Newness

Festive greetings from all those involved with Emergency5 – all the artists, the staff of aspex and those unattributed (you know who you are). May the coming New Year bring you some joy, and bring one of the Emergency5 exhibitors 500 quid, the People’s Choice.

We don’t get much snow in Portsmouth. It’s something to do with the Isle of Wight sheltering us. Last January started with a blizzard though. Those who managed to get to the gallery (a fifteen minute journey took an hour and a half!), yup, we opened up – the show goes on. After two hours we closed. Nobody needs to look at art when the world’s been redecorated, renewed (momentarily). It’s curious, the wonder people exhibit when nature gilds the everyday with a squeak-weight of frozen h2o. It’s quite mundane, irregular, not revolutionary – snow. If snow were an artwork, it might be akin to a Caravaggio or Van Gogh, something immediate and effective – something agreed on as great (gggrrreat! as Tony the Tiger would have it – and he’s well-familiar with frost[ies]). Nobody, I expect, draws back their curtains of a morning and seeing a whiteout says ‘seen it – repetitive – unoriginal’. Snow is welcome. It’s meanings, factual and mythical, are retold and revised – rituals are enacted – the pros and cons of it lauded (snow-days versus impassable roads) – it’s simple contrast, whites and colour, celebrated. Snow is prayed for. Shouldn’t it be the same when people visit a gallery? They ought to be transported (somewhere) by newness – a newness like that of snow, something well understood changing the ordinary into fresh territory, a playground, a blank sheet.

I’ve had the following conversation with many punters, ‘Is there anything that explains [gestures toward exhibition] all this?’ – ‘yes, there is. we’ve information on the artists and their practice, books and web content relevant to the exhibition…’ – ‘I just don’t get it, and I look at at a lot of art, but, this, I don’t get it, where do I start?’ – ‘with the artwork, does it suggest anything to you? does it in any way chime with anything in your own experience? do you like the way it looks?’ – ‘It’s too [waves a hand in the air], it’s beyond me’. They always suggest they lack the ‘training’ to understand, as if you learn the formulae at Art College. You do, but you don’t. Contemporary Art is closer to academia than it is to the domestic – it deals in abstracts (not Cubism, or that), in philosophical and metaphysical notions, in semantics and science. It doesn’t do pictures to hang above the mantelpiece. But, it does. It does all things. Contemporary Art deals in the concrete of thought. The weight and quality of that though varies from individual artist to individual artwork. The skill sets have changed. A poor draftsman can still articulate great things through drawing. Just as a naturally gifted painter might have nothing worthwhile to say. The material of making art has opened out to include everything – that’s why few arts degrees are broken up into the old streams of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking. There might once have been some sniping between the new and old, like that between Alternative Comedians and Jimmy Tarbuck-like comedians. But, that all ended in a truce years and years ago. Is it the public that’s not kept up or did we leave them behind? I think we’ve left them confused!

Contemporary Art exists in a number of parallel ribbons. There’s the commercial, the stuff that sells for silly money that they lambast in tabloids – or the certified art (being as how it’s antique) that is sold for record silly money, which we ought to save from export. There’s the grant-maintained, the art the Arts Council sanctions, that relies on the patronage of wealth, that shelters under the canopy of charity. There’s the so-called ‘local artists’ – those who do art, some with degrees in art, nearly all amateur, who are the angriest, most indignant of all. There’s the academic, that shines narrow beams of torchlight into deeper and deeper caverns of thought. Then, then there’s the failing, flailing artists – who life steers further and further from their calling, into jobs that might pay for art but leave no space or time for art – an experience not unique to artists – these are the everyman artists, because life dictates what they become, not inclination.

These are all pretty distinct groups. The commercial is the richest, but the smallest sphere. The largest is the failing, flailing artist – there’s one under every stone. The world of ACE is hermetic. Bands of ‘local artists’ do not wander the country, which is the point, they occupy towns and cities, progressing like sloths, not because they’re lazy or useless but because they are sloths doing as sloths do. Academia is a secret society, or a sanctuary, a monastery. There’s really little crossover – if you recognise the segregation. To the punter, and his mouthpieces, Contemporary Art is just a bunch of…

And that’s what’s happened, instead of a snowy newness, there exists a bullshittiness between the art and its latent audience. It’s a hard rain we require. Or we accept the art is not egalitarian or necessary – that it’s a minority occupation producing for a minority.

Hey. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. And,

BAH!

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