Paying Artists II: The Art Career trajectory

My previous article on Paying Artists quoted research by the artist organization A-N which demonstrated that the majority of publicly funded art organizations (that is organizations which get a large part of their running costs covered by the taxpayer), do not as a general rule pay artists. (Anecdotally, I can say that there are plenty of organizations that do pay a sort of token that does not actually cover anything like the real cost of exhibiting.)

But the problem of not paying artists is much bigger than simply artists being out-of-pocket for this or that exhibition, or choosing between contributing to an exhibition or not, or making work for particular project or exhibition, or not. It affects the artist’s whole career trajectory, and creates a massive pool of stagnation that ends up in a shocking waste of energy, talent and education. This is a national problem and it is completely unaddressed.

Recent research by the artists organization Axis looked at the category called the ‘midcareer artist.’ The artistic career trajectory is generally roughly categorized into three stages: the ’emerging’ artist, which is normally the first 8-10 years after art school. Then, assuming the artist continues practicing, they enter the next stage, the ‘midcareer’ artist. At that point, the artist might remain midcareer forever. Or they may eventually move into the third category, that rarefied category called the ‘established’ artist. Naturally there’s going to be a fair amount of drain along the way. People find other careers. People just lose interest in practicing art. Sometimes people actually reach the limitations of their ability and find themselves desiring to do other things. It’s not really a problem if it is a person’s choice. But if we put the two bits of research together, the A-N’s research on paying artists, and the Axis research on the position of the midcareer artist, we start to see a particularly disturbing picture.

In the Axis research, which admittedly only quantified artists who responded to the survey, we can see that 46% said that they rarely sell their work, while 32% said they rarely exhibit their work. In responding to questions about which factors inhibit their professional development, 46% said they are unfamiliar with the art world networks and 35% are geographically isolated.

I believe that there is a correlation between this, and the lack of support that the publicly funded institutions are able or willing to offer artists to help them to develop their careers. Unpaid exhibitions, or no exhibitions, would obviously lead to the feeling that so many so-called midcareer artists have, which is that their career is stagnating. Outside of very few metropolitan areas, up and down the country, the principal places to exhibit with a reasonable profile are would be regional arts organizations such as museums and arts centers. These are precisely the places that must pay artists, and pay them according to their status. If they think a midcareer artist is good enough to exhibit, they need to pay them a reasonable amount of money to reflect that artist’s actual achievement. They also need to offer substantial opportunities to midcareer artists, because it is actually from the established and midcareer artists that younger artists actually learn.

The period of time most people spend in art college is very short, maximum three years in and out. As we are all too aware, after you’ve stumped up that enormous amount of money for your tuition, by the time you graduate, you’re out the door and that’s it. Yet we still need to keep learning, and one of the best ways to learn is to associate with older artists who are further in development. Yet we never even think of exploring mentorship. But how could you expect a midcareer artist to mentor a young artist, in the midcareer artist isn’t even being paid a decent living for exhibiting in the kind of publicly funded places that showcase the artists?

sexism / ageism / racism in the art world? Unwitting, maybe. Willing to change —?

So this false economy of not paying artists leads to a dreadful stagnation in the career of artists, who hit their stride and then find that the opportunities have dried up. It is true that some opportunities are unforgiveably ageist, particularly those coming from other European countries, which mandate particular age groups. This obviously reflects the culture of those countries, which sees human development very rigidly, and should be questioned. One thing we do know is that many artists who come from less-privileged backgrounds often are unable to start practicing seriously as artists until somewhat later in life; and many female artists take time out to raise families, which is right, but then find that the opportunities (such as grants and residencies) are no longer available because they are now “over age.”

When you start to pick the whole picture apart like this and look at all the constituent parts you see that not only is it unfair, but the this unfairness is actually depriving the country of its authentic artistic voices. If we as a nation are willing to ask the taxpayer (ourselves!) to pay towards the arts, and we ourselves as Museum and Gallery goers are willing to pay our money for tickets to experience the arts, should we not demand that they be authentic and representative of us? Not just reflect a narrow privileged slice of society that manages to tick the boxes in ways which most people cannot.

