5-27 MAI 2001 Republic of Leather (People’s), Generator, Dundee. [Co-curator mit Alex Pollard et Kunstler]
Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters
Bureaucracy is specifically rational in the sense of being bound to intellectually analysable rules; while charisma is specifically irrational in the sense of being foreign to all rules. Within the sphere of its claims, charisma concurrently repudiates and rejuvenates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.
Kerry McKenzie and Nichola Farquhar
Horrified visitors watched helplessly at Transmission in Glasgow this July, as Charisma wilfully produced It May Be A Year Of Thirteen Moons But It’s Still The Year Of Culture. The temperature averaged 63F, but was set to fall below zero in January. Keith Farquhar and Lucy McKenzie’s confidently resketched Celtic font gallery sign, How Long Can We Keep This Up? (2000), was officially unveiled by local DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim-of-Stevens of Radio Clyde 261 and furtive painter Jack Vetriano, who arrived on a BMW Motor Scooter Called ‘Charisma.’ Curators Farquhar and McKenzie, holding no convictions concerning the ultimate futility of vision, fulfilled their quest for an art which exploits the illusory character of history based on conquest and the mysteries of a not so distant cultural past. Charismavergangenheitsbewaltigung.
Combining innovation and commitment, Charisma’s Procrustean bed revisits Patrick Geddes’ dream of a vernacular Scots Renascence at the turn of the nineteenth-century. In the foyer, McKenzie exploits her dubious technical facility; the diagrammatic renderings in her Mockintosh doors, Force the Hand of Chance 1900 (2000), painted guidance lash with Channel mascara and egg yolk, are redolent adornment, separate from the half glimpsed, the IKEA, the indiscreet face-lift. With an astonishing clairvoyance in divining the original meaning of the fragment, they suggest the proto-feminist symbolist roots of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s aesthetic in the biological art of his wife Margaret, her sister Frances Macdonald and in the Scots Renascence fascination with the magical asceticism practised by magicians and heroes. McKenzie hollered: “Like Socialist Realism’s combination of avant-gardism and ‘anti-novelty’ formal means, such manifestations of charisma were expressions sketched by Charisma to radically frustrate the fans of these means of communication. They promote, at little expense, an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favourably for the introduction of a few new notions of pleasure, visibility, mystery and enigma. In order to reach a conclusion such objections must be cast aside without explanation.”
Farquhar’s Polymorph Moderne: Sex in Scotland (2000) is adjacent, a stylish transformation of plastic multi-vitamin tubes into stalagmites. Accompanying them on the carpeted floor are a number of paper arrows and a feminist symbol, fashioned by carefully spilled red wine, a diagrammatic, disruptive sort of abstention buried deep in shagging pile. Inscrutable historical
exegesis takes us to Ken Currie’s painting Sex in Scotland, which hangs in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. As Farquhar, speaking for the first time since July, explains: “Hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain us to beguile them with proceedings which – how shall I say – may at first, and to the herd, seem unreasonable. For example, Peter Mandelson’s habitual modernisation of the Labour Party allows one’s precognition to hypothesise a queer negation of Scots-Irish patriarchy which, in time, is distilled into a concrete refusal to put up with out-of-fashion sex.” Farquhar, who has made a full recovery and is on holiday at Dougie Donnelly ‘s yacht The Sterling of Tillicoutry in Majorca, has a message of hope for cosmopolitan, nouveau riche Scotland. “Red wine is a catalyst for sexual and revolutionary consciousness. Moderne reason will stray in the night without end of the abyssal depths, until, like Bergerac after a successfully solved case, it sips cold, clear, alcohol-free champagne.”
Farquhar exhibits alongside Steven Campbell’s early New Glasgow Boy oil paintings Man with Spiral Tree (1983) and To the North with Good Luck (1983). Significantly, Campbell was showing at Transmission for the first time, and it’s no accident that Thirteen Moons resembles his maverick installation at the Third Eye Centre On Form and Fiction (1990). Tiger Tim’s bitter exchange with Campbell is very informative: “You look a wee bit like Van Helsing. Only because of the beard. Why do you give Van Helsing a goatee? He doesn’t have one in the book. He has to have some kind of charismatic authority. Is that what gives you your authority? It is, aye. Without the beard, I’d go to pieces. What gives this man his authority? I was wondering. It’s my goatee. If that came off I’d suddenly look like a steel fitter again.” Campbell returned to Scotland from New York in 1986, disgusted at the “horribly engineered” qualities of American art. Given this outburst, unprecedented in modern times, it is unsurprising that his performance-based paintings were spurned by the Glasgow art world throughout the 1990s, his oeuvre systematically excluded from critical debate, forever typecast as ‘neo-expressionist’ opportunism.
Charisma, had looked for guidance from Ronnie Heeps who perceived Campbell’s neo-expressionist bedfellow to be Markus Selg. But the Deutsch Britische Freundschaft in Selg’s case was beautiful urban-pastoral serendipity. Selg’s contribution also proposes ways to invest existing, cobwebbed ideas and concepts with youthful vigour. His computer Inkjet print Untitled (2000) has the same pose and personal metaphor as Campbell, but his figures are workers at the ‘WeltAustellung’ and relate more to Currie’s large-scale groupings. Constructivism and all-over avant-garde are put to the test. LEF magazine, with Rodchenko at its head, had attempted to continue the psyche-revolutionising Russian experiment, only to consistently revert to pictorialism and figuration within the magazine’s photo editorials and graphic designs. This conflict is internalised within Selg’s prints. However, it must be pointed out that Charisma’s relationship to the ‘worker’ is in almost binary opposition to Currie’s, and the proletariat is seen for what it is; that which is to be BLASTED, along with the middle classes, the aristocracy and the intelligentsia.
