Archive for May, 2011

Hepworth Gallery Wakefield

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Art creates more art.

Art creates more art.

In the Mainstream Media, it has been described as the largest, purpose-built, new art gallery outside of London. That fact alone is newsworthy. This is an art gallery we’re talking about, not a shopping centre, not an office block — an art gallery. In these times of grotesque capitalism, the boldness of that vision should be celebrated in itself, so before I give an honest review of the building, I congratulate the people behind the project who held their nerve and saw it through to completion.

The opening weekend saw crowds queuing to enter the gallery. How my heart rejoiced to see such numbers. Indeed, such were the numbers that I could not get inside the building on the Saturday, I had to contend with a stroll around the building and observing the supporting, outdoor events.

My visit did not begin well, though. I cycled to the gallery and when I asked a t-shirted volunteer where the bicycle rack was he scratched his head and said he didn’t think that there was one. I was incredulous. Surely, it should be mandatory that any new building of a certain size has to include bike racks as standard. I managed to find a tree near the entrance to the gallery, slim enough for me to get my lock around it, and off I went.

The spaces around the gallery are well thought out and make the most of the pleasant aspects over the river. It was clear that outdoor events of all types could be accommodated in the grounds. The children’s play area is a smart move to get more families to think about visiting the gallery. Across from the play area and hidden behind a bank of portable loo’s I noticed the neat rows of brackets for the bicycles of visitors. Clearly, the army of volunteers in attendance at the Hepworth that weekend might have been better briefed.

The following day, my entire family visited the gallery approximately half an hour before closing time. The crowds were still there but not in the numbers of the day before and we were able to walk straight in and have a quick tour of the building. The building itself is impressive and the galleries are open and inviting. My wife felt that the workshop rooms were poorly situated though — being immediately adjacent to the entrance and one of the first things you see on entry. She felt something grander should have been in its place — a showpiece sculpture in a large space perhaps.

I have to confess that I am not a big fan of Barbara Hepworth’s work, I don’t honestly know why her work is so highly regarded, so most of the pieces in the gallery were of little interest to me. What I was looking for, and what I didn’t see in any number, were the fine art paintings. OK it’s called the Hepworth Gallery, but as the local art gallery was shut down years ago because it was supposed to be incorporated into this new gallery, I was fully expecting to see many works by other artists. I was prepared to reserve judgement on this issue as it is still early days and the building itself continued to enchant me with its windows and corners. Every picture window I stood in and looked out of, revealed just how bold this project is: the building itself serves as part of the bank of the river, the water features of which, danced and shimmered in the sunlight.

Would I make the gallery a regular destination? Yes. But whoever curates the events and artworks in the gallery, has a hugely responsible job as they are going to determine the success or failure of the gallery. Everything depends on it. The building is there and the spaces are there; so far, the gamble has paid off, but the content is going to be crucial.

“Your future dream is a shopping scheme!”

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011
"Your future dream is a shopping scheme!" The Sex Pistols

"Your future dream is a shopping scheme!" The Sex Pistols

I spoke with a clown at the newly opened Trinity Walk shopping centre in Wakefield (bear with me: he was an entertainer recently finished from his stint of entertaining the crowds and with whom I have worked with on several occasions) and we discussed the new complex.

“It’s a bit too posh for Wakefield,” he said.

Seeing as how he was a resident of Wakefield, he had the authority to say this. It seems the perception of Wakefield by its inhabitants, is one of a place of poverty, of an undeserving second-rater, a failed cousin of Leeds. I reserved my judgement and set off to have a look around.

Trinity Walk is one of the first developments in the country to pick up the dropped baton of redevelopment and break through the finishing line in the great race of capitalist consumerism. It has cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

I can’t help thinking that these new building developments are like new developments in television: hi-definition broadcasts, for example, are novel and impressive at first, but eventually they become the new default setting. What you are left with is what is actually delivered by the television, it is the content that matters.

As I wandered round and took in the familiar logos of high street capitalism, a sense of despair overwhelmed me. Is this all we can look forward to? The crashing, sardonic line from ‘Anarchy in the UK‘ by the Sex Pistols kept repeating in my head: “Your future dream is a shopping scheme!” There is no culture here. There is no education, no knowledge, no love or understanding. Everything that makes life worthwhile is absent here. It does not promote life, it drains it. In the equation of human happiness, shopping centres hold a negative value.

Wakefield council have missed a massive trick here. Instead of preserving what is unique and organic (like the old market hall) and thus valuable, they have gone for the one-size fits all approach of globalised capitalism and pulled down the old to replace it with the current fashionable new trend (Wakefield even built a walk-in fountain in its centre — just like every other clone town). I’ve written about this short sightedness before with the farmers’ market here.

Then as I leave the new shopping centre, a consequence makes itself apparent — the surrounding streets suddenly look drab and unkempt; the many shutters covering the old shop windows signalling the future demise of what is left of the centre. Redevelopment is like a cancer of the New: consumerism is the fashionable disease of the twenty first century. Resist it at your peril.

Who actually wanted this shopping centre? I don’t remember anyone asking me. How is it going to help the unemployed? It can only provide so many jobs and those jobs depend on others spending money (if they have any).

In a few days time, the Hepworth gallery will open, another multi-million pound redevelopment project in Wakefield. What happens in there will matter a lot more than what happens in Trinity Walk, at least in my book. It will be interesting to see if any sort of community develops. I’ve been hammering on their door for months to let Bettakultcha in. We’ll see if they recognise the punk ethic and acknowledge the locals… “God save the Queen!”

The Pornography of Consumerism

Friday, May 13th, 2011
tourist attraction

The Mother of all orifices

Pornography is not sex. It is a commercial product sold to you at a profit. It is a fantasy. Most people will experience sex in a mundane or haphazard way in a private one-to-one pairing. If they are lucky, they will have sex with the addition of ‘being in love’. For a limited period of time, the sex will be sensual, fulfilling and natural. Then the sex will become perfunctory, ordinary, dutiful.

Pornography is the unattainable side of sex, the imagined state of extreme sex, the dark side of desire. In reality, it is unnatural, fake, engineered, distilled — just a job, for those who work in the industry.

Consumerism is exactly the same scenario. Most peoples experience of it will be mundane and disappointing, a fumbling in the dark for buttons and switches, an impotent encounter with a salesperson or a scary moment at the point of purchase. For a lucky few, it will feel like being in love for a short period of time. But it won’t last. Consumerism is not happiness. It is a commercial product sold to you at a profit. The marketers who work in the industry create a dark side of desire. It is unnatural, fake, engineered, distilled, a fantasy, just a job… The pimps of consumerism take the basest drivers of desire and enlarge them to an absurd level — the Mother of all orifices.

And after the orgasm of purchase, what are you left with? As consumers, we often feel like the sex workers in the porn industry, left naked and humiliated by the sordidness of it all. Ultimately, we are disappointed by the whole fake process, one that leaves an emptiness in our lives which we can only fill with drugs.

Here, in the pornography of consumerism, we are all gimps in the cellar.