A weird night last night at the Royal Academy – a dinner for the sponsors club to generate interest in the ‘Contemporary Season’ – some discussion on a title for this with Sir Norman Rosenthal suggesting ‘Unique, Unique’ so unique they named it twice actually his suggestion was only the first bit, problem there is that contemporary art is very far from being unique and it sounds like a hairdresser in Kirby Stephen – I quite liked the ‘In Season’ suggestion - bitches on heat, an opportunity for hunting something and fashion. The complexity of the event was kind of interesting, there was a lots of congratulating each other for getting knighthoods, married to ideas about bohemian creatives rocking out. Several people were wearing medals, very cheap looking medals, looked like they bought them at a fair and were wearing them for a joke but I think they where in fact the officer bearers for the RA, like president and so on. At the beginning of the evening there was a standing toast to the Queen, then there was the use of the word fuck and then some standing toasts to the secretarial staff of the Sponsors Club. Tracy Emin appeared to be hosting the evening and as one toast master stated – ‘later on Tracy will be doing some very exciting things with David Thorp’ what like folding him into a swan. Or as it was in reality prompting him to mention money – which was what the dinner was about – actually Tracy was very responsible and seemed more like arts administrator than any of the professionals.
Recently talked at a conference in Readin’ with juneaus and Nina Pope – Nina invited Mike Ostler, a member of a participatory audience from her Battaville project www.bata-ville.com Mike made this great speech saying almost the exact same thing that the village leader from the Toge Japan project had said to the Echigo Triennale director at the end of the Grizedale 7 Samurai project www.seven.samurai.jp which was basically ‘we don’t want any more of this art where artist make their work for us to appreciate, we want to be involved, to participate, for the work to help us express our ideas and feelings’. Mike was specific he specifically did’nt want any more Angel of the North type things – nudes of old Etonians in your face.
Mike also introduced himself as the only pure member of the public at the conference (although later in the pub he did expose a past with considerable art/theatre involvement so maybe not quite so pure). Anyway it was good to hear it said, hard to really assess the response, generally positive but a little in the line of that magic moment a few years ago when at a Lib Dem conference someone got up and berated them all for being a bunch of wishy-washy, Guardian reading, overly reasonable people, about as much use a wet wipe in a sewage works - she received a standing ovation, ‘oh quite, quite, you know she is so right, marvelous’.
The conference was a university thing and there were these research people ex artists whose names I half recalled from sometime in the dim art past and they talked about stuff that you just take for granted - just read as read, the autonomy of the art object got a good going over - like someone cares, all that exploring space balls – a planet controlled by an autonomous being able to inflict pain at will – Phil and Ben (juneaus) slept and giggled like a couple of dormice. I thought about how little actual art face activity supported this academic edifice. Phil and Ben twiddling away, scratching a bare living subsidised by endless children’s workshops. Phil and Ben, Nina and Karen with a great upside down pyramid of crapademics balancing on their shoulders, vastly well paid (40k and long holidays, pressing their own Olive oil in their Tuscan villas) with multiple eastern European research assistants in Bikinis, hanging off them like the army motorbike display team. All that money and education, all those students - 3 years of study each, now strung out to 6 years – 6 years - Jesus your life is practically over by then. I watched all the entirely female audience (well it was a conference on engaged practice, what do you expect) making notes about exploring the gallery, considering the corner of the space, dealing with the floor, the autonomy of the art object, the artist, autonomy or hectonomy, or is that a planet ruled by an ancient Greek deity called Hectonomy able to inflict pain at…..
I thought about how little the whole art thing is, how inconsequential, things described as important actually being about as important as renewing your lip gloss. An artist has often no more than one idea, executed every so often – I mean bear in mind how many times you could do most of these ideas if you had an audience, like hundreds of times a year - easily even if it was just you - BB King has played over 300 gigs a year for the past 50 years. But without demand you have to limit supply and build the edifice out of stratagems and platforms, chairs and CEO’s, consultants and marketing, development, research practice.
I recently gave a talk as part of a Tate consultation event; they were looking into the possibility of creating a mobile Tate, or rather doing something Tate led that would connect the regions to the Tate and to each other. What I read to be an interesting ambition to make some kind of sense of a host of cultural activity across the UK.
It was a slightly disturbing experience with lots of breakout groups and feed back, some how whatever energy was generate in the breakout groups was instantly quashed in the reporting back bit. I found myself saying the same thing in these groups over and over again but no one seemed to understand it – I was left thinking I was a terrible communicator, I think I assume everyone gets a lot of stuff they don’t. I never really consider galleries or collections, so I guess as a starting point I am already off the beat. I had dismissed the idea of touring a structure and programme before even arriving, these were all things that I think everyone else was focused on. Anyway I can say that a group discussion drawn from the massed directors and curators of regional UK sure is a wishy washy affair. Every discussion group would come back with these crazy statements where a idea would be suggested and then immediately countered with the opposite, so; ‘we thought that the programme should connect with communities or it could be stand alone, the projects could be spectacular, but there would also be room for an intimate scale, could be big or small, long or short, fat or furry’ and so on, so in the end what we are saying is everything is fine? Christ knows what the Tate got from it, multi confusionist seminology.
This one idea I kept plugging that seemed really obvious to me was - to use the existing network of organisations and their connections to communities, organisations etc as the structure of the project. The Tate would then intelligently select collaborators, like 2 organisations with a potentially interesting relationship – not to similar in approach - and initiate a stand alone programme focused on collaborative working between the organisations and their stake holders, thereby linking communities across central and regional locations. For example Grizedale would be part of a programme of work in collaboration with say First site. The projects would be directed/curated by an independent or Tate curator who would have a role to critique and analyse the 2 organisations. The programme would explore the culture of the UK, the prescient notions of identity and all that sort of stuff.
The entire project would be explained and meaning drawn from it through the web site, so a kind of online collection of works – a strong critical analysis of this ‘product’ online forum etc would be good. I didn't really think to much about how this would be come a national marketable spectacle, but that would be relatively easy, opening the projects in a domino effect or all at once or as broadcast series of TV or documentaries, anyway that was my idea, seemed to be workable either small or large scale.
So below is the talk I gave, more or less, I hate reading talks so I didn't really read so much of it, but this was the gist.
A Mobile Tate
Grizedale and Roadshow
This talk might be considered to be along the lines of a dire warning rather than a shining example – which is not to say that I am not proud of the Roadshow project and what it achieved. There are from my perspective some rather less ambiguous dire warnings out there - large scale siting of Big Art in the regions. There is rightly an increased interest in contemporary regional culture. For the first time in history there are more people moving out of cities than to them. The historical precedents with regard to how the regions have contributed to cultural development still apply – the possibility of working in relative isolation, the bringing together of intense groups, the arms length perspective.
With regard to Roadshow the project came from a discussion with other sculpture parks in the UK and a desire expressed by them to do something jointly – The original proposal came from Grizedale and aimed to bring a newish approach to the sculpture park concept. Eventually all of the once interested parties withdrew, the project going against their principle ambitions to get on the map, this project deliberately tried to get off the map. This experience in itself was quite interesting in relation to being critical of the context in which you engage. There is I would say a somewhat uncritical approach in the regions and an awful lot of half-truths about audiences and the success of projects.
A theme that has engaged artists at Grizedale - in particular illustrated by Jordan Baseman’s films from 2000/01 ‘Sun always shine son the Righteous’ and ‘The one about the camel’ I could tell you the one about the camel but it would use up my whole time, the punch line is ‘What are we doing in Chester Zoo?’ you can work out the rest or just bear that in mind as a useful phrase. The films poignantly illustrated the lives and ambitions of people working outside of the mainstream, the complexity and growing dysfuncionality of their lives.
From the cultural high ground of the lake District - think Wordsworth, Ruskin, Schwitters and most importantly Beatrix Potter we found artists were more engaged by the periphery, a local underclass, what could be described as a directly oppositional position to the ubiquitous high culture – this has of course been a powerful theme that artists have long explored and represented.
Road show aimed to place artists in the romantic territory they sought to emulate and engage with, through the culture of being on the road, the references being principally rock and roll touring culture – of the Tom Saxondale variety - the circus and its romantic draw, religious, temperance and evangelical meetings, and all of that sort of outsider material.
The tour aimed to visit venues outside of cultural centres, periphery marginalised places and each venue the touring caravan linked to a local culture/activity often mediated by the host or instigated by the project itself. For example in the Lake District Grizedale linked the programme to a Country Goth and Magic fair and set up a battle of the bands event dedicated to Death Metal. Other venues were rather less confrontational with the Welsh leg linking to a local artist and community education project – that project ultimately was the most confrontational with the children of education burning their work and the marquee that housed it.
The project included around 30 artists in various capacities – the main tent housed a running programme of events, films and performances while a number of satellite projects extended the encampment across approximately 3 acres. Satellite installations were all live and included a 24-hour key and heel bar, a hermitage, a recording studio, a newspaper/fanzine press and a general hangout space. Artists included a broad cross section those interested in working with people and others less so: including Paul Rooney, Olaf Breuning, Colin Lowe and Roddy Thomson, Minerva Cuevas, Juneau/projects, Kevin Reid and Graeme Roger, Nathaniel Mellors, Dan Fox, Flatpak001, Mark Titchner, Guy Bar a Moz, Bedwyr Williams to name a few. Roadshow toured for a month, in an actually on the road way, each weekend a different venue – this was extremely hard on the crew.
The original idea was to forge a team that would work as one, the majority of the artists toured with the programme, erecting the show at the venues, and managing the programme. The principle problem with this approach was the use of alcohol - the project didn't exactly take up any of my temperance ideas. I well remember seeing various artists rooted to the spot apparently forming one half of ‘Bonjour Monsieur Corbett’ hand raised but unable to remember where they were or what they should be doing. The in fighting was a bonus and built factions within the group, gave the content a bit of edge. This hothouse environment is one of the special qualities of touring and rural residency programmes hard to replicate in urban centres.
