University of Glamorgan

Tiff Oben

VIP Area

Participatory Installation

June 8th 2012

VIP Area is an installation activated through the viewer’s unknowing participation. The work takes the form of an exclusive VIP bar segregated at the heart of the exhibition into which the majority of viewers are refused entry by surly, drunken, discriminating doormen. Once inside the included drink Moët champagne and smoke Cuban cigars all in plain sight of the excluded who view the work from a voyeuristic, disadvantage point from without, looking in via windows, doorway and security mirrors.

The aim is to visualize and make an exhibition of the exclusivity and elitism of the private view, generating differences and antagonism between those on the inside receiving and those on the outside being refused. Negative responses, confusion, anger, bafflement are wilfully inspired and made the subject of the work so that it becomes truly inclusive (despite exclusions) and truly participatory (even with those who feel that they cannot, or are not allowed to, participate).


This will be my fourth private view this week, it’s a slow week. The private view, I joke to acquaintances, all leading influentials, is my natural habitat. My white cube womb is the lifeblood of this city. My original black Christian Lacroix dresses dominate. The broadsheets refer to me as mother of the City’s art world. A statement that is agreeable as my womb is intact, selected orphan artists chosen as children weighed for their investment value, brought up and educated.

Once the artist has children, a dirty career distraction, and without hesitation I cast them off. Families are for simpletons who have a subconscious need to conform, art is for those of us who truly own our lives. The private view, a term I am utterly comfortable with, is for me not for everyone and should at all costs be kept that way. Exclusivity a vital ingredient of the better and more importantly, the few.

I exit the Rolls and stride forward dramatically, my perfect hair unapologetically glamorous, my jet black velvet Lacroix, the other owned by Ivana Trump complementing my velvet open toe Miu Mius encrusted with diamonds along their severe uncompromising heels. I ravish.

Once inside everyone’s eyes are upon me creating a path audible by jealous female inhalations and lusting males bowing at my altarous form. Head back, elegantly, I ignore them all.

I am intrigued, as the clientele are peculiar, not the sort that would even be considered for my Open exhibition guest list but sometimes one must rub shoulders with the riff raff. A few ex-artists of mine, once they leave me the only way is down darling, offer weak waves that I mostly ignore, acknowledging one with the tilt of my La mer made up face. Tomos makes a bee-line for me and regrettably, for him and irksome for me, waffles about his latest project in partnership with some gallery of no consequence that quickly causes me to yawn involuntarily. As he continues unrepentant to move his mouth, I scan the room. Seeing smoke bellowing from inside an exclusive room, I cut Tomos the bore mid-sentence. One whiff of the fine cigar smoke retrieves my mind from the inertia Tomos’ monologue has forced upon it. Ahh the 80s when my pack of pretty things drank the bar dry, buying cheap and selling high quicker than an investment banker at the precipice of the financial crisis.

I swing up to the door. Scruffy doormen, clearly not knowing who I am and looking for all the world as if they woke up in their suits, chatter amongst themselves. While I wait, I readjust my luxurious Yves Saint Laurent ring with its multi-shaped glass baubles presented to me at one of the Biennale’s last year, I can’t remember which, inscribed with a message of thanks which was typically for the Europeans struggling with a superior language, grammatically incorrect. I found it so unsightly, I had it removed on my return.

The penguin and the ape confront me. The hairier, smaller one of the two takes my hand. I wriggle out of his grasp and uncomfortably announce myself. The penguin speaks chewing each word before it escapes his mouth in a splash of saliva. To avoid this I transcend these two mechanicals and flush into my rightful place – the private view. I am being touched. The ape like one has his brutish arm across the door. In my way!

“You’re not on the list, lurve.”

My back rears at this new experience.

“There must be some sort of mistake.”


“Is this a bloody joke?”

I say looking at the least odious of the two buffoons. I do not deserve to be treated this way. What kind of a blaggard would invite me but refuse me entry?

“This has never happened before. I’d like to speak to the maitre d’!”

The penguin looks up.

“We are that thing you said miss. We are security bouncers. If yar name ain’t down, y’ain’t coming in”

I am outraged-these dreadful men confronting moi. How absolutely ghastly. I compose and finely suggest with pomp

“Obviously you are not doing your job correctly. I have a regular table at the Ritz for goodness sake. Why don’t you run along inside and check before I have you both ejected.”

