Friday, 28 October 2016

Colin Simpson: The Real Author of the Bricks (Equivalent VIII)

The BBC documentary on Carl Andre and his bricks was fantastic, a real eye opener into how a critical newspaper article can make a work of art become part of the public consciousness, make a work of art become something that captures the imagination to the extent that it becomes part of popular culture, advertising culture, art culture.

A few years ago, there was a TV series called The Rock and Roll Years. This showed the news events of the year cut with a soundtrack of the music highlights of the year. It was brilliant. Bricks used the same idea, but folded in some conceptual art, the popular press view of the bricks all with a cast list of the Tate back in 1976.

I love the fact that Andre's bricks were part of a larger body of work (Equivalents - the Tate Bricks are Equivalent V111 ) which was never shown, and the fact that when the Tate tried to buy the work, Andre had already returned the bricks to the brick-shop where he bought them to get a refund because he was so skint. And because the brickworks had closed already, he had to buy some slightly different bricks which he then sold to the Tate.

So it's about questions of what makes an artwork, it's about what the work is made of, it's about how it strips down and connects to the world, the land, to Andre himself, it's about how people look at a work, and what they look at. And why do they look when they profess that is all a load of old nonsense? There's lots of nonsense in the world but we don't look at it in too much detail. So why these Bricks.

I was slightly shocked at how the bricks were stacked together, not quite perfectly, with some gaps and unevenness in their stacking. And it was really interesting to see present day gallery goers bending down and looking at it in the same kind of way.

There wasn't really any one answer to what it all means, and that's the point of it all (see also Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art). And the media storm that surrounded the work has become part of it. The work had never been exhibited at the Tate until a newspaper article attacking it was published. As soon as that came out, then the Tate put it on display. And they put it on display while there was a massive exhibition of Constable in another part of the gallery - so you had huge very traditional audiences stopping by to look at something very contemporary. They were an audience ready to be outraged.

And that is what made the Bricks so very well known. Without that coming together of circumstances, they would have remained anonymous. So essentially the artist of the work as we know it today is not Carl Andre, but Colin Simpson, the Sunday Times journalist who started the shit storm (he's the guy with the glasses holding the paper.

The chef is the man who vandalised the work with blue paint. He got a round of applause when he did it and the security guards asked him if he was the artist. Central artistic considerations like the fact that the Bricks are part of a larger body of work are by the by compared to  Heineken making the bricks part of their advertising campaign, to every brickie in the land saying they could do better, and the mass of random junk that got sent to the Tate asking if they'd buy it. Sandy Nairne (former director of the National Portrait Gallery) wrote the letters saying 'but sadly on this occasion we have to pass up your kind offer'.

The programme mentioned Ana Mendieta, Andre's wife, but only in passing. Andre was acquitted of her murder. Click on the link for more of the story.

In the early hours of 8 September 1985, Mendieta had – to borrow the words Andre had used when he called the emergency services – "somehow gone out the window" of their 34th floor apartment on Manhattan's Mercer Street.
Both had been drinking heavily. Andre later claimed to remember nothing of the events leading up to her death and that she may even have committed suicide, but those that knew her well – and knew of her acute fear of heights – thought this unlikely. Many of them believed he had pushed or even thrown her out of the window during a drunken argument.
"What happened that night, no one will ever know," says the artist Ted Victoria, a close friend of Mendieta who still lives and works in a studio in SoHo close to where she first lived after arriving in New York. "But the notion that she would jump out the window in her underwear – no. She had too much going for her at the time, more so than him. Her work was being noticed. And she wasn't depressed.
"I know because I saw her a few nights before her death. She was up and happy. She hated heights, so she would not have climbed up on the window, which was close to, and just above, the bed in their apartment. My guess is they were fighting and it just happened, this terrible thing."

The Xerox Edition of Raised by Wolves

Raised by Wolves Bootleg Edition. It's a bit pricey but damn!

Buy the book here 

Via Harvey Benge.

Monday, 24 October 2016

"You are lucky... you can never meet my mother, my father, our neighbour"

You Could Even Die For Not Being a Real Couple by Laura Lafon (available here)  is a love story of sorts, an unhappy love story, where love, friendship and simply being are restricted through psychological, social and physical means. It’s about the culture of violence and control that is imposed on those who seek a life outside the very limited prescriptions of distorted famial, religious and cultural norms.

It’s a book about misogyny. And then some.

And it takes place in eastern Turkey, among the people where Lafon has gone to visit with her boyfriend Martin Gallone. They visit, they talk to locals, they photograph and they fall in love. Against a backdrop of young local people who don’t quite have that freedom.

