'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, 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