Sunday, 3 January 2010

IT AIN'T ALL GRIM UP NARTH




Enough of your Shoreditch private viewings, your London art ‘happenings’ and those hefty admission fees: tha needs t’go up narth and get some art!


During my Christmas holidays at home in West Yorkshire I realised how little appreciation cultural establishments in the North get compared to their southern counterparts.


The West Yorkshire Sculpture Park mixed peat with Henry Moores and sheep dung with Barbara Hepworths. At Tate Liverpool I was treated to the conversion of one gallery into a silent disco, complete with glitter ball, priceless works of art and a middle-aged lady dancing her heart out on the disco floor. This was an art experience I knew I would never get in the galleries of London I had so long looked forward to being near as a college student.


I remember some years ago an article in the Guardian by some London-centric journalist bemoaning the large amount of funding being given to the arts up North. The argument was that more people are in London and therefore that’s where the art needs to be.


Even though at this time I was more interested in rolling down the grass hills of the West Yorkshire Sculpture Park than viewing the art placed among them, the journalist’s argument got me angry: Why, I wondered, did this person think I didn’t deserve such things?


Remembering this confusion as I strolled the hills of the sculpture park this Christmas, I was reminded of this strange division between North and South that has played an interesting part in my life.




It still seems extraordinary this divide between North and South for two main reasons:


1) Because I love both places and such a ‘divide’ is ridiculous.


2) Because I feel this divide quite strongly at times.


Now I know we aren’t talking about being an √©migr√©, settler or something actually important here, but isn’t it strange how strong that divide persists between North and South even in the age of cheap flights, iphones and a unprecedented number of uni students?



I moved down to Brighton nearly four years ago now and I would definitely make the same choice again if given the chance. Here I can visit London galleries, volunteer at the many arts organisations, get myself work experience at national magazines and newspapers. Here, it seems, life is so much bigger.


And yet, something always pulls me back home. The title of a TV drama filmed some 10minutes walk from my home sums it up really: Home is Where the Heart Is. Much like that drama, however, the North soon seems too homely, too safe and too picturesque (all things I had been looking forward to on the train ride up.)


This Christmas I finally realised my enviable position of being able to rise above those who think culture doesn’t exist above Watford Gap and those who think leaving the Pennines is tantamount to killing your Gran. Things happen outside of your village, your town, city or street, and they need to be explored.


I have a vivid memory of being sat on a bus at home on my first trip back from university with some former high school friends who purposefully sat behind me. They murmured to each other “Gone down South he ‘as. Lost his roots.” But I’d just like to say; much like the sculptures of Castleford-born Henry Moore that are now placed in the galleries of London- you can take the boy out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take the Yorkshire out of the boy.







Pictures:

1- Henry Moore at West Yorkshire Sculpture Park

2-Barbara Hepworth at West Yorkshire Sculpture Park

3- View of Colne Valley

4- Sophie Ryder- one of many hares Ryder has produced over the years for West Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A VERY BRITISH BEAUTY



By naming painter Richard Wright as the Turner Prize winner for 2009 this Monday, the Turner judges sent a defiant message to the art world that an age of shock, wealth and fakery is on the wane.


The transient, unassuming and yet splendidly elaborate works by Richard Wright are at odds with a decade that has prized the kick-in-the-balls sort of art peddled by artists who believe the bigger and the more expensive the art, the better it is. Richard Wright’s work asks for a return to modesty, workmanship and the gallery (not the auction room.)


How very British, I thought, as Wright accepted his award with the words: "I have nothing grand to say, just thank you, that's all I have to say."


One of the stand-out works that secured Wright the 25,000 pounds prize was his untitled gold leaf fresco, now on show at Tate Britain. The fresco was created through traditional Renaissance techniques by transferring a drawing onto the gallery wall and then painstakingly filling in the pattern with gold leaf. The end product is indeed impressive, but it has a sort of delicate, unassuming beauty- a grand religious fresco this is not. Instead, this is a new form of beauty, a painting that merges modern design with the natural world, decadence with subtlety, past techniques with an optimistic vision towards the future.


