Tuesday, December 06, 2005

two thoughts of today

The princess and the pea
What is the softest thing in the kitchen today? It’s the large pile of clothes in the laundry box, upon which I found jasper-dog perched when I got home this evening.


Turner prize warblings
Last week’s Culture Show featured a very enjoyable 10 minutes with Waldemar Januszczak who completely demolished this year’s Turner prize entrants, swiftly followed by the prize itself. I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about the whole event but, if nothing else, it generally showcases some interesting art and promotes lively debate – nothing to quarrel about there.

So I sat down to watch the show on c4.

That was my mistake. The format involved 4 art students, each of whom was enrolled on a course that had been previously undertaken by one of the short-listed artists. Each of these students proceeded to explore the work of their peer, mooch around places of relevance and interview the artist. Could they have picked four duller, more stereotypical art students? OK, there were flashes of interest and insight and, occasionally, even personality, but in the main the art-student prejudice list was fully ticked. Flamboyant clothes – check. An outsider conviction – check. Overwhelming pretensions – check. Dull wit – check… maybe they were just trying too hard, bless their cotton socks.

But then things got worse, in interview the short-listers themselves seemed equally bland. There’s a bit of a can of worms to be opened here, I like to think that the point of the artist is not to be onscreen talking; the way they present themselves and how articulate, funny, or likable they are shouldn’t be conflated with the quality of their art. But then again, they were there talking on telly so I guess we’re now allowed to form an opinion (apart from Gillian Carnegie who took the sensible option of no interview). Interestingly the person who came across best here was Darren Almond whose work seemed conceptually the least interesting.

And then the work. It’s probably a little unfair to critique it without having seen it in the flesh, good art has a way of creeping under the skin when you see it full-size and feel its presence. But fuck it, lets have a crack of the whip anyway. The main thing that fascinates me is that Simon Starling’s work seems completely ill-at-ease in a gallery setting. It doesn’t seem to be very good visual art. It’s completely anodyne. But the point of his art is the process and the research behind it, he was indeed termed a ‘research-based’ artist on the programme. All of which leaves me wondering, wouldn’t it be much more satisfying if he’d just left the shed where it was, taken some nice pictures and written a book instead? It seems like this is the natural progression of his ideas (although this one didn’t seem particularly interesting anyhow). Similarly his fuel-cell powered bike (an altogether much stronger concept) looked like a museum piece, to be gazed at alongside some explorer’s sled while you read stories of daring-do. He is encroaching on the ever creeping grey-area of ‘what is art?’. I wouldn’t deny that what he does is art, but perhaps he doesn’t use the best medium to communicate his ideas.

Adrian Searle in the Guardian gives a nice summation:
“The stories behind these objects are absurdist, Quixotic errands. Reading about his journeys, and how his works evolve, is more satisfying than the things he makes, whose status is largely as evidence. His approach reminds me of the oddball characters and strange shenanigans that litter the novels of Georges Perec and Paul Auster. In many ways, hearing about what Starling does is as good as seeing it.”

And the others, the non-winners? They left me pretty cold too. They just seemed so empty. Again it could be the lack of contact, Jim Lambie’s installation was probably something that needed to be experienced, and Almond’s films can hardly be judged from a 10 second clip on TV. But even so I find myself turned off by the whole thing and almost consciously willing it to be crap, just because. Because what? Because that would be the best art of all, pointing out how absurd we all are.