A story commissioned by Embassy Gallery for the exhibition Vulcan Point; my thanks to Joe Etchell.
“How decadent you are in your f-hucking little white cube with your superficial artefacts and f-hucking monitors. Your redundant culture belies serious intent, it has to, that’s part of the f-hucking paradox of what you call democracy.”
Nathan, Laura and Kenneth only caught bits of the tirade. Kenneth cast an eye around the office to test the flattering White Cube comparison. Nathan, who was wearing an Elmo sweater – red, with big cartoon eyes and a cute smile – decided to answer what had first seemed like a rhetorical question.
“No Mr Gro-mick-oh”, he said reading the name, “we would not like it if you cut out our eyes and took-a-shit-into-our-heads.” He enunciated the last bit awkwardly to emphasise the old man’s bad English.
Mr Gromyko trembled with an assurgent rage. His old lips were parched and he licked them noisily. His face was badly shaven and his young, designer-stubble and lip-bleached audience knew that the back of the dry rosacea-head fared no better. Without the assistance of a mirror, or so it seemed, the hair had been fashioned into little white turfs as if cut with blunt nail clippers.
Behind Gromyko were the large colourful prints of N’JOY DESIGN’s last project, images of smiling children playing in the pink, yellow and blue corridors of a Fife nursery. To Gromyko – in a language these f’hucker’s wouldn’t understand – the fat, wannabe pin-up children had been made into consumers of their own self-alienation.
Sensing his apparent lack of credibility the old man chose this moment to slam his briefcase on the table, dramatically spinning it around and cracking it open.
“Two Million…”, he gasped, exhausted by the action.
Laura, who had given Gromyko the most serious attention so far, leaned forward with a frown. “This would not even begin to cover what you are asking for”, she observed coldly.
Gromyko held a hand up to suspend the question. It took some time for him to find the air to speak with. Eventually he wheezed, “This is for this meeting alone. It is for you to be f-hucking quiet whether you do it or not.”
The three designers thus entered in to Gromyko’s secret project, a commission that promised to save them from the recession and the bathetic post-college collapse of their creative ideals. Leaving the office, pleased that at least one small part of his plan had fallen in to place, Gromyko’s mind churned up a troubling story: Lavadia Palace and people with bullet holes in their heads listening from the rooftops to plans for a new world and revelling in the imperial drives of the supposed Communists.
As Gromyko knew he only had months to live he managed the operation directly to ensure success. Winning a contract for a fictitious engineering company to undertake a significant railway development he contrived it that the underground tunnels and rooms could be dug out without fear of discovery. Using a workforce of specially paid labourers sworn to secrecy, an ingenious system to conceal the quantity of earth being removed from the site and a number of staged disasters to explain the protracted duration of the legitimate work, he saw to it that his house-sized warren remained undetected.
Nathan, Laura and Kenneth were employed to design a fusion of lavish neoclassical, baroque and modernist interiors for Gromyko. For the most part this sat comfortably with them once they realised that the white Inkerman stone and Jasper Columns were a trifle to the project budget. What they discussed in hushed tones over cocktails was Gromyko’s insistence that the small complex of chambers be fitted with an ineluctable locking mechanism that could render the space hermetic. However, the money, and the freedom to work with the best materials, allowed them to accept these quirks.
Time passed quickly and a year later, as the three designers tested a mandarinha, they discussed Mr Gromyko’s invitation for them to have dinner with him in the space to mark the end of the project. Nathan and Laura took turns at impersonating the old man. Kenneth giggled and snorted uncontrollably.
The four decomposed corpses were sitting civilly around the banquet table in the central chamber. The torch light intermittently picked up pale green walls and ornate white details. As a switch was pressed in the wall, glass panels in the shape of undulating Renaissance windows lit up; a strange anachronistic twist saw the window-screens flair with moving CGI landscapes, as if the ducal room were floating in an uncertain geometric space.
The central chamber led through a pair of automatic sliding doors to a room built around a circular table, with walls covered with maps and computer banks. On inspection the maps related to spurious territories and the computers only played back a series of collaged images on a loop. The images evoked different cultures and locations, broken by anonymous figures and consumer goods. It would be the sign over the door, found when exiting the room, that would get most attention. It simply read, “War Room”.
Across the media, the sensational discovery of the supposed Soviet bunker was blurred with tensions over Russian movements in the Ukraine. The tabloids were quick to call it the ‘Time Tomb’. It had been discovered when the foundations were laid for a Tesco Extra and for a short time it was treated as a discovery of a genuine Cold War relic, an audacious secret bunker and war room on British soil. But such fanciful ideas quickly subsided as a more ambivalent picture of the fractured space emerged.
A note was found that had been written by Laura, which read:
“As I adjust to the fate we have been condemned to by this selfish old man, I am left to ponder what we have created. In our eyes it is nothing but a series of styles and shapes, I wonder if we could design anything that would speak of genuine possibility. For the old man however, this space seems to connect to a moment when things genuinely seemed to hang in the balance.”