January 13, 2010

London - Nothing Matters

Just back from London: Very enjoyable lunches with Holly Pester (agreed her input into the next Text Festival) and Museum consultant Benedetta Tiana. Sadly Carol Watts had to cancel.

With Lois and CJ at the Live Arts Development Agency, I agreed a Language Moment DIY project in September this year and a Live Art Platform event in the 2011 Text Festival.

I only managed to see a couple of exhibitions – one of which was Nothing Matters – Damien Hirst’s painting show at the White Cube.
The only interesting thing about the Hirst show is the question whether it reads as Nothing (actually does) matter or nothing at all matters – and that is not that interesting. What Hirst does generally tends to pass me by and I have a feeling that he didn’t actually paint the works, that assistants did them, much as his teams of technicians build the Pharmacy cabinets, etc. Whoever painted them was being taken much too seriously. The ground floor featured 3 large triptychs – each panel featured 3 elevations of a ‘flying’ crow being shot in mid ‘flight’, a explosion of red paint representing presumably a bullet hitting the birds. The birds have no painterly life and no sense of aerial dynamism so there is no emotive charge to their mid-air death. It reminded me of school level projects painting death – empty of any sense of what it actually could mean. Paradoxically although one of the nine blood red bursts is quite expressive, all are undermined by paint dribbles maybe meant to be blood falling from the wound moment but just looking like someone who didn’t know when to stop dribbling – the gravity is not falling from the bird but falling from the brush, drawing attention to the act of painting these given the limited ability further undermines. In the gallery upstairs there were six much smaller paintings of skulls. I have a soft spot for skull paintings, primarily because in the summer holidays before I went to University, back when people didn’t have a year out, I spent my summer in the local medical school studying anatomy – I spent days drawing and painting especially skulls; so I like to think I approach the paintings with a detailed understanding of the requirements of the object. I feel qualified then to say that Hirst (or his assistant) are crap at it and because they are so badly observed there is nowhere to hide in claims of emotive depth. In the hand-out, extracted from the catalogue essay, Rudi Fuchs compares the visual mood of the paintings to the austere dryness of Beckett. This is to load something onto these works that is fundamentally not there; the claim that they “direct us towards a clearer perception of the real” can not be substantiated by the evidence of my eyes at least; what they do give is a clearer perception of the difference between existential nausea, the viscous horror of nothingness, and, like bad acting, the shallow melodrama of someone barely pretending.

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