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

4 Comments:

Blogger russell herron said...

A couple of weeks after the above post I received this in a myspace inbox:


Well Russell

(i am sending my words via myspace as my mac is struggling to load them onto your blog...and oh...is my exhibition the last to be added...history or what...anyway enemy or foe or friend or big ego) here are some words...lots of them.....you were so kind writing about my show i thought you deserved a response and perhaps you can add them to your blog or i will when i get to a net cafe)...i cannot get angry with another russell especially with two ll's and ss's but i can get dissapointed.

Russell Thoburn



Firstly thanks for feeling inspired to write something about my exhibition, The Fakes Progress. Over a thousand words, almost as much as the Sunday Times, well Observed and for encouraging Steve “nooza Blog’ Smith to view the show too! If art is about creating some form of response / debate or conversation then thanks for participating. I’m going to do my utmost to highlight that The Fakes Progress is indeed “really good, proper interesting art” to use your words and add a bit of depth that has been missing from the numerous journalistic texts. I know and I include myself in this bracket, it is so easy in this hyperactive world of surfaces to ignore what lies beneath. And let’s face it sometimes all that art rhetoric gets a bit boring and stale.


You are quite right, the whole exhibition could have been a hoax, and it is of some form, it’s a joke, a trick, a scam that contains elements of deception but also refers directly to Hogarth’s Rakes progress…..and we all know Hogarth is famed for his satire. So I’m presuming people will make that connection.

The invite and press release listed eighteen people as being involved in the show, drawn from different sectors of the art world, dealers, publicists, editors, VIP managers and artists. (Gary Hume, Alex James, Jade Jagger, Jay Jopling, Charles Saatchi and Emily Paget to name a few) The show itself was intimate and concise and it certainly was not some ‘big’ group show with ‘big’ names, so in that sense I can understand there is a dance going on or even a dual between peoples expectations and the reality of what they encountered. But the information clearly says that the installation is a blurring of fact and fiction….and it’s an area I am interested in, exploring the interplay between reality and fiction.

Which leads me on to ‘Alex James’. Alex and James are primarily words but they are also a ‘readymade’ (in the context of Alex James from Blur) they have been produced and repeated in a manner similar to Duchamp’s objects but instead of going along the conveyor belt of manufacturing, they have travelled along the river of mass media, publications, newspapers and ‘new media’. They are signifiers and signify different things to different people and this is the territory that I was working with. It’s quite Bizarre that someone like Jade Jagger had no idea who ‘Alex James’ was, in that respect there was no benefit for using this pseudonym over Russell Thoburn. Think of the original Mona Lisa and all those tablecloths, t-shirts and cups that refer to her, well my Alex James email account was similar to that, it was a simulation but at the same time it had its own specificity.

You mention that my approach is ‘quite simply rude’ though I’ve always thought that the artworld embraced this rudeness, the ‘enfant terrible’, Pollock’s alcoholic ‘inner demons’, artists flashing their dicks at parties or as in the case of the Chapman brothers making a porn film with a dildo sculpture of an art dealers face pleasuring two females and yes I did watch it at the ICA. Emin gets drunk on TV, Angus Fairhurst connects and records unwitting gallery employees on telephones Yes us artists can be rude but I prefer to think of it as having Balls or pushing at boundaries, what is accepted or as someone like Ranciere might say “ the main enemy of artistic creativity as well as of political creativity is consensus-that is, inscription within given roles, possibilities and competences.” Sacha Baron provides us with Ali G and Borat who lure their targets into a false sense of security, Rory Bremner telephones Margaret Becket pretending to be Gordon Brown and we consume and laugh at these performances so why should the world of ‘fine’ art be exempt from such activities. The Wrong Gallery recently received public funding for their contribution to the Berlin Biennale, an unofficial, or fake Gagosian gallery.

To quote you once again my website “makes for interesting reading on many levels, though none which I suspect the artist intended”, C’mon Russell you really don’t think all this was done unconsciously do you, why even the page 3’s were deliberately created, it’s that world of fact and fiction once again. No doubt you will think it is pure coincidence that both Motor Project (a previous site specific installation that explored similar themes) and The Fakes Progress were exhibited in Basements, eg venues beneath the surface, or that the room was painted purple because that was the cheapest paint as opposed to it’s associations with royalty and luxury???

“I want to ask him about what he thinks of all of this, this little adventure he - or rather, 'Alex James' - has been on? “ Well tasting good food and wine is better than sitting in the studio twiddling my thumbs or to quote one of your previous interviewees, Simon Bedwell, “who says that humbly doffing our caps is any better than trying to be as flash as we can”. Being fake seems to be the currency at the moment, whether it’s collectors displaying fake works of art in their dining room whilst the originals are in the vault, parents faking their post code to get their children into the best school, or as in the case of a Fakes Progress, people saying they find the work ‘interesting’ because of who sent a particular email.


“Like all the other artists that he is so clearly in awe of and about whom he is so twisted with jealousy” God I would love you to find some substance for these claims, I’m not really in awe of anyone, we are all simple human beings, though I do have an immense respect for film directors. If I was in awe, then I’d be paralyzed with fear I’d surely avoid the after party circuit’ and I certainly would not converse with these individuals….and ‘twisted with jealousy”, I prefer to focus on my own desires rather than go down the jealousy path.