One of the most interesting things about the work, as with most of Wright’s pieces, is that the fresco will be painted over when the exhibition closes. Wright will not be selling this piece. He will not be making a trip to Sotherby’s or making a lucrative deal with a collector. Like the short-lived beauty of a butterfly, this painting will disappear with only photographs as a record of its existence.


Channel 4 grabbed Richard Wright as he left the stage to collect the Turner Prize on Monday. One of the presenter’s first questions was “How do you make a living?” Wright seemed a bit dumbstruck, perhaps equally so as the presenter, who could not imagine an artist who did not paint for profit.


But doesn’t Wright want to keep his work or have a taste of the Young British Artists’ millions? His answer makes his position clear: “There’s already too much stuff in the world” he says.




Wednesday, 18 November 2009

GUERRILLAS, INTELLECTUALS AND BOOBS: THE FACE OF FEMINISM NOW



Is the female body still a battle ground? Is the power to flaunt the female frame the height of feminism, or does baring all just lead women to the gaze of patriarchal eyes? The answers aren’t easy, but the questions are certainly still worth asking.

The recent controversy over the introduction of ‘page three girls’ in a Cambridge University student tabloid has resulted in many articles questioning how women can balance brains and beauty. The more provocative pictures of female students were taken down from the website once the controversy surfaced. According to Rowenna Davis at The Guardian, one of the original pictures featured a student in her pink bikini, seductively punting down a Cambridge canal. (Although I fail believe that such a task can be done 'seductively', I applaud her if she succeeded.)

A brief look at The Tab now will show that the ‘Tab Totty’ aren’t exactly bearing all, neither are they posing in submissive positions. Heidi, 21, is pictured in a kickboxing outfit glaring at the camera with a slight twinkle in the eye that says “God, I hope my mum doesn’t see this” and “Double-God! I hope this gets me famous.”

Alongside the picture, kick-boxing Heidi talks about her views on the position of women in society. Heidi, it seems, is a feminist. But is this really the face of feminism? I can’t quite work out if this is a clever publicity stunt that gives a much-needed jolt to a generation that prides itself on being ‘post-feminist’ or if that these ‘Tab Totty’ are playing into the hands of a generation that needs feminism now just as much as it ever has.

My housemate is equally confused. We’re sat drinking tea, talking about beauty pageants. “I just can’t work it out” she says, “instantly I’m against it, but, y’know, I like looking good.” And of course, she’s right. We’re still caught in that division between mother and whore, intellectual and buxom blonde- sometimes it seems there is no space in this battleground for an attractive, intelligent woman.

Now before we start bemoaning the fate of the sexy intelligent woman wandering the wasteland, being hit by the stiletto of the buxom blonde or the notepad of the female nerd, let’s get back to reality. Society is still confused about how to represent the eye-catching, intelligent woman in the media, but in our everyday lives we see these women all the time. Now the challenge is to find a voice for these women in the media. For me, this voice does not come out of the lips of lycra –clad ‘Tab Tottette’ Heidi.



The Pictures:


Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get in The MET Museum? , The Guerrilla Girls.

The Guerrilla Girls are a group of feminist artists based in New York. Their striking posters and ‘happenings’ highlight the place of women in society, in particular the art world. They always wear guerrilla suits in public- could the guerrilla mask be the face of modern feminism?

Your Body Is a Battleground, Barbara Kruger

Much like the Guerilla Girls, Kruger created feminist art that appears much like adverts that we see every day. It’s an interesting way of alerting us to the feminist debate- hijacking a visual language that has traditionally used the female body as a way of selling products.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

WHEN DREAMERS BECAME FANTASISTS






I can’t help but feel that imagination is viewed as being less and less desirable as we get older.

