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Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 12:35 pm
Evil childgeist

From Glasgow -- where we've been staying at Joe Howe's place near the Necropolis -- to Newcastle, where I play a show at the charming Star and Shadow cinema, run by an 80-year-old Geordie communist who used to take his didactic drama unit round the local mines and factories, raising class consciousness. My show takes the format of a Michael Parkinson interview programme -- Parky and I (he's a showroom dummy) sit on an Ikea sofa chatting about each of the songs I play. Sample dialogue: "This was from my Bataille / De Sade / Mishima period, Michael, I'm sure you went through one too -- around the time of your short-lived Channel 4 show, maybe."



The following day we leave Byker Wall, the award-winning 70s housing scheme where promoter Craig Wilson lives with Krista, his girlfriend (a Finn, Krista is the woman you see strapped naked to a trolley during "Trust Me, I'm A Doctor" in the Man of Letters DVD!) and head down to the Tyne, the Millenium Bridge, and Baltic Mills, the vast Tate-Modern-like arts centre perched on the Gateshead side of the river. The facade is dominated by one of Yoshitomo Nara's sulky toddlers. The shows inside are predominantly Japanese at the moment: Nara and Graf, Mariko Mori.



Mori I think has gone from being a 90s show-off to a 00s spiritual charlatan -- I don't have much time for her pseudo-spiritual dribs and drabs, and the 80 year-old Geordie communist in me can't forgive her for belonging to a rich family who own half of Roppongi. As for Nara, although I've been rather over-exposed to his work -- I've seen variants of this Graf show in Osaka and Berlin already, although it's localised each time -- I continue to find it interesting.



Yes, his little girls are twee as hell -- but they're spooky too. Yes, the puritan dollhouses Graf build around Nara's imagery turn the gallery into a theme park (the local element this time was a huge glitterball built into one of the facades, based on something Nara and Graf found in a local bar). But they give the encounter with Nara's imagery a whole new dimension, one which saves the whole project as far as I'm concerned. Nara and Graf continue to create magic -- contemplative spaces from an episode of Little House on the Prairie set on Mars. It would be a sour old man indeed who didn't find his inner child while negotiating the rickety walkways that connect one ramshackle hut, one disturbingly alien little girl, to another.



After the Nara show Hisae and I explored the relaxation / education centre on the first floor, a place of tactically mismatched chairs, plasma screen TVs showing interviews with the artists, toys and tiny tables for children. It felt really good to be there, and to watch the pedestrian bridge outside winched up and down for the ships to pass through. Sure, the dominant tone of Baltic at the moment is an infantilizing one, and the development smacks of a bid to use culture (friendly, reassuring, childish culture) as an engine for redevelopment. But at the same time, when you see the new electric buses with their organically-shaped windscreens dropping new visitors outside the impressive building, you can't stay cynical.

Talking of cynical, I picked up the latest edition of Modern Painters in the Baltic giftshop. The magazine has got even thinner -- fewer ads -- and sports a new look which might as well be a demonstration that style-mismatching as often leads to visual disaster as the distinguished eclecticism seen amongst the chairs upstairs. Diarist Matthew Collings seems more dyspeptic than ever, somewhat less enchanted by the contemporary art scene than even Brian Sewell.

Under the heading "Evil Zeitgeist", Collings (who's in New York) begins: "Art today is understood as a series of moves that you have to comprehend and absorb, in order to position and advance yourself in a game for a group of people whose creativity has become repellent without their realizing it. That is, if you're an artist. Your whole role in society has become weirdly hateful. What on earth happened? The shows roll by, feeding the art industry, not feeding anything else, just seeming like object versions of shouting, or someone reading familiar, acceptable meanings off a list, or idiotically droning or mumbling in a childish attempt to come across as a mystical genius or someone highly educated. It's very rare to see a contemporary art show that isn't like toys for children."