This thought slowly travels to the ape’s brain and once the two confer, I assume in an attempt to make an electrical current, he wrestles his way into this promised land. The penguin smiles a toothless smile directly at me, it is too horrid and I escape his gaze by stalking round to the window. The smoke that emanates from this elite bar makes me hanker for a Davidoff from my crystal glass holder. I stoop to conquer, lowering my elegant frame to look through the windows. Then I stop myself.

My god! I have been lowered to a dirty voyeur, a peeping tom!, squinting through the curtains at the revellery taking place inside. How disgusting! I hear their laughter. One dirty sod blows a kiss at me as I gawp. I am gawping!

Quickly I recover my composure, my self-respect reset by adjusting my priceless opal bracelet. I am startled by what I expect is some kind of epiphany. It fades without leaving anything detrimental behind. Swarms of smoke escape as a guest, a rather dashing, generic gentlemen leaves.

‘If he is able to gain access to this frightful soiree then surely one as substantial as I cannot be refused?”

As I finish pursing my perfect lips I feel deceived by my own words and recoil. Words I never expected to utter. Ever. I am practically pleading with these amoebas.

‘No, love. Like I told you. Yow ain’t on the list.’

The penguin chips in

“And before you ask, we spoke to the boss and it’s a no. Ta ra.”

I laugh manically, then close my Valentino rockstud panther print bag, tapping the leather rim with my perfectly manicured nails in an attempt to slow my heart beat – thumping, thumping then nothing at all.

This is an outrage, I have never been excluded from anything in my life – I am so offended, turning exquisitely on my diamond heel I catwalk the hell out of there.

They probably had a god awful time anyway.


I received the private view invitation in the post. Edwardian script, black emboss, gold leaf for the artist’s name on a subtle soft ivory card in matching envelope wrapped with a single red ribbon.

Work was tough again, the monotony of the bus journey, the babble of the autistic girl who always sits in front of me was cushioned by the eager anticipation of the private view that evening. Off the bus I meet my beau. Running to the catch the train pelted with rain we board then quick-step to our destination. Following the artsheep up to the exhibition. There are queues very little to see just backs of heads but you can hear the commotion. I dive in the toilet, pulling out my crumpled change of clothes -shirt, smart trousers, lovingly polished shoes that approach the opening.

Two menacingly loaded bouncers in dinner jackets block the gold plated VIP sign that adorns the door. Limp wristed I pathetically hand over the private view invitations. The temperature drops, there is a chill as the bulk of man peers down the exclusive guest list for my name plus one. I steal a glance, it reads like an art scene who’s who. A thought enters my head, if this place blew up there would be no one left! The dark fug of cigar smoke seeps from the heavy throng of people cavorting inside, crystal glasses chinking and laughter make the whole line aspire to be in not out. With a tick and a nod we are deemed worthy to enter.

Once inside, it is roaring. Sparkling conversation fuelled by Moët, Campari cocktails and Venetian Spritz accompanied by the largest olives I’d ever seen. Rubbing shoulders with the cultural elite unassumingly I attempt to push through the hordes, to the prestige of the bar. On either side of the room bronze chandeliers hang from the ceiling, their multiple glass arms casting divine shadows down on to the hedonistic crowd. Smoking laws do not apply here. One flame provokes another and another to light up in a world where we are the most important.

Cool Jazz blends with the air, turning into smoke and small talk. Sensing a great presence I spy our glamorous hostess effortlessly holding three conversations at once while conducting her cocktail waitresses to pour more drinks for the new arrivals entering this cramped respectability.

‘Only staying for one’ an empty promise as the debonair atmosphere collides with heated intimacy as coupes are filled and refilled to the brim, by the sickeningly helpful waitresses obliging inebriation to the selected few. The finest champagne soaks the black and white chequered floor; heels lead to friends and acquaintances that have never looked so good. Peering gleefully through the lace curtains the clique pass judgement on those less fortunate souls refused entry. Catching my own dazzling reflection in the oval cut mirror on the scarlet wall, my flamboyance casts an unfocussed eye over the black and white portraits hanging from the regency walls.

A mahogany coat stand leans, burdened by the strength of sophisticated free thought stowed under fine millinery and real fur. For a second it becomes too much, heady plumes of cigar smoke part revealing a bustling array of the well deserved reflected in silver platters. The custodians of cool scramble for another glass as all too soon it comes to an end. I vanish in a high-class drunken haze with no time for art stepping over the refused clamouring to gain entry to sip on our empty bottles and fight over the dregs.