How long does it take to make your mind up about something? I consider myself to be quite a good decision-maker. By “good”, I generally mean quick. I have decided to move into houses based solely on the way the landlord opens the door. I try on and buy my winter coat every year in the space of about six minutes, depending on the till queue. I can tell you if I would sleep with someone after the first 0.45 seconds of first laying eyes on them.
I have learned tonight, however, that 25 minutes isn’t long enough to come to any sort of value judgement about Silver Swan at the Tate Modern. It’s a re-staging of Clod Ensemble’s 1999 voice-and-body thing that involves a 7-piece female choir accompanied by some dancers who move a bit like clowns and a bit like pissheads. That’s definitely the right way round; it really feels like the dancers are accompanying the music. In the Turbine Hall at Tate it becomes an enormo-work about scale and grandeur and humanity, as everything does in there, and it certainly sounds beautiful, but as a 20-something heathen with no real knowledge or experience of modern classical music, I needed it to be 90 minutes rather than 25. All I can tell you for sure is that I was really starting to get into it by the end. :(
(Swan attack LOL)
Lyrics from the songs that inspired the show were printed in the programme, and this one has made a bit of an impression on me. It’s either by John Smith or William Lawes or John Smith AND William Lawes but I can’t tell you for certain because searching for “John Smith” in conjunction with anything is a long and winding road TO DESPAIR.
THE SILVER SWAN
The silver swan who living had no note
‘till death approached unlocked her silent throat
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore
She sang her first and last and sang no more
Farewell all joys
Death come close my eyes
More geese than swans now live
More fools than wise
Beautiful innit. It brings out the 15yo emo in me. Also reminds me a lot of my favourite ever poem, We’ll Go No More A-Roving by Lord Byron, which is only marginally less depressing.
(Okay, so the internet says that The Silver Swan was actually by a dude called Orlando Gibbons, which I’m sure we can all agree is a vastly more Googleable name than John Smith.)
Some other things that have been rendered irrelevant by juxtaposition against the genius of Jeremy Deller
I also saw the Royal Academy’s David Hockney exhibition, Brightly-coloured Paintings of Trees. That guy fucking LOVES trees. Sadly, I don’t love trees nearly enough for them to pacify my wish to MURDER EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERSON THERE. It was the most over-crowded exhibition I have ever endured, full of KNOBHEADS. There was one fit dad there who was talking to his kids about the different types of brushstroke in the paintings though, so that was cool. If only Hockney was more like Jeremy Deller, Fit Dad would have been the focus, but instead we got another fucking room full of tree paintings and knobheads. His films were good to be fair. If only all the knobheads had pissed off, I could’ve really enjoyed chilling out and watching those.
(Hockney and some trees.)
David Shrigley, on the other hand, is one of my favourite artists. Certainly, he’s one of the artists whose work I am most familiar with, because of all the lols. I love lols, me. Unfortunately for him, I went round his exhibition immediately after having my mind completely blown by the Jeremy Deller stuff on the ground floor. I should really have done them the other way round. Shrigley’s stuff was as amusing as ever (particularly the animation of the square guy getting his corners filed off by his new circular ‘friends’), but when you’ve just watched a film about the 1984 miners’ strike, it all feels a wee bit trivial.
OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU JEREMY DELLER
And finally, Tacita Dean in the Turbine Hall at Tate. I’d convinced my parents it was worth going to the Tate Modern purely to “whizz round the gift shop quickly” as they were flagging and had started to say worrying things about going back to the hotel for “a pre-dinner lie-down”. Therefore, I didn’t really have an opportunity to settle in and enjoy the Tacita Dean projections for long. They looked fucking lovely though. I’ve been to the Tate Modern countless times, but always forget how big the Turbine Hall is. It starts to shrink in my memory every time I leave, so the pillar of colour installed by Dean is a pretty incredible sight, for reasons of scale alone.
Ummm, what else did I see this weekend…? We went to the British Museum, which is full of pots and old bits of marble. The Lewis Chessmen were my favourite because they look so beautiful, and I like the Parthenon bits because time goes blurry for me beyond a certain point (somewhere around 1650), and things start to get conceptual, like when Brian Cox talks about how far away Pluto is and a nation of women spontaneously orgasms. Covent Garden is still quite nice, although the knobheads turn up at about 11am (probably straight from Hockney at the Royal Academy) so you have to be quick. Oh, and I like mushrooms now, because we went out for dinner and they brought me mushroom risotto instead of seafood, and I’d nearly finished it before I’d noticed.
For the Tate Modern’s Gallery Assistants, Cornelia Parker’s installation was a real money earner. Positioned, as they were, to prevent the room becoming overcrowded, subtle crowd control was administered until, nearing closing time, the client arrived to an empty wing.
Cornelia Parker had steamrollered her silver items; dinner sets, jewellery, trombones… naming the work in progress after the payment made to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus. She hung each piece just a few inches from the ground, in clusters, and shadows fell on the laminate floor. With the potential to swing and clatter and chime and tangle, the installation was still and silent and unemotional.
That is, of course, until the arrival of the client, and the whisper that set them apart from the thousand other visitors.
While the rest of the gallery emptied, the tills ringing with highbrow books and cut-price postcards and the Southbank filling with chatter and cagoules, the client removed her shoes and socks, and sprayed her fingers with antibacterial gel. Carefully, she stepped over the rope cordon, and breathed out for five whole seconds. She had come straight from the office; told no-one of her appointment.
Like a harpist, she began by gingerly plucking one thread, attached to a heavy plate. The plate rocked slightly, and the items around it tinkled. With more confidence, she bent to pick up a teaspoon, pulling it away from its family and watching it clatter back down, swinging around the wiry huddle until it crashed and swayed and the client crumpled her nose and grinned, raising both shoulders as if weathering a rock-fall. The Gallery Assistant smiled back.
With her arms behind her now, she walked forwards, fingers strumming at the hanging threads until her feet were surrounded by a mass of silver waves, clinking and shunting one another to and fro. This continued for several minutes, her rapture never vocalised, but always obvious. She walked up and down, and then across each row, pulling at the wires, listening to the chiming become louder and louder.
As the silver settled, the client lay on her back, crumpling her suit jacket but not giving a toss. She fidgeted until her head was below one of the swinging clusters, and her eyes moved back and forth, as if watching a tennis match gradually shrink.
When the room was silent again, she sat up slowly, and the Gallery Assistant returned her footwear. Smiling, she passed him one thousand pounds in folded notes, and said her thank yous. The Gallery Assistant simply nodded.