- Royal College of Art
I have just been in the bath filming my knob. Now my camera is in the kitchen trying (in vain) to focus on one of the legs of the tripod it's standing on. My knob and balls were just floating there so serenely I thought they'd look good on film. After a while I let the water out and they kind of deflated. It looked great on the camera's little LCD screen. As I lay there with the camera trained on my parts I was thinking, is this Art? And then I thought the fact that I have to ask means that it probably stands a good chance. Because if you think when you're making Art that you are making it, you have already gone wrong. And I don't mean the kind of wrong that is right.
I went to the RCA show yesterday and there was a lot of stuff that was self-consciously Art. It seemed to me to be so cautious, like it had to reference everything in the History of Art to make sure you knew it was what it appeared to be: Art. And you can understand why. I would be intimidated if I were studying there. But the trouble is it just puts you on edge when you're looking at it. And, no doubt, the Artist who made it would say they want you to be on edge, they want you to feel confused, because if you are confused then perhaps you will have to think for once instead of just consuming. Fair enough. I think it was Laurie Anderson who said of her art that she wanted to make something that “Would never be on telly.” Well I couldn’t agree more. But the trouble is it doesn’t always work that way. And it’s not enough just to make the viewer confused in the vague (and arrogant) hope that once confused they will automatically progress from there to a position of anti-capitalism.
I went mainly to see the photography and video because that’s what I’m into and there was quite a lot of it, much of which was as I have just described. It was all so serious, so laboured, so full of its own credentials. Lacan said as a therapist you should never colllude with the ego. Same applies to artists and their art. Do not collude with the ego of the image by presenting an image of the ego. And what was on the walls here seemed to be a lot of collusion.
There was this one massive photograph of just black which seemed to sum up the feel of the show. I don't know if the film went through a camera or if there even was a film, or if the paper was just stuck in a room and the lights switched on for a bit – it doesn’t really matter. Because all I could see was the self-satisfied grin of its maker, in love with his own genious, a genious confirmed by the fact that his black photograph was being produced with the full indorcement of the Royal College.
And it’s not as if I’m a philistine. I know Malevich did a black square in 1913. I know about Kant and Lyotard and the presenting of the unpresentable. I know how interesting it is to think about photography’s unique relationship to the world; that it must have a “referent” as the course director Olivier Richon says in the accompanying catalogue, and how if you present a black photograph which may or may not have a referent (and if it has its not made reference to in the image) that it poses a problem for photography, etc, etc. But at the same time I couldn’t help thinking, this is small beer writ large.
It was like these photos were printed big to disguise the cautiousness I spoke about earlier. Like a phallus, it never actually appears except symbolically, and then precisely to hide the embarrassing truth. Like the Wizard of Oz, all flames and smoke and then it takes a little dog to pull back the curtain and there's the meek old man, the real penis. The irony is we all have (metaphorically I mean – and about half of us literally!) a real penis, and surely art doesn't want to go hiding that fact. That’s the job of advertising. Buy this and no one will know you’ve got a little willy; come and study at the RCA and no one will know either. It's one of the things that tie us all together, the frailty of human existence.
So maybe that's why I felt compelled to film my knob in the bath, just a little soft bit of gristle and a covering of skin cells, just gently floating there like a, well like a penis, because I wanted somehow to say to those people at the RCA that it's ok, its ok, you don't have to try so hard, you don't have to be so guarded, because what are you guarding yourself against? We all know you've got a little willy. And you would have thought, wouldn't you, that with the backing of possibly the most respected institution for post graduate art education in the country, in short the biggest dick of them all, you wouldn't need to pretend otherwise?
There was one piece of work in the show which was not trying to inflate itself. It was a 3 minute single screen video projection by Claire Wheeldon called Samantha Singing 2006. It's just this young teenaged girl singing along to Suspicious Minds by Elvis. And she is just so unaffected, like she has no interior/exterior, like she has no concept of herself at all. And then you realise that she's blind because her eyes are moving about in that way that certain blind peoples' eyes do. And the song ends, and you hear a woman’s voice (probably the artist’s) saying, "Ok Samantha, shall we do it again?" or words to that effect, and Samantha smiles and says "Yeah," and the video loops back to the start again.
Now this video raises some interesting questions. For example, what does it mean to photograph someone who has never seen their own face; to make an image of someone who has no concept of, or at least no physical experience of (as far as I know) an image? And just how do you present yourself (make yourself into an image) to be photographed if you have never seen either yourself or a photograph? And this is not to mention the psychological questions about how we constitute ourselves as individus if we don't know what we look like. Where would Lacan's mirror phase be without a mirror? And then there are the moral and ethical questions that are activated here too…
Well, this is all very interesting, but the point is, when you are faced with genuine art all that stuff doesn’t really matter. And the proof that this piece was genuine was the crowd that had gathered behind me to watch Samantha singing. Like me, this crowd of people had come to see the big dicks and feel lke a big dick in the process, but, again like me, they probably felt much bigger – or at least more substantial, more real – for being reminded, by a film of a girl who couldn't see singing Elvis, that they weren't big dicks afterall, and what's more, they didn't need to be.
Artist and teacher.