She welcomes us to the Royal Academy for the Arts. Her name, she says, is Francis Bleecher and she is principal of this Wonderful School. It is her honour to have us all here today and she is sure that Each and Every one of us will be pleased with the Incredible Courses that this Wonderful School has to offer. If we could come to the front, make name-tags for ourselves and then continue on to the foyer, she can start the tour. Then we will have a Q&A session in the staff room, with free tea and coffee.
Tagged and ready, Francis Bleecher leads us through the school. She points to doors, posters, skylights. We don’t cut corners at the Royal Academy for the Arts. Only the best for our students. Every step she takes seems calculated. Perfect blonde curls bouncing above her sleek white suit. She speaks with confidence. Every line rehearsed.
“Our classes,” Francis Bleecher says, “encourage a self-directed style of learning. Students are free to work at their own pace.” She walks over to a door labelled ‘Computer Lab.’
“Our computer labs,” she says, “are always up to date with the most cutting edge technology.”
She opens the door, never releasing the handle, and lets the group peek inside. Quiet, she tells us, we don’t want to disturb the students. I stand on my toes to get a better angle. Everyone nods and mutters a few syllables of approval.
All I see is an ironing board.
Francis Bleecher shuts the door and hurries the group onwards.
An ironing board.
I check that she isn’t watching as I slip inside.
Inflate a laundry room. That one where the dog sleeps, fly screen door to the backyard. Kick the dog out and get rid of the washing machine. Ironing board in the middle. An empty packet of Original French Fries. Two girls. Your sister, maybe, and her friend. Long brown hair and bangs. Your sister holds a Happy Meal toy. Her friend has a laptop, but the only program on it is Age of Mythology. Picture this. This is what I’m seeing.
“Jennifer uses her boobs as drum sticks to play along with 90s rap music videos,” says the one playing Age of Empires.
“Jessica exploits her duty of care to record crying schizophrenics and samples them in chillwave beats,” says Jennifer.
Neither look up from their games. I circle round the room.
“Jennifer simulates the sounds of softly bitten fruit through a well-structured framework of expensive DAWs.”
“Jessica sleeps with men that she knows will break her heart just so she has more to sing about in her all-girl folk-punk band.”
I watch Jessica play Age of Mythology. The picture is upside down.
“Jennifer writes songs in time signatures that make no sense because she thinks it fits her aesthetic.”
“Jessica spends entire weeks in the same room trying to record the right kind of silence to express her traumatic childhood.”
Cutting edge. Yeah.
I don’t get it. My mum used to be a nurse at the Royal Canberra Hospital. It was an old building, and mum liked to exaggerate. She talked about how every step echoed through ancient, decaying floorboards. How nails that held paintings had sunk an inch towards the floor. Supporting beams that arched downwards, like a bowstring waiting to be released. Well, one day her similes didn’t sound so silly. The arrow let loose. One beam snapped. Then the rest, and the whole building came down.
It was rebuilt, of course, but it was no longer Royal. A place isn’t allowed to have Royal in its name, my mum says, unless the Governor General inspects it and deems it worthy.
So I don’t get it. The Governor General comes here, looks around and says, this is worthy. This place. That ironing board. Worthy.
A tall man struts towards me. Hair blond and thighs muscular. I look up to read his name-tag.
“Woof woof,” says Terrence, “chaKOW chikaPOW!”
“Terrence,” I say, “Can you help me find the staff room?”
He pulls a clump of hair out of his pocket and points to it as it floats to the floor. Then, satisfied with his response, Terrence leaves.
I continue on. Through corridors. Up stairs. Down stairs. Turn a corner. Oh. I’m outside. The building just ends. Ferns and grass creep inside. An easel holds up a canvas. White, but covered with blotches of red paint. A girl walks around the wall, faces the canvas and presses her fist against it. Another blotch.
“A lot of people see it as, like, a metaphor, but I feel like it’s more just me trying to create the most purest, in-your-face kinda art that I can. You know?” She spins around and raises an eyebrow up at me. “The way I see it is there’s way too much bullshit in art and stuff these days so I guess what I’m trying to do is cut through all that and give the industry a big punch in the guts with my realness.”
She looks at me and I look at her. Then she sets off back around the wall and I follow. A thud and a grunt echo from where I can’t see.
“But you wanna know where the biggest hypocrisy lies?” she says, still out of sight, “Paint.”
“The point of art is to express yourself, right? To share with the world your emotions and dreams and fears.”
“And these artists. They expect to be able to achieve all that by spreading some factory-made, artificial colour onto a piece of paper? Nah. It doesn’t work like that. If you want real emotion, you need real colour.”
I find her, staring at a concrete wall. Thud. She punches the wall. Pounds and thumps and pummels it until her fist is dripping with real colour. Around again, she returns to her canvas. She presses her fist to it like before and then takes a step back. She beholds her masterpiece, draws in a long slow breath, and lights the canvas on fire.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
I am lost. Maps of the school, drawn on the ceiling in led pencil, don’t help. I’m in the Biology and Social Sciences block. Maybe. There aren’t any walls here, just doors. Francis Bleecher made it seem so regular. Ordinary. This is insane. Francis Bleecher must be crazy. Or cruel.
I pick a door at random. ‘Gareth’s Room’, it says. The door shivers as I walk inside. Dark, lit only by the glow of an Intel mp3 player. Gareth turns around.
I say, “Hi.”
Gareth grabs an Etch-A-Sketch from the bedside table he uses as a desk.
I say, “Where’s the Staff Room?”
Gareth finishes etching his sketch and holds it up to my face. It reads, ‘What frequency are you speaking in?’
“I don’t know, Gareth.”
Gareth shakes it clean and scribbles something new: ‘25 Hz Maximum.’
He points to the door. On my way out I hear the peak of a whale’s moan, just high enough to be humanly audible.
Francis Bleecher. Pretending to be normal. Liar. Feeding us nonsense about Computer Labs and a Royal Academy. Phoney Francis. Tricking us. Making us apply to a university for the deranged. A hoax. Then, we become the deranged. Snared. I will end this, and there it is. The Staff Room.
Posters stick to the walls. In our classroom we try our best. Water coolers, three of them, gurgle. Parts of a paragraph, a picture of a hamburger. I wonder how many hamburgers have been handed in for assessment. The rest of the group sit on green plastic chairs. Facing forward. Facing Francis Bleecher. Keep Calm and Teach On. She smiles, answers their questions with the sincerest intent. Fraud. Teaching is a work of ‘heart.’ Grey hair visible beneath her blonde curls. Her failing disguise. Rule #2, raise your hand for permission to speak. I do. Question: what, why, when, where, who. OK. Francis Bleecher calls on me. I step forward.
“What. A scam. An insane asylum.”
They shuffle in their seats to watch me.
“Why. I don’t know. Money, probably. Sadism.”
The water coolers gurgle in rhythm. A beat to my song.
“When. Until now.”
My audience, amazed.
“Where. Fucking, here.”
My foot drums against the carpet.
“Who,” and I point, “Francis. Bleecher.”
The crowd turns to see her response. She sighs. “Security,” she says, “please escort this man to the ward.”
As I’m taken away, I hear them return to the Q&A.
“The explicative dance program. Is that for baristas only, or could an esteemed push-bike salesman like myself apply?”
“I’ve recently become a diatonic sequence enthusiast and would love to learn how to apply this to my finger painting. Are there any cadential systems like that taught here?”
“You mentioned free-lance bass guitars. How would one integrate them into a standard workflow, and what are the sonic benefits?”