'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Friday, 5 December 2008

I now own a rucksack. A serious rucksack. I know it is serious because it is black. So far it contains 3 packs of imodium, 3 packs of diorhalites, 2 cans of 100 per cent deet, 3 packs of water purification tablets, an LED torch, a funny little gadget that claims to do seven tasks at once including navigating, and a mosquito net.

My rucksack has got wheels. Last night I had a hysterical moment at the realisation that a rucksack on wheels is fantastically bourgeois. It's true of course, but I'm over it now.

In ten days time I shall be dragging this mobile medicine cabinet around the subcontinent. For three weeks I shall be getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning every day to chant the bhagavad gita even before breakfast, in a place where the list of staples provided includes 'buckets'. BUCKETS??? What am I thinking of? Just what? The only silver lining here is that in leaving my comfort zone I am hoping I will enter an area of personal expansion. It's the issue of how far behind I am leaving my comfort zone that is posing the problem for me now. Before I go I seem to have about a hundred million people to see and nine million things to do, including yet more assault by spiky needle and Christmas shopping, which I intend to keep to an absolute minimum, but which is nevertheless going to be beyond intolerable.

And here I am now about to waffle on about the Turner Prize, although it couldn't be considered wasting precious time because, as we all know, and as Sarah Thornton reminds us, the Turner prize is "a benchmark of validation that distinguishes the British art scene."

"Turner prize strikes it Leckey", "Happy Go Leckey", etc etc. Yes, Mark Leckey is now £25,000 richer than he was this time last week and if Turner history continues to repeat itself, his career is now destined for greater and greater things.

Love it or hate it, Leckey was the bookies favourite all along, whilst Cathy Wilkes, poor thing, had the worst odds in history, taking only three bets to win and none of them over £10. The piece she exhibits for the prize is entitled 'I Give You All My Money'. It's not funny! I found this work quite difficult to engage with and when I watched the video interview with the artist on tate.org I found it even harder, not least because the interview starts with the word 'Nietsche' - not a crime in itself, but a sign for me that the artist may be too caught up in her head for my taste. As a friend of mine said, quoting from Captain Beefheart I think (!), we've all "had too much to think". If I'm understanding it right the inaccessibility of the work is part of the point. Wilkes is alluding to the pain of our perceived separateness. It's classic existential angst stuff. But in a way the pain of separateness is taken as read isn't it? The more interesting question is what's beyond that and how do we deal with it? It has been said that the intellect creates the abyss and the heart crosses it. We all know the abyss is there. How we each attempt to bridge it is the critical thing.

The 2008 Turner Prize has been decried (yet again!) as 'dull' (what, no unmade beds, no lights going on and off - bo-RRRRING!) We have to settle this year for the tedious predictability of a mannequin sitting on the loo, Felix the cat taking centre stage and Goshka drawing on the walls. If that constitutes dull these days then I'd suggest, as a population, we're a little over stimulated. If criticism can be levelled, I suppose one might say that much of the work is inaccessible if the viewer isn't prepared to engage intellectually to some degree. If you go along to Tate Britain knowing nothing what-so-ever about Runa Islam, Mark Leckey, Goshka Macuga and Cathy Wilkes, then you might struggle. However if you're going to take the trouble of dragging yourself over to Pimlico, you might as well go one step further and do a bit of reading. Once you do that, then riches are available at this years Turner, as at every other. If you're not into reading then contemporary art circa 2008 probably isn't for you. Just now, it's as much about the text as it is about the work. On the other hand, if you're not into that you could try stepping outside your comfort zone. At least you won't need imodium and diorhalites to google "Mark Leckey".

And, at the risk of being a crashing bore, please can I gently point out that whilst three quarters of this years shortlist are women, only three women - Rachel Whiteread, Gillian Wearing and Tomma Abts - have won the Turner in its 26-year history. That's 11.5 per cent. And please - don't shoot the messenger already!


Friday, 28 November 2008

Rik Mayall came in to the gallery this week to see the exhibition by Zoe Sinclair and Andrea Blood, aka The Girls: In Bed with the Girls. "Hilarious", "very rich" and, rather idiosyncratically I thought "horny", is how he described the work. He went on to describe himself as a "sad bastard". I'm not sure why. He's shorter and fatter than Lord Flashheart. Maybe that's why. The funniest part was that Yvette, who hails from more exotic shores than these, didn't know who he was and was consequently quite perplexed by my "woof woof" pelvic thrust actions behind his back.

So, just a reminder that this week is your last chance to see In Bed with the Girls, the exhibition that appeared at number two, after Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, in the 'Architects Journal' list of top five things to do this week. If you're lucky you might even get a glimpse of the man for whom the pants have not yet been invented that could take on the job!