Artists that meet the standard that we should expect, need to be paid. The artist career progression needs to be reflected in the opportunities that they are offered and the remuneration that they receive. While of course emerging artists should be supported, this would far better be done through mentorships and help to establish meaningful studio groups rather than in pushing young artists into over-exhibiting. It is actually the midcareer artists who are in crisis. And as I said, this crisis is resulting in an appalling waste of energy, talent and education.


photo Gillian McIver , all rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art-Related, rants + outrages

A very fine article … and

I wanted to share this very fine article by David Lee in The Jackdaw from Nov 2012. Needless to say although the article is topical it is also – unfortunately – timeless.



“How long will it be before this system is exposed as a monumental racket dreamed up by a cabal of public officials, commercial dealers and auctioneers with the aim of creating false gods, rigging the market and handsomely feathering the nests of all concerned.”


I saw this with my own eyes when I went to the press view at the Frieze (it;’s also the VIP view) and saw them all cozying up to each other – the publicly-appointed guardians of our national art collections hand in glove with the dealers, foisting more of that “international” (i.e. identikit) tripe on us.

The other thing is the London-centricity of it all. Just recently there was announced the so-called ‘most promising art school graduates’ one year on from their degree exhibitions. The prize  finalists are: from Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martins,  Royal College of Art, Central Saint Martins, Royal College of Art, Edinburgh College of Art and The Ruskin School of Art Oxford. So, of the 6 finalists, 4 of them are from London art schools, one from Oxford and one from Scotland.  Let me rephrase that, 4 from London one from near London and one form Scotland’s capital. But wait, of the 4 London finalists, only 3 schools are represented. I read an interview with the founder of the prize who stated that the prize was in part designed to avoid London-centricity yet there it is. It’s hard to imagine that out of what must be at least 80 degree programmes across the UK, and probably as many MA programmes too, only 5 schools are represented and 3 of them in London.

Given that unless you’re from London, only rich students can live in London these days, what does this mean?


I dunno … I’m not an artist but my films are about art, and  I’m an occasional curator; and I’m writing an art / film history book right now – so I’m in the art loop, though on the very outer edges. It all seems a bit wrong to me.  And the work that is put out there for me to see by the powers that be doesn’t excite me.


I was planning to curate a show this year but I’m too busy



1 Comment

Filed under Art-Related, rants + outrages

London: a city of baristas and billionaires?

We’re still working out what we learned from running Studio 75, but it’s become clear that it’s very difficult to run any kind of independent gallery or exhibition space. That spaces that do exist are largely able to do so because they have some form of funding, or more commonly, investment, and they don’t actually run on the proceeds of their activities. Because of this, it’s very rare for these places to exist for long periods of time, and sometimes it means that projects don’t get completed, or a space just starts to begin to build a following when it’s forced to shut its doors. It’s probably always been like this, but in the past two years the insane pressure on properties in London have made it more and more difficult to support creativity. Of course, people with wealthy connections can easily afford to buy or rent properties to create vanity galleries, and the city is full of such places. But these places exist purely as entertainment spaces for rich cliques, and have nothing to do with the rest of us. Even if we wanted to visit them, we would find the art that is presented there to be, to a large extent, turgid and dreadful.

People keep asking us are going to open another space, but the short answer appears to be no. We were incredibly lucky to get the space when we did, and we don’t expect to get such luck again soon. In any case, there is not much point to try to repeat what we already did successfully, just for the sake of it; and at this stage that doesn’t seem to anything that we really want to learn from opening another space. (But never say never.)

I suppose the thing we’re digesting and being fascinated about the most is the way in which the money economy, or what philosopher Thomas Carlyle called “the cash nexus”, permeates even the most basic human aspects of what purports to be the art world. Carlyle decried what he considered the substitution of human relationships for cash relationships; he was disgusted by the idea that people saw one another and treated one another in terms of their financial relationships, the “cash nexus” when social relationships are merely reduced to economic gain. Carlyle was anything but a socialist; he distrusted socialism and championed tradition. But Carlyle’s version of tradition was quite an idealistic one, and he believed that the wealthy and responsibility for ensuring that the lives of the rest of the population were good. He believed that those who had money and position should use it for the general betterment of society. He was opposed to poverty, to exploitation and above all, to greed. Carlyle is important because he actually points to the fact that it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the presence of wealth in the society should lead to impoverishment of exploitation and acceptance or admiration for greed.