Via the Neue-Sachlichkeit, Campbell’s work finds strong parallels with that of Albert Oehlen, who exhibits Untitled (1981), a painting of a dinosaur. Oehlen judgements are inherently charismatic, newly created from case to case and regarded as revelations: “Consecrate the furrier who is our neighbour in the Street Robertson. Consecrate Go-Kart Mozart in his high rise mud hut. Consecrate the Obliterati. Farbe mit Ihren Brüsten. (Paint with your tits.)” Unlike Campbell, however, Oehlen and his fellow German Jungen im Band, (‘Boys in the Band’) received serious critical applause, scooping a top spot in a poll of feuding critics exercising their conjugal rights. Charisma explain that “this is partly due to his participation in an artistic group, based around himself and his brother Markus, Martin Kippenberger and Werner Butner. The myth and story attached to this group today serves as a model for all whose art world is based around camaraderie, genuine subversion or personal affinities, rather than the conventional, linear system of galleries, dealers and magazines.” Jungen im Band, then, was a charismatic community based on an emotional form of communal relationship while the New Glasgow Boys were curatorial fabrication, opening them to attack from rational authorities. As ever, money was a factor nevertheless, and like Campbell, these artists capitalised on eccentricity. As Oehlen put it: “Money is the essence, alien to man, of his labour and existence, my dear. And this strange creature dominates him and makes him pay. And the people that nowadays let it and its dirty little devils loaf around are just as dirty themselves and are heading in the same direction. If you want to find many of these flies: churches and their shit are full of them. But this creature always likes to send his dirty little flying devils to your centre, always, if you let it, so you have to learn how to scare them off and get rid of them, and not let the bloody little beasts laze about and hatch the devil’s excrement, all right?”
One time assistant of Kippenberger and Oehlen, Merlin Carpenter only agreed to leave behind the London sunshine after visiting Glasgow and falling in love with Berlin. Carpenter’s cars and girls painting Controller (1999-2000) combines the luxury of X and the plastic vigour of Y with the ferocious single-mindedness of the possessed. In an act of charismatic authority, Carpenter appropriates Martin Boyce’s metal Charles Eames Chair (Noir) (1999), displaying it as an expendable luxury analogous with the reified ciphers found in his paintings. Placed within the well-manicured organogram of Thirteen Moons, Carpenter’s Chair (Noir) (2000) becomes part of the exhibition’s metonymy, synecdoche, and homonomy; their combination increasing its entire ambiguities. Carpenter deems mediation inescapable. Trying to produce an earnestly meaningful image is an endeavour riddled with holes; clichés can be utilised to make an image meaningless: “Paintings are also mediated and overdetermined images. They are as stupid and as mediated as car advertisements. An abstract painting is the same type of cliché. I have an interest in 80’s approaches to art; in making big objects, filling them with empty signification and seeing what happens. But at this point in time it’s a quote about the 80s, it’s not the 80’s themselves.” As Campbell put it “Falling and tripping up was an art, you know, not moving gracefully.” Fearing such supernatural powers, Vetriano burned down the Celtic Charisma banner shortly after the exhibition opened. He said: “It’s a wonderful gesture from people who were obviously close. I were delighted to help. I will be forever united with their supreme quintessence.”
In or around the time that Ronnie Heeps started painting, everything in the world as we knew it changed. Knowledge immediately became amorphous, inhabiting many categories simultaneously. Unlike in those days of yore, we no longer know who we are, where we are, or where we are going. We are even unsure of the time or the year. Heeps’ dissolving photomontages – incorporating intelligent lighting, slide projectors and computers – now form the technical basis for computer-generated preparatory sketches for traditionally executed oil paintings. Everything seems so real. In our reverie we feel frightened and alone. It seems that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor babies who think night is day, will be able to save us from entropy.
In Heeps’ paintings entropy occurs when translating across media and platforms such as photography, digital imaging and oil-on-canvas. As a technical strategy this subverts the work at each stage in its evolution, ensuring disequillibrium in the finished paintings. Navigation aids are not required, for as Heeps subtly suggests, his paintings simultaneously promise victory over death:
Truly, truly, I say to ye, ye who sees my paintings and believes that I painted them most judiciously, (and did not contrive them merely to make a point about the relativities of pictures to the competencies and interests of viewers and to the worlds in which those pictures are viewed,) has eternal life; ye who judge them kindly passeth from death to life.
In the future, those seeking to find their place in the sun at Heeps’ exhibitions will be required to join a large group of prospective kung fu apprentices, and listen to the captious yet cultivated views of The Master. The Master is a bad man, very strong and evil. The Master teaches that viewers are not important, if any of them died then and there, no one would think twice. Another and I momentarily manage to slip out of this gathering. I know him, but not well. We quietly discuss the relationship between Heeps’ bricolage and the kind of derision, cynicism or pastiche commonly associated with such methods. “Seeking to stress the triviality of art, digital artists have tended to adopt a semiological approach as a basis for a deconstructive theory of the image”, proposes the postulant apprentice. We disagree on the extent to which Heeps adheres to this tradition. “The collapse of analogue codes lead to his use of the atavistic found image”, he undertones. “That which is most Dark drinks the Milk of Human Kindness”, I reply as I leave the gallery.
The Schoolhouse opens to a hilltop, with a large pond and a large rock in the centre. The water is shallow, and reeds grow all around the edges of the water. An injured Vladimir Trechikoff lands in the pond with an acrid pop. The kick has shocked him more than hurt him. As he shakes it off, The Master and his men make their way to the edge of the pond. I follow them. Following their rapid consumption of copious quantities of Freeze Dried Nationalism, I note that their morphological procedure becomes predominately one of organising kicks and punches into an objective and structured form, endowing the expressive with a banal everydayness.
