I visited Copenhagen with my friend Rebecca on Saturday. We did our usual mix of art, walking, chat and food, this time with the added fun of a canal boat tour (where a bunch of very rowdy Dutch guys confirmed that everyone can be a loud, annoying tourist, no matter where you are from).
I don’t expect art to be “aesthetically pleasing” or “well crafted” all the time, but I do need some kind of framework. I have read and translated enough art speak in my life to be able to put the exhibition into some kind of context, but I was still unsatisfied, as if I had been chewing on hard bread with no water to drink.
It got me thinking about art in the world today, especially since this year’s Venice Biennale is provoking very different reactions. Roberta Smith writing in the New York Times seemed to take real umbrage at the idea of art commenting on (or, God forfend, wishing to change) the world:
“The world is a mass of intractable ills on which art must shed light. With oceans rising, climates warming, the income gap widening and human rights abuses of every imaginable kind occurring, the very future of the planet — its many futures — hangs in the balance. This is not the time for art as an object of contemplation or delight, much less a market commodity — certainly not in a public exhibition whose chief responsibility is to stimulate debate. That basically is the provocative but also confining message behind ‘All the World’s Futures'”.
Jackie Wullschlager, writing in the Financial Times, is, for her part, extremely positive about the show:
“Enwezor, Venice’s first African curator, called for a “parliament of forms” of global contributions. But his own vision is so powerful that he has swept up all voices into an epic display of protest. With lively national pavilions (see below) rising to his challenge, he orchestrates a multi-part chorus which rings out as the most cohesive, authoritative, arresting, urgent biennale for decades.”
For myself, I can simply not imagine wanting to make art that is not grounded in the way I interact with the world, and this unavoidably includes questions of power and privilege and place. I want to entertain, provoke, make people think. I am interested in craft and skill. And I also love the punk three-chord attitude of comics – just start drawing! Which doesn’t contradict with my desire to become more adept in the techniques of writing and creating a frame, a page, a book.
My Killer Jellyfish are (at least right now) a good example of where I am politically with my art. They are are a bunch of (self-)destructive, selfish, ignorant little tossers. As foul-mouthed as the Southpark kids, only with tentacles. They are also slowly taking over the oceans. I do wonder sometimes about how much I enjoy the drawing of the tales of these indestructible gelatinous little gits. Better out than in, I guess.
The most satisfying part of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg exhibition was the workshop filled with cardboard and twigs and stones and scissors and glue guns. The context of these little art pieces having been made by other visitors meant we looked at them in a completely different way. There was a story behind them. Without that time spending fiddling and glueing and discussing art with Rebecca, I would have left the exhibition very frustrated. As it was, we experienced making by hand, which provoked some interesting dialogue.
Basically I don’t think art is a spectator sport. It can definitely call into question the industrial growth society and the need for paradigm change. You can do it for fun or love or fame or sex or whatever. You can think it’s ugly or you can think it’s beautiful. The art world will continue with its sales and stars and shows for a while yet. For my part, I like the little messy bits at the edges.