'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

Sunday, 5 December 2010

I went to Cirencester for lunch the other day. You know you’re getting on when you hear yourself saying you went to Cirencester for lunch. OK, not all the way from London. I’m not that old thank you. I haven’t started drawing up lists of restaurants yet and traversing the country in search of gastronomic paradise. No, I was staying with friends near Cheltenham.

We went to a place called Bobs. Bob gets a big talking up over those parts. Bob’s quiche. Bob’s lasagne. Bob’s cappuccino. Bob. Bob. Bob. Ex-Bibendum you know. Apparently the Catholic Church is considering issuing canonisations for the best plate of scrambled eggs outside the M25. And why not? Bob has led a life of almost perfect epicurean virtue. In the egg department certainly. A plate of scrambled eggs in the Shires is much the same as a plate of srcambled eggs in London if you ask me. But when in Rome you know, one’s got to get into these things.

Bob was sporting a movember when we went. Very dashing. Or at least very noble. And who cares about looks when you have virtue on your side? Well, me I suppose. Virtue’s never really done it for me. There was a hint of the rogue about Bob though that I rather fell for. Although perhaps that was more the mustachio. Anyway, facial hair aside as it were, we bellied up to enjoy our cappuccinos and found ourselves looking straight into the chef’s pit. Although I’m not much of a gourmet I do enjoy a visual feast and this was definitely one such. I’ve never seen food prepared with so little effort. It was quite wonderous.

It did cross my mind though that Bob might want to have a little look at the lighting he’s got there. Mood is one thing but this seemed to totter dangerously close to the wrong side of semi-darkness. I had a bit of a job reading my menu actually. And I was quite horrified as I was manoeuvring it discreetly nearer a light source when my friend barked rather too assertively I though: “if you can’t read your menu without moving it under the light Bev it means you need spectacles.” Spectacles? I don’t think so darling. I don’t know, you know someone since you’re eleven and suddenly they think they can say anything to a person and that’ll be fine. It’s perfectly shocking.

When I got back to town I phoned a friend or two. Friend One (who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty) said she’d had a funny turn in the British Library recently and had gone home on the bus sobbing certain she had a brain tumour. Her husband suggested a trip to the optometrist and… guess what. Friend Two recounted the story of home improvements: “Oh,” she said, “I spent thousands of pounds having the entire house re-wired and fitting ten extra spots in each room before I acknowledged the fact that what I really needed to do was go to the chemist and get some glasses.”

Right. The “accoutrement of old age” it is then. Good. In that case I shall certainly be needing an older man. The one thing guaranteed to make a girl feel younger is hanging out with someone half as old again. And of course they do tend to be more interesting. I shan’t be going back to Cirencester though. Bibendum or no, that was one emotionally expensive plate of eggs.
Finally, I am a convert to Shakespeare. Finally, I do believe, I’m starting to get it. Which is to say I watched a Shakespeare play from start to finish last week without once glancing at my watch. I’d go as far as to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I feel very pleased with myself. It’s not dissimilar to the experience I had the first time I watched the X-factor just the other week. I felt a whole new world opening up to me. Suddenly I had some connection with this thing huge swathes of the population spend their time engaged with. It’s a bit like the difference between going to France as a French speaker and going to France as a non-French speaker. Either way you’ll get by, but one way reaches out whilst the other withdraws into itself. Shakespeare and the X Factor. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Although admittedly Shakespeare probably does penetrating observation with a soupcon more depth. On the other hand, that Simon Cowell… nobody’s fool.

It had been the vicar was supposed to be in charge of my induction to Shakespeare. But that never got off the ground somehow. And now we’re not speaking. C’est la vie. Luckily I seem to have stumbled upon what could turn out to be a rather better instructress. She suggested we start with the easy stuff and I appreciated the gesture. She’s from California you know - a little less snobby than our home grown and occasionally somewhat self-aggrandising literary types. As You Like It. Or As You Like It as George Bernard Shaw apparently liked to refer to it, presumably by way of indicating that he himself in fact didn’t that much like it. Ghastly crowd pleaser I suppose he thought. Personally I’m not averse to a crowd pleaser now and then. Apart from Gauguin obviously. But a Seventeenth-Century precursor to Friends with a bit of cross-dressing thrown in. Smashing. Just up my street as it goes.

I was rather mesmerised by Phebe, the frighteningly un-self-reflexive character who pours scorn upon the skinny little wet lettuce Silvius and his continual professions to her of his undying love, whilst she in turn professes her unrequited and thereby undying love to Ganymede, aka of course the charming and beautiful Rosalind. Rosalind - smart enough to acknowledge the foolishness of romantic love without wishing to ostracise it for those foolishnesses. A balanced life which contains no loss of balance is not a balanced life. Sadly one cannot simply delete those parts of oneself that one finds a little unsophisticated. And denial is far easier, but ultimately far more damaging, than acceptance. No amount of health and safety precautions will ever immunise us against this life. In the famous words of (apparently) one of the greatest heavyweights of all time: “you can run but you can’t hide”.

So, all of this and more, free of charge save for a donation if you feel so moved, at Lamda until 9 December. Complete with well stocked, reasonably priced bar and a beautifully simple and effective set designed by Richard Bullwinkle. Bollocks to Jude Law I say. Check out the next generation in a theatre the size of your lounge.

“If thou remember’st not the slightest folly
That ever love did make thee run into
Thou has not loved”
As You Like it by William Shakespeare (2.4.36)

Saturday, 30 October 2010

I used to think the problem with film critics was that they couldn't seem to enjoy the ordinary stuff that everyone else likes. Presumably they've seen it all before and after a while the same old same old doesn't quite hit the spot. Which is understandable. However, I haven't seen it all before and when I go to the movies I want to have a nice time. I want to check out of my day-to-day frustrations and be amused. I'm after the cheesy feel good flick sense that everything's somehow going to be ok. Can't I just have a fun time at the movies?

I notice now though that where art reviews are concerned I'm going the way of the erstwhile scorned film critic. I begin to get where he's coming from. Once your relationship with something gets to a certain point you start to see it differently. You begin to engage with it rather than letting it wash over you. I'm not saying one scenario is any better than the other. I'm just making the observation that that seems to be what happens.

So, Mark Kermonde, with your ridiculous comedy barnet, I apologise for my glib dismissal of your valiant efforts. And to anyone going to Tate Modern this week-end to enjoy an afternoon of escapism and Great British queuing, I apologise to you also, because part of me feels I'm being a terrible spoil sport about this whole thing. I know we all love Gauguin, I really do. But the problem I've got is that once I began to actually see these paintings it became impossible for me to go back to viewing them in that semi-somnatic numbed out kind of a way. I can't just see what I'm told to see any more.

So, as I heaved my way through the beastly gaggle of Gauguin worshipers last week, vaguely wondering when quite I'd signed up for this kind of horror, I remembered last year Tate Modern being flooded with Scotland Yard over allegations of obscenity. Pop Life was temporarily closed down and the exhibition catalogue withdrawn from sale. Eventually the offending work, Richard Prince's Spiritual America (1983) a found image of a naked ten year old Brooke Shields staring provocatively into the camera, was taken down and the exhibition was re-opened.

It wasn't a decision I agreed with particularly being as it didn't take into account the fundamentally questioning nature of Prince's work. But, be that as it may, if the rule of thumb is no images of sexualised under age girls then I'm spotting a discontinuity here. Whether one's a fan of Gauguin's work or not, the fact is that from 1891 onwards his oeuvre does include, amongst other things, images of sexualised under age girls. And several such images are currently on show at Tate Modern.

