August 3rd, 2006


Tony Hannibal Blair

These, it seems, are the last days of Tony Blair. It's looking increasingly likely that he'll be deposed in a bloodless coup this weekend while he's away on holiday in the Caribbean, or toppled at the Labour Party conference next month. Perhaps he'll crusade on for another year and fulfill his ambition to outlast Margaret Thatcher. At any rate, we should be preparing our valedictions now.

I was planning to write a scathing piece about Blair's career today. But, really, what's the point? There's nothing I could say that isn't already being said all over newspapers like The Guardian in op eds, blogs and commentary pieces. So I've decided to stay one step ahead, to do something a bit more original. I'll take the water of Tony Blair's deeds and pour it into an ice tray moulded, not in the shape of his own head, but someone else's; the concrete poet, artist and architect Vito Hannibal Acconci. I call this method Parallel Profiling. (Private property fans, please note: this technique is copyleft. Anyone can use Parallel Profiling without paying for it, as long as they don't charge for it either.)

So, here goes.

Tony Blair: Neither an installation artist nor an architect -- let alone a poet -- Tony Blair did not shoot to fame with an action called "Seedbed" which involved him lying under a raised platform masturbating while broadcasting his sexual fantasies to all comers. Although he erected millions of security cameras around the UK, he never got interested enough in what people do to follow someone around until they passed from public to private space, then type up the results and send them to a friend, or hang around piers, telling a selected stranger "something that I’m ashamed of and that under normal circumstances I wouldn’t tell a soul, something that – if it were made public – could be used against me." On the contrary, Blair always insisted on his own complete rectitude.

Although others filled up hours and hours of video tape with his "conviction" speeches, Tony Blair has signally failed to investigate the medium of video himself, let alone push it into new areas. He hasn't made a single piece in which he, for instance, explores his own naked body or lies back smoking, playing music and addressing viewers as if we're lovers being ardently pursued.

Despite sitting weekly around a big conference table bullying and pontificating, Tony Blair never considered actually designing a table, a radical conference table, for instance, which juts through a window and then eight feet over the street below. He also never made a building which, remarkably, with the swing of a few hatches, can be opened entirely to the sidewalk, becoming a metaphor of transparency (like the Storefront for Art and Architecture on New York's Kenmare Street, currently showing the exhibition Portable).

Vito Acconci: I'll be brief. Vito Acconci hasn't been responsible for the biggest erosion of democratic power -- the power of the judiciary, parliament and the cabinet -- that Britain has ever seen. He hasn't taken a nation to war under completely false pretences. He hasn't declared that he's shifted from being a utilitarian to more of a belief that there's such a thing as "natural law". He isn't Britain's most religious prime minister since Gladstone, "seeking authorisation for war, as well as personal spiritual solace, in the Gospels."

Never having purged a socialist party of all its socialists, Acconci doesn't now insist on seeing every single conflict in the world as a battle between extremists and moderates. He's never compared himself smugly to Jesus by declaring that "Jesus was a modernizer", and he doesn't insist on calling any piece of capital-friendly, clock-turning-back legislation "reform". Acconci hasn't offered "cash for peerages" or become a sort of Hollywood butler to the most right-wing president in American history. Acconci doesn't believe that democracy can be rained down on other countries in the form of heavy munitions, or that the state of Israel is right whatever it does.

Whereas it's possible to see Acconci believing that history can be written in human seed, nobody could accuse him of trying to write it in blood -- and creating, in the process, precisely the sort of "failed states" and hardline Islamist terrorism he claims to deplore. Acconci doesn't then define the resulting anger as an "arc of extremism which must be confronted", hinting that he will attack yet more sovereign states, in defiance of all international law.

Vito Acconci leaves the world better for his actions, Tony Blair leaves it worse. But at least -- any day now -- he leaves.