29 February 2020
Take the Number 11 tram out of central Zurich and disembark at the last stop on the line. Here on Rehalp Hill you will find what may have provided an impressive view of the old city largely obscured by the sort of affluent suburb, that despite a nod to a sort of faux chocolate box house building, could be anywhere that little of consequence happens. It seems fitting then for two men with seconds, to not have had a duel with cannons pointing in opposite directions around here, but that nevertheless appeared in the press during 1916. Even more so that the visitor who makes the journey to an area where nothing happened a long time ago, may be having the most authentic experience available of a group who were born in Zurich and engineered a hoax which takes much of the tourist experience to its illogical conclusion.
Nowadays popular culture images of Switzerland hardly abound and if what does is Heidi, or the bland nature of the country being bemoaned with a famous cuckoo clock dismissal in The Third Man, then Zurich with its links to the finance industry could be the epicentre. Indeed, the stability offered by the countries neutrality has complimented the nefarious nature of Swiss banking and tax laws in Zurich, but this singular attitude has also attracted a historical cast of draft dodgers and would be dictators that Orson Welles may have found more interesting. In a city where the modernist touchstone Ulysses was written, the James Joyce Foundation commemorates one of Ireland’s most renowned emigres and perhaps unsurprisingly in such a proudly multi lingual country, has a collection of the book in over forty languages. When one of the guides in these welcoming if highbrow environs confessed to have being caught short by a request for a copy in Swahili, I was just conscious enough of adding to the facetiousness to refrain from observing that it would be as intelligible to me as any other version, because these are delicate times for the Joyce enthusiast.
A ‘battle of the bones’ having unfolded as the authorities in Ireland seek to exhume Joyce and return his remains to Dublin for the hundredth year of Ulysses in 2022, with an over the top marking of those anniversaries that tourist boards adore. Against this is a Foundation which points out the time he spent in Zurich being influenced by his conflicted opinion of Ireland and a grandson who another learned type described knowingly as ‘difficult’. That other relatives such as the appropriately named Nora Barnacle, their son and his wife are currently in residence with Joyce another potential problem, but if you want to be certain of beating the body snatchers then a trip up the hill to Fluntern Cemetery is the only way. Stood there at journeys end, prompting a memory of tracking down a plaque to mark Barnacle’s birth place in a rain lashed Galway because there was nothing else to do.
From the Foundation and over the final bridge before the Limmat river opens out to provide the sort of lake view which Switzerland specialises in, it is possible to follow Bloom’s creator and his stone cold tracks into the Odeon Café. Here Joyce could have been competing for space with Einstein, or the likes of Mussolini or Lenin before he left town for a return to Russia. As a man who seems to have visited as many cafes as Dickens did London pubs, it may have been the eye watering cost of the period’s version of avocado on toast that fuelled his revolutionary journey, or simply the realisation of how much he had in common with little Benito which prompted his arrival in St Petersburg.
All of which could have occurred within earshot of the group of anarchic irritants who collected on the Ramistrasse corner of the Odeon, to concoct the glorious failure that would go onto become the most influential artistic endeavour of the twentieth century and beyond. The germ which would go onto infect the mainstream first becoming a thing in Zurich when these expatriates settled on the name Dada to represent its slippery nature with something which could mean anything in any number of languages. This celebration of ideas over training or technical ability manifesting itself at its most provocative as the hard edged disorder which first morphed into the Surreal sell out of Athena poster boy Salvador Dali, infiltrated the cut up worlds of Burroughs, Bowie and Monty Python, met a Situationism which suitably refreshed by the punk playbook, fed into the pranks of Harry Hill and was shat out into every Daily Mail baiting piece of conceptual art before Occupy style movements took it to the streets of today.
Back in time, the protagonists who never where in Hans Arp and Tristan Tzara, and the witness for the event that never happened or catchily nicknamed ‘ambassador of nihilism’ Francis Picabia, spent their nights until the summer of the year at the nearby Cabaret Voltaire. Opened by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hemmings, Ball would deliver his rejection of the language which contributed to the First World War with sound poems, that compromised of largely invented words which in confronting the futility of reason would become so invocatory that he was carried from the stage in a sort of delirium. Sometimes accompanied by simultaneous recitals or the relentless drumming of Richard Huelsenbeck, the crowd of drunken students and assorted loafers packed around the low stage would sometimes respond in kind to this provocation, while Tzara demanded ‘the right to piss in different colours.’ At stake the obliteration of traditional western values and dismissal of any distinction between art and life.
