duh? Art & Stupidity

Duh? Art & Stupidity, 2015-16. An exhibition at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-sea.

Well, I feel stupid. Having arrived at Focal Point Gallery on a free train direct from Fenchurch Street for an exhibition private view I found myself almost immediately in a long queue to get inside the gallery. At this point I was mildly frustrated at having to wait, but only because I assumed that the gallery must be checking off some sort of guest list, which I did not see as particularly necessary or welcoming. However, as I got nearer to the entrance I realised that the delay was in fact due to a small gaggle of women, all roughly middle-aged, who were blocking the doorway with a poorly situated conversation. This, it seemed, was caused by nothing less than their total obliviousness to anyone outside of their group. As it came my turn to squeeze past, I tried to catch one of their eyes, but they showed no recognition of the awkward situation they were creating. People were just about managing to edge themselves into the space one at a time, either by pressing themselves up against the far side of the door, as I did, or awkwardly wriggling through the middle of the women. This provoked a little flash of anger, or at least social disapproval — how could they be so inconsiderate? How could they be so stu… Oh, of course: ‘Duh!’

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Word salad liquidised to make word soup

My meaning is not your meaning. My meaning and your meaning are not meeting. We’re talking at cross purposes: our languages, though they sort-of-sound the same, are faulting at the join. I turn to you like a monkey nut, you look down at me like a cigarette butt. We’re on the pavement not the gutter, but this seems like a bad place for a good time. Blinking, eyelid-less eyes, all that’s passing is people.

Maybe one of us has wisdom, beneath the crust. Maybe one of us can see further, see through. Empath-it to the inside. A route to the root. Do we survive? Do we sustain? What we do is remain. On the sidelines. We’re shrinkage — necessary loss. Or anticipated, anyway. We’re not dirt, although we’re rolling in it. We’re everything that you need to know, though what we know is limited. What we transmit goes nowhere.        

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Katrina Palmer: End Matter

Katrina Palmer, End Matter, 2015. An Artangel and BBC Radio 4 commission. Photograph: Brendan Buesnel

‘End Matter’ is a project by artist Katrina Palmer, commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4. Palmer is an artist, and more specifically a sculptor, whose works take the form of words, both spoken and written. Her new work ‘End Matter’ is comprised of three parts: a publication of the same name, published by Book Works; a site-specific audio walk, itself divided into three sections, all under the title ‘The Loss Adjusters’; and a radio play broadcast by BBC Radio 4, ‘The Quarryman’s Daughters’. In these multiple formats the artist has explored the Isle of Portland. And explored is, perhaps more than many other projects it is applied to, apt to describe Palmer’s engagement with the small island, a mere 6 miles across and 1.5 miles wide, located just off the coast of Dorset.

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I can’t watch Derek Jarman’s Blue. By which I mean I have seen it, I have listened to it, and not just once but several times — more than several, this year it has become a minor obsession — however, I still don’t feel that I have taken it in its entirety. I am not able to feel its edges or recall how it moves, to describe the arc of it in detail, or to even attempt to pull together its seemingly trailing threads into something that makes sense to me. I have also, often, failed to watch it. I have never for its 75 minutes stayed focused on its blue screen. This I understand is not the point, not to stay entirely trained, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to release it in formats where it is untethered from its visuals, but on the other hand, my failure to stay focused, to be immersed in blue, led me to feel distant from it. There are also the times that I have succumbed to its lullaby qualities and been bolted back to consciousness by the gleeful cry of ‘cock sucking’ or the chiming of bells.

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Guttural Utterances

You make me uncomfortable. You weigh heavily on me. You complain loudly. You are always there and you are always in the way.

I do not think I live a bad life. Not that I believe in moral absolutes; people are not wholly good or bad. But what I mean is that I live modestly, or at least that I try to do as little damage to the world as I can. I detest the popular equation of healthiness with godliness. If a balanced diet, in this navel-gazing age, is a sign of the most innocent being, then my nutritional indifference is my guilt.   

You are not indifferent. You are acid, a growling, gurgling monster, that I must give up my time and energies to placate and neutralise. And each day I wake, aware of you and your still quiet demands, but knowing that they will grow in volume throughout the day with no care for my needs, only yours. And I cannot believe that you would choose to loom over my life so exclusively, forever so blatantly cruel. You force me to think only of my illness and my health, though both are you.

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Looking up at the Library: An Interview with Ruth Beale

Ruth Beale, Bookbed, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

The day after the opening of Ruth Beale’s exhibition ‘Bookbed’ at Peckham Platform the gallery is busy, the door swinging open and shut almost constantly. Beale is sitting opposite me on the eponymous bed explaining how the previous week has involved a lot of late night sewing. A stripy green mattress re-fashioned into the shape of an open book that curves gently away from its central ‘spine’, the Bookbed is wonderfully soft, a perfect place to sit, lie or curl up with a good book. Positioned in front of the gallery’s shop-window it is presented as a first taste of the exhibition to the passers-by of Peckham High Street. The situation is at once intimate – it’s not everyday an artist invites you into their bed – and performative: we are something of a spectacle, to those looking through the window, but also to the gallery visitor, who may never have dreamed of clambering onto an artwork.

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John Smith is one of the most famous film makers in the world

A very small joke

Gargantuan (1992)
John Smith, Gargantuan, 1992

Gargantuan is a film about scale. It is short, sweet and a bit silly. The film starts with a gigantic reptile that fills the screen as a voice begins to sing: ‘Gargantuan amphibian. Enormous amphibian.’ Then the camera slowly starts to zoom out, and it becomes ‘Medium’, ‘Modest’ and eventually ‘Miniscule’ as it is revealed to us that what we are looking at is in fact a small newt. ‘Minute.’ say John Smith, who is lying in bed, his head and his amphibian friend both propped on pillows, ‘I love my newt.’

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As real as walking down the street and going to the grocery store

As real as walking down the street and going to the grocery store, John Baldessari, Andy Holden, Shana Moulton, Rachel Maclean, Heather Phillipson, Samara Scott. Installation view at Rowing, London, October — November 2013

‘Godfather of Conceptual Art’ John Baldessari is best known for his humorous subversion of the ideology of images. When Baldessari was asked by artist Paul Pfeiffer what percentage of his visual material was found and how much he generated himself he responded, that it was 50/50 and the half that he collects and the half that he generates inform him equally. He continued:

In the 20th century in general every movie we see on TV, everything we see in newspapers or magazines is just as real as walking down the street and going to the grocery store.

As the press release for the exhibition, which takes its title from his statement, advances, ‘Baldessari’s answer not only reveals the complex interdependence between reality and fiction, but how reality – to quote psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan – ‘takes on the structure of a fiction.’’

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A Small Hiccup

A Small Hiccup, Grand Union, Birmingham. Installation view, 2013.

If you have ever spent any time considering how language mutates, from marvelling at how swiftly neologisms like ‘omnishambles’ enter the dictionary to bemoaning how IAU (incessant acronym use) is degrading the English language, then maybe it will not be too great a leap for you to imagine a world in which language itself has become diseased. ‘Pontypool’ (2008), a low budget horror film, which does what ambitious low budget horror should by working within its limited means to convey a disturbing but compelling idea, introduces a new form of viral infection: a linguistic disease spread through speech.

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