Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Friday, June 15, 2007

State of the art

Exactly at 12:58 p.m, on October 25, 1999, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi had the greatest performance of their life. They had named the performance Two Naked Men Jump into Tracy’s Bed. It took fifteen minutes for the artless guards at the art gallery to realise that the performance is not part of the installation, while the enlightened crowd was applauding to their highly artistic minds’ content, who realised the fact only when they read the next day’s newspaper. Much to the disappointment of the audience, the guards had to withdraw the unfortunate men from the scene before they reached the climax of their performance. It was not moral policing, but only coitus interruptus, in the most profound, artistic, figurative sense.

The act was performed at the occasion of that year’s Turner Prize, United Kingdom’s most publicised art award that amounts to £25,000, which is organised by, and at, the Tate Gallery, London. And the installation, which these performers had volunteered to improve by their ingenuous concept, was the famous, and/or infamous, My Bed by Tracy Emin. This artistic piece is the artist’s own double bed, unmade, with soiled clothes and assorted objects lying around. Once it was almost destroyed by a gallery keeper, who tried to clean up the mess. It failed to win the Turner Prize that year. Turner Prize, after all, is not an easy catch. It’s named after J. M. W. Turner, said to be the first of Impressionist painters, and is awarded annually to a British visual artist under the age of 50. One of the earlier winners was a film called 60 Minutes of Silence, which is an hour long shot of a group of people in police uniforms standing still. Every single winner has the art quality that has outdone this particular one, in some conceptual way or other. The 2001 award was given to a work, which was an empty room with its lights going off and on. Presenting the award to the winner that year, Madonna said, “At a time when political correctness is valued over honesty I would also like to say right on motherfuckers!” A statement that would provoke anyone to doubt whether her breasts are real!

My Bed has almost a milestone-ish importance in my own meagre art knowledge; it was the first ever installation art piece I came to know about, though later I read that the first piece of its kind was Fountain, a urinal turned 90 degrees from its normal position with the name R. Mutt written on it, which Marcel Duchamp installed in 1917. The genre became one of the most important expressions of art as concept art started gaining popularity in the 60s. When Charles Saatchi, impressed by the work of a group of artists, and opened a show with their work in 1992, and called it Young British Artists (YBAs), it was a new beginning. A beginning of the end of old means of art.

Saatchi bought Emin’s My Bed for £1,50,000, which provoked one of her former boyfriends to offer another bed of hers, which he owned, for just £20,000. He was not very serious, but Saatchi was. Tracy Emin was one of the founding members of the Stuckist movement along with this former boyfriend, Billy Childish, and few others. And the Stuckists’ fame is all about demonstrating against Charles Saatchi, YBAs, Tate Gallery, and the Turner Prize. Another of her boyfriends was an art curator who had worked with Damien Hirst, the most prominent of concept artists alive today. Soon after meeting him Emin shot to fame with her definitive work titled Everyone I Have Slept With 1963-1995, a blue tent with many names on the inside of its flaps. And that was how one of the founder Stuckists became one of the prominent YBAs.

Of all the YBAs, no one has got the fame that matches Damien Hirst. In 1991 Saatchi offered Damien whatever amount he requires to create a new work. Damien ordered a 14-feet tiger shark from Australia, and put it in a glass tank filled with formaldehyde. Damien called it The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and billed Saatchi £50,000. Twelve years later Saatchi sold this invaluable piece of art, which by the time had turned into a rotten piece of shark meat in murky formaldehyde solution, for £6.25 million to an American art enthusiast. Generous Damien Hirst offered help to the new buyer, by allowing a replacement of the rotten shark with another. The cost of restoration is undisclosed, but the formaldehyde injection procedure, which ensures that it will last for another 200 years, alone had cost a million USD. In 1995 Hirst had won the Turner Prize, and the award winning piece, Two Fucking and Two Watching, featuring a rotting cow and bull, was banned by public health officials from exhibiting in New York for the fears of ‘vomiting among the visitors’. Possibly, the reason that inspired Hirst to offer the help to restore his rotting shark.

It was only a few of days back I read about the latest work by Damien Hirst called For the Love of God, prompting me to write this piece. His latest work is an 18th century human skull, in a platinum cast and studded with 8,601 diamonds, created at the cost of £8-10 million, and is priced for sale at £50 million, qualifying it to be the costliest piece of art ever been created. I am not attempting to be an art critique, for I believed to have a highly underdeveloped right brain that doesn’t allow me to appreciate anything modern than the surrealistic art. Nevertheless, I’m quite amused by some simple facts about the people I was talking about, especially Charles Saatchi and Damien Hirst.

