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Behind the Irony Curtain

Ian Martin
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Ian Martin takes the Trans-Europe Stopping Train

MONDAY My equivocation on the Europe Issue has served me well. But now the professions of epic space and a clamorous media are demanding to know whose side I’m on. I wish I knew. I’m looking forward to the EU referendum, if only to find out which way I’ll go.

For anyone who basically hates everyone, it’s a tough call. For someone whose passion is the plastic arts, it’s impossible. For the first time in living memory, one’s friends and enemies are posing together on building sites in matching hard hats.

My Eurosceptic friend Loaf, the former mayor of London, is flapping about and gurning in a historic street near Spitalfields. He’s championing a redevelopment that will bury the place beneath glazed ziggurats of pulsating, escalating profit. Perhaps historic buildings are too ‘European’ for Brexiteers. All those Huguenot migrants coming over here, taking our Georgian England…

I understand his bitterness. I was originally up for designing the windows for one of these new staggered banking silos, called something ridiculous like the Penis of Liberty. In the end I was undercut by some cheapo window-printing algorithm provider based in Amsterdam. Bloody Europe, eh?

TUESDAY To the Gherkin and Firkin for a lunchtime think. The pub manager, retired architect Po-Mo Ceri, reckons I should throw in my lot with the so-called Starchitects and Startists, a cultural cartel of pro-Europeans who have worked assiduously over the years to undermine their neo-liberal establishment clients by smuggling irony into ugliness and turning it into a kind of refracted beauty.

Conversely my fixer Rock Steady Eddie argues that I should come out as a Leaver. Maybe he’s right. Be bold, egregious. Take a moral stand against the capitalist racket, the Greece-bashing and the refugee bartering. ‘Whatever. I just thought you could do with the publicity. Get in one of them style magazines. You know – Ponce Among The Nancies. If we did leave though, a warning from history. Bosh.’ He snatches the pizza from my plate and gobbles it.

Much more useful advice comes from my old friend Darcy the design correspondent and his muse, the neurotic architectural dachshund, Bauhau. Or as Eddie so offensively calls them, Poofy and Woofy. Darcy thinks I should embrace my inner floating voter. ‘A day is a long time in fashionable politics,’ he announces firmly, while Bauhau reverses at speed in a circle, afraid of his own tail. Both are wearing vintage Mr Fish ‘Dresses for Him and Dog’ though Darcy carries it off more convincingly. Dresses always ride up on a dachshund.

I decide his advice is most useful, and resolve to stay nimble in the run-up to the referendum. A mind unchanged is a mind untested.

WEDNESDAY Tamworth Biennale is as bustling as ever this year, full of ‘hot takes’ from young designers, artists and thinkers working strictly within the boundaries of ancient Mercia.

As such, it’s an excellent pointer to what the creative industries would look like if Britain went it alone. There are prototypes of detention centres constructed entirely from human waste. One exhibit shows how coastal towns could harness energy from floodwater. The centrepiece of the Walsall Pavilion is a huge model of an Anglo-Saxon fortress. The bricks are chips fried in lard, snap-frozen, then laminated and assembled into some sort of statement about identity, probably. By then I was on my way out, and feeling very European.

THURSDAY Pettifogging faceless EU bureaucrats have once again trampled through the salon of my mind with their hobnailed boots. Since when has the provision of a safety harness while fitting mosaics to the exterior of a luxury residential tower been a ‘human right’?

I think of the noble Mohawks who built New York skyscrapers, and that marvellous Northern steeplejack Fred Dibnah, with his roll-ups and his cavalier attitude to collapsing brick chimneys. I shake my head at the milksops we have become. Out of Europe now!

FRIDAY Excellent. Eddie’s just negotiated another grant ‘from Brussels or wherever’ to help build a farm and fishing business sanctuary, preparing school-leavers for civic involvement and community engagement with incremental audio-visual opportunities within the rural environment.

I agree to work up an initial design. But I warn him – it won’t be cheap.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist European playoffs. Enlightenment 4, Defenestration 3.

SUNDAY Suspend all thoughts about Britain’s destiny, in the recliner.

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