Thankfully Dada’s view of humanity is so low and the inevitability of failure so hard wired in it means the Cabaret Voltaire of today doesn’t disappoint. Hilariously the back room is as symbolically empty as the experience but a staff member opened up for me, and I stared at the big hitters who have been painted on the walls, whilst endeavouring to not tangle with the work bench and electrical items in place for renovation work. Now they don’t get any bigger than urinal man and ‘gender slippage’ zeitgeist surfing Marcel Duchamp, who is portrayed in a nod to how Dadaism also developed in New York and Germany, with perhaps the glint in the eye of someone who might have spotted a new readymade, or enjoyed the lack of objects categorised and put in cases. The endless vicarious shuffling awe of them finding its challenge in his New York contemporary Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven’s ‘I am Art’ declaration, looking down from the ceiling.
After this pitch perfect moment, the rest of the building in the ‘contemporary performance art space’ was so bad I visited it twice to make sure. Both occasions conjuring up nothing so much than some sort of even more sedate Swiss variation on a Shoreditch school dining hall, with the spirit removed and vacuumed packed apart from the opportunity to buy a 165 Franc bottle of ‘Learn to fuck yourself’ Absinthe. Something which managed to be an affront to Dada’s distaste of commerce whilst perhaps being the nearest thing to it because of this. The idiot’s souvenir – which for maximum irony should be bought with 50 Franc anniversary notes from 2016 bearing the image of home grown Dadaist and collage pioneer Sophie Tauber - encapsulating an essence having left the building, whilst being perfectly accompanied by what seemed the same softcore jazz piano on a loop.
That this was once at the centre of the cities nightlife district perhaps being reflected in the rest of an area that feels as if time has moved on. The Kon-Tiki which opened in the 1950’s as the first bar in Europe to base its reputation on cocktails now seeming to cater for students from Einstein’s old alma mater who are taking advantage of the Swiss penchant for referendums, and a law from 2011 which made low strength cannabis legal. That this meant the patrons could manage to get off the bar’s sofa’s to organise a petition when the bar was threatened with closure in 2015, doing nothing to stop the upstairs room smelling like a Grateful Dead album.
On the occasions when the art crowd tipped over into student like wackiness their party piece was to go into pubs and shout ‘Dada’ before running away. Open all Saturday and Sunday before closing between 4 and 5 am during the week, the one place this really would not have been suggested being the magnificently weathered Grabli Bar, whose patrons look like that being woken from their alcohol induced reverie would at least have prompted a look that killed. The ordinarily excruciating likes of ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ by Del Amitri on a transistor radio in the corner somehow taking on an incredible poignancy. Sat here on a Friday afternoon with a publican who understood that nobody wanted a chat, it was also possible to appreciate the quality of the ornaments on the canopy over the bar, that were crowned with paint from when the ceiling had last been decorated.
Less accessible is the Kunthaus Galleries collection of Dada work which whilst numbering about 740 pieces is actually reduced to half a dozen paintings on display. Finding these meant breaching a guard of Giacometti stick people with one pleasingly minus its middle section, before finally locating them tucked away in a corner of the first floor. Even then this hardly amounts to an illustration of Switzerland’s most significant export when four are from Max Ernst who was associated with the German exhibition in 1920, and a harder edged experience which is sometimes neglected because of the Cabaret Voltaire being available as an incongruous place of pilgrimage. That the Cologne Fair involved entering through the toilet of a beer hall and seeing a sculpture of his with an axe to destroy it, does however remind the viewer that with Dada absence really does make the heart grow fonder. The hushed fine-arts environment of the Kunthaus struggling to know how to display the myth making publications and the elusive nature of the experience something they could never contain.
By the time of the axe, the movement in Zurich was over after a slow death in which events in upmarket areas over the river, culminated in the Eighth Dada Soiree in the headquarters of the Swiss Commercial Union. Here in April 1919 the Kaufleuten hall saw Czech born writer Walter Serner’s Last Loosening Manifesto, incite the well healed crowd to do just that by pelting the stage and attacking a mannequin he had put there. On a Sunday afternoon in 2020 any attempt to recapture a vicarious thrill from today’s desultory experience, would be necessitate buying a ticket for Manfred Mann and a rather apt Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, to get inside. History thwarted, some attempt to get back on the tourist track can be salvaged in minutes by a visit to the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world. Opened in 1898 the Haus Hilti benefiting from current thinking by packing people in like battery hens. Over in the rapidly class cleansed district of West Zurich one can buy ludicrously priced fondue from a variety of Richard Cheese like proprietors.