The YBAs are children of the 60s, grown up in the turbulent Liberal revival era and influenced greatly by it. It was the powerful ‘Labour is not working’ campaign designed by Charles Saatchi’s advertising agency that brought Margaret Thatcher to the Downing Street office, and it was the oppressive measures of her junta that kept the rebellion alive among the artists in that country. I won’t blame the prevalent mediocrity for this state of affairs of art. Mediocrity, after all, is the sticky glue of civilisation that keeps societies from falling apart. And people like Saatchi or Hirst are the microbes inside the colon of the same society we constitute. And the moist pieces that come out of that colon are the product of the society, not the microbes. The microbes are well aware of it, and it’d be better, if we too are aware of the same fact.

Damien Hirst creates all his works with the help of his assistants, and was never hesitant to acknowledge that. In his opinion the real creative act is conception, not execution, and the progenitor is therefore the artist. Once, one of his assistances who was leaving asked for one of the pieces she had painted for him. Hirst told her to make one of her own and keep. As she insisted on having one the works she had done for him, he said, “ The only difference between one of mine and yours is money.”

I see Damien Hirst in his deathbed, with all sorts of tubes going in and out of his body, making one of the finest installations possible. And I see him conceiving his last work lying down there – A huge glass tank filled with formaldehyde, in which a larger than life human hand with all its fingers folded, except for the longest one, is kept suspended. That big finger will be made of inflated phalli of dead donkeys from Africa, and faces of major art collectors will be imprinted on each. This incredible piece will be named The Virtual Possibility of Life, in the Mind of Someone Dying.

Check out Damien Hirst's White Cube profile, and some of his works.
Read the Guardian blog, on his latest work For the Love of God.
You can also read extracts from an interview of Damien Hirst by writer Gordon Burn.

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At Tue Jun 19, 05:42:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yet another TM jubin post replete with sarcasm at its bitter most :-)

and i can gape in wonder forever at the kind of stuff you read

i once read in a fortnightly about an artist who had carved out a head, an image supporting it, a watermelon red head. the material used ? placenta ! but i remember no more of it cause like you once remarked i have a lot of data in my head but no factual information

keep up the good work, cheers !

At Wed Jun 20, 01:20:00 am, Blogger Jubin George said...

The work you mentioned is by another YBA, named Marc Quinn. And the the placenta he had used was his own son's. He pureed it and froze it inside a mould modelled on the baby's head. His work to fame was his own head moulded with his own frozen blood (4.5 ltrs of it), which was aptly named Self. Saatchi bought the piece for £13,000 and sold it to a US collector for £1.5m. But he has actually done some really good work,including some anatomically correct sculptures. Those including one of Kate Moss, and of many amputees and disabled from birth. The most famous one is Alison Lapper Pregnant, a 15 ton marble satue of the woman of the same name, who was born with no arms and very short legs, when she was about 9 months pregnant.

Nice to see your comment here, Scout :)

At Wed Jun 20, 10:24:00 am, Blogger dharmabum said...

how complicated. and i've been thinking art is about paints and brushes. silly me :)

At Wed Jun 20, 11:55:00 pm, Blogger clash said...

Interesting. Art evolves!

At Thu Jun 21, 11:56:00 am, Blogger Jubin George said...

dharmabum: I thought art has became more simple! No worry about mixing paints. No multiple washes or coats. No worries about shapes or strokes. Just cut some thing up and put it in formaldehyde! Can it get any more simpler? :)

clash: This might interest you. Hirst was a very good friend of Joe Strummer. Hirst describes the death of Strummer as the first instance that made him feel mortal! And one of his traumatic childhood experiences was when his mother took one of his Sex Pistols vinyl records and heated it in a cooker to mould a fruit bowl out of it. A fruit bowl for a flower child, may be.

At Thu Jun 21, 08:19:00 pm, Blogger clash said...

Ho.. thats really interesting!!

At Sat Jun 23, 02:35:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you so much, you just made me hate "people" like damien hirst even more, hence, your work as a writer here is done here cuz now i'll make him fuck himself with is own lifted middle finger grrr

At Tue Jun 26, 06:43:00 pm, Blogger shenoy said...

who gives a rodent’s backside about art, society and petty opinions from those that presume to think they know when i wish i could also turn my faecal matter into hard currency at the rate of gold?....[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist's_shit ] at least their priorities are in the right order eh?

as far as hirst, the phenomenon, is concerned, maybe he and his ilk are the ‘artists FOR our times’…an age such as ours deserves people like that. this is not to be frivolously dismissive of them, neither is it to shift the blame onto society at large, but to give acknowledge, give due credit, nay respect even, to the people [saatchi included] that know how to work the system, create new ones even! No matter how incidental the fact is that all these guys have changed our perceptions about what ‘art’ is and should be (or even, what ‘art’ could be?) and helped shaped whole movements (?), it is nonetheless important. And that spirit is maybe – mutatis mutandis – what drives everything forward.

Where you undermine your own point which me has stated above as me understands it, is when you call it mediocrity. Mediocre as compared to what?? What then of our age is not is not mediocre when compared to a previous age?? And no, it is not mediocrity that holds civilisation together. I don’t think so at least. One time.