OK, so Brooke Shields is a famous American and these were unknown Polynesians. The image of Brooke Shields is photographic; these are in oils. Other than that…

But of course there is a fundamental difference. Richard Prince's work held up a found image, taken a decade earlier by one time Playboy photographer Garry Gross, with the intention of reflecting society back at itself. Prince's idea, I believe, was to show us that element of our societal whole which we don't see because firstly, it's distasteful and we don't want to see it, and secondly, we've become so used to it we aren't any longer really even able to see it without its being intentionally displaced. So in a way the work was validated by its removal. We didn't want to hear what he was telling us about ourselves.

Gauguin, on the other hand, as well as making pretty paintings out of these under-age models, had also slept with most of them. Not to mention given them syphilis so that they, like him, would eventually die a long and painful death. So one could perhaps build a case to suggest that Gauguin's work, on some levels, is actually more morally conflicted than Prince's.

I really hope I don't sound too much of a bleeding heart liberal about this, flying the flag for the put upon underdog and getting all shirty about the exoticised 'primitive' and the objectified female. That would be fairly ungroovy. It would also be ungroovy to measure work made a hundred and twenty years ago by today's politically correct yard stick. Gauguin bashing isn't my intention particularly. I'm just saying it's amazing how often we don't see the very thing we're looking at. And I'm also saying, rather snobbily I suppose, that it's quite funny watching this mass congregation of orthodox Middle England gazing up adoringly at what, in some lights, could be seen as one man's self created porn collection.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Some pleasant things happen and some unpleasant things happen. My back has stopped hurting but the internet keeps breaking down. I've made up with someone I'd fallen out with who I'd been missing terribly, whilst another friend has flung himself from the Christmas card list without a backward glance. I've been invited to write for a new arts website and to curate for a gallery I like, but Surrey Police seem to want to prosecute me for driving down the A3 at 64mph. And why must people insist on telling me what to do? It's not cricket telling a person what to do. In fact it's deeply boorish.

So in a word it all seems vaguely unsatisfactory. Which I suppose beats deeply unsatisfactory. But, funnily enough, only just.

I keep trying to remind myself that life is what's happening now. It's not a state of perfection that's waiting around the corner for me. No, I think this might be it. This mildly irritating state of things never being entirely as you'd hoped. It occurred to me in the bath last night that if I keep on waiting for the arrival of this wonderful state of being that exists around the next corner I may end up missing the point altogether.

I was feeling desperately glum about it all on Friday; that feeling whereby you can't seem to put one foot in front of the other. Somehow I dragged myself to Deptford X. And I was glad I had because London's 'foremost contemporary visual arts festival's lead artist' Mark Titchner cheered me up. His work is at the Old Police Station I think. Actually I didn't make it that far due to a bit of a snarl up in the New Cross area. But his statement of intent for the festival was enough:

"Grand and spectacular, ephemeral or concealed, art qualified and created by daily life... It doesn't matter what 'it' happens to be, but 'it' is experienced and 'it' is lived… Not art but everyday life. Get up, go to work, come home, get up, go work, come home but with an added element, something that wasn't there the day before, something that actually makes you think about all this routine, this place we live and call life. Ridiculous, odd, generous, pretentious and maybe a bit stupid but something that reminds us that real life is not elsewhere. It's here."

You really need to give Deptford X more than the few private view hours I allotted it. There are some satisfyingly unexpected nooks and crannies you're likely to miss if you rush it. Like Matthew Verdon's subtle intervention borrowing from David Hammons on Deptford High Street: "THE LESS DO, THE MORE OF AN ART ST AM." Quite profound. And Shelley Theodore's quiet photograph of the curtained front of Café 187 at 182 Deptford High Street, installed on the wall facing the café. Yes, I missed all that rather annoyingly. Story of my life. I missed it because I was busy dashing elsewhere.

I didn't miss World Within Worlds at BEARSPACE though, curated by the charming Julia Alvarez. I didn't entirely understand World Within Worlds. But then I was in a rush to get to the APT Gallery for an 8.30pm performance by Mark McGowan that promised to be delightfully bonkers, despite being set against the backdrop of a tedious display from the Goldsmiths' Photography and Urban Cultures MA that exuded an intolerable air of mind-numbing right-on-ness.

Mark McGowan wore a cardboard box on his head with a photograph of Raoul Moat sellotaped to the front of it and held beneath his chin two bits of tied together curtain pole purporting to be a gun. He told the story from Raoul's angle; Raoul's tragedy as it were, with a bit of comedy thrown in. I believe he was trying to point out there is always more than one perspective on a situation and that, in a way, it's all fiction. I thought he did brilliantly. Bravo! There's been a furore in the red tops though: '"Sick" Raoul Moat play is like Shakespeare claims writer'. People don't like it when you mess with their archetypes it would seem. Tack up your high horses folks.

Other than that I managed to find time to get chatted up by a sweet dyke at the Arch Gallery, so that was nice. Not my type, but it's reassuring to feel included. The photographs there by Peter Anderson had that pop thing going on. You liked them straight away. It’s a red herring that actually.

It's on until 3 October, Deptford X. I should probably go back next week-end and see some of the things I missed first time around. I won't though. I never do. Always on to the next thing. It'll all be better tomorrow. Who knows, bloody internet might even be working.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I quite like being frightened in some ways. Not terror probably. Just enough of the frighteners to remind me that nothing's for certain, nothing's really known. I reckon it's good for me. I'm starting to think certainty is an illusion and an unhealthy one at that. In a funny way I like to be reminded how thin is the line between life and death, between things being predictable and comfortable and things being in a state of total chaos. And that however uncomfortable we might be with that there's nothing we can do about it. No amount of extortionate insurance policies or anti-aging creams will protect us from life. Or death. Remembering that teaches me a bit of respect I think, and a bit of compassion somehow.

I was driving up the M6 with my Dad last week-end when he told me the story of a mini-bus carrying a football team back home after an away match one winter's evening. A couple of the players needed to pee so the mini-bus pulled over on the hard shoulder. They got out and hopped over the railing onto what they thought was the grass verge. But the mini-bus had stopped on the Thelwell viaduct. Three healthy young blokes vaulted over the railings to a 100 foot drop into the freezing cold waters of the River Mersey and were carried away to their deaths.

The other month my triathlete friend asked me to write a children's story for her to illustrate for her daughter.
"Oh yippee skip," I said, "as long as it can be something really grisly and gory."
"Well" she said, "I'd been thinking more along the lines of Slinkey Malinki, but I knew I could count on you to come up with something off the beaten track."

I was just about to embark upon my don't-give-up-the-day-job new career as the Bridget Jones era's answer to the Brothers Grimm when, to my vague disgruntlement, I stumbled upon the latest offering of those other infamously gruesome siblings, the ultimate Generation X frontmen, The Chapman Brothers. But disgruntlement turned to reverence in the face of such awesomely stylish fear-mongering.

Innocent cartoonic line drawings superimposed over monstrous etchings of those bizarre bum faced children that the brothers are so keen on; or a schmaltzy stylized deer with an explosion of eyes and teeth and bits of brain where its head should be; or an irritatingly cutesy little red riding hood character offering a buttercup to a blue bird in a tree, unawares of the gigantic spider creeping up behind her on its hairy black legs, with its one overgrown eye on her and saliva dribbling from its fangs. Eiks, eiks, eiks. I had started to become vaguely tired of the Fuck Face thing after one particularly repetitive Frieze season a few years back, but I now find myself welcoming the Chapman Circus back into town with cries of wonderment.

