My plan yesterday was to go to three exhibitions. I started at the Museum of London Docklands for Estuary and was still there at 5.45pm, having wept three times in the permanent exhibition alone. (Was totally fine until they provided an “area for contemplation” after the Dunkirk bit. Striding purposefully on is more my thing.)
This image, from their new Estuary exhibition, was the thing that made me go in the first place, because it’s like Star Wars-on-sea or something. I finished the first chapter of my dissertation last weekend and, writing about the sublime, all I’ve had in my head has been wide open spaces and stormy weather and THE ENDLESS VOID and all that.
The Thames estuary may as well be the Amazon to me. I’ve never been there. At all. I was at a training course for work this week in Deptford and I think that’s as far out as I’ve gone. The estuary, to me, means Dr Feelgood and that Nicola Barker short story about the jellied eels, although if I’m honest I didn’t really understand it because I have no idea what a jellied eel, y’know, is. But I do love those empty, half-industrial, end-of-the-world landscapes. Like, LOVE them. On Crosby beach near Liverpool, where the Gormley sculptures are, you can look out and see power stations and sewage pipes and stuff, and it seems the Thames estuary isn’t much different. There were two really long canvases by Jock McFadyen in the exhibition which really got that: tufts of grass and litter on long beaches with broken fences and ramshackles industry. One of them had a long row of tiny houses in the distance. The canvases were big, but somehow the scale of the view made them seem so so huuuuuge. The columns on my blog design suddenly seem woefully inadequate.
My other favourite thing was really pretty special. It was an 18 minute video by John Smith (catchy name), called Horizon, and it was just really simple footage of the sea near Margate, taken in loads of different conditions. Every time the image changed there would be this whooshy wave noise and it would go from rain to sunset to lifeboat to birds to big waves to total calm to sailing club to seagulls. I watched it twice through, and then returned again before I went home. My favourite part was where the men on the lifeboat realise they’re being filmed and each quietly looks up and waves at the camera, or maybe it was the fishing boat being followed by about 25 million birds. Or maybe it was the shot with the shaft of light at the back that made a big silvery patch of water. Or maybe it was just the sounds of the sea. I dunno. I was born in the Highlands and lived by the edge of a loch until I was 7 so maybe it comes from my own history. That said though, I just lived in Brighton for 8 months and went to the beach about three times (fucking windy). Who knows. All I can tell you is that it felt like pushing reset. A decompression chamber. Delete browsing history.
…an interactive forest of MUSICAL LASERS.
(My blog design won’t embed YouTube but you should also watch the video. It’s like a big hug.)
The installation was made by a collective called Marshmallow Laser Feast (MARSHMALLOW LASER FEAST) and it was in Eindhoven recently. I’ve been to Eindhoven you know. They had nice mint tea but let’s not pretend I saw any musical fucking laser forests.
It’s official. I am now the kind of person who gives a shit about the Turner Prize. It’s caught me by surprise a bit. I’ve been to the last couple of exhibitions, even travelling up to Newcastle for one (the provinces!), and have generally just wandered around trying to decide which artist’s work is the rudest (Hilary Lloyd and Paul Noble for, respectively, buildings that look like in-and-outy penises and big turds drawn in pencil). Then last year Elizabeth Price made a film that honoured the inherent gravitas of the handclap (I was smitten), and, today, I’m suddenly over-joyed and appalled by the 2013 shortlist.
Those are give-a-shit kind of words.
My name is Megan and I give a shit about the Turner Prize. Don’t judge me.
Firstly, I’m over-joyed because Tino Sehgal is on the list! These Associations at Tate Modern, possibly my absolute number one theatrical encounter of last year (defo top two), is nominated alongside another thing he did somewhere else, and there is no electricity bill in the world big enough to keep me from those works. The exhibition this year is in Derry - fucking IRELAND - but I’m fucking going and I’m going to spend the whole fucking day there and that’s fucking that. So excited I’m actually trembling a bit. :D
Secondly, I’m appalled because another one of my favourite artists has been nominated, which sounds like a contradiction in terms but THERE IS NO PLACE FOR DAVID SHRIGLEY IN THE TURNER PRIZE. Which is obviously no fault of his own, because his work is intelligent and relevant and unusual, despite his popularity amongst a certain generation of hipster art fans. My problem lies in that he’s also HILARIOUS. I saw the retrospective at the Hayward that he’s been nominated for, and my heart hadn’t been in it because Jeremy Deller’s adjoining retrospective had been so affecting, but I remember there being far too many people there to pontificate over modern society’s ills and not nearly enough who were there simply to have a laugh. David Shrigley makes art to have a laugh to, and I’m not sure I want that sacred headspace soiled with Turner Prize-y contemplation. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good contemplate as much as the next guy, but let’s not try to pretend that the whole point he’s making doesn’t lie right within the dark, dark joke.
