Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bad then Good


I thought at first that the whole thing might be some kind of odd, though - I have to admit - impressively detailed, hoax. It began with an article in The Observer which caught my eye, about an artist, Russell Thoburn, who had been making his way into after parties of posh private views using a false name - mostly, from what I could tell, that of 'Alex James' from Blur. The article suggested that he had been doing this for about three years, so potentially I thought this might be quite interesting - if also not a little suspect, underhand, insidious and, quite simply, rude. And he was now putting on a show about his exploits called The Fake's Progress. I wondered what the show could possibly be. There was mention in the article of a work that he had made using matchboxes from the venues of these after parties, arranged like a sort of stonehenge circle, with some matches standing upright inside the circle and then many, many more matches outside it. I wondered, at this point, if this was really the sum total of what he had produced. I groped round the internet for more information and found a couple of sites on retitle, and a website dedicated to the artist himself. It makes for interesting reading on many levels, though none which I suspect the artist intended. Check out the website here. Written with a breathy excitement reminiscent of a 1950s Boys Own adventure there's a lot of text about him and his career. Though when I say career....the main details, as spelt out endlessly by the artist himself are these: in 1997 he made a work about Saatchi's go-kart. This was 'notoriously' mentioned in The Daily Star and launched his art on the world. After this, though, there seems to have a been a period of not making any waves or work until 2004 when he pitches up in the Hay Gallery in Colchester (no, me neither) with a show called Paperscapes. And now this - a show at the Foundry, God bless it, about his adventures in the artworld, and a work, made out of matchsticks, which 'illustrates' this.
Boy, there are so many questions that I want to ask this guy. The quite astonishing thing is how far he is from where he (thinks) he wants to be. I want to ask him about what he thinks of all of this, this little adventure he - or rather, 'Alex James' - has been on?
He believes that if only the right people knew about his work then he would be bought and lauded like all the other artists that he is so clearly in awe of and about whom he is so twisted with jealousy. Now, ok, be honest, so far, so recognisable. You know, I'm not so far from those thoughts. I can get where he's coming from, but, what I don't get, is where he is going. Or rather, what he hoped to do when he got there. Did he really think that by getting into an after party it was all going to open up for him? And surely, once he'd been to one, standing there like a plum while everyone around him said hello to each other, did it not occur to him that this was not going to get him anywhere? And did he really think that by lying to gallerists and artists that this would ingratiate him to them? And what's with the whole 'Alex James' thing? What was he thinking?
Like I said, so many questions.....
Lena and I go downstairs in The Foundry and find a small show and a handful of people standing around. There's the matchstick work. And here are some things on the wall. They look like invites to private views except they're not, they are things he has made, I think, then printed the private view details on. And then overlaid these with the contents of emails from 'Alex James' to various people who work at galleries. There's maybe 8 examples of these. Surely he went to more over three years, I think? I have a closer look. There's one about getting into the Turner Prize and one about getting to an after dinner at White Cube. There's also one about getting into the private view for Surprise Surprise at the ICA. I don't mean to be funny, but a private view at he ICA is not exactly hard to be invited to. You certainly don't need to be Alex James. But, here we are, 'Alex James' has emailed the press department to see if he can get in....
There's some other stuff, about Gary Hume and some weird tarot like cards he has made showing his progress from nowhere to success. Or something.
I look around. Lena is trying not to laugh at the matchstick thing. Me too. It is dire. I'm also trying not to cry. It's such a sad show. What was he thinking? The chasm between where he is and where he wants to be is immense. And the only way he can think to bridge that abyss is by pretending to be someone else. Psychologically, it's all there, isn't it? I almost didn't write about this show at all, thinking that it didn't really deserve the one thing it so desperately craved which was attention, but, well, I don't really think anything will help this show. I've never seen anyone so desperate to be a part of something that they so clearly despise. I wonder what this story will be?
I don't think it will have a happy ending.
Lena and I decide to leave this strange show and head towards Seventeen where there will be some really good, proper, interesting art.
On the way, we pass Standpoint and pop in for a quick look. I bump into Steve Smith who writes the Nooza blog and after about 20 minutes I realise that I have talked incessantly about the Foundry show. I tell him he has to check it out. Which he does, here.
I'm obviously still in a whirl about the show and when we get to Seveteen, it is such a relief to see the restrained, precise, elegant and intelligent work of Susan Collis. I remember a work she did a few years back, exhibiting an old paint splattered boiler suit, which on closer inspection turned out not to be paint splatters but embroidery. Terrific. Tonight's show takes that premise and makes something even more beautiful and interesting. That line of paint drips across the gallery floor? The paint spattered broom leaning near the door? The screws in the wall? Yep, none of it what it seems. All those spots of paint are made from precious metals or precious stones. It's beautifully done. It's a show, if you like, that calls up a few questions about what we value and what we don't - and therefore what is art and what is not, and who makes those decisions. It's also about the overlooked and unvalued; the unnoticed. Strangely, for a show that looks at first glance to have no work in it I'm soon feeling that there may be too much.
There's certainly too much going on in Simon Ould's head. Look. He shows me that piece of paper at the top of this. A scribble of openings and views and odd notes about things. I think his mind looks a little like this. But then again, so does mine. My life for the past year has been defined by the hours 6 til 9pm.
I see Paul Pieroni. He has curated a show in the toilet of a club not far down the road. I ask how it's going. He talks about Christmas trees. I have no idea what he is on about but he is clearly on about it in some detail. I also see Kate Ellis, who almost worked at the shop with us. I see Dave Hoyland and tell him that Jaguar Shoes got a name check in a Just Jack song I heard the other day.
And that's where we go, along the road to Jaguar Shoes. I have a chat with Lena and Kate and then decide to head off.
I'm tired.
I go down Kingsland Road, onto Old Street and then down the tube to home.

bad then good pics

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