Which brings us back to the idea of London the center of international finance and wealth, a city that contains within it terrible exploitation, much hidden poverty mainly in the form of underemployment and appallingly poor housing. In these circumstances is quite difficult to complain about there not being enough space or opportunities for artists, although of course that is a genuine complaint. But just as we worry about London becoming a no-go area for ordinary working people to to live in, we also worry about London becoming a no go area for ordinary working artists – that is, ones without the luxury of a private family income supporting us for all our days. Artists who need to sell work, but also pay rent; artist and who need to have day jobs in schools and colleges, community centers, retail shops, museums, and so on – traditional employers for artists. But these jobs increasingly cannot provide Londoners with housing and transport.

And it is not just artists; just recently Cory Doctorow wrote an impassioned article in the Guardian, where he pointed out how the so-called “tech city” area around Old Street is quickly disappearing as a breeding ground for important digital startups. The inexpensive office spaces are rapidly being demolished or gentrified, principally being turned into barracks of housing for wealthy overseas students. In a flash, jobs in the information industries disappear, quite possibly abroad and opportunities to train and nurture local underprivileged youth in new technologies, disappears. At best, we end up being a city of baristas and billionaires, with nothing in between.

Where will it all end? We don’t know. It will be really a pity of London goes the way of Paris. Paris is a beautiful city, don’t get me wrong. But walking around Paris, one can’t help but feel that large parts of it are simply playgrounds for the well-to-do, and stalking-grounds for the desperately impoverished underclass who huddle as beggars – and possibly worse.


I don’t really know what else to say; this is turned into a bit of a rant and that’s really not what I intended when I started. I’d like to just finish by offering a quote from the work of the artist Dave Beech:


“Political art must transform the social relations of art itself, to get rid of it to historical elitism, it’s privileges, its hierarchies and its cultural capital. Political art cannot be political if it leaves arts values, categories and institutions in place.”


But I would go further. I would say, that in order to be art, all art is inherently political.

1 Comment

Filed under art, Art-Related, rants + outrages, the city

The Dark Underbelly of the Festival Circuit

The Dark Underbelly of the Festival Circuit

Today I saw the above article on Indiewire

And then I just got an email from Festhome about some dodgy fake festivals that tried to hijack Festhome (who are being very decent about it, warning us, and I trust & respect them for that)

I first got suspicious when I saw a listing on WAB for the Canada International Film Fest in my home town of Vancouver yet I had never heard of it not had any of my family or friends back home (many of whom work in the industry in some form or other). And that’s cos it’s a night out in a casino, not a cinema (! – if you’re into that, OK but I am so NOT into that)

Now Indiewire has confirmed it.

What do you think? It kind of undermines my trust in Withoutabox.


and they have an excellent and FREE magazine you can get online



Leave a comment

Filed under Film Making, rants + outrages

Why you don’t need to Debut

2012-10-19 21.31.15

George Bodocan working at Studio75


I heard recently about the furore surrounding an enterprise called Debut Contemporary. This is an outfit that runs a kind of finishing school for art graduates. Appropriately it’s in Notting Hill, location of I Saw You Coming.* Appropriately it’s very expensive to go. It purports to prepare art grads to “enter the art world.” The furore is that some of their participants have publicly said that they were deeply unhappy with the finishing school’s service. Because, I’m sure, they did not realise it was just a finishing school. I don’t need to say anything more about them since they are not the subject of this article; I want to talk now about why no art graduate needs a “finishing school.”