The Londonist described the Girls work; "surreal staged 'self-portraits' featuring a variety of contents - the artists as Prince William and Harry, looking like a French and Saunders piss-take; the comic 'Friday (Mermaid)' of a gluttonous sea creature stuffing fish and chips in the bath, flicking her tail; the disturbing Barbara Cartland with powder pink hair and dress, the face caked with mask-like white make-up. Many of the photographs play on female stereotypes - the cartoon sex symbol Smurfette is represented by the artist, her body covered in blue paint with the addition of exaggerated conical breast... it reveals a different kind of reality behind sex-symbols, the other lives and shapes of females...The result is sometimes attractive, sometimes disturbing and sometimes humorous."

By happy coincidence, last week was the 50th anniversary of those bizarre little blue creatures the Smurfs! And (by way of seamless link) it's also your last chance to see something else blue: Roger Hiorns Seizure at 151-189 Harper Road, SE1. Seizure is the latest commission from Artangel and it follows their ground-breaking tradition of transforming facets of the urban landscape into large-scale immersive works of art.

In terms of art making this is the future.

But interestingly, and crucially in my view, it's also not the future, as the housing estate that it's parasitical to is set to be demolished by the end of this year. And with it Hiorns crystallisation Seizure. Seizure involves the transformation of No 159 of this block of now defunct low-rise 1960s Brutalist flats, into a self-contained Klein blue crystal maze.

In a nutshell, this is how Seizure was created: initially the whole flat was made completely water tight through reinforcement by a steel exo-skeleton. Then holes were punched in the ceiling to the flat above, through which was poured more than 70,000 litres of super saturated copper sulphate solution at a temperature of 60 degrees centigrade. It was then left for two and a half weeks until the solution had cooled to around 30 degrees. Then the remaining liquid was drained off to reveal the crystallisation that had taken place over absolutely every exposed surface of the flat, resulting in an Aladdin's cave, a surreal bejewelled grotto of glorious cobalt blue, in the middle of a housing estate on the outskirts of the Elephant and Castle.

The creative process is ingenious. The visual effect is delicious. But what is really overwhelming is the context - the absolute integration of the art work with the site, and beyond that the juxtapositioning of what is traditionally thought of as the elite world of high art, with what is in effect a social housing failure and the home of a plethora of social problems arguably exacerbated by the failure, in this particular instance, of one facet of the self same elitist world of high art - architecture.

There's a powerful element of the abject going on here. There's something profoundly problematic about the adjacency of these two apparent extremes. On the other hand just to notice the discomfiture is discomforting in itself. Are they really so polemical? It seems offensive to suggest that they are and preposterous to suggest that they aren't. We went at 6.30pm, just before it was scheduled to close at 7. As we waited in line to go into the crystal council house the security people, employed presumably by Artangel, were putting 10ft high barricades up across the front of the horseshoe shaped block of flats, presumably to prevent local 'miscreants' from entering the precious site over night. This made me feel really uncomfortable. The implication was that what was now in residence in flat 159 was more valuable than what had previously been in residence there and more precious indeed those still in residence around it. That may well be as much my own subjective inference as any sort of implicit truth, but even so, that's interesting in itself.

When some element of an art work makes you feel uncomfortable, it is doing so because it is placing itself on a fault-line, be that an archetypal fault-line, a societal fault-line or even just an individual fault-line. Whichever, it is never the less raising important questions as to what exactly it is that is creating the discomfort. As such it's an opportunity for expanding self-knowledge and growing both intellectually and emotionally.

Roger Hiorns is putting it out there but the viewer has to do the work themselves in order to make any sense or true value of the work. Seizure is very apparently not about a precious object in a museum. It's about real life. The rubbing up of one of life's boxes against another, until the safe and comfortable lines of demarcation dissolve, leaving us with a confusion that invites us to start again with the business of making sense of the world we live in. You can't ask for much more than that from a piece of art work.

On a practical note be aware that you have to wear wellies to go into the council house as the floor is also made of crystals, or by now the liquid mush that remains after thousands of people have trampled on copper sulphate crystals. Artangel will supply you with some perfectly good wellies gratis, but if you're in any way uncomfortable about the juxtapositioning of your own fragrant tootsies with that which may once have housed the potentially smelly and unwashed, then take your own. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I wasn't too keen on that idea. It's uncomfortable, but it's true.

"Beverley Knowles Fine Art in Notting Hill is a small and beautifully formed space dedicated to providing a platform for contemporary British female artists."
The Londonist
An unseasonably clement Sunday morning, ruined, by the tooth-some Janet Street-Porter.

"Repellent fat cats, bloated by your bonuses… over-rewarded, arrogant and driven by self-interest… resign… we need culprits." Does the woman really think like this or is it just cheap journalism for sensationalist effect? It’s monstrous. The fat lady isn't even in the auditorium, let alone at the microphone, and already we’re baying for blood.