Maybe any forays into the fantastic now seem embarassing because of the loss of our childhood naivety; maybe we've become too busy to think about what isn’t in the here and now; or maybe- just maybe- we all secretly retain an imaginative mind that's just as active as when we were children.

‘The Child’s Dream’ by Damien Hirst perhaps encapsulates what I’m saying here. The unicorn stands caged within a glass box, a relic of our youthful imagination. Pumped with formaldehyde, left staring, this unicorn mourns the loss of the child’s imagination as it falls prey to the trappings of adult life. Damien Hirst explained the work with sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s statement that: “When we are no longer children we are already dead.”

But is our imagination truly killed off during the years of adolescence? I don’t think so. I believe we have a responsibility to keep that imaginative, raw and energetic part of our minds alive. Now I’m not talking about attending re-enactments of battles from Lord of The Rings, neither am I urging you to head down your local Games Workshop and immerse yourself in the world of orcs, but a bit of imagination or vision should surely be part of our everyday lives.

As we get older we might well need a jolt from a good book, an exhibition or a great film to remind us of the vital nature of our imaginations, but this can be one of the biggest pleasures in life. To rediscover that part of our nature untouched by worries over money, careers or relationships is to take a trip through the wardrobe into a magical land we almost forgot was there.

Take some time out and enjoy some daydreams- it won’t help you get the washing done, or write an essay, but it will make you feel a bit more ‘you.’



The Picture:
‘The Child’s Dream’ is currently showing at Tate St Ives as part of ‘The Dark Monarch’ exhibition which is based around themes of magic and folklore. Also, I have to admit I’m putting this picture in to show a bit of mercy for Damien Hirst after his TERRIBLE reviews for the ‘No Love Lost’ exhibition at the Wallace Gallery (one reviewer described the works as 'Francis Bacon meets Adrian Mole.') Not that Hirst deserves much mercy.

Monday, 19 October 2009

I AM A GAY ICONOCLAST


Who could ever truly fit the bill as a gay Gay Icon?

With the recent Gay Icons exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery and this week’s furore over the death of Stephen Gately, I’ve been increasingly confused about what we mean by the term ‘gay icon.’

Just what are the Gay Icon's duties? What do we call him? What mustn't he do?

There are lots of female divas that gay blokes go weak at the knees for because they: a) Wear pearls and drink excessively (Dot Cotton.) b) Look like pick-a-mix (Dolly Parton.) c) Are quite easy for a bloke to take off in a drag performance in his fiftieth year (Dame Shirley Bassey.)

But where, I ask, is the exemplary model of gay existence? Who is a man that other gay men can look up to and strive to be? Like Virginia Woolf (another gay icon), who searched for a female role model in the British Library and ended up ‘looking around the shelves for books that were not there’, there just doesn’t seem to be a famous gay man whose character gay and straight people respect. We are left looking through the pages of Heat for ‘gays that were not there.’

Jan Moir’s now infamous comments in the Daily Mail show how the desire for a gay icon can also reveal a need to amplify all the superstitious and ill-informed theories about ‘gay culture’ with the single story of a person's mistakes or tribulations.

‘Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael’ commented Jan Moir, shortly to be followed by an article gushing over the return of the Nolan sisters (apparently they are icons for the brainless, bigoted and ill-informed vermin of the Daily Mail offices.) A lot has already been written about the article, not least the 21,000 plus complaints made to the Press Complaints Commission, but I have to point out just how hilariously bizarre old ‘mo-hater-Moir’s comments were. Let’s read again:

‘Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael’

(The ‘they’ of the phrase is those pesky gay activists.) I’m sorry Jan, but when I came out to my parents I didn’t splutter through tears; “But mother- I promise you, I don’t want to sing on lilos, get a blow wave and get jiggy in toilets!” The ‘they say’ in the article is just shoddy journalism, with downright nasty implications. Is Moir really implying that all gay men truly are like George Michael?