  1. because there is no one way to “enter the art world.” This is highly individual and is part of your path in life, and you need to tramp that path yourself.. You cannot hire someone to get you there. It helps to have famous parents, yes. But most of the great artists did not have famous parents. Picasso’s dad was an art teacher, but Rembrandt’s was a miller. Peter Greenaway’s dad was a builder’s merchant and Jeff Koon’s parents were a furniture dealer / interior decorator and a seamstress. Warhol’s father worked in a coal mine.
  2. A “finishing school” (or “charm school” – love that!) as defined by Wikipedia is “a school for young people, mostly women, that focuses on teaching social skills and cultural norms as a preparation for entry into adult society. The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience, with classes primarily on etiquette. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one-year programme.” Replace the term “into adult society” with “into the art world” and you have got Debut nailed. But come on, this is the 21st century. We laugh at the idea of going to school to learn to cut muffins and to simper appropriately. So you don’t need to do it to “get ahead in the art world.”
    Unless you are rich and don’t really know what to do you with yourself, and fancy dabbling a bit in art. Then it is a good idea to go and you will have fun and then go off and get a proper job, or just relax with your feet up. But for the rest of us, not useful.
  3. You cannot learn to “get ahead in the art world.” Your art practice is yours alone and your work plus luck / Fortuna will propel you forward. Success has many definitions. It might be about selling, but it might be about having a fantastically interesting life. It might be about making a difference to others, touching them by what you do. It might be about striving to be in the history books, whatever the art world may think of you today you have got your eye on posterity. All of these things could be success. Only you determine what your success is. Charm School cannot do that for you.
  4. Attending a charm school in itself cannot help you to “get ahead in the art world.” However influential the school purports to be, and however influential its patrons (and there is no actual evidence for this in the case of the school referred to earlier) you know your heart that the work is the main thing. If you spent the money you could spend on the charm school on your work, you will have a much better chance of progressing. In any case, you have already been to an art school, so that is all the institutional kudos you need at this stage.
  5. Be very careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are armies of charlatans out there ready to fleece new artists. They know you are insecure about your work. They know that flattering you with one hand while digging into your pocket with another will be easy and sweet for them. I wrote about this recently: https://blog.gillianmciver.org/2013/11/28/follow-up-to-my-post-on-film-festivals/
    These experiences sound ludicrous but they are real and I have more of them in my repertoire of anecdotes about Horrific Art World Delusions and Rip Offs. You will not be able to go through your life avoiding all of them but you could avoid signing up a year of your life and thousands of pounds of your money.
    What can you do to avoid this? Well, research! And more research. Be wary of wild claims on the part of the offering. Find others who have been involved with the offering, what kind of experiences did they have? I just read an online interview with the creator of the offering mentioned above and it is clear straight away this is highly embroidered. Further research proved my hunch correct. Research! One HUGE clue, as we all know from spam emails – is if the offering promotes themselves with faulty grammar or spelling. This means they get interns to do the work for them and cannot be bothered even to check. If they are so careless with their own marketing what kind of care will they have for YOU?
  6. Following on from that, if an offering has already accrued a reputation of being a bit dodgy, this will stick on to you. The very kudos you seek will be denied to you.
  7. You already have all the knowledge you need to “enter the art world.” You have a direction for your work and you – hopefully – have some friends and a work ethic. There is a reason why, traditionally, art courses don’t teach business skills as part of the curriculum. Although there is a pressure on them to do so now, it is misguided.
    Industry knowledge, and “powerful art and business networks” are things that accrue over time. They can’t be bought. Anyway, as I said above, one man’s meat is another’s poison. The “industry knowledge and powerful art and business networks” useful for one artist are not going to be the same for another. The “art world” is diverse!
    Doing short courses, seeking mentors, and building your own networks to create events and exhibitions will serve you better as a graduate. There is so much support out there for emerging artists! But YOU have to do the work.
putting up the new show at THE YELLOW WALL, Chalet Cafe London

putting up the new show at THE YELLOW WALL, Chalet Cafe London

So, what to do?

You have decided not to go to an art finishing school. OK, so far so good. So what DO you need to get on?

