I think that the British Art Shows have fast become more reliable than the Turner Prize, in terms of both exhibition in its most honest and fundamental form and in its ability to display, with integrity the climate of contemporary British art. I find it difficult to write about art without painfully wincing and gritting my teeth and it would appear that however many degrees you graduate with from Goldsmiths, such a task becomes increasingly onerous. Anyway, this year’s BAS – after reluctantly shedding my critical skin – was in fact a joy. The following three works struck my attention and indeed stuck in my mind, with one actually proving to blow my mind softly and re-ignited a feeling of total elation, to the point that it has encouraged me to write a short note on the subject.
Charles Avery’s encased (and rather large) interstice of a moment upon his imaginary island, featuring Miss Miss, a one-armed snake and a bag of personal objects, strewn about on a small and perfectly composed desert(ed) scene, recalled stuffy and excitable English lessons meeting with Borges’ Aleph and Meursault’s arid apathy at the morgue. The written counterpart to the vitrine’s exhibit swept this work from the floor and wrote into it a dimension that became truly embodied and more so visceral than just a mannequin in a glass box with some sand, some twigs, and a pretend snake. After spending a long while reading The Hunter’s four-page sermon proverbially illustrating the illustration, I remembered that the world is okay and I should perhaps refrain from refraining from looking at art.
Emily Wardill’s The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter) equally moved me; I laughed out loud and really felt enthused by what I was watching / listening to. I enjoyed the automaton references more so than the traumatic re-staging of only half a recollection of a diamond heist from a (any?) film. The narrative really had everything; from maritime metaphor to Queen Christina, Warhol to Oprah Winfrey. Wardill’s work is great because it is exactly what it presents. I laughed because of the apparent logic with which Descartes daughter, Francine (/automaton) lived by:
Warhol said he didn’t have a self.
Oprah says that you must love yourself before you can love someone else.
(Ergo) Nobody loved Warhol.
Christian Marclay’s The Clock blew my mind, conceptually. Most likely due to the fact that I want to work on a project equally as vast and time-consuming as thus. I genuinely could have stayed for the twenty-four hour duration, were it not for the fact that I missed the twenty-four hour showing over the weekend. The work is self-explanatory; it is realised as a clock, the clock of time, in real-time, as real time, our time, all time. Thousands of film edits composed in such a way so as to project a film-as-clock; not only beautiful – choice clips of film, audio and so on, but fascinating; clever, bold, progressive and a work that stood above, about and beyond the show.
It seemed as though faction, temporality, (un)reality and the usual sensation of intense cultural critique were themes of consistency throughout this year’s show – disappointed by the pertinaciousness of the latter, but perhaps obviously thrilled by the former, I left the show with a small desire to look at a bit more art a bit more often, but remained conscious of the fact that presently, contemporary British art is half empty, not half full.