I went to a talk they gave in 2000, I can't even remember where it was now, but it was attended largely by students and art historians as I remember. The brothers were giving the talk what I suppose one might call a Deleuzian twist. Not so much a twist as a knife through the heart as it turned out. I didn't understand a word they said of course, but I did at least have some vague idea what they were getting at. Others were a little less accommodating and the pair got boo-ed off the podium. It seemed to fit quite well in the context of their relationship with the absurd and it was rather funny. I know, my sense of humour isn't the most adult. Then again that's probably why I like the Chapmans. I like their irreverence and their anarchic anti-rationalism. The silliness of it all. Reason these days seems to be this preposterous holy grain we bow down before without even a second thought. But I'm afraid, just because something appears to make sense does not make it true or even useful particularly, in fact probably quite the opposite. Something can appear to be the most reasonable thing in the world if its case is put forward by someone intelligent and articulate, but that doesn’t stop it being utter bollocks. Blind faith in reason, it seems to me, is extremely limiting. No, I'm with the Chapmans on this one.

Almost as good as the Children's Art Commission for Whitechapel is this video shot at the Chapmans studio in East London by their Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Kylie. Ludicrous. But oddly enough, it does give a fresh perspective. Suddenly you almost are that dog. http://www.guardian.co.uk

But the last line has to go to the brothers themselves. One can't really paraphrase their genius. "I don't think artists can do anything. An artist can only add shit to shit. Dinos once said, 'Our art is potty-training for adults.' He got that about right."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How bizarre when you're actually in an immersive installation and someone with a heavy South American accent wearing a vaguely confused expression asks you where the exhibition is. World's collide. Poor fellow.

But in a way I suppose that's the point of Mike Nelson's Coral Reef. Bewilderment and dumbfoundedness are what it's getting at. Only for some people it's working so well they don't even know it's art. They think they're just lost. It’s the difference between knowing you're lost and being so lost that you don't even know you're lost. Or no, that doesn't make sense. Or does it? No. Being lost but not knowing that actually you're not lost. Actually you're there already. There is nothing more to look for. Yes, that's it. Hopefully that's clear. But then in Coral Reef even if you know you're not technically lost, that you're already there, you still end up kind of lost in the sense that you don't know where you are, you don't know the way out, but you do know that that's ok, you'll stumble upon the way out eventually, so there's no particular point in looking for a way out. You may as well just enjoy the experience until the way out presents itself. Although enjoy might not be the right word either. It's fascinating and it's brilliant but I'm not sure it's quite a pleasure. More an introduction to fear. Your own and our own. Society's horrible lostness.

A few days after I'd seen Coral Reef I instructed my friend Nicks who lives over the bridge in Vauxhall to get over there a-sap. It's that kind of a thing. You want your friends to check it out at all costs. So she calls me up from Tate in full on Challenge Anneka mode.
"OK darling, I'm in the entrance way on the river side. Where do I go?"
Five minutes later and neither of us any closer to figuring out where she ought to be heading when finally it dawns on me:
"You are in Tate Britain Nicks?"
"Err, no. I thought you said Tate Modern."
"Right, (long pause) I'll call you in half an hour."
Half an hour later and I'm busy or I don't hear the phone or something. So about an hour later I get two messages. The first informing me that she's now standing in the Duveen Galleries and where does she go. And the second, half an hour after that, in urgent tones: "Bev, call me, I think I'm going into shock, I can't do this on my own. I'm having a sit down to try and bring my heart rate back." And then a protracted silence.
This is the effect Coral Reef has on a person.

Which is odd considering it's just a series of empty rooms with a few adjoining corridors. That's exactly it though I think. It's the emptiness. The absense. It's not something we allow ourselves to acknowledge very often and here suddenly we're dropped into the middle of it, no questions asked, no map, no labels, no clues, no indication that anything does or ought to mean anything. It's just empty. No wonder my South American journey mate was looking so lost. It can't be this. This is empty. What's one supposed to do with empty? Well. Quite.

Coral Reef was first show at Matt's Gallery in 2000 and is currently on show at Tate Britain. Mike Nelson is to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2011.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

David Whyte

Monday, 9 August 2010

I went to the London Triathlon at the week-end to cheer on my buddy who was competing. A staggering thirteen thousand tri-athletes pumping their way around the ExCel area of Wapping. Yep, no idea why there’s a capital in the middle of that word either, but there really are that many nutters out there. Seeing that much flesh squeezed into lycra all on one day can’t be good for a person.

Vernon Kay was there - competing. What a tool. Jenson Button on the other hand… I do like a man on a bicycle. But the best moment was when some legend on a Boris bike accidentally found himself on the cycle leg wobbling towards the Limehouse Basin with a bunch of flowers in his basket and folks in luminous skin tight all-in-ones and curiously shaped helmets roaring past at terrifying speeds. You couldn’t make this stuff up. When the Marshall began to whistle frantically and presumably it started to dawn on the fellow that something might be amiss, he stopped in the middle of the track and dismounted.

For some extraordinary reason the whole day was so exhausting I had to go to bed at 9 o’clock. All I’d done was stand by the side of the road and yell, “go Heids, go, wooooooh, you’re looking good babe…” at the shattered figure who tottered by every thirty minutes or so. How can that be tiring? I like to think I was giving her my energy or something, vicariously experiencing her exhaustion with my incredible powers of empathy. Thank goodness I wasn’t also vicariously experiencing the bottom chafing after 40 klicks in the saddle.

As well as on the athletics appreciation front it was also a fairly gratifying week-end on more familiar territory. Tate Towers has done it again people. Actually they’ve excelled themselves. Exceeded expectation by a long cheese. I’ll never look at a red Beetle again without feeling a knot of anxiety in my chest. Neither will I ever again go to Tate Modern on a Sunday. Friday night. Dead as the grave. Me and the vicar even managed to get a seat on the river view side in the member’s caff without having to punch anyone out of the way. It’s easier to get a seat on the lap of the great Sir Nicholas of Bankside himself.

The thing about Francis Alys’s work is that it can always be read in one of two ways. Technically it can always be read in an infinite number of ways, life being a unique experience for each of us. But on a fairly simplistic level, I’m just suggesting his work can usually be read either as a social commentary on whatever political situation each piece is narratively involved with - usually Mexico’s complex socio-political goings on as Alys moved to Mexico City 1986 and has lived there ever since. Or it can be read existentially.

I’m no philosopher of course, but in the limited degree to which I do attempt to engage my wee brain in matters of significance, I find myself to be an existentialist through and through. So it makes me very happy to encounter Alys’s work in this way whilst also appreciating that this is only one side of the story. I just prefer to leave politics to others more engaged with it than I. Which is, basically, just about everyone. I’m simply not qualified. I don’t even read the newspaper. The way I see it, what’s the point? It’s always bad news that makes me feel shit about the world. What more do I need to know? When something genuinely gripping happens someone always tells me. I am aware that Michael Jackson’s dead and Nicolas Sarkozy’s married to someone half his age. Beyond that life’s too short for pickling my brain in the negativity of the world’s baser goings on.

But who’d have thought that watching a red beetle driving down a dirt track hill and up the other side could be so engaging and so emotive. It’s quite a thing. Accompanied by the rousing sound track of a Tijuana brass band in rehearsal the little red Beetle heads off down the hill. Every time the band starts up off he trundles. Every time the band stops the driver takes his foot off the pedal and progress comes to a halt. Not only does it come to a halt, being half way up a hill, the plucky little fellow – the car becomes completely anthropomorphised almost immediately – rolls back down. Then the band starts up and he sets off once again, trundling first down and then struggling valiantly up the other side.

At first one feels hopeful that at some point he might make it to the top. For a good five minutes the viewer believes herself to be simply waiting for the moment at which our little friend will over-come this acoustic obstacle and reach his goal.

