Surely, like supermarket chicken wings, the word “contemporary” should have a use-by date. If we think about the term contemporary at all, we probably mean stuff made in the last 60 – 100 months. You can see the word used in this way right back to the 1940′s and beyond. I think it’s time to move on and start thinking for ourselves a bit more.
“Contemporary” is a lazy term because it appears to absolve the viewer from deciding for themselves if the work is any good or not. It’s a quick way to count work in or out when we don’t have the courage to say if we like it or not. This infatuation with the last 60 – 100 months is nearly as unhelpful as the infatuation with the previous 60 – 100 years, which is known as “retro”. But even less helpful is “cool”, meaning stuff made in the last 60 – 100 hours.
Computers couldn’t function without a completely regular timeline. This timeline has to be rigidly followed and unflinchingly shared with other computers. But humans can be much more promiscuous with time, which is why we are more interesting to talk to. So instead of asking “Is it cool, contemporary or retro ?” I’ve been trying to think of different questions that could be asked of the art we see and make :
- Does it connect to me, here, now ?
- Does it disrupt the assumptions I am making here and now and does it leave me looking at things slightly differently ?
- Does it leave me asking interesting questions, or does it merely present me with another answer ?
- Am I slightly less complascent after looking at it ?
For me, Hogarth is a contemporary. William Blake’s books are contemporary. Charlotte Salomons gouache sketchbooks are contemporary because they are all role models for me in the studio and signposts when I am looking at other peoples work.
For me Goya’s Pinturas Negras are contemporary – they feel closer to Frank Auerbach than Auerbach ever feels to Chris Ofili.
And don’t try telling me that Caravaggio isn’t nearer to Francis Ford Coppola than Coppola is to Guy Richie.
I feel we need to stop being frightened by the ticking of the clock and start trusting our own reactions. Try to feel braver about making judgements for ourselves about what connects work together and even more important, what connects it to us.
This is largely from a conversation I had with my philosophical best friend Hugh Aitken last night over a bottle of Highland Park. Having friends who are smarter than me is treasure beyond measure especially when as in his case they are also wondrously earthy and emotionally wise. Safe journey North dear Shug, and come back soon.
The show has just started so we thought it might be a good time to share some links in case you are unable to make it to the live event tonight.
You are also invited to the closing event on 5 December, which is called “Everything must go”.
You can see the web version of the film through this link : Such Stuff : a requiem for all that redundant media and all those forgotten messages.
We worked hard on the sound, and there is a projection copy available where you will get the full version, rather than the phone or laptop experience.
We will also put up some stills from the show in my blog, and will be tweeting.
There is a special set of 8 catalogue cards. You can buy signed versions of these at either of the events on 21 October or 5 December, or by getting in touch with me through the site. I think of them as a breadcrumb trail you could follow in whatever direction you like and in whatever order you choose.
This show was challenging and exciting to make, most of it well outside my comfort zone. If I hadn’t had the middle bit working on the large charcoal drawings I could have easily lost my bottle. That seems to be the trick for me, to have enough new stuff to keep me on my toes, and enough familiar stuff to stop me hiding under the duvet. Making this show felt like hitting a bend too fast on the motorcycle. You can’t brake. You mustn’t wobble. Just lean over a bit more and hang on.
Just got back from the first day installing the work. Mixed feelings, partly a shock to see ideas take shape and start breathing on their own. Partly feeling regretful that its too late to change anything Mostly straightforward relief at getting shot of this work that has been obsessing me for months.
But mostly just feeling tired, and grateful to my mate Melvyn who did the difficult stuff.
It’s strange how my relationship with the work changes as I prepare to hang for a show. It’s partly because I’m saying goodbye to it, like when a close friend moves to a different country. It’s also because the detailed admin you need to so at this stage is MUCH more stressful than doing the work itself. Pricing … Framing …. publicity and press stuff …. aaaagh. But it’s also wonderful to see how it went from here, which is a really early visual I did of the whole thing :
To here, which is one of the box works :
and ended up here which is your invite to the launch event :
I hope you can come to the launch on Friday. The performance is between 7.00 and 8.00 pm. and that’s the bit I’m really looking forward to. Once that performance is over it will never come back.