Saturday, January 13, 2007

Artist Eats a Swan

This afternoon, in an extraordinary art performance, controversial artist Mark McGowan eats a swan. No, seriously, he does. And that's why all those guys with the big cameras, above, are here. Look at 'em.
We are in Fournier Street for a show called So Sad... at the Guy Hilton gallery - a place I've seen mentioned a couple of times, but about which I know very little, other than that it is the best gallery in the world. Well, that's what it says above the front door, anyway.
Inside that door, though, the place looks more like a condemned property, or a serial killer's dream home. It's falling apart. It makes flaca look like Gagosian's...I wonder, as I go down the stairs, whether the whole place is just going to fall in about me. Or explode. Or go up in flames.
In the basement there are loads of odd and strange things on a table; things piled up against the wall, strewn across shelves, hanging from the ceiling. I think some of these things, or all of them, may be actual art. There's also Richard Dedomenici in a suit offering people black coffee made with black milk; there's a video of Simon Ould covering himself in peanut butter (what is it about Simon and rubbing foodstuffs onto himself?); and Harry Pye, calmly sitting in an armchair writing on a sheet of paper. When I ask him what he's writing, he looks up and says: 'It's about a time when I got lost'. He points to a typed line on the page he is using that says something about children being lost. He motions to a pile of papers next to what looks like a scrappy ballot box. He gets back to writing. I think Harry thinks I should know what on earth is going on. I don't. Will Self is there too, skulking about (he was born to skulk) and I wonder if this may have something to do with him. But who knows? Who knows if everything down here is part of the show? Who knows what is supposed to be art or not? Or am I just being old fashioned and out of date, worrying about these kinds of distinctions?
Certainly I don't think Mark worries too much about these things. He just likes things happening, whatever they are. And he likes the press coming down. So, let's get outside and watch him eat this swan then.
He carries it out the front door and puts it on a small makeshift table and reads out a few words - about the piece being some sort of protest about the rich and the queen being the only person to legally have the right to eat a swan, and then gives a little bit of the swans history. Apparently it died, probably, of natural causes on someone's land, someone who had the foresight to pick it up, stick it in the freezer, then wait for an artist to have a project needing a swan, whereby they defrosted it, cooked it (for 2 hours, 10 mins, I remember, oddly enough, Mark saying) and delivered it up to Mark for him to eat. Anyway, Mark does eat it, holding a piece of it on the end of his fork half in his mouth so the photographers get a good shot. He's very good at this kind of thing.
He'a also very good at what he does. Mark's work is, despite what you may have heard, surprisingly subtle and very clever. The work, of course, is not the eating of the swan, nor is it the supposed 'protest' (I mean, come on, he's not really protesting against the rich, is he?), the work is those guys up at the top with all their cameras. Well, they are part of the work. McGowan's work is about the media representation of the act, the framing of the art performance within the contemporary media culture of edit, soundbite, story. Mark uses the media as his raw materials. He lets them construct the work for him. All he needs to do is enough to make sure that the act gathers coverage. Recently he 'performed' the work Dead Soldier, in which, dressed in British Army combat gear, he lay in a Birmingham Street all day. I think it only went on for about a day or so before the very real possibility of violence and death threats towards him made it prudent to abandon the laying down bit. But the work generated a lot of coverage. It generated the actual work itself. He said at the time that the work was neither pro nor anti war. At his best, Mark doesn't need a protest, he just needs the context. His work brings up all sorts of questions about the artists relation to society, how art is seen in society at the moment, how the media relates to and communicates about art, etc etc. The act needs writing up, photographing, filming, then editing and some form of transmission. I think maybe, this entry may indeed be a work by Mark McGowan.
Lovely Sarah Doyle is there having a bit of a fret about her dvd piece which she can't get to play. I tell her it doesn't matter, it's the private view. Sort it out tomorrow when people might actually look at it. Then, because it has now taken over my life completely, I ask about her myspace. Sarah's friends with everyone. Everyone, man. She's been on there years. In internet terms she's really old.
'Hey,' she says suddenly, putting a paper plate on top of the piano we are standing beside, 'take a photo of that.' I look at the plate. It has the remains of a bit of marmalade on it, like someone's been eating something then finished eating and put it down. Euuww. 'Take a photo,' she says, 'That's Gilbert and George marmalade and Will Self was eating it off that plate.'
Of course! Isn't it obvious? I take a photo.
Still more people are pouring into the delapidated house. Around me I pick up bits and pieces of conversation; most people are talking about the swan.
'I think he made a valid point,' says someone to their friend.
'It tastes a bit like duck,' says someone else.
'We should've called the police.'
I wonder: if Mark McGowan falls over in a forest and there's no-one there with a camera, does he make a work?

swan pics


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