The Unilever Series: Dominique Gonzales Foerster - TH.2058


Artwork 2058: Probability Cloud

By Jeff Noon


AUDIO GUIDE Gallery 27 contains a single artefact known as <Mirror Tomb>. Blank exercise books decorate a large mound of earth, which supports a central slate structure. Silver mist hovers around the work. Visibility is near zero, with a random ten-second burst of intense brightness occurring once a year. The viewer’s face may then be seen, reflected in the slate’s highly polished surface.
[Artist: Maria Novus]

JOURNAL … standing at the doorway, looking into the gallery. The fog drifts around the tomb. Never actually seen the lighted version. Wilson has a theory that the artist herself is actually buried here, in the soil. For years nobody listened. Now exhumation due to start, two days time. I will have to —
Singsong BLEEP of a voice in my earpiece, a message from Eva … They’ve found a new exhibit.

… corridor, 3rd level, heading towards mezzanine.

I can feel the building tremble around me. A genie sleeps in the busted computer system, awaiting reactivation. Strands of human hair hang from the vents overhead, each one torn at the roots from the skulls of dead film stars. Cabinets filled with cast-off skins shimmer beneath spotlights. Mutated insects crawl through the wall cavities, calling to each other in pulses of electromagnetic energy.
…  I see Eva standing ahead. Wilson is there also. The whole team, it looks like. What are they staring at?

CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITS <Fallen Angel> depicts a female astronaut, long dead, crinkled spacesuit frozen tight around her. The traveller’s face is visible behind the broken visor of the helmet. She hangs from the ceiling by the wires and cables that presumably once supported her inside a landing module. Of the craft itself, there is no sign.
[Artist: unknown]

JOURNAL … face of the woman. She looks human, or at least partially so. Cold dark eyes behind a web of cracks. Breathing apparatus dangles from her mouthpiece, no doubt torn away in panic.

People talking quietly, nervous. First new piece in ages.
Already Wilson is taking notes, reformulating his critical theories.
All I can do is gaze at those dead eyes, abandoned, half human.
They stare back.
… Eva leans in, whispering. She wants to meet.
In secret.

… second floor, over by the <Activated Body Chimes>. The flesh mechanisms stand idle, workings fused by rust.
I make a cigarette from crumbled orchid stamens wrapped in a piece of canvas torn from a painting. The smoke tastes of rotten fruit and turpentine.
A page of manuscript paper drifts in the air nearby.
I let it float along, unread.
Eva arrives. She passes some small objects to me, saying, ‘I found these in the woman’s hand.’
‘Which woman?’
‘The astronaut. I had to prise her fingers open.’
There are seven tablets lying on my palm.
Eva moves in close, her lips touching mine. ‘I haven’t told anybody else.’ Breathing: ‘Only you.’
Each pill is coloured mint green; each one marked with tiny lettering that spells out the word VISITOR.
It’s a word I’ve seen only once before.
What secrets does it hold?


THE FLOATING MANUSCRIPT The Quantum War took place beneath the skin of reality. It lasted all of nine minutes. There were no deaths, no wounds. But such deep changes took place in those few minutes, we are only now witnessing their physical and psychological effects.
… a sparkle of ghost electrons passes through the air. I’m looking down into the central hallway, where Brady is working hard on her latest construction. It’s a replica human head, more than fifty times the normal size. Brady calls it <Reconstructed Temple>. She climbs a stepladder, hammer in hand. Materials: discarded audio equipment, cameras, canvas sheets, peeling video screens. Whatever junk she can find.
Brady’s trying to reactivate something. But what?
Towards the rear of the great space I spot DeeDee pushing her old shopping trolley up a concrete ramp. Her son’s clothes are piled neatly in the metal cage, her only reminder that somebody somewhere used to be alive to her needs. I imagine her voice, muttering away. Some idea that her son still lives, trapped in one of the paintings, caught in an image.
Wilson claims it to be madness.
Now DeeDee wanders the aisles of the lower galleries. She has become an exhibit herself, set free from the usual frames that hold the rest of us in place.
I almost envy her.
Pieces of A4 paper floating by. I used to read them with passion, searching for clues. Now I barely notice them.
The pills burn in my closed palm.

CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITS <Floating Manuscript> is a work without any set gallery space, rather it may be found drifting in the air throughout the building. The typewritten sheets describe the kind of art that exists after some kind of quantum disturbance, when changes below the molecular level of reality create random and dispersed imagery. To view such art actually changes the work. Pictures mutate under the watcher’s gaze.
[Artist: Soma Katsu]

AUDIO GUIDE The bookshop is situated on the ground floor, to one side of the main hall. Our extensive range of art books, magazines and postcards will delight any …

JOURNAL … another visit to the language gallery. The letters shine in the dark:
… A … Q …  X …  C … W …
Like neon bugs, they glow for seconds at a time, burning my retina with their heat.
… Z … K … E … T …
And after the letters have faded, still their blurred images remain at the back of my eye, a brain print.
… O … G … Y …
And then they too fade.
… I … V …
Wilson insists the language gallery once held many such letters, arranged into words and held tightly between the pages of countless books. Now the letters roam freely. In a way, the gallery offers hope, that one day the letters might join up once again to make words. And these words might form a sentence. A pathway might then be disclosed, our escape from the building spelled out for us. In all our time here, however, only one such fragment has been witnessed. Wilson has it written down in his notebook. It reads:
I feel ill at ease suddenly, close to falling. And I walk out into the main hall.
The building holds wonders. And yet we know so little.
Eva long ago gave up cataloguing the exact number of galleries; the pencilled map would change every time she opened her notepad. I myself have visited only a few of them; but these are the rooms of colour, of sparkle and dust, where glass modules break open releasing their scents and children may one day get lost in the artworks, never to be seen again.

… back to my quarters in the storage units.
How strange my face looks in the mirror. Eyes losing colour, marks on my tongue.
No matter. I swallow one of the Visitor pills with a glass of water … and feel the room sway …


THE FLOATING MANUSCRIPT… victims of the Quantum War, their bodies were fully functioning, perfectly attuned to life, but the whites of their eyes were clouded with numbers, and their tongues painted with random letters.
Experts are still seeking decryption, even as the world …
… as I stand in front of the large painting in gallery 9, the one entitled <Columbine Weeps>. The various elements have never truly made sense to me before, but now, suddenly, I feel I am seeing them for the first time: the cold grey eyes of the doctor; his patient, Columbine, with her bowed head and scarred forearms; the mah-jong tiles that lie on the table
between them. Now I understand, the game is part of her therapy sessions. She is describing her latest dream, which the artist brings alive in a conjoined image, a man creeping in the semi-darkness like a reptile. He has a seeping face. Upon hearing of this vision, the doctor smiles like a fog-bank aglow with fireflies. His medical instruments are made of pure silver, they glisten in the soft light of the desk lamp.
… the painting gleams.
… my fingers pressing against canvas, melting …

… now I stand within the doctor himself, inside the image. I have skin of pigment, with oil in my veins. And something else; a small glass capsule that I hold in one hand, a fluid inside it. I see it clearly now, the mystery of the object revealed to my mind. Knowledge burns! I am Doctor Levitz of Vienna. 1912. I spend my nights in lowlife bars, staring at the capsule, for it contains my own tears, those wept at the moment of my dear wife’s death. I have weighed and analysed the few small droplets myself, to find the exact degree of sadness felt …

… I come round on the floor of the gallery … blood throb in my skull … fingers aching … mouth dry …
Taste of the pill on my tongue.
I manage to stand. The painting looms over me, dark with life. My eyes are drawn to the doctor’s painted hand. There it is! The merest glint of the glass capsule hidden in his palm. It was never noticed before, but now …
I am the Visitor.
Now I see.
Now …


THE FLOATING MANUSCRIPT The old idea of Europe disappeared. In the years following the nine-minute war,
another kind of borderline appeared, one that travelled the body itself. Art seeped through the now porous membrane where the subject matter merged with the viewer’s damaged psyche.

CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITS <Artwork 2058: Probability Cloud> survives only as a web of fragile connections drawn in the reader’s mind between four different elements:

  1. Spoken passages from an Audio Guide to the Gallery.
    The voice is slightly mechanical, but soothing.
  2. Entries from the handwritten Journal of Anton Fournier,
    a visitor.
  3. 3 Fragments of text from a work of art known as <Floating Manuscript>.
  4. Pages torn from the Gallery’s Catalogue of Exhibits.

