December 31st – The Year’s End Exhibition

For a long time, today was a day of celebration in Buentoille, a day when fireworks would be lit and alcohol passed around bars and pubs. To some extent it still is, but increasingly these celebrations are migrating to the Buentoilliçan Lunar New Year, out of respect to the City’s Catrosondian population, whose homeland and many of their friends and relatives sunk beneath the Inner Ocean during the new year celebrations of 2001/2002. Understandably, revellers tend to feel somewhat guilty about their excesses tonight, and in the east Lunar New Year has always been the primary celebration anyway, so whilst there will be a few fireworks here and there, today has become more a day of reflection, of looking back on the year and making plans for the new one.

There are various instruments of this reflection, from television and radio broadcasts which, like yesterday’s festival, seek to round up various aspects of the year, and families and other groupings will often come together for a four-course meal; each course representing a different quarter of the year; where speeches are made and toasts drunk. There are also artistic works, such as the tapestry made by the Baker Street Weavers, which has a small segment added to it each year, summarising the past twelve months.

Yet it is not just Buentoillitants who place such significance on this day, which if you think about it is merely a random moment in the earth’s unending cycle around the sun; the Pohlatiné also seem to mark the passing of the year, in their own way; they have an exhibition. At one time, in all the frenetic activity of the celebrations, the exhibition went almost unnoticed, yet in the last few years it has started to gather attention, not for the quality of the artworks shown, or because it is particularly spectacular or powerful, but because of how strange it is for the Pohlatiné to hold any kind of public event. They are usually very reclusive.

Not that there will be a great deal of them at the exhibition; they don’t appear very interested, and it seems that it is primarily there for the benefit of others, which makes its low-key nature all the stranger. The exhibition takes place in a small space down a dead-end backstreet just off of Dagett Road, and you can’t even see the sign from the road. You have to round the corner before you see the small illuminated sign that says, simply, ‘Exhibition’ at the top of a metal staircase. Inside there are usually about fifteen to twenty paintings, hung on whitewashed brick walls. There are no plaques or signs, no information about the artists, not even their names or those of the artworks; they are presented entirely without comment, either written or from the taciturn Pohlatiné at the desk by the entry, where there are various leaflets advertising other, better known, upcoming Buentoilliçan exhibitions, a coffee machine and a small space heater.

The exhibition is only there today, a full twenty four hours with the doors opening and closing at midnight. At the exhibition’s end, the paintings are swiftly bundled up and taken away to the Pohlatiné embassy, where, as far as anyone knows they do not line the walls but instead are presumably placed into storage. Yet its where they come from that is more interesting: another building not far away, this one with bricked-up windows and a tall, razor-wire topped fence around it: the Buentoille Power House, where the City’s source of electrical power, known as The Generator, is housed. Unlike the overground substations scattered around the City with their gizmos, their wires, transformers and electrical hum, the Power House is a fairly reserved affair no larger than a small family home. It sits aloof from the surrounding buildings, a gravel yard around it with thick black metal pipes thrusting up from the ground and plunging back down again, like thick regular ribs. On the fence there are many signs in yellow and black, reading ‘DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE’ and ‘KEEP OUT – EXTREME ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY PRESENT’.

Whilst the Public Works Committee is technically in charge of the Power House, and indeed all of Buentoille’s major infrastructure, the Generator is, in reality, maintained by the Pohlatiné, who have the necessary expertise and willingness to keep things running smoothly. Apparently it requires daily fine-tuning which baffles most Buentoillitant engineers, and for which they seem to have a natural aptitude. As such, it’s not particularly surprising to see them entering or exiting the Power House (although apparently they usually use the underground route), but to see them coming out in pairs carrying large paintings is somewhat unusual. Seeing as, at the exhibition’s end, they take blank canvasses back in, it is presumed that the paintings are produced by Pohlatiné workers between making their adjustments to the Generator, although inspectors and engineers from Public Works say that they have never seen the Pohlatiné actually paint on these canvasses. ‘They keep them in one of the side rooms in the dark, I nearly put my foot through one of the damn things!’ reads one report from a safety inspector.

The paintings all tend to be fairly similar, depicting pastoral scenes, images of rural idylls in sunny valleys, of little hunting cabins in deep pine forest where the air is somehow green, of solitary boathouses by the sea. Each year these settings change slightly but retain the same themes; the village in the distance might have a different church spire, or the golden wheat field might actually be barley, but it still has essentially the same composition. The paint is always oils, and despite the fact that these paintings are all produced only in a year, their glossy surface is cracked as if with age – this, presumably is a deliberate affectation developed by the artist or artists. Somewhere in every painting is a single person. They might not be immediately apparent, but they are always there, a different person for each painting, staring directly at the viewer. They might be sat cross-legged in the wheat field, or leaning out the cabin window, or stepping out from behind a tree, or sat on the boathouse jetty with a fishing rod, but in every painting they look directly at you, with a sort of lost expression. None of them look happy.

It’s difficult to say why the Pohlatiné hold the exhibition today. Is it the summation of their artistic work for the year, or simply a kind of offering like the windchimes that they give to the Office of External Affairs for Buentoilliçan-Pohlatiné Friendship Day; perhaps the exhibition is their idea of what Buentoillitants would like to look at, at the year’s end. If this is their intention they seem to have missed the mark somewhat; if anything these images are unsettling to most Buentoillitants. The lone figures, in particular, are creepy to the average viewer, but for some they are downright distressing: in the past seven years there have been two instances where an exhibition attendee has recognised the person in the painting. One of those people was Bertha Deren, who said to Strange Buentoillitant Magazine in 2015, ‘It looked just like him, but not quite. As if they had only seen him in a mirror from a long way away. I don’t know, maybe I’m just going a bit mad, I’ve been seeing him everywhere since he went missing in April.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Big Yearly Roundup
  • All Kisses to the Lord Festival
  • A Long Silence Day