Metro 125

Richard Herring: Human life and art in a condom

Tonight I begin my 23rd year of performance at the Edinburgh Fringe. I am hoping this time I will make my breakthrough. If not I am only prepared to give this 23 more tries and then I’m cutting my losses.

If you’re in town in August then come and see my new stand up show Lord Of the Dance Settee and/or my new play I Killed Rasputin at the George Square Theatre. They’ve already been called ‘The best shows in the history of human artistic expression’ by the Metro. And that’s a direct quote.

If you can’t afford the trip then you can get your art for free by just keeping your eyes open. Last week I was in Shepherd’s Bush, minding my own business, when I saw something weird on the pavement. It was a grubby, old baby carriage that I assumed had been fly tipped. But on closer inspection I saw the carrycot was not empty. It contained what looked like a used condom. Initially, like all right-thinking people, I was disgusted by this odd juxtaposition (though weirdly it echoed a section of one of my stand-up routines in which I refer to babies as sexcrement). But then I wondered if this was a piece of street art designed to make us consider the lottery of birth. Many more people have failed to be born than those lucky/unlucky few who made it.

If this unsavoury item was placed in an art gallery, Charles Saatchi would have paid £250,000 for it. Probably a million if it had been created by Tracey Emin and contained the gametes of Gilbert and/or George. Was I the first art connoisseur to discover the Shepherd’s Bush Banksy (or more likely the Shepherd’s BushWanksy)? The piece spoke of life and death, birth and birth control. Like all great art it unsettled me and made me look at existence anew. If you’re going to a gallery you expect to be presented with stark incongruities like this one, but this was more effective because the artist had ambushed me in the street. I thought about picking it up and taking it home with me. But then again….

If it wasn’t street art, then what the Hell was it? Had someone been having sex in broad daylight on the streets of west London and then happened to see a receptacle that they could use to dispose of their unwanted spermatazoons? It seemed unlikely. Had a person got both a broken pram and a used condom to get rid of and thought they might as well dump them at the same time? It had to be art, right?

Reeling from this experience I went to the gym where my world was turned further upside. The women’s changing rooms were being decorated and the workmen were all male, so for one day only, the female and male changing rooms swapped gender. I went into the women’s area to get into my trunks. It was like all my dreams had come true. I had been given access to this magical wonderland where all kinds of amazing things have happened (in my imagination). It wasn’t quite as sexy as I had anticipated, but weirdly it was like a labyrinth of corridors, with no logic to where the lockers, showers, toilets or pool would be. Confused old men wandered around caught between being enchanted to be inside this secret inner sanctum and being terrified that they would never escape. Having being made to consider the beginnings of life I now contemplated the articifice of gender. I give the installation five stars.