'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

Thursday, 21 June 2012

There is a notion within certain segments of the contemporary art community that in order to be 'serious' a contemporary artist must bleed their work dry of any hint of wit. That humour is somehow a sign of weakness and that poe faced gravitas, at all times, is the only sure fire indicator of heavy weight sagacity.

This is a notion of such literal minded stupidity it beggars belief. It seems to me that only a mind blinded by its own desperate craving for acceptance could possibly entertain the concept that the conscious performance of seriousness and seriousness itself are one and the same thing. In actual fact there is nothing more profound than hilarity because only a joke can hold the tragedy of life. Only a joke can mirror society's ridiculousness back at itself without invoking its rage.

Legend has it that when Sadie Hennessy was studying at Central St Martin's in 2010 it was suggested to her by her tutors that her work would be improved if she removed the humour from it. Thank god she had the wit to give that lamentable advice the finger. Because her first solo show with WW Gallery is embalmed in wit. And it is brilliant.

Humour is also - I'd like to point out to the great burghers of Central St Martin's - a tool that's been claimed and re-claimed by feminist artists for the last fifty years. VALIE EXPORT, Margaret Harrison, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Sylvie Fleury, The Guerrilla Girls, Sarah Lucas, Sarah Maple, Mel Brimfield, even Tracey Emin, have all engaged humour to make a space for themselves that simply wouldn't have existed otherwise. So I think it's safe to say that Ms Hennessy is working within a tradition.

If female sexuality is slowly, slowly beginning to emerge from the dark cave of it's own taboo (Caitlin Moran talking about her first wank without alienating her entire public was a great right of passage for that one) the one thing that without a doubt remains universally horrifying is the sexuality of older women. It might be just about ok for a 23 year old girl to be a sexually empowered entity but by 63 or 53 or even 43, she's expected to have become dormant. We don't mind a sex kitten but nobody's interested in the cat.

Sadie Hennessy tackles this issue with elegance in her sculptural assemblage Big Night Out (2012) a zimmer frame 'wearing' a pair of black sequined ankle-wedge boots and with a black sequined heart shaped handbag hanging over the top of the frame. It speaks to the invisibility of the older lady and the fact that if she's not invisiblised altogether, she is, at the very least, desexualised. Too old to be virgin or whore, she becomes mother / grandmother / crone. As one ages it seems one's life can be expected to progress from one cardboard cliché to the next. Big Night Out reveals the humanity of this older lady, her vulnerability. The absolute universalism of wanting to be loved. There's not a man or woman alive who can't relate to that.

Also good is the Lost Art of Keeping A Secret (Porn Star Eyes) series of cut outs, in which porn star eyes are collaged onto fresh, smily faced 1950s beauties. Reminiscent of one of my favourite artists, the pioneering photomontagist and early feminist Hannah Hoch, these works are laugh out loud funny on first viewing but, as with much of Hennessy's work, gradually expose a melancholic underbelly as the viewer lingers. Both the porn star and the fresh faced beauty come to seem trapped within the performativity of the societal roles they each have necessarily embraced.

After Sadie Hennessy I went across town to another Sadie. Ms Coles has just opened John Currin's lastest show. If anyone should question why Sadie Hennessy feels she needs to be so outré in the conveyance of her feelings about female sexuality and female objectification in this age of supposed equality and respect I would suggest they might try the same. What John Currin seems to be getting away with in 2012 in the name of art is frankly totter inducing. Has fifty years of feminist art history by-passed the man or does he simply not care? Oh for the day when the sort of shit he's producing is taboo and Ms Hennessy is commanding his prices. Then we'll be able to talk about equality without having to laugh our arses off in the process.

written for Spoonfed

Monday, 18 June 2012

On 5 October 2007 the artist Kristin Lucas legally changed her name from Kristin Sue Lucas to Kristin Sue Lucas in a Superior Court of California courtroom. On the name change petition she described the reason for the change with a single word: 'refresh'. The presiding judge - the Honorable Frank Roesch - was, perhaps understandably, a little baffled by this change that wasn't a change. A philosophical back and forth ensued in which the artist explained:

I am hear for a refresh.
A renewal of self.
I consider this act to be a poetic gesture and a birthday gift.
I am ready for an update.
An intervention into my life.
I am here to be born again as myself, or at the very least, the
most current version of myself.
I am prepared to let go.
To empty my cache.
To refill the screen with the same information.
Kristin Lucas is ready for change.
And Kristin Lucas awaits her replacement.”