  1. A massive reality check. A copy of Alastair Gentry’s book Career Suicide [http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/alistairgentry] It’s funny and entertaining but gives you a lot of useful information. It might burst your bubble, but better to let a book do it than you having it burst all over you!
  2. Some basic self marketing skills. Learn to make a simple attractive website using free tools such a Picasia and Blogger, put up the best photos of your best work, and your contact details. Eschew the desire to put the hideous statement they made you write at art school. Keep everything as real as possible.
  3. Find some like minded people. You could start with ones you went to art school with, or you could join a studio. Remember all the £ you are saving by not going to charm school? Use that to fund a space no matter how small, in a lively studio.
  4. Club together and put on your own shows. Publish a zine. Make videos of your show and interview your fellow artists and put it on YouTube.
  5. Seek a mentor. There are artists out there who are willing to work with new artists without a fee! They will help you in exchange for studio assistance and so on. At Studio75 we have been doing an informal mentorship programme. Young artists work with us as assistants and in exchange they get all kinds of tuition, from learning to Photoshop their pictures to drawing techniques. How did we find them? They found us. We do not take everybody. The chemistry has to be right. And they have to work like the devil.
  6. Join group shows, but avoid things with hefty entrance fees. You are not experienced enough and you will just lose your money. If you want to join these things (e.g. Jerwood prize etc.) go and see the shows for a few years till you get a measure of what they actually want, and if it fits with what you want to do, go for it. Open exhibitions have clearly-visible yet never-mentioned agendas of what they like, no matter who’s on the jury. See Emily Speed’s blog Getting Paid [http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/497389]
  7. Keep working. Whatever else you might be doing to make money, art is your full time job.
  8. Do your fellow artists a favour and make this post viral!
Keep working! Nazir Tanbouli at work.

Keep working! Nazir Tanbouli at work.

*I Saw You Coming is a comedy sketch in the Harry and Paul show, about a Notting Hill antiques shop salesman (Harry Enfield) who sells junk to gullible wealthy women (usually portrayed by Sophie Winkleman) for extortionately large quantities of money. In the second series, he also owns a store called ‘Modern Wank’ claiming to his customers that it is considered retro to mix old items with modern furniture.

1 Comment

Filed under art, Art-Related, rants + outrages, Uncategorized

The Naked Truth (or, big sexy world, is it?)

Nude Greek

Thirteen years ago, he was an up and coming artist, spreading his talents across various media. Painter, graphic artist, film-maker, dancer, actor and performance artist – these are just the things I saw him doing. Handsome and charming, his performances in particular were intense and riveting. And sometimes – not always – he did them naked.

Like that of many young artists in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his art was often about the body, about its vulnerability, about movement, about endurance. It was not about sex or sexuality. For a brief moment there appeared to be a general understanding that nudity was not “dirty” or sexy. That an artist or actor or performer could be nude in the same way a statue in a museum could be nude.

Actually, in the world of art and art appreciation I’d say attitudes have not changed, but outside of those rarefied circles they certainly have.

In 2009 Richard Prince’s piece Spiritual America (1983) was removed from “Pop Life, Art in a Material World”. The Tate removed it after a visit by the police. This was unusual; in western society over the past fifty years or so outright censorship is very rare. Police are normally not involved unless there is evidence an actual crime. In Prince’s case the provenance of the work is both well documented and more than acknowledged by Prince; in fact the provenance is the whole point. The work is a 1976 Playboy nude photograph of a heavily made-up prepubescent girl (an actress) which was authorised by the girl’s mother as a commercial venture. To my mind it is an absolutely necessary piece of work to be on display. It tells us everything need to know about Western sexual attitudes in that era. (It tell us about the current British Light Entertainment scandal when Jimmy Saville and other entertainers have been guilty of rape and exploitation of children throughout the 60s and 70s.) It tell us that sexualisation of children, and the whole porno-cratic ideal, is not glamorous and clever but sad and tawdry. And about money. Spiritual America is an unpleasant art work but a necessary one. It forces us to look and then think. And so it was strange and horrible that the police removed it.1

This is important because Prince’s piece was made in 1983 after he appropriated the original photograph, and has been shown numerous times since then. After the removal it appeared on the web, where clearly it reached many more people than would ever pay to see Pop Life. What happened between 1983 and 2009? The picture was awful in 1976, vile in 1983 but by 2009 it is itself a crime? Did the Taliban take control?

Hardly. The New Puritanism in the museum has not been matched by any kind of reining in of social behaviour. The exploitation of children continues. Politicians and the media continue to score points for themselves with periodic self serving ‘crusades.’ Little has changed.

So, thirteen years ago it was perfectly all right and perfectly fashionable for an artist or an actor to appear nude. It probably still is. But this breezy assumption does not take into account what happens when for whatever reason you are no longer and artist or an actor. Thirteen years ago if you met someone who used to be an actor and did a few nude scenes, unless you had the video tape, you’d never get to see it. It’s hard to believe it but in 2000 relatively few people had the internet at home. It existed but it was expensive and insanely slow. Low grade videos, small photos and no interactivity. Broadband barely existed; it only became available in the UK in 2000, and this was far too expensive for most. Ofcom (UK Office of Communications) notes that “If you travelled back in time to 1999 and stopped the first person you met, it’s quite possible they’d have yet to try out the internet.”

