"The Adventures of Captain Contempt in Mixed Media Installations" by Ian Creasey — story background

The gallery is a smooth, sleek ocean liner of a building, delivering its cargo of culture to posterity.  Smog disfigures the white stone like an encrustation of barnacles.  I reckon the pollution is overdue for cleansing, both outside and within.

This story began as a writing exercise during the time I attended a creative writing course at Leeds University.  The tutor gathered together a few objects and invited us to write something based on one or more of the items.  As these were simply what people happened to have to hand, the collection was rather mundane: keys, water, bags, etc.  Looking at the objects, I noticed that a couple of them were almost transparent: a bottle of water, a clear plastic bag.  This led me to imagine an art gallery in which all the exhibits were transparent — almost invisible — so that when you first entered the gallery you would think it empty, and you'd only gradually notice the exhibits as you walked around, straining your eyes to see the contents.

In writing a story about invisible artworks, my aim wasn't just to satirise the emptiness of modern art.  Certainly it's good fun to take a few pot-shots at the absurdity of what passes for art nowadays, but modern art is so banal that it satirises itself with little need for further comment.  This story depicts the debasement of art as one symptom of a wider malaise.  In fantasy novels, Dark Lords show their evil nature by occupying crepuscular fortresses and sending ugly minions to ravage the countryside; but I wanted to consider more subtle examples of how Sinister Forces might manifest themselves, in a setting rather closer to today's society.  Across all areas of life, real substance would gradually decay and vanish.  The melodies would drain out of music, leaving serialism and cacophony.  Literature would lose the quality of story, degenerating into meaningless stylistic gestures.  Craft and representation would leach out of art, leaving abstract doodles that would themselves fade to nothingness.  And people would celebrate these disappearances as progress, not realising — or caring — that all true qualities were fading away, and that they themselves were similarly thinning into husks.

It's hard to convey such a large-scale vision within the confines of a short story, especially if you're not writing a plot in which a Magic Gimmick conveniently saves the day.  Consequently this piece only hints at the broader picture, and the story became an exploratory exercise for a theme that may one day be more fully examined on the wider canvas of a novel.

Page last updated: 20 November 2018