Raft of the Medusa (Pt.3) – On the Burning DeckPosted: August 18, 2011
The [artists] stood in the burning [space]
[Amongst] all [that they] had [made];
The flame that lit the [junkyard mess]
Shone round [them overhead].
[And] beautiful and bright [they] stood,
As born to rule [the bric-a-brac];
Creatures of heroic blood,
Proud amid [their] childlike [artifacts].
Hacking the famous poem by Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans to my own ends, I conjure an image of the artist as Hero, as a valiant adventurer, and bound for glory. Working Title might confer such a reading of the artist’s role in tackling the seeming creative-insurmountableness of the scrapheap and wrestling from it some gem of art. I have referred to Mad Max before in my posts, he was a Classics-style Hero, surviving in a makeshift world welded together from junk. Even the once fey image of the Environmentalist has been usurped by that of the Eco-Warrior – Molotov Cocktails are recycled glass, rags and petroleum. The Urban Maestros, the likes of Banksy and those Youtube-Bollock-Grinding-Brutalist-Loving Skaterboys and Skatergals, the Free-Runners and Guerilla-Interventionists, all grace art and making and creative-doing with a knowing, no-shit front – keeping it real, well, innit. An audience is asked to come marvel at these Super-Beings being super – roll-up, roll-up, see gold metaphorically spun from straw, such creative alchemy as you’ll ever see, household tat becomes Art, come all and wonder at it!
Okay. Hero’s they may well prove, but the Working Title artists aren’t Übermensch. They are lovely, affable and fascinating people. They’re more normal than they are extraordinary – which is the sad and brilliant truth of artists. These nice people come to us, invited, yes, they arrive and they regard what is ‘given’ and they react as best they are able. And, thankfully, they are able – that is why they are the ‘artists’, they are skilled, practiced at making things happen (out of what is next to nothing, rubbish). This process of taking no-fool’s gold (the failed or left-behind objects of yesterday’s consuming desire) and spinning the pick-up-sticks of an art thing – or, in less arcane and more retro terminology, they arrange Buckaroo’s load with the deliberate, dangerous stuff of ‘art’ hoping it won’t back-kick and shattered the bubble of art’s being – is this process entertaining. Is it worth a look?
What does a visitor to Working Title experience?
Let’s deal with expectation first. aspex is a ‘Contemporary’ art gallery. That ‘Contemporary’ signifies a certain manifestation of art, even if it isn’t too demonstrative of that art as a word. It means, at a very simplistic level, visual art as it is practiced and essayed now. So, audiences shouldn’t expect anything older than ten years old (which is ancient) – but, also, they oughtn’t to expect any art that fully existed ten years or more ago. Everything is a child of something else, you cannot escape that hereditary strain. But, unlike, say, Pop music, Contemporary doesn’t mean popularism – it can do, there is, again, Banksy (though not really so Contemporary nowadays, he’s an old man, The Establishment, so yesterday) and his ilk, the glamorous YBAs (now more RIPs) and the all the ‘day-before-yesterday’ Old Masters (the Richard Serras, the lingering zombie Warhol etc). ‘Contemporary’ can be Radio 1 – it can also be Nightwaves on Radio 3, or Resonance FM, or that obscure label out of Austerlitz that presses Drone-Glitch-Mathematic Rock LPs in runs of 200. Audiences can only expect what aspex shows to be as ‘now’ as you can be (it’s – now this is so un-now – it’s like Donovan sang You May As Well Try And Catch The Wind). Audiences shouldn’t expect to even ‘like’ what aspex shows – you don’t expect to like the so-called music someone might playlist on their ipod, you’d expect not to like it, you’d steel yourself to grit your teeth in a false smile and nod along a few bars, finger sweaty to press the pause button. What you should expect is to experience something, something you might otherwise not experience. And, often probably, you’ll experience something that’ll evaporate on the tongue of its speaking to you. But, sweet, but – sometimes you’ll experience something you never thought to consider, something (perhaps hidden in plain sight and revealed and revelled, or masked beneath your own too-easy prejudices) that pierces your being like the valve on an air-pump, that’ll swell your being and send it off bouyant – an air balloon for far greater voyages of discovery, a sublime transport. Who knows. It’s harder to list what you can expect than flood you with what shouldn’t be expected.
