This new aesthetic movement was, like so many of our social upheavals, defined and narrated through the establishment of new legal precedents in our courts. A middle-aged labourer named Jason Simmons brought an unfair dismissal case against his former employer, a road building company trading under Pearson Construction Ltd. The reason given by the company for Simmons’ dismissal was “persistent and unreasonable attention to detail”. As it emerged during the hearing, Simmons had been brought to task on a number of occasions for “cleaning away his shovel and tools” at the end of each shift. Also mentioned was an “obsessive compulsion to clear up and stack all orange cones after the job was over” and an “inability to leave well enough alone”.
Simmons, for his part, argued that he was merely completing his work to the best of his abilities, and that his insistence on sweeping up any cement and concrete dust after roadworks was just part of his conscientious nature.
After much deliberation, and with a sympathetic ear towards both parties, the judge ultimately ruled in favour of Pearson Construction Ltd, arguing that the company had the final say in its work standards, and it was up to Simmons to adapt to those standards or find other employment. Times had changed, the judge expanded, and given that the current ethos was towards a more lax finishing of works done and lower expectations for the appearance of urban space, Mr. Simmons would simply have to adjust to these new aesthetic values.
This small court case, and the judge’s ruling, kicked off flurry of opinions in the city’s newspapers. Very few directly concerned Mr. Simmons and the loss of his job, but instead focussed more on the implications of the judge’s further comments. ‘The Honourable Justice Magee has a strong point here,’ wrote Matt Candle in The Independent. ‘My street is a patchwork of concrete pours, tar patches and uneven refill jobs. The only explanation for a road finishing this ugly is that someone thinks it looks good like this.’
‘This is not any kind of scientific estimation,’ wrote Mary Raleigh in The Times, ‘but I’d wager there’s something in the order of a few hundred thousand orange cones lining the streets of the capital alone. Quantities that could not possibly be explained by ongoing works. Somebody clearly thinks orange cones are acceptable as near-permanent street fixtures.’
‘Sue me, but I like the orange cones,’ rejoined Joe Walsh in The Sun. ‘They reassure me that someone’s still working to maintain this collapsing city.’
As the paper-reading population began to look around, they saw evidence of unfinished works everywhere. Half-bags of cement left to rot in the corners of newly paved parks. Rusting lampposts daubed with patches of brown primer but never given a final coat of a single colour. Did this inability to cleanly finish a job represent urban decay, or ongoing maintenance? It divided opinion.
Artists began to take influence from this new awareness of incompleteness in the public realm. The issue sparked many public dialogues and artists reflected this interest in their work. Photographers focussed on it. Poets hailed it (most famously Sheila Curran’s “Ode to the Plastic Piping Still on Pembroke Lane”). Fine artists reflected it in their sculpture, often without anyone noticing. By the following year the most avant-garde among them had embraced wholly the new visual aesthetic, celebrating openly the abandonment of neatness and order. This spread through the arts over a decade, eventually trickling outwards into the hearts and works of architects, advertisers, and finally the general public.
In hindsight we recognise the death of immortal postmodernism. This chameleonic movement was, despite its indefinable shape, nevertheless tied to the old value system of actually finishing something, however loose a concept that finished work was. An idea that seems laughably outdated in the new era. Imagine, if you will, our most famous export, Larry Condon, actually finishing one of his novels. Completing a narrative, following a coherent theme, spell-checking the thing. The final object would look like a sad relic of the 20th century. Imagine that Byrne & Considine Architects had completed the design for the rear half of the new Central Bank complex in the docklands. We would have nothing of the flooded foundations and ragwort-studded waste ground that is now such a recognisable landmark in our city. The greatest benefit in this new aesth
[sum-up paragraph. reference interior design, Moran’s treatise on death vs. incomplete nature of existence]