LET YOURSELF LAUGH.
It doesn’t really matter that Lundahl and Seitl’s feels like a bit of fluff. It doesn’t really matter that it isn’t really about anything. It doesn’t really matter that the show they’re currently doing at the Steinway and Sons piano place on Marylebone Lane is basically the same show they made for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2011. They still make me feel all snuggly, like I’ve had a bath and drunk my Ovaltine and now Mummy is going to sing the bedtime song.
It’s just so simple and gentle and lovely. The blindfold can be a liberating thing. Somebody holds your hand while somebody else whispers sweet nothings in your headphones. You put your hand out and feel your way around an unseeable mirror while a stranger mimics your own movements by stroking your back. I would pay twice the ticket cost just for the back stroking.
The old man with the eyes is back, joined this time by an amazing concert pianist and, once your blindfold is removed, there are clever tricks of the light that make Steinway Hall grow and move and disappear. It’s lovely, fluffy nonsense. I want to do it every night at 10pm and have it finish with someone tucking me into bed and kissing my forehead.
It’s by Vinicius Silva and it’s currently installed in a gallery in Rio. Those are light bulbs made to look like rain drops. ART BONER.
I’ve seen a couple of things recently that haven’t really hit the spot with me. Ring at BAC made out like it was going to be scary and then wasn’t, Money The Gameshow was so gameshowy that the serious bits were lost. In hindsight, even Port only made me warm and fuzzy because of its geography. I had started to worry that I was hitting one of those yeah whatevs phases of my career as an audience member, where nothing gets me off for a few months.
And then today I saw Mydidae.
It’s a proper drama about serious things performed in a tiny room with real nakedness. I’m pretty certain there was some fake wee but other than that it was all REAL and LIVE and CLOSE and IMPORTANT. And I was absolutely spellbound. It’s so easy to forget, when you’re as fickle and sensationalist as I am, that all you really need is a wonderful script and some incredible actors. Mydidae had all of that, even before anyone took their clothes off. Two people and one relationship and all the history and closeness and pain that lives in it. It was an hour and a quarter of the most compelling drama I think I’ve ever seen. And yes I know I don’t go to very many drama-y plays but that’s still saying something so shut up. Seriously. So good.
I don’t want to say too much about the story because the show is one long surprise and I want to keep it that way, but it’s fair to say that it left me reeling a bit. (I don’t even know what that means really. Is it a fishing thing? It definitely left me feeling a bit spinny and out of control, so maybe it is a fishing thing.)
I walked over the bridge to the Hayward in a bit of a trance, but was slowly rebuilt into a human being by THIS BEAUTIFUL THING by Leo Villareal (that’s a person, not a football team).
It’s called Cylinder II, the first exhibit in Light Show, and you can’t tell from the photo but it moves like the most gorgeous cascade of rain and fireworks and shooting stars and neurons and waterfalls and big eyes and arrows and sucky growy things and tidal waves and sci-fi iris scanners and it’s just the most engaging, the most calming thing I’ve seen in a very long time. I returned to it after looking round the rest of the exhibition and heard a young couple having the most intense post-break-up talk, about how she wants to go travelling and it’s important that she does it on her own and how he just wants her to be happy and would never hold her back and about how they both thought that the other was the person they had always wanted to be with until it turned out that they didn’t.
Every so often one of them would say “Shall we keep moving?” and the other would reply “No, it’s nice here, looking at this together.”
Something that happened to me before the Lichtenstein exhibition today:
FOR REALZ. I don’t know what drugs they put in it but I’m still a bit shaky from the buzz. That’s apple coleslaw and crispy onion bits on the top. And the sausage… OH SWEET JESUS THE SAUSAGE. Magnificent, succulent, juicy sausage of DREAMS.
Someone I work with came over to say hello at the precise moment that my eyes started rolling back in my head and the coleslaw juice was running freely down my chin, but I just managed to focus on him briefly.
Something that happened to me immediately after the Lichtenstein exhibition today:
Exhibition gift shop. Day.
Strange American Boy: Would you like a postcard?
SAB: Which postcard would you like? I am going to buy you a postcard.
SAB: Choose a postcard. Which would you like?
Me: You… don’t have to buy me a postcard…
SAB: No, no! I’m going to buy you a postcard!
Me: Is this an art project? Am I in an art project right now?
