THE STORY OF FLIGHT
As the Surrealists knew, we can only experience revelation within the context of our complacent relationship to the commonplace – we have to be lulled into a false sense of security in order to be jolted out of it.
I recall at a visit to the dentist in 1994, staring up at the ceiling (as one does) at one of those fluorescent lights with plastic covers that soften the light, transfixed by the sight of scores of dead, dusty insects trapped within.
Aroused by the desire to resolve, to focus, that these diffusers prevent - the experience brings to mind Gerhard Richter’s remark, “how can a painting be out of focus” - these ‘soft deaths’ resulted in the work Flight - a fluorescent light with a modified plastic fly glued to the inside of the diffuser - that I exhibited at the Lisson Gallery in an exhibition called Standard British Summertime in 1995.
Seemingly not revelatory enough for some, I remember being asked by the sculptor Anish Kapoor at the hanging of the show whether the fly moved. I replied that it hadn’t yet.
I was delighted to find that the piece was bought by a Mr. C. Saatchi.
I got a phone call from the gallery towards the end of the exhibition telling me that the work had been damaged in an accident and that the diffuser had been cracked. As I couldn’t get to the gallery to repair it I faxed instructions of Donald Judd-like neurotic specificity for its repair (purchase of new diffuser, glue, and the exact positioning of the fly within the diffuser) to the gallery manager.
Four years passed, and one day a fellow artist who lived nearby arrived at my door cradling an enormous book called “Young British Art – The Saatchi Decade” that was hot off the press. “You’re in it!” he informed me, and he showed me my pages illustrated with three of the pieces Charles Saatchi had bought from me, including Flight.
I remember how during that decade the London art world became very ageist. Imagine my anxiety when I found that my already tentative connection with the ‘Y.B.A’.s had been stretched by getting my date of birth wrong by the addition of ten years (I did consider a crusading work in response – going around the world hunting down copies of this tome with a ready made self adhesive typographical correction – but I mellowed before it was executed).
But that wasn’t the only ‘intervention’ I found - the ‘Kurse of Kapoor’ had struck. To my astonishment, the ‘fly’ - or ‘Anish’ as I now refer to him - had disappeared. Flight was now a mere fluorescent light. I was dumbstruck.
In the intervening years I have had much time to reflect on these events and a number of theories have emerged to explain the fly’s disappearance:
Perhaps either by design or accident it may have found it’s way into a Lisson Gallery skip along with the cracked diffuser - to re-emerge in a North London land-fill along with it’s maggoty mates - while the 'work' was delivered to it's purchaser with a new diffuser, but without the fly;
It has absurdly been proposed that I myself may have been responsible for the fly’s disappearance. People that claim to know my "fastidious" character have suggested that it is inexplicable that I would have left the repair of my own work to someone else, and that I seized the opportunity to play a schoolboy prank on the great art collector;
Or there is the less psychologically wrought suggestion that the fly had simply been erased by a graphic designer going about their business during the production of the book - removing what had appeared as an unwanted blemish - and that the work itself remains intact.