'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

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."

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

In retrospect it seems the programme of my Cambodia trip was largely dictated by a rat.

The first week consisted of a pre-booked yoga retreat in the sort of plush resort where a lady in a floor length gold embroidered skirt som-pas's you with bought respect the minute you disembark from your tuk tuk. The sort of place that consists entirely of elegant open plan two storey hut-like structures, decked out with colonial style dark wood four posters and tasteful locally harvested sculptures; the Buddha seated in the lotus position on the writing desk, carved Apsara dancers flanking the suite door, that sort of thing. In short, expensive, luxurious and entirely culturally disinfected.

I know, I know, only a spoilt brat who's never had to rough it in her entire life could fail to be enchanted by such a heavenly place. This monstrous travel snobbery of mine, it's naïve and it's pretentious, as I was shortly to learn. For once I was out of the protective embrace of our little community of middle-class western sun-saluters, doing our right-on conscience salving bit for world community by practicing our downward facing dog alongside a gang of friendly local orphan children, once I was out of this tight little clique and having to battle with the big, nasty old world all by myself, my fears and demons, almost at once, embodied themselves in the form of a common or garden rodent. A small furry fellow who was basically just going about minding his own business; for a Buddhist, surely, pas de probleme. The tricky thing was, he was going about minding his own business in my room.

As I'd packed my rucksack in the irritatingly pseudo-Khmer luxury resort my head had been filled with preposterous notions of Robinson Crusoe-esque days spent ruminating in a shack on a deserted white beach or trekking fearlessly, like some sort of spiritualised Indiana Jones in a cheese cloth top, through dense cobra infested jungle.

But of course what actually happened was that I eyeballed this rat, who sat nonchalantly on the shelving unit a few inches from the end of my bed, in this tiny log cabin, miles from the nearest town and a matter of feet above the exquisite quietly lapping shoreline of the Gulf of Thailand. I eyeballed him and he, to my horror, eyeballed me back. No respectful som-pas from this little fellow.

The thought passed through my mind that I should be perfectly capable of sharing my micro space with this being, who, if nothing else, certainly represented the 'real' Cambodia that my inner Miss Quested so keenly sought. Sadly though the thought passed through my mind at warp speed and disappeared around a mountain in the far distance never to be seen again. In its wake followed rather more lingering images of my new acquaintance scampering playfully through my hair and peeing on my pillow, as I slept on in blissful ignorance beneath the quietly swaying mosquito net.

Terrified half witless by the fruit of my own imagination manifest as this small creature, I wiggled off in the dead of night to find some form of humanity who might be capable of helping me out with this fix.

I found a security guard who spoke no English. I pointed to my cabin and drew a picture of something vaguely resembling a rat. My new friend responded by gleefully indicating that a good head stamping was undoubtedly what Ratty would benefit from. This was all deeply alarming. It seemed to me that a rat carcass would be far worse for my mental states and my karmic well being than the breathing version, but supposing we'd deal with that hurdle once we got to it I followed his torch light back to my modest quarters.

Entirely unsurprisingly by the time we got there the rat had long since buggered off, probably relaxing in the nearby woods having a little chuckle to himself at my expense. Having turned the room upside down and finding no other living being present, the security guard shrugged his shoulders and decided to turn his attentions on me. It seemed he felt that some sort of physical affection might be appropriate. I thought not. And so I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to get rid of him until a solution had been found to my rat problem, but neither wanting to play hostess to his baser enthusiasms.

Having shoved him out of the door and shut it in his face I slumped onto my bed, now re-joined of course by the rat, and wondered what to do. Here I was, my first night in the 'real' Cambodia and I couldn't handle it. All my fantasies realised and I couldn't stomach them. It wasn't about the rat. It was about my own mental fortitude or lack thereof. I simply didn't have what it took. Without digging very far at all, I had hit upon my internal nemesis. It was a bitter blow. The horrible truth became unavoidably clear. I was a spoilt, naïve, middle class bimbo, keen to imagine myself in some way 'real', but entirely unable to cope with 'real' when it arrived.