Even if we want to accept the grotesque over simplification that a few people in the city are to blame for the crisis we finds ourselves in, is screaming "flog 'em, flog 'em" really going to help? Is not this self-interest she speaks of its own punishment? And is it not this same self-interest we are most of us suffering at the hands of, not just now, but always? The whole business makes me feel a bit unwell. I remember now why I gave up reading the newspapers. It's a filthy habit. It's no wonder we're in this mess with fear and loathing generated daily and vended by the million copy as 'news'. Yes, that's the last time I read the newspaper, especially when there's so many enjoyable things I could be doing.

Like going to see Juliet Binoche and Akram Khan at the National - "one of this year's hottest tickets" according to The Guardian. I went with a lovely if slightly dotty friend and his two beautiful Vuitton clad white Boxers. The woofies stayed in the car, obviously. When I say car, I’m speaking of a 25ft blacked out Cadillac with cream leather upholstery, that Milo and Tilly slide gracefully onto the floor from each time he brakes a little too sharply. They didn't have to wait long though as In-i is only about an hour long. There are almost no words (what there are you can barely hear), the set design is utterly minimal, the costumes are non-existent and yet the production is profoundly disturbing. Or I found it to be so. But perhaps that says as much about me as about the production. The visual design by Anish Kapoor is awe inspiring in its simplicity. It appears to consist entirely of a vast, brilliant white wall in the middle of a coal-black stage, and two very simple geometric black chairs. The white wall changes colour according to the light shined onto it. From Klein Blue to an intense raspberry pink and a tangy ochre - the colours set the mood. It's astonishingly beautiful. Like Anish Kapoor's sculpture it draws you in. So much so that I probably would have been quite happy watching that for an hour - I didn't need anything else. But despite its power, its simplicity means it never over-powers the dancing, which is free to express its eloquence completely.

In-i is about a monstrous unhealthy, destructive ‘love’ affair. For me, the tragedy is that at the end the two are still together. We've seen this subject matter again and again of course. It's timeless and it touches the protagonists, fortunate or otherwise depending on your perspective, right to the very core. Two people, damaged and confused, mistaking for love a grotesque form of addiction, driven by self-interest and generating only misery and hatred. It's as far as you can get from 'love'. It's ghastly. But they say, don't they, that the stuff that's hardest to experience is doing us the most good. It may be a cliché, but there’s much truth in it.

I must say though that I don't include within that category the ill-judged rantings of Ms Street-Porter. They may indeed be painful to experience, but I doubt very much they are doing any of us much good.
I need to learn to ride a motorcycle. The last time I rode a motorcycle I couldn't make it do corners and I had to get off at every turn and manually change direction. This time I'm going to be on the Malabar coast, where every other motorcycle will have at least fifteen passengers, where no noticeable differentiation exists between one side of the road and the other, and where headlights at night are considered a rash waste of fuel. It's all a bit concerning.

On top of that I was alarmed at yoga last evening to learn that, on top of my current myriad of existential angsts, I now have to add the fact that once I no longer have a physical manifestation I won't be able to work on improving my karma. Were you aware of this fact? I'm hoping that riding a motorcycle along the Malabar coast won't too greatly hasten the urgency of the apprehesion, but just in case, I need to crack on now, otherwise I'll never get to Enlightenment. It's a worry. Yoga, art, love... Enlightenment. That's my game-plan - and let's face it, in times like these, we all need a game-plan!

But remember, the road to Englightenment is paved with self-investigation and art is nothing if not self-investigation. So I'm in the right job at least. Well, that's a load off. And that's not where the good news ends. No, the best bit is that I'm not a banker. Close shave there.

In all honesty I never really saw myself as a banker but I could see the benefits of it. Up until now, that is. Finally the city boys are catching up with my financial game-plan. As Evelyn Waugh reminds us, it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Now it's not just me who's going to be going to heaven, hey? We'll all be going. By the bus-load. We'll take the char-a-banc along the Malabar coast. First left to Nirvana?

Silver lining. There's always a silver lining. With "banks falling over like fat Labradors running over a wet kitchen floor" and your hard earned savings on lock down, it begins to seem as though the bank mightn't be the best place to be stashing your cashola just at the minute. Perhaps a few wise investments in the contemporary art market might prove more profitable over the long term and more stable over the short? I'm plumping for that, so join me if you'd care too. I'll be only too happy to advise. Think of it like this: if you'd invested a few thousand in Rothko in the late 1940s you wouldn't be worrying about the small matter of global economic meltdown now. AND you'd be moving nearer to Nirvana every time you looked at the object of your investment... just a thought.

Brideshead without Anthony Andrews though. I don't know about that. On the up side, I can't really afford to go to the movies at the moment, so I'm going to stay at home and work on my Enlightenment programme, which is coming along nicely.

"Some people acquire collections of the most atrocious things just out of the sheer urge to collect. They imagine that because they have the impulse to do it, they should be let loose where they wouldn't be in any other field. In art everyone likes to think that they are their own expert, but you wouldn't try to do your own operation on your hand - you'd go to the best in the field."
Ivor Braka, London

Friday, 3 October 2008

A somewhat cheesing off turn of events has unfolded. An impostor has hove into view. Or, more accurately, a whole flagoon of impostors. The humble diary of a thirty something art dealer finds itself the victim of a most unsavoury rip off attempt.