Moir also coupled the death of Stephen Gately with the suicide of Matt Lucas’ ex-partner Kevin McGee as evidence of how the (as she put it) ‘happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ is false. It seems Moir believes that these two high profile and deeply tragic disasters should be used as evidence to obliterate the argument that many gay men now enjoy the legal security and public acceptance provided by civil partnerships.

The danger here seems that so-called ‘gay icons’ can become ticking time bombs. One thing doesn’t go right and the whole gay community is left to pick up the rubble.

We admire people for the things they do, not for who they have sex with. The only people who feel the need to pinpoint ‘the gay identity’ are those who are ignorant and insecure.

At the National Portrait Gallery’s recent Gay Icons exhibition they got the meaning of a gay icon right. By letting individuals choose their personal icon for gay living, the exhibition highlighted how each gay and lesbian person has a different view of how their sexuality fits into their own lives. Luckily Jan Moir's submission of this portrait wasn't allowed in...


The picture:
This picture of Joe Dallesandro, sex symbol and Warhol film star, was featured at The National Portrait Gallery's Gay Icons exhibition.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

SHOP 'TIL THE PENNY DROPS



God I love shopping! Shopping at its best is a trivial, entertaining and satisfying trip into the consumerist hall of smoke and mirrors. On Oxford Street the other day I found myself getting excited over the new floor of Topman, I found myself trying on jackets that I couldn’t afford in Selfridges and then there I was, peering under window posters reading: “Just you wait, Christmas windows are on their way!”


I’ve always been a firm believer in treating oneself every now and again to something special, be it tea and cake at Fortnum and Mason or a jacket you’ve been eyeing up for weeks. As a graduate and trainee journalist I’m hardly wealthy (i.e. poor), but I’ve never seen a problem in sampling how the other half live with affordable bites of the high life. Let’s call it ‘consumerist-class-tourism’: grab your ticket, enjoy something special and leave the Primark bag at the door.

But do you know what dear readers? I’ve noticed something strange on these trips down Wealthy Lane.


When circling the lower floor of Selfridge’s the other day I noticed the blank expression of a woman at a counter paying for two designer bags. These bags were around the 700 pounds mark. The woman was spending about 1400 pounds on beautiful bags and she did not crack a smile.

Maybe it was the credit-card melting price that she was grumpy about, maybe she was thinking about how many goats she could buy for Oxfam (56, if you were wondering) or maybe she was pondering whether she really needed two designer bags to carry her snotty tissues and sarnies in. But I think not. I believe this woman was deadened by the numbers on the cash till. Her pin, the price tag, the number on the machine, the number of bags produced in that design- all these numbers had been uploaded and had created a PDA (Person Devoid of Amusement.)


The sad thing is, that’s what shopping and spending should be about- amusement. Sometimes you might spend a little more than you should and that’s a treat and that’s fun and you won’t be spending much else that week. Next time you go to the pub and someone notices your new shoes, haircut or the more relaxed look after a weekend break and it feels good. Yes, it’s vain- of course it is- but a cheeky bit of vanity never hurt anyone.


In my part-time retail job the other day I heard myself talking about how I ‘needed’ something from the shop. I didn’t need it. In fact, I would never buy it if I didn’t work there. For some reason I’d turned into a stereotypical dumb queen who gushes over expensive body cream.


When I heard myself talk like that I remembered the PDA at the Selfridges counter and changed my words: “Actually, think I’ll just get something from the 99p store” I said.



The Picture: Grayson Perry’s new work The Walthamstow Tapestry is currently being displayed at the Victoria Miro Gallery in North London. Perry is one of my favourite artists and this new piece shows him develop his signature imagery further in the field of textile work. The 3X15 metre tapestry charts the life of an individual through the consumerist world in which we live. Major brands are depicted as relics or idols of a culture that prizes possessions above many other things in life.

http://www.victoria-miro.com/exhibitions/_400/