For the artists the successes of the project were probably mostly in the myth making department, the artists largely shuddered at the close proximity to a ‘real’ audience, they recognised perhaps what they were keen to escape from, the dreaded ‘what’s that supposed to be’ question. Most quickly turned the experience into a series of pub stories and utilised the concept into art world versions bringing the ‘real’ into play with a celebratory amateurism/artist performance. Flatpak001 and Mark Beasley, juneaus, Bedwyr Williams and Gang Hut all having kept the spirit sort of alive. I think the project spawned a whole body of collective activities both locally and within the art/theatre related performance world. For the communities the projects touched it would be well to remember one quote printed in the Roadshow fanzine ‘a fun day out for the all the family ruined’ not sure if this was for real or ironic. It would be hard to see exactly how it could have been a day ruined unless you found the anticlimactic particularly distressing – I would have thought it was a given in a family day out. The hit and run nature of the project has not afforded any tracking of the impact of the project in regard to the communities but if the Grizedale engagement is anything to go by – and it almost certainly isn’t – there are a multitude of happy life changing stories, a lot of this though is generated by the continuing work of Grizedale that supports and offers further opportunities.
One aspect that I note on reading my catalogue text that I had envisaged but that I immediately after the event felt hadn’t worked, was the evolution of the programme whilst on the road, I imagined we would change and develop work, draw new people into the tour extend the life of it. In retrospect this did actually happen to a reasonable level, nothing entirely new emerged but many of the works changed and either got better or worse. Many of the relationships established continued and certainly very many new works came out and are still emerging from those relationships.
I think in terms of the notion of a mobile Tate the question of audience is of course paramount, playing to the home crowd or pushing the boat out for a mixed audience. At Grizedale we have long abandoned the home crowd. Being located in a remote location makes the drawing of a sophisticated art audience almost impossible and catering for a small local art audience relatively pointless – there are lots of contemporary art opportunities that fulfil the local art audience requirements.
The challenge is to connect with existing interests and maybe expand on them – this doesn’t always make for a comfortable relationship, existing niche audiences are not necessarily that open minded about their special areas of interest being explored and as Roadshow discovered there can be quite a proactive response.
The way that Grizedale has most successfully worked has been in initiating activity, establishing an approach and nurturing a participatory audience that will sustain and re work the activity. A good example would be the Consiton Water festival – not a hugely well attended event in the ‘art version’ year but now well established, reinterpreted and thriving without Grizedale management. Similarly it is possible to make an argument for a flowering of arts activity in Cumbria provoked by Grizedale activity – possibly many of the proponents of this activity would not acknowledge the source of inspiration and in many cases may have been provoked by a ‘I can to do better than that’ attitude rather than a desire to emulate. Equally it could be said that much of this activity perhaps plays too much to a small home crowd audience and fails to extend or reinterpret what art making is for, has not critical distance.
A core component of all the Grizedale projects is an analytical approach to contemporary culture – it may not look like it but there is an underlying seriousness that attempts to address change, the omnipresent themes of identity and value. A lot of the work is confrontational and can be seen as quite harsh in its critique, a lot is nurturing, supportive and critical and to me that is all as it should be - the job of an arts organisation.
I suspect that a Tate led programme would work very differently being of a level of professionalism that would place the content and spectacle more into the realm of alien visitation – potentially inspiring/accessible but possibly only to the home crowd. The questions that arise are to do with who this mobile Tate would be aimed at, who and what it would be for – would it visit the provinces and show us how to do International level art (like A levels) - that would be good. It could discover Britain through the spectacular siting of exceptional works - that could be fine.
It could engage with the complexities of UK regional culture, the relationship between centralised and decentralised, the learning/exchange process, the development of emerging identity and cultural relationship. Of course this is where the Tate must have its sights. This would be the difficult route, expensive, probably rather tumultuous and thankless. However the Tate has the brand that can move mountains, the ability to draw down the resources of the multitude of regional agencies, in particular the regeneration agencies and the expertise to engage with the complexities of the agenda. I hope it has the grit to take it on. I am not just being nice here for a change, I want to see the focus on the real agendas, the UK as a whole has the content and the need, I would like to see an engagement with what I have always thought art was here to do.
I was much entertained by the ridiculous quote that seemed to headline the press coverage of the Manchester Il Tempo de Postino theatre performance, it runs;
‘It is like being on an aeroplane in 1978, the whole audience is watching the same screen’
I can’t really imagine what happened here, did the editor think wow Philippe has said something really stupid lets put it on the cover.
It is a kind of possible to make this into an interesting statement, leaving aside the obvious response that surely it’s more like being in a theatre, etc - this fracturing of the audience is not such a common place thing as yet. I did see a news piece on home entertainment the other day which showed a family sitting room, full of kids, each of them was watching or using a separate piece of equipment, their wide screen TV was split into 4 parts and each viewer watched a separate entertainment. The proscenium arch is not really so reflective of a contemporary consumption of culture, that’s not to say contrary to Ill Tempo’s notion it’s not still the primary form of entertainment and you don’t need to go back in time and 30,000 feet up to experience this ‘weird’ phenomena. The other slightly incomprehensible cross reference re the title of the whole thing, this idea of the time of the post, an idea of expectation that seems to hark back to an old age where the arrival of the post was an event to savour, does anyone do that now? I thought postmen were just a bad tempered and sporadic supplier of junk mail and rubber bands.
This valuing of the live experience (theatre) has always seemed odd to me, I would far rather hear or see the recorded presented version every time, live is normally uncomfortable and often painful and that covers everything from sex to skiing. There is I think an idea about authenticity and the historical precedent that we haven’t entirely shaken - where you did have to see the ‘live’ version, the only other option being a ham fisted wood block print of it. Maybe I need to start to value the discomfort and pain of live experience as the product.
Which brings me to my most recent live experience where 10,000 people miraculously (like being in a submarine in 1944) looked at the same thing and collectively found that it was good, sadly for me I was not one of those 10,000 Maniacs.
Prince of Thieves I somewhat reluctantly agreed to attend a night of Prince – I thought it might be interesting in relation to the Il Tempo Del Postino art theatre, attending something genuinely popular. Prince will play 21 nights at the Dome – so like 200,000 people, that’s popular.
My expectations were high, with a nagging hint that I might be disappointed. I heard the tales of the purple ones hay days of flying beds, smoke and bikes and cars and knob shaped guitars and high heels and light and video shows of extraordinary sophistication and slickness.
I haven’t been to a live concert of this scale before indeed I have never been to any event of this scale and let me tell you people it was a brutal experience. The venue, the transport, the ticket price, the merchandise, the drink etc - all brutal. Karen’s camera was confiscated (the worst thing there being the queue to get it back) and evidently even if you are paying £50 for a ticket the wine although costing the same as a vintage Meursault is about as drinkable as a hedgehog (arse first) and comes in the inevitable plastic glass. The facilities included sitting on a dirty concrete floor followed by a deeply uncomfortable plastic chair with massive drink holders instead of armrests (what will a future archaeologist make of our body shape from these things – we all had massive cup shaped elbows). But ok so the trappings of rock haven’t changed much. The audience was big, white and middle England aged – actually I think we may have been there on roadie night; we were surrounded by Tom Saxondales. I think Karen was disappointed by the mainstreamness of it. For her Prince was a revolutionary experimental cultural innovator/musician who rocked her world – she was extremely cross when I said he reminded me of Jools Holland – it’s easy to forget that for each generation their music is very much more than the light entertainment that it is for the rest of us - it’s a radical revolutionary force. Music is this rather fragile territory, we all know it’s basically light weight inconsequential faff, but it is somehow vital to our identities, our ‘growth’ and when someone points out what you clearly already know it makes for a deadly assault on your very existence - hence people get murdered for asking for Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ to be turned down a tad.
The venue was brutal to the music as well, terrible sound, the supporting act, a London African rap group sounded absolutely dreadful, brutally the audience of 10,000 Mexican wavers actually booed them off. During the extended wait for Prince we were entertained by a tiny video screen showing a series of appallingly made promotional videos for tacky merchandise available in the foyer, interspersed by the Prince logo rotating against a cloudscape – cheapo cheeseo.
Finally after 3 brutal hours of hanging around while the audience whistled, waved and were broadly irritating - a short Hall of Fame documentary puff film was shown, a multitude of people saying that Prince was the greatest thing on earth and all without any qualification. Prince finally appeared through some dry ice and worked through his multitude of MOR hits. It was like seeing a good R&B band, I was most reminded of Ike and Tina Turner complete with ghastly whirling dancers in skin tight britches, looking a lot like a couple of frogs undergoing electric shock therapy. The band was made up of some legendary figures, legendary because they can play their instruments well, a skill that for me doesn’t really deserve legendary status, I mean if you’re a musician surely it’s not asking to much that you should be able to play other peoples music well - however that’s another subject. Maceo Parker took his traditional sidekick role getting the James Brown treatment from Prince, i.e. being wheeled out to fill out songs when it just would be unbearable to hear yet another hard rock guitar solo (the bit about Prince I have never liked). The live versions of the songs were massively inferior to the recorded versions and additionally ruined by the audience singing along. I was placed it would seem in the centre of a choir assembled bit by bit by the legendary Dr Frankenstein, another key, another planet, ‘whern dubs kurwhy’ it did make me laugh but Jesus after a while I was keen to punch something and the those tiered seats do offer a tempting target at just the right height to really get behind the punch and I am guessing that might have helped the Stigs make those high notes that Prince does so well. As you can imagine by this point my partner Karen was livid with me, furious that I couldn’t just join in and be lost in the mass event instead of standing up there with my fingers in my ears stroking my pseudo intellectual beard and pontificating on ‘ the interesting phenomena’, as Karen pointed out maybe if anything that I was involved in was even a micro fraction as popular. Of course this is right, the Grizedale performances, all the work I’ve ever been involved, added together would not touch this single performance for numbers and mass enjoyment. In fact I wonder if anyone has ever enjoyed anything I have ever been involved in. I could say that enjoyment is not exactly the ambition but would I in reality like to generate this stomping appreciation?
