'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, 4 May 2010

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?

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