The work as a whole attempts to portray life in the post-reality zone.
[Artist: unknown]

AUDIO GUIDE … evidently, a paradox; it should not be possible for the Catalogue of Exhibits to actually contain itself as an item. And yet <Artwork 2058: Probability Cloud> does exist, an object in the world. This would suggest a quantum narrative; the gallery is a folded literary space, where meanings converge at some meta-level of …


JOURNAL … sleep proves elusive. The corridors twist and turn. Sometimes I can walk for minutes on end, only to find myself in a gallery I have just vacated. Wilson has dubbed it Escher-Space, this strange property of the building’s inner realms.
…  Brady continues with her work on <Reconstructed Temple> in the main hall. Eva is helping; she was once the self-appointed curator of this place, now she’s becoming an artist herself. It seems she had bought into Brady’s claim of only the creative act itself allowing any kind of legitimate engagement with the gallery as a living entity. The giant head stands perfectly still on a wooden podium, its two eyes closed as yet. On the wall opposite, a large video screen has been set up. Brady’s hoping to capture the dreams of the head.
DeeDee circles the hall with her trolley, calling out her lost child’s name over and over.
… meanwhile, I keep staring at the Visitor pills. Six of them left. When I think what taking just one of them felt like, the clarity it gave me. The way the painting revealed its secrets …
… digging has started in gallery 27. Soon the <Mirror Tomb> will be opened. I watch them for a while, as the team workers carefully record the position of the blank exercise books before removing them. Now they start to sift the earth away from the mound, working like archaeologists. Wilson is strutting around looking suitably concerned. A plaster cast of a bird’s wing has been found, the feathers encrusted with rubies and emeralds. What else will be uncovered? Is Wilson right, in his theory of the artist being buried within her own work? We shall soon see.
I remember: Eva once asked her husband how he would like to live the rest of his life. Wilson replied that he’d like to stay human, if at all possible.
I’m not sure if I know what he means.
I step out into the next gallery along, where I swallow two of the tablets. As I do so, the painting on the wall opposite starts to move towards me …

CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITS Can a subconscious mind be aroused within dead matter? This question lies behind the cre-ation of <Reconstructed Temple>. The speaking module contains tubes where nascent language merges with the air; electric prayers whisper through the valves. Hopes persist that one day the lips will part to speak a poem of the head’s own making. The ultimate goal is to activate a dream within the emptiness of the tinplate skull, which will then be projected outwards, into the world.
[Artist: Anna Louise Brady]

JOURNAL … I walk though darkness. The whole building seems to have shut down around me, although I can sense the insects moving in the pipes within the walls; they are the wandering sentences of the lost narrative of the palace of mutant art. Paper rustles by and I reach out and grab the floating sheet, which glows with a soft blue light. I see my own name written there, one word among many, and all of them slithering on the page, unreadable. The paper drifts away from my hand as I pass along.
Cloaked figures move in the pitch-black space.
They make a painful breathing sound.
I am lost.
A luminous green word settles on a nearby sculpture. Cast adrift from some alien language, the word is speaking to me, or trying to. I cannot translate it.
Another sound: a twig breaking.
Someone or something is closing in.
A spirit?
It moves in pathways of scent as though it were conjured from the heart of a flower, a dying flower.
‘Who’s there?’
There is no answer, no answer to my call. Only my breath when eventually it returns.
A giant neon moon flares into life high above me.
I recognise it as a work that once hung in gallery 59, many years ago, and long since dismantled and put into storage. Now it flames again, albeit with a sickened light, a dirty yellow light.
The female astronaut hangs suspended from the ceiling.
I feel that I am marked to die here, stranded like her, atraveller from another dimension. I will blur into the paintings and sculptures, becoming the subject.
I can hear Eva’s voice in my earpiece, calling to me.
‘Anton? Where are you? Answer me.’
Her voice sounds through a veil of noise. I yank the mechanism loose.
Silence now.
Silence, where the ghost lives.
Where the ghost moves …

