Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Royal Academy

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is something that I have a vague memory of studying in my deep and dark distant past as being something to do with Sir Joshua Reynolds and that the French equivalent was shunned by the Impressionists.

As I have now been in London for a year, this is my second visit to one, and the fact of being here for two summer displays and having seen now three different exhibitions in the same space makes me feel less like a long term tourist and more like an actual inhabitant.

Now when I watch TV and see things set in London (as most things are, especially dramas and British films- people who write them must generally be too lazy to write about anywhere else - except for Russell T Davis transporting Dr Who to Cardiff), I am more likely to recognise bits of where they are. Previously I was only ever able to do this with Taggart, Ballymory, adverts shot in Barcelona and holiday programmes showing the Bahamas.

It is also quite strange to watch Golly Gosh Boris in the left ventricle of the testicle as his new deputy resigns due to not having perfectly spotless past (subject for another discussion; does anyone over the age of 30? Would any of us stand up completely to a thorough scrutiny of the slightly soiled linen in the cupboards of our own past? ) and realising that behind a very tired, pasty and stressed looking Boris is actually a view of a part of a city that I walk through regularly. In no way do I feel an integral part of it, but I have a feeling that this statement has to be quantified with a ‘yet’ rather than a definite ‘no way.’

Further along the path to reaching beyond the ‘yet,’ my visit to 2008s Summer Exhibition propelled me along to agreeing with the critics as to its usefulness, its relevance and its standard. The Times critic pointed out before he had even seen it that ‘it’s always lousy,’ I would say it was completely crap.

Last years exhibition seemed so much better which made me wonder if having been in London for a fortnight I was star struck at the idea of attending a summer exhibition and following in the footsteps of rich Victorian ladies. I think that was part of it but I also think there is truth in the simple explanation that last years was much better.


Now I didn’t think about writing about this on my blog until I had moaned and groaned about it over coffee with my Mother who was with me, and we had both decided to leave the list of works on top of the tray at Brioche Doree. Therefore I will have to describe the show without recourse to any knowledge of a) the names of any of the paintings or artists, b) the names of any of the rooms.         

In the course of a year someone of importance has obviously died so there is a quick retrospective of his or her work (almost always his). This was at the entrance –the opening gambit so to speak, to give a sense of historical weight of the place –the RA is so important, its members are important people who when they die get retrospectives. You, lucky attendee of such hallowed halls may be able to purchase an item that, when the artist who made it dies, may required to be returned to this place for such an event.

  The next hall has a whole load of other quite decent stuff that is not for sale by honorary members of the Academy and others whose work is there in honour of the dead person in the previous hall. I recognised a work by Tapias there, not that this marks me out as person with great artistic intelligence, its just that if you have spent any length of time in Barcelona the two artists you can recognise half drunk with one eye shut and double vision in the other one are Miro and Tapias.

This particular Tapias looked like every other one I have ever seen.    

Beside it was a wide abstract painting that my Mother thought looked like passing thoughts and I though looked giant honesty seed pods like the kind I used to pritstick onto paper and make collages out at my Grandmother’s house when I was about 8. It was a very impressive painting.   

There was a small room with a load of paintings covering the length and breadth of all four walls and looked like those old photos of, well, Summer Exhibitions. The stuff in it ranged from slightly better than mediocre to really crap. If you are ever at a dinner party and on walking through your host’s hall to visit their toilet you come across a print of two decaying semi decomposed birds in black and white, rather than shiver and think, “what in the name of the wee man possessed them to put that on their wall?” Please, please comment on their good taste at using the opportunity of the 2008 RA Summer Exhibition to invest their money so wisely.


Then there was Tracey.

Apparently her idea was to shock and be explicit and as the RA had asked Tracey Emin to select and hang pieces in one of their galleries at the show, they must have shared that vision. There was a warning at the entrance that the pieces in this gallery were of an explicitly sexual nature and that no one under the age of 18 was allowed to enter. There was however no one there checking ID, so I am sure that a lot of 16 and 17 year olds found it far easier to get into than to see this than to illegally buy Lambrini in Tesco's.

