Private Utopian Thoughts
All the Fun at the Art Fair
Recently, I visited Private Utopia – an exhibition of contemporary British artists touring Japan. Initially my kids didn’t know what to make of it, but as we walked round, a couple of the more accessible installations lured them in. For Kiki, I think it was a video of Adrian Street, an ex-coal miner turned cross dressing wrestler, that did the trick.
So Many Ways to Hurt You (The Life and Times of Adrian Street)
Jeremy Deller 2010
You can find out more about Jeremy Deller here.
For Aya it was Ryan Gander’s curious bird of paradise with it’s mocking manic plumage. From that click-in-place moment, it was all systems go – they were engaged, their minds whirring.
Ryan Gander 2010
Bauhaus till I Die
Looking at my kids resposnes, made me think about modern art in general. It still tends to divide opinion, especially pieces that lack technical accomplishment. Sometimes I think we all look at a piece and say to ourselves “I could’ve done that!” However, I think the obvious response to such a claim is, “But you didn’t, did you?” It’s not just the old adage that it’s easier to criticize than make something happen. It’s also about giving a long-term commitment to a lifestyle with zero guarantees. Great ideas come from a long process of mental development, by exploring a process inside-out. To do this, artists need to stick their neck out, attach their flag to the pole and commit to one of the most precarious livings out there. It’s a brave decision at the end of the day, one that most of us shy away from. For an inside account of what that’s like to make a career from art, listen to Turner Prize winning, Essex potter Grayson Perry on one of the Reith lectures. Grayson is a flamboyant soul who doesn’t pull any punches.
Grayson Perry 2001
David Shrigley – Creaturely Reflections
I must admit that one of my favourite artists at the exhibition was David Shrigley. His work ranged from cartoons to stuffed dogs – proper taxidermy style. His work made me laugh out loud. Like his letter to the Librarian.
“It would help me immensely if the books in the library were shelved completely at random with no order whatsoever…”
Maybe it’s spending the last 13 years living in Japan and dealing with the plastic smiles of bureaucrats, but it really struck a chord with me. Personally I’m not linear when I write or create stuff. I love the messy info-cocktails of the internet. Sometimes I kid myself I’ll get organized someday. But, that’s never going to happen. How can it when I’m so busy flipping through the random blipverts I deign to call an inner life. You know with Shrigley, I get this real connection with our creatureliness. There is nothing divine or idealized in his work, it’s a collection of very human moments – things we do when we are bored, or down the pub.
Of course, this would be pretty inane, unless it had some other dimension and I think the flip-side of all the humdrum moments is an awareness that they don’t last forever, that one day the kind of moments only we can make will be gone forever. Shrigley doesn’t approach this in a metaphorical way, he goes straight for the shriveled-up jugulars of the dead creatures he stuffs. I couldn’t think of a more welcome messenger than the little Jack Russell below. It kind of makes me want to hug death, grab it’s face with both hands and give it a big rub on the belly.
Marcus Coates – Shape Shifter
Marcus Coates’s work also riffs on the idea of man as a creature, well more insect larvae I guess. His use of common household ingredients to transform himself into grotesque, but strangely appetizing larval forms just blew me away. The larvae is a symbol of death, rebirth and change. I think the fact that the materials that morph and fade themselves is telling. He seems to be saying that everything is in flux, nothing more so than the image we make of ourselves. The butterfly, the will-o-wisp breaking out of the gnarled husk for their moment in the sun, before the great flashbulb in the sky.
I have fond memories growing up at my grandparents house watching David Attenborough’s Life on Earth with cups of cocoa in hand as the fire blazed away. Coates’ made a great parody of this called the ‘Human Report‘. It’s a short video in which he dresses up as a cardboard blue-footed booby and travels to places around the world. He videos the humans from the animal’s perspective, that view through the cardboard beak turning the conceptual framework of the natural history TV on it’s head.
Martin Creed – Rug Puller
Creed seems to have great fun pulling the conventions of the art world around. This piece reminded me of the way John Lennon and Yoko Ono met. John went to a gallery and Yoko’s work was showing. One piece was a white step-ladder. When you climbed to the top, there was a magnifying glass hanging from a light. Written on the light in tiny letters was, ‘Yes.’ Here, Creed asks you to lean in and squint before getting your marching orders. I would love a combination of the two. Make the viewer sit down at a microscope and struggle to get focus. When they do, have a set of messages from god, ‘I know what you did last night, god’ or ‘fancy a quick pint down the red lion, god’. I am sure you can think of some better ones. If you do, please post them in the comments section below.
Home for Orphaned Dishes
When I first heard about this idea, I thought it was a little ridiculous – who wants to see a random collection of unwanted pottery lined up on a shelf? However, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It talks about all that potential in the world going to waste, all those could-have-beens in the world, those almost-champs sweating it out in the cafe kitchens.
Alan Kane 2011
I actually ended up making a donation myself. When you make a donation, you have to write the reason for passing on the pot and so it becomes a treasure trove of domestic tales. Our cup (leaf design, front) was a gift from my mother-in-law, Hiromi. Hiromi got it from a friend who was going to throw it away. She always does this. She can’t bear to hear a perfectly usable pot is going in the bin. So, she saves it. But then she realises she too has nowhere to put it. So, it comes to us. And we, likewise, have nowhere for it to go. Except…this time, we do. Thanks Alan.
The show is open in Okayama till February 22nd and then tours other parts of Japan. If you get the chance, do go and take a look. Click this link to find out more 🙂