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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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According to the Human Genome Project, Biology will be the foremost science of the 21st Century following the completion of sequencing the human genome in 2003. The possible ramifications of this are vast, and may be applied to areas as diverse as human migration and archaeology.

We all need the work of research scientists

This is music to my ears, as I find reading about new research in biology absolutely fascinating. I feel many more people would if they could only get to see some of the things the human condition is capable of, and the phenomenal abilities of the minds of research scientists who literally work to save humanity. The fates of our lives are in the hands of these people, and I do not think we consider them enough. Here’s some music for your ears, I think it goes nicely with my blog:

It’s a tough job. Where would you start, if you were faced with a disease such as HIV? A disease that morphs and hides in the body in ways a human being with all the time in the world and the mind of Einstein could not invent. Imagine having only a laboratory, and a set of symptoms to work with, what would you do? I am in constant awe of the people who are able to not only seek out the tiny changes causing disease, but who can use these observations to create bespoke treatments.

I’ve been reading about synesthesia today. This is a harmless neurological phenomenon where a stimulus to one sense triggers a response in another – literal sense swapping. So, you could see a piece of music in morphing colours and shapes, taste the flavour of words, see numbers as objects, or directly associate numbers and letters with personalities. Or a day, month, or number might mean a specific location in space.

Seeing numbers as colours

Synesthesia means ‘joined sensation’, and has an incidence of one in 23 people in its different forms. It can be induced by epilepsy, a stroke, blindness or deafness, and is passed through families, although scientists are yet to identify the exact form of inheritance. The sense-swap is accumulative, so the sufferer will hear a sound and see a picture, at the same time. The correlation lasts a lifetime – if Tuesdays taste of beef bourguignon and Nirvana’s 1993 acoustic set looks like a dozen cardboard cutouts of Des Lineham floating three foot from the floor, they will do always.

Synesthesia was first mentioned in 1690 by Oxford philosopher John Locke. He questioned the mental capabilities of a ‘studious’ blind man after he claimed he tasted scarlet when he heard a trumpet. Attitudes now have progressed following a bout of research in the late 1990s, and synesthesia is now regarded as something more than a literal metaphor, and fascinates many in the science and art communities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is an affliction  not uncommon amongst artists and musicians.

Wassily Kandinski, 1866 - 1944

Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky is largely considered the inventor and theorist of abstract painting in the 20th century. Kandinsky, born in 1866, suffered from synesthesia and wanted to use his condition to create the painterly equivalent of a symphony, to stimulate the ears of the observer. That’s quite a brief.

Wassily Kandinsky - Composition VIII, 1923

When he was a child, Kandinsky complained that his paintbox hissed at him. But whether or not he actually had synesthesia has been a subject for debate, as it is a phenonemon sometimes sought by artists in order to find inspiration for their abstract creations.

The Tate Modern featured an exhibition of Kandinsky’s work in 2005, which helped to raise discussion around the topic. An insightful piece in The Telegraph at the time claimed he had acheived ‘pure abstraction’.

Wassily Kandinsky - Several Circles, 1926

Kandinsky mused: ‘Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings.’

If  a composer encountered his paintings and was inspired to write a symphony, I wonder how similar the two pieces of music would be. Perhaps this has happened already.

British painter David Hockney heard the colours blue and red during the music of Ravel, so painted his stage sets of the Metrolopolitan Opera accordingly.

David Hockney, An Image of Celia

Perhaps this painting is supposed to look like Ravel’s Bolero?

I think one of the most remarkable forms of synesthesia is ordinal linguistic personification, OLP. This is when days, months, letters or years are assigned personalities. Dr Richard Cytowic has written a book entitiled ‘The Man Who Tasted Shapes’ . One of his subjects suffering from OLP told him in 2003:  ‘I is a bit of a worrier at times, although easy-going; J is male, appearing jocular, but with strength of character. K is female; quiet, responsible’.

Dr Cytowic's book

Another synesthete, Carol Steen, revealed: ‘There was a piece of music by a group called Uman. The first note was grey and it was like a band with a slight curve to it, and it was a gradient, and it had gold specs on it. The background was black but it was being broken up by other colours, moving shapes of fuchsia and there was a small click, almost like a drumbeat, something being struck, and as it was struck, a black shape appeared, and the shapes appeared from left to right, going horizontally across the bottom of this, like a movie screen I was watching.

‘And the shapes were so exquisite, so simple, so pure and so beautiful, I wanted to be able to capture them, but they were moving too quickly and I couldn’t remember them all. And it’s kind of a pity because it was a year’s worth of sculpture I was seeing in a few moments.’

I try think of phenomena such as synesthesia in an evolutionary context. Have our senses always been wired as they are now? For arguments sake, suppose seeing and hearing sound led to a quicker reflex time in response to a predator. The individual displaying this characteristic would be more likely to live to a reproductive age and pass on this trait, the inheritance of which would be likely due to syntesthesia’s strong inheritability.

Perhaps this characteristic would spread throughout populations and increase in incident until the prevailing response to sound is vision. How would a society shaped by these duo-senses look? How would it be different to ours, today? Would we be more efficient as a people, or less?

James Watson and Francis Crick, and their famous DNA double helix

I don’t have the answers, but I bet there is a scientist out there who is searching for them right now.

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