Leaving the gig entailed a lot of queuing furiously. With Karen now not on speaking terms I listened to the conversations around me, most were not about the gig, those that were tended to deal with practicalities of how Prince got under the stage (he rose on a lift through the stage) apparently he was brought through the crowd in a black box. There wasn’t really anything to say, it was, this event like a football match, an endless repetition of the same thing, same physical actions, like when footballers do that weird physical theatre, pointing and shouting, ritualistically adjusting their waistbands, theatrical spitting etc, Prince made all the traditional rock language moves, offering the mic to the audience, cupping his ear, endlessly introducing the band, it was church for Neds. But this is a reality of humanness, the capacity/requirement for repetitive ritual, all sport, most arts. I finally realise after 48 years that most people don’t want something different every time. Il Tempo did something a bit different from either the normal art or theatre experience and it wasn’t entertaining but it was more interesting than Prince, I remember it better, I have thought more about it and I have reacted to it. It was disappointing because it seemed it should and could have been better, Prince on the other hand did not disappoint his fans, but he didn’t add anything either, even minutes after the experience they had nothing to say about it.
As we left the stadium the audience football chanted ‘Nothing compares, nothing compares to you, apart from some of the things Adam compared you to’.
public works - the artists (also doing stuff for Agrifashionista)- have made this fantastic customized milk float which tours about showing memorabilia and collecting new stuff over the next 6 weeks. Here's a pic of Outreach Office george impressing the local kids with it.
Our next big event is the Silloth Beer festival then the seminal Crab Fair in Egremont - maybe see you there?
The A Foundation honesty stall was set up at Rochelle this week, designed and made by Martino Gamper it is mainly stocking goods from Grizedale and Toge at the moment but is intended to be of a more general use. The stall will also act as an information point for the Agrifashionista project.
I like the Hoxton look of it in contrast to Lawson Park's farmer's aesthetics and the Toge minimal version - I think we've got a franchise going here.
The idea of the stalls is that they act as an exchange point for ideas, marrying art projects with useful basic product. As the stalls develop there will be a more complex interaction between each of them and between product and ideas.
I went to Germany to see Robert Eikmeyer a curator Grizedale is working with. His interest is centred at the moment on totalitarian use of art, so he has been working on Hitler, Stalin, Marx, and is currently developing an exhibition around Disney and his totalitarian vision. The show will be happening in 09 at ZKM. We are planning to run a TV production studio within the exhibition – the upcoming studio at Rochelle in London is the prototype. After the - as always hellish trip through northern Britain and Manchester airport with the wild animals that constitute the Shitish public it was a blessed relief to join German culture on the TUIfly.com budget airline which was really good, very basic but nice and quiet with pleasant happy blond gay stewards – I would recommend this airline! Then to land in Stugartt and a civilized country - although the airport was rather full of German men in plastic stetsons returning from Ibiza - another gay thing I guess. During the trip I also visited Christoph Kellor the former the owner of Revolver publishing who has published several of Robert’s books. Christoph sold Revolver recently and bought a farm near Lake Constance. The farm has a licence to distill alcohol which is a rare thing and is lost if you do not distil for 3 years, so Christoph took to distilling Schnapps like a duck takes to water and now is making amazing high quality Schnapps as well as keeping going with his book production - now with JRP Ringier. Yes, and also renovating and developing the house, barns, gardens and land. I was amazed and awed, this is some energy way beyond my own. So we talked about the farms and Grizedale and maybe doing some projects together with farming. I thought about doing an open air conference with the energetic people like Christoph doing kind of Sermon on the Mount style talks, surrounded by animals and people, maybe 6 at once or maybe open air lectures to people working on the farm. Like during the haymaking weekend, like in Cuban factories, lectures on culture and Schnapps, bees and relational aesthetics - mmm. The Hay Lectures, the Potato Lectures, The Irrigation Lectures, could be a nice series?
Then I went by comfortable and quiet train to Berlin. I travelled the full distance without headphones (my usual block to bedlam) (5 hours) and was only annoyed once by a man on a mobile in the resturant car who kept shouting ‘choose’ – which for me is always a tough one - choosing. In Berlin I was met by Dan Sieple from Sculpturen Park and an aquaintance from New York – he was a member of The E Team before going solo. So I am in Berlin to help with the selection of the upcoming programme for the Scupturen Park run by Dan and his friends. The name is a kind of joke it’s not really meant to be a sculpture park - it’s maybe new kind of joke a little difficult to get at first. The park is in reality a series of empty lots, wasteland awaiting development, the artist/curators want to retain that quality, so the park has this limited life span and is only viable through negociation with various ever changing landlords. But as they say in the art world ‘it’s a great space’ it is also situated on the former militairzed zone between east and west. The selection panel makes for an entertaining couple of days, each curator or artist has selected 2 artists to present, so the standard is high. I make the most terrible fist of a presentation, still everyone feels sorry for the artists I present so they both get pretty well recieved. I find it impossible to get over the idiosyncratic proposal of Emily Wardil, it contains multiple references including a marriage of German prog rock and the complexities of Lovejoy and jokes about how short Ian McShane is – it is hard to explain the delicate nature of this cultural position vis a ve his cross pollinating Anglo-Germanic hair arrangements, the post reformation position of 70/80’s culture and the general grooviness of the proposal. Garrett Phelan’s proposal is a little easier on the international ear and fewer questions are asked. There seems to be amongst the German artist proposals an odd replication of everyday activity, like the proposal to clear a dead persons apartment and sell the contents in a Flea market, interesting enough but easily accessed as part of normal life. Where does it end, ‘I would propose ziz verk - vone zelected person each day valks from a specific apartment, the exact same route each day to another building, at the end of the day he retraces his steps, to the exact original position, every veekday he repeats zis action but at ze veekend he by his own vill changes ze zystem - he leaves later, goes to a different place or series of places chosen specifically by the person themselves – actually this is starting to sound rather good.
Taking the piss out of people's English is outrageous, the entire German speaking panel spoke in English just for me because I am such a moron that I cant even speak German. I was ashamed of myself.
Two of the the projects that GA staff Alistair Hudson and Karen Guthrie have been working on in the West Cumbrian town of Egremont, are on the up:
One is a RIBA competition to design a celebration / performance structure to fit inside the Norman keep of Egremont Castle. The castle is one of the town's hidden gems, used as a backdrop for local wedding photos and as a place to drink in for the local kids, so this is an opportunity to site something useful but also experimental and fun - in a unique historic spot.
The second is the Folk Float, a kind of live museum on wheels designed by public works - a customised milk float which tours about picking up new exhibits from local people. The Float fabrication is nearly finished, and we are planning to show up at numerous country shows in Cumbria throughout September.....
In combination with doing a talk/discussion on Parkamoor at Castlefield gallery Alistair and I attended the Hans Ulrich and Parreno innovative, groundbreaking, pioneering, vision of the future of art. In their own slightly euro words, ‘What if an exhibition was not about occupying space but about occupying time? Can contemporary art be interpreted outside of a traditional gallery environment?’ If you can be bothered to even consider such a weird - has this thought ever occurred to anyone before – question, the answer could be yes but don’t let Hans and Phillipe loose on it. I love those euro questions ‘ I like to propose zis kwestion ‘cun V zee vohat ish nut zere? And then hang a publication, seminar, trans euro tour on it. There is that seriousness/absurdity in Europe that just doesn’t exist in the UK, the curator is expected to be a petulant prima donna, obsessed with these daft questions apparently investigating the world around us. But back to ‘Postie Time’, can we answer this vital question? - from my experience of the audience after the show - yes we can and the answer is no. My own feelings during the performance ranged from this is very disappointing, to this really is very very disappointing with a slight lift to, this is disappointing for the Mathew Barney piece at the end (which was a very long way from the beginning 3 hours (not making a theatre performance 3 hours long might I guess be a tenant of the theatre folk alongside not mentioning Macbeth)). The show was really depressing for anyone in the visual arts, if this line up is as good as it gets then really it is time to find a new job, this was just embarrassingly, stump gnawingly bad.
I often think of my mother in these situations and how she would have responded, ‘Oh is this the sort of thing you do, is this what you want to achieve?’. In fact my mother could have come up with better and more engaging concepts for playing with theatre constructs, but then she, I suspect unlike the artists taking part does go to and enjoy the theatre on occasion and has a pretty good and broad knowledge of a wide range of cultures. Just to wet your appetite for how bad this was and bearing in mind my absolute maxim that bad art sounds good when you describe it - Red stage curtains dancing to Daft Punk (going up and down and sideways), Madame Butterfly performed backwards by ‘theatre style Chinese costumed performers’ walking backwards, Beethoven’s pastoral symphony performed by the orchestra with one instrument walking out every minute (you see an orchestra is made up of parts, so it’s not like a cd, like it’s on or off), some people wearing upside down glasses, (not many people know this but we actually see everything upside down), a puppet show with curator puppets singing a madrigal based on Gaugin’s who are we, where are we going, omitting my burning question - how much did it cost to get me so bored? Look the list goes on and on and it doesn’t get any better, Tacita Dean, Liam Gillick and Douglas Gordon were the predictable UK contingent. Liam covered a popular Portuguese song from memory on the piano, Tacita filmed Merce Cunnigham watching a performance and shifting 4 times in his chair and Dougie baby did an operatic/folk version of Love will Tear us Apart (we were in Manchester you see), Liam and Tacita’s works were pre-recorded, with Gordon’s being performed, but not by him – at least some of the artists had the balls to do it themselves, now Douglas Gordon singing Love will .... would have been good however bad it was. I suspect anyone familiar with the theatre will have seen these ‘experiments’ before, or things like them, I am not so familiar with theatre on account of my perception that it is mainly bloody awful (with the occasional extraordinary (makes it all worthwhile type) exception) but surely not ever this bloody awful.
