'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, 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?