The term ‘genius’ is thrown around like salt on a bag of fried potatoes. Any common virtuoso from Picasso to Charlie Parker. However real genius is not about artistic talent but an uncompromising intensity of lifestyle, (so maybe charlie parker was a genius after all). I have only three times in my very long and convoluted life met people who I would unhesitatingly classify as a genius. One of them was Arkadi Len.
Arkadi had no art skills at all. Couldn’t read music or play an instrument. Couldn’t draw. Couldn’t exactly paint either. Didn’t dance. Well, that’s not strictly true. His life was a dance.
He had a slot at a local radio station. The graveyard shift. Sometimes I was his partner in crime. His job was to play music or something all through the night from midnight til six in the morning. In the beginning nobody was listening. That’s what gave him the freedom to pursue whatever direction he chose. On his way to the studio Arkadi would find old bits of cassette tapes lying in the gutter. This was not unusual in the days of analogue. On arriving at the studio he mounted the tapes on spools and played them simultaneously, as many as possible, on a big bank of cassette players. The fact that these tapes had often been lying outside exposed to the elements often added to the charming sound quality. Once the cacophony of the found tapes was at full throttle, he would then haul total strangers in from the nightlife of the cities streets and seduce them into singing over the ‘music’, or recite poetry which we would write on the spot together. Sometimes this whole sound would be decorated with some snippets from other live radio stations, weather forecasts, news bulletins in Hungarian, some opera maybe. Now that’s what we considered to be a radio show.
For a period Arkadi was feted by the local cultural elite as a wild bohemian painter. It was a business plan by a small gallery. Find a bohemian. Give him some paint, a studio and enough to eat (just about). Make a fortune. Arkadi set about the task with his usual unskilled optimism. The floor was covered in paper, canvas, plastic sheets, random bits of cloth, and all manner of paint was applied. Visitors passed by and joined in scribbling and doodling. Some of the canvases were used as tables for large meals and not a little of the food ended up mixed in with the paint. Bootprints, mouse shit, bicycle tire tracks, all the daily detritus of a busy social life would leave its mark on the developing artworks. One evening the performance artist Peat Moss came to visit and join in the fun. After a heavy evening meal people began to fall into sleep. It was a cold night. Peat kept himself warm by wrapping himself in one of the sturdier canvases. (Did he have particularly vivid dreams we wonder?). In the morning some of the paint had detached itself on Peat’s clothes and some aspects of his clothes, maybe cat hairs and oil stains, had attached themselves to the canvas. In a rather pleasing way. This canvas, called ‘Peat’s Blanket’ was one of the more talked about at the subsequent exhibition. Arkadi didn’t make any financial gain from the exhibition. I don’t know if the gallery did. After the show many of the paintings mysteriously disappeared. Years later I myself came across some of them gathering dust in a second rate gallery in an unfashionable part of town. Later that night my good friend and master of the darkness, Farid Fuk, silently broke into the gallery, liberated the paintings, which he gave to me. I distributed them among Arkadi’s true friends.The Datura Dogs enjoying a breakfast of Flyagaric mushrooms. Soviet Union 1989
Arkadi Len and myself together with the linguist superkid Ruud Ecklehof, had a performance group called The Datura Dogs. We sharpened our skills travelling with a Poetry Circus for two months through the Soviet Union. Arkadi’s instrument of choice was a battery of percussion instruments which grew ever larger as the journey progressed, accumulating all kinds of wood, scrap metal, glass and plastic from the junkyards of the Ukraine to the car graveyards of Minsk.
Circumstance had led us to a large deserted warehouse in which we were supposed to be preparing and playing a concert. The space was huge. When we walked inside we were disappointed to discover that the condition of the building was much worse than we thought. It was a rainy day and the water was leaking in at a tremendous rate. We estimated that there must have been at least thirty different sources of water hammering down onto the stone floor of the space. Undeterred Arkadi went off into town and returned several hours later with about thirty metal containers of all shapes sizes thicknesses and quality. Some were aluminium, some old copper, stainless steel, rusty iron and tin. Buckets, coal scuttles, saucepans, dog bowls, frying pans, vases, petrol tanks. Under each dripping cascade we placed a receptacle. Each receptacle responded differently to the water hitting it with a different tone. Some very melodic rich and full, others more subdued, like an old korg rhythm box. Some sounded like Chinese gongs others like thunder. Then we augmented the sound by suspending speakers (about fifty of them) from the ceiling, each pair of speakers with music of a different origin. When the audience arrived, they were invited to walk through this forest of sound. Meanwhile Arkadi Len mingled with the public, recording fragments of conversation with his walkman, which were then fed back into the sound mix. My contribution was to dress up as a flyagaric mushroom with a guitar, serenade the masses and hand out little bags of psilocybin. Well, despite the dampness of the building, a fine time was had by all.