Maybe I misunderstood the whole thing and it was actually meant to envisage what my mother would have come up with if asked to make some conceptual art based on the possibilities afforded by a functioning theatre (in which case they underestimated her). I wondered what are the non art interested public are making of this, if I don’t get it or enjoy it with my 30 years of art training what do they think? Alex Poots the Manchester festival director seemed to be promoting the principle benefit being that 500 curators attend the performance (not on the night I was there seemed to be mostly dealers, but then maybe that’s splitting hairs, but the theatre was half empty/full). The more art I see the more worried I become by the isolationist position, the artists reference things that they think are pertinent eddies of culture, where does this end as the references become ever more mainstream as their practice becomes ever more specialist/esoteric. “Yeah well you know I ‘m very interested in this guy, who like back in the 40’s you know , kind of developed this amazing drug, which like has been hugely influential but not so known, yuh it was like a total accident, this agar plate….’
Just to be fair - and that is as you will know my middle name – Barney came up with a performance piece which was slightly better (although totally unrelated to the other work) but still pretty lame – it’s central character - a bull - was actually lame. If you’ve seen Carpenter’s Escape from New York or it’s Snake Pliskin starring close cousin Escape from Los Angeles you have a good idea of the flavour of the work. Barnie - with a live dog on his head - removes the vital organs (carburator etc) from a wrecked car, placing them in canopic jars (zo interesting ritual, not zo many people know about zis). Then the assembled cast attempt to get one of the oldest bulls on the planet to inseminate the rear of the vehicle, which it so doesn’t/could’nt do on any one of the nights the show - now a lively young bull would have made quiet a show, a bull’s ejaculation is quite impressive in both violence and quantity, would have given the urinating crab arched ladies a definite run for their money. But basically Barney did the - expose the seams of the performance type thing - so it looked terrible, on film it would of course have looked fabulous – the underbelly of the performance was doubly exposed by the use of local talent, none off whom displayed the NYC body fascism of Barney’s usual work, like they were really fat and the costumes hung or strained around them like bags on a bag lady.
Enjoyed the sponsors logo’s though, good range including the Henry Moore Foundation – they recently turned us down for a grant saying they were getting back to basics – now I am seeing what they meant with the emphasis on the basics.
Below is what Richard Dorment writing in the Telegraph thought of it, sounds like an essay for an English appreciation ‘O’ level and deeply anti Islamic to boot, he’s mental. I think my own interpretation that it was a homage/copy to John Carpenter’s vision of a multi ritual world is way better.
'Shocking as some of this is, nothing that goes on in Barney's dream-like, surrealistic performance is gratuitous. He is meditating on the psychic catastrophe that is Islamism, whereby men who possess power over women express their fear and disgust at the sight of the female body by forcing their daughters and wives to cover themselves completely. Drawing on Freud's writings, he shows that women who are made powerless express their rage in the only way they can - by using their own bodies to urinate and defecate.
The corpse we saw at the beginning is that of a Westernised Muslim woman, embalmed and replaced by women made faceless by men who deny their existence as real people. This breakdown of human interaction is completed when the men then cover their own faces in balaclavas, losing any sense of themselves as individuals and allowing them to be subsumed in their sick ideology. Barney seems to be saying that the horrors we see nightly on news bulletins from the Middle East have their origins in sexual dysfunction.
The cause of Islamists' hatred of the West has nothing to do with Israel or Iraq but with fear of the other. They hate everyone who isn't like them, beginning with their own mothers, sisters and wives. And orchestrating this perversion of human nature is the god of death.
At the end of Il Tempo Del Postino, I felt I'd been present at a historic occasion when the ambitions of the curators were perfectly matched by the quality of the art, and when we saw the première of one of Barney's most profound and powerful works'.
A Triumph of Shock and Awe - Richard Dorment Daily Telegraph 17/07/2007
Err yeah thanks for that Richard, I am sure Barney will be delighted to know that he is suggesting that all suicide bombers are only blowing themselves up because they can't do sex..
Well almost. This week The Princes Drawing School are in residence at Park-a-More. They will be the first people to use the building in it's rennovated state.
The group will be documenting thier stay and endeavours in a blog and will be showing work from the residency in London in October - check the blog on (to be added shortly)
Bryan Davis and Dan Robinson represent the space in an exhibition 'To the Left of the Rising Sun' at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester - where I notice I am doing a discussion on the 12th July at 6pm. http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/
If you are interested in using Park-a-More contact the Grizedale office - the building has no electricy, water is pumped from the well, the bath hangs on the door and the toilet is a composting loo in the garden - but it's very nice if you like a bit of 18th century living - oh forgot to mention there is no car access, you have to walk to it - 15 minutes for the hearty longer for the rest.
My life shunt has included a considerable interaction with the world of the hospital, another nuts use of resources in an apparently unplanned manner. The hospital only operated 3 days a week, the rest of the time it was fully staffed but virtually empty of patients. However the hospital environment is amazing, akin to a multicultural soap opera, there are people from every corner of the world both in the staff and patients, hosts of translators all in all a wonderful diversity of people and cultures. Visiting hours brought great communities of people into the hospital, little encampments round each bed each involved in their own food and language, social culture/hireachy etc. My own visits took the form of .
‘How are you?’,
‘Oh absolutely fine, can’t imagine what the fuss was about’
‘The roses are doing marvellously well’
Although the hospital environment would make fantastic ground for an art project (see [url=http://www.swansong.tv/archive/npkgdsl.htm/ Pope and Guthrie’s Recommended Dose – the inspiration for Green Wing) the actual artwork commissioned for the hospital was beyond pitiful or rather the curation of it was insane. The most ludicrous example was the siting of a Cornelia ‘Flatliner’ Parker ‘piece’ in the waiting room of the breast cancer waiting room – the room itself had been converted into a Costa Coffee style coloured melamine temple and the ‘artwork’ hung from the ceiling. A series of silver plate Georgian teapots reflected by the same teapots in flatten form (even out of this context this is a chronic thing). Was the plan to prepare the users of this space for their own soon to be flattened form. It made me embarrassed to be involved in the arts, extra embarrassed to be involved in this jackass curation business.
As I recall there was much excitement in the 80/90’s following a survey that proved Bert Irwin paintings made people well or was that promoted wellness, i.e. you stayed well if already well after seeing a Bert Irvin painting – (now hang on minute there, any right minded person would surely contest that assertion). But I guess an interesting articulation of a slightly desperate desire that art should be useful to society, do good - sadly delivered in a package of lies and half truths, pretention and other commonly held artshit.
I particularly enjoyed the arrival and departure from the cancer hospital with the doorway crowed by smokers of both healthy and extremely unhealthy hue crowded around the doors in wheelchairs, pyjamas, blood stained operating smocks, hospital tunics of every cut and colour. I could’nt help feeling that smoking and cancer wards did nt perhaps go together so well and that smoking so publicly - a guard of honour through the raised cigarettes - was perhaps a little tactless (I waited till I got outside the gates).
My life has recently taken a bit of a shunt and I have found myself in London on a more or less full time basis, yearning for home, to see the plants growing and the quick pull of the early summer trout on the line. I always felt like that when I lived in London – 15 years of tugging 15 years ago. London has changed little, but the culture of London has changed a lot. The use of the mobile, smoking, shouting and screaming, all those street life activities have amplified hugley. No other capital in the world suffers from the kind of mobile use that you get in London. I struggle to find a reason for it, obviously it’s massively rude, that could be a reason for it in itself, an outward expression of the ‘f*** you’ mentality so uniquely and warmly embraced in the UK. Maybe UK dwellers feel less inhibited in the apparent confines of phone world, a bit like cars, where it’s easy to think you are in your own private world so its alright to scream moustache curling abuse at the most minor of infractions - like a micro second pause before pulling of at the lights. Anyway there seems to be an idea that using a mobile in public is really a very private act. Outside my bedroom window in superficially charming Bloomsbury a woman engaged is an extremely long and creatively abusive phone call with her – presumably soon not to be - boyfriend, ‘Yo shitf***er, am letting yo f*** wit ma booty, sheeetman yo need to tink bout feelings of udder people’ after about 10 minutes of this unrelenting and rather unfocused Westwood style phyco babble abuse I was forced to open my window and ask her if she could possibly find an alternative venue to continue her martial workout? To which she replied in the sweetest middle class voice, ‘oh I am terribly sorry, I did’nt realise anyone still lived in Bloomsbury 'a classic ‘full English’ put down (‘oh you know well it’s just a pied a Terre, I am usually in Tuscany/Gloucestershire’).
The other street related activity I can enjoy in my 1st floor bedroom is smoking, the fairly continuous stream of office refugees smoking in the street does provide a wreath of smoke that fills the street, and the bedroom, and we are talking a quiet street here. How will it be once the ban kicks in, the streets will become one big smoke filled series of channels. The London smog of yore recreated using the human lung. There does seem to be this lack of thinking things through going on in London/UK. London’s public transport system seems insanely complicated, catching a bus an absolute picnic in a dog pound, buy a ticket at a stop if there is a machine, on the bus if not, get an oyster card, a carnet and all to be achieved with absolutely no information of any kind as to what where and how - just an angry driver jerking his thumb at something and mumbleing. While I am briefly on drivers - the notion of driving a public transport vehicle for comfort of the passenger seems to have completely been lost. The drivers throw their buses into sharp turns, abrupt stops, to lurch and lean with the sole intention of knocking the passengers to the ground, buses excecute boy racer tactics, switching lanes, bunny hopping at the lights and so on. Taxi’s are as bad (for any taxi drivers out there I never tip if it’s an uncomfortable ride – make what you must of that). Anyway enough of this abuse of the wonders of London after all I did walk past David Guest which was great and where else is this going to happen (at first I thought he was Tom Jones or someone wearing comedy Tom Jones head and chest wigs), such special hairs, blinged up to the 9’s, he looked every inch the legendary R&B producer with a rather strong sense that he could be some sort of teddy bear type child’s cuddly toy, maybe it was just the fact that he is pocket sized. All in all the most exciting celebrity moment since a friend of mine sold a 10ft length of hose pipe to Sidney Devine at a car boot sale in Galashields (Sidney Devine is a Scottish MOR superstar for y’all south of the border there).
