RCA Secret 2016: Yokels need not apply

RCA Secret 2016.jpgIf anything exemplifies the London centric ethos of the British art establishment it was this year’s Royal College of Art Secret postcard sale, because, for the 2016 exhibition, the RCA managed to make the event not only secret but also excluding. The way that the 2016 exhibition was organised said to me: “If you live outside London or its commuter belt, this is not for you”.

In previous years, devotees of the event have studied the images the week before sale day, diligently noting down the numbers of their favourites, before agonizing and compiling them into some kind of order of preference. Then to the only sale day on Saturday – into London, the long queue, chatting with fellow pilgrims, anxiously looking at the various screens which show the images, indicating which are sold and which are still there to be snapped up. Finally to the desk, and working top to bottom on the list of painstakingly arranged numbers until landing on one that is available. Money paid, it’s downstairs to pick up the purchase, which is wrapped in tissue paper and placed in an envelope. Only then to find out who the artist was.

But not this year.

For 2016 the option to buy started on the day the exhibition opened – the Sunday one week before the traditional Saturday sale day, and continued all week (provided you could physically attend the show in Kensington) while retaining Saturday as the only point when the cards could be taken away and the artists would be revealed. But this meant you’d have to make two trips to the Royal College of Art – one to choose and purchase your postcard and then another to collect it. Work commitments and financial constraints mean that for many, myself included, who live any sort of distance outside London this is just not feasible. “Well, why not come down on Friday morning, bright and breezy, buy a card, stay the night in the Big Smoke, maybe take in a show, enjoy the luxuries of electricity and running water, and then pick up your card the next day?” I hear you London Sophisticates enunciate in beautiful Received Pronunciation. Good idea. But by Friday morning there were only 190 postcards remaining out of the original 2000, so what are the chances you’ll get any of your favoured picks? Slim to bloody none, I’d say. “So why bother, you Northern Monkey?” Why indeed.

Jean-Patrick Manchette / Fatale (1977)

A disappointing (existential?) plot, with brilliant writing. The main hooks from the story come from its unpredictability. The plot arc follows the lead taken by its characters – it is dysfunctional. The protagonist is a widow who becomes a hit-woman, she kills her latest target having fallen in love with him (possibly), then bumps off all her clients in revenge for the killing she’s done… As you do. Imagine Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black but the bride had poisoned the wedding cake that killed the groom, and then went on to slaughter the caterers because they made the original cake. Sort of. The detail and panache of the writing carries you forward. The slender size gave me the sense I was reading something artistic and cerebral – pretentious twat that I am. The final, bloody confrontation had the vengeful excitement of a Spaghetti Western, which was then concluded with Manchette’s characteristic (arty?) obtuseness.

David Peace’s introduction adds bugger all.

I love the cover of my copy from Serpent’s Tail.