So I packed my rucksack once again, dragged it back down the hill and sat to wait for something to happen. Some forty minutes later and I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi, rucksack perched precariously on the handle-bars in what would, a few hours ago, have been a disconcerting fashion, as we sped back to town, a monstrous coastal community populated by trustafarian back-packers and opportunist Cambodian's catering to the twenty-something faux hippy tourist trade. Hell in a handbag, or rather, in a backpack. Mojito anyone?

I got an email the other day from a cranio-sacral therapist friend forwarding on to me an email from some German guy styling himself "an elite NLP hypno-coach". In response to the question he claims he is most often asked, namely: "when do the good things start?" he answered: "when you are ready to change your mind". I'm not entirely sure I have a clue what NLP hypno-coaching is, but about this, I think he may have had a point.

After stropping around for a good forty-eight hours feeling like a prisoner of my own crappy limitations, I finally began to get over myself and started to see that wallowing over the tragedy of my dashed expectations was blinding me to the opportunities that were being presented. Almost as soon as I'd seen that, the good stuff started to happen, until finally, in this godforsaken spot that represented every vacuous all over suntanned pretension that I'd wanted to avoid, I met exactly the person I'd hoped to stumble upon.

I met, in a quiet monastery in the middle of nowhere, along with my friend Somg, a venerable monk who spoke no English but who offered, through Somg as translator, to tell me my fortune along with some Buddhist tales of wisdom. For me this was a dream come true, preferable on any day to the farcical Indian Jones fantasy.

I shan't bore you with the details, and anyway I'm superstitious about repeating it, but suffice it to say it was a profoundly positive experience that I shall remember for the rest of my days. And it was all down to the rat. Without the rat my plans wouldn't have hit a wall, I wouldn't have met Somg and I wouldn't have met the monk. Lord knows what I would have done instead, but whatever it might have been it obviously wasn't meant to be.

Maybe my Mum is right with her conviction that faith in life is all one needs. It's cheesy as hell, but maybe every cloud does have a silver lining.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I used to think Paris a bit overrated. I can't really remember why now. Too many art history coach trips as a student probably. I'm in no hurry to get back to the Musee D'Orsay funnily enough. And too much ham for another thing. Can any one country really consume that much jambon?

Then there's the language barrier of course, but that's just a bit embarrassing really. I bought the CD - Instant French. No time wasters it said, rolling its eyes at the likes of the plume de ma t'aunt. However it was keen that I take on board the phrase "vous avez une Mercedes?" And quite rightly so. What self-respecting thirty-something art dealer can be let loose à Paris without such a critical enquiry at her immediate disposal. Imagine if I found myself quite inadvertently hanging out with someone who did not avez une Mercedes.

But there are, it seems, a few pleasing things about Paris. Firstly the Metro. Very little of having to ram oneself into the smelly armpit of the great unwashed and needing to re-mortgage your flat just to get from Republique to Alma Marceau. The plonk's cheap. The coffee doesn't taste like dirty water. And the über cool Palais de Tokyo. Before I'd visited the Palais de Tokyo I gave a shit about the ICA. Now I'm thinking blow that crappy out of date theatre of mediocrity off the circuit and let's get us a proper shrine to contemporary art going on. Things are in a pretty poor state when the Frogs are nearer the edge than we are. God.

I sat in the Palais de Tokyo for nearly an hour watching a video installation about skateboarding. I probably should have been looking at Charlotte Posenanske's modular cardboard boxes I suppose, but my touristy feet were tired. So I sat on my generous bottom and watched Raphaël Zarka's forty-minute long documentary Topographie anecdotée du skateboard (2008).

