One way to define contemporary art may be to include anything which provokes the reaction: “That’s not art!” And Damien Hirst is certainly no stranger to this reaction.
But the genius of this previously unseen work is that when it asks, ‘Why can’t this be art?’ as it surely does, the immediate response is it contains things-we-do-not-want-to-look-at.
There’s a severed bovine head on the floor of the tank and no doubt tens of thousands of fat black flies. There’s a half eaten barbecue. But people do look at it. They stare for ages.
Retinal art is back with a vengeance, and it bears consideration that even the first readymade was selected by Duchamp on account of the fact he found the movement ‘pleasant.’
Hirst demonstrates here that visually appealing art need not even be pleasant. However, the grandeur of the work cannot be denied and even his detractors will be drawn in by the flies.
Let’s Eat Outdoors Today is a feast for the eyes and this needs to be addressed. It throws into question how we look at art, and the wider world, and what we might be looking for.
PS: Taking the artist at his word and judging by this interview (with Alistair Sooke in The Telegraph), you might also say this work celebrates the “beauty” of decay and death.
You can see Let’s Eat Outdoors Today in Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy until 7 April 2011.
For all the world you expect this image to move. It is a back lit screen with a casing as substantial as a cathode ray tube. We have come to expect computerised tablets to sing and dance, why not this?
But no matter how long you watch, the piece is static. The TVs in the image remain switched off. It suggests multi-channel entertainment, but delivers nothing.
You cannot adjust this homemade set. The photo is highly cropped, the image is blurred, and the colours are dated. The fact it glows is the best that can be said for it.
Yet light is a powerful draw. It is still the basic element of film, television, gaming and the screen in your computer and/or phone. That must be why this work holds so much promise.
And when you think of all the technology which 21st century minds could fit into that cumbersome wooden surround, it seems like a miracle that Ben Washington’s gogglebox simply does nothing.
Stranger still, it does not need to. This product of a single artist can still hold the gaze, just as well as the latest 3D model. And it still hangs in the air, despite the weight of expectation.
There is a highlight of the current show at Grey Area. That word is used because the rest of the works are in darkness. Visitors are provided with torches. A lightbulb forms part of Tavasiev’s sculpture.
So what it seems to illuminate is the arbitrary way we give a personality to the spirit of the dead and not yet buried. It would be shapeless white smoke were it not for those two cartoon eyes.
These eyes are comic and two dimensional, as if beneath the glare of enlightenment thinking, we cannot allow our ghosts to have any depth of character.
Likewise, any memory of the departed may now just be a thing to clutch in the night like a soft toy. The overhanging bulb is a discouragement to too much grief or pathos.
This was just a toy bear, so his granite monument is absurd. But he would have more dignity, surely, if the cloud of his being was allowed to dissolve into the shadows which consume all the other works in the show.
Ghost can be seen in Their Wonderlands at Grey Area, Brighton, until December 19. Visit gallery website for directions and opening times.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. Those really are tiny winged skeletons riding on the back of a dragonfly. And there are a hundred or more spectacles like this in Swarm by Tessa Farmer.
They give the impression of an airborne war, as if the skeletons are fighting for control of their glass cabinet. Which makes the artwork a theatre of conflict. Perhaps those fragile, hideous creatures are critics.
But in fact, the gallery guide suggests they are fairies. Each one is a dessicated tinkerbell. The hope you might have cherished in secret, for a more magical world, is here turned inside out.
And the wonder you might feel at such painstaking work soon turns to horror when you consider the results. No one wants to see dead insects, and bony fairies with fly wings attached, surely?
Except of course, many people really do. This piece seems to fascinate visitors to the gallery. If art is a mirror, this example of it shows a spectral, parasitic species fighting over thin air.
It is not a million miles from a battle in a desert, a debate in parliament, a war of words conducted online, or any struggle between ideas first dreamed up by those already passed away.
Swarm can be seen in Newspeak: British Art Now Part Two at Saatchi Gallery until 17 April 2011.
Interlocking plywood is not the stuff of classical sculpture. It is too rough and ready. It puts one in mind of model making kits or, here, a model of a stage set. You might use it to build a mock up or something provisional.
But Anna Parkina confounds this expectation. Her components are cut, punched out and assembled with insistent craft, and yet the chilly arabesques point towards nothing. This is a model without an apparent referent, a mock up without a purpose.
The title of the work is also opaque. According to Google, this sculpture is the only Cockleshell Garage out there. Of all architectural forms, the garage the least evocative. ‘Raskushka’ offers little more clues, to a non Russian speaker at least.
Although this does resemble is an abstract collage, and there is plenty of that by the same artist on the walls of this current show. Perhaps then it is a model of a medium. It sets the stage for simply putting one layer on top of another.
And if there is one thing all models represent it is labour and the business of their own construction. That is where you might start taking Parkina’s work apart.
In a week artists have rallied round a David Shrigley animation and a petition against cuts to public funding, a show which seems to offer its own discreet protest opened at Grey Area.
The Butler’s Cough by Simon Morse draws polite attention to a series of 12 customised control panels, such as you might find in an otherwise out of bounds area of a hospital, school or office.
In real life these mysterious boxes control heating, lighting, power, etc. Well, that is a guess. The fact is few know exactly what they do and how they operate.
Nevertheless, we understand they form an essential part of the infrastructure and we know they are not to be tampered with. So too with the arts.
Even at the best of times, arts organisations are called upon to justify their expenditure and explain what they do. There is a certain type of person only convinced by economic arguments.
And yet the real work of art is as invisible as these machines. It makes adjustments to settings in our consciousness, and in our hearts and souls, if you want to speak in those terms.
This may be a digression from such witty and suggestive sculptures as the one in the photo above, which like a good butler has coughed and then faded once more into the background.