Archive for February, 2012

Hepworth Private View

Sunday, February 12th, 2012


These days, nearly every time I go into an art gallery that is showing contemporary work, I am forced to confront that most useless—and yet intriguing—question of what is art? The answer, of course, is entirely personal, and everyone can secretly identify what they consider to be art and what they consider to be, well, something else.

The Hepworth preview on February 8th was no exception. What the hell is art?

But first the positive stuff.

My thanks to Emma Bearman of Culturevulture for inviting me to the preview despite (or perhaps, because of?) my reputation for candid and forthright opinions. The hospitality at the Hepworth was disarmingly salubrious; a large selection of cheeses, nibbles and drinks shared with the charming company of bloggers. If nothing else, these previews are worth it just for this.

And so to the art. David Thorpe has done a very strange thing; produced, by hand, art works made to look like mass produced prints. These works had taken a very long time to produce. A very long time. In fact, the time element was the most striking thing about these works and there is no denying the skill required to produce the tones and curves of the prints, I mean, artworks. The overall result however, is disappointingly bland. All that work and to such little effect. My overall impression?; perplexed.


When I was at art college, I studied film making and made a couple of interesting films; Gentle Ihor’s Odyssey in the City of Sheffield and Gentle Ihor learns to speak. We used a really old technology back then—16mm film, so coming across this ancient medium in Ben Rivers’s work was a bit of a nostalgia trip. The nostalgia ended when Ben turned up unexpectedly in the gallery and was invited by the curators to talk about his work. After fifteen minutes of him rambling on about film and stuff, I’d had enough of his monologue and hoped his film making skill was a lot more riveting than his speaking skill (and going by the bit of the film we saw in the preview, it is). The film is about a post-apocalyptic island society, a subject right up my devastated street. I’ll be back… (see what I did there?).


The final gallery, devoted to Heather and Ivan Morison’s work, had a large balloon in it. The bright light in the balloon made it look like a small sun floating in the cosmos of the room space. It was an enchanting white light and attracted us like itinerant, fascinated moths. And sure enough, some of us got badly burned. Because the curator then told a strange story. It was strange because it was supposed to relate to the iron chairs, wooden planks (made out of concrete), blackened bones and wax flowers that comprised the exhibition, but I couldn’t make any connection at all between the story and the objects in the gallery. This huge image on the wall for example was supposed to symbolise a man being burned or something…


Yeah, right…


I can imagine the artists had a great time conceptualising these works on the back of a used envelope from the Arts Council but any meaning, enthusiasm or insight failed to be communicated to me by the blackened bones lying on the floor. They sat there, mute and irrelevant to the story being told.


Admittedly the gallery was still being completed but it would take a miracle to rescue a successful narrative from the broken pieces of this abstract idea.

We ended up back at the room with the cheese and wine; the only thing that made sense during the evening. I gave a lift to Phil Kirby, Harvi and Hazel to the railway station and felt a satisfying sense of purpose. If only artworks could achieve the same effect.

One day, this will happen. But don’t hold your breath.


Will someone please think of the children…

Friday, February 3rd, 2012


Recently, my daughter brought home a slip of paper given to her by the primary school that she attends. It was a ticket for a charity fund raising scheme at the school. On the top of the ticket was embazened a full colour logo of the ’sponsor’ of the event. This was a huge American doughnut company that can’t even spell correctly. The ticket invited parents to pre-order a doughnut for their child and on a certain date, on school premises, the children would buy and then eat the doughnut. That was it. That was the charity scheme.

The last time I looked at the school’s letterhead, it had a healthy schools logo on it. What does that logo actually mean? Is the school required to do anything to earn this symbol?

As everyone knows, doughnuts are full of fat and sugar, that’s why they taste nice. But fat and sugar are everywhere in processed foods which is why we have an obesity problem and presumably, why a healthy schools initiative was implemented in the first place. To promote such a junk food in a primary school flies in the face of all the government’s health education efforts. What is going on?

But it gets worse. The doughnuts are intended to be sold to the children at below the retail price to make them more attractive. If the event is intended to collect money for charity (the ticket didn’t say which charity they would be supporting, but I’m guessing it won’t be Diabetes UK) then that means that the suppliers of the doughnuts must be practically giving them away. Why would a company do such a thing? Well, it might have something to do with gaining access to impressionable young minds and being able to brand into them their full colour logo as well as addicting their bodies to their fat and sugar products.

When I looked at the doughnut makers website, under a banner headline of ‘Everyone Wins’ they explained their fundraising schemes. I was horrified to discover that they actively facilitate these fund raising charity promotions in schools and are fully tooled up to ‘help out’ on a national basis. Why is this allowed to happen? Why is nobody up in arms about it and putting a stop to it?

Presumably, this means that ANY company that has the financial muscle to heavily discount some of its products, can have access to primary schools if their deal is tempting enough for anyone associated with the school—children or parents. This, dear reader, is the thin edge of the wedge.

How long before burger companies have stalls in schools at lunchtimes? How long before pharmaceutical companies realise it might be good business for them to get children to take home specially prepared flyers promoting their drugs to the parents; “Unruly child? Can’t sleep? Try our new Comatose Tablets for your ADHD little ones and Cloud9 anti depressants for yourself. Go on, treat yourself—it’s for charity!”

How long before an entire school is sponsored by a multinational like Dow Chemicals? Presumably, all that the school has to do is tag on a charity angle and any insidious implications of the relationship are rendered null and void.

But it’s just a doughnut, it’s only a bit of a treat, isn’t it?

No, it is not. I say again, it is the thin edge of a wedge. The hacking of celebrities ‘phones was just a bit of harmless gossip at first which sold newspapers. It is only when a murdered schoolgirl’s phone is hacked that the full thickness of the wedge is revealed as it is hammered painfully into our consciousness.

This practice needs to be stopped immediately before it becomes embedded into our schools. The multinationals already have an inordinate amount of influence over our lives. How much more influence do we want to give them?

Addendum: A follow up piece to this post has been written by Dan Ladds which is a must-read.