Then gradually the car become the underdog and now with some humour we continue to will him on to victory. But after a little longer still we started to become a bit cross. This foolish car refuses to learn his lesson. What sort of an idiot follows the same course time and again imaging that the results will be different next time? Then, after about twenty minutes I got past even that and I simply no longer cared what happened to this preposterous character. After which point it wasn’t long before I decided that to continue watching the film was to do the same as the car – that is to repeat the same action whilst expecting a different outcome. So I left the room, ostensibly to see the rest of the exhibition. But was I leaving because I was moving beyond the futility or because I couldn’t bear to watch it any more? Probably I suspect the later, although I like to tell myself it was the former.

A funny thing was when we were in the next room and we heard the music start up for the millionth time the vicar dashed back in to see if the car made it to the top this time. Of course it didn’t. The failure was in-built. I think. But of course, I didn’t stay to the very end did I? I bailed out after twenty-five minutes. That wasn’t bad going under the circumstances, but I didn’t actually see the very end. Maybe I wanted to retain some hope, to hold on to the oh so remote possibility that at some point the car might have made it to the top of the hill and lived happily ever after. I’d love to believe that. I so would. But I suspect that, unlike the triathlon, there is no neat little finish line, no win or lose. There’s just on and on, on and on, on and on…
Hit Counters

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I got a bootie call last night. I'm fairly sure that's what it was although I haven't had one before so I'm not quite up to speed. I didn't know what to do. Answer it? Not answer it? Rather embarrassing to admit but I was freaking out slightly. So I let it go to answer machine and then pretended it hadn't happened. Didn't mention a word about it to the person and neither did he. Was that totally yellow or have I suddenly developed a sagacious streak?

Perhaps it's me with only one thing on the brain? Perhaps he was just calling to say hello. At ten o'clock at night, when he'd only seen me half and hour earlier. Well, if it is me, it's certainly not just me, as I discovered on a visit to Pilar Corrias' super-sexy Koolhaus gallery. Pilar Corrias is one of my favourite London art spots, but you can't win 'em all and whilst Purity is a Myth was an ok show it didn't really light my fire that much. There's only so excited I can get about yet another abstract canvas in 2010 I'm afraid.

What was quite interesting though was the stuff lying on the floor in the downstairs gallery. If anybody's not afraid to admit he's got one thing on the brain, it's this man. What turned out to be a bunch of Leigh Ledare photographs was propped up on storage rugs, presumably not selected for his current show at the uber-hip GuidoCosta Projects, Turin – the solo exhibition brilliantly titled Le Tit. I've spent a lot of time coming up with exhibition titles and let me tell you Le Tit takes some beating.

So what was it that drew me in? Well, first off, it's probably fair to say that Leigh Ledare's work is transgressive and I like someone who's not afraid to stick their neck out. He ventures where most would not. But that, in itself, isn't enough. There's far more going on here than plain vanilla over stepping the mark.

Ledare is grappling with the complexities of the mother son relationship, or perhaps any parent child relationship, which, by its very nature, is fraught stuff. What I love is that he gets stuck in there without the slightest regard for socially acceptable bite sized notions of what this minefield of a relationship might be or where its boundaries should lie. To suggest that he's presenting us with shock material just for the sake of it is to approach the work either too literally, or with a lack of honesty and imagination. The viewer needs to give otherwise they will get nothing back. As in life, so in art. It's not a passive journey.

Human relationships are profoundly complex, so much more so than people care to admit. We love to see things as one thing or the other. Black or white. Good relationships or bad relationships. Good mothers or bad mothers. But it's not like that in real life and Ledare doesn't spare the horses on that front. Murky, inexplicable, usually bizarre and often disturbing - that's what Ledare presents. Precisely the mess of things as they really are. Precisely the mess we don't want to acknowledge.

The cream on the cake is that he conducts this terrifyingly frank and raw investigation with a sense of humour. You can't start messing around with stuff like this if you're going to insist on taking it all seriously. I can't bear the self-important idea that in order to take life seriously we've somehow got to take ourselves seriously. Being serious is not about being serious.

The work that was lying on the floor in Eastcastle Street was from the series Personal Commissions, for which Ledare answered ads posted by women whose desires echoed those of his mother in her personal ads. He then paid these women to photograph him in their apartments in scenarios of their choosing. The result was, amongst other things: Leigh in the buff on a chintzy sofa; Leigh posing in a shower; Leigh naked on a bed with a red fishnet stocking pulled over his head, hands tied behind his back and a dog lead lashed to his throat. In all these photographs he sports the prodigious Village People moustache that seems to set the tone for a lot of his oeuvre. The whole thing reminds me of the Mel Brookes' quote: 'tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.'

The Personal Commissions series though is possibly overshadowed by the gut wrenching body of work Pretend You're Actually Alive that forms a very broad portrait of his mother. From pornographic images of her having sex with her young lover Catch 22, to beautifully still and unrefined shots of her sitting alone in her house. Of course the pictures of her with her clothes on are far more revealing than those without her clothes. It's all part of the paradox.

So what about my bootie call? Maybe I should have answered it. You want and yet you don't want. You crave and yet you're repulsed. Frightened of the pain and also drawn to it. Why are relationships so complicated? Why can't they come in simple boxes marked up good or bad, then we'd all know what to do. But it's not like that. It's a mess and there's no getting away from it. And there in lies the richness. What a dull world it would be if it really were how we like to pretend it is.

I bumped into an art dealer acquaintance of mine in South Ken this morning. I was tottering out of the French Institute where I'd been struggling to eradicate my mono-lingual ignorance. He was sitting in the sunshine enjoying a coffee with what I took to be his boyfriend. He asked me how business was going.

"Tough", I said, "but on the up side, I've decided to give up chasing non-existent business and enjoy the summer instead".
He smiled sagely into his latte.
"Likewise," he said and further announced, "any art dealer claiming otherwise is lying."
Which all made me feel much better about my recent slothfulness. Until that moment I'd been silently rationalising to myself that summer isn't the time for stressing. What a great thing rationalisation is. Will my running round like the proverbial chicken sans tête alleviate the financial fix we collectively find ourselves in? Of course not.

So last week, instead of phoning round five hundred prospects just to hear them tell me what I already know – ie that business is tight, I decided to push off to what my friend Fi likes to amuse herself by referring to as 'Bev's hippie convention'. It is true that I don't think I've ever before seen so many rainbow trousers, guitars or dreadlocks in one place. I'm a bit ignorant about the whole hippie thing - it was after all before I was born – but the 2010 version was pretty groovy.

Unfortunately it got off to a slightly ropey start when we had no choice but to pitch our tent in a force nine gale and accompanying rain storm. I left my rucksack under a tree thinking it was waterproof. It wasn't. Not even a bit.

Half way through putting the tent up we realised we'd put it so close to the tent next to us that we couldn't get the guy ropes in. So we took the tent down. Then we put it up again. By now I was soaked to the skin in a crappy fuscia Moschino shower proof jacket that was totally inadequate for the job - what had I been thinking of at the packing stage?

Then we realised we'd pitched it on a more or less vertical drop and we wouldn't be able to sleep without all rolling down into one corner. So we took it down. Again. And put it up. Again. By now a sense of humour failure was looking imminent, but I slept surprisingly well after a hearty supper of vegan bean stuff with a solid mass of brown rice, and by morning the sun had come out and things were looking a lot jollier. Hearing that some people's tents had blown clean away during the night made one grateful for small mercies. And there's a lot to be said for a blow up mattress. Worth every penny of £8.99.

In the wake of the accommodation debacle and its subsequent resuscitation some fairly eccentric stuff went on. If I name a few you might get a taste: 'Shamanic Trance Dance'; 'Ecstatic Dances for Universal Peace'; 'Taoist Tai Chi Gong'; Yoga; Meditation; 'Non-violent communication'; 'Hedgehogs and Buddhism' (yeah huh!); 'Raphael's One Love Rastafarian Songs'; 'Gong Therapy' - check it out - wherein you lie with your head 3 inches away from a gong with a circumference of 2 meters whilst some guy bashes away on it relentlessly for half an hour - Lord knows what it achieves other than temporary deafness. I gave that one a miss.

