Monday, 20 July 2009

Contemporary art, parsnips and the Hayward Gallery.

Occasionally, after days upon days of 14th C wills or 15th C property contracts from Zadar, I step out blinking into the light of what is apparently the 21st C and gingerly embrace some of what it has on offer. The other day, I felt a spot of contemporary art might be a good thing to complement the medieval metalwork and panel paintings that seem to litter my particular academic path. So off I pootled with a chum to the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank where they have a rather spiffing show on at the moment called Walking in my Mind. 10 artists have interpreted through various media (painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video etc) their take on the creative and imaginative processes that go into producing their own art. A rather self-reflective - and some uncharitable types might argue self-absorbed exercise - but the results would surely prove a thought-provoking way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if those thoughts ranged in emotion from expletive-peppered outrage to genuine admiration.

The prizes go to:

Joint favourite

Charles Avery, a Scotsman and accomplished draftsman, fashions flora and fauna, landscape and people that populate his epic and fantastical project, The Islanders. His sculptures and drawings imbue the seemingly commonplace with the bizarre yet without the bombast of Matthew Barney and his Cremaster Cycle, another magnum opus that made manifest - in glorious Technicolor - the rather mad and complex world within the artist’s mind. Although both artists are technically superb, Barney in film and Avery particularly in his drawings, strangely the Scotsman’s understatement and simplicity are what give his work a grandeur that Barney seemed to try too hard to achieve. In human terms, it’s a beauty competition between a tanned, beach bunny blonde Californian in a day glo bikini versus a milk-skinned, wind-swept, auburn haired bonnie Scottish lass in a sensible jumper. Choose what you will but my ideal of beauty lies with the latter.

Most use of packing tape

My chum is now a fan of Thomas Hirschhorn and his cavern-esque installation Cavemanman. Constructed almost entirely of cardboard and packing tape, this would have taken quite a while to put together. For myself, I have now discovered a mild propensity for claustrophobia as a result of my participation in this piece.

Best artist for the wee ones

Yayoi Kusama. I have never seen an 18 month-old child look so gobsmacked before. Possibly the potent combination of giant inflatable spheroid things and white polka dots on a red background. Lots of polka dots.

Best comedy value moment

Pipilotti Rist, Extremities (smooth, smooth). This is a video piece where you wander into a darkened room and sit on a circular bench in the middle. Stars seems to fill room and projectors, well, project, various bits of body on to sheets of diaphanous fabric thus giving the impression that they are floating. Oh, and a voice occasionally announces some piffle about being “butterflowers”. But on this particular afternoon the scene is enhanced by two rather special protagonists:

(Mother and three-year old in the room, admiring floating limbs. Child is thrilled by the "spaceman". Mother just about to depart with child when ginormous floating breast and nipple appears).
Child (loudly): Mummy, mummy, what's that?
Mother (with aplomb): It's a planet, dear. (cleverly keeping with spaceman theme)
Child: Which planet, mummy?
Mother (still with aplomb): It's Venus, dear. (Attempts to drag child out of room. Other visitors in the room starting to giggle)
(Cue ginormous floating phallus).
Child (very loudly): MUMMY, MUMMY! What's that?
(Outright guffaws amongst other viewers)
Mother (aplomb starting to slip): It's a carrot, dear. (spaceman theme starting to slip as well)
Child: Are you sure?
Mother (mortification finally setting in): Ermmm... maybe it's a parsnip. Yes, a parsnip. Come. On. We. Are. Going. NOW!
(Other viewers in gales of laughter).


And after that interlude, it’s back to the wills.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Hot town, summer in the city… and the Death of Michael Jackson

Summer has finally arrived in London, and with it all the dustiness, mugginess and general filthiness associated with 8,000,000 people working, moving, living, breathing in such close proximity to each other with the additional frisson of 30 + degrees centigrade. Needless to say, public transport is somewhat similar to the fate suffered by the arch-heretics of the 6th circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno (Canto IX, 110-123 in case you’re wondering). Not quite the transport of delight that Transport for London is hoping for...

And with summer comes rude boys in East London who are charging around in their souped-up Ford Fiestas with rhythmic noise blasting out from their rather impressive car speakers.

Apparently, the youth of today call this music and I believe this is part of either
a) the run up to some kind of clash to determine who is the more dominant male in the group, à la rutting stags,
in order to advance to

b) A modern sort of preamble to a mating ritual, à la cooing, horny pigeons

without fear of interference from another competitor.

However, as a certain Mr M. Jackson has left this terrestrial sphere for a circle hopefully somewhere well after the Inferno’s final canto, in commemoration of his passing the streets of Hackney, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch are filled with Doppler-effect renditions of Thriller, Bad, Don’t Stop ‘til you get Enough and - in the case of one rather tragic young man who may have lost the plot somewhat in his attempt to attain cool, hip, groovy Alpha-Male status amongst his particular tribe of youths - ABC.
But he can be safe in the knowledge he shall never plummet to the depths of social tragedy as one rather buff young man I spotted driving a BMW convertible down Bethnal Green Road… with Celine Dion on at a worryingly high volume.

He was either a man very, very secure in his masculinity and possibly packing something more powerful than a peashooter should anybody question his choice of music or genuinely thought this incongruous combination of buffness, Ms Dion and not the slightest hint of campness and would actually reel him in a chicky babe or two. Oh dear.

This sort of primal behaviour totally lacking in self-awareness and irony almost sends one straight back to the archival documents in despair at humanity, if they weren’t also full of youths trying to pull young ladies by various similar acts of peacockery and just outright cockery. I wonder what sort of a world we would be living in today if you’d got Michael Jackson on a mandolin in the 15th C? Might these youths of old placed him on a gondola and asked him to belt out a classic disco tune or two as they cruised down the Grand Canal? Might a similarly bemused scholar wearing their equivalent of bifocals have shaken their head and penned a social commentary not unlike this one?