There has been a lot of talk about the arts in the rural/regional of late. A recent Arts Council initiative called Art 07 brought together a body of arts people from the Northern region and included a debate on the rural/regional arts in relation to the urban/London scene. The debate was embarrassingly broadcast on Radio 3’s Nightwaves programme. The gist of it was that London is where it happens and everything outside of London is of little consequence and of low quality – of no particular interest to any but a local audience. This position was countered by local arts people suggesting that in fact there was a great deal of national and international level art going on in the rural it’s just that the urban audience doesn’t know about or have access to it. Just to quickly clear this one up, there is next to nothing of interest happening in the rural/regional and it is the fault of the artists and arts organizations. The insistence on apeing urban models, looking for endorsement, failing to creatively invent themselves,– that’s no way to make something useful, influential or significant.
But why is this? Historically much of British Art and many Art movements emanated from the rural, Nicholson and St Ives, Wordsworth and Romanticism, Pastoralists, Constable in Suffolk, Gill and Ditchling, Guild of Craftsmen in Gloucestershire, Architecture and music at Dartington Hall, not to mention the plethora of material coming out of the country house, Capability Brown, Adam, the Portraitists, etc as well as the one-offs like Moore, Spencer, Lowry, Schwitters. Maxwell-Davis even Damien Hirst now, the list is long, what’s come out of London - The Euston road School!
The rural has sporadically housed weird mavericks, working individually or in tight groups but in comparative isolation forging new vision, really taking risks (rather than saying they are risk taking), being ostracized. The current regional culture is so keen to be accepted they sell out before they have even started, begging for a special dispensation to be taken seriously.
The ambition of the debate was to ask if the UK was defined by rural or urban culture. Where do you start? the question seems irrelevant. Define UK, culture, urban, rural before the question can even arise and by the way the answer is - if you could ever define either as separate - derr, both. However there is a divide/fusion and it’s an interesting body of ideas/material that many people/artists explore. For the rural - as a subject - it is perhaps not an end in itself but rather a route to defining a more pertinent way to expand the rural value. The countryside is understood by the nation as a culturally backward zone - which is true. That is perhaps the rural’s natural/real position, rooted in day to day isolated activities, in tune with the basics of growth, life and death (or more realistically the season of the tourist, there’s nothing like a good fresh run tourist covered in lice (this is a reference spring salmon that when they first come up the river system are covered in sea lice – it used to be seen as a good thing, I think now it’s seen as a sign of the degenerating environment)).
The urban migrant probably has more impact on rural culture than anyone else, moving to the country in large numbers to enjoy that vision of opt out and simple life, to play real communities (largely with each other). Consequently the country is full of people who reinforce and perpetuate a very cliched vision of the rural, in fact insist it stays that way when it is they that could radically shift it. Times have changed the rural has changed but the cliché about it hasn’t in fact it has been massively reinforced to the point where it has become the only vision of the rural swamping the delicate reality of a complex and sophisticated environment. Importantly those people who guide and mediate culture in the rural perpetuate the cliche, investing in lame culture that plays along to a tourist centred agenda.
A recent Germaine Greer Christopher Frayling debate discussed funding levels in the regions, principally an argument about comparative funding levels – in fact the regional draws more than adequate funding, the problem arises in how these funds are actually spent. Currently in Cumbria £100 million is being allocated to develop a rural arts visitor centre, promoted as a rural Tate (despite the Tate’s denials). The project has employed London consultants to show the rural how it should be done – they are using an urban model, will it do anything interesting in relation to a rural culture? Unsurprisingly it would seem unlikely, there is no acknowledgement that the conditions are different. It would be hard - at a consultant’s glance - for anyone to see anything other than this model with virtually all the rural culture brokers (galleries, museums, artists, writers etc) desperately adopting urban models. For example a local Cumbrian gallery markets itself as being the same size Joplin’s White Cube - the old one!
The debate for Art 07 brought suggestions from the floor that the rural should be given a special dispensation, positive discrimination. The rural/regional needs to change its own clichéd view of itself, it needs to develop ways of contributing to national and international cultural evolution offering material that is relevant, being amongst the leaders rather than followers and to do this the arts community needs to rethink it’s mechanisms, urban models don’t and shouldn’t work in rural space – that is so obvious. The rural’s introspective and ludicrously self congratulatory attitude, the suggestion of discrimination are all unhelpful ‘head in the sand’ positions that suppress real engagement with the complex and relevant issues as ever present in both urban and rural communities. Cultural practioners need to get with the programme – an example of this ‘off the mark’ approach was demonstrated in the most exemplary way at the afore mentioned Art 07 event. Local artists staged an Arts Council funded ‘Art Strike’ – I am almost certain that neither the commissioner ACE North West or the organization being funded to deliver this ‘idea’ had any idea of the precedents – which are of course multiple and go back to the early part of the 20th century, a quick Google would have filled in the gaps. The other main event was a 21st century barn dance with paid dancers to guide people through a series of country dances, the event was titled Loc–Glo-Bal, the music provided by a ragtaggle bunch of world music musicians wearing black t shirts. The Arts Council put £200,000 into this ‘celebration’ of rural culture. There were no interesting ideas put forward, no critical analysis, nothing added to cultural development.
The rural is full of people escaping the perceived harshness of ‘real’ life which is fine but don’t then expect to be taken seriously and to be a part of national cultural discourse. I see this all around me amongst the local art community, angry artists making outdated work for their own pleasure hugely resenting the fact that they are not taken seriously by a critical audience (many of them make good livings which is more than your ‘cutting edge’ practitioner can claim).
The Bed and Breakfast scenario in the Lake District offers an interesting analogy/lesson. People move to the country to get away from other people and then open a B&B as the easiest way to generate an income. The basis of a good B&B is an open and friendly interest in people – do you see the problem?
Not really a Grizedale project but relevant to the world of the rural and contemporary culture within it.
This weekend Karen and I took part in Architecture Week, opening the site of our ongoing attempt to build a contemporary house in the Lake District. The idea was to engage in a public debate on contemporary architecture in the rural, called ‘Building in the Rural’ strangely enough. Before I get onto the event/discussions themselves it is interesting to consider how the audience found out about the event.
Not a single person attended as a result of seeing it on the Architecture week website and few knew what architecture week was or had ever heard of it.
The biggest audience attractor was a small poster in the local supermarket (both branches of Booths).
Putting leaflets through peoples doors accounted for the second largest group and the mention in the local paper listings brought up the rear.
In total approximately 40 people attended – pretty remarkable for a non building (we are still after 4 years trying to get planning permission) in an area where there is apparently no interest in contemporary architecture.
The message re audiences is - as we have always found in Cumbria - that national advertising does not work at all, word of mouth and ‘folk’ marketing works by far the best (ie hand-made posters in unlikely spots). What this says about rural perspective and cultural isolation is interesting!
The audience was made up of architects, eco build enthusiasts and neighbours. There was a universally positive response to the proposed design and a great deal of discussion about the issues raised by our long battle with the planners and indeed the common experience shared by many of the attendees.
I wont go into the detail on our planning battles as it is too boring and petty for words, suffice to say the concensus of opinion at the event was that the planning authority were a dishonest and corrupt government department that worked through punative measures to achieve their personal objectives – principally to stop any contemporary design. Many people thought that the government at a strategic level was trying to move forward and that many people at ground level were keen to engage with contemporary ideas both architectural and environmental but that the government officers were incredibly and subjectively resistant to any change.
Generally it was felt that the planners chief weapon was money, if they could delay applications through fair means or foul the applicants would eventually give up – on average the planners seemed to be able to delay planning applications for 5 years (we are currently in our 4th year). This issue of money was further discussed in light of the contemporary obsession with property ownership and money making. People felt that no one wanted to take a risk with a contemporary build for fear of salability, that no one built houses that worked for themselves to live in but rather built with a priority to sell on.
The architects all complained that there was no opportunity for them to design as clients that wanted to build in a contemporary style in the Lake District did not exist.
There was also talk regarding historical precedent, if there had ever been a time when radical buildings had been built (there are a few examples of modernism, like 3 (see list of Lake District architectural highlights below)
In our gentle attempt to make an almost invisible contemporary building we have suffered a great deal of abuse from the locals, both neighbours and Parish Council, local tradesmen have refused to do work for us for fear of local opinion and outrageous stories have been circulated. Ironically the 2 biggest complainers in the village/hamlet are from holiday home owners concerned that we would live in the building! (80% of the village houses are holiday homes). We will hear the result of our current planning application in a couple of weeks time – watch this space for news!
Architecture in the Lakes – additions welcomed Lodore Falls – John Gill 1968 The sole example of great design, now utterly ruined by the appalling conversion, however original plans exist if it ever finds a champion to restore it. Currently used as a lodge for the Lodore Hotel so you can stay in this tragedy of abused design – what a missed opportunity by the hotel – how special this could be on an international level if the original interiors had been maintained.
Motor Boat Club, Broadleas – CAF Voysey
Kendal House – Little Holme - CAF Voysey
Blackwell – Baille-Scott
Troutbeck Youth Hostel – an amateur enthusiasts home built stab at modernism circa 1920 and the first concrete shuttering build in the north of England complete with Arts and Crafts interior and battlements (A personal favorite fusion building).
Wordsworth Trust – Benson Forsyth – slate clad at the insistence of the planners who fought the scheme for 5 years and then attended the funeral of the man they had thwarted for so long (he died a year after the building opened)
Ambleside - Hutchinson Lymath Architects, a contemporary build in progress
How do you do?
I'm a reporter on a Japanese local newspaper,Tokamashi branch office of NIIGATA-NIPPO.
The other day,I interviewed Kimio Yamazaki in Toge Tokamachi.