Some six or seven months ago now, an art publication I was unfamiliar with plopped through my letter-box. It had been suggested to me by one or two avid readers (OK, OK my old Pa and Great Aunt Agatha) that I should attempt to get the diary published. So, with my usual rejection of opportunism in favour of obsessive forward planning, I immediately emailed said publication two recent articles and asked them if they’d like to publish them in the name of PR for me and free copy for them. “Oh yes please,” they responded and fairly snatched my arm off. A pleasing result all round then. Nice. All proceeded apace.

A few months later I get a phone call saying their gallery advertisers have seen my somewhat scintillating and not un-droll column (if I do say so myself) and fancy a go themselves. As advertisers come first apparently, they can’t say no to this, so in the interest of saving my column would I care to advertise?

Firstly, I do not advertise and secondly, I may be vain but I am not that vain. So, the answer from Knowlesy, was a resounding, no thank you.

In that case ‘my’ column would be published three times only, after which one of their advertisers would be offered the back page. Fine! I retorted. What I had not understood from the conversation was that my fellow gallerists, along with the back page, were also to be offered my very own diary of a … format, as written by me for the last two years and as appears in various other periodicals.

I showed the offending text to the celestial Yvette - herself a well respected and published art historian of ten years standing, whose article on Foucault change hands for not inconsiderable sums. “Very derivative isn’t it?” she remarked, laconically, “the writing’s turgid though.”

People see something done well and assume it’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, you see. Well, the proof is in the Eton Mess, what what.

However, after an initial burst of irritation, I’ve decided to take this whole business as a huge compliment. Does Barbara Streisand feel threatened by the orange wenches warbling out ‘the way we were’ to the accompaniment of a poorly synthesised electric keyboard in the cocktail lounge of a four star hotel in Sharm el Sheikh? My bottom she does. And neither shall I over this.

Rather, it shall be an opportunity to learn not to rest on one’s laurels, full of self-congratulation for successes achieved, but to do what I do best and crack on undeterred with a few more good ideas. No one trick pony, I. Certainly not. There’s no use holding on to your one decent idea out of fear that a second or third might never appear. No, one must have the confidence and the bottle to let go and make room for the next triumph. I’m not English for nothing you know. In these times of doom and gloom, of credit crunch, housing market collapse and redundancies by the thousand, the Dunkirk spirit shall prevail.

To that end, although not from that beginning, significant changes are afoot at Beverley Knowles Fine Art. Before long a leaner, fitter and altogether far edgier figure will be cutting the mustard around these parts. More on that anon. In the meantime, watch this space, dear reader…. and be vigilant - only the real McCoy will do!

In Bed With The Girls, until 1 November 2008

The Girls are emerging British artists Andrea Blood and Zoe Sinclair, both alumni of Central St Martins who met at school aged 16. The Girls work consists of staged portrait photography, including self portraiture, and performance art. The duo have previously exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery, The ICA, The National Portrait Gallery and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.


Since its launch in 2002 Beverley Knowles Fine Art has been developing an international reputation for championing women artists, dedicated to assisting the development of talented young graduates into successful challenging artists, as well as showing the work of more established contemporary masters. The gallery programme promotes interrelations between artists, curators and collectors to bring into being a platform that explores exciting new creative possibilities.

Now and then I come across something so awe inspiring it reminds me, even if only for a few minutes, seconds, or perhaps more honestly, only for a flash of a second – maybe that’s all it takes – to remember that contrary to how it absolutely seems on an almost 24/7 basis – I am not the centre of the world.

Yes, oh yes, it’s a rude awakening - but not all bad.

The other day I was in what an acquaintance of mine, Shirlee, would call a ‘funk’. I would call her a friend, but as I have to pay her for the illusion of friendship I’m not sure it entirely counts.

So I’m sitting there at my desk in an absolute hump. Not one of my rages, although they’re a bit special too. No, this was a hump alright. Everything and everyone was absolute unmitigated rubbish and nothing was ever going to be even as acceptable as OK ever again.

I was trawling through my email wondering why so many monstrously tedious people kept sending me so many monstrously tedious emails (it was a silly hump my beloved friends, I do appreciate and value you, please forgive my momentary foolishness) when I came across an email from somebody I didn’t know, telling me about a viral marketing campaign committed by so-called artists group mindheist, upon Martin Creed’s Work No 850, currently showing at Tate Britain. Famously, and of course, not un-controversially, Creed won the Turner Prize in 2001 with Work No 227 – subtitle – The Lights Go On and Off – in which, errr, the lights go on and off, at periodic five second intervals.