While I have to say that "childish attempts at mystical genius" and "toys for children" are absolutely perfect descriptions of what was on show at Baltic, I don't share Collings' despair. Sure, we read that kind of blanket statement and recognize something generally true -- there is a lot of toxic jockeying, especially in cities like New York where everything is all about money. But the encounter with art still takes us to places we can't reach any other way.

I'm not sure if the "evil" part of Collings' picture enters because artists are pretending to be childlike themselves, or treating their audiences like children, or whether it's the combination of that with the world of money, or the combination of all this with Modern Painters' decreasing advertising revenue. But being reconnected with your inner child isn't such a bad thing to have happen, in a huge post-industrial building full of tiny wooden huts, after a journey across a pedestrian bridge or via a blobby green electric bus.

28CommentReplyFlag

rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 10:59 am (UTC)

Newcastle didn't look like that last time I was there.

I have a theory that you don't actually travel anywhere; you just take photos on an elaborate set that you hire on the outskirts of Potsdam.

If I'm wrong - and I do accept that there is that possibility - then I bet you could even make Corby town centre look like a cutting-edge design project.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:17 am (UTC)

I was having similar thoughts myself. Despite banging on about diversity, wherever Momus goes he always seems to home in on exactly the same generic post-industrial contemporary arts space, showing Japanese artists that he's already seen in Berlin and Tokyo, experiencing an event that could be taking place in any urban environment in the developed world. Surely there was something interesting, different about Newcastle or its surrounds? Don't you ever climb out of your art-hipster bubble?


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:19 am (UTC)

Well, you've been considerably harsher than me. I just thought it was amusing.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:22 am (UTC)

You're right, I was a bit overly harsh there. But still...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:22 am (UTC)

Potsdam looks a bit like how Newcastle probably used to -- the "shrinking cities" around Berlin are the last refuge of wholesome Hovis patina. Everywhere else is basically Odaiba, the manmade island in Tokyo Bay.

So yes, you've rumbled me, I'm shooting all this on Odaiba. It certainly explains the suspicious preponderance of Japanese artists.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)

As for the "global hipster bubble" charge, I may well blog about the Byker Wall council estate I stayed on -- the only Grade 1 listed council estate in Britain, but actually more like something in 1970s Scandinavia.


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rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:43 am (UTC)

The last time I was in Newcastle I played at this pub. As we emerged from the back door of the venue at 11.10pm we saw the van door open, all our stuff strewn nearby, and a bloke running over Byker Bridge carrying my Peavey guitar amp. Shit amp, fortunately.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)

It's true there's a certain kind of Geordie hooligan who's a bit more toxic than your average British hooligan. I was getting lots of "Arrrs" everywhere, lots of not-so-abusive pirate abuse. And the Byker Wall estate is notorious for a legendary "rat boy" who escaped police by running through air ducts and attics. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night, sure I could hear the rat boy above my bedroom. But I think he's in prison now.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)

"I may well blog about the Byker Wall council estate I stayed on"

This is Joe we're talking about right? He lives in council housing?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: that was me

No, it's Newcastle promoter Craig Wilson's place. Joe lives in private rented accommodation in Glasgow (housing association) but is moving soon to Aberdeen.


ReplyThread Parent
boof_boy
boof_boy
boof_boy
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)

I'd love you to write something about housing estates!


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 11:40 am (UTC)
Is C21st growing like a human?

I half agree with that there is lot of naïve/childlike at the moment. Aspects of 'Psycho Buildings' at the Hayward felt like a ropey play park. Perhaps the century will grow at a human rate – a childlike Zeroes, then the Teenies will see the return of doomy young men in greatcoats posing wistfully by a shoreline.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Is C21st growing like a human?

Or perhaps there won't be any growth. We are paralyzed in a world without meaning and purpose. All attempts to fight our way out are in vain. Our overripe race is too smart for beauty and awe. We are left with only clever commentary and irreverent nonsense. The sooner it all ends, the better.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Is C21st growing like a human?