So, Working Title. Here, now, in week four or five, about midway through – you walk into the gallery reception (that immediately dissolves into a variety of functional spaces – dizzyingly quickly does that space become shop/counter/gallery/pre-gallery/ARC/other/another – and, finding some focus, you’ll find things at your feet. Strange, familiar objects that might be diesel-punk redesigns of Tetris pieces or the components of some far weirder device. There are a couple of bird-table cum over-cot-mobile things standing about, here and there, quietly ignoring everyone, patient for attention. Ahead of you, a 47 inch flat screen signposts ARTISTS – STUFF – JOIN IN, urging you ‘talk’ to the artists working there, suggesting you ‘have-a-go’. The debunkers, the dismissive can demonstrate just how easy it is to become a Have-A-Go Hero – the Mad Max, red-faced, indignant, my-kid-could-do-that-and-better are welcomed to demonstrate the nonsense of Contemporary Art, they encouraged to point out the Emperor’s New Clothes, the nudity of what they perceive. Of course, we’d really like everyone to feel inspired to make, to explore whatever through mimicry of the artist’s process. There’s plenty of contextual material, an exploration of ‘this kind of thing’, this manner of art. It is to be expected that aspex proffers a view into the realms of time, lays some breadcrumb trail back through the wild woods of Visual Art History, to let the now swim upstream to its own spawning.
This interactive space might appear difficult, unguided – but it’s been well used. The difficulty might be this, the interaction that’s available is with material, with the fabric of making – not with show’n’tell Science Museum-like tools. You can sit and create a dialogue between yourself and a transparent plastic jar, some colourful feathers and a ball of plasticine – you might further that discussion by researching in the library, bringing greater sense of understanding to the debate (the plasticine might revise its opinion of the jar, already relaxed with its backbone plumage). You can record what you’ve resolved, or decided – photograph the outcome, pose the resultant synergy on a shelf or in crevice about the place, or you can minute the affair on the blackboard walls. You might even visit the Artists’ side and enter your thingness of plasticine-feathers-jar-and you into a fresh discourse with their things – a snowball of interface, with you, they and it becoming one, bound by possibilities, absurdity and intimacy. Kids are always so intimate with the fabric of their makings.
Ahead of you, behind the 47 inch flat screen, you confronted with a flea market of junk. Some will find that heady, those who race breathless to car boots unable to bear the thought of loss, of those things already sold, the heartbreak of missing out. Some will stand and consider the usefulness of a bicycle’s geared back-wheel, perhaps, seeing a turntable, a few platters of vinyl, a great conical of a lampshade, they might, um, mmm, ahem, yes, yes, begin to conjuror the daydream blueprints of a pedal-powered record deck with old-school His Master’s Voice trumpet amplification. Some will think can this be art? Some will ‘tut’ and feel the warm, wet spread of self-righteousness, finding Contemporary Art to be exactly what they assumed it was, a pile of rubbish – they leave satisfied whatever they think.
To the left as you walk into the gallery, there you discover an environment seldom experienced outside of an Art’s Foundation Course, a conglomeration of work in progress, maquette or nest-flown (I will not say finished, I cannot say if another’s art is done, I can only know when I find it complete for me). Presently, maybe, but it may be a coincidence, the space is kind-of open and navigable because the two artists are women – or because, with the remains of other departed artists occupying portions of the space, like relay batons, the two of them have mapped out a geography that allows for an invisible populace as well as themselves. But you can get in there, amid the activity of putting together. You might just look, as you would at the National Gallery, absorbing. Or you might watch the process like the audience at an Ideal Home Expo. Or you might question the artists, ask them what you want to know. Artists rarely bite, they’re pleased with the attention, it makes their life-choices seem viable and even relevant. You don’t have to do, say or make anything. Just don’t pre-empt with phantom expectations – think of the door to aspex as a cave mouth, you never know what’s inside, what lurks there, what horrid creature, what Narnian adventure. You’re cast as Mr Benn, but you come dressed as yourself to whatever story is being enacted behind that ‘other’ changing room door. If you don’t get that reference, search Youtube, you youngster you.
To be continued…