Green around the gills, Trechikoff says sardonically “I could have saved myself, you know,” and holds up a book he had been carrying. On the cover in bold writing is The Rough Guide to Saving Yourself. Chapter 1: Pissed Off? Change Your Image… is promptly followed by the Conclusion: Give People the Products They Really Want. As Trechikoff and I make our way to the bus stop, we hear the amorphous beauty of Heeps’ paintings receiving rapturous applause from the remaining joyous kung-fu apprentices. They will forever be united with their supreme quintessence.
In order to say to you the truth, we did not have any intention of writing anything. But our respected Fowler forced us by his bare strength thus for writing. “Make a good essay”, he demanded. What are we to write approximately, exactly which sort of writing? Everything that had to be said before has already been said and said by us. Of course we could form a bright assortment of writing overall, about everything. (laughter) Possibly such writing would amuse the reader. They say that there are not only also some large hands at such writing there, but here too. (laughter and applause) However first of all we are not large hands at such writing. Secondly is it worthwhile indulging in amusing things even now when all of us are, as they say, “up to our, necks” in blood? I think not. Clearly, you cannot form good writing under such circumstances. (Loud applause)
We are thus contented to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for social engineering in the history of the world. (Loud ovation) Five score years ago, someone, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed a cheque. This momentous sum of cash came as a great beacon of hope to millions of free people, who had been cooled by the fridge of justice. (Loud applause) It came as a joyous sleep to end the long day of their autonomy. One hundred years later, the Social Engineer is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the artist is still happily crippled by the umbilical cord of gold. (Sobbing)
Can Social Engineering protect beauty and truth? Most experts correspond in the fact that it needs adjustment. What they disagree on however, is the level of adjustment and whether we must privatise the system in order to abuse it. Focusing on the question of the system’s solvency, top international artists, critics, curators and business leaders have explored miscellaneous reform and privatisation proposals, highlighting East Timor’s experiment with Social Security and Gallery privatisation, a policy change that has proven successful for that country. (Applause) We kept hearing plebeians complain about “social engineering.” We are far from sure what they mean by this, but there’s one thing that we do know and that’s that it’s easy to trace ‘social engineering’ back to the Ten Commandments. We’re no anthropologists. We’re in favour of police protection and the regulation of interest rates. You may take it for granted that we are able to ignore our duties to the people (applause), to the middle class (applause), to the underclass (applause) and to the intelligentsia. (applause.)
In remarks at the opening of an international dialogue on Social Engineering reform held at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow, we saw that our own greatest opportunism and obligation was to save Social Security:
“Since the mid-1970s the battle against inflation has meant abandoning the post-war consensus commitment to full employment set out in the Conservative Government’s 1944 White Paper on employment policy. Those who remain in work have been faced with a screw down on the rate of wage increases aimed primarily at restoring private sector profitability. From the early 1970s, mass youth unemployment has been a new phenomenon which will not go away. What is to be done? The obvious solution is to use youth culture to clothe the economic situation. Youths who grew up in the 1970s were the first generation forced to grow up without work, to be defined by the government as a new under-class, a permanent source of ‘cheap surplus labour’ perpetually excluded from society in order to squeeze down wages and inflation. Nevertheless, leaving the younger population with little to do, the economic crisis of late 1970s spawned a peculiar subcultural mix of 60s arty revolt and early 70s nihilism, generating the 80s art and design boom. As a result, mass awareness of the protracted economic crisis thankfully seems a long way off! It may well return in the near future, but for the moment, everyone is naturalised to harsh economic ‘medicine’, and as such artists’ initiatives still look like a hearty refusal to bow to the pressures of the market. Predominately reliant on state benefits to continue their work, callow artists offer hope of renewal and growth in an otherwise irredeemable ‘mass-civilisation’, a means of conserving the imaginative values and energies that transcend the mere instrumental reason which is the characteristic malaise of modern culture. Gaining secure, intellectual employment while being subsided by a state bureaucracy, such artists are clearly model ‘citizens’.”
It is customary among us to refuse responsibilities. We accept them unwillingly. (Loud and prolonged applause.) We would like to persuade you, that you might safely rely on us. (Loud and sustained ovation)
We present further spuriously potted historical justification of our findings as interpellation:
1. Art as a form of radical social protest. The artist is seen as a hero or as a victim of social injustic
2. Artists as protectors of society, or as intellectual Supermen.
3. The idea that the Superman artist might operate above or outside the processes of history.
4. The attempt to break these rules on the ground that their products were too homogeneous to justify the growth of the arts administration sector.
5. Some artists are now different from others. Such a statement needs not so much justification as definition. A Department of Social Security poll of the main features of two kinds practice shows that they are really not the same article with a different label.
Artist may be a professional or amateur, and if amateur may sign on or be retired, or get involved by chance. Always the centre of the gallery’s action, most often the hero, yet rarely a keen observer who notices things missed by others.
Often no artist. Occasionally an artist runs through a series of proposals, but rarely shows as a brilliant-thinking machine. Most often the artist is just somebody to whom things happen.
You know yourselves, that there are black sheep in every international dialogue on Social Engineering reform. (Laughter and applause.) Of people of this indefinite type, people who merely resemble philistines rather than being figures of a vague, uncertain type, we have invented some populist sayings: “A middling sort of character – neither fish nor flesh” (general laughter and applause), “neither a candle for God nor a poker for the Devil.” (General laughter and applause.) Ceaselessly chiding those who still consider Social Security the ‘third rail’ of British Art, we conclude by resolving to make 2000 a year dedicated to raising awareness of the present system but not the ways in which they might exploit it:
“For 156 years or so, Social Security has meant more than a NI number on a tax form, more than even a fortnightly check in the mail to a friend’s address. It reflects our deepest aesthetic values, the duties we owe to our parents, to each other, to our children and grandchildren, to those who misfortune strikes, to our ideals as One Britain. We have a dream today. We have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. It’s a miracle, mir-a-cle / It’s a miracle, mir-a-cle / And dreams are made of emotion.” (Loud ovation, followed by mass rendition of ‘Karma Chameleon’.)