There was in no particular order and not exclusively; a video of a woman’s lower torso hula hooping most adeptly. On closer inspection the hula hoop was made of barbed wire but she wasn’t getting cut or flinching so she was either an extreme sado-masochist or some artistic licence had been used, along with special effects. There were some photo montages of a woman fingering herself (I am not using the word ‘pleasuring’ – I don’t think that was the intended effect) while she had her period and extremely large montage of a zebra shagging from behind a surprised looking woman who was drawn in the same style as Victorian postcards.

There was also a free standing sculpture of a bunch of pink penises with pink fingers locked around them. The ‘clever’ part of this was that it was lit in such a way that the shadow it cast on the adjacent wall looked like two heads in profile facing away from each other.

I left with the feeling that this sculpture wasn’t the only bunch of knobs associated with the exhibition.      


Thursday, 10 July 2008

Studying Chavs

Radio 4s ‘Thinking Aloud’ programme had an article a few weeks ago on the sexualisation of chavs, where the fascinated listener could learn all about how the gay English community has fetishised Chavs (too many gay Scottish people are chavs , or neds as we like to call them, to bother fetishising them – especially the ones from Ayr). Gay clubs have regular chav nights, there is Chav porn and a whole host of gay Chav sex phone lines. The idea of anyone paying to hear a nasally accented man saying down a crackly phone line ’Gonnae suck ma boaby big man,’ while fantasising about a red head in a shell suit is an interesting concept to say the least. In the end it boiled down to the long standing middle class fantasy of the sexual nature of the poorer classes. It appears that the higher up the social class ladder you are, the lower your libido.

One of the guests on the programme was an academic from a wonderful place named the Centre for Sexual Dissidence at the University of Sussex in Brighton. It’s not the kind of centre that you could imagine being in Aberdeen. According to its website (and no I don’t know how to do that clever hyperlink thing so until some teaches me, you will have to look it up yourself on google), it “explores sexual dissidence as a diverse site of signification and subjective identification, acknowledging that the social milieus that produce and are shaped by sexual dissidences are just as plural and not confined within national or regional borders alone.” So now you know.

I found all this fascinating but I did wonder why no one had created a Centre for Chavdom. Surely there are more Chavs than sexual dissidents? Where are the studies on their social and cultural significance? Where are the papers written on the symbolism of Special Brew and Buckfast? Who explores their aspirations and fantasies? Do chavs have a secret yearning for Kiera Knightly?

While I am aware that Chavs have in many cases embraced the hip hop of Black America while their northern ned cousins are exclusive fans of extremely fast furious and f**king annoying pseudo-dance music, so far I have only come across one set of Ali G impersonators once on the Bakerloo Line from Kensal Green. The utter whiteness of the boys with their Jafaican accents, too small baseball caps and loud London hip hop played on their mobile phones reminded me of a time I once got on an overnight train a long time ago from Glasgow to London only to be sharing a carriage with a large group of toggled and kilted teenage boy scouts who had a ghetto blaster (ask your Mother, she’ll remember what those things were) playing James Brown’s, ’I’m Black, I’m Proud’ full volume. An American couple looked on in utter astonishment as pasty white face after pasty white face encouraged the red haired freckled owner of the blaster with the words, ”Gonnae turn that up man? I want tae listen tae Jimmy Brown!”

Could Chavs in England as a social group of Caucasians (that what we now have to call white people, just in case you are wondering) actually be undiscovered followers of negritude? Apart from the more obvious embodiments of black culture as witnessed by me on the Jubilee line, I also saw one day two extremely lady like chavs near Mile End with what can only be more examples of negritude. They were both dressed in the necessary shell suits and five or six tiny rings on each hand but one had the colours of the Jamaican flag down each side of her black shell suit while the other one had a white shell suit but was wearing white sling back shoes of the kind favoured by West African women shopping at Petticoat Lane market on a Sunday.

Poor Aimé Césaire never realised that rather than trying to unite disparate black cultures under the one culture and celebrate blackness all he had to do was wait. Sooner or later some white people would come along, unite it and nick it.