Yamazaki explained me his experiences in Grizedale, and that's very interesting for me.
so I want to report it for my newspaper.
I'm going to write about GrizedaleArts and you too.
So,I have a questions.
Q1,Could you tell me your date of birth?
Q2,How do you want to be mixed up with people in Toge Tokamachi?
I'm happy if you will answer my questions.
(My English is so poor. I'm sorry.)
Thank you for your mail and for your interest in this project
Firstly my date of birth is 18/12/1958
Regarding involvement with the village of Toge
We are interested in the situation in Toge and rural Japan. There is a point now where the villages are making descions about the future, to farm or to make tourism or maybe other possibilities. In our area we have already made the descion to do tourism and now we are finding the problems with this approach. We wanted to explore with Toge some other possibilities and we wanted to introduce a cross over of cultures and ideas. Many times in the past this cross over has produced the crucial results that make for fruitful change.
We hope to work again with Toge in our or thier future projects, this year we will be making a new TV station and we will show and discuss ideas from Toge, next year we will make a many culture resturant for an art biennale and I hope Toge will take part in that project in some way.
Lastly be sure to promote the website address for the Toge shop - the best rice in the world!
Flights from Liverpool are not sustainable, although the captain tells us of great news – Easy jet are planting trees to offset the carbon toll – frankly about half way through the flight, with a plane load of hysterical liverpudlians - that’s staff and passengers - all squeaking on in their cheeky chappie voices and laughing like Stan Boardman voice trained hyenas, for 2 hours - you don’t give a fuck about global warming, you wouldn’t give a shit if the entire universe caught fire and vanished like a burning Amaretti paper, if the other thing it’s impossible to comprehend that the universe is in disappeared down a cosmic plughole in a roll top bath with claw feet. You would merely experience a gentle sense of relief, a light but warm wind on your face and a gentle lapping of lakeshore waves about your bare feet - kind of a feeling.
I was in this air born tube of skallys as I was speaking at a conference in Barcelona, this had seemed like a good idea back in a wet and cold Lake District January, only trouble was I didn’t really look into what the conference was beforehand and I don’t think they really checked me out. My talk went down like a base jumper without a parachute, a kind of collective ‘are you telling me I ‘ve just run over my own child’ sort of response, no questions just a desperate ‘please get him of the stage before I become a puddle’ collective look. Recently I have been getting rather disturbingly enthusiastic responses to my talks so I really wasn’t ready for this and found it a rather awkward. Post talk none of the previously friendly people would talk to me, I walked through the crowd as if I had suddenly gained a force field that kept people a strict 10ft from me.
All in all it was one of the strangest conference style events I ve ever been to - imagine an Artist Newsletter (artist support agency) conference on how to get on in sculpture, maybe called ‘Making it Big’. The date is mid 80’s, the event is in multiple languages and the speakers have been selected by a room full of monkeys with a typewriter.
The guy who was MC was hyper friendly, every time he passed me – hand flapping, Groucho Marx walking - he would indicate two rather straight Americans with the words ‘doze guyzere kcrazy, a’m tellink yu, my got yez, dere crazzie’ the two besuited artist/managers of the Hudson river sculpture trail (100 miles of very big sculptures) look back blankly each time. Having seen their talk I am inclined to agree with the MC but possibly for different reasons. The question and answer section of their talk became a series of one upmanship anecdotes on moving large sculptural weights, ‘ I brought 30 tons back from Careara, 2,000 bucks shipping, 100 bucks to the fork lift driver, slip a couple o’ hundred to the guys in customs’. This sure aint critical theory.
Another presentation about a sculpture trail in Andorra called ‘Men of Steel’ features 7 men of a certain age making steel sculpture to celebrate the – now closed - iron mines of Andorra. One piece is a frieze of cut steel of vaguely figuerative forms. One cant help thinking how thrilled the miners must have been, how they would (given the chance) have sat for hours musing on the human condition, contemplating the man/earth transformation conundrum. Maybe the legacy of the mines is better expressed by the many monumental objects it has contributed to situated around the world, now these shipping tonnages I suspect may just piss on the tonnages we had already heard of. I look at this stuff and wonder why on earth anyone wants to do it, it looks hard, they tell us it’s hard, these are big things, they need death defying installation, I just don’t get it. Maybe I ve been in the art world too long and have lost any simple response I ever had to the meaningless object but does anyone actually even like these things? d’Suvero, Chilleda, these are the leaders in this field, their subject seems to be ‘exploring space’, wresteling with the pure problems of sculpture. (There are lots of references throughout the day to the word space and the exploration of it, I always hear it as outer space and momentarily think ‘oh that sounds good’ ‘exploring urban space’, ‘a journey into space’ Space is the place – no they didn’t say that’s a Sun Ra film).
The highlight talk was a close run thing between a man (traffic planner I think) that talked at length about roundabouts and the placing of art on them. Mainly he showed examples of dangerous, disproportioned, aesthetically displeasing…. there was a long list of things that were wrong and a very short one on things that were right. It was pretty funny for quite a long time (about 15 minutes –the talk lasted about 40), the range of works seemed to encompass examples of the art shown throughout the day. By this time in the conference I was considering that the whole thing maybe was a spoof, that some art people had set me up, maybe something to do with the Big Art Project (Channel 4 reality art programme in the making).
This talk was followed by Magdalena Abakanowicz, like Marina Abromovitch in her delivery and to some extent content. Her lecture started with a totally wild suggestion that all people of the world no longer had to worry about hunger of other physical discomforts (I think she meant Europe). She then stated ‘munkindt aulshow now haz zee chapacity tu exshterminate heemzelf einshtantly’ all delivered in a stacatto Russian Dalek voice. Sadly the talk then declined into a description of how she made her sculpture groups and the ease of shipping vast tonnages with only a brief return at the end to the Dalek manifesto. She also showed a classically poor quality piece of film documentation of a Butoh dance piece she had made in Japan, which was rather amazing – she was rather amazing full stop. Of course it was all that post war everything is shit and hopeless Beckett stuff so beloved of that generation, mankind is a mutant headless zombie type thing living in a hole, bag, bin, concrete shoes you know the sort of thing. Then I remembered that we all loved that ‘life is shit and then you die’ thing back in the day when art had only the serious message, then around 1978 someone made this terrible T shirt that said ‘Fuck art lets dance’ and then everything was alright. It really reminded me of being at art school in the 70’s.
The other talks included a presentation from the woman who advised Barcelona on public art acquisitions who seemed to be presenting her child’s home work – ‘Some sculptures you can see in Barcelona’ – in which she managed to omit Gaudi and many other of the sculptures most people would associate with Barcelona in favour of an lengthy romp through Victorian building decoration of the most dismal nature, I overheard someone describing her as an academic – Crapademic.
Possibly the most painful talk covered the works done for the 92 Olympics 8 bad examples of works by the usual suspects - still it was a long time ago and that kind of thing was kind of new then, i.e. conceptual works in places where people would not have any interpretation to explain what a series of numbers meant, or how the word born meant something different in another language. Here’s the line up for info - it is a classic; Plensa, Kornellis, Baumgarden, Ruckrheim, Horn, Merz, Munoz, Turrell, obviously one expects to see Weiner at the end of any list of artists of that period but no, here he was pioneeringly absent. The talk was equally classic, extremely long winded vague notions about understanding urban space as an environment that can be changed by the intervention of a connection to space as a understanding of.. I think it might have been a round, you know London’s burning, fire, fire etc. The rather nice conference organizer had to try and translate this shambles, he had a bit of the Robert Wagner about him, she a little of Mrs. H (Hart to Hart – 80’s TV show) ‘when day met it wus moirder’. So many people left that the organizer had to stand up and ask anyone else wanted to leave that they should do it now, generating a gurgeling drain unblocking exodus. I stuck to it not wanting to be rude and thinking how rude I could be about it later – the more I suffered the ruder I could be - without guilt. The recurring thought was that we would shortly be suffering a similar series of works for our own blood sucking, life draining celebration of the animal within (Olympics).
In the afternoon the MC changes his ‘Doze guyz are kcrazee’ to ‘you kcrazzee, my got yez, yur crazzee I’m tellink yu’ and he takes the opportunity to introduce me to all the crazy people at the conference none of whom want to talk to me (that’s how bad it was). I had dinner alone.
It all makes me think about these mini art worlds, no one at this conference knows of any of the artists I know, I don’t know any of their work or the names they reference. This is madness and it’s replicated madness, many times over, multiple mini worlds all self perpetuating not even interested in each other. What use is all this, and really what a waste of all this effort and skill. I think the problem is that the ‘other’ seems such a threat, mix all this up and it could start to get interesting.
I think my interest in the relationship between these many cultures is right, it’s what makes me keep going but this ‘coal face’ does make me wonder. The name of my talk was ‘Ways to be Useful’ ,pre talk the American guys saw the title and said ‘well there aint no way we can do that’ - Doze guyzre kcrazee.
Travels with Grizedale Arts Deputy Director Alistair Hudson 03/07
On a plane to China again. 20 Curators on another crusade. This time the cause is Connections Through Culture, building lasting relationships between cultural organisations in the UK and China; though the political impetuous that drives us forward, that throbs deep in some cortex, is there’s gold in them their hills.
Connections though Culture is a joint initiative between the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council with support from the Scottish Executive.
I’ve been on one of these trips before in November 2005 and the itinerary for this is the same gruelling, relentless tour of galleries, dealers, museums, studios, handshaking, functions, speeches. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, enlightening, humbling and all that, but ultimately a little bit shallow. They feel like forced encounters and it’s difficult to navigate away from that. My cynical angel on the left shoulder keeps telling me the Chinese are laughing at the endless streams of curatorial crocodiles filing through, wanting a piece of the action. The more reasonable one on my right tells me that this is diplomacy in action. This is how we prevent wars.