Don’t even get me started. Scoff if you want but you know what happened to Doubting Thomas. Actually I’m not sure I do know what happened to Doubting Thomas, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t win the lottery. It’s easy to scoff and sneer and look down your nose but it doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s that self-respect thing Groucho.

Martin Creed’s Work No 850 consists of a relay of semi-professional athletes running the 86 meters down the length of the main Duveen Galleries, every thirty seconds, as fast as they can.

For me, to see this was to lift the heart. To see this was to get over myself.


Because the profoundest truths can only be expressed in the simplest terms. The fundamental straight forwardness of this work contains, investigates and communicates, so many of the most complex facets of human existence, but it does so in a way that even a child can engage with, enjoy and learn from, but at the same time, in a way that I imagine, even the most compassionate, intelligent, and self-aware being would be able to draw something from.

The simplicity, beauty and profundity of Martin Creed’s work by-passed my brain and touched my soul.

The runners represent the consistency we all long for in an inconsistent world. The regularity and predictability a source of great comfort amidst the chaos and senselessness that we struggle, always unsuccessfully, to make sense of.

The work is like life – the runners come and go just as we do. At the same time it is the opposite of life apparent – regular, rhythmic, predictable. It’s a paradox and at the same time, a non-paradox. It’s wonderful.

‘I want to make things. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s got something to do with other people. I think I want to try to communicate with other people, because I want to say “hullo”, because I want to express myself and because I want to be loved.’ Martin Creed

It doesn’t come more universal than that.

And so it seems Puma thought they fancied a bit of the universal action. Puma and mindheist apparently cooked up the idea of sending what I assume, from the look of him, was a professional actor, to interact with Work No 850, and grab a slice of this particular love pie for themselves.

The result is an advert for pumps that somehow wavers on the border between the grotesque and the ingenious.

The camera follows a handsome blonde athletic looking guy up the steps of Tate Britain – freeze frame on his sexy black Pumas whilst the funky music kicks in. He takes the steps two at a time, then hangs around the Duveen Galleries reading his newspaper (I haven’t figured out why he couldn’t bide his time looking at the art, but I guess that says it all) until one of Creeds runners appears, doing flat out, whereupon the Puma wearing actor/artist runs ahead of him – seemingly for his life – looking over his shoulder shouting the words “I didn’t know she was your wife”. Clearly mindheist scrimped on the script-writers.

Probably I shouldn’t be wasting so much time further promoting Puma’s offensive piss take in the face of Creed’s brilliance, but it’s interesting that a global mega corp such as puma should choose to piggy back on a piece of conceptual art. I don’t know what Martin Creed made of it, but in many ways, whatever mindheist’s intention, it’s hugely flattering, if not exactly respectfully executed. It only goes to re-iterate how important this work is. You don’t negate something, you don’t mimic it, you don’t attempt to undermine it, if you can’t see, on some level, conscious or otherwise, the truth of it. If something isn’t relevant to you, you simply don’t engage with it.

But enough about Puma and mindheist and their silly subterfuge.

Martin Creed’s work is about love, about our universal need to love and be loved. Sorry to bang on slightly, I know this is my pet subject at the moment, but it always seems to come back to the love. Without love what is there? What else is the point? Really? What else matters?

In the words of Work No 300 (2003) “the whole world + the work = the whole world.”

and in the words of Work No 790 (2007) “everything is going to be alright.”

After that what else is there to say?






In Bed With The Girls, until 1 November 2008

The Girls are emerging British artists Andrea Blood and Zoe Sinclair, both alumni of Central St Martins who met at school aged 16. The Girls work consists of staged portrait photography, including self portraiture, and performance art. The duo have previously exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery, The ICA, The National Portrait Gallery and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.

Since its launch in 2002 Beverley Knowles Fine Art has been developing an international reputation for championing women artists, dedicated to assisting the development of talented young graduates into successful challenging artists, as well as showing the work of more established contemporary masters. The gallery programme promotes interrelations between artists, curators and collectors to bring into being a platform that explores exciting new creative possibilities.
I don’t mind Carnival that much actually. I don’t particularly mind that if I go out in my car on Sunday I won’t be able to park in my street, or for about 2 miles around, until Tuesday. Neither do I that much mind finding the motor covered in unidentifiable brown goo and, more surprisingly perhaps, talcum powder. I don’t mind lying in bed at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning, nursing a slightly delicate head after Viksie’s wedding on the Saturday, with full on 40 foot speakers driving past not 20 yards from my headboard. I don’t mind my entire flat vibrating alarmingly for the greater part of two days, or police helicopters constantly flapping about overhead. I can even accept that in a congregation of revellers that large it’s almost inevitable that somebody will have one rum and coke too many and end up glassing their best mate or whatever. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can happily accept that some people dig this stuff. Each to their own and all that. I don’t even mind hoards of twenty stone women parading up and down my street in spangly leotards. I quite like that even.