Knock it Out
My work is sort of a ‘reinstallation’ of The Blackfriars Boxing Ring in The British Library. I picture the very special audience of a special boxing fight. About eighty people are packed together to join this spectacle, some are well known, others not (Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Johann Gutenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Dennis Healey, Adolf Hitler, Len Harvey, Henry Cooper, Mohammed Ali, Marie Lloyd, Mata Hari, Richard Wagner, Georg F. Handel, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Bobby Sands, Ho Chi Minh, Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Leo Castelli, Sigmar Polke, Gilbert & George…) From my perspective all are connected to the particular site, to the Southwark area, or to me.
On the tenth floor of Orbit House, an abandoned office block in Blackfriars, Southwark, Thomas Kilpper has produced a four hundred square metre woodcut. For the last five months, carving directly into the mahogany parquet floor of the building, Kilpper has inscribed it with its own histories, presenting a map of the vast socio-cultural, political, and economic changes happening in Southwark over a period of more than two hundred years. We can chart the various changes in social organisation, politics and economics from the Christian uses of the site in the 18th and 19th centuries to the advent of cyber-capitalism presently.
Kilpper’s use of woodcutting, the oldest form of printmaking, is highly significant. Appearing in Europe at the beginning of the 15th century, woodcuts were used to reproduce knowledge, literally inscribing events in history. One of the major shifts in worldview that came with the invention of the printing press in this period was the notion that the natural world is just passively waiting for us to appropriate it. Mapmakers, for example, shifted from the activity of creating artefacts that explained existence to the creation of artefacts that charted the world. In stark contrast, Kilpper’s woodcut is not simply a collection of images that convey information directly from an artist to the viewer. Its primary function is to serve as decoration which pays tribute to the psychogeographies of the site, the complexity of the work mirroring the complexity of these histories. By interlacing and interweaving 80 portraits, Kilpper emphasises that his print is not intended to be a naturalistic representation of the site and surrounding area, but to be schematic and symbolic. Kilpper’s illumination of The Ring, being open to different interpretations, poses allusive and meditative possibilities, making the histories of the area manifest in the subjective mapping process itself.
Kilpper’s narrative commences in 1780 when the octagonal Surrey Chapel was constructed on the site by the charismatic Reverend Rowland Hill, who was known to draw congregations of over 1000 to his services. The chapel was eventually abandoned in 1890 when it became Green & Sons Ltd. Engineering, and then a furniture warehouse in 1905. Between 1907 and 1909 the building was converted into one of London’s first cinemas, returning it to its original function as an arena of glamour, ritual and escape. Kilpper’s interest in the relationship between spectacle and the historical erasure tallies well with this period of cinematic history. At the beginning of the C20th actors were rarely given credit for their film work. Many of the early actors came from a theatre background, wherein film work was considered inferior. Often they did not want to be recognised in the films. The mapping of this era is, therefore, necessarily schematic.
Designated as an entertainment venue, the building became the popular boxing arena known as The Ring. From 1910 to 1940, it played host to some of the most famous boxers in London. During this period sports such as boxing became one of the central sites in the social production of masculinity in Western societies. Many attempts had previously been made to link combative sports with moral strength – such as in the ‘muscular Christianity’ espoused by leading Victorian headmasters. This was particularly conspicuous in the period spanning the two World Wars when the boxing ring became an arena for the development of physical presence, stoic courage in the endurance of pain, and judgement under pressure – unequivocally military values which were then portrayed as essential parts of the achievement of ‘manhood’.
Kilpper weaves the ideological role of boxing with more personal recollections of the sport, representing figures such as Mohammed Ali and Henry Cooper. This again fosters the leitmotif of the relationship between celebrity and historical erasure in The Ring. Boxing fame is particularly fickle and transient. We remember Ali and Cooper but, like greyhounds and racehorses, most boxers come and go. Kilpper draws parallels with the artworld. Kilpper reproduces Leo Castelli alongside Tony Shafrazi and Bruno Bischofberger’s famous poster of Warhol vs. Basquiat (1985) depicting the artists preparing for a boxing match. Like a successful boxing promoter, Castelli’s reputation outlasted his client’s careers. Of unsuccessful abstract expressionists, he once said ‘they accuse me of killing them; they blame me for their funerals. But they were dead already. I just helped remove the bodies.’
During this period the building doubled as a theatre and Music Hall, where the music of Wagner and Handel could be heard. The Old Vic Company – with Robert Atkins and Leslie French – performed Shakespeare’s Henry IV at The Ring. (The original ‘ring’, Shakespeare’s legendary Globe Theatre, had not been reconstructed as yet.) Alfred Hitchcock used The Ring as the set for his 1926 silent movie of the same name, in which a boxer falls in love with the ticket girl. Hilter also left his mark on the site. Nazi air raids struck The Ring twice, bringing an end to boxing and theatre at Blackfriars.
The current office building Orbit House, was erected in the sixties for the Ministry of Defence, commissioned by Dennis Healy to house the secret printing office of The Army. Kilpper illustrates this era by reproducing the first Western representation of a printing office, The Dance of Death (Lyon c.1500). This macabre image raises the history of print as an instrument of control. The Church’s monopoly on information during the manuscript book period, ended with the arrival of print. European nation states flourished as the world could now be mapped without recourse to religious propaganda. The world was no longer unknown, but a manageable, controllable resource to be exploited. (A replica of Francis Drake’s 16th century galleon the Golden Hinde, docked adjacent to Orbit House, testifies to this.) As a Eurocentric world economy flourished, armies and attendant nationalist propaganda were needed to protect and develop the new colonial markets. Thus print liberated and imprisoned simultaneously. As Kilpper observes, newspapers covered the windows of the Ministry of Defence’s secret printing office. The Ring traces the use of print as a means of subjugation during the Ministry of Defence’s occupation, reproducing newspaper images from the Falkland’s war and numerous reports of the troubles in Ulster.
