Archive for January, 2010

Artist Michael Landy will launch his new exhibition, ‘Art bin’, at the South London Gallery tomorrow.

Landy's Art Bin

Landy fell out of out of Goldsmith’s intimidating conceptual furnace alongside artists such as Damien Hirst, in the late 1980s. I am quite a fan of conceptual art on the whole; from what I have seen, although it may not be defined as art to those of us in love with art in the classical sense. That is, with Monet, Manet, Kahlo, with the notion of art as a romantic escape, a beautiful luxury that perhaps it was originally defined as.

Damien Hirst and his Diamond creation

But humanity changes, and morphing alongside humanity are the artists – generation by generation, they reflect the norms, attitudes and repressions of society. They manifest this not only in the creations they are blessed enough to be able to create, but also in the way they think of their work, and of art as a whole. Flinch as I do to use clichés such as the creative thought process – romantically, I assume there is no such thing – but surely this process presses against the boundaries of what can be defined as art.

Frida Kahlo was all for painting her imperfections. But what would she have made of the 'Art Bin'?

Which is why I think the conceptual artists are so bloody brilliant. They may be equally as able to draw and paint as the old masters, but they choose to present something which usually blitzes any grey area we had between what is acceptable and not, and most certainly what is the norm. Tracey Emin’s bed, to cite the most cited creation in arguments against conceptual art, for example. Shocking and arguably not using any classical skill whatsoever.

Tracey Emin 'My Bed' - Turner Prize 1999

But imagine having the gumption, the imagination, to consider that art and enter it into the Turner Prize, one of the most revered in the art world. I think that smacks of a train of thought I would never posses – and isn’t that feeling of inspiration, isn’t that something of the point of art? This train of thought is highly out of the ordinary, and I do not think that influential movements such as Fauvism, would have sprung up from those unwilling to press against the boundaries of the norm.

Henri Matisse, Dance I (1909) - Matisse was part of the Fauvism movement

Often, in conversation, I find myself taking the defensive role of conceptual art. It is easy to refute. One student from Landy’s year at Goldsmiths, for example, decided that wearing a balaclava decorated with pig’s trotters and plastic dolls, then walking round in circles for 10 hours, was what the age demanded of his tormented artist’s soul. This, arguably, is celebrated insanity – or not even celebrated. But the role and boundaries of mental instability in art is another subject for another time. I think before refuting conceptual art, people should think very carefully about why they are, and perhaps consider it in another realm, not competing directly with traditional art but looking to invent an entire universe on the side of it, where the normal rules do not apply.

Landy believes destroying art is creating art

That being that and beautiful and fantastic and everything, I cannot abide what Michael Landy has now decided constitutes art. His originally termed creation ‘Art Bin’, is inspired by a session in 2001 called ‘Breakdown’ where he destroyed every thing he owned. All of his 7,006 possessions – from odd socks to David Bowie singles and his Saab 900 car – were labeled and placed on a conveyer belt at the old C&A flagship store on Oxford Street, London, where they were then destroyed.

This, I suppose was a two-fingers up to artists such as Hirst, cashing in on their new ideas. OK, fair enough, materialism is bad, the government is bad, capitalism is well bad, I’m bigger than money I am….. It was his own work, his possessions, he was the one who was tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket and still feeling the pinch, nine years later.

But Art Bin is not about his own work. Artists, or people owning art, can come to the gigantic glass-walled installation in the gallery, climb up the steps and hurl any pieces onto the floor, smashing it and my defense of the world of conceptual art into a thousand tiny splinters. Eventually it will all be burned. Oh, it has to be good enough to be disposed of though – Landy must pass it through. I find this repulsive.

I don’t want to get all freedom fighter and harp on about the crude disparity in this world, but seriously, it doesn’t sit well. My mind can’t help but wander back over to the slums outside Chennai, in Madurai, South India. How much could one of those paintings being disposed of fetch? Pieces by Hirst and Emin are being chucked in. How much are they worth? One million? Two? Probably more. Imagine, imagine, how far that money would go over there, where you can live on 40 pence a day.

Sod it, sell it and pay back an incey wincey tiny bit of Britain’s debt soaring at £6,000 a second, I don’t care. Do something with it. Just don’t chuck it out.

Creatively, too, seeing these fantastic works of creation someone lovingly put together, putting their thoughts, time, putting themselves, into, too, smashed to smithereens breaks my heart. If only I could create such lovely things, I wouldn’t treat them like that.

