In combination with doing a talk/discussion on Parkamoor at Castlefield gallery Alistair and I attended the Hans Ulrich and Parreno innovative, groundbreaking, pioneering, vision of the future of art. In their own slightly euro words, ‘What if an exhibition was not about occupying space but about occupying time? Can contemporary art be interpreted outside of a traditional gallery environment?’ If you can be bothered to even consider such a weird - has this thought ever occurred to anyone before – question, the answer could be yes but don’t let Hans and Phillipe loose on it. I love those euro questions ‘ I like to propose zis kwestion ‘cun V zee vohat ish nut zere? And then hang a publication, seminar, trans euro tour on it. There is that seriousness/absurdity in Europe that just doesn’t exist in the UK, the curator is expected to be a petulant prima donna, obsessed with these daft questions apparently investigating the world around us. But back to ‘Postie Time’, can we answer this vital question? - from my experience of the audience after the show - yes we can and the answer is no. My own feelings during the performance ranged from this is very disappointing, to this really is very very disappointing with a slight lift to, this is disappointing for the Mathew Barney piece at the end (which was a very long way from the beginning 3 hours (not making a theatre performance 3 hours long might I guess be a tenant of the theatre folk alongside not mentioning Macbeth)). The show was really depressing for anyone in the visual arts, if this line up is as good as it gets then really it is time to find a new job, this was just embarrassingly, stump gnawingly bad.
I often think of my mother in these situations and how she would have responded, ‘Oh is this the sort of thing you do, is this what you want to achieve?’. In fact my mother could have come up with better and more engaging concepts for playing with theatre constructs, but then she, I suspect unlike the artists taking part does go to and enjoy the theatre on occasion and has a pretty good and broad knowledge of a wide range of cultures. Just to wet your appetite for how bad this was and bearing in mind my absolute maxim that bad art sounds good when you describe it - Red stage curtains dancing to Daft Punk (going up and down and sideways), Madame Butterfly performed backwards by ‘theatre style Chinese costumed performers’ walking backwards, Beethoven’s pastoral symphony performed by the orchestra with one instrument walking out every minute (you see an orchestra is made up of parts, so it’s not like a cd, like it’s on or off), some people wearing upside down glasses, (not many people know this but we actually see everything upside down), a puppet show with curator puppets singing a madrigal based on Gaugin’s who are we, where are we going, omitting my burning question - how much did it cost to get me so bored? Look the list goes on and on and it doesn’t get any better, Tacita Dean, Liam Gillick and Douglas Gordon were the predictable UK contingent. Liam covered a popular Portuguese song from memory on the piano, Tacita filmed Merce Cunnigham watching a performance and shifting 4 times in his chair and Dougie baby did an operatic/folk version of Love will Tear us Apart (we were in Manchester you see), Liam and Tacita’s works were pre-recorded, with Gordon’s being performed, but not by him – at least some of the artists had the balls to do it themselves, now Douglas Gordon singing Love will .... would have been good however bad it was. I suspect anyone familiar with the theatre will have seen these ‘experiments’ before, or things like them, I am not so familiar with theatre on account of my perception that it is mainly bloody awful (with the occasional extraordinary (makes it all worthwhile type) exception) but surely not ever this bloody awful.
Maybe I misunderstood the whole thing and it was actually meant to envisage what my mother would have come up with if asked to make some conceptual art based on the possibilities afforded by a functioning theatre (in which case they underestimated her). I wondered what are the non art interested public are making of this, if I don’t get it or enjoy it with my 30 years of art training what do they think? Alex Poots the Manchester festival director seemed to be promoting the principle benefit being that 500 curators attend the performance (not on the night I was there seemed to be mostly dealers, but then maybe that’s splitting hairs, but the theatre was half empty/full). The more art I see the more worried I become by the isolationist position, the artists reference things that they think are pertinent eddies of culture, where does this end as the references become ever more mainstream as their practice becomes ever more specialist/esoteric. “Yeah well you know I ‘m very interested in this guy, who like back in the 40’s you know , kind of developed this amazing drug, which like has been hugely influential but not so known, yuh it was like a total accident, this agar plate….’
Just to be fair - and that is as you will know my middle name – Barney came up with a performance piece which was slightly better (although totally unrelated to the other work) but still pretty lame – it’s central character - a bull - was actually lame. If you’ve seen Carpenter’s Escape from New York or it’s Snake Pliskin starring close cousin Escape from Los Angeles you have a good idea of the flavour of the work. Barnie - with a live dog on his head - removes the vital organs (carburator etc) from a wrecked car, placing them in canopic jars (zo interesting ritual, not zo many people know about zis). Then the assembled cast attempt to get one of the oldest bulls on the planet to inseminate the rear of the vehicle, which it so doesn’t/could’nt do on any one of the nights the show - now a lively young bull would have made quiet a show, a bull’s ejaculation is quite impressive in both violence and quantity, would have given the urinating crab arched ladies a definite run for their money. But basically Barney did the - expose the seams of the performance type thing - so it looked terrible, on film it would of course have looked fabulous – the underbelly of the performance was doubly exposed by the use of local talent, none off whom displayed the NYC body fascism of Barney’s usual work, like they were really fat and the costumes hung or strained around them like bags on a bag lady.
Enjoyed the sponsors logo’s though, good range including the Henry Moore Foundation – they recently turned us down for a grant saying they were getting back to basics – now I am seeing what they meant with the emphasis on the basics.
Below is what Richard Dorment writing in the Telegraph thought of it, sounds like an essay for an English appreciation ‘O’ level and deeply anti Islamic to boot, he’s mental. I think my own interpretation that it was a homage/copy to John Carpenter’s vision of a multi ritual world is way better.
'Shocking as some of this is, nothing that goes on in Barney's dream-like, surrealistic performance is gratuitous. He is meditating on the psychic catastrophe that is Islamism, whereby men who possess power over women express their fear and disgust at the sight of the female body by forcing their daughters and wives to cover themselves completely. Drawing on Freud's writings, he shows that women who are made powerless express their rage in the only way they can - by using their own bodies to urinate and defecate.
The corpse we saw at the beginning is that of a Westernised Muslim woman, embalmed and replaced by women made faceless by men who deny their existence as real people. This breakdown of human interaction is completed when the men then cover their own faces in balaclavas, losing any sense of themselves as individuals and allowing them to be subsumed in their sick ideology. Barney seems to be saying that the horrors we see nightly on news bulletins from the Middle East have their origins in sexual dysfunction.
The cause of Islamists' hatred of the West has nothing to do with Israel or Iraq but with fear of the other. They hate everyone who isn't like them, beginning with their own mothers, sisters and wives. And orchestrating this perversion of human nature is the god of death.
At the end of Il Tempo Del Postino, I felt I'd been present at a historic occasion when the ambitions of the curators were perfectly matched by the quality of the art, and when we saw the première of one of Barney's most profound and powerful works'.
A Triumph of Shock and Awe - Richard Dorment Daily Telegraph 17/07/2007
Err yeah thanks for that Richard, I am sure Barney will be delighted to know that he is suggesting that all suicide bombers are only blowing themselves up because they can't do sex..
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