See? You're getting into the 'radical serious' thing already.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)

Art today is understood as a series of moves that you have to comprehend and absorb, in order to position and advance yourself in a game for a group of people whose creativity has become repellent without their realizing it. That is, if you're an artist. Your whole role in society has become weirdly hateful. What on earth happened? The shows roll by, feeding the art industry, not feeding anything else, just seeming like object versions of shouting, or someone reading familiar, acceptable meanings off a list, or idiotically droning or mumbling in a childish attempt to come across as a mystical genius or someone highly educated. It's very rare to see a contemporary art show that isn't like toys for children.

But it's no surprise that you don't share Collings' unhappiness: your idea of art is an example of the kind of thing he's unhappy about! And I think you miss the point by laying stress on the money-making aspect of the art scene; that's just a part of what he's railing against: the art scene's niggardly insularity and propensity for bullshit. We go to shows and we are confronted by the same old tropes, the same old ideas underpinned by the same old theoretical framework. Like whenever you start banging on - the keywords are playfulness, anti-narrative etc, etc. Same old, same old... like your brain's attached by some sort of manacle to the Tate Modern magazine rack.

Think about it Momus: why might the role of an artist in modern society have become 'weirdly hateful'? Just try; play with the idea, see what you come up with.

Nero; fiddles; Rome, anyone?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sat, Jul. 26th, 2008 04:18 am (UTC)

the one beuys pointed out but with a tad of humour and mercy;; if you ask me


ReplyThread Parent
pay_option07
pay_option07
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
pseudo-spiritual dribs and drabs/become weirdly hateful.

Two phrases that popped out while I was reading this made me think of childhood fears of something delicate in life we have to stop doing and that is far better to avoid and ignore.



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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)

The Newcastle gig sounds like it was good; wish I could have made it up there.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)

Well, Kumakouii, I guess that like Collings I'd like to see less bullshit and less employment of familiar coterie lore. Beyond that, let me first quote Chomsky (from a conversation with Foucault you can see on YouTube):

If it is correct, as I believe it is, that a fundamental element of human nature is the need for creative work, for creative enquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions, then of course it will follow that a decent society will maximise the possibilities for this fundamental human characteristic to be realised. That means trying to overcome the elements of repression, and oppression, and destruction, and coercion that exist... in our society for example, as a historical residue.

First (but not foremost), I would like to see art that questions the current total lack of opportunity for 'creative work' and 'creative enquiry' among the overwhelming majority of people in the West today, of a system that sets up an elite caste of artists as super-priveliged people authorised to engage in creative endeavour and be taken seriously. The absurdity of this situation is clear to see when you consider that many artists are seemingly more concerned by their position on www.artfacts.net than by whether or not they produce work of real value. That's entirely understandable, because the commercial art world is such a sexy and glamorous place! But no, I'd like to see art democratised, given back to the wider public, with opportunities to train in and practice art (and craftsmanship) in their workplace and community. Altough this would mean something of a sea change in the way our economy works, wouldn't it?

Foremost, I'd like to see more work that impresses by the skill and intelligence, or taste that produced it. That kind kind of thing. What about you?


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 28th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Re the post with the N.Chomsky line

good show.
A decent response would take more than I am capable of at the moment, would actually require a lot of nuanced and heavily qualified statements to disrubute to each facet raised.

While I agree with and am grateful for the call on the complicity of segments of this world with repressive social structures in return for the privelige of a permanent playroom. . .
That lack of connection between the militant(as in organization and operation(actual), not violence per se) and the aesthetic is annoying to say the least. One thing I think we like about this site is that the connection is stressed ; utilitarian and pragmatic outputs; momus is always highlighting the esthetic --> operational potentials, how this stuff can (these esthetic blueprints) offer up a series of choices forward. And in that sense I simultaneously agree with momus' counter in this post to the Colling one. So I guess my conclusion is that I think that your are sadly right in many ways about the the function of the art scene, it's not the total sense of it. Rolling back the mental diseases in the socius requires that communication/organization, applications of some keen eyed netting skilz. Not exactly the sole responsibility of the artist. A different (though admittedly overlapping) skill set for one thing.

this was hacked together on an iPhone 3g. Apologies.


