled mess in a baggy grey suit floating near the bar, all flyaway dandruff combover and deeply unsettling, equally dandruffy moustache - “- representing President Boon who, as you’re all aware, is presently at large on a, er, another one of his fact finding missions.”
Everyone packed into the atrium chuckled knowingly.
“So, before we hear from John, I’d like to say a few words about this show-” she gazed beatifically at Echo for a moment, exuding benign warmth - Echo offered a tight, bemused smile in return “- I’d like to say a few words about Echo and this incredible survey show we’re pleased to be opening here this evening.”
Celeste took a swig of her bubbles as Echo very obviously braced herself.
“‘Softness in Hardness: Notches on a Psychogeographic Bedpost / collapsing worlds - the new flesh, dismay + entropy - 1978-1992’ is a deeply affecting survey show of works by my dear friend and former student Echo Deconstruction-Meme. Echo is a maker, a philosopher, a cyborg theorist and roboticist - a renaissance woman in the truest sense-”
Echo had already sidled over to the bar to anaesthetise herself.
Johnny was suddenly uncharacteristically invested in a collection of oil portraits by early Tasmanian settlers - the features of the subjects all eerily similar - and was keeping his back to Echo at all costs.
“Echo’s work is part of the recent vanguard of cerebral, contemporary art dealing in themes of technological anxiety, alienation, surveillance, gender and the nature of our own humanity…”
Exactly thirty four minutes and nine seconds later:
“… so, then: ’Softness in Hardness’ deals in monumental themes, working on a sweeping canvas encompassing ruminations on scopophilia and the male gaze, post-human angst, the ubiquity of surveillance in our contemporary lives, male entitlement, creation myths and their inherent nihilism, humanity’s quest to render itself redundant, our media’s complicity in the burgeoning police state… you get the picture.”
Celeste coughed a hollow laugh and regarded the room earnestly. “To attempt a more exhaustive list would be folly, so please read my extended essay in the publication on sale for a very reasonable $10 at the gallery shop. Let me just finish by saying that Echo has gifted us all a compelling, unsettling meditation on our anxieties as the third millennium beckons - I encourage you all to enjoy your wine and immerse yourself in the show in just a few short moments. But first, please allow me to introduce Minister John Brain, who will officially open ‘Softness in Hardness: Notches on a Psychogeographic Bedpost / collapsing worlds - the new flesh, dismay + entropy - 1978-1992’!”
The gallery director golf clapped a delicate round of applause, encouraging those gathered to follow suit. The punters returned the gesture with a lethargic smattering of limply patted thighs and the shuffling of feet heralding a stampede to the bar.
Echo had quickly described a cocktail known as a DC-10 to the bartender: all of the white spirits in a tall glass with a splash of blue curacao.
She was wandering back to investigate the Brain situation when she noticed a familiar lack of arse shod in silver lace up the sides pleather lurking shiftily near the John Glovers.
Minister John Brain lurched up to speak, a piss stain blooming on the crotch of his slacks, a fully charged goblet of chards clutched in his pink fist.
Celeste handed him the mic with a pronounced look of distaste, reclaimed Rowland S Howard from the serf and hovered back to her spot to take in the minister’s oration.
Minister Brain foraged in his left pocket. He extracted a pair of smeared reading glasses and a crumpled ball of claggy tissues stuck to some handwritten notes.
Brain discarded both, swept a chunky paw through his thinning hair and coughed up a chunk of lung butter while deftly lighting a Peter Jackson, to the room’s collective horror. Celeste discreetly wafted up and whispered in Brain’s ear - he groused briefly then stubbed the smoke out again the sole of his shoe.
“I’ll keep this brief,” the minister growl-murmured into the mic. He took another slug of chards to lube up the ol’ tonsils.
“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, cyber… people. As a junior minister in 1983 I had the honour of opening several major international exhibitions here here at the Art Gallery of NSW. Those shows, whose names I presently forget, were bloody good according to everyone I talked to. They mainly featured landscapes, sheep and people on horses. I generally fucked off to the rugby after the free drinks dried up, to be frank, but I liked what I saw. The following year, 1984, the Dadaists came to the gallery and I thought to myself ‘what’s this fucking backyard craft shit’?”
Brain swiped a bottle of chards from a waiter, produced a bottle opener and expertly popped the cork.
