'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, 18 December 2009


I got a newsletter through last week from a yoga guru chappie I retreated with in France this summer. Not un-controversially he rarely wore clothes. I mean any clothes. He also unapologetically hit on almost everybody and could often be, by his own admission, rather silly and irritating. Surprisingly maybe, or maybe not, he turned out to be a really good egg. I’d begun the week thinking: “this idiot man is perfectly insufferable”. By the end of it I was really fond of him and his teachings have been useful to me almost every day since.

I’ve often wondered to myself how somebody so bizarre and irritating could simultaneously be so wise and integrated and I can only imagine it may have something to do with his acceptance of his own peculiarities. He doesn’t appear to give much of a stuff what anybody else thinks of him, he’s just himself, doing his thing. Not causing harm to anyone but neither causing harm to himself by denying any part of what and who he is. Just accepting the whole package deal, just as it is.

At the bottom of his newsletter he’d posed the question: “are you ready for yourself?” Hmmmm, I thought. After a few seconds of slightly traumatic brain wracking I realised, to my horror, that the answer is an unambiguous: “No”. It further occurred to me that this is not good. Panic set in.

A few days later though I began to realise that actually it’s not so bad because everything’s changing and change is good. Change, in fact, is great. Which is also good, because, let’s face it, there’s no getting away from change. And through this process of change – sometimes referred to as growing up (!) - every day I’m slowly becoming more ready for myself. I just know it in my bones. So it’s ok. Everything’s going to be alright. Remember that my friends. Everything’s going to be alright.

Then today - still vaguely wondering which of my actions bring me nearer to myself and which further away - I was reading about the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh and it occurred to me it’s a question I’d love to ask them. They’ve just taken sculptor and performance artist Kevin Harman to court over a piece of art he carried out at their gallery in November. Basically, Kevin used a scaffolding pole to smash one of their gallery windows. I know, I know, all one’s middle class sensibilities kick in. Self-righteousness floods the body. But wait… just a second. Because, firstly, Kevin had told the gallery in advance what he was planning on doing. Secondly, and extremely persuasively in my view, he unquestioningly and punctually paid the £350 it cost to replace the window. And thirdly, OK, if he’d smashed the window of someone’s home or of a business premises who didn’t give two hoots about contemporary art and neither did they pretend to, then I’d agree with the courts, of course, that would be vandalism. But that is not the case here. Kevin Harman smashed the window – and even videoed it for the purposes of archival posterity - of a contemporary art gallery whose website states: “We believe that visual art can provide experiences that change the way we look at our world and understand ourselves within it. Collective is a space where people can come to witness, to be challenged, to learn, to experience; a space where adventure is celebrated.” Well, not for poor old Kevin. His little adventure wasn’t celebrated was it?

Harman is a young, little known artist and a student. He’s already done the right thing and coughed up for the broken window, and now he’s got to pay a further £200 for nothing. Oh sorry, for “breach of the peace”. Whose peace? There’s not another sole on the street, apart from an arty looking couple walking arm in arm who seem mildly baffled. Nobody’s bothered. The peace of the Collective Gallery then I assume is what we’re talking about? But they’ve already said they’re game for a bit of adventure in the name of coming to know ourselves within the context of the world we live in. So the argument quickly becomes a circular nonsense. Or at least it does for me and probably for most people with a genuine interest in meaningful contemporary art. I’m thinking of writing to the Collective Gallery and suggesting they change their mission statement to reflect their markedly conservative actions rather than their grandiosely edgy and clearly wildly inaccurate beliefs about who they are.

The video of the work evidences its brilliance. I love the way Harman places the pole back down beside the now broken window with such gentle awareness and then walks quietly away, softly drawing his hair back from his face. What a wonderful thing - contemplative and intelligent and astonishingly gentle.

If that’d had happened at my gallery back in the day I’d have been delighted. I’d have been over the moon to know that someone’s alive out there. Someone’s got passion and bottle and common human decency. Someone’s got something to say that’s worth listening to. “Come in and have a cuppa whilst we call the glazier. Let’s hear all about it.” There’s so much more to do in life than worry about the Jones’s and the state of your bank balance. There’s life to be lived. And it’s really sad that a gallery calling itself ‘Collective’ can’t see that.

1 comment:

a. said...

About the broken glass case. An act of destroying other people's property without their consent can't be seen as a valid artistic practice. Already because it's against the law. Of course breaking this law can be part of the artistic statement and strategy but the punishment needs to be part of it also if not such a statement would become fake. If breaking gallery windows was a common and allowed practice then what would be so special about this case? This case could only be special, because such practice is not allowed and against the law. And if this guy would be let go without a fine then his action (art) would actually make no sense.