Nottingham Trent University

David Blandy, Fortress of solitude.

176 / Zabludowicz Collection, London.

Fortress of Solitude is Superman’s headquarters, and the name of a novel by Jonathon Letham, in which two boys discover a magic ring, turning them into superheroes. These references immediately set a precedent for what we might expect from Blandy’s work. Blandy’s Fortress has the aesthetics of a teenage boy’s bedroom/headquarters. Here we are presented with a selection of his DVD works, along with cardboard cut-outs (like those found at the cinema), posters and comics of Blandy’s work. Displayed on shelves are collections of novels, DVDs, video games, all of which are influences on Blandy. There’s no division between Blandy’s work and cultural influences within the space. Blandy is interested in the “slippage between fantasy and reality” (Transition Tradition, 2005). By interweaving influences into the exhibition space, you as a viewer are searching for the authentic artwork in amongst cultural reference.

In my work I am searching for the answer what creates the ‘self’ and I wanted to explore how Blandy might answer this question. He examines “how much the self is formed by the mass-media…. and whether he has an identity outside that” (Blandy, D. n.d). Similarly, I explore the character ‘I’ we have within our minds, and question if each day we act out this role. I feel Blandy is testing this out as well: to what extent over the years has Blandy acted out this personified person whose idol is Luke Skywalker? How much of his personality has he mimicked from TV?

Lacan’s theory is that ‘the ideal ego is the image we assume’ (Leader, D. 2000. p48). Through films such as The Soul of the Lakes Blandy explores how his ideal ego has identified itself in other contexts i.e. film. By taking an aspect of his persona he has created characters such as ‘The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim’. This image then exists outside of himself; ‘In order to recognize myself, I have to be separate from my self’ (Changing minds, 2002). Within The Soul of the Lakes ‘The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim’, wearing Buddhist Shaolin Monk robes carrying his record player, is searching for soul. He journeys between two record shops within the Lake District. This journey is fused together with clips from films, such as Shogun Assassin, Princess Mononoke and television program’s Monkey and Kung Fu, which are cleverly interwoven into a narrative. The latter features a Shaolin Monk, a recognition that Blandy identified with this character. As a novice to Japanese and Kung Fu films, many references went unnoticed for me; so it was not totally apparent at first that it was not real footage shot by Blandy. His comic approach is meant to be accessible to all, however his selective use of language means only a small number of people will understand his references. There is a moment when you realize the illusion of Blandy’s world, which has parallels to the fantasy world of children. Blandy reminds me of a child, imagining their surroundings are those from films, then acting out their favourite character. “The realization of this truth, i.e., to see things as they are without illusion or ignorance”, (Rahula, 1972, p40) is a teaching within Buddhism. Blandy’s work is all about finding the illusion, discovering what is ‘fantasy and reality’. Is this the aim of his journeys?

The journey to the record shop can be perceived as his pilgrimage of moral significance to a spiritual site. Blandy’s record player can be compared to a Buddhist begging bowl. The begging bowl is to provide everything a monk needs to survive; similarly it’s as though all Blandy needs to survive can be gained via his records. To place an ‘iPod’ into this context, there would be no pilgrimage, only downloading from the Internet. Has religion been replaced by the Internet, TV, etc? With it’s fast, easy answers and influences, who needs to make pilgrimages? What a monk receives through begging is out of his control, but what he must live off. Similarly what we absorb from television is out of our control. Are we consumers in our identity? If so, and we abandon the pilgrimage, to what extent are we in control over ourselves? Blandy arrives at the other record store and enquires about soul: ‘Soul is hard to find… Those are all we have left. We sell them as art’, says the shop assistant. ‘Well, I’ll take the anti-Soul then’ and he purchases ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’. The film ends with Blandy sitting on a jetty with the racist record, which is classed as art. Is this to feed his soul? If so, are racist ideals absorbed at an unconscious level? ‘The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim’s’ fate is unknown, and the search continues. Blandy has absorbed influences from other cultures. It can be seen in ‘The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim’, but as the ‘Black and White Minstrel’ he explores this further, by creating a new black identity. Black and White Minstrel is shown in a separate room, signalling the departure from the previous room of fantasy. Blandy paints his face white and black and lip-syncs ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ by Syl Johnson. Blandy explains; “It’s a song about frustration at the world and feeling that nothing is going for you and you can’t quite work out why. That’s how I felt at the time so I related to it, but then the chorus keeps telling me, you’re not supposed to relate to this” (Transition Tradition. 2005).Black and White Minstrels were controversial; the show was white actors dressed up as black people acting out ‘typical black behavior’. Blandy has inverted their make up to white faces with black eyes and smile. Maybe Blandy is implying he is black but with a white face. By ‘whiting-up’ he highlights his whiteness and alienation from the track. Moreover he is testing out his relationship to a culture he has no experience of, but feels connected to. His cultural sensitivity can be questioned, however I feel he is more laughing at himself, at his initial naivety. The minstrel embodies Blandy’s tension of how he feels as a white person sharing in emotions felt by black people due to oppression. In this sense he is exploring the complexities of his emotional self, which may have relevance to how identity and self are modeled upon observation of other people and their behaviour.

Blandy creates his own mass-media of films, comics, etc, with himself as the protagonist. Which is comparable to how we view our own lives, us as the centre stage. My research questions if the self is real or an illusion. If I had to guess at Blandy’s answer it would be that our reality is forever changing, as so are we, and if it’s possible to be the creators of ourselves we must moderate our in take.


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Space, Margate. Art Mon no327 Je 2009