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…