SAB: Choose a postcard!
SAB: If I’m going to buy you a postcard you have to tell me which one!
SAB: I’m going to buy you a postcard because you’re going to buy me… (looks around) this book!
Me: Oh I see. Nice try.
SAB: FFS! The world is a terrible place and is falling apart and no-one trusts each other anymore and, please, CHOOSE A POSTCARD.
Me: I’m not going to buy you that book.
SAB: Listen! Forget I mentioned the book. And BELIEVE ME I am NOT going to buy you a postcard anymore. I just want you to tell me, if I was going to buy you a postcard, which one would you choose? Please.
Me: (pointing to Masterpiece) That one I think. I like what it says about the art world.
SAB: Okay. Thanks. Bye. (sighs)
Me: Bye then.
It was late-opening at the Wellcome Collection last night, which is brilliant and convenient but sadly also brilliant and convenient for all the other millions of people who wanted to stand right in my way. I’ve wanted to see their Death exhibition since it opened, mainly because I’m still living through my early-90s Wednesday Addams phase, but also because ever since I started doing philosophy at uni I’ve been staring down the barrel of my own demise in more ways than one.
Firstly, a little bit about my favourite things in the exhibition. Number one favourite was probably the chemical company calendar from the turn of the 20th century, which had drawings of a skeleton doctor (let’s call him Dr Bonez) going about his important laboratory business. In one image he had uncorked a bottle with his teeth and it looked a bit like a big cork cigar. Pretty sure he was wearing some sort of Hawaiian shirt in another. Every day is a holiday with Dr Bonez! Turns out the company that released the calendar were inadvertently poisoning people a la Erin Brockovich though, so Doc’s lab rave ended pretty swiftly.
My second favourite thing was a huuuuuuuuuuuge skull made out of plasticine - yes PLASTICINE - by the Mondongo Collective, which was like the kind of set I imagine they build for creepy Eastern European kids animations; all Death Eaters and reclining maidens and Russian palaces and, brilliantly, a collection of classic literature, all presented as a big skull-shaped relief on a PACMAN BACKDROP. The picture below doesn’t do it justice because it’s fucking MASSIVE (frankly, the lighting in the gallery didn’t do it many favours either), but it’s the kind of thing I could look at for days.
And my third favourite thing is more like a collection of things which I have curated in my own head. “Meg’s Exhibition of Dead People in Unlikely Poses”. The image at the top of this post is by a Mexican artist called Marcos Raya, and don’t even try to tell me that it’s not hilarious. He’s done a whole series of these portraits as ‘commemoration’ pieces and each one is fascinating. Pretty sure one of them was even called ‘Grandma’ or ‘Granny’ or something. I guess it’s the next best thing if you can’t afford to have your loved ones taxidermied. Then there were pictures of guys from the 40s and 50s posing with education skeletons dressed as postmen and stuff. Every do is a stag do when you have your arm round a skeleton. If I had a skeleton I wouldn’t be able to leave the house because I’d be too busy designing LOL outfits for it and sharing on Instagram.
I guess all that skeleton stuff was really where the exhibition fell down though. Too many skulls. As imagery, they’re compelling and universal, but so many of the works on show were just different ways of presenting a skull. Maybe they should’ve had a Skull Room, and then a Funeral Room, and then a Creeping Existential Despair Room full of people in black smoking Gitanes. I don’t suppose it’s fair to knock the Wellcome Collection for sticking closely to their medical remit, so I won’t, I’ll just make sure I spend some quality time playing The Cure and reading Sartre to this skeleton I’ve just bought off Ebay.
Yoko Ono is WONDERFUL. She is one of the most entertaining people in the entire history of popular culture. She is the original and best troll. She INVENTED trolling.
She trolled post-war Britain by not being white enough for one of their working class heroes. She trolled the art world by turning her practice into a single durational piece about widowhood. She trolls twitter daily with all her “Go outside and post a bit of your soul to the clouds” gubbins. Now she’s trolling fashion with a new collection of clothes originally designed for John Lennon. There is a recurring ‘motif’ of a crotch-grabbing hand. One outfit features NIPPLE BELLS. It really is the most coherent, joined-up trolling campaign we’ve yet seen in the media age.
I love her.
I dunno if I’m hormonal or a bit unwell or still coming down from Tino Sehgal yesterday, but I just sobbed through most of the Marina Abramovic documentary that was shown on BBC4 this week. Proper shoulder-shaking stuff. I love her.
In 2009 I was working for Manchester International Festival and I passed her ticket for Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson to her in the foyer of the Palace.
If you’re quick (and in the UK), you can see the doc here.