Raphaël Zarka, I think, is suggesting that our urban architectural spaces are unavoidably loaded with 'usefulness'. What this means is that, as citizens of these spaces, we're engaging with them passively. We're taking on the uses that are being offered to us, rather than creating our own uses, and by extension, without creating our own lives. Our relationship with the city, and within the city, is not creative. We are controlled by it, not it by us. In effect the urban space will always therefore be repressive to one degree or another.

So, by re-writing these unwritten rules of engagement – ie roaring down the handrail on a slab of wheeled wood, rather than resting a cautious digit or two upon it as one tentatively descends the flight sur pied - skateboarders are undermining their intended status as passive user. They're rebelling against the unwritten law. And rebelling against the unwritten law is far worse than rebelling against the written law because the written law is clearly validated and vindicated. The written law comes with a system of procedures for what to do in the event of a person or persons stepping outside of itself. Ergo it controls both that which is within itself, and that which is outside of itself. Stepping outside of the unwritten law on the other hand is far more dangerous to the structures of power, because it draws attention to the usually invisible hand of control that is wielded over us at all times without our even being aware of it. Basically, Big Brother comes under the spotlight and he doesn't like it one little bit.

I should say that Zarka doesn't allow himself to get as excitable about all of this as I do. He quotes Barthes, speaks of Duchamp and generally takes a far more academic and rational approach to his subject matter than I. In fact I'm probably inadvertently putting words into his mouth, so perhaps take the Zarka reference with a pinch of salt. Suffice it to say, it was Zarka's documentary film that got me started: whichever way you look at it, a skateboarding stunt isn't simply a skateboarding stunt, it is something far more. If it were simply a very skilful and efficient way of moving about a city, then why would the powers that be object to it so profoundly? And object they sure do, as the documentary shows.

It makes me cross that we seem to have to exist in this monochromatic Nazi-esque state, lobotomised obedient bipodic victims of our own idiocy. I'm fed up with being told what to do by someone I can't see. Of being told when and where I can and can't have a fag – not even in the boozer these days for the love of God. When to jump in the fountain for a laugh and when not to jump in the fountain for a laugh; how much salt to put on my tomatoes; how much to weigh; how much to exercise; how much sodding water to drink; when to cross the road; when not to cross the road; when and where to park and when and where not to park - and God forbid you get that wrong or they'll rob you of £880 as quick as blink; don't even get me started on that, £880, it's not a Royal Borough, it's a bloody racket.

Actually, it occurs to me that I'd like to make my own decisions, like an adult. I'd like to be able to take the responsibility upon myself if and when those decisions go wrong and if and when they go right. I'm fed up of being watched over by someone whose omnipotent but cowardly face remains hidden, squinting into his closed circuit wet dream from behind the empty mask of the educated but hopelessly egotistical fat Scottish Fall Guy.

So hail to the skateboarders taking their freedom back without waiting for permission from the invisible middle aged bureaucrat. And hail to a city that's prepared to subsidise the underground without robbing its users of the right to have a Gauloises when they fancy it. Hail to a city of women who still have proper sized arses. Hail to a city that makes a cup of coffee that kicks that proper sized arse. And hail to a city that has an equally arse-kicking home for contemporary art.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

I'm just back from the Buddhist Kingdom of Cambodia. Upon my return one of the first pieces of art work I've seen was in the presence of nothing, an installation by Bharti Kher in the basement of Hauser & Wirth, London. The installation consists of a Tibetan metal bowl such as those used as a bell by meditating Buddhists. The bowl is induced to 'sing' when a wooden mallet is passed rhythmically around its outer rim. Here, taking the place of the role more usually played by a monk, a motorised arm comes down from the ceiling.

I've listened to these bells quite a lot over the last few years and the last few weeks even more so. The sound they create is intense and very affecting and rings on for many minutes after contact between mallet and bowl has ceased. In fact, the more closely you listen the harder it is to discern quite when the sound has faded away, which always serves to remind me that in some ways the sound never really ends, in the same way as it never really began. It's part of an energetic whole that we become aware of when it manifests as sound on that particularly resonant vibrational level.

