Modern Eastern Art (and some Lego)

There’s a bit of a debate going on as far as modern art is concerned, particularly about the continuing relevance of all this new Brit Mod stuff. Now, I’m all for this modern stuff, it’s generally more interesting and real to me than those bloody Turner seascapes that I was dragged off to see when I was smaller. And I totally get the notion that it’s not just about what it looks like, it’s about what it means in relation to the continuing artistic discourse, but I don’t think that that means that any old pile of dross should qualify as art simply because some tosser says so. Just because Magritte said Ceci n’est pas une pipe, doesn’t mean that your spastic outpouring of junk is automatically art.

Crap Modern ArtTake the last Turner Prize, which supposedly reflects a body of work exhibited over a year. At least three quarters of that was unmitigated super-pretentious art wank (see the fine close up of the truly uninspiring Mannikin and String diorama from Cathy Wilkes). Even when it was explained by people from incredibly erudite art magazines who seem to still believe in the sort of pseudo-communist politico drivel that launched the Baader Meinhoff group it was still rubbish. At least the winner, Mark Leckey, had included a half hour movie in which he attempted to explain what the hell he was up to and was able to relate it to Road Runner cartoons.

So we’re left with the thought that actually most modern British art is pretty cruddy. And certainly if you drop down to the Tate Modern that’s pretty much what you’ll find, some pretty crud art that’s not very inspiring, set in a gallery that, the Turbine Room aside, is ill prepared to display art. Its rooms are too high and not wide enough and badly lit and I still can’t figure out why the escalators don’t go to all the floors.

In contrast the Saatchi Gallery is great. It looks like it’s been designed to show art, rather than just cut up to make a bunch of rooms. The space doesn’t attempt to overwhelm the art and it feels like it’s been intelligently lit. There are also multiple points of views in some of the rooms, with space to view the art from floor level and from above. And the art is, frankly, a lot better. Admittedly it’s not up to the class of personal favourites like Shark (see fantastic Lego version by The Little Artists (John Cake and Darren Neave)), Blood Head (more fab Lego) or, best of all, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s HELL (see super video), which single-handedly validates the many, many hours I spent ineptly making Tamiya models, but when it’s good, it’s a cut above Leckey.

Ghost : Kader AttiaThe current Unveilled exhibition at the Saatchi gallery is challenging not only in terms of its opposition to Brit Mod, but also in terms of our perception of Middle Eastern culture. Installations like Ghost, with its ranks of space-blanketed worshippers, slowly bowing from the back of the room like a tsunami of genuflection, are both powerful and hilarious. Powerful in the sense that they demonstrate the scale and majesty of communal worship, a theme reiterated in Neal Stephenson’s latest novel Anathem (go read it); hilarious in so far as it looks like a host of Star Wars Jawas oogling the latest piece of technology they can steal.

And while there’s a lot that’s pointless and rather tedious in Unveilled – most of the paintings and the really childish Hey Look Here’s Palestine diorama – there are some great pieces. I enjoyed the plastic scultures of Diana Al-Hadid, which reminded me of City of Lost Children, the uber-detailing of Laleh Khorramian’s Eden, the architectural bits n bobs of Marwan Rechmaoui and the wild hairstyles and gowns of Hayv Kahramen. I wasn’t so keen on the disturbing dubious sexuality room.

There’s also the bonus of Will Ryman’s The Bed (a proper papier mache slap in the face to Tracey Emin) and the mad geezers who rule the world from the comfort of their wheelchairs. Could you want anything more?

Copper Sulphate house

Psycho Buildings exhibitionSomehow art and houses just seem to go together now. There was Rachel Whiteread’s inverted housespace sculptures, the recent Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, and then there was Seizure, the Copper Sulphate house in Elephant and Castle.

Roger Hiorns’ crystal house is probably the maddest of them all, a entire council flat flooded with copper sulphate solution, which is left to crystalise before being drained. It’s a very weird experience, a bit like entering Narnia through the wardrobe. First you wander down from Elephant and Castle, home to the most un-shopping centery shopping centre, along the New Kent Road, whose council blocks now appear to be little more than facades for this year’s incarnation of futuristic local authority bruto-chic, until you find the most boarded up two storey horseshoe shaped set of flats you can. You then stand there for an hour waiting for your turn to try on a set of some old geezer’s gumboots, before joining another queue to actually get into the flat. If you didn’t know better you’d think that there was some kind of secret stalinist indoctrination going on, an artistic linkage of the queuing process and the rotten environment you’re locked into.

Very, very blueFinally you go in and it’s a complete transformation. You enter the flat, turn left and the grime and festeridge of the estate is obliviated by walls of massive, compellingly blue copper sulphate crystals. It’s like someone has been pebbledashing with some poor child’s science project, but on an industrial scale. The walls aren’t just covered in the crystals, they’re caked in them, like a ship’s hull that’s been overwhelmed with barnacles. And they’re everywhere. And they’re all blue. As gobsmackingly blue as the diva in The Fifth Element.

It’s like a twisted Santa’s Grotto, all sparkley and gem-like and bloody cold too the day I went to see it. You stumble around in what could either be Blue Santa’s elves’ urine or more likely undrained copper sulphate runoff (hence the gumboots), while indiscriminate shapes of other visitors fade in and out of view. And you find yourself gazing into individual hunks of fist sized crystal mummuring ‘mmmm, my precious’ over an over like a demented Gollum. The overall effect is a bit like being entombed in one of Joseph Beuys’ huge felt installations, where all sound and sensation have been damped out of existance. Standing inside a Beuys installation was the nearest thing to being down a mine, said Arthur Scargill in possibly his only genuinely coherent moment. Standing here is even closer, because unlike a wall-full of felt, it actually looks like you could mine something here.

People drifting in and out

It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder why there isn’t more of this stuff, or indeed, why they’re demolishing this at the end of the month. It’s the exact opposite of Whiteread’s internal spaces, which solidified the spaces inside a building, but prevented you from entering them. This concretises the surroundings (or more accurately, copper sulphatises them), allowing you to move around, but at the same time shows you a barren, poisonous, thoroughly alien landscape within that forces your mind to think about the nature of the space. Awesome.

My Wordle

I’m just curious as to where TB came from. But now I know, it’s from the text message Euro 2008 conversation between me and the Brother.

This is a little word picture of the blog as ‘interpretated’ by Wordle. It’s a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. You can see more 1930s style word art at