Lovely lovely lovely lovely day. I knew it would be, of course. I love a day trotting round London seeing great stuff, and now that I live closer I can squeeze more in. I started with Rain Room at the Barbican, by Random International, which had the nasty surprise of a SECOND queue after the first bloody queue, but which was loud enough to drown out any impatient voices inside my head. I expected the best thing about it to be standing bone dry in the middle of a thunderstorm, but the actual best bit was definitely the almighty fucking racket that it made. I really wanted to do some shouting but I’m too middle-class for that. (NB: I didn’t end up staying dry because I was dicking about round the edges trying to outwit the sensors and got a face-full of cold water. I expect it served me right.)
Next up was Beautiful Burnout by NTS and Frantic Assembly, which is a show I’ve wanted to see for ages (a couple of years?) so I was mega-excited when they released extra tickets for this run just last week, although NEVER LET YOURSELF FORGET that a last-minute Wednesday matinee undoubtedly means TEENAGERS. They only managed to ruin the first five minutes and then THE MOST MOVING PART OF THE WHOLE SHOW though, so I guess theatre won in the end. Beautiful Burnout was great. It’s won design plaudits and the boxing sequences were dynamic as fuck (it’s more like Danny Boyle than Danny Boyle is these days) but it was Bryony Lavery’s script that made it. I’ve never not cried at one of her shows. (OH GOD DO YOU REMEMBER KURSK?! *dies of sobbing*)
After that I got the tube back into central London and went to the Tate Modern to catch Tino Sehgal’s Turbine Hall thing, which was only tagged onto today when I realised I’d have a couple of hours free and a budget of ZERO POUNDS with which to fill them.
INCREDIBLE, LIFE-AFFIRMING, OVERWHELMING, HEART-BURSTING AMAZINGNESS. If anything, these words aren’t strong enough. There is no emoticon I can enter here to do it justice. I was so unprepared for the way it would make me feel. I can’t even bring myself to do my usual double-thumbs-up cliché and say I have a “MASSIVE TINO SEHGAL BONER RIGHT NOW” because that somehow cheapens (can’t think how) what I experienced.
I’m going to try not to spoil this too much with details because YOU HAVE TO GO (I’m going to ban you from this blog if you don’t and don’t think I won’t find out if you lie to me) but, basically, when I first arrived the performers were kind of darting around like starlings. After a while they’d enveloped me where I was standing and started to slow down. One man came and spoke to me. After a while they moved a bit more, forming groups and changing speeds and just the sight of them flocking was mesmerising. They came together in a kind-of religious chant and the lights flickered and I spent what could have been anywhere between 5 and 25 minutes talking to another guy about sexuality and friendship and they swirled around me some more and I spoke to someone else about racism and they moved around a bit and I moved around a bit and another performer told me about being reminded to face the world with both eyes open and there was some more singing and whispering and… it was just WONDERFUL. Eventually the gallery was kicking out and the last performer I spoke to walked me up the ramp and out of the door and it was as if I’d just been to some new-age therapy session that had given me this incredible epiphany about how I interact with EVERYTHING.
I was beaming like Yuri fucking Gagarin while I walked over the bridge to get the tube, thinking about how I’m going to start ENCOUNTERING things more when all of a sudden my mate Amy from Leicester fucking APPEARS like she’d been BEAMED DOWN FROM THE ART WORLD and then when I’d left her I saw these teenage skaters comforting a mate that’d skid his balls across his griptape or something and the whole world was a happier place. Seriously. GO TO THE TINO SEHGAL THING. It’s only on until the end of the month. It’s twenty past midnight right now so you could book a train ticket online now and get up and go straight there in the morning. Other stuff can totally wait.
So I kind of floated to the Soho for I Heart Peterborough by Joel Horwood and it took me until the first ten mins or so to recalibrate myself with the narrative. One boy grows up gay in a town that’s changing around him, and his accidental son grows up with (I think) Asperger’s (Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional) and the two gradually work out how to live their lives and live together and live in Peterborough, with all its boredom and unhappy endings. The power of this show wasn’t in its big overaching solutions to life’s ultimate questions maaaaaan, but in the details that grounded it in these two very particular human lives. Two very different members of Peterborough’s disenchanted. One who lip-synced at a LoveFilm office party and another who bit into a pig’s heart. It was funny and sad and very very well written. After the show I tracked Joel Horwood down, bulldozed the conversation he was having and gave him a curly-wurly from my rucksack (NOT a euphemism), for I now live a life filled with ENCOUNTERS.
Following on nicely from my last misery post, I would like to talk about Grayson Perry.