The book starts with its cover, red velveteen with a gold carpet-like design on it. It is very nice to touch. Then you open the book and there’s a car, then a  couple by the car. Shot at night, the car parked on a dusty layby, there’s an anxiety to the couple, as though their love is forbidden, their meeting secret in some way.

The next pictures shows Lafon and Gallone lying naked by some strange grotto in the darkness of the night, the idea of why they are lying there indicated by the texts that are interspersed with the images.

“We can’t think like European people…. If my girlfriend cheats me, if she is my wife, I have to kill her, according to our traditions. I can force her family to kill her. If my sister comes home as pregnant or raped, I am sure my father wants to kill her because she dishonoured our family. It’s her fault, it’s her choice, it’s stupid to get pregnant buy I wold do my best to stop him to kill her. In his opinion I am stupid, but who is that people placing woman so important that they deserve to die if she is raped?”

Unpick that if you will. There is the idea (expressed by misogynists, brutalists and people who take money from questionable sources on both the left and right) that questioning violence and murder against women, against homosexuals, against minorities, is an example of cultural imperialism and part of the othering of the non-western world. I would beg to differ. I've yet to meet anybody from non-western countries who have encountered violence or limitations to freedom that is sanctioned by religion, by family, by cultural norms, by the state - to have that view. And the idea that a respect for human rights is something limited to western countries is both absurd and reveals a profound ignorance and venality.

Anyway, back to Lafon. More pictures show the landscapes, the generations, the city. We see a café at night, patronised only by men. We see men standing, posing, looking, wanting. We see young women doing the same, but more vulnerable, with the air of violence above and behind them. Boys are boys, and girls are girls and only the pictures of darkened gardens and shadowy streets show where they might meet. In the meantime, Gallone goes down on Lafon, and we see them both posing naked in a hotel room.

Marriage, religion and guns appear and there is a general air of male-dominated stupidity in the air. It’s not one thing, it’s the totality of it all, a totality that justifies oppression (including killing) in the name of tradition - and if you ever want to know what’s wrong with tradition then this song from Fiddler on the Roof  gives you a pretty good answer.

The book is about something that really matters. In places it is not as clear as it could be. You have to know the story before you begin (it has the sentences that explains it at the back), but at the same time it is about a subject that is concrete and really matters, both over there and over here.

Of course, it’s coming from a privileged place, but Lafon recognises this. One of the quotes she includes reads:

“Life is really cheap. You are lucky because you can only meet educated people, open minded who speak English, but you can never meet my mother, my father, our neighbour. This can mislead you.”

At its heart though, it’s a book about fundamental human rights; the right to free association, the right to love who you want, the right not to be killed for falling in love, the right not to have labels of honour and dishonour used to justify torture, killing and forced marriage.

And that’s a really good thing. The United Nations was founded 71 years ago to this day to fight for those principles.. The Declaration of Universal Human Rights followed three years later. You can see them here. See them and tick off the ones that the country you live in violates. I live in the UK. We violate plenty both domestically and overseas. The Declaration is for us as well. 

Lafon, in her small photobook way, is doing the same thing. And that is to be praised and admired. Photography, along with many other things, can still make a difference. And if it doesn't make a difference, it can at least have a voice. About something that really matters.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Hypernoramlisation, no Hypernomralisation, no Hypernormalisation: When you end up believing Adam Curtis films.

I feel a bit bad hating on Adam Curtis because I really liked Century of the Self and the one on Afghanistan.

But Hypernormalisation feels like a rehash, it feels like he's going through the motions, it feels a bit too dicey and speculative and made up. It feel like what it is critiquing (which is the Spectacle basically).

Part of the problem is Curtis' voice. He's not God, so why's he using his voice.

The other problem is the stream of snippets of  stuff that is thrown at us. We're living in the age of snippets of stuff and it is really quite exhausting. Especially when the snippets are selective in the extreme and have a time limitation. Nothing is older than the age of the archives he is picking from, too much is left unsaid, and the examples he chooses are often two-dimensional.

In Hypernormalisation, there's a snippet of Patti Smith being vague and apolitical  and uncommitted and harking on about some irrelevance in a two-dimensional sort of way - but you get the feeling that is what Curtis is doing with this film,

You also get the feeling that he could just as well do exactly the same programme but put a rightist spin on it and it wouldn't be too different.

The real problem is there are parts of it that are absolutely fascinating but that the voice Curtis has made his own is really a barrier to our understanding. There are three hours of headache-inducing footage with too much noise, incoherence and questionable material that lacks a certain substance and depth. He's been trapped by his own branding it seems, which is a shame because there's probably about 5 or six top-notch documentaries in there.

