'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, 28 September 2010

Some pleasant things happen and some unpleasant things happen. My back has stopped hurting but the internet keeps breaking down. I've made up with someone I'd fallen out with who I'd been missing terribly, whilst another friend has flung himself from the Christmas card list without a backward glance. I've been invited to write for a new arts website and to curate for a gallery I like, but Surrey Police seem to want to prosecute me for driving down the A3 at 64mph. And why must people insist on telling me what to do? It's not cricket telling a person what to do. In fact it's deeply boorish.

So in a word it all seems vaguely unsatisfactory. Which I suppose beats deeply unsatisfactory. But, funnily enough, only just.

I keep trying to remind myself that life is what's happening now. It's not a state of perfection that's waiting around the corner for me. No, I think this might be it. This mildly irritating state of things never being entirely as you'd hoped. It occurred to me in the bath last night that if I keep on waiting for the arrival of this wonderful state of being that exists around the next corner I may end up missing the point altogether.

I was feeling desperately glum about it all on Friday; that feeling whereby you can't seem to put one foot in front of the other. Somehow I dragged myself to Deptford X. And I was glad I had because London's 'foremost contemporary visual arts festival's lead artist' Mark Titchner cheered me up. His work is at the Old Police Station I think. Actually I didn't make it that far due to a bit of a snarl up in the New Cross area. But his statement of intent for the festival was enough:

"Grand and spectacular, ephemeral or concealed, art qualified and created by daily life... It doesn't matter what 'it' happens to be, but 'it' is experienced and 'it' is lived… Not art but everyday life. Get up, go to work, come home, get up, go work, come home but with an added element, something that wasn't there the day before, something that actually makes you think about all this routine, this place we live and call life. Ridiculous, odd, generous, pretentious and maybe a bit stupid but something that reminds us that real life is not elsewhere. It's here."

You really need to give Deptford X more than the few private view hours I allotted it. There are some satisfyingly unexpected nooks and crannies you're likely to miss if you rush it. Like Matthew Verdon's subtle intervention borrowing from David Hammons on Deptford High Street: "THE LESS DO, THE MORE OF AN ART ST AM." Quite profound. And Shelley Theodore's quiet photograph of the curtained front of Café 187 at 182 Deptford High Street, installed on the wall facing the café. Yes, I missed all that rather annoyingly. Story of my life. I missed it because I was busy dashing elsewhere.

I didn't miss World Within Worlds at BEARSPACE though, curated by the charming Julia Alvarez. I didn't entirely understand World Within Worlds. But then I was in a rush to get to the APT Gallery for an 8.30pm performance by Mark McGowan that promised to be delightfully bonkers, despite being set against the backdrop of a tedious display from the Goldsmiths' Photography and Urban Cultures MA that exuded an intolerable air of mind-numbing right-on-ness.

Mark McGowan wore a cardboard box on his head with a photograph of Raoul Moat sellotaped to the front of it and held beneath his chin two bits of tied together curtain pole purporting to be a gun. He told the story from Raoul's angle; Raoul's tragedy as it were, with a bit of comedy thrown in. I believe he was trying to point out there is always more than one perspective on a situation and that, in a way, it's all fiction. I thought he did brilliantly. Bravo! There's been a furore in the red tops though: '"Sick" Raoul Moat play is like Shakespeare claims writer'. People don't like it when you mess with their archetypes it would seem. Tack up your high horses folks.

Other than that I managed to find time to get chatted up by a sweet dyke at the Arch Gallery, so that was nice. Not my type, but it's reassuring to feel included. The photographs there by Peter Anderson had that pop thing going on. You liked them straight away. It’s a red herring that actually.

It's on until 3 October, Deptford X. I should probably go back next week-end and see some of the things I missed first time around. I won't though. I never do. Always on to the next thing. It'll all be better tomorrow. Who knows, bloody internet might even be working.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I quite like being frightened in some ways. Not terror probably. Just enough of the frighteners to remind me that nothing's for certain, nothing's really known. I reckon it's good for me. I'm starting to think certainty is an illusion and an unhealthy one at that. In a funny way I like to be reminded how thin is the line between life and death, between things being predictable and comfortable and things being in a state of total chaos. And that however uncomfortable we might be with that there's nothing we can do about it. No amount of extortionate insurance policies or anti-aging creams will protect us from life. Or death. Remembering that teaches me a bit of respect I think, and a bit of compassion somehow.

I was driving up the M6 with my Dad last week-end when he told me the story of a mini-bus carrying a football team back home after an away match one winter's evening. A couple of the players needed to pee so the mini-bus pulled over on the hard shoulder. They got out and hopped over the railing onto what they thought was the grass verge. But the mini-bus had stopped on the Thelwell viaduct. Three healthy young blokes vaulted over the railings to a 100 foot drop into the freezing cold waters of the River Mersey and were carried away to their deaths.

The other month my triathlete friend asked me to write a children's story for her to illustrate for her daughter.
"Oh yippee skip," I said, "as long as it can be something really grisly and gory."
"Well" she said, "I'd been thinking more along the lines of Slinkey Malinki, but I knew I could count on you to come up with something off the beaten track."

