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|The Opening: 06-07/|
In the Kaleidoscope Room
02.04.09 - 29.05.09
Excerpt from In The Kaleidoscope Roomby Elizabeth Stone
“I can’t get in,” the man next to me barks into his oval shaped cellular phone. “It’s absolutely mobbed. Get Arnie to come out and get me.” I’m deep in the middle of a crowd at the south entrance to the Grandville Convention Center. As you might have guessed it is opening night of the 123rd Annual San-San Annual International Exhibition. The first moments of what will be a 23 day, 24 hour a day display of the spectacles of modern technology and culture. All eyes of the crowd are focused toward the twelve men in white who guard the entrance. Two Korean women, who appear to be wearing airhostess uniforms, try to check names off a list. But it’s not working and the crowd is getting angry. A guard yells, “Form a line” but the mass just pushes forward. The man next to me with the cell phone starts to shove his way to the front with great force nearly trampling a women dressed in a horse costume. I could go to the west entrance and use my press credentials but it seems like there might be more to learn here in the mob. The anticipation is tangibly thick. People are dressed in all kinds of extravagant ways: short skirts and see-thru blouses, beaded cardigans, ski costumes, three-piece suits made from optically patterned fabric. I see a man and a woman naked except for body paint and at least fifteen people in tie-dye uniforms. I can’t help but wonder what it is that is so great inside? Is it the launch of some new electronic device? A new painting by Charles Schwab? The latest in hybrid horticulture? The anticipated performance by Lionel Ritchie? I overhear a man in front of me who bears a striking resemblance to the Marlboro Man say that if he can get to the Otis Elevator Booth he will get a free laptop and a year long gym membership. This could be a reason for the pandemonium: free stuff. But it seems to me that with all the pageantry around it is more about seeing and being seen, an elaborate stage for role-playing, power games and courtship.
I abandon the rabble and walk through the plaza and underneath the skywalks to the press entrance. I see all variety of activity on my way. Children selling grilled cheese sandwiches and DVDs. Stand up comedians. Girls in leopard bikinis dancing next to a giant inflatable possum. I think I see two teenagers having sex behind one of the concrete columns but I can’t be sure. At the press entrance there is a man wearing a beret who is quietly weeping. A broken heart, or perhaps he didn’t get his free laptop?
There are over one thousand seven hundred and fifty exhibitors on the thirteen floors of the convention center. It is the biggest of its kind in the world. I’m told that they expect almost three million people to attend. The scale is a result of the merger of several kinds of trade fairs, contemporary art exhibitions, technology displays and performance festivals into one behemoth event. It is now truly without theme or cohesion, a fair ostensibly about everything and nothing at all.
The mood of the interior is more subdued and elegant than the crowds in the plaza. Black evening attire seems to be the norm. As I enter the atrium I’m struck by how empty it is. The people outside far out number those within. Of course this is the exclusive opening night for the buyers of big-ticket items: movable mansions, prehistoric plants, Picassos, helicopters, rare animal handbags, leather socks. Despite the pretense of commerce the spectators seem to be paying little attention to the exhibits. There is a lot of kissing and chatter and stares of intrigue. The objects and ideas have become a backdrop for a giant meat market. This may account for the recent trend of exhibitors to discard their unsold merchandise and displays into giant bins on the north side of convention center at the conclusion of the fair. Their goods lose their value outside the context of the exhibit. Within hours of the fair’s end scavengers from the perimeters of the city descend upon the mounds of debris. They load the unwanted objects onto shopping carts and trolleys and haul them away to glean new and unforeseen uses.
I ask a young woman who is selling vacations to a resort in northern Canada how business has been. “Not good. But I never do well on opening night. I’m just looking forward to the free drinks.”