A short distance in the opposite direction to Kaufleuten is the difficult to miss Zeughauskeller and Mike Hammer’s family ownership. The rambling fiftieth century beer hall and former armaments store giving you plenty of time to mull over a dozen variety of sausages, and tourisms tendency to destroy what it has come to see. Often arriving for a party that that has long since finished and putting our foot in the last of the cake on the way around. In this context the absence of Dada in Zurich gives rise to a satisfying feeling of emptiness which is entirely fitting. Objects either inaccessible or acting as a catalyst with decay rather than obsolescence their fate. After reading of the legend that William Tell’s crossbow originated here in the menu and finally putting it down to consider the surroundings, the presence of artillery pieces over the doors prompting a Rehalp Hill pause for thought. Time to give the anarchist a cigarette.
12 January 2019
This high profile exhibition with an accompanying radio series is the result of Ian Hislop and the Museums department curators ‘Search for Dissent’ in its respective collections. Unfortunately this has led to what feels a random collection of objects having the staid environment suck a lot of the life out of them. I imagine for instance that the demonstrations against Trump’s misogyny were powerful but taken out of context the pink woollen pussyhat just looks like a hat on a mannequin.
In a reversal of the shock of the new maxim some of the more ancient items fare better with less to prejudice the viewer. An early example of kicking over the statues saw the head of Augustus in a case many centuries after the Sudanese army cut it off and put it under some steps to walk on. The omnipotence that it was meant to convey was destroyed but with this final act of humiliation actually preserving it the gimlet eyes seemed to be almost twinkling with defiance. In a move which would have been well outside this comfort zone sticking the hat on Augustus in a Dadaesque fashion might have restored the subversion in both.
That the line between artefact and art is well and truly crossed by Yang Yongliang in Phantom Landscape III only highlights what a useless dichotomy it is. Here digitally manipulated images give the impression of a silk screen print that is celebrating the Chinese wilderness before closer inspection reveals urban structures rather than trees. With China beaming back pictures of the far side of the moon and talking like they are planning to put it on Rightmove this makes it one of the more vital exhibits. The industrial smog which stops people in Beijing from seeing anything of the actual moon just one more layer of peculiarity.
On earth space was at a premium in an exhibition which had been set up in such a small corner of the building that seeing some of the exhibits was tricky. So much so that standing at one of the two listening posts with a selection of music which seemed to have no connection to the museum but was designed to encapsulate rebellion was a welcome relief. So much so that the warp speed journey from Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat to the East German punk scene which saw Namenlos get Stasi interest and an eighteen-month prison sentence was put on repeat while waiting for a gap.
One which when it appeared near the splendid work of Georgian caricaturists like James Gillray or George Cruikshank was worth the wait. Gillray’s fat royalty and over flowing chamber pots illustrate the timelessness of toilet humour while the imitation banknote with a pound sign as a noose that Cruikshank used to protest against the death penalty still seems daring. If his acceptance of a £100 bribe by George IV to tone it down sounds like a sell- out it may be prudent to consider the risks these people were taking rather than the views of someone complaining about shuffling around museum exhibits. What is really objectionable and possibly beyond satire is having the exhibition sponsored by CITI Bank and having to look at their logo as you go around.
Perhaps unsurprisingly money features quite a lot. From the printing of the word ‘SEX’ next to the Queen’s head in the palm trees on a 50 Rupee note in the Seychelles to putting ‘STAY IN THE EU’ on a twenty-pound one it gets the message around. The latter seems no more rebellious or profound than a ‘Take Back Control’ placard and with virtually every target from royalty to religion seeming liberal in nature it can feel like the collection is playing to the gallery. Surely some arresting and broadly right of centre protest material could have been found as the restricted view coming from here plays into any sense of grievance.
Objects which take shots at a cast of authoritarian states do feature some of the aforementioned Communist lunacy with a plate which turns one of Gorbachev’s earnest Soviet slogans into a ‘Say yes to vodka’ order that his successor followed with an old style quota like discipline. Strangely affecting was the French clog or sabot which gave its name to sabotage when used by workers to interrupt production in the Industrial Revolution. In comparison the likes of Have I Got News for You can seem little more than an amusing distraction which the powerful see as preferable to us really putting the boot into the machine.
