A REPORT FROM THE PHANTOM ZONE
I pull over into a gas station that has a fruit stand set-up in the parking lot. You know, one of those stands under a tent with a huge hand painted sign that looks like a Walker Evans photo. Everything is the size of something else. Oranges the size of grapefruit. Grapefruit the size of watermelon.
"It's all organic. 100% natural." Says the teenage girl behind the counter without lifting her head to look at me. Bored. Hot. Tired. She looks like she's been sitting in the Georgia sun all day. Rotting. Or maybe ripening...
"How can this food be organic? It's unnaturally huge..." I ask.
"I dunno. I'm just supposed to say that or no one will buy it. Everything's all organic, all natural, all the time at this market. I guess it's just our culture now." She replies. "You know that's true for everything..." She looks off to the side and then back down, as if testing me. Seeing if I'll take the bait.
So, I do.
"What do you mean?" I ask, knowing I've sprung the trap. She's been waiting all day to talk to someone. Sitting at a boring job can either be mind numbing or time for contemplation. The difference between a roadside fruit stand and a monastery is attitude. I think I'm standing in front of a monk who is just pretending to be bored...
"See people don't understand that this isn't simply a 'market'." She says without looking up. " This is our culture. It's the culture of the 21st century where the economy dominates everything, particularly the way people think. For food, people want things to be 'all natural'; the fact that nature makes the deadliest substances around does not seem to matter. I bet if I told some people who stop through here that arsenic or cyanide are 100% natural (which they are) they'd eat some! Our culture is the manifestation of the ideas that drive the economy. Like what do you do?"
"I'm an artist." I reply.
"Well the art market is just like this stand. It's not just a market, it is culture. People have a hard time understanding this because we have no distance from it. It's easier to look back in time at artists like Michelangelo. The church was the culture of his time, so he painted the Sistine Chapel. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Mikey resented the commission, because his feelings and intentions are not important. All that is left the expression of the culture of the time. All that will be left of this time is the market, unless something changes, which it always does. So what type of artist are you? Do you make work for the market, about the market, or something else?"
"You speak like you're an artist..." I dodge the question.
She smiles. "Everyone needs a summer job." She still hasn't made eye contact. I finally see why. She's been looking down because she's been drawing on a pad I could not see behind all of the huge fruit. She's been drawing me since I walked up. There are stacks of journals and drawing pads behind the tables.
"Do you sell those?" I ask.
"I sell fruit." She puts the pad down, stands up and makes eye contact. "So are you going to buy some or what?"
Looks like I failed the test. Everything else was all business after that. I ask if I can take a picture and she says no.
So, I buy some 100% natural, all organic apples the size of softballs and drive off.
I don't know why I bought the apples.
I'm allergic to fruit.
All images are courtesy of the Library of Congress, the web, and the author.