But what I do object to, is fried chicken. Fried chicken glued to every conceivable surface of Ladbroke Grove for days afterwards. What is it with fried chicken? Why must fried chicken contaminate an otherwise perfectly jolly bank holiday week-end? It’s beyond the pale actually. It’s just not right. If they could have carnival without the fried chicken I’d be all for it. But the fried chicken is too much.

So I went instead to the Royal Academy, where I was delighted to escape from the fried chicken, if not the horror.

I slightly suspect, were he English and alive in the early part of the twenty first century, Vilhelm Hammershoi would be the sort of person to use the word toilet. Actually, that’s going a bit easy on it. He’s clearly an obsessive-compulsive control freak with major intimacy issues… and probably uses the word toilet to boot.

In the half million or so paintings of his own flat he treats us to, quite a number include the solitary figure of his wife. Only two of these share with us a view of her face as opposed to the back of her head, and in both of these she is looking distinctly a) green and b) suicidal. The man clearly couldn’t communicate with other human beings. Not even, or perhaps especially not, his own wife.

People compare him to Vermeer. OK, so they’re domestic interiors. And apart from that? I just don’t see it. I rather think it’s only from Hammershoi’s own borrowings that we receive the impression of any commonality with Vermeer. Vermeer gives us warmth, generosity, narrative and human interconnectedness. He does not give us Armageddon – the Aftermath, death by loneliness, and profound disconnection from self and other. Neither does he give us clouds that look more like an invasion of UFOs (Tuesday’s Wood, 1893).

Whistler’s another one. I can’t have it I’m afraid. Whistler’s palette is beautiful beyond words and incredibly subtle. Hammershoi’s is incredibly drab. The thing that’s missing from Hammershoi’s work is any sign of life. Of energy, enquiry, passion, faith, trust, love for God’s sake. There’s no love in these paintings. How can something be described as meditative that is so devoid of these vital signs?

Would it be a cheap joke to suggest he might as well have painted the toilet and been done with it?

Oh dear. It’s been a long week-end.

I had to update my cv this week for the first time since 2002. What a pointless thing it seemed. What has Beverley Knowles done since 2002? This and that I suppose.

What did I learn about life filling in spreadsheets for a photographer? What did I learn about life listening to a lecturer in New Cross, banging on for an hour and a half about arborial thought? (“There’s nothing to get darlink”. If there’s nothing to get what has been the point of those sounds you’ve been emitting for nearly ninety minutes?) What did I learn about life sitting at a dinner table hidden behind a panelled wall at Sotheby’s staring at a piece of duck? What did I learn about life standing on my feet for days on end in a glorified tent? What did I learn about life learning how to touch type in Gloucester Road? Everything? Nothing?

I learned about life when I watched somebody pull my heart out of my chest and fling it to the pavement. I was also watching them do the same to their own.

I learned about life when I shared my pillow with a little yellow butterfly. Or was it a moth? It was still there in the morning when I opened my eyes, but gone when I got back from the shower.

I learn about life every time I meet my friend’s red border collie. (Jez is love.)

I learn about life when the leaves start to fall. When the wind blows. When the sun shines.

On the other hand don’t I already know everything I’ll ever need to know? Aren’t these things just reminders to me of that which I already know?

Is the painting I am looking at now going to be the same painting in ten years time? Will it be the same painting next year or even tomorrow? No. Of course not. It isn’t about the painting. It’s about me. Without me the painting is nothing. Without the painting, I am nothing. We are both nothing. And yet we are everything.

It all happens in the space in between.

What am I apart from a series of stories? My friend Sally was telling me the story of the German athlete who had to have psychotherapy because every time she failed to win a race she thought she was a bad person. Isn’t that amazing. It’s such nonsense and yet we all do it. All day every day.

I am not my failures. By the same token, I am not my successes. I am not my business. Nor am I my leisure time. I am not my stuff. I am not my favourite Emma Hope shoes. I am not my parents, nor my children, nor my friends. I am not my teacher. I am not my education. I am not my work experience. I am not my telephone number or the last book I read, the last picture I looked at, the last film I watched, or the last person I kissed. I am not my thoughts. And yet I am all of these things. And none of them.

Am I nothing?

Maybe I am nothing.

Maybe I am just love, waiting patiently for the doors to open so that I can be free.

Maybe I should put that on my cv. Or maybe not.

Friday, 25 July 2008

last chance to see....

Suffragette City
3 to 26 July 2008
curated by Tsering Frykman-Glen
221 Bow Road
E3 2SJ

This is a great show. It took me about a week to get there and God knows how much negative karma I clocked up parking in Macdonald's car park but I really enjoyed it.

The Spare Room Project puts on two to three exhibitions a year in temporary venues across Hackney. Suffragette City marks the 80th anniversary of all women winning the right to vote in this country with the passing of The Equal Franchise Act in 1928.

"Suffragette City bears witness to how far we've come in the past eighty years, striking an optimistic chord by presenting work solely by women artists, not as an act of defiance or protest, but to honour the spririt of independence and diversity among women."

