Hit or Swiss, or ‘How I Now Own Art’

Since 5:30am last Saturday, I’ve owned art.

It’s a special kind of art; functional, personalised and easily concealed in the breast pocket.

Portable art? How bizarre.

Sure, but portability makes it all the easier to rub it into peoples’ faces and yes, get ready, because I’m about to try to rub it in yours.

I mean, what else am I meant to do with it?

So, I’ll begin.

Before you, I declare myself a citizen of the cultural world. Yes, I am the proud owner of a Tom Sachs’ Swiss Passport.

Applause, it can wait, but please, there’s no need to conceal that look of awe (please don’t conceal it).

So, what is a Tom Sachs’ Swiss Passport?

Well curious, it’s a Swiss Passport issued by the American artist Tom Sachs.

And yes, just like you, before I had my very own, I was stumped by that question.

Anyway, art is what you make of it, so here’s what I’ve made of it:

  1. It looks and tastes just like a Swiss Passport. The cover’s red, carries a white cross (for surrender) and sheaths 40 pages. The flavour’s also pretty neutral.
  2. It’s definitely an official document. The intern who issued it to me said so. Yes, it officially recognised by the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Can you think of a more distinguished and dependable issuing authority within two miles of Mayfair?
  3. It’s a guarantee of safe cultural passage. As a recognised, official document, it must allow me, the holder, to traverse, transcend and even enter cultural phenomena. Yes, I shall no longer be turned away from Sushi Samba for wearing jeans.
  4. It’s a form of identification. To get one, I had to surrender extremely personal information (dates of birth of previous sexual partners, favourite breakfast cereals, alignment, etc), information that was then punched by typewriter, directly onto the information page. That information, protected forever by strips of sticky-back plastic. Now, I’m pretty sure I can use it to confirm that my tastes are truly exceptional (no comment, Coco-Pops and lawful-good; duh).
  5. It’s super rare. There are only three-thousand and it’s the most special thing I own.

Wait. Hold still.

Don’t be alarmed. There’s a passport shaped hole growing slowly on your left breast.

If I squint enough I can see it.

You look shocked. Please, it’s ok. I’ve seen this before, it’s jealousy. My parents’ said delusion, but I’m sure it’s a jealousy that’s so strong it’s inspiring metaphysical change.

Wait, I’ll keep squinting and yes please move your arm slightly. Ah, I can see a bit of your nipple. Divine.

It’s ok, don’t shy away, I’m a recognised member of the cultural world. I only see it tastefully. It looks a bit like Socrates; how wonderful.

So, how did I get a Tom Sachs’ Swiss Passport?

The Passport? Oh, it was fate.

That Friday, I hadn’t set out to be formally recognised for anything, it was all a happy accident.

At a pub in Angel, growing tired of my tedious anecdotes, my friend suggested that we should do something more fun.

He tried hard not to hurt my feelings, stopping me mid-monologue, saying, “Henry, stop talking shit, Tom Sachs is in London tonight and he’s giving out Swiss Passports.

Intrigued and well informed, I replied, “who’s Tom Sachs?

Finally, and here’s the clincher, he said, “it’s in Mayfair,” and after a brief pause, “if you  come and you tell other people, they’ll take you more seriously.

So I did, and they must.

And that’s how we agreed to do something more fun.

€20 in hand, we boarded the tube to Green Park and joined the queue to the issuing office. Two hours in, Tom Sachs himself appeared and distributed raffle tickets to those in line. I ended up with number 56 pink, or as I say, “Shotts Bus, Princess.

The queues to the issuing office were numerous (four) and long.

It took eight hours.

Yeah, you’d think Tom Sachs had designed it all as a performance piece about bureaucracy. To that I’d say, “no, he’s smarter than that.

More, it was worth it.

Anyway, back to the queue.

Yes, eight hours.

The only thing that kept my spirits up and expectations realistic was enlivened chatter with other hopefuls. And what did we speak of? Well what we’d each do with our Tom Sachs’ Swiss Passports.

So, whatever did you think you’d do with your Tom Sachs’ Swiss Passports?

Thanks for asking.

I wanted to take a moment to immortalise the hopes and dreams of those who dropped out of the queue.

You know, people who don’t now see marble instead of concrete when they visit Elephant & Castle. The poor souls.

And here’s what I remember:

  1. Tina wanted to buy spray paint, irrespective of her age or intention to huff;
  2. Will, to banish the cashier’s judging look when he bought litre bottle of Bells;
  3. Anna, obsessed with cult television, wanted to gain entry to the ExCel Centre for the cast of Doctor Who’s yearly sonic screwdriver signing sessions. I recognised her aim, yes, a Swiss Passport would make it clearly ironic. I lauded her ingenuity, at which point she stopped talking to me;
  4. Tom, to silence the chortles of his local HSBC branch when he next applied  for a loan to fund a Leisure Suit Larry e-Sports league, and
  5. Stephen, well, Stephen. He just didn’t want to go to any more private viewings. This was going to be the last bust.

And then I remembered. All of those hopes were mine too! And those names definitely don’t sound made up. People talk to me so.

This passport was going to be my ticket out of this hellish life.

I think, at the end of it all, that was what Tom Sachs’ intended.

So, what did I do with mine?

Oh, mine? I can see it right now. It’s propped up on the mantle piece.


Well, it’s art, I can’t take it out.

But I can stare and I can dream.

Dream of what I could have done with those hours from 20:30 on Friday night to 7:30 on Saturday morning when I staggered back through my flat’s door.

I could have lived.

But now, I am thankful that I have a clear reminder. A reminder to never, ever queue for eight hours on a Friday night again. Unless I’m suitably drunk.