Fast forward from 2000 to 2013. The dynamic young artist is now a middling-aged school teacher. Perhaps not his first choice, but Saatchi never came calling. Bills have to be paid. The Bohemian antics of thirteen years ago are long forgotten. And then comes the phone call. “It has come to our attention that there are salacious images of you on the Internet.” What? Our hero is bemused. He cannot think what they mean. He agrees to the meeting with the Governors, and rushes to his website to see what on earth it can possibly mean. No, the site is clean – just photos of his paintings, which he sells from time to time. Flickr – nope just family stuff. Picnics. Facebook? He has exactly two photos on it, one of a work party and the other of a particularly impressive burger. He doesn’t tweet and has no time to blog.

He goes to the meeting and is confronted with photos and video he had forgotten about – because they dated from 2000. Photos from obscure art festivals, and a short film in a film maker’s archive. He does not own these sites and has no control over the content. Do the governors understand that? No, they don’t. Children can find this stuff and can be harmed by it, is the line. He realises that even if they are not right about the harm (from a vague non-erect pixelated penis), the fact that this stuff has surfaced means that it’s going to be difficult for him to take control of the situation at work. The school does not seem prepared to back him up and perhaps making it a ‘teaching moment’. He promises to try to remove the offending images though he does not really know how.

More nudity:

Nude Catalan

breath | Originally uploaded by artsite

With Richard Prince it was easy. The police came, threatened the Tate’s workers, who promptly removed the picture. Though no doubt the Tate workers were traumatized, it was a matter easily rectified. With the case of our man though, it was not. He is currently trying to get various websites around the world, none of which he has any relationship with, to remove or hide the images. Legally, none of them has to. Some of them won’t want to, since they are part of an institution’s archive and therefore are valuable to the institution. I know about this because he approached me, about one of my films. I was able and willing to hide my content behind a password but some of the images of my work are on sites that I don’t own, film festivals etc.

Now, trying to help him, I see that a particularly hideous situation is unfolding. How many artists from the late 90s and early 2000s have images of themselves in positions that today might be considered compromising? Huge numbers. Virtually every performer I worked with in that era used nudity. I look at my own back catalogue and I find several other cases where I used an actor or performer – and there they are, nude on the Internet. Still photographs, too; whole series. Some of these sites aren’t mine; they belong to the curator or the exhibiting organisation. Should I remove all the ones I can remove? After all, it’s my work. And the arrangement was entered into freely. And what of the performers? Are they just to erase their creative past?

The funny – ok, unfunny – thing is that despite this insistence that children not be harmed by fuzzy low quality images of their teacher as a youth doing performance art, despite this righteous prudery, nobody sees to give a crap about what the actual kids are actually doing. The rapes, the exploitations, the neglect; the coarse sexualisation of childhood, the brutalities of social media, the ever present sexual (and otherwise) bullying .. all of this continues with impunity. But if the teacher just gets rid of his web page then it will all be okay.

There’s no space for an honest in class discussion of things like, what is nudity in art? What is performance art? Even, how we do change as we go through the course of our lives? No, no time for that. Just a big bucket of snow white paint and a massive brush, thank you very much.

Even a criminal conviction is considered spent after a while, but Internet images, apparently, brand you a sinner for all time.

nude communist

Nude Communist


Leave a comment

Filed under Art-Related, critical writing, rants + outrages, Uncategorized

Let the Merzbarn sink back into the Cumbrian Soil

Today the Guardian published a story about the fact that the Merzbarn has had its funding cut, and may have to close as a place for visitors to come and see the last work of the mercurial Dadaist Kurt Schwitters.

I’ve never been to the Merzbarn, but I’ve never been to Cumbria at all.

Schwitters was a Dadaist and as such a radical rejector of systems and institutions of the state,and of the art supported and promoted by those states and instituons . Hugo Ball once said that “art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

By Deutsch: Genja Jonas (bereits 1938 verstorben) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My feeling is that we get the art that we deserve. if we as a culture do not have it in us to value and learn from Schwitters and Merz, then let us not fetishize his works, let us allow them to drift back into the soil from whence they came.

