Friday, 15 January 2010
You know when you’ve spent too long looking at a bright object it seems to burn itself onto your retina and for a while all you can see is its negative. You’re looking at a grey sofa but you’re seeing the greenish white outline of the slats on the window blinds. Or you’re looking at a blank white wall and you’re seeing a ghostly yellow figure floating there. I’m a bit worried the same thing might be happening with the arrangement of letters that make up the words Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Is this shape really appearing on absolutely everything I look at or is there a glitch in the programme? Every newspaper, every magazine, every book, every exhibition, everything. Perhaps it’s time for a trip to the optometrist. Or maybe these visions are evidence of deeper problems and it’s a shrink I need. It’s either me or everyone else. I’m just not sure which.
And something else that’s concerning me - what’s going on at the Serpentine? I don’t get it. I don’t get Deleuze and I don’t get Design I’m afraid. In both cases I’m willing to be educated if anybody out there has the patience and the wherewithal to penetrate my seemingly bullet-proof cranium.
Hettie Judah in her Art Review errr review, gives me a bit of a heads up with her delightful opener: “Check it out, art kids: sometimes a urinal is just a urinal”. Whilst I laughed aloud at her good-natured wit, below the surface I’m struggling with the concept. Am I really to believe that “objects lack hidden meaning”? Am I seriously being asked to accept that “notions of good and bad are linked simply to functional success”? I just don’t buy that actually. When is anything ever that straightforward? When is anything ever only and exactly what it appears to be and nothing more? It seems to me that even a perfectly ergonomic object is always operating on more than one level. A urinal is never just a urinal. If it were there’d only be one design wouldn’t there? In fact, if it were, we’d just pee in the hedge. If it were, there’d be no R Mutt.
But let’s assume for a minute that we’re going with this argument. An object is just an object. A pair of silver jelly shoes by Zaha is purely something to protect the feet and facilitate ambulation. Fine. So then why am I looking at them in a glass case in the Serpentine? If their success or failure is exclusively down to their functionality then looking at them is presumably a complete and utter waste of time. I need to be wearing them, road testing their functionality, in order for them to have any sort of raisonne d’etre whatsoever. And whilst the security at the Design Real exhibition isn’t a patch on the preposterous and offensively overblown shenanigans we endured for Jeff bloody Koons, I’m still not sure they’d be exactly loving it if I strapped the silver jellies on and took a few turns around Hyde Park in my new wedges, just to monitor their feasibility you understand!
Michael Glover in the Independent goes for a different slant. He too though comes up with a few blanket statements that I just can’t quite get with. Not that I’m slating the presentation of half-baked subjective waffle as hard fact (whatever that might mean) no, I’ve no problem with that, I’m not bringing it up just to shoot it down, I’m bringing it up to try and see a way through the maze via paths already trod.
Michael Glover states: “Art, as we all know, is perfectly useless. It exists to be admired. Now, all of a sudden, the Serpentine Gallery has had a change of heart.” Do we? Do we all know that? I’m not sure I do. In fact I’m not sure I even begin to agree with that statement. The best art for me is not there to be admired. It’s there to be engaged with and to assist me on my unavoidably solitary life’s mission of finding a way through the anarchy of yesterday’s forgotten spider’s webs that is my mind, towards some sort of clarity and integration. “Know thyself,” advised Plato. And art, for me, provides many of the crucial sign posts towards this end. Anything calling itself art that asks simply to be “admired” is on pretty thin ice in my book.
And I further have to disagree with Michael Glover in that it seems to me that this is exactly what the objects in Design Real are asking us for. They are seeking our approbation, our love and attention. Sick to death of being dumb objects strapped to the feet with such habitual regularity as to be near invisible, they’ve charged at the holy grail that is the vitrine and are crying out: “we are so much more than you think”. No disrespect, but I can’t help thinking he’s got the whole thing completely arse about tit. Art is not useless. Art is everything. Compared to art, limited edition silver jelly wedges from the studio of Ms Hadid really are an effervescence of profound uselessness. Ok, they might get you from A to B (presumably, I wouldn’t know, I haven’t tried them) but so what? Life is far more than the sum of the cultural habits of our myopic age.
I’m not saying designers aren’t highly skilled. Of course they are. Some of them. And no doubt curator and leading industrial designer Konstantin Grcic has chosen well. But why am I wandering around the Serpentine looking at stuff that doesn’t bring me a jot nearer to what I am? I have absolutely no idea. Everyone else seems to like it though, so I can only assume either I’m missing something or everyone else is. But then life’s a bit like that sometimes. Thank God for the art, that’s all I can say.