Tuesday, March 1, 2011
"It's Art, Baby!"
All art basically boils down to one thing: you’re gonna die, or memento mori as those wily old wops the Latins had it. I don’t know much about death and even less about art, but how hard can it be? Tracey Emin’s messy bedroom, Damien Hurst’s pickled cows - making that stuff’s like shooting fish in a barrel with an Uzzi. You want an instillation? How about an exhibition of used nappies crucified to a gallery wall with titles like “forgive them father for they know not what they poo”. Stick a crucifix in anything, juxtapose it with something weird and offensive other than plain ole Jesus, give it a provocative title and wait for the acclaim. Take your pick - a gay leather Jesus, Jesus with a vagina, crucified Hitler, crucified Chihuahua, crucified television etc. and you’ve got an instant piece of avant-garde, cutting edge, in-your-face art. Rad, maaan!
These days I’m up to my neck in nappies, but over the years I’ve written a disturbingly large number of anti-baby poems and rants, like Inner-child Minding, which ends in me luring my inner-child and his inner-child mates into a kitchen blender and hitting the switch: “he mixes well with other children”.
It might have been inspired by the Mark Twain short story A Carnival of Crime in Connecticut, in which Twain’s character is tormented by a guilty conscience that materialises in the form of a malicious dwarf. He finally manages to catch the dwarf, rips it to shreds and gleefully embarks on a guilt-free crime spree. Check it out, it’s great!
I wrote a monologue about ten years ago called Newtown’s got a Baby Shop (and I’m not getting any younger). It was born from the shock of seeing a baby shop open in my artsy old ‘burb, and realising that this really did signify a cultural and demographic shift from libertine licentiousness to mum and dad money. My anti-baby output dried up about five years ago with the arrival of my son Rock [pictured]. Call me a wimp, but it might seem somewhat hypocritical to be frothing from stage about the baby plague when my partner Gini is at home with a kid leaching her boob.
People say stuff like “I bet having children has changed you. Kids must have given you a whole new perspective and loads of new material”. But no, not really. Apart from one or two little ditties I haven’t been inspired to write an avalanche of “all-new” soft Tug material. Besides, the world is serviced enough in the baby writing department.
What else might pass for art? Ears are fascinating. How about a photographic exhibition of ears in massive closeup? Or herd people into a blackened theatre and bombard them with a relentless soundtrack of belching, hacking and farting; or the wheezing breath of a terminal cancer patient juxtaposed with a purring kitten; or a sound instillation of titters, chuckles, chortles, snorts and guffaws, increasing in intensity all the way up to a laugh of screeching megalomaniacal lunacy, all backed by Ravel’s Bolero.
Or an instillation of volumetric representations of all the bodily waste expelled by a human over the course of an average life – a roomful of all the hair you’ve ever grown, piles of toenail and fingernail clippings, tankfulls of snot, semen, pee, poo, earwax and menstrual blood; a swimming pool of sweat. What does it mean? Who knows. But surely it could be somehow twisted into a statement on the human condition, and the ephemeral nature of life etc.
One of the most profound art instillations I saw was not really intended as art at all, which is the best kind. The Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London contained piles of discarded spectacles and shoes, some of the shoes very small. There’s something very poignant about shoes, and not just death camp shoes. The sight of my dad’s empty shoes laid neatly side by side at the bottom of the stairs can give me a funny little flutter in the guts. They somehow make me miss him even though he’s not yet dead.
Or how about this: a guy with a leafblower comes on stage and starts blowing around a crumpled ball of paper. Another guy with a leafblower joins him and they start blowing the ball of paper to each other. More leafblowers appear until we have twenty-two leafblower operators. They assemble into two teams, and, with the arrival of a ref on a ride-on mower, start playing a game of leafblower soccer. The ref starts systematically issuing red cards to the players who then have to shut off their machine and depart the stage. Finally we are left with just the original leafblower guy and the ref, who issues him not with a red card but the Ace of Spades. The ref departs leaving the original leafblower guy to shut off his machine. As the lights dim he falls into a state of despair and start howling like a wounded animal into the existential void. Again, a poignant comment on the human condition and man’s essential aloneness in the universe.
But to end where we began, let’s think babies. Specifically, a play directed by a baby. A spotlight comes up in a darkened theatre to reveal a baby in the middle of the stage. The direction of the play is dependant purely upon the baby’s actions – the direction it crawls in, which rattle it picks up or toy it decides to chew will guide the other actors, who take the stage to enact a standard kitsch’n’sync drama, or play of social mores, maybe something by David Williamson. If the baby picks up the red rattle then an actor has to get drunk. If the baby picks up a teddy the police arrive to conduct a drug bust. If the baby goes for an orange ball the actors have an orgy. The action continues in one particular vein until the baby changes toys, or crawls in a certain direction. The actors might drop the Williamson dialogue to tango, or crawl around grunting, get naked and put nappies on each other. If the baby starts crying they surround it and start performing in mime, or a minstrel show, or Three Stooges routine, or start in on Waiting for Godot. You’d also want to mount a video camera on the baby’s head to project its view onto a screen. The play doesn’t finish until the baby falls asleep, which means that while some performances might only last ten minutes, others could last four or six hours, or until the audience tires and leaves. The actors have three lifelines, in which they can hit an intervention button to bring on an enormous old Victorian-style wet nurse, who has a five-minute limit to suckle the baby, change it, wrap it up, give it a dummy and try to put it to sleep in a pram.
It would be a test for the actors and no two performances would be alike. I’m not sure where it sits ethically in the Cruelty to Baby Act, but it might be a nice early break into show biz. Anyone want to volunteer their kid for the first production? It pays union rates, and I think we might go with Macbeth.