'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

Monday, 28 February 2011

If you're going to be in Edinburgh any time between 4 and 14 March you might want to check this out. I'm probably not going to be in Edinburgh any time between 4 and 14 March but if I were going to be then I'd definitely be checking this out.

March 4 / 18.30 to 21.30
March 5-14 / 10.00 to 18.00
Old Ambulance Depot
77 Brunswick Street

I'm in the Hamburger Kunsthalle as I write, the museum Pop Life travelled to after it's stay at Tate Modern. I'm eating chocolate buttons, looking out over the frozen lake, waiting for my friend Regina to finish work and remembering last night at Max Wigram's Gallery.

I was at Max's with an artist friend who likes to 'network' by approaching complete strangers she recognises – art world movers and shakers and whatnot – and saying "hello". The only problem is that once she's said "hello" she's not sure where to take the chat. So she's started to use the classic ice-breaker, "do you know Beverley?" whilst looking around at me apparently expectant that her latest victim / new friend will fall at my feet in awe. So far it hasn't been that successful.

With Nicholas Serota at a Marlborough pv a few months back a beastly chat ensued about women artists in Tate's Collection. I think he thought I was trying to have a go at him. Up went a wall of excruciatingly polite if slightly irritated defensiveness that meant the conversation went exactly nowhere. It was fair enough, I expect people have a go at him all the time about one tedious political issue after another – bloody BP, bloody women artists, bloody Turner Prize. I was just trying to be jolly but mea culpa, I should have said, "crumbs, Ai Weiwei's wonderful," and left it at that. Note to self for next time: you can't go wrong with a banality as long as it's generous and reasonably sincere.

With Jay Jopling, friend herself managed a question about Mona Hatoum's material of choice. "Errr, steel," said Jay, giving the work a friendly, slightly proprietorial pat, as though it were his PA's bottom.

With Max though I think we reached an all time high.
Friend: Max, did you know Beverley lives in the same road as you?
Max: Really? I live in Bassett Road
Me: So do I
Max: So do I
Me: So do I
Max: (blinks)
After that things just got better and better. Actually I shouldn't be a smart arse. Max was very nice and Edwin Burdis' work was not un-interesting.

The gallery walls were covered in cut out paper drawings of what I thought might have been mushrooms, my devout Catholic friend thought were used condoms but were actually, Max informed us, knives. Soft edged knives with tiny handles that wouldn't be very effective at their job. We were pondering on what this might signify when the performance began…

Burdis was sitting at a desk with a laptop on it, drinking a beer. Amidst the gallery chatter he started to sing. "Shake, rattle, we're in a hole…. shake, rattle we're in a hole… shake, rattle, we're in a hole… shake, rattle, we're in a hole…" over and over and over, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. He stood up and wandered about the gallery. Then he put a silk scarf over his head. Then he took it off and looked at us - the select gathered audience - a bit seductively or something like that, one eyebrow cheekily cocked. All the while singing, "shake, rattle, we're in a hole."

He was wearing blue tracksuit bottoms, a blue office-work type shirt with sweat rings, perhaps belying some level of anxiety or perhaps just because he was a bit warmish, and a pair of trainers. He had a good voice but I'm not sure that was the point being it was all chorus and no verse. I don't think he was singing us a song. I'm not quite sure what he was doing actually but it wasn't a problem, I still enjoyed it. If I only enjoyed things I understood I wouldn't be having a particularly fun time for the most part. And I wouldn't be learning anything either. So I'm OK with baffled.

After probably about 10 minutes or so "shake, rattle, we're in a hole…" stopped. There was a short not uncomfortable silence and then Mr Burdis, rather charmingly and modestly, nodded his head into his chin and with the words "that's that then," ambled towards his desk. Then everybody clapped and Max stepped up and thanked Edwin saying it takes "real bollocks" to get up and do such a thing.

Back in Hamburg and I've just looked around the exhibition entitled Overpainted. Smudged. Erased. The Portrait in the Twentieth Century. A wonderful museum and an interesting exhibition featuring, incidentally, twenty-two artists of which five were women. Twenty-three percent. I'm not sure what that tells me. Just that Overpainted. Smudged. Erased. features twenty-two artists of which five are women I suppose and, in a way, not a great lot else. We'll just leave it at that I think. Don't want to upset anybody unnecessarily.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."
Marilyn Monroe
"Courage consists, however, in agreeing to flee rather than live tranquilly and hypocritically in false refuges. Values, morals, homelands, religions, and these private certitudes that our vanity and our complacency bestow generously on us, have many deceptive sojourns as the world arranges for those who think they are standing straight and at ease, among stable things"
Gilles Deleuze Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
"It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality."
Gilles Deleuze Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Monday, 7 February 2011

I've decided I spend far too much time thinking. Or rather not that I spend too much time thinking. Thinking's ok. But I spend far too much time taking the results of the activity of thinking seriously. Giving it top billing when really second or probably even third billing might be a more appropriate level for something that's, well, interesting enough, but possibly rather less reliable as a source of wisdom than it gets credit for.