For more than 25 years The British Library’s Oriental Collections Department mainly occupied Orbit House. The production of books and therefore the very existence of libraries are, of course, inseparable from the invention of woodcut technology. In 1452, Johann Gutenberg conceived of the idea for movable type by bringing together technologies of paper, oil-based ink and the winepress to print books. At Bruges in Belgium in 1475 William Caxton and Colard Mansion printed The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book printed in English, thereby heralding the standardisation of the language. Yet the printing press was not a single Western invention but the aggregation in one place, of technologies known for centuries before. The Oriental Collections Department is the home of the Diamond Sutra (868AD), the oldest dated and known woodprinted book of the world, a major source of technical knowledge for European printers. Kilpper simultaneously relates the Diamond Sutra to his own pre-history, to the genealogy of The Ring and to European colonialism.
Kilpper’s father was born in China where his grandfather was a missionary. His father recalls the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising against European encroachments on Chinese territory and against Christian missionary activity. The Boxers formed about 1899 as a secret society, calling itself ‘The Fist of Righteous Harmony’. The Movement, centred in Peking, reached its climax in June 1900. Some Christian missionaries and many Chinese Christians were murdered. Kilpper’s grandfather was kidnapped. Foreign residents and many native Christians took refuge in the British legation, where they made a determined stand against the Boxers. On June 21st China declared war against the western allies. During this fight the allies destroyed Peking’s Summer-Palace. Foreign troops remained in Peking until the peace protocol was signed in September 1901, a severe humiliation to the Chinese. Kilpper’s Mao Tse Tung proclaims: “We took some of your missionaries to the mountains, you took our Diamond Sutra to Europe – we gave them back, you did not…”
Now Orbit House is abandoned and due to be demolished. The landlords intend to erect a new and bigger office building named Southpoint. Costing £90m, this will be the largest private investment in this area of London for 15 years. In such paperless offices, methods of mechanical reproduction such as printing are virtually obsolete. The ‘printed’ word and image are now used for real-time social interaction and for fully individualised navigation through interactive documents. Information flows digitally, making it instant and free, yet unaccountable. Consequently, the era of the nation state is over as we enter the epoch of cyber-colonialism. The might of the fully globalised economy has forced the Southwark area to change as a whole. Nearby Bankside Power Station, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is being converted by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, transforming it from a building planned for an industrialised nation state, to one designed for an information-based global network. The first phase conversion into the Tate Modern will cost £134m. The London Borough of Southwark was a key initial investor, recognising the regeneration and employment potential the scheme offers the area. Typically of service-based economies, Bankside will provide employment but have nothing in common with the district it inhabits. When it is not simply ignored or erased, the history of the ancient market and port of Southwark is being neatly packaged (The Globe, The Clink Prison, the Golden Hinde) as the area is globalised to attract lavish international investment. Since the introduction of the Jubilee Line and the near completion of Norman Foster’s Bankside-City link bridge, the Dickensian alleys look destined for enhanced gentrification. The area’s rich history and plenitude of sights are transforming once again, but not, as The Ring intimates, without a fight.
1999 : An Audiodyssey
I intend Zones to be a subjective audio-visual experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the work. Stephen Hurrell (1999)
‘It’s been a honeymoon – Can’t take no mo.’ Steve Reich City Life (1995)
Taken literally, Audiology is concerned with the rehabilitation of visual and balance disorders. In Zones, this is more quixotically applied to the discoveries arrived at by this type of scientific investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and more generally to situations that reflect the same spirit of discovery. Zones intimates an urban space through a series of sounds, the immediate visual environment, and historical knowledge offered to the passenger. What is created, in effect, are five vignettes concerning the River Clyde, the complex interactions between the passenger’s preconceptions, their cognitive apparatus, the river (with its own dynamics and laws of motion) and the social, political and economic logics of industrial and technological change linking the zones.
Structurally, there is an interconnection between microcosm and macrocosm. A large-scale integration of hundreds of thousands of biological microelectromechanical devices, the inner ear performs remarkable signal processing, detecting motions of the eardrum on the order of picometers much smaller than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. Seasickness easily results from the erratic stimulation to the brain from sensory receptors prompted by constantly changing movement as fluid in the ear’s semicircular canals moves with the body’s motion. In this sense, Zones literally upsets the passenger’s sense of stability and place. On the other hand, Zones connects people through biological microelectromechanical devices and a tangle of wires, melting them into a sonic singularity. Rolling on the river, time and space are elasticised, as Zones occupies and fills heads with a complete, intimate experience. Uniting digital and analogue communication technologies, this emphasises the ways in which information is communicated and stored and the effect this has on our understanding and experience of space and time.
Glasgow’s history stretches back almost two thousand years to when the first settlement, a small salmon-fishing village, established itself at a crossing point on the banks of the River Clyde. Easy access to the western seaways ushered in an era of immense wealth for the capitalists of the city. Shaped by battles, worldwide trade and heavy industry, the Clyde became a truly International river built by genius, full of sound and fury, signifying the world. The Clyde was a torpid stream of life drifting through a resplendent landscape occupied by big cranes. Glaswegians swam in its waters, poled canoes, worked the pastures and the petrified forests along the banks, picked fiddleheads in the spring, and skated over its black ice in the winter. This was a lustrous chimera of sweat and steel jovially populated by workers tenderly crushed by the wheels of industry. People came from Milingavie on Saturdays, shopped in the town and met friends, and retreated to their council tax havens before nightfall. They were connected to one another – by the river.
