A good day for the launch of the Triennial, and I’m happy to say that two of the three pieces I did get to see – Strange Cargo’s People’s Guidebook and the Palomo Varge Weisz sculpture in the old maritime station are both rich and rewarding efforts (look on my Flickr page for some illustrative images – http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulbrasington/ There were lots of people around and a great buzz in the air. This doesn’t make me want to qualify anything I said in the last entry. If anything it makes me angrier about the elitism of the visual art world, because good work does come through, but in the meantime we are supposed to endure such dreck. It’s interesting that one of the most common terms in the way artists are encouraged to speak of themselves is “investigate”. It’s a curious appropriation of an inappropriate concept. I can’t think that any art I’ve respected investigated anything. Researchers and detectives investigate things; investigations are designed to find answers to questions, but what’s that got to do with art? I say this is interesting because it aligns art firmly with a narrowed and ideologically materialist science. as if art had to prove itself in those terms. We’re back then with the left brain, and its inability to see beyond whatever sits immediately in front of it, indeed its propensity to believe that nothing exists beyond its self-consciousness. It seems to me that in this we’re having to deal with a specific historic anxiety and we need to leave it behind.
Art doesn’t investigate anything. Art takes the experience we already have, and through the expressive and connective power of whatever medium, takes us from that experience to a different place.
It’s regrettable all the same that Cornelia Parker’s mermaid should have been vandalised on its first night out (all the other pieces from three years ago have survived unscathed in the town). It might just have been some bored local youth, but the fact that it was done with a pot of paint suggests unusual premeditation. It could have been some mad religious group objecting to the nudity, or maybe it was an anger at something that’s been presented as a symbol of elitist art. There’s an irony here because on the face of it the mermaid is insistently representational, and so apparently accessible. Indeed my complaint is that it spills its content all too easily. It’s likely then that the vandalism is a more general expression of disaffection, which though understandable can’t be laid at the feet of the Triennial or indeed the Creative Foundation.
As for the piece itself, it remains a disappointment, a lazy execution of what might have been an interesting idea (at least as a starting point). I can’t see why it’s any better than a Sunday afternoon painter’s watercolour of a yacht at sea or mermaid on the shore) – indeed beyond its simply physical presence I’m not sure it even has that much going for it.
“I’m not sure”. I suppose it’s a good thing that we should question our initial reactions to a new work of art: gut feel is by no means a sure guide to anything. But I also think that enough is enough. In any medium there will always be a creative vanguard whose work is unlikely to be understood by most, but this doesn’t mean we need to take a self-proclaimed artist on his or her terms, and we seem to have created a clique of people whose pretensions are laughable to all but themselves, and who see the scorn of the wider world as some kind of validation. But, as I noted in my previous entry, this is not because everyone else is missing the point. It’s precisely because they do get the point, and can compare it with whatever art has offered in the past, and feel they are being sold short. The question is not whether what is in front of me is art: that’s not an easy question to answer, and for the most part it’s not a necessary question either. The first question must be, is this worth my time and attention? It’s this intuitive question (and its negative answer) that sits behind the general bafflement at the development of visual art, and the art establishment it seems is incapable of maintaining the critical vocabulary it needs to distinguish exciting innovation from what the Italians would call saghe mentali (mental masturbation – thanks for that Mark).
Overt self-consciousness has touched every art form in the last 100 years, but in every other form practitioners have played with its implications and moved on. Only in visual art has there been such a craven loss of faith in its natural media, and with it ironically an abdication of ambition, as if the advent of photography really could have been the end of something, rather than the opening up of a whole new world of possibility.