Grace Jones and Chris Levine's collaboration in Soho
entitled Stillness at the Speed of Light (yes, we know, it means absolutely nothing)
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It launched last week at The Vinyl Factory, an impressive laser filled space stretching far underground from its nondescript entrance on Poland Street. Upon first entering past the manically grinning hostess girls with their ubiquitous guestlists and Dolce & Gabbana perfumes, one finds oneself in what is essentially a record shop. This nonplussed us slightly until we were gently nudged down a back set of basement stairs, given one the impression of infiltrating an elaborate front organised by a vicious gang of Soho's art world hoi polloi, as we descended into the jaws of the gallery proper itself.
Wickedly shimmering portraits of Jones in various poses adorned the walls, bare breasted in some (cracking, in case you were wondering, especially given she's past sixty these days), all illuminated in delicate cadences of sepulchral colour. In some she had eyes demurely closed, eliciting an effect of the hawk at rest, but when viewed by another angle, the same glittering image showed Jones glaring with demoniacal delight out at the spectator, eyes alive with an unearthly emerald shine.
'They're not holograms you know,' breathed a bespectacled art gallery PR who materialised out of the crowd at our side, clutching a clipboard and a lipstick-stained glass of Rioja. 'It's all done with LEDs'. She went on to explain this concept in more detail but we found ourselves too lost in interestedly scanning her eyes for any signs of a soul to concentrate properly. What she did point us over to though was the installation piece where a flickering machine emitting sparkling white lasers ensured that one saw Grace Jones for a mini-second on the peripheries of your vision each time one turned one's head quick enough.
Whilst clearly entirely pointless and no doubt also horribly expensive, this did lead to discovering one of the more entertaining sights of the evening: a bunch of wanky art morons standing in front of the lasers, Pinot Grigios sloshing wildly in hands, whilst they slammed their carefully coiffeured heads from left to right as if they'd collectively decided to audition for the Vogue video twenty years too late.
Jones being Jones, she didn't appear till ten o'clock and given that the show started at seven this left three hours to fill. The organisers, wisely anticipating this eventuality, decided to entertain the selected masses within their walls in a tried and tested method: booze. Immaculately polite waitresses, uniformly kitted out in black like Mussolini's fascists, carried around trays full of glasses of wine and ice cold bottles of Peroni. When that ran out they cracked open the spirits; the gin disappeared in ten minutes flat.
Obviously the more sauce that was consumed the more the chatter increased and people began to relax a little, although that fine line between warm tipsiness and true drunkenness was well and truly crossed when a well dressed gentlemen burst out of the toilets exclaiming 'I'VE LOST THREE AND A HALF FUCKING GRAMS OF COKE IN THERE. IF YOU FIND IT YOU CAN HAVE IT.' After a startled pause a more or less mass migration to the cubicles ensued.
After milling and chatting and swilling for quite some time, finally an excited ripple swept through the inebriated congregation, and flashbulb blasts dazzled all over the room as a jabbering concoction of red drapery sporting a frilly ebony mask strode into the space surrounded by burly minders. After posing for the cameras and scurrying hurriedly from one part of the gallery to the other for no apparent reason, Jones finally settled for long enough to subject her admiring aficionados to her newfound passion: poetry.
Everyone smiled in a goodnatured fashion at first, moods boosted by the free wine, but as she really got stuck in to her stanzas, realisation that she wasn't joking dawned. Around the room pained and frozen grins veiled the general question gracing the guests' consciousness, 'when she's going to shut up?'
Luckiy enough it was a brief reading and don't get us wrong Jones could be the next Ginsberg in the making but we'd challenge anyone who was there last night to repeat to us one line from her verse. Even the eight foot tall robotic drag queen poached from Fire's Lovechild for the night seemed bored, and she had a gimp mask for a face. When it was all over though, everyone cheered, Grace happily bared her teeth in the vaguely insane way she's noted for and those who hadn't already headed back to determinedly lick the last drops from the free bar.
An interesting night in Soho then, but these shenanigans shouldn't distract from the truly intriguing exhibition of an icon at its heart. Recommended.
Words: Patrick Cash
Photo: Andrea Klarin