In Zones, the ‘official’ history of the Clyde co-exists with more personal memories; drawing on the considerable role once played by the river in the lives of Glaswegians, offering tourists flight to West Coast holiday resorts. While Waverley makes the same journey today, the scene has changed dramatically. The shipyards have almost fallen silent and gone are the lines of cargo boats at quaysides. Unchanged are the Finnieston Crane and Dumbarton Rock, yet as ‘dead structures’ – their value being based on signification rather than use – they now only signify themselves. Given that tourists are interested in everything as a sign of itself, a new use has been found for the Finnieston Crane as an example of ‘Glaswegian Industry’ signifying ‘Glasgwegian Industriousness’. Those engaged in reading the riverscape as a sign system representing ‘Glasgwegianess’ must remain deaf to explanations that the City now flourishes on finance, oil exploration, electronics, telecommunications and IT. Of course, culture, leisure and tourism are equally major growth industries. Ironically, as they turn their backs on the river, uber-consumer Glasgwegians rapidly become tourists in their own town, sold on the narcissistic myths of the Second City. As it moves along a serpentine silver thread once a series of stagnant locks, Zones provides audio souvenirs of the mythical heroic period of a river uncorrupted by the banality of digital technology that drives today’s service industries. Yet, as they sail, passengers also hear scanner ‘grabs’ of conversations from live transmissions around the Clyde, intermingled with scripted dialogues based on personal, intimate exchanges. Hearing these conversations through headphones, they cannot distinguish the real from the fabricated, the past from the present, bringing new life to a river banked with self-referential myths.
As the sound and fury of the Clyde becomes part of its myth, dialogues increasingly take place invisibly – through electronic networks. “There seems to be something quite poignant about the empty river Clyde, which used to be so productive, noisy, a community in itself”, observes Hurrell. “Now the activities are hidden behind mirrored glass and the noise is contained and transmitted via technologies which leave no trace of physical human presence.” Accordingly, no sense of destination exists in the narrative sense, the five distinctive zones dovetail together perfunctorily, linked only by a sense of loss: of community, of jobs, of life, of industry, of presence, of ‘real’ interaction. While finding a melancholy grace in the empty river and in the lives of those displaced by change, being lost in the soundscape provided by the headphones echoes the virtual interaction made possible by IT. Hence, while Zones is a communal activity – a pleasure-boat trip – its passengers remain as isolated from each other by the headphones as they are connected. This echoes communication technologies in general, which bring us all together while keeping us apart. The important thing about Zones, then, is its open-endedness. Rather than simply harbour Glasgwegian nostalgia, Hurrell takes us on a generously scripted ride that gives equal berth to the river’s histories, leaving them alive and drifting as it weaves its tale of the Clyde’s cultural landscape.
CLEAN THE CLUTTER AND REPEAT
APRIL 1998 “Glasgow: Onwards and Upwards”, Art Monthly, No.216, May 1998, p26-27. This extended version of this report on the Glasgow appeared in basetext, @ www.succession.uk.com/basetext/
Glasgow’s cultural commissars were smarting this March at the loss of the new parliament to Edinburgh. To make matters worse, Timothy Clifford was refused £30 million Heritage Lottery funding to establish a National Gallery of Scottish Art and Design in Glasgow’s George Square. The same month saw the Edinburgh establishment challenged when Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts and Tramway arts centre both received substantial Scottish Arts Council lottery awards. Tramway’s £2.3 m award will be used to expand its arts spaces, which remain largely unchanged since its origins as a tram depot. Architects Page & Park will be responsible for the £7.5 m re-development of the listed Greek Thompson buildings that comprise the CCA. The CCA has long been in preparation to meet the rigorous assessment it needed to undergo before being allocated its record SAC lottery award. Distinctions between programming departments were eradicated last year with a view to supporting five new performance / exhibition areas, while more flexible and accessible cultural agendas have been pursued.
In order to achieve these ends, however, the CCA has had to provide professional proscriptive cultural pre–sentations. In this, it is not alone. Witness such Edinburgh productions as ‘Natural Science’ at the refurbished Stills Gallery (28th January – 21st March),[i] ‘The Science of the Face’ at the National Portrait Gallery (12th March – 31st May), and ‘Inbreeder’ at the Collective Gallery (21st March – 25th April). The capital is yet to produce anything as sickly as ‘Chocolate’, a sugar-coated pill available for consumption at the Collins Gallery in Glasgow (21st March – 2nd May), although it is highly probable that Andrew Nairne will soon provide a strong challenge to the Central Belt with his new theme park in Dundee.[ii] The anthropological reasoning of the theme-machine has restructured the poorest of art myths, while ensuring that surplus cultural capital is extracted by as few administrators as possible.[iii] Presented as information rather than knowledge, ‘education’ risks being re-established on the pedestal of the very authoritarianism it ought to challenge. Any theme is a boon to outreach programming, which attracts more public funding, which leads to bigger administrations, which need better outreach programmes……[iv]
‘With no commercial gallery infrastructure,’ asserts David Burrows, ‘the power brokers of the country’s art scene are the curators of public institutions and the Scottish Arts Council, which perhaps explains in part Scotland’s cultivation of an institution-friendly form of Conceptualism.’[v] Indeed, established Scottish artists such as Douglas Gordon, Roderick Buchanan and Christine Borland have been producing the kinds of engineered work most eminently compatible with the audience-orientated programming commitments needed to keep public institutions afloat. Their art evokes values of honesty and integrity by way of an illusory simplicity and coolness of tone, limiting themselves to a quantifiable assemblage of denotative thematics. Glasgow Visual Art Projects’ commissioning of Gordon’s Empire, a neon cinema sign situated discreetly in Brunswick Lane, testifies to his user-friendliness. As an example of permanent public art, Empire is a vast improvement on the fascistic monuments customarily favoured by Glasgow City Council, although it guilefully harbours the nostalgic qualities needed to sell it to the narcissistic Second City. Glasgow and Edinburgh do possess an established ‘commercial gallery infrastructure’, although none are as yet willing to deal in conceptual-based works.[vi] Hence, the Modern Institute – established with SAC support by Will Bradley, Toby Webster and Charles Esche – has stepped in to manage this generation of artists. Despite accusatory grumblings of opportunism and nepotism, (Esche is said to have used his tenure at the Tramway to promote this gang of artists), the Modern Institute’s main purpose is magnanimous, as it provides a viable commercial alternative to the contaminations of the private distribution network in London.