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Monsters at the Barbican

That Viktor & Rolf are a funny pair. Fashion meets art, meets a little bit bonkers actually. One of my friends went on a yoga holiday with one of them a few years back.

I enjoyed the show much more than I'd expected. Apart from the myriad of spooky dolls and the fantastic headless PVC S&M ghosts at the beginning, one of the best things about it for me is the events that go on until 10pm every Thursday. I went last Thursday to see a performance piece by Kirstie Macleod. Kirstie's showing a film in our current exhibition - They Paved Paradise at Beverley Knowles Fine Art, and she's doing a performance at our private view next week.

Be warned though... maybe I'm a bit of a dozy muppet, well ok, there's no maybe about it, but despite getting to the Barbican a good three quarters of an hour ahead of the start time of her performance we still managed to miss most of it because we were waiting in the wrong place and by the time we'd figured out where we were supposed to be waiting there were so many people in there it was standing room only and I had a great view of the backs of heads and zero view of the performance. The events programme seemed to be a little inaccurate and the staff, whilst being a complete delight, were kind of vague in such a way that you didn't realise how vague until it was too late.

A performance I did catch was by an artist called Edward Fornieles. This was one of the most unsettling things I've ever seen in an art gallery. I don't know if you'd think it was 'good' but it was very powerful. The (male) artist explained to the audience that the (female) performer was to be undressed by us, the audience, from the jeans, t-shirt, pumps she was currently wearing and re-clothed in the red cocktail dress, black high heels, tights and string of pearls that lay beside where she stood. She was going to resist. He stressed that if the audience didn't get fully involved then the piece wouldn't work.

The drum roll began and the second it stopped about a dozen members of the audience leapt on this woman and began yanking her clothes off. She behaved as though she was fighting for her life. Before long she was upside down. All I could see was her feet, at the height of everyone else’s heads, thrashing around wildly, held in a vice like grip by a big guy in a combat t-shirt. As it went on her fight would come in bursts. As her energy became depleted she would fight with everything she had for a few minutes and would then give up and become limp and malleable in their hands before her spirit revived and the violence erupted once more.

It was utterly horrific. Viksie and I were standing watching it from a balcony above so saw it from an aerial perspective. That made quite a difference to the psycho-physical experience as it were. Being above or below. It's a power dynamic thing. Like church domes designed to make the congregation feel humble and thus controllable. If you're looking up at something you automatically feel subservient to it, consciously or not. If you're on a level with it you're equal to it and if you're above it you're able to look down on it with an element of detachment, to stand back from it and watch it with more of a sense of clarity. In this case we were above it, detached, but not in control.

I'm sure some of the 'audience' members, at the start at least, must have been staged. It was just too immediately violent to be believable given our self conscious English reserve, not to say repression. But in many ways that didn't matter. In fact it was completely beside the point. The 'performance' became a real event. Something real was happening. And it wasn't about what the woman was wearing. It was about something much more primeval than that. Something base and shocking that exists in all of us, that with all our self-important rationalising and heady ways we've become cut off from. So cut off that the people involved on a physical level didn't seem to be able to see it at all. The people who were tearing at this woman were laughing and seemed to be having a fun old time of it.

From where we were a woman was being violated by a marauding group of people who'd lost all sense of self-awareness, personal responsibility, individual consciousness. She was in distress and that part of it certainly wasn’t an act. Sure it was consenting but it wasn't an act. The whole performance lasted about 10 or so minutes until finally they'd got her re-clothed. The drum roll stopped, the audience backed off and the woman got to her feet, her dress on off to the side, her hair wild and distressed, her demeanour completely exhausted, disorientated, lost. It was ghastly. I was absolutely fighting with myself not to cry. You cannot cry at the Barbican for God's sake Knowles, my inner control freak yelled in the face of my own potential humiliation. I didn't thankfully, but I was completely shaken up, horrified in fact, stunned into uncharacteristic quiet. Viksie, as well, was aghast.

We staggered off to a local veggie restaurant in shocked near silence. Only a couple of glasses later did the inner doors begin to groan silently shut again and the conversation returned to the bearable lightness of weddings, boyfriends, work, outfits.

If good art is to wake us from our deluded revere and show us how things really are, even if only for a few minutes - then this was good art.

If good art is to feed us the notion that life's a bowl of cherries and everything's going to be ok - then this wasn't good art.

I leave it up to you.

The House of Viktor & Rolf
Barbican Gallery
18 June to 21 September 2008

They Paved Paradise
Beverley Knowles Fine Art
5 July to 30 August 2008
Ilona Szalay, Kirstie Macleod, Charmain Ponnuthurai

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Garbage Warrior

I went to the ICA on Friday evening to watch The Garbage Warrior. When I was at Goldsmiths' they went on and on about the ICA. They mentioned almost nothing about rat history on my Art History MA, but they did tell me about the ICA being the Holy Grail of the London art scene. I didn't go for a while after that out of misguided rebellion against intellectual snobbery. But I'm over that now I'm pleased to say. I cut off my nose to spite my face no more!

