Posts from 8th May 2005

May 05

Two – A poem from the invigilator at the ICA to Ryan Gander, mediated through myself and John Baldessari

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When I go to Berlin to perform

I only need a knapsack and these (points to arms)

And these (points to legs)

You don’t know me, or the possible effects of my words

You owe me fifty pounds

I have a passion I feel is degenerated by

Unwittingly being a part

Of your practise which is characterised by

“Independence and eclecticism” at least according to

The literature provided for visitors, or my customers.

Or are you my customer, or they yours?

I told David Steans I didn’t really like the work

Al Held said “All conceptual art

Is pointing at things” and Baldessari responded


You do nothing if not point at things

But I missed my chance to point back

I probably don’t think your performative

Lecture Loose Associations

Is so hot

And News From Nowhere is a difficult book

So I read with a slouch

And talk to strangers about my big

And little political

Things. Which is interesting in

And of itself, after all

Utopian Modernism and Socialism

Are big political things.

One – A conversation which took place between myself and the gallery assistant at Beck’s Futures 2005, plus other related information and opinion

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Ryan Gander is pre-occupied with the perceived failure of Utopian Modernism. Gander’s childrens book The Boy Who Always Looked Up is an account of the final days of reviled Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger, as told through the eyes of a young boy who lives in the shadow of his infamous Trellick Tower. Bauhaus Revisited is a chess set designed by Josef Hartwig in which the shape of each piece denotes it’s move, reproduced by Gander in blacklisted Zebrawood from the African rainforest – it’s never been put back into production after it was seized by the Nazis.
And it really does permeate throughout his whole entry, from his advertisement inserted in the catalogue calling for 15 writers to contribute chapters to a collaborative novel called The Grand National to be released under the name Keiran Aagard (death of the author indeed) to his insistence that the invigilator of the gallery read (presumably his own) well-thumbed copy of News From Nowhere by commited Socialist William Morris, one of the key English novels on the theme of utopia, I guess in the vien of Maurizio Cattelan’s dealer taped to his gallery wall, A Perfect Day, but without the caustic humour. You could imagine maybe Gander just really wanted people to read the book. I asked the invigilator how he was finding it.
“It’s tough.”
I asked him how strict his instructions were, and if he had been marking his place with a finger when he wasn?t reading it; the placard above his head said he should be. He said he hadn’t.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I feel being part of this guy’s work.”
“Why’s that?”
“I haven’t got the commitment to the work.” I wasn’t sure what commitment was needed, beyond reading a book all day.
“I’m a performance artist myself.”
“You feel that having been co-opted by this artist that…” he started nodding, and made a squirming motion with his arms.
“An awkward fit?” I said.
“Exactly.” He tentatively suggested that his objection, or discomfort, was a “political thing”. I wasn’t sure what he meant. He was eager to estabilish that he didn’t have “some big political thing” about the work, only a “little political thing”.
“It’s also an economic thing. I can charge fifty quid for a performance.” His day job is invigilating, not performing. I asked if he thought Gander had considered how individual invigilators could effect a person’s reception of his work, prone as they are to being badgered by people like me. The invigilator thought that he hadn’t, and bemoaned the fact that he’d not met the man – it’s ICA policy for their staff to meet the artists who are showing. The invigilator was on holiday when Gander was here.
“He’s a conceptual artist with no concept of the repercussions of his work.” I think this was probably unfair – I reckon Gander planned this element of chance, an actual live variable in a practise bursting to the seams with stories of odd and poignant historical junctions and missteps.

It Relieves Their Conscience

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British Political Pop 1990-2005

This is the second of a pair of compilation CDs giving one potential outline of how British pop acts tackled politics. This CD looks at the post-Thatcher era, from 1990 onwards. This coincides with my own life as a voter – the first time I was eligible to vote was in the 1992 general election.

