Yes, but is it Art?

God is dead, long live the Teletubbies

Today I was given the opportunity to see for myself how artistic and bohemian my neighbourhood really is. Every two years there is an event organised in which local artists open their own houses to visitors as exhibition spaces. What could possibly be more interesting than seeing lots of local art and the insides of local homes? I will happily admit that I am the sort of person who, if I am on the top deck of a bus and someone has their lights on and the curtains open, will have a jolly good peer inside. Nothing is as fascinating as how other poeple live. The Presidenta informed me that one of our neghbours is a photographer and was having a show at his house and would I like to go?

Of course, I said yes, and off we trotted, myself, the Presidenta, and two new neighbours, a beautiful lesbian couple, the sort of girls with clear skin and lovely hair who you look at and think ‘I wonder what it would be like to…’  As we mounted the stairs to our building- the exterior staircase which I have never been up yet, we went past a gorgeous old wooden door with a baseball fitted as a doorknob, a really original touch, I thought. ‘She’s an artist who lives there.’ the Presidenta told me. She pointed to another flat as we came round the corner – ‘and that´s a published writer who lives there, got very good critical reviews…’ What interesting people live in my block! We’ve got everything- ex junkie prostitutes, torero dressmakers, beautiful lesbians, little old me (of course), writers, artists and now a renowned award winning photographer.

Said photographer opened the door to us wearing a dazzling suit in Rupert the Bear yellow with black ckecks. It was a very small attic flat, decorated in ‘arty’ kitsch style. There was lots of red, red and white polka-dot curtains, a pair of white high heels nestling on a high shelf among figurines of saints and plasticine characters. The space was so small we had to kind of weave round each other to fit in. He offered us a glass of wine and we wandered around to take a look at the photos. I loved the series of pictures, and you could see why he had won a prize.Mostly the subjects were young men dressed in drag but with no attempt to feminize them or emasculate them. So the model might be wearing a short dress, a wig, fishnet stockings, heels and full make-up, but would still have thick stubble or a beard. The locations, on the stairs of the interior stairway or just round the corner in front of the local chemists, one foot up on the bollard posing while a noncholant African walks past in the background, gave them an extra sleazy and incongruous feel. The poses were totally trashy, legs apart, or splayed at the knees, expressions wasted or hungover, ‘de afters’, or stoned. He somehow had captured authentic images of that particular wasted time of day after a night out, when it seems like a great idea to dress up and snap photos of each other clutching half-drunk bottles of brandy, or waving weary cigarettes. On the tv he was showing a performance piece with the artist himself (50ish, portly), dressed in nothing but a pair of heels, wandering around trashed in some abandoned warehouse. The piece ended with him kicking over an old armchair and falling face down on the floor, his fat little bottom quivering, his heels sticking up like claws. I decided I liked this guy.

We said our goodbyes and opted to go to a few more of the local spaces on offer. Next we came to a flat with the front room turned into an exhibition space, carpeted entirely with turf. The room was full of the smell of real grass, there was a table, also turfed, which demanded that you run your hand over it. Up the plain white walls, reminding me of an Anthony Gormley installation were about a hundred spiders, each the size of a hand, crawling from the corner of the room up and over the ceiling. The impression it left was quite freaky. Not for the arachnophobic.

After this we visited a workshop shared by 5 or so artists, the work mostly of 6th form art project standard: shop mannequin torsos painted and tuned with copper wire, cut into segments then sewn back again with thick gardening twine, a torso with a flashing white light inside, a row of polystyrene heads with wigs, all painted different colours and with images cut from magazines covering them. Upstairs there was a jewellery room, then at the back a paper room where a man was making and binding notebooks in all types of different papers. His dog patiently lay under the workbench, tired and a little depressed that his space was being invaded and disrupted by so many strangers. Still, he rolled over and allowed the Presidenta and I to tickle his ears and talk doggy nonsense at him for a few minutes.

Then we headed to another house to view some more pretty good photography. All along the way we were offered nibbles and drinks and everyone we met was extremely friendly and open. Mostly the artists seemed to have a handful of mates lazing around drinking wine and greeting visitors. There was no hard sell in any of the houses we visited: in fact I didn’t see a price tag or a red dot on anything. When I asked one photographer in the last house we saw why this was, she said that’s because the event was more about showcasing local talent than selling it. It was more important to make contacts and get publicity and interest than sell their work. That seemed logical and a very laid back way of looking at it.

Not being biased, but in retrospect our neighbour’s show really was the best thing we saw all day, followed closely by the turfed and spider-infested living room. We saw some okay-ish stuff, some substandard art-school stuff and then we saw this (not part of the exhibition but round the corner on the way to another flat) – Espacio M.I.M., with the caption – ‘Meat is Murder’ space. Creative vegans.’ What the fuck is a creative vegan? The shop looked as though it was full of vegetarian cardigans and ill-fitting t-shirts. A couple of bad oil paintings hung along the back wall. Blatant mediocrity, just what we need in the neighbourhood! Sometimes it can get a little too earnest and artistic, a little too wanky and bohemian in Lavapies. While I applaud creative impulses and freedom of expression there really has to be someone around to mediate and put their foot down when it’s necessary. Otherwise it’s just like a school league table where nobody ever fails and everyone is told how wonderful and talented they are when in fact they’re not. They’re really not. I am of the Bansky school of thought that art does not have to be on the walls of a gallery, in fact this is only one type of elitist art. The fact someone paid big money for it doesn’t make it art. But neither does the fact that the artist is busy disappearing up his/her own arse make it art. Meat is Murder space for creative vegans?! Fuckin Hell….. Go away and take some decent photographs, or carpet your living room in turf and fashion a hundred realistic spiders to cover the walls with. Then you can call yourselves creative vegans if you like. Until then you’re just tossing off over your lentil cutlets.

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