Unlike most art venues on a Friday evening there were actually a few people in this one. Granted most of them were at the bar, but hey, whatever it takes. We're a nation of alcoholics. That's hardly breaking news.

And now I thought I'd give you an overly long and complicated explanation of what Garbage Warrior is about. Basically (you know what that means!) it's about an architect in Taos, New Mexico, who believes we're not doing enough to change our lifestyles to try and reduce the perceived effects of human induced global warming.

I'm an art dealer OK. I'm not a scientist. I'm pretty much as far away from being an expert on global warming as it's possible to be. The only thing I know for sure is it's a complex subject and it's unlikely there's a simple answer.

The other two ideas about global warming I'm fairly committed to are:

a) it seems a bit arrogant of us to understand ourselves as somehow outside "nature" as most of the rhetoric seems to and

b) we really are doing sod all to change the behaviours we seem to believe are causing these changes. The vast majority of our environmental do-good-ing is conscience salving rather than being in any way significantly altering. We're putting a plaster on a broken leg and looking the other way, hoping it'll have healed by the time we look back. Plus ca change.

I'm certainly not suggesting that I'm doing anything myself. I drive a Chelsea tractor for God's sake. These days only the goings on of a few people in Austria are considered more reprehensible than that.

Fair enough, The Garbage Warrior is a heavily partisan piece of so-called documentation. It shows everything eco-architect Mike Reynolds does as selfless, sage and premonitionary and anyone who stands in his way - ie New Mexico county and the state administration - as seriously deluded. I don't know anything about Mike Reynolds other than what Garbage Warrior told me but in my experience very little in life is that black and white.

Nonetheless Reynolds is building self-sustaining housing from earth and "rubbish" - beer cans, old bottles, used tyres, that sort of thing. The houses harness solar power so successfully they don't need heating at all, even when it's thirty below outside and your tongue sticks to your lips if you're not careful. They also produce their own water and food from internal eco-systems. And amazingly enough they don't even look that ugly.

If that's not enough to persuade you that it's good news, the people who build these "earthships" as they're called, live in a family-like community. It certainly all looked like a big old eco-Waltons. Humans being what we are no doubt they all rip each other to shreds every now and then, but it's how you deal with life's little hiccoughs that counts.

Over time they sold some of these "experimental" houses so they could raise the funds to keep on building and improving them. There were a few teething problems, as there will be with anything innovative and ambitious. A rich-kid writer bought one and the "heating" went on the blink and the result was his type-writer melted. He was pretty understanding about it but there were a few lawsuits from those less sympathetic to the global cause. But it's America. Of course there were lawsuits.

Anyway to cut a long story slightly shorter the county took away Mr Reynolds' licence to practice as an architect. There wasn't even a way he could continue to experiment with developing this new system of living. That was it. Game over. He fought for three years. Still no. He wasn't allowed to build because his attempts to develop non-harmful self-sufficient eco-housing was "breaking the law".

So that was that it seemed.

When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit in 2004 Mike and his team were invited to build eco-houses there. In Asia people were very receptive. In fact these vulnerable devastated people were grateful as hell. The film showed one man from the Nicobar Islands whose entire family had been killed by the tsunami describing the houses as 'magical' and pronouncing their intention to build them everywhere. "Earthship Biotecture" allowed the villagers an independence they had never known.

Then in 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I'm sure I'm over-simplifying here but it went something along the lines of ...it suddenly came to their attention what Mike Reynolds had been trying to do and over night he was re-issued his licence and asked very politely if he mightn't mind cracking on with a few of those nice energy-independent communities over here on the Gulf Coast.

Isn't it amazing what a bit of tragedy on your doorstep does to clean the grimy windows of perception.

It seems we have a habit of refusing to acknowledge change until things are so catastrophic there are literally dead bodies floating past every window in the house. As long as there's one window we can look out of without seeing carnage we'll happily pull the rocker up there and reminisce about the good old days. It's only when every last pair of rose tinted spectacles in the place has been lost or sat on that we'll even consider facing up to reality.

As we are individually, so we are collectively. We're all addicts. Anything but the truth.

On a lighter note it's great to see someone benefiting from global warming. I notice a new flavour in my freezer. Baked Alaska. Tag line - "if it's melted it's ruined." No tropical flies on Messers Ben and Jerry down there in Antarctica. Whilst Russia and Canada go about the unseemly business of ripping each others territorial junk off the seabed, Ben and Jerry are spreading the Peace, Love and Ice Cream by way of marshmallow swirls and white chocolatey polar bears. The tub even has a picture of a cute red-faced polar bear knee deep in melted ice, struggling to keep his cool despite his aviators.

No point missing an opportunity to make a buck.

Or is that what got us in this bother in the first place?