The Emperor has no clothes


I’ve already written here about how supportive I am of the arts in general – particularly writing, theatre and music. I can appreciate other types of art generally, but don’t have such an engagement with them.

But I am always willing to be educated, and with that in mind I went to the opening event of Art Trail last night at the Savoy Theatre in Cork. A lovely event, not your usual launch, very few of the launch-heads around. The free cocktails and nibbles went down a treat with the arty types, many of whom fulfilled the starving-in-a-garret stereotype perfectly.

The opening speech was mercifully brief, and in a very sweet attempt to get people to participate, a copy was handed to everyone in the audience to read aloud simultaneously. A friend and I started to join in but soon realised nobody else was, and as someone else pointed out, it did feel a bit like Mass. I respected the effort though – if people had bought in, it would have made the speech relevant and inclusive, something very few speeches are. So far, I get it.

A drink or two later we were wondering what, if anything, was coming next, when everybody started moving towards the screening room. So we, naturally, followed. This was the video installation mentioned on the press release.

But it wasn’t. I think. At least, if it was, there’s a serious case for a charge of false advertising.

What we were treated/subjected to was a 25-minute long chant by a woman in a white CSI-type boiler suit, standing in front of a screen on which the words of her chant were projected. But they weren’t words, I think. Well, maybe they were words in Finnish or something – a lot of umlauts and a lot of strange constructions. Every time there was an ebb or a flow in the chant, there was an audible intake of breath and posture change as people got ready to applaud and run.
But no… about seven times this false dawn appeared. There were no chairs… after about ten minutes most people were sitting on the floor.

Discussing the thing at work this morning, one of our graphic designers explained to me that in conceptual art (apparently that’s what this is) there are three roles: the artist installs, the critic gives it meaning, and the collector gives it value.
(Graphic designers do go to art college, so I’ll presume he knows what he is talking about).

People questioned the validity of Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’ which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999. And in one sense they were right to – after all, everyone has a bed. But in another, that’s exactly the reason it was art – everyone could relate to it, everyone would interpret it differently, it spoke to people and it raised questions (even if they were just questions about the artist’s personal hygiene). So, although I’m not a huge lover of modern art, I see the point of that.

Likewise, on a visit to the Tate Modern a couple of years ago, I was disgusted by an installation involving childlike outlines of industrial buildings painted on a white wall, with two (real) dead crows pinned above them with arrows. I thought it was a) disgusting and b) not very imaginative. It was easy to interpret though – industrialism, destruction, modernity v nature, etc.

But this? What the hell was this about? Call me a philistine, but… the Emperor had no clothes on. Under the boiler suit. Obviously.

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5 comments

  1. I too attended this launch last night. I also did not understand the art installation and for that reason I can't be a critic to "give it meaning" as your graphic designer pointed out. Good luck to anyone trying to explain that. Neither do I want to "collect it". In fact I just want to forget about it.I think the "artist/performer" was coragous in speaking/singing/chanting for that length of time but I am not arty enough to understand it or give it value. It certainly was not accessible to me in a way that art should be accessible to all. Elitist crap. Perhaps we needed a child in the audience to point out that the emperor was indeed wearing no clothes.

  2. And – the official version of what was going on (thanks to Doreen)In the Mezzanine: 10pm – 2am – 8/6 concession, at the doorJoanne CollinsVocal Performance. A tribute to and an art performance of Kurt Schwitters’ abstract poem “Merz 24”, more commonly known as the Ursonata. Inspired by Raoul Hausmann’s earliest phonetic poem “Rfmsbwe” written in 1 8, it consists of 4 movements, each verbally displaying and phonetically undoing, manipulating, and recombining letters, syllables, and systems from the German alphabet with an emphasis on pronunciation and intonation – out of which rhythm forms.

  3. Brilliant post De, you've captured the pain- eh, I mean, the experience, perfectly! I like to consider myself open-minded but I can't see how that was art… I would love to hear an "expert" opinion on what it was I should have taken away from last night, other than just a dead arse from sitting on the floor…

  4. Hey Dee, While driving home on Saturday I was lisetning to the boy with the Arab Strap from Belle and Sebastian. The lyrics in one of the first songs are " She wears the clothes of an emperor and her paintings are a sham, but they're going for a grand and when the buyers come to view, do they ever see the real you"Apt I think.Doreen

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