Nottingham Trent University
West Midlands

A dismal rainy Friday evening. Initially stuck in a jam on the M5, half an hour after doors open, I finally arrive, (almost power walking), with my bright yellow invite to the automatic doors of the Bonington building, Nottingham Trent University.

This is the Private View: people lined up for a free glass of wine, parents and families guided round showing interest in work they are unsure that they understand, and then there I am. I’m wondering about not I am quite able to focus on or what I should be looking at and what I sat in a car for 3 hours to view: the NTU Fine Art Degree Show 2009. It’s hard to determine what one is looking at when one is trying to determine what people are thinking of you.

Enough about my issues, but I found myself under an arch of material stuffed with chairs covered in talcum powder watching David Clarkson’s Mighty Mouse performance. He arrives on stage. Silent. He stands there with a wide eyed expression on his face, nervousness seeping through his fingers and hand twitches. He proceeds to put on a performance of Andy Kaufman, re-enacting the Mighty Mouse performance, a range of imitations and “I Trusted You”. I overheard someone say that is was a comment on how his father had introduced this “song and dance man” to him: a tribute to their father/son relationship with a slightly unhinged twist. Yet even before I heard this, I found myself looking for his family; his parents; his father laughing in the audience. I found some parents right in front of me, the man with grey hair and glasses, singing and mouthing along to “I trusted you, I trusted you. I trusted you, I trusted you”. I searched for the evidence that would prove he was theirs, but he wasn’t, and their daughter came over and they slowly moved away. I looked again and there was a second couple. They looked younger and more involved- a man with a grey cap, red top and stubble, with his arm around his partner’s waist: another possibility. They were all smiles, laughter and enjoyment, but he wasn’t theirs either. It saddened me that his father wasn’t there but then, did it matter? He had the impersonation of their connection through Andy Kaufman and two possible fathers: so maybe that was enough! This was performance art performed and imitations imitated. I found this experience compelling and could not tear myself away until the end, until the very last “T’ank you veddy much”.

The next day I took myself back to the show with a slightly clearer head. This show seemed to have an overwhelming amount of text based artwork and performance which surprised me when looking back to NTU’s degree show 2007, my last visit. Fiona Lewis’ performance drawing was taking place upon a large canvas. Next to the canvas was a timetable of when the performances would happen and these would occur intensely for most of the day in 20 minute stints with half hour breaks. The instructions are that she must not talk to anyone and only use the materials provided to create architectural-like drawings, and that is what she did. The work developing was utterly beautiful and delicate and this was only the second day of drawing. I can merely imagine how complex and fascinating it would be by the end of the show. The piece is entitled PANOPTICON. This word was initially used to name the design of a prison where the observer can observe the prisoners without them knowing whether they are being watched or not. Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher and designer, described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Even though she knew she was being watched, she not once acknowledged our presence, yet I found I was compelled to watch her in action: standing next to her, peering over her shoulder studying the intricacies of the lines.

Opposite this beauty, was Tom Duggan’s Brown and Blue Actors Piece which consisted of brown words neatly stencilled upon a rich blue 3 metre square. The following points were written:

1. The artist has arranged for three actors to visit the exhibition.

2. Each actor will visit the exhibition once and that will be at the time of their choosing.

3. The actors will behave as if they are genuine viewers of the exhibition.

4. These arrangements have been made by telephone so that neither the artist nor the actors will recognise one another.

If this had been it, I would have been left wondering whether these actors were around me. Perhaps one was the old lady standing next to me? Were they real? Had they actually been called? Possibly one of them, the vandal, who had painted “PRICK” in black capital letters across this artist’s work? Pinned neatly to the wall on a piece of NTU headed A4 paper from security the issue was explained and it was noted that they are looking into the incident as well as asking for people to step forward with information. This brash vandalism left me questioning why? Why would someone do this, as the work is neither challenging, offensive nor provoking? Perhaps a little pretentious, but then it is expected: we are in a Fine Art Degree Show. “This work is not challenging, offensive nor provoking”, yet it did become these things once it had been defaced.

Continuing on from this piece, I came across Neil Dixon’s Wooden Representation of a Place which appeared to be a wooden structure on stilts that looked like a construction of tree houses. I wondered to myself what place this was, and if it were life-size which part I would wish to live in. This was mildly contrasted against my sadness that it would have to be demolished come the end of the show as it would be too big to remove.

Walking around the next corner I found myself insulted for the second time that day yet substituted in this case with the specific feminine version of “PRICK”: “SLAG”, once again in black painted capital letters. The name Lucy Burden seemed to title this “SLAG” even though it is named “Untitled” in the floor plan. There was no work left, only the rectangular empty spaces where the paint brushed over the work and the part-painted pieces of shattered glass that lay defeated on the floor below the text. Once more, a NTU headed piece of A4 paper accompanied the work, the same as Duggan’s word for word. Lucy Burden does seem to be most unfortunate when exhibiting work in Nottingham. I was standing once more near a couple standing amazed tutting away that some one might dare to vandalise the work. Yet something had clicked within me and I was left unsure of this ‘vandal’s true existence.

This show has been very interesting. I have mentioned but a few pieces, but I recommend a visit to experience performance, text, painting, sculpture, video art and whatever you could think of, brought together under one roof, that this week is actually probably leaking.

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