Saturday, 28 June 2003
It was her first solo show and Kathy was hiding her nerves with difficulty. The gallery was small but in the hip part of town and a good crowd had come. She felt as if she was being professional as she networked, but she still had a nagging fear that she was drunk and making a fool of herself. She’d have to check with her friends in the morning. The work looked good in the space: a dentist’s chair with clinical looking restraints, surrounded by a hive of technology pumping hypnotic images, sounds and suggestions at an invisible subject. Viewers were invited to use the seat, but no-one had taken up the offer.
Kathy was getting sick of smiling and hearing how clever the work was from people who’d forget it the next day, so she was relieved to see someone actually looking at the work with a degree of interest. She watched him out of the corner of her eye for a while as she spoke to her friend Claire. The man was an artist she vaguely recognised from a private view a few weeks before, Jack something. He watched the screens until they looped, laughing slightly from time to time at the more outrageous suggestions or warped slogans.
Kathy sauntered over. “Like it?” she asked.
“Sure. Did you do it?”
“Yeah. It’s about—”
“I can see what it’s about. It’s very erotic.”
She was thrown—it wasn’t something her work had been called before. “Oh ... right. Want to try it out?”
He laughed. “Not really, it’d probably make me buy it.” He looked at her sideways. “Have you tried it?”
“Of course, I had to get everything lined up right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did it turn you on?”
She was flustered, but managed to laugh in a suitably ironic manner. “I guess it is a bit fetishistic, but it’s not about that, it’s more to do with how consumer culture uses our desires to —”
“Yeah, yeah, I said I got it, but, y’know, it seems like it’s quite ... personal, too. Like you really understand what it’s like to be controlled, manipulated, ... and enjoy it.”
“Really?” She kept her face blank, not sure how much to say. She kew her work had obvious overtones, but wasn’t used to having to discuss how much it related to herself. She was also trying to ignore the way his words had made her feel. No matter how she tried to hide it, certain words made her aroused, particularly when said by an attractive man looking deeply into her eyes.
“Yeah, but there’s nothing wrong with that,” he continued. “You should publicise it more, the press’d love it, you’d be as rich as Emin in a year.”
“Yes, well, I’ll think about it,” Kathy said frostily and started to walk off.
“Hey, hey, don’t go. I’m sorry, I’m a bit pissed and I got a bit cheeky.” He seemed genuinely apologetic, “I just got carried away, but I think you’re really interesting.”
She was slightly salved by the flattery, but kept her voice cold. “Interesting, is that the best you could come up with?”
“Yeah, I know it sounds crap, but I mean it: you’re saying something, it looks good and it’s sexy.”
“Well, write about it in a decent art magazine and I’ll forgive you.” She had already started to, despite herself his joshing had intrigued her, and he was really cute...
“Does my work turn you on then?” she asked casually.
“Hang around with me after everyone’s gone, and I’ll show you,” he said mysteriously. They both laughed, but shared a look that suggested it was not a joke. Trying not to show obvious interest, Kathy continued with a more general conversation about art, recent shows and life in general. Jack seemed pretty cool, she found herself warming to him despite her wariness. He was funny and somehow always seemed to say things that she agreed with.
After a while, Kathy realised her attention had drifted and she’d just been looking into his eyes without really hearing what he’d been saying. She shook herself, thinking how she must be more drunk than she’d realised.
“Look, I’d better go and talk to some other people, but it’s been great meeting you.”
“Yeah, sorry if I offended you at first.”
“Offended?” she was puzzled, and couldn’t remember what he’d said that could have been offensive. “No, don’t worry about it,” she said, hedging her bets, “See you soon.”
“Yes, I’m sure you will”
Soon Kathy was busy schmoozing some more, but not so busy that she didn’t keep looking for him. Somehow he seemed to have vanished into the crowd, and Kathy found herself feeling disappointed.
Claire came over after a while. “You were talking to Jack for ages!” she said. “Was he trying to pull you?”
“Yeah, I s’pose so,” she answered vaguely.
“He’s meant to be a bit weird. My mate went out with him a few years ago. He used to talk all sorts of crap in bed apparently.”
“Yeah?” Kathy hoped she didn’t sound too interested. She found herself incredibly keen to find out just what he did in bed, but tried to cover it up as best she could.
“Yeah. She said it used to bore her to sleep sometimes, but he has got a nice arse.”
“Definitely!” Kathy tried not to think about Jack talking softly to her until she felt sleepy and suggestible...
