A new club opened last Friday, July 6, in the Rhino Room's basement. It is called Now or Never. It's pretty big and its walls are covered by thousands of fake plants. The effect of all this artificial greenery is very impressive. You know none of it is real, but you still feel like you are "in the jungle somewhere." And the room also has the coolness of a tropical forest. It feels as if the plants are keeping things cool because, as environmentalist and futurist James Lovelock has often said, life "likes it cool" (Dorion Sagan and Jessica Hope Whiteside, 2004). But such again is not the case in Now or Never. The coolness is as artificial as the plants that cover its walls. And if real plants were here, they would soon whither and die. There is hardly enough light to drive the photosynthetic production of ATP and sugars. This is a nightclub. And it feels like a jungle at night, and opens only at night (Friday and Saturday). The only life to be found here are party animals.
Besides, Seattle is not good at vertical gardens. The failures are numerous. One is found at the Beacon Hill Station. Its wire mesh is as plant-less as Now or Never. If you want to see the idea the station's designers had for that wall, you must visit the Capitol Hill basement. And that is really what this club's fake greenery is—an idea. And when we think this idea through, we find that the fake plants on the club's wall are more real than the ones in Amazon's Spheres, which are actually alive. Why is this the case? Philosophy, the art of building concepts, has the explanation.
As a concept, Amazon's Spheres—which have 40,000 living plants, a 65-foot green wall, and a system that cycles the air—are actually more unreal than Now or Never. The idea of the Spheres is to impress upon us a faith in technology. And why is such faith so important? For one, Amazon sees itself as a hi-tech company, and this kind of perception has, as its background, the Victorian narrative of progress. The old story of private enterprise is with us today—it's an economic process whose constant innovations drives humankind in an ever-forward direction. Amazon identifies itself with this phony narrative. Its Spheres are the Crystal Palace 3.0.
The idea of fake greenery for its own sake is much more honest (it says: "these are our times, for real") than that which advertises the e-commerce giant (it says: "The future be wonderful," and "Isn't technology just wow!"). Also, there is the Baudelaire in me—and I'm a deep Baudelairian—that cannot be separated from what's described in the poet's short essay, "In Praise of Cosmetics." This is the anti-romanticism Baudelaire, the urban poet, the dandy, the one who admires the art of artificiality.
I will end this post with my favorite section of his essay on cosmetics:
As for the artificial black with which the eye is outlined, and the rouge with which the upper part of the cheek is painted, although their use derives from the same principle, the need to surpass Nature, the result is calculated to satisfy an absolutely opposite need. Red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: its black frame renders the glance more penetrating and individual, and gives the eye a more decisive appearance of a window open upon the inﬁnite; and the rouge which sets fire to the cheek bone only goes to increase the brightness of the pupil and adds to the face of a beautiful woman the mysterious passion of the priestess.