After a two week break to consider his position and the position of the court the judge came back with his answer. “I think it's a nutty idea... but I'm going to do it. So you have changed your name to exactly what it was before in the spirit of refreshing yourself as though you were a web page. Stay here and we'll have some paper work for you.”

At 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 June 2012 the transcript of that case was 'performed' via Skype. The person playing the part of the Honorable Frank Roesch was in California, whilst the person playing Kristen stood before a large screen and a small audience in an internet cafe in Waterloo.

This is net art. Or, more accurately, this is multi-disciplinary art featuring interactive web projects and live performance. It's nutty, but it's also kind of wonderful.

Upstairs was the hardcore net art. A bank of computers in the round with a handful of people standing about chatting and drinking beer. It was a scene both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. One or two of the computers were in use. The rest sat dormant, screen black.

The curators of Public Access – four MA students from the Curating Contemporary Art programme at the Royal College of Art – are billing this as the first ever 'Speed Show' in London. 'Speed Show' was conceived by Aram Bartholl in the US in 2010 and involves a gallery style 'private view' relocated to a public cyber cafe. The speed part is that the show is only open for one evening.

Upstairs I encountered Ms Lucas again, this time in the form of a work from 2011 engagingly entitled Everyone Loves My Cocoa Krispies. To begin with I spent five minutes watching Bobby Pickett singing Monster Mash on YouTube before finally realising that this had nothing whatsoever to do with Everyone Loves My Cocoa Krispies and was, in fact, an unrelated window opened by a previous user of the machine. Just because the computer was an art work for the evening didn't stop it also being a computer. You could look up whatever you wanted on it. Each computer's browser was set to default to a particular work of art when re-opened and by that means each computer was it's own work of art between the hours of 4.30 to 9.00pm.

I clicked away from Bobby Pickett to arrive at a vimeo page. This showed a film of a rotating cube containing the double heads of Kristin Lucas and Kristin Lucas, revolving to a sound track of generic beats overlaid with Kristin's own voice delivering near monotone phrases in duplicate that turned out to be marketing slogans culled from the web. “You're going to like us, You're going to like us. I never knew you had dandruff. I never knew you had dandruff. We wear short shorts, We wear short shorts.” It's hypnotic. Funny and ludicrous.

The powerful thing about net art is that it is just that. It's available publicly on the internet. What I saw 'live' at the Speed Show I can also watch in my own home. What I'm seeing in my home isn't a reproduction of an original. Nothing is lost. If you want to watch Everybody Loves My Cocoa Krispies you can, here: http://vimeo.com/33129267. It'll be like you never missed a thing.

Following on from Duchamp's seismic Bottle Rack (1914) and the feminist artists of the 1960s employing their own bodies as the media, net art moves further and further away from art as object. Here there isn't even documentation, and yet the work is available, free of charge, to anyone at any time. Net art is the ultimate democratisation of the art work, the ultimate conflation of art and life.

Which point is eloquently made by Caleb Larsen's A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter that takes the form of a physical sculpture, a box, that continually attempts to auction itself. Every ten minutes the box pings a server on the internet via the ethernet to see how it's eBay sale is progressing. If its auction has ended or it has sold, it automatically creates a new auction for itself. When somebody buys it, the current owner sends the box to the new owner. The new owner then plugs it into the ethernet for the cycle to repeat itself. The art work exists in multiple locations simultaneously, the wired up box itself and the interactive Web2.0 page. It presents an object, but that object eludes ownership. The work exists both within and without the market. In both cyber and meatspace.

Interestingly for an art form that is arguably more public than any that has proceeded it, net art emphasises the very private nature of experience. Most net art is experienced by an individual at a computer. Even the communality of the internet cafe is staring into its own grave in an age of mass wi-fi availability. The appreciation of net art is not a collective experience in any sense, but rather highlights the profoundly isolating nature of ideas.

Written for This is Tomorrow