When everyone had gone, Kathy realised that she was fiddling around with the cups for too long before shutting down and locking up, wondering if Jack would turn up. She shook her head, feeling stupid, wishing she’d just asked him for a drink sometime. She moved over to her installation to turn everything off when her phone beeped, telling her that she had a text.
“get in the chair”
She looked around, breathing harder at the dubious thrill of being stalked. It must be Jack, but how had he got her number? She soon realised that practically everyone who’d been there would have it if they’d bothered to pick up her business cards. So maybe it wasn’t him...
Her phone beeped again: “now”
She didn’t recognise the number but replied anyway. “where r u?”
Beep: “get in the chair”
Well, what harm could it do? She complied with the command, telling herself it might make her texter show their face at last, and ignoring the dampness that had appeared between her legs. Nothing happened for a minute or so and she began getting bored. She settled back in the chair, yawning slightly. Of course it could just be a practical joke from someone down the pub. It was probably nothing to worry about: she’d just have a final watch of the videos to check everything was OK for the next day and go. She stared blankly at images she’d seen hundreds of times before as she was editing them: swirls, watery ripples, soothing colours. She felt herself drifting of a little and shook herself—shit! They didn’t actually work did they? It was getting late and she wanted to leave, but for some reason she kept sitting there, and relaxing, and sitting there.
Hang on, that wasn’t one of her videos! She couldn’t quite make out the text, it kept fading in and out, and she’d get distracted by something else. Come to think of it, quite a lot of the videos seemed different, similar to her style, but different images, different suggestions. Some of the audio was definitely not hers either—a mans voice, too quiet to hear the words. Part of her mind screamed that she had to get up, had to turn everything off, someone was fucking with her; but the rest of her mind seemed to be getting more and more lethargic, happier to sit and watch the screens. Every time she tried to do something, it drifted out of her head before she could move, and was replaced with something else, more interesting. What was it she was going to do again? Finally she could make out one of the suggestions, it seemed to be all around her, in every voice, on every screen: Sleep. Yes of course, she thought with relief, that’s what she should do...
She knew she was asleep, only it seemed as if she was still watching the screens, but that wasn’t possible was it? She struggled to understand, but then a voice spoke clearly through the soothing babble.
“...you’re sleeping now, and dreaming, you don’t need to worry about what’s happening, because it’s only a dream...”
That made sense. It was just one of those dreams that pick up on what you’ve been doing before you fall asleep.
“... sleeping and dreaming, and seeing your thoughts on the screens...”
Really? That was interesting. Kathy looked at the screens, wondering what thoughts she’d see on them. She certainly seemed to be having a lot of thoughts about sex, but that wasn’t unusual, especially in her sleep. She felt herself getting aroused as she watched, but too relaxed to do anything about it. It didn’t seem important, but strangely helped her to understand that she should just accept whatever happened without question. It was a real weight off her mind not to have to worry about what she was thinking, but just see it in front of her. Her desires and fantasies seemed so much more real and compelling on the screens than when they were hidden away inside her head. It was even as if these thoughts about them were coming from outside of herself, and her head was becoming more and more empty as the images poured in.
Kathy recognised the woman in the images as herself, but couldn’t quite make out the man. Was it Jack? She thought so but couldn’t be sure. Every time she saw his face, all she could concentrate on was his eyes, all other details melted away. Perhaps this had something to do with the two screens directly in front of her that each showed only an eye, staring unblinkingly at her. Soon it seemed too much effort to turn her head and watch all the versions of herself fucking, and made more sense to just gaze blankly forward and be stared at by the screen eyes. It didn’t matter if she thought she was missing something, a voice told her, it would all be in her mind because these were her thoughts.
As she lazily watched the faint spirals in the eyes rotate, the voice told her more things that were already in her mind: where to go when she heard the word, what to do when she heard the word, how to feel when she heard the word. The word: she was straining for it, longing for it, desperate for the release it would bring her, for the new identity it would give her. Her arousal built every time the message was pumped into her until she was completely open, completely receptive, and at last there it was: in her ears, on every screen, burning through her body with the most powerful orgasm of her life, taking away her ability to resist and replacing it with deep obedience.
Kathy woke up and realised that the screens were all showing static. That’s funny, weren’t the videos on repeat play? Oh well, she must’ve dozed off after drinking too much. But wasn’t there something else? She couldn’t be bothered to think about it. She turned off everything and locked the gallery behind her. No point in going to meet everyone if she was that tired, time to go home. Her phone beeped. Probably a text asking where she’d got to. She scrolled the message down.
Kathy’s eyes glazed slightly for a second, as an unconscious orgasm swept through her. Of course, she remembered now: she wasn’t going to go home, there was something else she had to do...