What I did have a go at was the tantalisingly titled 'Sacred Intimacy – Living Love' (subtitle: 'be the love you're seeking'!) wherein you choose a partner of the opposite sex and then sit opposite them on the floor for twenty minutes staring into their eyes. Initially you feel uncomfortable, then you get the giggles, but eventually you get past all that and you really do start to feel deeply compassionate towards this fellow being, which in my case, luckily enough, was a handsome Germanic blonde yogi in fisherman's pants and green eyeliner, somewhat reminiscent of Lady Di circa 1980, only a little bit more out there.

After that there was "the tantric zone". Oh yes, hot tubs in the buff. Six strangers squashed into a receptacle roughly the size of a wheelie bin, into which shoots boiling hot water every few minutes. That was something.

And all the while, everywhere about the place, tonnes of people partied in wild costumes. Many people in no costumes at all. One particularly spectacular fellow in only a pair of knee high pink furry boots and a bum bag, dancing away as though his life depended on it, right in the middle of the main thoroughfare. Even one of my friends completely divested himself of his kit in a state of ecstatic joy on the dance floor. Apparently there's few things more liberating than flinging yourself around a heaving dance tent "with yer todger flying about." I can only take his word for it.

A strict no drugs and drink policy made the whole love-in thing feel wonderfully safe and somehow not at all inappropriate or mad. Just sort of charmingly outlandish and rather lovely. I can only think of it as being akin to visiting a different planet for a long week-end, wherein societal norms are completely unfamiliar, but once you've acclimatised, prove to be far more appealing than those one's used to.

Driving back into London felt strange, not unwelcome particularly, just strange, as one witnessed people charging down crowded streets, eyes glued to the pavement, as though there was no-one else about, each locked inside their little bubbles detached from the world around. And all these clothes. Fabulously bourgeois it suddenly seemed. Oh for the great outdoors. Mud between your toes, love in your heart and group hugs every twenty minutes. You don't get that in South Ken. Not even at the Institut Français.

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Sunday, 4 July 2010

"It takes a long time for a mouse to realise he's in a trap. But once he does, something inside him never stops trembling."
Laurie Anderson, Transitory Life
from the album Homeland (2010).

Highly cross-making day. Why must builders hammer things at 7.30 in the morning? This is not an acceptable time of day to commence hammering things. There's scaffolding everywhere. All I can see from my window is a matrix of grey lines, greenery beyond, elusive. Occasionally trainers pass by at eye level. The trainers seem to have decimated the honeysuckle and left the table and chairs half way down the garden. Why must things always need repairing just to stay the same?

Now I come to think of it I've been cross since Sunday. It was probably those bloody tights. There's really not much that can be said of the installation currently languishing on the upper level of the newly re-opened Hayward. Maybe it's a bit Gaudi-esque. Maybe it hints at biomorphic forms or underwater creatures. Maybe the tunnel walls are pierced with what the vicar rather unexpectedly described as 'little cunty things' (I think he thinks it amuses me to be shocked, which I suppose it does up to a point). But frankly, and despite whatever the Hayward blurb writers might like to have us believe, subatomic physics is pushing it way too far. The fact is we could play spot the reference all day, but the ambitiously titled The Edges of the World is one damp squib.

The problem is it suffers from a complete absence of bite. It's fluffy and pretty and rather nice. It smells of lavender and camomile. It's got a little outdoor swimming pool so you can take the kids for a dip on a sunny week-end. It's got a very loud drum that small people like to bang on. Repeatedly. Here and there are step ladders you can have lots of fun climbing up and down. Which is all very nice. It does not, however, invite the viewer to see the world differently and the only thing it led me to question was the wisdom of whoever decided to put it in the Hayward for three months.

I'm far from the expert on South American contemporary art so if Ernesto Neto is indeed the most interesting contemporary artist to come out of Brazil in recent years, as one reads, then I can only imagine there's not much doing down there.

Far less irritating is the micro-exhibition: Keeping it Real: An Exhibition in Four Acts: Act1: The Corporeal at the Whitechapel. As an exhibition I really liked it. I liked the concept, I liked the curation and I liked the work. Quite out of keeping with the current fetish for exhibitions almost as large as their curator's egos, it's deliciously bijou. Plus it's got R Mutt in it, and Marina Abramovic and Sherrie Levine and Louise Bourgeois – what's not to like? Well, there is one thing. It's one of those days, I can't help myself, I have to focus on the negative, doubtless it won't make me feel any better but there we are… What is with the word 'real' this year?

So far we've had Design Real at the Serpentine, The Real Van Gogh at the RA, The Sacred Made Real at the National and now we're Keeping It Real in Whitechapel. What are we supposed to understand 'real' to mean? Sorry, but what quite is 'real'? I'm not sure the nature of reality and phenomenal existence is straightforward enough to be bandied about in this way. But what this bandying about suggests I suppose, is that collectively we're feeling a bit short on 'real' – whatever we might variously understand that to be.

I sat reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying last night, trying to nudge myself out of this week long bad temper I've somehow fallen into - look to the big picture and all of that. Apparently when we die we're presented with the naked, unconditioned truth. We're presented with reality. But, if I'm getting this right (and who knows about that) when we get there, the vast majority of us haven't the first clue what we're looking at, we find the whole experience profoundly terrifying and scamper back down to earth lickety-split for a bit more work-a-day suffering. But here's the good bit. It seems that for those in the know mind and reality are one and the same. What's out there is the same as what's in here. The light has no separate existence from mind. No wonder we're all terrified. Keeping it Real suddenly seems quite ambitious. Not least at the Edges of the World.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

"I only learn from what I fear most."
Marina Abramovic

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Herewith a labour of love comes to you from under the duvet, from whence I am planning on never emerging again. My friend Isabel called me on Friday afternoon to ask me where I was watching the football.

"What football?" I grunt gracelessly.
She's from California.
"Babes, there's like you and one other person in the whole country who doesn't know we're playing Algeria tonight."

A few minutes later I ring off, realising, as I hear the phone go click, that my assumption that the word 'we' refers to En-gur-luhnnd may be just that. A feeling of foreboding shivers through me as I contemplate the prospect of what I think may be my first ever full on 90 minutes of the so called beautiful game.

The foreboding was well placed it turned out as the result is a hangover so catastrophic it now seems unlikely I'll make it through to tomorrow. I may have said it before but this time I really mean it. If I do make it through to tomorrow I'm never drinking again. And I don't think I shall be watching football again either. It was rubbish. Thursday night was better and I spent that standing on the pavement in New Cross. The fire alarm went off during the Goldsmiths' Undergraduate private view, so I'd dragged my arse across the capital for the sake of five pieces of video work and some chapattis. The later looked just about ok on the Saatchi Show back in, what was it, January, but by last Thursday they were looking significantly past their sell by date. What, I wondered ungenerously, has Mr Qureshi been doing with himself for the last six months?

Anyway, I could have, I probably should have, hauled myself around the rest of the show, but frankly by the time I was back out on the pavement with all hell breaking loose in my ears, the prospect of a glass of ropey plonk down the Sun and Doves was looking like a tempting one. Although things didn't improve that much when we got there. The tills had broken down and arty young fellows these days, it transpires, aren't cut out for mental arithmetic. I enjoyed seeing the wave again though. The Great Wave off Kanagawa in reverse, writ huge on the side of a modest terraced house in Camberwell. It's a romantic thing to stumble upon in SE5. It restored me. Briefly. There's some beauty in the world it seemed to say, even if most of it is painful and melancholic. And transient. Horribly transient.