 Play Adam Curtis Bingo here (it should have "But then..." in as well) and there's a South Park parody I'm told (thanks Alex and Mark) but I've never seen it and don't know where.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Mary Hamill's Tulips

When we were judging the dummies for Photobook Bristol/Gazebook Sicily, there was a really high standard.

Despite that, there were only two books that we all instantly said  yes to.

One of them was Mary Hamill's Semper Augustus.

'Semper Augustus is an inquiry into one woman’s understanding of her body and its cultural and historical significance' is what the artist's statement says.

The book a record of Hamill's periods as measured through tampons which are then upended to look like tulips, hence the title. It's very simple. It's very direct. Not many people would do it. Hamill did. It works.

Buy Semper Augustus here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Plastic Lecturers

In the UK, you have PCSOs, these are Police Community Support Officers. They earn about £7,000 a year less than real police and they don't have responsibilities like the power of arrest. They're popularly known as plastic coppers. They're second class coppers. It's policing on the cheap.

In higher education, you have an equivalent. You get senior lecturers (I'm a senior lecturer for a little bit of every week) and you get associate lecturers (I'm an associate lecturer for a few other days). The associate lecturers are second class lecturers. It's teaching on the cheap. They're plastic lecturers, hired on hourly paid or short-term contracts to save the university money because you only pay them for the hours they work.

You get what you pay for, somebody who is working on an hourly paid contract and knows they are being hired to save money while students are being charged £9,000 a year to study on the course you teach on does rather impact on the teaching. Essentially, the higher the percentage of associate lecturers you have in a university, the cheaper the university is.

You can check how the percentage of associate lecturers a university has here.

And you can read all about it here.

It is a crude tool however, and universities are at pains to point this out and defend the flexibility and range of voices they can hire by using associate lecturers. But I suspect this might be denial.

Here's a real life conversation from a pre-term departmental meeting that was narrated to me by a friend who works on an arts-based course at a university in the Southeast of England.

Faceless Management Type: "The good news is you're all associate lecturers."

Associate Lecturer: "Basically an associate professor is somebody who works on a zero hours contract."

Angry Faceless Management Type: "You don't work on a zero hours contract, you work on a fixed hours contract. A fixed hours contract is very different a zero hours contract."

Associate Lecturer: "Does anybody have their contracts yet?"

The other ten associate lecturers working in the department: "No."

Faceless Management Type: "Still, Whether you have a contract or not, a fixed hours contract is much better than a zero hours contract."

Associate Lecturer: "How's it better?"

Faceless Management Type: "Because you're a lecturer. An associate lecturer."

Associate Lecturer: "What would an associate lecturer on a zero hours contract be?"

Faceless Management Type: "They wouldn't be on a zero hours contract because they're not as good as fixed hours contracts. We don't just do any kind of contracts here."

KL Troopers: Dickheads

The Clash playing at a Rock Against Racism gig in 1978. Image by Val Welmer.

Don Letts' Skinheads was a really enjoyable overview of the five or six lives of Skinhead-ism, and the contradictions between the disparate parts of the subculture.

There was one clip of the man who set up the Skinheads against Racism in Music talking about global manifestations of racist skinheads: 'There's this gang of fucking dickheads called KL Troopers and they're Malay Nazis... and they want all the Chinese and Indians to fuck off...'

Malaysia for the Malays only. That would be as good as England for the English  or India for the Hindus, or France for the French, or Nigeria for the Nigerians; you'd be left with a nation of inbred simpletons sewing on their silly patches and drooling into their 100% native nasi lemak/fish and chips/whatever...

So there you have it, KL troopers. You're now known internationally as dickheads. Well done.

Watch Skinheads here if you're in the UK or you can get around it.

And buy Skinheads the book here, for only £8.99 (that's probably about 5 of your euros if you're reading this in 2018). This is Nick Knight's first book, made in his second year at college the bastard before he became a fashion superstar.

The book was made in 1982 and is symptomatic of the huge link between music, subcultures, publishing, fashion and photography in Britain at the time. There's such a direct connection between the ethos of music, the rise of colour in British photography, the development of fashion magazines in the early 1980s, the rise of British fashion photography and the ethos of punk and protest and how that affected photography, and design - to the present day.

Ah yes, design. In parts of the UK, design does gets a little fetishised, especially in places like Manchester, where the emphasis is understandably on the high-end manifestations and you can get all Factoried out by the design. Here's a more typical example below of Manchester design (from this classic source of ephemera from Manchester's musical past).

You can read about music and anti-racism in this review of Walls Come Tumbling Down.

And here's Syd Shelton talking about his photograph at a Rock Against Racism/Ruts gig in 1979.

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Thanks for the Memories, Gazebook Sicily!

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