“Bigotry, intolerance and racial intolerance!” Gary Clail had a long and honourable association with Tackhead, producing hard-edged, politically-themed dance records through the Thatcher years. This bizarre record, festooned with italo piano riffs and decadent diva vocals, was his land-grab on the mainstream. Its big-picture conclusions – “There’s something wrong with human nature!” – clumsy lyrics and none-more-passionate vocal ranting have made it a weathervane for cynicism about political pop, but for all the easy laughs it’s still a very enjoyable record.

“Stand up and beg for Sergeant Kirby” Like most of Carter’s songs “Bloodsport” tackles a specific issue, in this case racist abuse in army barracks. Like most of Carter’s songs it is also undermined slightly by its vaguely feeble wordplay (“The coldest stream guards of them all”??) but for eye-popping anger and cheapo drum machine pop you couldn’t beat them. Here the machines are coaxed into a glitterbeat rhythm that puts the song into a strange agitpop-schaffel territory.

SIMPLY RED – “Wonderland”
“The end of an era, our future no clearer” A quite bad record – limp melody, limpid singing – but one I feel a personal connection to. In April 1992 I was backpacking round Europe and anticipating returning to a Labour government: no luck. The friend I was with had this Simply Red song, about the fall of Thatcher, on a tape and I listened to it repeatedly and sadly on European trains as the reports of a Tory victory came through. I’m disappointed I downloaded it as I remember it as being much more forceful and incisive than it is: it still sounds like the end of something, though.

CREDIT TO THE NATION – “Call It What You Want”
“Lots of people all they need is a push!” 1993-4 saw a resurgence (of sorts) of political pop, with bands politicised by Tory harrying of dance culture making agitated hip-hop-fuelled rock, and the ‘New Wave Of New Wave’ groups creating exactly what the name suggested. Backed by the weekly press for a while, the records were fairly unpopular and when Britpop came along the media dropped ‘collision pop’ at once. The link between indie and left politics may have held, but the need to express it lyrically was gone.

The specific issue fuelling ‘collision pop’ was racism, specifically the rise of the fascist British National Party, which won its first ever council seat in 1993 in Tower Hamlets in London. This explains the anti-fascist message of “Call It What You Want”, enthusiastic hip-hop whose sampling of Nirvana grabbed student ears (like mine!) immediately. Rapping deficiencies notwithstanding this record stands up very well. Ah, the snakebite-lacquered dancefloors of my youth!

CHUMBAWAMBA – “Timebomb”
“Unattended at a railway station, in the litter at the dancehalls” The IRA bombing campaign of the early 90s saw London targeted regularly: hence this terrorist-themed dance-pop hit (maybe MIA should cover it). Despite being catchy as hell this didn’t sell, and is now just one more nostalgic anthem for me.

HUGGY BEAR – “Herjazz”
“This is happening without your permission!” The British wing of Riot Grrrl in full voice. The theme is male co-option of a feminist revolution, and on Radio 1 this sounded genuinely like nothing else. It also sounded petulant, incompetent, confused blah blah blah – none of this mattered cos modern punk scenes are always about micromarketing, one-to-one targeting, personal wake-up calls and doubtless “Herjazz” caused a few. I was no way part of the target demographic and got on with my life.

PULP – “I Spy”
“It’s more a case of haves against haven’ts” Britpop was political mostly by inference – most of the songwriters liked to try a bit of social commentary, but tracks like “Girls And Boys” are documentary, not editorial. Pulp, no surprise since they grew up as a band in the 80s, wrote some obviously political songs – eg “Cocaine Socialism” – but Different Class while never prescriptive, is all about the curdling of class and sex, and “I Spy” goes straight to the resentful, righteous groin of the matter.

D:REAM – “Things Can Only Get Better”
“You ain’t ever gonna know me – but I know you” Some songs have politics thrust upon them. D:Ream’s uplifin’ house hit from 1994 was adopted by the New Labour team for its 1997 campaign. From an eight-year distance the razzmatazz of New Labour looks staggeringly naff, and even at the time nobody liked this song, but like Bill Clinton’s sax it marked the moment at which the political establishment declared “Hey, we’re aware of pop music.” May sound a bit sour now.

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