The scale and the inclusion of some Nigerian doors from the 1924 British Exhibition is impressive. Getting the hand carved images of colonialists on motorbikes being mocked by the locals into such a supposedly august environment being particularly appealing. A tactic which Banksy employed when he managed to display his ‘Post-Catatonic’ carving in the British Museum for three days before they noticed. Displaying it again and in this context seeming to show they are not above laughing at themselves but making it the last exhibit before the gift shop was either postmodern irony or complete cluelessness. Similarly the display of a ‘seated god’ that was bought from the Yemen and turned out to be the figure of a straining man on a toilet seemed to be saying that yeah we get it daddy-o. Selling a souvenir of Peckham Rock for £3.99 tipped this delicate balance and only confirmed the Dad dancing protest feel of the whole enterprise.
3 March 2017
If you thought the City of Culture was a bit middle of the road, then nearly fifty years after the event COUM Transmissions have returned, to literally put some bollocks into it. An exhibition of their work at the newly opened Humber Street Gallery ranges from silly to graphic but from a Hull centric view shows them to be more Reeves and Mortimer than S and M during their time around the Fruit Market.
Returning to the city after time in a commune where people shared clothes and tried to avoid any sort of routine, Hull University drop out Genesis P-Orridge hoped to create something similar in the Ho-Ho Fuhouse. From the first warehouse to 8 Prince Street, what is now an attractive part of the city was then a little less salubrious place to launch their “Street Actions”. Between 1969 and a move to London in 1973 a collective which also involved Hull born Cosey Fanni Tutti performed Dada inspired street art in gold gas masks near Burtons and set up an unfortunately prescient border control checkpoint in Ferens Art Gallery.
Gigs with no instruments or that used the idea of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel to play on usually led to people walking out or COUM being told to go. Entering a folk contest with the Woody Guthrie baiting title of “This Machine Kills Music” probably got some aran sweaters in a twist, while a “John Smith from Bridlington” may or may not have performed on a surf board balanced on buckets of water.
With a statement of intent at the exhibition which maintains that “None of this group are musicians” and “The whole project is a confidence trick” COUM cultivated this air of contrariness. If the game of bluff and double bluff sounds familiar, then P-Orridge out punked punk by reacting to its three chord doctrine by asking why you needed to learn any. Most fantastical is while the Spring Bank Arts Centre rejected the idea of a Xmas musical they did appear on Radio Humberside during a Winston Spencer Churchill Supergroup period. Having said all this, I would much rather listen to the Ramones.
Concerned letters from the Arts Council and the ludicrous porn style text which accompanies Cosey Fanni Tutti’s appearance in a magazine and formed part of the “Prostitution” show at the ICA in 1976, are there for consideration. This marked the point they became Throbbing Gristle and in a way that might have been intended, a picture of P-Orridge which almost morphed him into Alesteir Crowley. Meanwhile the cover photo of “20 Jazz Funk Greats” must have inspired the afore mentioned Reeves and Mortimer’s Mulligan and O’Hare.
Following the ICA the Tory MP who gave them the best sound bite ever in the “wreckers of civilisation” was arrested for indecent exposure. Even after all this time some of this still makes for uncomfortable viewing but it’s good to have your preconceptions challenged. I justified taking a quick picture of the logo as being in the spirit of COUM and an eternal school boy but shied off a London one for fear of looking like Sleazy from the collective. If nothing else the amount of pubic hair on display should make people think. Wall paper art this isn’t.
Its subtext may have been about how an artist or indeed everyone has to sell themselves but the sex itself never goes out of fashion. With a sex offender in the White House cracking down on abortion and an access to ever more graphic porn putting some daunting expectations on young people the roles and hang ups we have been indoctrinated with seem relevant. On a Monday morning in Hull it was good to hear a millennial getting irate about P-Orridge wrapping himself in cling film and a slightly older man saying he felt “sick”.
The gallery itself is a pleasant space down Humber Street which is in danger of feeling a bit St Stephens shopping centre: here’s an officially approved area for your cultural experience with a designated space for street art probably imminent. After the risks and lives they have experienced it would seem churlish to wonder what a younger COUM would have made of this as it’s still taken this group of pensioners to shake it up.
Humber Street Gallery until 22nd March
1 August 2016
According to Hemingway “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night”. I had more tweaked it’s nose and ran away but sleeping above one of his old haunts meant I was entitled to a lie in. This meant that following guide book orders and getting to one of Madrid’s trio of world famous art galleries for opening time was unlikely. Similarly I could think of other things to do than troop round them all twice. Time for a kind of speed dating attack which we might as well call “Death in the Afternoon” for the purposes of tying the opening paragraph up.
