Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Short Story Challenge 8 - The Pig King

       Some people might ask me the reasons I constructed a throne made entirely of bacon, but they’ll never understand. Not really. Nor should they. Sure, the piece was entitled ‘The Pig King’, and people would undoubtedly read some superfluous meaning into it like ‘oh, its an allegory about how our empires are obtained by being built on the carcasses of those we have destroyed…’ or some such similar bullshit.

       You want to know the truth? It’s meaningless. It all is really. Everything I do, everything that I am going to do from now on. You know how crazy that is? To have people laud anything and everything you do. To praise it as ‘high art’ - elevating it above and beyond anything that it really is or deserves to be.
       It started innocently enough. I was a young artist, struggling to pay my way, wanting to express something… anything, to make a statement of some kind, to make a mark on this world. I guess in hindsight I just wanted to excuse my relative poverty and lack of success – to justify how I was living my life.
       That all changed when I sneaked into an art installation for upcoming young talent at the Crossroads Gallery situated up in the affluent area of the city. Drunk and overcome with jealousy and frustration at those who had been afforded this opportunity, I just lost it and lashed out in one of the empty booths that was being used for storage. The commotion caused people to gather around and they discovered me lying there in a crumpled heap amongst the wrecked canvases and leaking paint cans sobbing uncontrollably. That's when I first met Fenech.
       Lying there in the rubble, drained from having poured out all the emotions, I heard a loud clap. Once, twice, three times. Looking up through bleary eyes I saw a man standing there, front and centre of the crowd, staring at me, slowly clapping his hands together. It felt dreamlike, unreal - but slowly another person started to clap, then another and another – until the whole room was applauding. Confused, I looked back up at him, my eyes meeting his. He stared intensely at me, his gaze seemingly urging me to act. Somehow I knew what he wanted.
       SmileSmile, damn you.
       Slowly I rose to my feet, a weak smile spread across my face. I took a bow. The crowd started to cheer.

       And so that was it. I had managed to fake my way into the art world. The only one who knew I was a fraud was Fenech and he always seemed to know what was best for me and what direction I ought to take next. Having proposed to become my agent there and then, he issued a press release of what had happened that night explaining my ‘performance’ and my reputation spread like wildfire.
       Once it started, there was no stopping it. I continually created pieces under his suggestion – the tree of bones, the flayed torture mannequins made from cuts of meat, the giant ant sculptures peering down into a perspex box that people could walk into… it went on and on. Each piece was met with critical acclaim, even when I had tried to produce something meaningless and random, the fans made every detail of it meaningful and significant.
       It was great at first, getting all this praise and recognition. But as the years went by, the haunting feeling of my sheer undeservedness festered in the back of my mind. Despite my growing wealth, I felt worthless. Once or twice I even thought of giving it all up and disappearing somewhere, but Fenech was always there, carefully watching over me, prodding and egging me on. He was too powerful and I too weak. He would always speak for me, make my creative decisions for me – I don't think I could escape his grasp even if I wanted to. If anything he was the true artist – one that deals in PR, marketing and manipulation - the art of bullshit. I was just his pawn in all of this. I had often pondered that perhaps I really had made a deal with the devil.

       And now I found myself, 18 years later at my own gallery, currently showcasing ‘The Pig King’. It was shut for the evening but I had let myself in and wondered through the darkness amongst the various pieces from my life that were laid out on show. The grand opening was supposed to be tomorrow but I felt no excitement or pride. None of this was mine – not really. Fenech usually was careful to limit me reading about myself in the press, but recently I had come across a story on an online blog that detailed a leaked memo showing how the money that was used to set up this gallery and exhibition was originally meant for the renovation of the city hospital, but was diverted at the last minute. What can I say? The mayor was a huge fan.
       Making my way through the exhibition, I only felt numb. You must think I sound like a total cliché – the ‘tortured artist’. In reality I was just bored. When you get to the point where you can get away with any kind of bullshit without even trying – none of it has any real worth.
       I toyed with the idea of ending it all, hanging myself right in the middle of this gallery and putting an end to this charade. Giving the finger to this career-long joke. But there was always the nagging possibility that people would just take it as my final work of art – the ultimate sacrifice of the artist. People would always ascribe meaning to everything I did from now on - there was no escape from it. I sighed loudly. Unbelievable - they had even robbed me of that.
       Making my way to the centre of the room I approached the bacon throne. It seemed so ridiculous I couldn't help but let out a dry laugh. Carefully, I ascended the steps, sat down and waited for the dawn.

5th September 2012


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