So, first night back with my folks after, ummm, SIX YEARS, and I asked if it would be okay to watch the Grayson Perry documentary at 10; the one about art and class. Mum was all like “yeah sure as long as it’s cool for me to watch Eastenders then Holby then that thing about lawyers first” and then Dad came in and said “so, I might listen to a thing on the radio later if anyone fancies it”, at which point Mum and I barked our telly schedule at him and he remembered he was, once again, outnumbered.
I like Grayson Perry. And culture and taste and class and judgement is my absolute favourite thing ever. As it was starting I could feel my AESTHETICS BONER swelling in my pants and I started to garble stuff about Pierre Bourdieu at Mum in between my shallow breaths. And then I was just a bit disappointed by it. As a three-parter, he’s only covered ‘working-class’ taste so far, although it felt a lot more like a series of observations about identity than any real exploration. But then, what can you do with an hour of telly time?
At the end though, after I’d posted a few tweets basically saying “yawn football fake eyelashes blah”, there was a gallery opening that all the show’s participants attended. Grayson Perry had designed a tapestry which was inspired by them all; their ornament collections and nights out and working mens’ clubs. And everyone was just falling to pieces with happiness and emotion. I thought the tapestry was gorgeous, and infinitely meaningful, but these people saw themselves in it. The club singer just kept saying how moved he was by how Perry had portrayed him, and the girls in the little going-out dresses were reminded of all the fucking sweet times they’d had. And there was a mum whose kids had gone to university and he’d recreated their graduation photographs. That’s the bit that gave me a pang, if only because I’m going to be that girl in a few weeks. And I remembered that the reason I’m doing this, living back with my folks for the summer, is because I’m going to go and do an MA in Aesthetics and I’m going to articulate the feeling that those people in that tapestry experienced when they saw it for the first time. That connection and understanding that makes you want to cry a little bit. I felt it when I saw the Manic Street Preachers fan art in Jeremy Deller’s retrospective, and in the folk songs from the Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by the National Theatre of Scotland, and in that final act of Love Love Love by Mike Barlett. It’s that “you’ve made this beautiful thing just for me” feeling. If it means I can go on to understand it better and explain it better and help people make connections with all the fucking beautiful things, then that’s more than worth a few months in your parents’ spare room.
Sandbach is hardly fucking Syria. Oh WOE IS ME, I’ve been woken up by the bastard HORSES trotting too loudly down the street AGAIN.
I went to the Art & Design Foundation show at uni today. I needed to clear my head after a few days up north receiving regular updates from Dad about his Amazon chart position and trying not to get exasperated at the endless questions about my future plans. They’re great, my folks, but bloody hell. If ever there is a time that you don’t want to talk about your future, it’s when you have no job and no money and almost nowhere to live.
So I made it home to Leicester just after lunch and went for a head-clearing wander round the art building. Things there was a lot of:
Skinny students doing MySpace poses with slogans about eating disorders painted over their faces.
Birds. Birds on tote bags, wallpaper, sewn onto textile thingies, sculpted, stuffed, ‘deconstructed’. A fucktonne of birds.
Things cut out of books. Trees, words, shapes, more fucking birds. Lots of those scenes made out of books that used to fill up Tumblr in 2009.
Dolls and toys and shit. Melted together, photographed on park benches, just generally screaming I AM A SYMBOL FOR PAEDOPHILIA DONCHAKNOW.
There was some fantastic stuff though. A couple of life paintings that weren’t a million miles away from Lucian Freud stuff, although they’d been hung in the stupidest place. I can’t share a picture here because you either had to look at them from within 3 inches or from a football pitch away. An installation featuring stills from ChatRoulette, and a series of relief paintings of a vagina in about a gazillion different shades (lol students). My three favourites are here, displayed using only the finest flash-free mobile phone technology:
These are part of a series of 7 canvases by Mollie Williams. They remind me of Francis Bacon and the cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King. I like to think that I would do something like this if everything I ever painted didn’t accidentally go brown.
These ones are by Levikha Farrell. I wouldn’t normally go for stuff like this but I thought the poses were really striking and the finish was very high quality. You can’t really tell from the tiny photos but she’s enhanced photographs with outlines and stuff. Makes me think of the animation in A Scanner Darkly or Waltz With Bashir. They really stood out after acres of paper birds.
And these were probably my number one favourites, by Florence Brewin. The sticker thing said “lens-based” but part of the attraction is that I don’t really know what they are or how she made them. There’s something a bit death-masky about the middle one. Plus I love colourful stuff, stuff that isn’t birds.