I’ve been asked to join the group mainly to speak at the International Curating Forum in Beijing on Saturday. After Beijing I’m going to go off-piste to Guangzhou to meet with Vitamin Creative Space, with whom we are developing a project. Then after that it’s back home to get on with the stuff that pays the bills. I’ve had to cut this trip short as we’re so busy at home, building Greasy Poles, artists visits, public art strategies, fundraising, building a new office, running a farm, planning our project for Rochelle etc. It’s the downside of a small team like Grizedale that you can never find the balance between the grafting and the pioneering and the flag waving.
Cynical angel has just pointed out that I’ve conveniently and swiftly moved on from developing a project with Vitamin after we had agreed that all this China malarkey is just a bit sordid. Well obviously it’s not as clear cut as that.
I’ll have to come back to that.
Lumbering over Siberia in the dimmest light of predawn I can’t resist the mental flash of us as WWII action heroes approaching the drop zone. Blacked up faces and empty swag bags. Grab as much Chinese Contemporary Art as you can boys then head for home. It is all slightly sordid, but kind of inevitable.
We always used to joke on these kind of mass art world jaunts to Venice, Munster, Istanbul and where-ever, that if the plane went down you’d wipe out the art world. I suppose it was said in semi-deluded semi-seriousness, but now it’s a complete joke. There’s China now. And it’s getting big.
At a recent board meeting, after announcing we were going to work here, Claire Bishop couldn’t understand how we could do it. But we’re all Chinese now, we’re all in it together. Not least me; my wife is Chinese and so are my children back home. I eat Chinese, speak Chinese (badly) and worry about how its thirst for world resources is going to affect us all. I don’t think that I would have said in 1907 that I don’t want to, or won’t have, anything to do with America.
Upon reaching the hotel at 2.00pm we have 20 minutes to check in before our guide takes the group round the Forbidden City as an introduction to the Chinese context. Having seen the City before I decide to skip and go to bed. I’m knackered and nauseous after being on the move since 7.00 am the previous day. A cup of tea and a mooch in the park fit the bill better, especially before tomorrow’s symposium.
It would have been good to see the FC again though, I love the spectacle of it and it’s mix of history and fakey. The sheer volume of tourists there is just as much as a wonder of the world as the buildings themselves. And to add spice this time the palace museum within the walls is hosting a British Museum exhibition; a kind of Now That’s What I Call the History of the World Volume One. It marks a key moment as the BM tries to rebrand itself as the World’s Museum, a counter-imperialist move to maintain its collections through an outreach programme of global proportions. A bit like Grizedale really.
17 March International Curating Forum
Curating international work for a different cultural context
Presentation and interpretation
The relationship between artist and curator
Fan Di’an, Director National Art Museum of China
Wang Huangsheng, Director, Guangdong Museum of Art
Lu Jie, Director Long March Space
Gao Shiming Professor, China Academy of Fine Arts
Pi Li, Director, Universal Studios
UK Moderator; Claire Lilley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Alistair Hudson, Deputy Director, Grizedale Arts
Jo Lanyon, Director, Picture This
Laura Pottinger Director Bedford Creative Arts
Tom Trevor, Director, Arnolfini
On the top floor conference hall of the National Art Museum of China the scene is quite United Nations, with podium, extravagant flowers, desk mounted name placards, translators’ booth and radio headphones providing the simultaneous translation.
This is serious. In a rash moment I had listened (I’d like to think in a Benjaminesque way) to that angel on the left and titled my talk I’ve got a Brand New Complex Harbinger: The Curator as Farmer. Realising that jokes, never mind references to the Wurzells are going to be lost here, I adjust to Curator as Farmer, Farmer as Curator.
As we alternate between Chinese and UK presentations it’s clear there’s something amiss. The British are giving case studies, the Chinese are talking theory, what seems to me like 90’s art theory, though the translation both ways is so bad it’s flattening out all the nuances.
Also the whole thing is so comically formal that there is no room for any discussion. Each speaker speaks for 20 minutes. After 18 mins a bell rings to warn you your time is nearly up. Then there is a further 10 minutes for questions also demarcated by the bell. This ten minutes is actually about 3 after the technicalities of making the translation work. I’m assuming that they don’t have Just a Minute in China, but surely some kind of cultural osmosis has taken place here.
Also another gulf opens up. All the UK curators are from the public sector. All we seem to talk about is audiences, engagement, social context and all that jazz. The Chinese contemporary art scene has no public sector and no public funding, they are all effectively art dealers bolstered by post colonial theory and the Economic Miracle. They don’t give a shit about audience. They have the most rampant and testosterone fuelled art market on the planet and they’re having fun. And good on them – I’m almost jealous.
The PHD students in the room are clearly intent on what the Chinese Uber Curators have to say, some of sections almost bristling with boybandfan electricity when the likes of Lu Jie, Pi Li, Fan Di’an and Qiu Zhijie speak.
Lu Jie’s address comes across as slightly aggressive. These boys are on a roll.
Fan Di’An summarises that the Chinese speakers spoke about big ideas and the British spoke about the small things. This time there is a bristle of something from us, particularly me, as I was talking about the end of art as we know it, which by my books is pretty big. But I don’t think Beijing wants art to stop being what it is just yet.
Interestingly the students are coy when it comes to asking questions in the sessions, maybe a little bit overawed by the big hitters. But afterwards many of them speak to the Brits and we get the feeling there is a new generation of thought emerging which is against the orthodoxy of the Chinese speakers.
798 is Beijing’s East End art zone. A Stalinist Bauhaus designed munitions factory and industrial zone on an epic scale. It’s like Shoreditch, Hoxton, New York’s Chelsea and Berlin’s Mitte all rolled into one and pumped full of drugs.
It’s Sunday and busy with people wandering between the galleries – both Chinese middle youth and the ubiquitous clusters and crocodiles of Euro Curators shopping for their programmes with black note books or Blackberries.
The first time I came here I was wowed, of course. But also developed a running gag with a couple of my fellow curadors, which basically involved going in to each gargantuan gallery space, holding out arms wide and with and with a gentle nod of the head proclaiming “great space” in an exaggerated and overdrawn Euro accent.
And this still holds true as each gallery we visit gets increasingly cavernous. Pi Li’s Universal Studios is an aircraft hanger size gallery which was a not for profit space until they realised there was no point in being not for profit. So now just run for profit.
Pi Li is not there and his Dutch business partner gives us an impromptu talk and guides is round the Chen Shiuoxing installation – which is classic commercial gallery style turns a light, small animated video piece, which is quite fine by itself, into a whopping great museum installation that presumably requires hard labour, heavy engineering and several tonnes of steel. Congenial and amusing in that particular Benelux way, he is a refreshing antidote to the bullishness we have experienced to date. Again that good old English question of ‘who is your audience?’ pops up. He smiles. I cringe a little. A few collectors with buckets of cash, that’s who and that’s all you need.
But I like Universal Studios, it’s doing good things and the artists are interesting. For all my angel’s mocking, it’s is not just there to make money, it’s just that it can and it’s the best way to get things done round here.
So onward and upward and to the Ullens Foundation. Guy Ullens has made billions from Weightwatchers and now has collected the world’s weight in Chinese art. Not wanting to deprive the world of access to his collection in a bunker somewhere in Switzerland he is creating the most mammoth gallery you have ever seen in 798’s largest factory space.
I saw this space on my first visit before they started work. It’s a modernist concrete cathedral like two Tate Moderns glued together. That time I met the Director Fei Dawei, who along with Bev Byetheway, has one of the best names in art.
This time we just see the site office and are given a talk in front of the architect’s model (about the size of a ping pong table) by Colin Chinnery. I met Colin at the Guangzhou Triennial when he was an artist and working for the British Council. He’s half Chinese with a thick Scottish brogue and he’s now the deputy director and director of programme for the Ullens. He talks with unfettered passion about the project, to make China first world class professional standard museum. There is clearly a bottomless pit of money behind this and Colin can do whatever he wants. You can understand his glee and we all look on with open mouths, envy and a slight gigglyness in the face of the project audacity. It has all the hallmarks of the ultimate Bond baddies’ base. Except bigger than anything Blofeld could ever afford.
To add to this scene you have to bear in mind that Colin, stood before the model with saucer eyes, is, well, short. And, all dressed in black, bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter Sellers’ in Dr Stranglove. Clare from Yorkshire Sculpture Park asks is the building will be big enough for his ego. “Probably not.” Replies Colin, jovially.
What this will all do for Chinese art is very intriguing, as it will be the first major non-commercial space hosting art for art’s sake. It may help to move away from the dullness of all that art produced for a demanding client base, but equally could develop another Saatchi scenario, albeit 100 times the scale. Watch this space for now, but if there are any budding curators reading this, I’d send your cv in to them now if you fancy an easy life of no holds barred space filling. No. Expense. Spared.
Before a reception at Long March Space a quick pop in to Platform where David Thorp has curated a David Blandy show. Ahh. This seems to be all (as in completely) work commissioned by Grizedale Arts on the back of his residency, yet not a Grizedale mention in sight. This is fairly usual but disgruntling none-the-less.
The British Council have organised a party in Long March Space and it’s pretty good with Pecha Kucha (think art lecture Karaoke) on a terrible sound system. The booze is flowing and there’s a decent buffet with decent dim sum and cake. The vegetarians in our midst go crazy as this is the first time they have been catered for all trip.
Lu Jie, the director of Long March Space is not here as he’s flown off to California, even though he only just flew in from somewhere else on Friday. He’s apparently taken something like 90 flights in the last year. Better or lesser hands could make a good joke/art project about the Long March and carbon footprints.
I’m not sure here is the place to analyse Long March as it’s a complex case study but central and representative to the whole Chinese Contemporary Art boom. See their www.longmarchspace.com for further details, but you might say that on paper they are/were very close to Grizedale in terms of philosophy. Certainly before going to Beijing everyone kept saying that we must go and see them. But they are also a very different animal. Having emerged from its origins as process and artists’ collectivity, political and social activism etc, it is now one of the main galleries on the scene. A heavyweight, Gagosian style, in a space that reminds me of Victoria Miro, maybe a bit bigger.