I suppose I'm being unnecessarily gloomy about the whole thing. It just seems that whatever happens, whenever things seem to be going even vaguely ok, life always manages to bring it back around to doing a big shit on you. Gives with one hand and punches you in the guts with the other. I'm not sure if that's how it really is or if that's just how it appears. And in a way what's the difference? What's the difference between reality and the appearance of reality? What's the difference between shit and the appearance of shit?

Anyway, I'll pick myself up and give myself a shake down, nothing too rumbustious, a gentle little jiggle ought to be enough for this evening. I'll be alright in the morning I expect. And the fact is that despite the premature debunk it hadn't been a waste of time at all actually. There was one piece of work – and it only takes one – that made the trip worth while and probably comes near the top of my 'best things I've seen so far in 2010' list. Twenty eight year old undergrad Helen Nymann Hansen's film Mother Mind - quite staggering really, despite maybe a slightly cheesy title. Part film, part performance, part immersive installation, it was atmospheric and archetypal and hypnotising. I was completely carried away into another world and it was a world that somehow felt far more real than the one I usually waste my time knocking around in.

But these things don't really communicate themselves in words. Especially not the words of a bear with a sore head. So I think I'll call it a day now and try and sleep it off. Hopefully the world will seem a sunnier place in the morning. Isabel tells me we're playing Slovenia on Wednesday. I think I might give that a miss though.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

"Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it... Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim 'I do enjoy myself' or 'I am horrified' we are insincere. As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror – it's no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent."
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

I had to break up with my adored boyfriend yesterday - if such he was, I'm still not entirely sure, the word 'my' sits too awkwardly. It was over the email in the end, shockingly. As yet he hasn't responded. Oddly enough one does rather hope for a response at times like this, but never mind, I can't have it all ways I suppose.

Keen on the idea of a few Bovary-esque moments I'm going through occasional and short lived bursts of blaming the failure of this latest romantic debacle entirely upon Him, getting angry and so forth, hurling at the blank wall ahead of me imaginary insults on the voluminous subject of his great ineptitude, even contemplated falling into a swoon; then suddenly and unexpectedly, calm is restored, as though it never left. I put the kettle on.

The truth is I know it's as much my fault as his. I chose to become romantically attached to a man very recently separated knowing perfectly well the problems we'd encounter. I've been there myself. I know the form. We all have. So why did I go down that path? Why choose to be somebody's rebound fling? What does that tell me about myself, I wonder, knowing already the answer.

But I go through the motions nonetheless, the things one expects of oneself in these situations. I call my girlfriends and bore them rigid wailing about my heart ache; take valerian certain that I shan't sleep a wink otherwise; stop eating of course – the pounds are flying off - every cloud and all of that… I text my friend to tell her this. 'Bitch x' she texts back. I guffaw.

Then I catch myself humming in the shower and as I sit here I find I'm feeling not so very far off jolly, or more accurately, I'm feeling, I don't know, not that much.

I've changed the sheets, washed my hair, put his t-shirt – the one solitary possession of his that I have here – into a paper bag by the door. And that's it really. Doesn't add up to a great deal, does it? One lone paper bag by the door. One more failure notched up in a history of same. One more desperate parting. At least it's a brief reminder that I'm alive, a blessed glimpse of horror, a flash of something felt before the curtain falls once again.

In this oddly oscillating state of cherished aliveness I saw The Surreal House at Barbican. Everything was more intense, as though a layer of skin had been peeled away. It was an apt show to visit in the circumstances, its raison d'etre, and perhaps that of Surrealism's entire oeuvre, seemingly to shock the viewer out of her slumber, to poke her into a state of vivid aliveness with the disturbing yet strangely beautiful zap of an electric prod.

In the first room Donald Rodney's In The House of My Father hangs opposite Buster Keaton's 1928 projected feature film Steamboat Bill Jr.. Both works tragically sad. Rodney's heart-breakingly poetic image of the frailty of the human body – a tiny house consisting solely of pieces of his own skin held together with two pins that he made whilst in hospital suffering from sickle cell anaemia, of which he later died at the age of 37. Steamboat Bill Jr. features Keaton's most famous and oft referenced stunt in which the façade of a house collapses over him, his life saved by a whisker when the attic window passes over his head and down his body, as the façade slams to the ground - a reminder of the immense physical and emotional fragility we live with day-in-day-out but are almost never aware of. If we were more often aware of it how different our lives might be. In the moment might be the only way to live; compassion the only emotion.

In the background I can hear a noise that turns out to be Rebecca Horn's 1990 Concert for Anarchy. A grand piano is suspended upside down from the high ceiling. Periodically and (at first) unexpectedly, its innards are flung out to the accompaniment of a great cacophony of jarring sound, as though the piano's very heart were being torn out. The keys burst from the noble instruments metaphoric chest as though reeling from a grenade. Next the heavy lid swings open. The piano hangs in this state of vulnerability for a couple of minutes, part shocking and part wondrous revelation, before the keys are slowly and effortfully re-integrated back into the body of the whole and the lid quietly closes over the wounds. Once again the notion of an object complete and in control is presented to the world. Yet it remains, eternally suspended upside down from its legs, its absurd and agonising plight plain for all to see. And then, moments later, its heart is broken once again.

"I did my best, it wasn't much,
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch,
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you,
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand right here before the Lord of song,
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah"
Leonard Cohen

Friday, 11 June 2010

A mortification has occurred. I just sent a text message to the wrong person. Sent it to the friend I was complaining about rather than the one I was wanting to complain to. Feel like digging a large hole and climbing in. Possibly staying there forever. The recipient called me and informed me of my error, kindly and gently just to make matters worse. I employed the technique of last resort – pretended I thought it was fabulously funny. Who am I kidding?

Why does life insist on giving me these mirror moments in which to see myself with a clarity that I feel is just completely inappropriate? Delusion suits me fine actually thanks. I’m quite keen on a bit of denial as it goes. I do not need to know that I am a beastly ungenerous being. But now that I do know it (once again) I shall have to try and do something about it (once again). I’m not sure what. A pointless and short lived resolution to be less beastly and ungenerous I suppose. And yet already I feel the mortification fading, the protective cloak of self delusion closing in around me and I know that, of course, I shall continue to be the beast that I am, inhabiting my own little world with moi in the lead role and moi in all supporting roles. It’s rather depressing if you think about it.

And Berlin was rather depressing in the rain. The rain followed me around Europe this week. The minute I arrived anywhere the rain began and the minute I left the sun came out. London, Hamburg, Berlin, Porto Fino, London.

For a whole day I thought Berlin was the most rubbish place I’d ever been. I arrived on Monday. As in London, galleries in Berlin are closed on Monday. At least in London you can go to a public gallery. In Berlin - not a bloody wurst. Actually there was one thing open - The Deutsche+Guggenheim. Hmmm, is it a bank or is it a gallery? It’s a bank folks. With some pictures in it. Pictures by Wangechi Mutu as it happened. I didn’t like them. I’m fed up with Post-Colonialism. To the back teeth. “Mutu counters the manifest idea that she is perhaps an ‘African’ artist who draws on the culture of her home continent in her work with a multiperspectival cosmos. The alienation and uprooting in her images and installations is obvious… migrants… blah … hybrid… blah … ‘AlieNation’… blah….”

On Tuesday I ‘borrowed’ a parka from the apartment I was staying in and things began to improve. Hot I can handle, cold not. What this thermostatic failure meant was that I spent Tuesday and Wednesday embroiled in an ethical dilemma. Is it morally defunct to borrow the unlent? I don't know, but in the end the parka and I managed somewhere in the region of fifty odd galleries over a period of two and a half days, a smallish fraction of the four hundred plus galleries that live in Berlin, but I was quite pleased with our drizzled upon efforts nonetheless.