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josef_barghest
Dispatches from the front-line of mediocrity.
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)

I live in Newcastle and haunt the Baltic on a weekly basis. Granted, I use the book shop as a library, but I'm at peace with that.

To say the Baltic has a vista akin to the Tate Modern is frankly horse cack. It's a high rise block of galleries that has been grossly miss-managed since its opening. It's an empty shell that does not invite local art or "artists". It laughs up its own sleeve. I'd direct it for free for 18 months. It constantly pisses me off that the place isn't working.

Try the Side Gallery on the Newcastle Quayside to see a small gallery that is constantly amazing.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Newcastle and the Baltic

Hi Nick

first of all, thanks very much for the show in Newcastle. The format worked so well - not only was it funny and engaging, it was also the soundtrack of the last 20 years of my life. Your performance of "Born to be adored my women" had me weeping tears of laughter, "Bishonen" just a few tears. Thanks for signing my copy of "Lusts of a moron" as well. One day it will sell for a lot of money....

I'm interested in the comments about the Baltic, particularly the comments from those who have never been there. It's incredibly important for Newcastle, and the thing you might not see from a quick visit on a weekday and a few photos is just how open and democratic it is. People wander through all the time - mainly to go the viewing platform at the top - and get drawn in. At weekends the kids sections are actually full of kids! I took my brother and family there on a recent visit (plumber, nurse and teenage shoppers), and they looked at every exhibit, and then spent ages talking which they liked best and why. My mother, who has never been in art gallery in her life, loved it, even after managing to kick over one of the more obscure "artworks". It's that kind of place and people like it....

So come back again some time. Where else in the UK could you find a venue like the Star and Shadow to play in?

Wayne


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boof_boy
boof_boy
boof_boy
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
Bill Ormond

While Bill Ormond is certainly a legendary figure in Newcastle art and left-wing circles, and did indeed do the factories and mines with his agit-prop theatre groups, he's not really THE one behind the Star and Shadow. He's ONE of the people behind it as it's run collectively, voluntarily and successfully by a large group of volunteers who cooperate to programme, manage, and run the place on a very small budget. What Bill brings to the venue is a sense of continuity - that this sort of place - the sort of place that would put Momus on and let him do whichever show he wanted to do - is the sort of place that in the sixties and earlier would have given space to Richard Hamilton, Jake Thackray and Amber Films etc.

BTW - Rhodri - that pub was and is the Cumberland, and still puts music on. Sunburned Hand of the Man were there recently.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Jul. 25th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)

Someone I knew in York used to say everyone in Newcastle was gorgeous and he wanted to shag them ALL.

Now in my head Newcastle is the capitol of the polymorphous perverse and so I've never visited it in case it disappoints.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sat, Jul. 26th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)

Music Has No End

Edited at 2008-07-26 06:00 am (UTC)


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eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Sat, Jul. 26th, 2008 08:08 am (UTC)

I was at a party tonight and heard Collings' argument applied to the Indie Rock Scene, albeit with more swearwords.

I love the phrase "spiritual charlatan" to death. It is not applied enough.


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Sat, Jul. 26th, 2008 11:14 am (UTC)
still

It is saturday now, five days after the show in west germany; I'm still humming the melody of 'violets.'It is summer, blossom leaves fill the streets in Neukölln. An Italian song, this violet, done better by momus, then any Italian could do. I guess it was 'being honest' that pushed him to the very margins of showbizz.


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sandroha
sandroha
Sat, Jul. 26th, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC)

good


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