Like Gagosian and all, they even have entrée level gallery girls who are so really nice and incredibly like so hospitable in that todally American-international way. Ju Lie’s assistant is super helpful, super trendy and super friendly, translating and joking along as she introduces us to artists and guests at the party. Amongst them are Davids Blandy and Thorp.
Davids Blandy comes up and we have a natter, shortly to be approached by the aforementioned galleristas:
Gallerista: “Heeyyyy, like you did like that really cool stuff over the road, right?”
David: “Errr, yep.”
Me: “Hello, I’m Alistair from Grizedale. We commissioned the work in David’s show”
David “Oh yeh, that’s right, you commissioned the main piece. Oh yeh and the New York piece. Oh actually and the big photograph as well. Oh yeh, actually everything in the show!”
At the airport I say farewell to my fellow curators, who are off to Shanghai, and I head out alone, Scott-like across the concourse over to check in zone A.
After the grey, cold, dusty and harsh ruthlessness of Beijing (even though I like it like I like Berlin), Guangzhou fills me with a smile. This is partly because I feel relieved at the freedom of having my own schedule, but also because its on the cooler side of warm and sunny and breezy. The taxi ricochets around the lanes of the motorway the way Chinese taxi drivers like it, overtaking on the hard shoulder and avoiding two pile ups in short succession. Normally I’d be in a ball on the floor, but with the air so clement, some Sino-reggae on the radio and the windows fully down, there is a definite tropical balm thing going on.
Arriving at Vitamin, this mood is maintained. It lacks pretence, being hidden away in a sweat shop block behind a multi-coloured food market, selling spices, dried mushrooms, char sui bau, snakes and fluffy white bunnies, slaughtered to order by a man with an axe and a bloody apron.
Having been here twice before it’s also like a seeing good friend again. Compared to Beijing galleries the space is less fussy, less try hard, yet the work more considered and dare I say poetic. In Beijing the catalogues are big and heavy and in colour. Here they are penguin paperback affairs, gently written and clearly with something to say.
Zhang Wei the director is busy in a meeting in her office and her husband and co-director Hu Fang is in Vienna. They’re just a busy as all the others in China, but the mood is much more relaxed. For the first time on the trip I have moment of quiet, sit down nest to sunlit window in the gallery, take in the work and listen to the back drop of noise from the market outside. This is like being in Venice, apart from the fact that the space is crossed with soil stacks from the floors above and every so often there is the distinct slatter clatter of human slurry rattling down the pipes.
I’m here to continue discussions on a project for the village of Nanling in the upper reaches of Guangdong province. The mountain village and its surrounding primordial forest park have been acquired by a property developer to build it up as an eco tourism project – building hotels and a visiting audience, whilst maintaining the natural environment and the village culture. It is at once medieval and supermodern, a heightened nodal point in the supra-urban scenario on which I spoke in my talk in Beijing.
Vitamin have been developing art projects there with the developer, though not necessarily for the developer, for a couple of years. Zhang Wei has not been entirely satisfied with how these have worked and asked us to go out last year to have a look at the village to see what we might think or do. A clear case in point was the playground made by French artist Mathieu Briand with the children in the village a. A classic case of context art, it provided a number of images of and dialogues on social engagement, but is actually never used by the children anymore. They live in a forest for goodness sake.
So our challenge is to somehow make art work in this situation. To be of use, to be of benefit to the village and not just the artists’ careers. It may be that art, at least in its popular incarnation is not the answer, but this is why we got on so well with Vitamin; because, like us, they actually asked the question if art was the right answer and had the balls to say that what they had tried had not been necessarily successful.
Incidentally, our relationship with Vitamin came about partly through my first curator-crocodile trip to China in November 2005, so they must work to some extent I guess, but it needs willingness on both parts. And for this to work we need to be doing things that we are all interested in.
Train horror as ever, who designed these trains? 4 empty 1st class carriages and 5 packed others stinking like a sewage pipe on wheels filled with impossible luggage that doesn’t fit in the store (clearly the designers didn’t imagine people would want to carry heavy suitcases onto a train and quite right they were too, I am sure they don’t, but they do), the toilet alarm being pressed every 5 minutes - still after 3 years of these ‘new’ trains that problem hasn’t been ironed out. And of course the staff who might as well wear a uniform emblazoned with slogans, like 'it’s got nothing to do with me, I didn’t design it, I don’t work for Virgin, I hate you, there’s nothing I can do about it, die passenger scum' and my favorite Cumbrian catchphrase ‘I ve got absolutely no idea’ and of course the perennial torturous, mean and vindictive ‘is everything alright?’ a question which one never answeres in anything but the affirmative - it's all part of the pain and the zen of acceptance.
Alistair Huson (deputy director Grizedale, Fiona Boundy (director of the A Foundation) and myself spend the 2 days explaining and rexplaining what the TV project we are planning is all about. By the end of it we have refined a much clearer idea of what we are doing and provoked several arguments amongst ourselves - so that’s useful. We also have a long chat with YES the graphics company that Fiona wants to work with. They are arch minimalists, concerned with paper weights (not that kind) and qualities and unusually for graphic designers very upfront about their own critical process with material they don’t personally like. I had suspected as much as they did a fantastic and clever job of destroying a series of 4 pages we did for the A Foundation newspaper in 2006 – I had wondered if it was accidental but clearly not, quite impressive, they made us look like idiots. It’s going to be a challenge working with them but they are nice, perverse and sharp people so whatever, it’ll be engaging.
Giles Deacon (designer for uniforms) is busy but we say hello and meet briefly also with Jeremy Deller (he is working with Alistair on replacing the Greasy Pole - a folk event that requires the climbing of the aforementioned). He - Jeremy - is his usual slightly abstract self, off to look at a colony of greater Horseshoe bats in Devon (they of the nose shaped like a horseshoe), he’s making a bat house! The man doesn’t knowingly go with the money projects.
The interviews for a project manager (TV project) are interesting of course. It's always interesting to hear what people are up to, one interviewee has a particularly remarkable job developing online discussion space for voluntary sector and local government groups, fora for cross fertilization – government funded! We all get really interested in this but sadly we can’t really employ her as she has little experience of working with artists and their ilk and the project has a long and difficult list. We end up in the usual horns of dilemma trying to decide between two people with very different but excellent experience and all that.
On this visit I am particularly shocked by the price of things in London and actually how bad they are. One bar we are in charges 32 pounds for a jug of margarita, a jug entirely filled with ice and charmingly served in a lightly worn/milky plastic jug. The poisonous hotel run by understandably suicidal Poles offers a motorway service station styled breakfast at 17.50, a coffee and a warm flannel of a croissant comes in at a very reasonable fiver. All this after paying 200 for a room in a cardboard warren with a broken TV. Maybe I just don’t get it and this is all an ultrastyle statement reclaiming the 70’s dog eared chic of my youth (Crossroads, The Brothers etc).
The way the UK economy seems to work is that everything is massively ramped up cost wise to provide everyone with huge surpluses of money to buy endless houses around the world. The cost to us being the lowest quality of life in the known world (if you include how vile we all are to each other).
The train return revisits the horror – 2 hours standing on a platform waiting for the delayed train and then having to sit opposite my least favorite thing, a couple who’ve just met (on the platform) and are trying to get to first base by talking incessantly about the minutia of their lives, portraying themselves as the worlds most reasonable, observant and caring people, Jesus 10 minutes into this and if I was them I would be considering a joint suicide pact. ‘The thing with me is I really like old people, call me weird but I just think they’ve got so much to offer, I mean you know they really have experience of life’ and this moments after they had refused to give up a seat to an elderly woman who seemed a little lost. It’s strange conversation, kind of intentionally super dumb so as not to threaten/scare off one another, mating morons.
Fiona tells me Virgin Trains are sponsoring the project.
Café Artistique in Leeds aims to get conversations going about art and art making - see www.axisweb.org. Artists in discussion is becoming of a bit of an end in itself, practically ‘the work’. This one is in a pub and is aimed at being a conversation started off by me – my week had been fraught and my time strained so I hadn’t written anything (so ashamed) – although I think such strategies don’t really work to stimulate conversation - probably better, (which is what I ended up doing) to ramble incoherently about various of your current ‘ideas’. So a mini diatribe from me against freedom, dishonesty in art practice (especially language – please no more hyperbole for events in far flung corners of nowhere Ville – no more use of words like major, innovative, pioneering, ground breaking, international for events in backwaters attended by a local pebble artist and a bored council officer). Also touched on a new moral code and artists becoming embedded useful members of their home communities - no more roving art star ambitions. It all ended up a bit me, me, me, a kind of audience with Dame Adam Average, in an extended question and answer session – mainly courtesy of me holding the only mic and rumbling into it at every opportunity. Actually I would like to have know more about the people I was talking to and to have initiated more discussion with the crowd – it’s a hard one to make happen, we all easily revert to the norm, i.e. one person going on a bit.
During the discussion Laura Quarmby from Artist House suggested that Grizedale favoured the underdog and why was it we did’nt work with the over dogs, these in Leeds being the sublimely happy property developers and their friends, maybe these people are just the truly functional people of the world – it was a poin. I have to say I am drawn to/identify with the underdog, it is such an ingrained component of art culture, all in there with the romantic notions of being an artist that I so abhor, but on the other hand working for the powerful and happy is normally called the luxury goods sector and how would a publically funded organization rationalize that sort of behavior.
After the talk another of the questioners raised the point again with more reference to the notion of well being, to reinforce wellness/happiness. I admitted that at heart, the ambitions I am too embarrassed to express publically are pretty much those of a Miss World contestant - to make everyone happy, end war and world poverty, unfortunately I could not reasonably expect to achieve this by wearing a bathing suit (might start somthing though). It’s hard to find a comfortable way to be positive, to sustain that direct forward propulsion of wellness without the odd caustic aside. There seems so little complexity to happiness, so little opportunity for wit - Feed the greedy not the needy.