Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Abam Curtis: It Felt Like A Kiss

I found Adam Curtis's new work incredibly disappointing. Unlike with all Curtis's previous works I did not learn anything new of significance. This was essentially a series of now bland a clich├ęd infobites such as that the CIA tried to kill Castro with an exploding cigar, Rock Hudson was Gay, and Sadam Hussein was backed by America. If any of this was news to you you must have been hiding under a rock for the past 20 years. There where a few interesting titbits such as a Sadam Hussein propaganda film that glorified his roll in Bathist take over of Iraq being edited by Terence Young the director of a couple of the James Bond movies but so what? There was also some good archive clips such as a Vietnam vet confessing to American war crimes but this film had nothing of great interest to say other than that the utopian vision America presented of itself in the post-war years wasn't all it seemed and that America's covert foreign policy saw the CIA get up no good but this is hardly front page news. While a shorter version of this film was shown as part of an installation at the recent Manchester International Festival and that as a visceral experience it may have worked entirely differently in that context Curtis has specifically chosen to release (and re-cut) this version online and it fails completely to live up too previous works such as The Power of Nightmares, The Trap and, his most important work, the amazing The Century of the Self. All of these are widely available online and in providing socio-political histories of the 20th century they allow us to see just how we got to where we are today. The original Reithian remit of the BBC was to educate, inform and entertain: these three works do this.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Jeff Koons at the Serpentine

What I enjoy with Koons is his ability to continuously reside on the razors edge of celebration/critique of the banalities of capitalism and how by making his products so sickly (and slickly) sweet and attractive he implicates the viewer (or at least this viewer). He does so with such bold and unapologetic, American, bright eyed, can-do, optimism contrasted to the that grim icon of greed and stupidity that can be said to be, at least to some extent, our British equivalent. It would be a mistake to view Koons' artworks as existing separately from Koons *The Artist* persona as he embodies the great tradition of artist as charlatan/showman/shaman/genius(?) (Duchamp, Dali, Klein, Manzoni, Creed et al) that imbues all his product(ions). I particularly like the doubt brought forth by the genius/charlatan opposition at play as it destabilises the the very concept of genius which I feel is an unhealthy one. It would appear that in art this role emerged with modernity and the 'Death of Painting' in the age of mechanical reproduction. This *tradition* was previously embodied by scientists in the 18 century (think of 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' by Joseph Wright of Derby) and previous to that medicine men, witch doctors and the like. In art at least this charlatan/showman/shamen proves his 'genius' when in an the ultimate act of alchemy he (and it is always a he) turns shit in to gold (or at least dollar) exposing the absurd farce that is late Capitalism.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Santiago Sierra

'In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles' said Guy Debord in Society of the Spectacle (1967). With scenes in Sacha Baron Cohen's new film including a realty show judge using a Mexican person as seating and one of Michael Jackson's sisters eating sushi off the naked bodies of workmen we have evidence, if it were ever needed, of how all art however 'critical' eventually gets co-opted by advanced capitalism into mainstream entertainment and sold back to the masses. By choosing Mexican workers Cohen appears to be acknowledging his appropriation of previous works by the Mexican based artist Santiago Sierra where the low paid are humiliated for money - reflecting back to the generally comfortable (Bourgeois???) middle class viewers of artworks the essence of Capitalism - where human beings become commodified objects and like all objects have their price.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

On Beauty

I recently attended a talk at the Whitechapel Gallery featuring Dave Beech in conversation with Julian Stallabrass to launch 'On Beauty' a new anthology of writings on the subject edited by Beech. From the conversation it appeared that the conception of *beauty* under discussion was that which is considered visually pleasing/attractive/uplifting (or not as the case(s) may be) so the framing of the discussion appeared to privilege an ocularcentric perspective from the get go. I wondered if the conversation could have been directly transposed to the sonic field or for that matter the olfactory, gustatory or somesthetic? Or how about the beauty of a mathematical equation or friendship? This may have thrown light on the subjective/socially inscribed conundrum. Stallenbraus observed that a lot of writing on beauty is 'bullshit' if so I feel this may be due to the ineffable nature of the subject, maybe talking of beauty is much like describing the nature of God or explaining why a joke is funny. Maybe the real problem with beauty in art is that though we may enjoy it (a work made to be deliberately beautiful), and there is nothing wrong with that, it may ultimately be a distraction/hindrance to the experience of beauty as it perpetuates the idea that beauty is contained in 'things' and that these things exist outside of us.