Where did I hope to get to with all this? As Warhol would say, “bringing home the bacon”, we all need to pay those bills and the key to life is being paid to do something you love. I have experienced collectors buying my work and then introducing me to their friends who’ve also bought work. etc etc. The snowball or is it the domino effect, where one thing leads to another. I also have experience of socializing with people who know very little about art and will buy what they are told to buy. The pack mentality is safe, if sometimes saddening. And I have never stood there like a plum at an event because A/ I have either taken along a +1 or the hosts have done their very best to introduce people, and even the Serpentine Gallery have paid staff to dance with their guests, and those seating arrangements…well they are all carefully planned and everyone presumes that because you are there, then you must be ‘important’ or someone worth knowing. The ‘inner circle’ is very polite and you soon see the same repeated faces. It is a much more friendlier and enjoyable experience than the mainstream private view, the food is better, the guests are often more interesting and the evening is a rich celebration.

I never lied to any artists as you claimed but the project did expose the weaknesses or strengths of modern communication such as email when recommending myself to gallerists via ‘Gary Hume’. I’d like to think that people can distance themselves from the situation and see the show as a mirror that emphasizes the structures that we operate within, and see it as an act of creation. Why even you recently admitted that it’s ‘all about who you know’ after you recommended James Ford to the Guardian’s yourgallery art exhibition and they selected his artwork, if only as a ploy for publicity and media coverage.

Art history informs us about ‘myths’ and the auction houses inform us of deception, dealers and gallerists bidding for art works by the artists they represent or own works by. Have a look at Larry Gagosian and his tax scandal if you want to seek stories of deception.

You are quite right when you say “surely he went to more than eight parties in three years,” for the majority of the time it wasn’t about making art but meeting people, it was only recently when I decided to do some work with the remaining material. I am also certain, well I am hoping that you are intelligent enough to realize that by including 80 invites in the show doesn’t necessarily add anything extra, it’s probably more likely to dilute the reading of the work. There was a sufficient arrangement of images, words and signs for the viewer to become active and responsible for their own interpretation. A cup of tea with two sugar cubes is almost the same as a cup of tea with two hundred.

So you did engage with the work and noticed that I included an ICA invite for Surprise Surprise though you didn’t make the leap I would have liked you to. The ICA invite was included primarily because it illustrates the dichotomy within the artworld, just like ‘In a Circle’ (the matchstick sculpture), it is a bit like when one goes to a White cube opening, there are the crowds on the street with their free beer and then look up at the top of White Cube and there stands a small group of people drinking champagne with Jay and no doubt going for an intimate all expenses paid meal. It is a very different experience having Bryan Ferry perform for a small group of people at Claridges or attending Elton John and Sam Taylor Wood’s joint birthday party….even if it is in Shoreditch Town Hall.

I think what disappoints me about your response is that you have focused on me and my journey and not necessarily engaged with the other aspects of the show such as the responses of gallerists, dealers, editors, curators……that they can find work ‘interesting’ or ‘exciting’ because of who is recommending it and then somehow without that recommendation the work is no longer exciting or interesting???


I look around. Lena is trying not to laugh at the matchstick thing. Me too. It is dire.

Once again I would really welcome your thoughts about why it is Dire? The work is so simple, so direct and rich and obviously you know how it relates to Hogarth, oh shit!!!! You haven’t really mentioned him have you, but then maybe you thought A Fakes Progress referred to that one episode of Basil Brush in which Stphen and Basil meet the gypsy woman??.

On second thoughts, perhaps ‘Dire’ is a suitable description, The sculpture relates to Hogarth’s Tavern Scene, in which Tom Rakewell (excuse me if I am reaffirming what you already know) has ordered an orgy for himself, he is very drunk, chairs and mirrors are broken, prostitutes are undressing, whilst other characters sit at a table and over indulge…dire…it is simply a night at the Groucho Club. Fake and Rake??? To Quote David Lan (artistic Director of the Young Vic) “if you don’t have money or power, you have to use whatever is available to you. That’s exactly what a rake does.”


“Pretending to be someone else”…Yes us artists like a bit of role playing whether it’s Duchamp and Rose Selavy, Marshall Mathers and Eminem, Grayson Perry and Clare, Patrick Brill and Bob & Roberta Smith, one could even add Jeff Koons and Gilbert and George to the list.

“I've never seen anyone so desperate to be a part of something that they so clearly despise.“ I thought you said you’d read that article in the Observer…whoops, the Sunday Times and it clearly states, “I love the artworld”. True the system frustrates me but then the world of music or fashion is no different…it’s all about who you know. Desperate? No, I have not worked as an intern at a commercial gallery for peanuts. But I would like to add that art is a mirror and it’s interesting that you picked up on the desperate theme. “I realise that I have talked (typed) incessantly about the Foundry show. I tell him he has to check it out. Which he does, I'm obviously still in a whirl about the show. “

Russell Thoburn

3:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

"Did he really think that by getting into an after party it was all going to open up for him?"

The grass is always greener at the after-party. Or, more likely, the coke is always whiter, the matchsticks more monumental.

I got Russell Thoburn's invite too, and at first I was fascinated by the idea, but on closer (though not much closer) inspection there was a flakiness and wannabe-quality about his description of his work which made me immediately suspicious.

Now, reading his reply to your post, I'm wondering whether perhaps we've both underestimated him. This post-rationalisation makes a lot more sense to me than what I read beforehand, and I especially like the way that he has capitalised all of the words which are also names of magazines and newspapers, I dunno whether that's a nod towards their role in creating the myth of celebrity, or (even more clever) a subtle comment upon your own work Russell (Herron).

10:57 AM  
Blogger barb michelen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Luftloch said...

a private view at he ICA
should be
a private view at the ICA

12:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home