If then, art morphs alongside the changing face of humanity, what the hell does this say about the current state of our society in Britain? What will others halfway round the world think has happened to our society, that we can celebrate this, that we can call this art, and that halfwit Landy, an ‘artist’?

My A-level Art teacher Mr O’Sullivan would be pleased. I’m having a ‘reaction’ – and that, he once said, is the point of conceptual art. I’m not convinced.

Apparently ‘Art Bin’ is about the ‘Paradox of Existence’. Sure, Landy, now spell that for me without using a dictionary.


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An interview with Booker-prize winning novelist Ian McEwan caught my eye the other day. He spoke to Nature about the gulf between science and the humanities. The classification of this boundary throws up some interesting areas of contention, especially when looking at those who attempt to stride the gap between the two giants of academia – taking their preconceptions with them.

Ian McEwan talked about emotion, literature and the brain

Is the flow between the two disciplines equal? Is the literal physicist as wary as his charismatic literary counterpart is of him? Have you read Shakespeare, do you understand quantum physics? Perhaps you know both. I’m envious.

Shakespeare - sexier than quantum physics?

Romanticism aside, McEwan raised some interesting points. He noted the wall between the two trains of thought, saying it was ‘intellectual madness’ for the humanities not to be interested. By the gulf between the archetypal scientist and literary scholar, he refers to differing philosophies. which can lead hostility.

McEwan said: “There’s something very warm and human about rationality. I think we are all both emotional and rational creatures and many of our conflicts or interactions with each other are mediated through our sense  of a natural justice, logic, and rationality. Somewhere along the line in Western culture, probably about the time that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, an idea grew up that Science was an unruly beast, both cold, abstracted and antithetical to the deep, warm-blooded human nature.

Frankenstein - is modern scientific apathy his fault?

“I think that needs to be unpicked. There is great warmth, to be had, a great cross fertilisation, if you take the time to think, reflectively on what your emotional state is and how this might be changing your decisions.”

How to go about unpicking this perception? McEwan refers to the separation of mind and body imbued in the characters novelists portray – and cites this as an antidote to the embodiment promoted by scientists. Is this part of the greater problem in the public’s perception of the scientific community? Does the notion of science as an inaccessible, dusty discipline trickle down subconciously from those providing our well-thumbed method of escapism? If the two cultures were at peace – what would this acheive?

Charles Percy Snow CBE (1905 – 1980), an English physicist and novelst, famously lamented the dead space between scientists and literary intellectuals. In his lecture ‘The Two Cultures’, after finding a widespread incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists and a lack of scientific understanding of the scholars, he mused: ”The great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.’

There are, however, those in the Scientific community whom have, arguably, perpetuated this dusty reputation of the literal scientist. It doesn’t get much more literal than Charles Babbage, the ‘father of the computer’.

Babbage's 'Difference Engine' could perform mathematical calculations

Babbage (1791 – 1871) felt a little disgruntled after reading English poet Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘The Vision of Sin’, so contacted Tennyson. He wrote: ‘In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads –

Every moment dies a man

Every moment one is born

‘if that were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest:

Every moment dies a man,

Every moment 1 1/16 is born.

‘Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.’ Now that’s romance.

Aristotle (384 -322 BC) - Philosopher or Scientist?

The scientific community has had a larger role in refuting the validity of work from those of a literary persuasion. In an article this week in The Times, Professor Armand Marie Leroi from Imperial College cited Aristotle as the ultimate heavy weight of science. He argued: ‘You know him as the inventor of logic and political philosopher, yet Aristotle was, above all, a scientist. A third of his works were about animals. He made living things the centre of the cosmos. What he thought defined biology for 2000 years.’

The octopus was one of the animals that inspired Aristotle

Upon observing the fauna in the lagoons on the Greek Island of Lesvos, a 39 year-old Aristotle compiled observations, classifications and dissections, writing a book spanning anatomy, physiology and the soul.  But his work was refuted by the founders of the Scientific Revolution, as science is ‘about the study of nature, not books.’

McEwan sums up today’s gulf as a conflict between innatism and constructivism. This brings the discussion back to the two sides of the highest and oldest wall in science; the battle of nature versus nurture. Considering the basics of this debate may remind those in each community to marvel plainly at the wonder of the natural world, just as Aristotle did in 349BC. Perhaps considering this may bring the lab coats and the quills closer, and the gulf may begin to lessen.

Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of George's bush

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