While welcoming growth and devolution for the arts in Scotland, Transmission Gallery committee member Robert Johnston is ungratified with some of the work being produced for its promotional sectors: ‘People have been looking at work and saying “that’s a nice idea”. I really hate good ideas. Why not just write them down?’ For Johnston, the demotion of the visceral in established Scottish neo-conceptualism has meant that it is not discordant enough. He has ‘had about enough.’[vii] Certainly, the danger with the current managerial situation in Scotland has been that artists might become content with their allotment rather than continue to explore alternatives. It is therefore crucial that new work not be slurped back into the administrative establishment and absorbed by it. In some quarters of Glasgow there is a will to reassert the opacity of art, and to recover anomaly against the virtue of art as ‘concept’. Transmission exhibitions such as ‘Henry VIII’s Wives’ (until 31st January) and ‘I Love This Life’ (10th February – 7th March) have promoted an interest in work which was not just funny, cynical, clever or weird, but passionate. ‘I Love This Life’ included Micheal Fullerton’s tape of Charlton Heston as the Voice of God (paramount), preserved in a glass wall mounted case as if it were a dead sea scroll. In stark contrast to Lisson object traditionalism, the tape contained no such recording. This had something to do with challenging the fascination with blocking ‘facile’ pleasures, such as identification with the fictional world that makes art possible. Johnston enthuses: ‘The best things in life, and love, are never simple or tidy. The best art can’t be described in a few sentences, if at all. Some times all you can really do is grasp your faith in something, faith that although you don’t quite understand it, it’s worth something, it’s good.’ Fullerton’s Porno, including an abrasive drawing of Siouxsie and the Banshees and a sunrise lamp, fused the Apollonian and Dionysian. The World of Vidal Sassoon, included wall text-pieces celebrating the renowned coiffeur’s resolute political beliefs, and commitment to hairstyling as an expression of freedom. Alongside hung Fullerton’s earnest attempts to represent AC Acoustics, in hair.
If there was an overriding sentiment in ‘I Love This Life’, it was determinedly difficult to grasp. Paul Johnston’s The Most Boring Painting I Have Ever Made, which depicts the top of a cardboard box, was devoid of any traces of lyricism. Yet, simultaneously, the passé proceeduralist mannerisms of much current painting appeared to have been contaminated with a wilful negligence intended to incapacitate those with a penchant for the ascetic. In Jonny Redding’s purposely ingenuous video Hump ‘n’ All, a young boy is ‘cured’ when he uses his hunch-back to save a goal. ‘No hump! No hump! No hump!’, chant his new found friends. Polyvalent, riddled with unofficial inflections, ‘I Love this Life’ provided a complex set of innocent pleasures. The exhibition was less a serious and planned descent into the openly disgusting and dirty, than something intended to be resonant with wonderment, to make seeing oracular again. The production of such a negotiable art surely has much to do with making things than making things up.
Engaging, maximal, emphatically unprofessional, non-technological, non-academic… what more is there to say? This is not the first time artists have sought to function in an alogical space that might resist being colonised by critical agendas. Such work risks turning in on itself, as it has before, becoming auto-erotic, rather than rhetorical. Given that the latest generation suggest that audiences aim to please themselves, we are forced to ask ourselves whether their work is just a means to this pleasure, or a means of pleasing the artist by staving off satiation. For the Transmission’s most recent exhibition, ‘Theme Show’ (April), Alex Frost built a geodesic dome, and spent two weeks living inside it. There is, then, a self-critical awareness that the security of artist-run projects’ can offer a deceptive freedom from intimate control operative in any work situation. Frost seems to relish isolation, which may be welcome only in that it provides respite from playing courtesan to the metropolitan (art)world.