It occurred to me recently that my pony is one of the smartest beings I know. Her IQ might not give me a run for my money, but the fact remains, she's constantly teaching me things I didn't know. Important things - about generosity and spontaneity and forgiveness and relationship. Does she spend all her time thinking? It's difficult to say with certainty but I definitely get the impression not. I definitely get the impression that it's not the thinking part of her being that's offering up the wisdom. And yet the decisions she makes, if the word decision can even be applied here, definitely seem to have more wisdom in them than the decisions I apparently make as a result of all this great weight of thinking that I like to busy myself with.

So I'm mulling over all of this. I've been mulling over all of this for a few years actually. And then last night I came across a passage in a yoga book a friend leant me:

"It is about feeling. It is not about thinking. Although I've come to understand that the heart does think, it's not the kind of thought that comes from my brain. The heart has its own intelligence."

Maybe that's what my pony's up to? She's heart thinking. Sounds good to me. I'm wondering if perhaps I can make a few more decision with my heart intelligence and give my poor tired wee brain a few days off.

And then today I was feeling awed all over again by my recollections of the Martin Creed work at Hauser & Wirth, so I listened to the artist's talk on Hauser's website and to Creed's excellent and hilarious and ridiculous and profound single that just so happens to be called Thinking / Not Thinking (Work-1090). It's 1 minute 40 seconds long with rather a catchy upbeat and the words, sung in his likeable unpretentious Glaswegian way, go:

"I was thinking
Then I wasn't thinking
And then I was thinking
Not thinking"

I feel I'm in the presence of greatness listening to this and watching the accompanying video with the tiny dog trotting across the screen and then trotting back, and then the huge dog trotting across the screen and then trotting back. Perhaps it's rather like the light going on and off. But a bit different.

The dogs, Martin Creed says, represent thinking and not thinking.

"The small dog represents thinking and the big dog represents not thinking. The small dog is someone trying really hard to think and control things and the big dog is someone a little big clumsy and out of control. I think that not thinking is better than thinking. I prefer not thinking but I think it's really difficult to not think because when you're not thinking you can't know that you're not thinking because if you did know you'd be thinking so I think it's better to do things spontaneously and instinctively, but you can't control that because if you were controlling it then it wouldn't be spontaneous…. Thinking basically is just not going to get you anywhere… Don't think about it."

Yeah. I've been vindicated in my anti-rationalist madness not once but twice in two days. Thinking, it turns out, is for wimps.

In the North Gallery though Creed gets a bit more down and serious about showing us how to circumnavigate the intellect and go straight for the heart. The dogs lend an air of cuteness and humour to Creed's wisdom. North Gallery lends the gut wrenching, cold-sweat inducing, terror of God and all that surrounds us to the art historical mix. I love a bit of terror. It's where the real stuff's at. If you think it's not terrifying out there in the world then look again my friend, look again! It's no use kidding yourself. Ultimately it won't get you anywhere. Nowhere at all.

For me that's what 'great' art does. It's what great artists have always known. You can talk to the intellect of course, that's fine, that's great in fact, fascinating. But don't overlook the heart. The heart is where the real stuff goes on - the light stuff and the dark stuff, the blood, the gore and the divine. Overlook that at your peril. Sweep that under the carpet and there'll be all hell to pay.

Tennessee Williams once said of Jackson Pollock that he 'paints ecstasy as it cannot be written.' I suspect any attempt to describe the power of Creed's work in Hauser & Wirth's North Gallery will come up against a similar lack. Certainly any attempt I might make. So I guess I'll just have to urge you to go and see it for yourself. But as the friend I experienced it with said at the time: "Probably not for the faint hearted. Or those in therapy." You have been warned.

Martin Creed
until 5 March
Hauser & Wirth
Savile Row

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"It's better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone."
Marilyn Monroe

"These days my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven't turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life - for the way things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It's less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is. It reminds me how futile are all my attempts to control my body and my life, and that when it comes right down to it, I can't control or hang onto anything that's really important. But it also reminds me that despite all this - or perhaps because of this - my life is precious and glorious. It's teaching me to find some sort of balance and ease in the uncertainty."
Anne Cushman