On display was everything from the awesome to the awful. In the first category Spruth Magers, Galerie Birgit Ostermeier, Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, 401 Contemporary and best of all Turkish artist Ali Kazma at Tanas. In the later category the olfactorily offensive Have You Ever Really Looked At The Sun, a two person show by Damien Hirst and Michael Joo at Haunch of Venison. A 365.7 cm diameter Hirst canvas entitled Har Megiddo was composed entirely of dead flies and resin. It stank. Literally. As did Let’s Eat Outdoors Today an installation of various foodstuffs and flies in a glass and steel vitrine. It’s a funny thing déjà vu. It was almost as though I’d seen it all before.

This new leaf isn’t going that well I see. I’m in a bad mood though so I don’t particularly care. Who am I to think that I should be better than I am anyway? And now in addition to being a beast I notice I’m also being a bore. Nobody wants to hear about my tedious moral dilemmas. Even I don’t want to hear about my tedious moral dilemmas. The long and short of it is I’d rather be a beast than a bore so I’m going to shut up now and go off and do something morally reprehensible to take my mind of it all. I hope my friend will be speaking to me tomorrow - we've got a three hour drive to Suffolk together in the morning. God it’s depressing.

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Monday, 17 May 2010

I’m struggling to understand what it is I find so moving about Lisa Yuskavage’s paintings. This Sunday afternoon I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about her work, I’ve trawled my reserves of art historical reference points, I’ve gone through the obligatory writers pass time of staring at the blank computer screen for hours followed by calling around all my friends and wondering what to cook for supper, but still I don’t know what it is about them that speaks to me so vitally. Given their subject matter, I’m finding my response to them even a bit concerning. Until eventually I remember that the way in is always through the wound.

The truth is I see something of myself in these paintings. That’s what I’m wanting to avoid - the unpalatable conclusion that these women remind me of myself. Bizarre, hyper-sexualised, uber-boobed girls, innocently playful and agonisingly destructive at the same time. Their devil may care performed immodesty; the coquettishly dishevelled hair; the complete absence of balance; the sense of nihilism and confusion and the fact that, however you dress it up, it always comes back to the same thing. And of course, those socks. Everybody mentions the socks. What is it about the socks?

Contemporary painting involving the female nude usually makes me want to poke my own eyes out. Centuries of male dominated art history, followed by decades of feminist backlash have rammed it, as a source of painterly inspiration, well and truly into the back of a very tricky pigeon hole. Many have tried to resuscitate it. Many have failed. Some dismally. Most don’t have the first idea what they’re grappling with. Yuskavage on the other hand, certainly does. Which makes this ballsy stuff.

Despite the fact that her canvases now sell for hundreds of thousands, she hasn’t come out of it completely unscathed. Controversy abounds. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Controversy in art, contrary to how it’s commonly understood, is not a sign of childish attention seeking, but of presenting things in a way that rejects delusions we’ve collectively and silently agreed to adopt in order to ease our trajectory through what would otherwise be a hellish traumatic existence. When you challenge people’s dearly held delusions they tend to get a bit cross. The more they see you might have a point the crosser they get. Ergo everyone loves to hate contemporary art.

Over and above the brilliantly managed subject matter and the ability to describe disconcerting truths about humanity and femininity, the other thing that stands out about Lisa Yuskavage is that she’s one of the extremely rare breed of twenty-first century painters who know how to paint. There’s no reason why artists these days should know how to paint. They’re not taught how to paint. Which is not necessarily such a bad thing as it might sound. Removing the default opens up possibilities. As a result we’ve got this wonderfully rich multi-disciplinary creativity going on, wherein nothing is beyond investigation. In creative terms it’s a very life giving place to be.

But of course there’ll always be people who want to paint. For them the absence of painting from the art college curricula generally means having to make a feature of painting badly. Which is well enough but it does leave a gap in the market. A gap that Lisa Yuskavage, and one or two others, have been able to fill. It also means that when one does stumble upon contemporary painting that’s technically skilled it’s a joy, despite the awareness that that joy is largely driven by a sense of the unexpected inherent in the discovery of painting that doesn’t need to make a deliberately confusing bluff-cum-double-bluff performance of its own lack of proficiency.

Bluster, feminist and otherwise, is thick on the ground. Her work has been described as everything from a “critique of prurient sexuality” to a “disingenuous peddling of soft-porn”. Yuskavage herself has been heard to remark: “I only load the gun.” The weapon with the most powerful ammunition though is not the female form, but that of the darkest recesses of the female psyche. The place few of us are prepared, with such honesty at least, to go.

Lisa Yuskavage
until end June 2010

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Marianne Williamson

"Until we realize the unity of life, we live in fear."
The Upanishads
The vicar’s got a puncture. On bank holiday Monday. What this seems to mean is that we can’t go to the movies. Or rather he can’t go to the movies. Beezie’s got a friend over from Milan. Nicky’s in France. So I thought I might go on my own. I always forget how enjoyable going to the movies on your own is. A bit like a baked potato. The simple things in life.

It’s a very personal thing I always think. Like travelling. It’s one of those things you only want to do with certain people, or on your own. It affects your consciousness you see, so you’ve got to be careful. Plus, other than a bunch of strangers, who exactly do you want to sit in a darkened room with and watch something that, if you’re lucky, might enlighten you as to the nature of reality?

Dogtooth - that’s an awesome movie for revelations on the nature of reality. Retrospectively reading the reviews it seems some critics think it’s about a warped family over whom we have the opportunity to stand in shocked judgement and, as usual, get to feel superior about the fact that we are not they. This whole shocked judgement thing is wearing a bit thin frankly.

Dogtooth is not about that at all. It’s about you and me and the mad way in which we all live and the fact that we just don’t see it. What we see is ration and reason - a place for everything and everything in its place. But if you look more closely, it’s not rational or reasonable, it’s totally bonkers and we’re all in denial about that fact. That’s what the movie is saying. It’s saying we’re all living in a state of paralysing fear that makes us do strange and damaging things that we can’t see and that we wouldn’t do if we could see them. It’s a parable. People do seem to miss the point about things. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m missing the point the whole time? Oh whatever, who cares. There’s probably something with Matt Damon coming out soon. Matt Damon puts the baddies where they deserve to be and saves us all from yet another near disaster. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Post-Dogtooth I made the mistake of watching Goldsmiths’ – But is it Art? School of Saatchi was bad, but this is taking rubbish art related TV to a whole new level. School of Saatchi did at least have a certain page turning quality to it and a bit of something woof in the form of Matt Clark. But is it Art? did not have any such qualities, not even in the tiniest measure. It did of course have bucket-loads of that exhausted old cliché “let’s all take the piss out of these half witted idiots calling themselves contemporary artists.” Yes, very funny.

The one thing I do find surprising about this otherwise deeply unsurprising TV programme is the degree of venom it seems to have unleashed that’s now being directed towards these artists on various blogs and things. The one who seems to be coming in for the greatest degree of completely unwarranted and offence giving aggression is Roisin Byrne. One feedback comment on her website reads simply: “slut”. As much as anything for the sake of re-dressing the balance in favour of this poor harangued woman who’s just trying to do an art degree for the love of God, I’d like to say that for me at least, Roisin Byrne’s work raised questions and provoked thought:

Roisin Byrne basically steals stuff. She steals stuff and then calls it art. Appropriates is her term. At her most ‘controversial’ she steals elements of art works by other, more established contemporary artists and creates her own art work out of the embezzled item, along with the correspondence she’s undergone with the ‘original’ artist in regard to this pilfering.

