"Volvos aren't just there to be lusted after by men," I heard her say.
"I personally have NEVER found them attractive," I replied. "Ah, human sexuality is such a mystery to me."
"Well," she said, "you surprise me. Most men do."
It was only after I turned down the invitation that I pondered upon the conversation, deciphered the confusion and kicked myself for missing such a magical opportunity. So tonight as I walk with a spring in my step towards an exhibition in King's Cross entitled "57 Varieties of Fetishism and Hysteria", I am especially keen. I am not even put off by the rather stern sub-title, "A Domesticated Depiction of the Master / Slave Dialectic", which could, of course, set alarm bells ringing in more hostile minds. No. This is to be a special night - a night which (as the press release promises) "addresses 'the look' as a dichotomy of the libidinal investment: voyeuristic gratification vs critical objectivity", which, as trade-offs go, is fine by me.
The opening night is taking place in two simultaneous locations: a small art gallery on Pentonville Road and a pub around the corner on Caledonian Road. I arrive first at the pub, which is empty save for a couple of old men, a few teenagers playing pinball and an intense-looking youngster setting up a slide projector in the corner. I take him to be the artist and approach him to say hello.
"What's it all about then?" I ask.
"Ah," he says. "You're here for the show?"
"The Triptych of Visual Aphorism?" I ask, just making sure. "Fetishism and hysteria?"
"Yes," he says. "Listen. The slide projector isn't quite working. Maybe you could come back later?"
"OK," I say. I walk to the second site. On the way I examine - for clues - the press release once more. It begins with a quote: "Fetishism and hysteria bring about the transfiguration of the commodity as the object of desire becomes the commodification of objective desire" - signed "a former King's Cross prostitute". Well, I ponder lazily to myself, I bet she never put that on her cards in the phone-boxes. I arrive at the gallery to discover that the place is entirely empty, save for a handful of profound- looking youngsters.
"Yes," says one. "The press release. It's very..."
"Excessive?" I say.
"Provocative," she replies.
"So I take it the exhibition's been cancelled," I say.
"Oh no," she says. "Look."
She points to the corner where two tiny video monitors have been set up. Oneshows looped archive footage of a woman slapping another woman. Another shows a woman being spanked, intercut with angry-looking Chinese people.
"Ah," I say. "Ah ha."
"Mmm," says another man.
"Yes," says a third. "Ah, yes."
"You must go to the basement," I am told. "There is more."
In the basement, three images are projected on to the wall: a woman's hands drawing something; a man's hands shaking; and a woman just sitting there looking upset.
"What's she drawing?" I ask someone, who turns out to be Ali, the artist.
"A vulva," she replies. "But look. She keeps getting it wrong, so she has to start again."
"Ah," I say.
"You see now?" she says.
"Yes," I say. "Ah ha."
And back at the pub they still haven't got the slide projector to work, so I play the fruit machine for a bit and go home.Reuse content