And as far as the microbes in the colon are concerned, you know as well as I that we need those microbes as much as they need us. It’s called symbiosis. Mutualism. And we don’t need to invoke any more high metaphors to see why we need them, and it turns yours on its pretty head. Because then, the ‘moist pieces’ then are (honest?) outpourings such as yours. Two time.

As far as Hirst, the artist, is concerned, I do honestly think he’s good. If some art collector wants to put a price on ‘priceless’ art, let him. But just the fact that people pay obscene amounts of money (for whatever reason) for an artist’s work does not mean we should hate the artist, does it? Three time.

At least with installation art, you know which way is ‘UP’.
Well whatever. Am tired typing. Later.

PS: I see that ye olde trend of the comments being more interesting than the post itself still continues. Nice goin’ dude.
PPS: It is a paradox paradise allright…you seem to know all the Anonymous’ by name!

At Wed Jun 27, 02:04:00 am, Blogger Jubin George said...

anonymous: Then you will love to hear about the 'new' thing called bioart. It ranges from audiograms of genitically modified microbes to fluorescent green bunnies! But I like I had told you, keep the flames in check, so that it won't blow up the furnace. :)

shenoy: Nice to see very careful, hairsplitting comment :)

For the First time
“[…] Where you undermine your own point which me has stated above as me understands it, is when you call it mediocrity. Mediocre as compared to what?? What then of our age is not mediocre when compared to a previous age?? […]”

Mediocrity was there in all the previous ages, and is there in this age, and will be there always. And it’s this symbiosis that made me state that it’s the mediocrity that holds the civilisation together. You can call Mona Lisa mediocre, and I can call Hirst’s work the same. The admirers, the majority of them, who make objectivities out of a subjective world, are, and were, mediocre at large. The only difference I can observe in now and then is in the admired. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t any mediocre artists 30 or 40 years back, or there are no excellent artists today. If there are more people who know how to work the system, today and it’s only them who get successful, it’s not the genius of those people, but only an indication of the widening crack in the system. (But then, "that’s how the light gets in" ) And you and me have the responsibility for that faulty system. Acknowledging it alone won’t do any good.

For the Second time
Pigs can feast on shit. Even with great respect to pigs, I can’t. Because, shit will remain as shit, and it’ll stink. Mine or others. And no. I don’t wish I could also collect it in bottles and sell it at the rate of gold. Honestly. As for microbes, let them be there in the colon, where they are at home, not on the face.

For the Third time
The fact that some people pay obscene amounts of money doesn’t make anyone’s work any great. And if that reason alone makes them feel conceited, they are to be ridiculed. I’ll prefer shark meat deep-fried in coconut oil to the one kept in formaldehyde any day!

And I make my opinions on convictions, not on presumptions. And it is not one and the same.

For PS and PPS
It’s my honourable readers, who comment here, are the ones who make the comment section more interesting than the post itself. (See, they even make me modest!). :)

It’s not a celebrity's blog. So I know most of the people who know me, and I can recognise them even if they don't leave their names behind. They know that too, I guess :)

At Wed Jun 27, 04:25:00 pm, Blogger shenoy said...

You can add up the parts,
but you won't have the sum...

Well mine friend, your comment on my comment of your post seems to be atomising hair faster than they can grow. you have an ample coconut-oil fuelled supply of frizz, i don't. Remember, the dog is in the details…

so let's agree to disagree as far as our comments go and beat each other up over a cup of coffee. at least then, points will not be missed or ignored and the central thesis misunderstood.....and that works both ways….

but one thing, i do think you've misunderstood ol' leonard when he said ‘crack’.
Ah, bugger it…(no pun intended)

What we can only do is ‘ring the bells that still can ring’…which is what we’re doing.

PS: Dude! stop inserting smileys all over the place. It doesn't lighten the mood. As much as I see you grinning that ghastly grin, it’s not the same. *shudder!*

PPS: I might return someday to take you up on your comment on mine comment, but too lazy and miffed right now...you've summoned up a thundercloud, and you’re going to hear from me...

At Thu Jun 28, 01:09:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...


At Thu Jul 05, 04:28:00 pm, Blogger Amooma said...

U have been tagged. Visit me to find out. Watch out for another tag a little later on.

At Tue Jul 17, 07:56:00 am, Anonymous Tom Autopref said...

Hi, Jubin George. Just got here from Ridwan's place.

This bit might fit in somehow ... I read that English electronic music guru Brian Eno claims to have actually urinated in the Duchamp urinal.

At Wed Aug 08, 01:04:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

tom: Yeah, I have read about that Eno had claimed to have done that. He also said, Duchamp would have appreciated his action. I think, Duchamp would have. And I wouldn't mix Duchamp with the YBAs. As I understand it, that was the essence of the Dada movement and Duchamp's Readymades. That every thing is art, and art is not for art's sake.


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