It is interesting that with all of the filthy, corrupt venal and putrid money coming into art from the most vilest and most loathsome sources *, none of it makes its way to preserving stuff like the Merzbarn. Amusing to see the most prominent and wealthiest artists in the country donating their “ARTWORK” to be sold to raise funds (don’t dig into your pocket or anything) but no involvement, no speaking out.

Perhaps that’s as it should be. Schwitters and the Dada were really radical, oppositionists. They hated the filth and brutality of the world they found themselves in. They used art to express this rejection, worked toward new ways of seeing and thinking. Dada was anti-bourgeois and radical. The fact that it spawned lots of unradical, art school wank in the late C20th is immaterial.

After the Great War, Schwitters wrote that “Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. It was like a revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been.”

Fümms bö!

*e.g. raping national resources and impoverishing the people; arms manufacturing and dealing; hedge fund exploitation; manufacturing and marketing poisons etc.  Makes the Medici and the Sforza look like fuzzy kitties.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Art-Related

we live in nasty times II

I probably would not usually promote a petition on my blog but I feel quite strongly about this. A while ago the London Metropolitan University was banned from accepting foreign students. The upshot of this was that, instead of banning them from accepting MORE students until they sorted out their procedures, the ban was immediate and  CURRENT students were effectively thrown out of the university and put into turmoil.

There is a very good article about the whole case here on Mute.

To my mind, the “discovery” that a few of the foreign students did not have valid visas – taken from a sample, not an exhaustive look at all of them – did not justify penalizing all of them. Or the whole student/staff body who will suffer from this development.

We live in nasty times indeed, when immigration is seen as the cause of all of our ills. Why, instead don’t we ask why Brit universities are so dependent upon recruiting high-paying international students?  Why are Brit consulates in some parts of the world complicit in issuing bogus visas? Why are students even counted as immigrants? And furthermore, why would not be in fact encouraging those who have studied here to stay on, and benefit from their knowledge and expertise? Not only do we not do that, we have even cut the previous 2-year stay-on period that used to come with successful completion of a degree.  This means that any projects left unfinished by  the end of a degree – a film, say, or a musical group, or a dance piece or a scientific project – will not be completed here in the UK, if ever. I’ve seen really dynamic artistic partnerships ripped apart by this new rule.

In my experience as a lecturer I have met many immensely bright and talented young people, who have much to contribute to the arts here in the UK.  In all truth, I felt sad to see them go back home, knowing how much their energy and creativity could have flourished here. Their home countries are lucky to have them back. We are impoverished.

The petition:  Full Amnesty Now – Reverse Revocation – Save London Met Petition | GoPetition

Derelict Spirit: Is this where we are now? Locked and bolted? Locked into a grubby and grim self made identity?

Leave a comment

Filed under rants + outrages

Sad, lovely Soho

A few months ago, very few -I posted about my shock in realising that most of the Soho that I had always loved had turned into streets full of chain cafes and bars. I didn’t mention the discount (TK Trash etc.) and junk shops, though I could have. The most awful thing was realising that less than 5 months later one of the few surviving places I had photographed – Jimmy’s – has also closed now.

The Independent has an article about it:


The landlords are agog at the prices that can be charged in London becuase London has a never ending supply of tourists who have no idea the difference between a chain and a proper shop. Nor would I, if I didn’t live here.

Here’s my short list of  my favourite independent businesses in London, that I use often,  in no special order:

  • Camden Lock Books  http://camdenlockbooks.com/ used to be on the lock but now in Old St Station.
  • Haggerston Tea Rooms Haggerston Rd
  • Broadway Books broadway market
  • Morganics Organics shop and cafe
  • the TFS Turkish Food Store in Dalston a supermarket
  • Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho
  • FOPP (Ok it is a chain but a very small one!)
  • just about every cafe and restaurant on the Kingsland road
  • Lorelei in Soho, more for coffee as I don’t eat pizza
  • the Prince Charles Cinema
  • the Rio Cinema
  • Bradley’s  North Soho
  • West End Camera
  • Anderson’s Bakery Hoxton

Anderson's Hoxton

Bradleys Soho

but there are a few chains I do like, such as Jessops – reliable and good service, though I wish they’d up their analogue division at least int he New Oxford St store; Maplin also. I can’t fault them. On the other hand they are specialists in what they do.

