'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!