It is a young boy who beckons me closer, to hand me a sheet of clear plastic marked with an intricate network of filigree lines. He says: ‘This is an X-ray of the astronaut’s body. Her veins make a map through the building. It will help you.’
The child’s face is daubed with blue paint.
I move on, following the route of blood, which leads me through into the central hallway.
… I know that shadows stalk the roof space, high up amid the girders. There is something black and monstrous living up there. My skin crawls as I turn to face Brady’s sculpture, the giant semi-human head, which lies on its side now, damaged. It looks like a long-forgotten, half-made god. The crudely painted lips are drooling pigment, the eyes flicker behind their cheap plastic lids. A dream has come alive within the hollow skull and I walk over to the huge video screen on the wall opposite, where a faint image shimmers. Colours move within the screen, slowly taking on shape, forming the soft outlines of closely planted trees. Details tremble into view as I watch: first the tangled branches, then the myriad leaves, the haunted black leaves through which figures glitter and dance. Silhouettes. A warm breeze stirs the forest and now I see the shapes more clearly; a number of pale-skinned mannequins stand half-hidden amid the foliage, five or six of them, their bodies decayed and stained with dirt, overgrown in patches by moss, with missing limbs, with pockmarked faces and smeared make-up. Their mouths smile blankly, their moulded and painted eyes seem to gaze at me through the leaves. Night birds cry and sing in darkness, from the tower of a ruined building in the distance.
I am caught there in the spell of art, in the cage of staring. The mannequins move without my noticing; whenever I concentrate on one alone, the others shift towards me. Now the closest stands on the other side of the screen, inches away from me. My hand reaches out, as does that of my partner, my sallow-faced reflection. Our two palms are separated by a thin layer of sorrow. Beetles move in his woven hair, breath stirs from his parted lips. His face takes on a human taint and his eyes yearn for understanding. He is speaking to me. Speaking …


THE FLOATING MANUSCRIPT … at which point the narrative crashes. Stripped of words, books are the silence of their time; plots dissolve into so many random particles. The clouds of probability float outwards from the moment of collapse.

JOURNAL … Eva and Wilson are talking to me. Eva has such tender concern in her eyes. Wilson is asking me questions I cannot answer. He is tearing out the pages of his notebook one by one. I was found, apparently, wandering the corridors of the fourth floor in a daze. How did I get there from the main hallway, which routes did I travel? The words in my journal are blurred on the page.
DeeDee moves slowly around the lower galleries. Her voice calls out.

… Wilson was right after all. The body of the artist has been uncovered within <Mirror Tomb>. The corpse was partially mummified, the skin covered in hieroglyphs. Eva is trying her best to decipher the code.
There is no need.
Wet and dark with dirt and blood, the flesh …

AUDIO GUIDE … Now the visitor haunts the twisted corridors with a sense of trepidation. Something is going to happen, some new artwork come into being. Nobody will listen to him, people avoid him in the corridors.

CATALOGUE OF EXHIBITS … apparently <Vein Map> was brought back by Fournier when he emerged from the drug-induced vision. He studies the thin plastic of the X-ray sheet daily, noticing that the exit doors are clearly marked, all four of them. Why then is he so hesitant to leave?

JOURNAL … Gallery 49, the top floor. A new painting has been found. Entitled <London After the War>, it depicts a dark forest and a family of lost mannequins. Beyond the trees lie the fog-mapped ruins of a church, where the statue of Our Lady of the Seven Wounds stands amid creeping vines and sullen-headed flowers. One of the mannequins stares directly at me from the canvas. I dream of a breath taken beyond the mouth, the lungs, a pathway of gold that climbs away from my body, towards the cold diamond-star sky where the painted moon hovers.

… People look at me strangely; they seem to be studying me from a distance.
I can hardly remember their names.
Or even my own.
… The giant head sits in the central hallway. It remains impassive. Only I have seen the truth, that such dreams that unfurl within the skull will become real in the galleries. I am drawn to the plasma screen. There are tiny flashes of light within the greyness.
The shifting patterns taunt me.
I swallow the four remaining tablets all at once.
The lights flicker and buzz.

THE FLOATING MANUSCRIPT … A stray word lands in the mouth of the visitor. He bites down hard, feeling the juice of it coating his tongue and seeping through, deep into his bloodstream. And now his tongue is covered in letters, his eyes clouded with numbers.

JOURNAL … I take out a knife and carve through the screen. Blood flows down the surface …