I was just about to embark upon my don't-give-up-the-day-job new career as the Bridget Jones era's answer to the Brothers Grimm when, to my vague disgruntlement, I stumbled upon the latest offering of those other infamously gruesome siblings, the ultimate Generation X frontmen, The Chapman Brothers. But disgruntlement turned to reverence in the face of such awesomely stylish fear-mongering.

Innocent cartoonic line drawings superimposed over monstrous etchings of those bizarre bum faced children that the brothers are so keen on; or a schmaltzy stylized deer with an explosion of eyes and teeth and bits of brain where its head should be; or an irritatingly cutesy little red riding hood character offering a buttercup to a blue bird in a tree, unawares of the gigantic spider creeping up behind her on its hairy black legs, with its one overgrown eye on her and saliva dribbling from its fangs. Eiks, eiks, eiks. I had started to become vaguely tired of the Fuck Face thing after one particularly repetitive Frieze season a few years back, but I now find myself welcoming the Chapman Circus back into town with cries of wonderment.

I went to a talk they gave in 2000, I can't even remember where it was now, but it was attended largely by students and art historians as I remember. The brothers were giving the talk what I suppose one might call a Deleuzian twist. Not so much a twist as a knife through the heart as it turned out. I didn't understand a word they said of course, but I did at least have some vague idea what they were getting at. Others were a little less accommodating and the pair got boo-ed off the podium. It seemed to fit quite well in the context of their relationship with the absurd and it was rather funny. I know, my sense of humour isn't the most adult. Then again that's probably why I like the Chapmans. I like their irreverence and their anarchic anti-rationalism. The silliness of it all. Reason these days seems to be this preposterous holy grain we bow down before without even a second thought. But I'm afraid, just because something appears to make sense does not make it true or even useful particularly, in fact probably quite the opposite. Something can appear to be the most reasonable thing in the world if its case is put forward by someone intelligent and articulate, but that doesn’t stop it being utter bollocks. Blind faith in reason, it seems to me, is extremely limiting. No, I'm with the Chapmans on this one.

Almost as good as the Children's Art Commission for Whitechapel is this video shot at the Chapmans studio in East London by their Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Kylie. Ludicrous. But oddly enough, it does give a fresh perspective. Suddenly you almost are that dog. http://www.guardian.co.uk

But the last line has to go to the brothers themselves. One can't really paraphrase their genius. "I don't think artists can do anything. An artist can only add shit to shit. Dinos once said, 'Our art is potty-training for adults.' He got that about right."

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How bizarre when you're actually in an immersive installation and someone with a heavy South American accent wearing a vaguely confused expression asks you where the exhibition is. World's collide. Poor fellow.

But in a way I suppose that's the point of Mike Nelson's Coral Reef. Bewilderment and dumbfoundedness are what it's getting at. Only for some people it's working so well they don't even know it's art. They think they're just lost. It’s the difference between knowing you're lost and being so lost that you don't even know you're lost. Or no, that doesn't make sense. Or does it? No. Being lost but not knowing that actually you're not lost. Actually you're there already. There is nothing more to look for. Yes, that's it. Hopefully that's clear. But then in Coral Reef even if you know you're not technically lost, that you're already there, you still end up kind of lost in the sense that you don't know where you are, you don't know the way out, but you do know that that's ok, you'll stumble upon the way out eventually, so there's no particular point in looking for a way out. You may as well just enjoy the experience until the way out presents itself. Although enjoy might not be the right word either. It's fascinating and it's brilliant but I'm not sure it's quite a pleasure. More an introduction to fear. Your own and our own. Society's horrible lostness.

A few days after I'd seen Coral Reef I instructed my friend Nicks who lives over the bridge in Vauxhall to get over there a-sap. It's that kind of a thing. You want your friends to check it out at all costs. So she calls me up from Tate in full on Challenge Anneka mode.
"OK darling, I'm in the entrance way on the river side. Where do I go?"
Five minutes later and neither of us any closer to figuring out where she ought to be heading when finally it dawns on me:
"You are in Tate Britain Nicks?"
"Err, no. I thought you said Tate Modern."
"Right, (long pause) I'll call you in half an hour."
Half an hour later and I'm busy or I don't hear the phone or something. So about an hour later I get two messages. The first informing me that she's now standing in the Duveen Galleries and where does she go. And the second, half an hour after that, in urgent tones: "Bev, call me, I think I'm going into shock, I can't do this on my own. I'm having a sit down to try and bring my heart rate back." And then a protracted silence.
This is the effect Coral Reef has on a person.

Which is odd considering it's just a series of empty rooms with a few adjoining corridors. That's exactly it though I think. It's the emptiness. The absense. It's not something we allow ourselves to acknowledge very often and here suddenly we're dropped into the middle of it, no questions asked, no map, no labels, no clues, no indication that anything does or ought to mean anything. It's just empty. No wonder my South American journey mate was looking so lost. It can't be this. This is empty. What's one supposed to do with empty? Well. Quite.

Coral Reef was first show at Matt's Gallery in 2000 and is currently on show at Tate Britain. Mike Nelson is to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2011.