In 2000, in a work entitled Rescuing Rhododendrons, future Turner Prize winner Simon Starling took seven rhododendrons from Northern Scotland and drove them, in his Volvo estate, to Southern Spain from whence rhododendrons were first introduced to Scotland by Claes Alestroemer, a Swedish botanist, in 1763. The plants were to have been destroyed and Starling saved them and that’s very nice.

Technically though, if one were to be a pedant - not something I’d recommend for the most part, but just for a minute let’s indulge ourselves - the rhododendrons weren’t really Starling’s to begin with. Sharp intake of breathe… Starling STOLE them! OMG. But he was stealing them in order to save them. Phew. So that’s all fluffy and OK. Case closed.

But when Byrne took one of them from Spain, brought it back into the UK on an EasyJet flight and incorporated it into her degree show along with a series of emails between herself and Starling, for some reason, that wasn’t OK. That was… STEALING. But stealing what exactly? Is it a hedge that we’re objecting to the appropriation of? Is it an art work? Is it an idea? Is it the (long shot folks!) potential to earn money? And which of these elements was technically owned by Starling in the first place?

So, we could make the questions all about technicalities of ownership. Intellectual property, hedge snatching, when is it OK to steal and when is it not OK to steal? And other ethical brainteasers.

But a larger, and to my mind rather more pertinent question is where does art come from in the first place? Are we fully satisfied with the idea that an art work is created by an artist? Can we answer that question without querying whether it’s possible for an art work to be created by any one person in isolation? Where does influence end and originality begin? Not many people would likely dispute the suggestion that every artist worth their salt studies other artists work in great depth. Hmmm, tricky one.

Then there’s the really interesting stuff - the question of what exactly this alchemical process of creativity is. Before we can assign ownership of the creative act surely we need to know what it is. Does the possibility not exist that there might be something else at work, something beyond the rationalising mind, beyond the ego, even perhaps completely beyond the capacity of human endeavour? And if the creative process is fundamentally beyond the capacity of human endeavour, does that make claims upon its ownership redundant to some extent?

What I’m talking about is the thing that lies at the heart of post-Renaissance Western culture, namely, the appropriation of the divine by the ego. Not my words I have to confess, I ‘stole’ them from the vicar. Although whether he owned them once he’d spoken them across… OK enough.

Basically what I’m talking about is the idea that the artist is more than anything else a conduit of some sort and that the ‘best’ artists are the ones who are able to impose their egos to the least degree during the creative act, thus opening up the channel with the least interference to the forces beyond the material. I don’t pretend to understand it beyond that. It’s just a thought really. I’m just putting it out there. Probably it’s a load of old twaddle and the long and the short of it is that Simon Starling’s a twenty-first century horticultural super hero, an eco-Robin Hood, whilst Roisin Byrne’s the devil in a skirt. Anyway, when’s the next Bourne movie coming out with that nice Matt Damon?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

"If it be so,
so be it!" Having said thus,
why the hurry?

For the shadow trails the light,
implacably, indifferent to men.

Shinkei (1406-75)
tr. Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A friend of mine has just got a job working for White Cube.

"How's it going?" I enquired after day one.

"Great, although there's absolutely nothing to do. So far I've watched Deal or No Deal on Jay's TV and sat in Jay's Mercedes on Duke Street fending off traffic wardens." Ah, the contemporary art world. Who says it's not serious?

But actually, Gallery Girl is a very important figure on the contemporary art scene. First impressions and all of that. The thing is though, I'm not sure the desirable first impression is necessarily the obvious one.

Before I'd run my own gallery I went along with the commonly held but hopelessly naïve view that contemporary art galleries should be more welcoming than they are to visitors walking in off the street. Well, sorry to be a bit uncharitable, but actually, as a gallerist, that's the last thing you want to be doing. Fine if you're Jay and you can afford to pay someone like the glorious golden haired Pinkie to sit there, looking gorgeous, and smiling winningly at everyone who comes through the door, then yes, great, of course. But if like most gallery owners you're only just keeping your head above water even without the cost of a winsome gallerina, and it's you yourself having to deal with what is, for the most part, a fairly charmless general public, then I can assure you, the desire to be welcoming swiftly falls off a cliff.

Artists are alright. I don't mind them. Because they've got half a brain. They're reasonably au fait with what they're looking at. And collectors. One collector in ten might have a slight Scooby Doo. The rest not. Cashola does not a collector make. No idea I'm afraid. Which is fine, having no idea is fine, if you instead have an open mind. This is the key to engagement with contemporary art, far more important than an art history degree, or even any art historical knowledge whatsoever – is an open mind. But about one in a hundred are in possession of such a thing, probably one in five hundred, one in a thousand, less... For almost everyone else, going to a contemporary art gallery is a high brow version of watching Big Brother. You do it so you can sneer at others and feel that however crap your own life may be, at least you're not stupid enough to either a) appear on a crappy reality TV programme and make a complete and utter tit of yourself, or b) lay a load of bricks on the floor (ah, the bricks conversation again, good-oh!) and imagine you've created a work of art. Because only a retard would be that stupid, right?

So maybe that goes some way to explaining why the usual routine at Waddington's, according to Martin Herbert in this month's Art Review, is to be greeted by "a gallerina pointing a shotgun at visitors and bellowing 'Get out!'" Martin doesn't say whether or not this seems to him to be an appropriate reception. Probably not, unless he's run a gallery himself, in which case he'd get it completely. At one private view during the Golborne Road years, I'm occasionally reminded with some glee, the words "get out of my fucking gallery" were heard. I'm not sure from whom. Some retard.

Anyway, I'll stop being chippy now. Sorry. One of those days I'm afraid.

Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin have an interesting approach to the Gallery Girl conundrum. They've got an exquisite weimaraner who trots powerfully from one room to the next, checking that everything's running smoothly and generally being gorgeous. This may be the answer – beautiful, enchanting, capable, but never, ever engages with questions, art historical or otherwise, and yet offends no-one by her aloofness. Everyone's happy just to look and learn. Genius. Trust a Frenchman, eh?

Aside from the weimaraner, other cool stuff around the Marais includes Mona Hatoum at Galerie Chantal Crousel. The Gallery Girl there was a winningly offbeat American lady with short legs and noisy cowboy boots. Offbeat's always a good sign.

At Galerie chez Valentin we looked at some bathroom tubing or whatever you call that stuff that joins the loo to the wall. Hand moulded loo tubing placed on a plinth as per a sort of 3D still-life, a fake ready-made as it were. An interesting idea. The text wasn't very well written though which upset the vicar. Gallery Girl seemed to think we didn't quite get it. I thought it may have been she who didn't quite get it.

One of my favourite shows in the two-day exhibition-a-thon of Paris was Jason Dodge at Yvon Lambert. An affecting piece called The Doctors Are Sleeping, which consisted of an arrangement of nine blue pillows on the floor. They had the look of a hospital, or perhaps it's a smell, an atmosphere, that whiff of being diseased in a frighteningly immobilising way that always carries with it a feeling of contagion, even when there is none. It carries with it the truth of our own impermanence I suppose. We are all going to die. I like that that sounds almost banal. In a way of course it is. In a way it's the ultimate banality.

Later on, whilst we sat in the sunshine on the pavement having a café au lait and a bit of tarte tatin, I read out the blurb:

"New works in the exhibition include:
The doctors are sleeping
Dr med. Jurgen W Bauer
Dr med. Axel Jung and Dr med Annette Jung are sleeping
Dr med. Friederich Schmidt-Bleek is sleeping
Pillows that have only been slept on by doctors

Pillows that have only been slept on by doctors lay in the position in which they were slept on. The pillows were made by a seamstress to know exactly the moment, feathers and fabric became pillows."

"Jesus," said the vicar, and then, "I wouldn't mind seeing a Titian."