If there was one art exhibition you attended in London this summer, it was almost certainly Ryoji Ikeda in the basement of 180 Studios. That is, if you were organised enough to book your tickets months in advance.
This is not to knock Ikeda himself, whose exhibition was a heady audio-visual phantasm that evoked the endless data-stream enveloping our daily lives. But apart from that highly-hyped show, if you had visited any number of other exhibitions across the capital, you would likely have found space in abundance to enjoy more art than you could ever imagine, all without being herded from room to room in five-minute intervals.
Indeed, one excited friend declared that this was the best year he could remember for looking at art in the capital, ‘because there’s no one else around’.
It’s the same story with buzzy gigs, screenings, pop-ups, restaurants, festivals and events of all kinds. In retrospect, the development of the Glastonbury ticket rush in the early ’00s was the canary in the coal mine for the death of spontaneity. Now, any number of things you might once have been able to rock up to casually, or pick up a ticket in the days beforehand, are getting shut down months in advance by the kind of officious weirdos who probably colour code their bookshelves.
It’s been getting worse for years, but the frequency with which the issue has arisen with others lately, including a brief online exchange with the writer Clive Martin, has convinced me that the last year and a half of lockdowns and restrictions have intensified matters. While pubs were preparing to open in the spring to allow people to drink outside in tables of up to six, I wandered past my local and had a chat with the landlord. With a look in his eyes like that of an army officer who knew he was taking his troops over the top the next morning, he sighed that every slot had already been booked up for weeks in advance.
Then came the Euros, a gift to those who enjoy planning their entertainment with all the joie de vivre of a military campaign. Tables across the capital became increasingly hard to come by, and if you somehow managed to wrestle a booking from the grip of Organised People and their colour-coded spreadsheets while England advanced through the later stages of the tournament, you’re luckier than I was.
So, is this the future? A society subject to the ‘tyranny of the organised’, ground beneath the heels of a vampiric mob of faceless fun-fascists emboldened by the discovery they can put arts, entertainment and culture into a headlock by block-booking everything months in advance? Can the cultural life of this great city withstand the ruthless efficiency of the Sunday-supplement set as they graze across the hyper-inflated hype bubbles until every last shoot of originality is sucked dry?
Back in the day, people had to make a modicum of effort to ferret out what was new and exciting, but now any random with a passing interest not just reads the newsletter before you, but books it all up and gets their mates to as well. What hope is there for us disorganised sloths who rely on casual recommendations or just seeing what they might feel like doing after a nice nap, rather than plotting out their weekend with differently coloured sticky notes, or whatever it is depraved pedants like that do?
Alas, judging from a flick through my feed, the Organised People are winning. They’re all out there right now on their performatively idyllic Cornwall holidays, while the rest of us are still scrambling about trying to find a patch of nettles we can pitch a tent in that hasn’t already been allocated.
There’s a cult novel from 1971 called The Dice Man, about a psychiatrist who gives over his daily decision-making to the roll of dice, finding liberation in how they give him ‘permission’ to try new things and express himself in ways that his personality and social conditioning had previously denied. Inevitably, the story takes a darker turn as he succumbs to temptation to include increasingly extreme options among the outcomes, and he veers towards murder and mayhem, while a nihilistic cult of acolytes follow in his path.
We don’t need to go that far, but we do need to rediscover our spontaneity and find ways to rise against the massed forces of foresight. Delete all calendars. Roll the dice. We have nothing to lose but our place in the queue.