A measurement of existence…

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s financial forecast is for bankers to begin to show compassion for poor people and to stop being greedy and competitive amongst themselves… No, no, I’m only kidding!… Carry on as normal fellas!…

In my younger days, I had a lucky escape from a foolishly embarked on civil engineering degree course, and managed to change tack big time and get into art school; I decided that being out in the cold wearing a hard hat building motorway bridges wasn’t really my cup of tea, and that I should be an artist instead, either a rich one, or even at a pinch, a poor one, perhaps living in a squalid garret (with a girlfriend who wore blue lipstick and lots of eye makeup) in oh, Paris, or Berlin, either of those would do. Still, Dulltown turned out to be alright as a third choice…
It was the time when Pop Art had already peaked, chucking bright paint around had been done to death, and massive paintings with large areas of ‘calm but interesting’ colour had finally become boring, but, there was something strange and new rustling in the undergrowth that eventually emerged and turned out to be ‘Conceptual Art’. This seemed attractive to lots of students because apparently you didn’t need to have any practical skills to be able to do it; being able to talk a lot and use clever and unfamiliar words was an advantage though. Anyway I was there, at art school, for three years – it was great!
So, what did I do? Well, I did a lot of thinking. I was thinking about what the hell this ‘art thing’ actually is, and what the hell this ‘life thing’ is, and also what it’s for… Apparently this is the sort of thing that young people do think about, in odd quiet moments whilst otherwise having a very good time. During this period I was reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s short, but pithy novel Nausea – that fitted in very nicely…
One day, sitting in the college cafe with a cup of tea learning to hand-roll cigarettes, I was musing on the nature of time and existence, as one does, and I said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if, in an instant of time, you could measure the degree of one’s own existence, as if it was, an actual physical state of, something or other?…’
So, I decided, there and then, to build an ‘Existence Meter’, and did a few sketches of what it could possibly look like. I eventually constructed one, it wasn’t a real one of course, it didn’t work, it was a joke I suppose, a spoof instrument, but then again, it wasn’t… if you catch my drift… Are you a drift catcher dear reader?…
So, it consisted of a closed steel rectangular box about ten inches across with a square hole in the front, behind which was fastened a transparent plastic covered dial with markings and an indicator needle which could move across them, oh, and I coloured the high-end markings in in red – ‘red for danger!’ (The dial was actually an ammeter bought from a local electronics store.) I installed a spring-loaded switch on the front of the box too – I used Letraset to print the word ‘NOW’ next to it. On the dial itself I carefully scraped off the word ‘Amperes’ and using my trusty Letraset replaced it with the word ‘Existence’. It looked great! No, really it did!
Once the internal workings were installed it worked like this: when one pressed the switch a loud scary buzz came from the box and the needle shot across the scale into the red area. On taking one’s finger off the switch the sound stopped, the needle dropped back to zero, and the moment, the ‘now’, for an instant real, had passed and was gone… I wasn’t really sure if it was art, or not… Oh, of course it was, if I say it was art, it was art!…
I don’t think the students or the staff knew what the hell it was all about, in fact no one actually asked me about it, although they did like to come to my work area and press the switch and make the box make its noise and do its stuff…
Oh, I do remember one of the tutors once came up looked at it, and said to me, ‘Oh, that dial with ‘existence’ on it…’
‘Yes?…’ I said.
‘So, ‘existence’ is a scientific term is it? Like resistance, and voltage, and stuff?’ he said.
‘No…’ I said, ‘I put that on…’
‘Did you?…’ he said.
‘Yes…’ I said.
‘We thought that you’d bought it like that…’ he said, ‘…oh, hang on, look at the time, I’ve got to be at a staff meeting in the pub… Nice talking to you Dave… it is ‘Dave’, isn’t it?…’
‘Yes…’ I said.

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in art, brain, cool, dreaming, existentialism, history, Hull.UK., humour, information, learning, surrealism, thinking, words and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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