It just scares me to think of central London just getting blanded out of existence.

Leave a comment

Filed under photography, the city

Commodification, voyeurism or collaboration? Approaches to seeing the revolution.

This is  a really important article by Mona Abaza:


I agree with the spirit of it. There are 3 things happening in the “Western” response to the revolution. I know Said cautioned against using blanket terms like “the West” and here I’m using it to mean the segment of Anglo-Euro-American society and politics that sees the North African-Levantine-Islamic world as fundamentally “different.”

The 3 things are:

1. Commodification of the revolution. I blogged about this a while ago, protesting the UK sale of “Tahrir” T shirts via a national newspaper, during the dreadful days of rage and killing on the Egyptian streets in Nov 2011. I was appalled that while blood was flowing on the Cairo streets, we were offered celebratory t shirts. I shudder to think who offered them, and who would buy them. The first  cynical beyond hope, the other naive, but probably not beyond hope.

2. Revolution envy. This is the kind of people who did not dare leave their house when the London riots were on, or who did not go to any of the Occupy events, and so have no desire to have any active engagement with their own context, but who eagerly buy every hastily published book and attend every fake “Arab Spring” exhibition (all made or facilitated by Westerners with their own agendas), and love to sit and watch films about the revolution  and pontificate endlessly on what it means, but of course having no clue and no actual personal investment. By participating in someone else’s revolution voyeuristically, they satisfy their own desires the same way that a pacifier soothes a baby. While this is in itself harmless, it’s a bit silly.

3. Academic “tourism” of the kind  Dr Abaza describes. Dr Abaza describes a situation where underfunded Egyptian (in this case, but I am sure it’s going on all over) scholars find themselves, instead of getting on with their own work,  “cater[ing] for the service of our Western expert colleagues who typically make out of no more than a week’s stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge.” Dr Abaza notes that “many belonging to our scientific community have recently felt somehow “misused” through being overwhelmed by Western tourist-revolutionary academics in search of “authentic” Tahrir revolutionaries, needing “service providers” for research assistants, for translating, and newspaper summaries, for first hand testimonies, and time and again as providers of experts and young representatives for forthcoming abounding conferences on the Arab Spring in the West. ”

Now this IS dangerous, more dangerous than the stupid commodifiers and the sad voyeurs. I am all for academic research of the revolution and even more for “eastern” and “western” collaboration in this research. But it has to be collaboration. In this time, it is anti-knowlege to continue to practice this kind of Orientalist approach. Like the Orientalists of old who saw everything at a self imposed coloniast remove, and read many fascinating but utterly untrue things into what they perceived, the “drop in” scholars of the revolution really cannot expect to get much out of a week or so of popping into Tahrir then repairing to the nice hotel and having some good dinners in the latest chic restaurant.  As for using the local scholars to “assist” –  this is a waste of opportunity. Really, full collaboration, in the form of transparently shared research and – crucially – research grants, is the only way for anyone not on the ground to produce any useful research into what is happening in the region. Not “employing ” the locals to assist you – in fact you, the Westerner, can only assist them – to  get their research out to wider audience es perhaps or to facilitate with finance and critical perspective. I know this is itself a revolutionary suggestion, but how about sharing your research grant? Small though it may be.

I have been in this position as an artist. When I developed my site specific work (esp. in Russia) I was very clear that the objective was always to go and work alongside artists in the locality, never “parachuting in” to make work “about” the place, but always in clsoe collaboration with those on the ground. Where there was financial inequality, and there often was, I would try to rectify that by openly acknowledging it and then working together with my fellows to  ensure that we worked out a way that everyone had an equal access to what was needed, and there was no advantage to being from the “privileged” sector.

It does come down to individuals, seeing the situation and making those choices. And if you genuinely seek knowledge, then you will be eager to do this, and you will know it’s the only way.

collaboration with Russian artists, Kronstadt http://www.kronstadt2004.org

Leave a comment

Filed under Art-Related, Uncategorized