Friday, 16 January 2009

When is a hoax not a hoax?

I nearly posted about the art project celebrating the Czech Presidency of the EU earlier this week – a giant model kit with different bits by 27 artists, one from each country. The British one being missing, to reflect the supposed attitude to the EU. I thought it was kind of funny. As did the Telegraph’s EU correspondent. The brochure did seem oddly full of visualartspeak though. (Visualartspeak is like artspeak with extra syllables and more reference to French philosophers and less reference to English as it is spoken.)

Well, turns out it’s actually even funnier as there are not 27 artists, just one, David Cerny. This is being reported as a ‘£350,000 EU art hoax’. (Certain newspapers must have thought their dream story had come true but for the absence of explicit reference to asylum seekers. ) It's also caused diplomatic ripples as reported here. So long as David Cerny hasn’t fraudulently made off with money that was designed for other people’s fees, I’m not sure I see this as a hoax so much as a fiction. (Thinking of the way early novels like Molls Flanders and Robinson Crusoe purported to be true memoirs.) He has played with images of artists as well as of countries. It’s a classic kind of arty anti-art gesture, or more simply perhaps a properly serious spoof of the EU, artists, artspeak and the commissioning process. Although it plays into prejudices that all modern art is somehow a confidence trick on the public, it seems a serious, though amusing project.

Whether it's a belly laugh, a smile or a smirk the work raises it's undoubtedly a lot funnier than the new BBC radio comedy ‘Broken Arts’, which is, I think, an attempt to spoof arts programmes and the arts. But then, I do often think certain Radio 4 evening comedies must be hoaxes as surely they can’t seriously have gone through all the commissioning and editing processes and still have been thought a good idea. (I will, however, forgive them a lot for the brilliant Count Arthur Strong and Listen Against.)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wednesday Word of the Week: 'Collaboration'

The internal working space we have as part our intranet is called 'Collaborate'. It helps us share knowledge and work together. That's not why I've picked this word. It's because since Christmas my outside-work collaborative muscles have been getting some exercise preparing for my activity holiday next week - working with three other writers based in North East England (Andy Croft, Linda France and W.N.Herbert) and four Bulgarian poets (Kristin Dimitrov, Georgi Gospodinov, Nadya Radulova and VBV) to create a book of our poems for Bulgaria. Naturally we created a blog some time a go to help track our collaboration. And naturally, as some of us love a good or even a bad pun, we called it Blogaria. You can follow the process so far at (Next week I'll either be posting less or more because I'll be on leave in Velingrad.)

The word collaborate (see wikipedia definition here ) is often used in the arts of course. It's interesting to note the emphasis put on equality and the likely deliberate absence of leadership in the collaborative process. It's also interesting that it has a paradoxical or negative meaning too of 'cooperating treasonably', perhaps where there is a power disparity. This is important for artistic collaboration. If I got too hung up on the status or brilliance of some of my Bulgarian collaborators it would probably inhibit the process. It's a word to be treated with respect though - something profound happens in collaboration, to do with the devotion of one's one skills and self to something else that is no longer 'yours' - although you still need to own it. If you can't do that, or are paying lipservice, treason may slip in somewhere.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Has nostalgia got a hold on me?

One of my resolutions for the New Year was to try and avoid nostalgia. I've since been debating with various friends what activity is allowed under this regime. First I was picked up on liking Fleet Foxes. Not a fair cop as I don't even like Neil Young or CSNY, though I do like weird folk music. Then perhaps revivals of plays should not be allowed. Did I only like the Fluxus show at Baltic mainly because the graphic style made me nostalgic, albeit for a time largely before I was born/conscious? Did all those lovely printed things actually make me nostalgic for the punk and post-punk that picked up on them? And so on.

So I've been buying new records, seeing new plays and looking for new things - or known people doing new things. (Last year's album from the revived Portishead, for instance, strikes me as an astonishing piece of work on any terms and definitely didn't make me yearn for the This Life years.) But then today I heard a report that's it's Motown's 50th birthday.

Although I was only born in 1964, and thereby can't really be nostalgic for Motown, the impulse is in there, alongside a love of many of the songs, and an appreciation of the change Motown made. It was the first black-owned company to cross over - previously black musicians had made music which crossed over, but for white employers. I've actually never felt the need to 'choose' between Motown and Stax, which many (mainly white, it seems) critics portray as more authentic - even though many of the key musicians were white - but I know the whole story is not rosy. But where ever you sit on Motown as expression of cultural identity or as employer, any number of fantastic, life-affirming songs came from a company that 'embedded' (as we bureaucrats like to say) black music in the mainstream like no other.

If you don't enjoy this excellent video of the Greatest Ever Robinson and his Miracles, odd dodgy note and all, please seek immediate help. (Oh dear, I can hear that final straw breaking some poor puritan camel's back somewhere...)

Friday, 9 January 2009

Should venues give free tickets to the newly laid off?

I've been a little slow getting going here since returning to work - a combination of pressing work to do and some technical issues. Anyway: Happy New Year.

I'll start with what I think is a cheering story of the arts responding to the economic doom and gloom, in Maryland, USA. Maryland Citizen's for the Arts and arts organisations in the state are providing free and subsidised tickets for state employees who are being forced to take unpaid leave to balance the state government's books. You can read the details here .

The McMaster-inspired scheme to give free theatre tickets to young people has not been uncontroversial. Some have said it could undermine long-term audience development, others have embraced it as a chance to break into new areas. We will see how those successful in the recent bids fare. But the Maryland scheme seems unequivocally a positive, community-spirited gesture. It's a fortnight too late to come over all George Bailey on you, but it'd be interesting to see whether some arts organisations could do something similar in the UK, not just for 'state employees', especially in places hit especially hard by lay offs. (Acknowledging that many venues work hard already on inclusion projects, of course.)