'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

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 tĂȘte 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