Echo gave Johnny a hard jab in the shoulder.
“Excuse me, don’t I know-”
Johnny spun in a shimmer of white blonde hair and wine stained teeth, all quickly dawning panic and sunken yellow eye sockets.
“Ah, fuck this, fucken. ‘Softness in Hardness: Notches on a Psychogeographic Bedpost / collapsing’ … fucks sake,” Brain slurred. “Looks like the fruity puckered arsehole culture vultures on the board really held their collective snouts when they rubber stamped this one, eh Celeste?”
The Sydney cultured classes, plus assembled cybergoths, gasped in unison.
“Must be desperate for some bums on seats, right Celeste? Look, I’m not an arty bloke, but bloody hell this airy fairy po-mo homo -”
Celeste had rapidly divested herself of Rowland S Howard and materalised at the Minister’s elbow again. She swatted Brain’s chards away with the back of one prissily manicured claw, shattering it on one of the sculptures Chris and Hopesy had recently despoiled and were passed out on top of.
Celeste grabbed the mic from Brain with her other hand and hastily announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to announce that ‘Softness in Hardness: Notches on a Psychogeographic Bedpost / collapsing worlds - the new flesh, dismay + entropy - 1978-1992’ is officially open!”
Panicked invigilators quickly divested the area of velvet ropes and ushered punters down the stairs. Behind the play, Celeste had summoned several beefy security bastards, who were presently dragging Brain away to her office for a prolonged verbal execution.
Echo couldn’t believe her luck.
Johnny was cursing his.
Echo, all shark: “Johnathan Platinum. Well. What an unexpectedly fortuitous turn of events.”
Johnny: “… uh, Adelaide right? I guess?”
Chris and Hopesy were back at their lead singer’s tail, pumped, enthused and in the zone for another bout of caning it after their first brief kip in a few weeks.
Echo regarded Johnny with a perplexing mix of contempt and anticipation.
“Johnny, darling. I think you’re going to be utterly thrilled with this show.”
She took the singer by the hand.
“Please, let me give you a personal tour of the work.”
“C’mon, JP, it’ll be a laugh. Plus, eightbaaaalllll!” winked Hopesy, waving a Glad bag of fine white dust cavalierly.
Johnny sucked it up and returned Echo’s grasp.
They descended into the lower gallery space with all the other twats, poseurs, climbers, pseudo intellectuals, nouveau riche and cybergoths.
Huge dolls heads with red LED eyes were hung from the roof, lazily rotating and beaming malevolent benign death rays off mirrored walls.
Everything was strobe lit.
An unsettling amplifier hum pervaded.
A gold plated shower sat in the centre of the space’s first lung, the gleaming head attached to a hose which fed back to a golden Royal Doulton toilet cistern.
The wall panel invited one brave patron to nude up and stand in the tub while another relieved themselves - number ones only thanks - into the bowl.
Chris stripped off and clambered into the shower while Hopesy hauled out his old feller and was emptying his bladder like a race horse.
Echo and Johnny left them there, moving into the second black lit lung.
Echo regarded him, an anthropologist.
Life size dong bags holding effigies of Echo’s former conquests were posted along both walls of the gallery.
Each was was submerged in a viscous, oily black spuff substitute.
The gallery of oozing french letters stretched off into infinity, a cunning optical illusion.
Art lovers crept along the procession of life-like dummies, an array of young stallions - authors, musos, advertising wunderkinds, graphic designers, comedians - regarding the meat market keenly.
And then there he was:
Johnny Platinum, rendered lovingly in hyperreal latex, capturing all of his sunken, busted and over the hill mundanity floating in a simulacrum of his own sticky excretions.
There he was:
The slowly flourishing gut
The encroaching turkey neck
The sagging arse
The blurred and stretching tatt
The nascent bald spot uncontended with
The shrivelled nut sack
The tiny mushroom dick- it was the drugs, of course - nestled in a tangle of greying pubes
Echo had made quick and cruel work of that weekend rendezvous in the name of capital ‘a’ Art.
Johnny certainly understood what a devastating crescendo to a parade of taut young studs this represented to his ego, at least.
He was no aesthete and certainly possessed only the most limited critical faculties, but he was slowly beginning to process the scale of his humiliation and veering into a fullblown meltdown when a detachment of surprise Trust ninjas arrived for them all.