The thing I noticed about in the presence of nothing is that the sound it produces, compared to many of these singing bells, isn't really very enjoyable. It does sort of 'sing' but not beautifully, not inspiringly, not even musically. The sound does not touch the soul. In fact I'd go as far as to say the sound is fairly disagreeable. It seems that when you remove the energy of a living being and replace it with a mechanism, something fundamental is lost. It is perfectly possible to simulate the human being but some je n'est ce quoi is always absent to one degree or another. It may well be that this absence is filled by a different kind of presence, but nonetheless the absence is felt and in this case symbolised by the strangulated sound gurgling effortfully out of the otherwise romantic old bank vault.

Maybe the title in the presence of nothing refers to this absence, although probably it also refers to any number of other absences, most notably to metaphysical and spiritual notions of the inherent emptiness of things, particularly when located in a Lutyens designed bank vault, the place that at one time stored and preserved the very thing that speaks most voluably of the emptiness that surrounds us. After all currency is representative of debt, not of value.

And then I start thinking about other scenarios in which human beings are replaced with mechanisms and I begin to wonder at what cost. These days it’s a delightful surprise to call up almost anyone other than a friend and have a live human being answer rather than an infuriating pre-recorded voice, or worse, a computerised voice simulator. Not the bank, not the movies, not even Tate: "please press 1 for tickets, membership, educational visits or services for disabled visitors, 2 to speak to an information assistant, 3 for restaurant bookings, 4 for …." Deep breathe Beverley! It's irritating as hell, but it's also more than that, it's also rather tragic.

Come to think of it, the telephone itself, even when answered by a human being, is more disconnecting than connecting in many ways. There's really nobody there. No body as it were. Handy, sure, but possibly not entirely healthy. I suspect it'll be our downfall - the extinction of the entire human race traceable to the common or garden use of the telephone.

But what I was really gripped by at 196a Piccadilly was Bharti Kher's prolific use of the bindi, the Hindu forehead decoration traditionally symbolic of female power, energy and fertility. A plethora of multi-coloured stick-on felt dots - some with little masculinising spermatasoic tails, some not - covers almost every piece of work in the show, culminating, for me, in the glorious indra's net mirror series on the upper most floor. This consists of sixteen mirrors in antique (or antiqued) wooden frames, lining the space like a feminised Upper Room, Chris Ofili and David Adjaye's exquisitely vibrant cross-disciplinary (in more ways than one) Hanuman chapel installation currently showing at Tate Britain. I adore The Upper Room. You don't need to do anything – you just sit and soak it up. People come and people go and all the while you just sit and absorb the sounds and the colours, the atmosphere and the vibration.

And so it is with Bharti Kher's indra's net mirror. I wonder if Mr Wirth mightn't have imagined to provide benches as he so thoughtfully did in the basement. This work needs time. It needs to be allowed to seep insidiously into the system. One needs to enter it passively and calmly and allow it to do its stuff. Later one can form opinions, much later, when the sediment has settled. We're always so keen to have opinions, but sometimes it's better to wait and allow the opinions to form themselves, to let the seat of intuition engage and perhaps even proceed the over active intellect for a change. And perhaps this is the very notion that Bharti Kher is hinting at by covering everything in bindi.

The bindi sits between the eyebrows at the yogic third eye centre, the seat of the sixth chakra and source of that most feminine of wisdoms, intuition. From the third eye centre we achieve clarity of vision and the ability to see the ultimate truth of what is.

Shown in one of the most successful and uncompromising contemporary art galleries in the world and housed in an ex-high street bank – 'the listening bank' rather pertinently - designed by Sir Edwin Luytens, famous for his instrumental role in the development of New Delhi, the Indian sub-continental town in which Bharti Kher's studio is now located, the whole thing seems so beautifully synchronicitous. A multitude of difference comes together to form the perfect moment. To me it feels right. Just right.