The success of galleries such as Tramway, CCA, and Transmission has created space for smaller venues such as Fly, 18 King Street, Independent Studios, and Free Gallery to provide relatively independent platforms for artists in Glasgow. The independent Glasgow-based Variant magazine recently received some SAC support, remarkable given that its mission has been to challenge the current tendency to ‘stifle any deviation from the cultural packaging and re-packaging of a benign culture of entertainment. This imagined utopia, this Disneyland without the rides, is a product of the repressive prioritisation of public funds which has become social Darwinism run wild.’[viii] This may explain why co-editor Leigh French exhibited a large one-eyed Mickey Mouse in ‘Cupboard Love’ (Independent Studios group show, 8th – 28th February), the title of which, (insincere love professed for the sake of gain), jars with the quixotic zeitgeist prevailing elsewhere.[ix] Much could be said of ‘BARMY artist Ross Birrell who claims a lump of coal he found in a pub is a work of ART worth £3,333. Art critics and politicians have slammed the council sponsored show as “madness.”’[x] ‘Rough Diamond’ at the 18 King Street Gallery (29th August – 14th September 1997) was just one example of Birrell’s many endeavours to produce an artistic Catch-22. While deriding the mythologies of the Glasgow art scene, he does so to his advantage by deliberately overstating and capitalising on his ‘working-class roots’. George Square contains many statues of tobacco barons, and a monument to Walter Scott (who was from Edinburgh!), but no memorials for red Clydesiders such as John MacLean. It would seem that the anonymous lower-ranks must die in war to be remembered by city fathers. To rectify this sorry situation Birrell stood stony still for several hours on a small plinth marked Working Class Hero b. 1969 (17th September 1997), much to the bewilderment of the local press. It was not entirely clear if a (currently unfashionable) class war was being borne out, or if dilettantism was part of the pose. As a lecturer, Birrell can hardly claim to be an alienated worker, so he acts out oppression. His performances aren’t simply about debunking and pricking the balloons of hypocrisy, affectation, pretension and stupidity which dominate the art world, nor are they about the avant-garde destruction of art, they are concerned with opportunists forcing art and its destruction onto everyone else. ‘Clean the Clutter and Repeat.’[xi]
[i]Stills re-opened last year following a £865,000 National Lottery funded re-fit. The new guiding philosophy is public access. The gallery has darkrooms, processing rooms and a computer room for digital imaging, all of which are intended to get audiences involved practically. In this, Edinburgh is attempting to catch up with Glasgow’s more generous support of practising artists.
[ii]‘Blood Money’ (25th December 1998 – 1st January 1999) is a simulating programme combining confidential personal account details and vague conceptions of fiscal ‘otherness’, with an uninformative reproach to banking. Artist-curators John Montague Sandwich & Son Ltd. will address the themes of ‘blood’, ‘banking’ and ‘places’ from the standpoint of their respective credit brokers. Crivvens! A’ll Ca’ the Lugs Aff Ye! is a turf accountant’s impressionistic documentary, wantonly utilising blood-stained ‘picters’ of brotherly ‘tanner fichts’ conjectured to have taken place in Dundee during the 30s. Blood bank donors and financiers feature weakly in Giro, a meditative exploitration of physical journeys to a Dundee DSS as seen from the perspective of a Sufi Gold Card holder, blood group A.
[iii]The fear is that major contemporary art spaces might increasingly begin to resemble Glasgow Museums. The city is still looking for £18.5 million lottery cash to remodel the Kelvingrove into a ‘visitor experience’, scrapping the art gallery and museum to produce instead a themed display of 100 ‘object stories’. Scottish gallery-goers may find themselves with no alternative to what the autocratic Julian Spalding has described as ‘space-age people’s universities’, in which interactive CD ROMS, tapes and visual imagery will tell ‘stories’ about such enlightening themes as ‘self-mutilation’ and ‘Roger the Elephant’.
[iv]Like the Tramway, the CCA receives the bulk of its funding mainly from the SAC and the cash strapped Glasgow City Council, which boasts the highest council tax in the UK (rising at 3 times the rate of inflation) owing to the Conservative’s gerrymandered abolition of the Scottish Regional Councils. Of course the Tramway and CCA are receiving their awards from purchasers of lottery tickets, many of who live in the city’s poorest satellite schemes, (conveniently) cut off from the lustrous city centre, where they have suffered acutely from the Council’s savage spending cuts of £150 m over the last two years. On March 5th the council voted to slash spending by £43.6 m for the coming year. Hence, despite all the talk of public access, the CCA and Tramway refurbishments primarily function as spectacles designed to improve the city’s image abroad. Under New Labour tight budgets are being ruthlessly enforced, even in the erstwhile bastion of municipal socialism. Hence, New CCA will boast increased cafe-bar and bookshop facilities, a restaurant, and rentable office space for ten arts organisations as a means of supporting its activities. Promotion and programming remain independent for the moment, although the appointment of journalist Ruth Wishart – a prominent member of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts – as Chair of the Board of Directors is indicative of the direction in which the Scottish art quangos are having to move if they mean to survive. CCA, which is an independent charitable organisation, is in the busy pub and club district of Sauchiehall Street and is sure to attract extra earned revenue. Tramway, which is owned by Glasgow City Council and located south of the Clyde, may find itself in financial difficulties.
[v]DAVID BURROWS, “Correspondences, Olympic Village, Waves in Particles Out, Beagles & Ramsay”, Art Monthly, No.213, February 1998, p24.
[vi]‘Historically, commercial galleries have never existed in the city [of Glasgow] and no market exists for the kind of work being produced.’ REBECCA GORDON-NESBITT, “Urban Myths: A Tale of Two Cities”, Contemporary Visual Arts, Issue 17, Other British Artists: Art Beyond the yBas, February 1998, p39.
[vii] Johnston is also a member of the Filthy Swan collective (Gary Rough, Toby Patterson, Scott Waugh, Douglas Payne, Iain Dickinson). Visit their award winning website @ http://users.colloquium.co.uk/~r_johnston/tracks.htm
[viii]LEIGH FRENCH, “Editorial”, Variant, Volume 2, Number 1, Winter 1996, p2.
[ix]French has been unsupportive of what he identifies as an uncritical shift towards narcissism: ‘…my frustrations have been in encouraging the younger generation of Scottish based artists/writers to write on anything other than themselves. […] anything apart from what may be perceived as directly benefiting their careers in the gaze of a particular market.’ LEIGH FRENCH, “Me, Myself and I”, Variant, Volume 2, Number 4, Autumn 1997, p12.
[x]NICK GATES, “Artist is in from the Coal”, The Star, Saturday August 3rd 1997, p10.
[xi]ALEX FROST, “A Diary of Nothing”, British Mythic: Urban Romantic Revolution, No. 1, February 1998, 28 King Street, Glasgow.