First on is Reina Sofia’s collection of contemporary art but in reality all roads lead to Picasso’s “Guernica” on the second floor. Once there I pack into room 206 with the rest of the philistines trying to glimpse an unobstructed square inch of canvas or grab a crafty selfie with a square horse. Completed for the 1937 Paris Exposition its depiction of the bombing of the Basque town by the Germans during the Spanish Civil war drew attention to the atrocity but from my aesthetic viewpoint was doing very little. Indeed I must confess to not seeing the appeal in the little fella at all. As the late great Caroline Aherne might have asked Dora Maar: “What first attracted you to the most famous artist in the world Pablo Picasso?”
Leaving the almost deserted environs of the rest of the gallery via the traditional route I was treated to a gift shop of almost Premier League football proportions. From fridge magnets to expensively framed prints and all points in between there seemed to be nothing that the “Guernica” couldn’t be plastered all over. From contentious art to a cushion cover in short. I prefer the splendidly named Javier Arce’s felt tip rendition on paper which can be crumpled into a ball as it seems to symbolize how these rarefied spaces dilute potency.
Thankfully it’s a short walk in thirty odd degrees for my next date in the mother of all Madrid’s stately art homes. The queue outside the Prado is stretching around the building so the Paseo del Arte ticket I bought earlier comes in well handy for shaving about an hour off my time. Feeling suitably smug and having decided to avoid scenes from the Bible or people in wigs I head straight for one corner of the ground floor to give Goya’s work the once over.
I am with the Chapman Brothers when it comes to Goya and whilst I haven’t managed to make a career from him did expect his Black Paintings to do it for me. Confronting them with an agitated woman whispering “I don’t see the point in any of this” to her companion wasn’t the scenario I envisaged but it’s Painter from “The Fast Show” wailing “Black” before a meltdown quality only enhanced my viewing experience. Performance art at its best
Some art is so powerful it can transcend any environment and the fourteen pictures hacked from the walls of Goya’s “House of the Deaf Man” certainly manage this. Moving into the property on the outskirts of Madrid at the age of 72 the disgust for humanity which was shaped by his experience of the Napoleonic Wars and reflected in his “Disasters of War” series is if anything cranked up a notch here. Perhaps it was concerns about his sanity or having no intention of exhibiting the work that liberated him to produce images of such visceral intensity as the pre Freudian “Saturn Devouring His Son”. Even so I would be lying if I didn’t say that even amongst all this the possible outbreak of “onanism” in “Two Women and a Man” hadn’t caught my eye. If you ever stop laughing at a man masturbating in an art gallery your time is up I always say.
The smile was soon wiped off my face by establishing that “The Garden of Earthly Delights” had been moved into a temporary exhibition of Bosch’s work and now involved a whole new ticket rigmarole and a three hour wait I wasn’t about to countenance. This was particularly disappointing as I was looking forward to sharing my first experience of the picture anecdote. Oh go on then. I was off school at my Grandma’s pretending to be ill and being spoilt in the way which was as good as it got in the world of a six-year-old when a piece on Hieronymous came on one of the two channels on television. I can clearly remember the foreboding this caused and an all is not right with the world sensation that never went away.
Clearly distressed I attempted to console myself with the image of the Prado information desk descending into an overheated tourist hell but still missed the entrance to the Thyssen gallery as I mistook it for a car park and added valuable minutes to my time. Once inside the gallery it was up the stairs to the first floor for Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Room”. Being slightly less stuffy than the previous galleries enabled a quick reflection on this study of solitude in solitude. The look of his pictures has been appropriated by a thousand noir films whereas the house in “Psycho” was taken wholesale from one of his works. Maybe it is the cinematic connection which caused me to call him “Dennis” during one drunken conversation.
With scant regard for time I couldn’t resist looking in on bad boy Goya’s portrait of King Ferdinand the something of Spain. Looking utterly gormless and with the accoutrements of power restored by the British from the French looking like they might envelop him it is difficult to believe Goya isn’t ridiculing the monarchy. This over a century and a half before Jamie Reid stuck a safety pin through the Queen and the stakes were a little higher in Goya’s day.
Now Baroness Thyssens greatest hits collection and less austere surroundings made for a more enjoyable experience than the other galleries but the blurb informing us of the importance of sharing these works didn’t sit so well. The concept obviously not extending to the wealth necessary for the best part of a billion-pound art collection accumulated by her deceased “resident” of Monaco for tax purposes husband. Given the commission for a portrait I’m not sure what sort of job Goya would have done but know what I would hope.
Anyway that’s me done in a time of under four hours. I am not sure what the ultimate alternative to the gilded cages and shrines to money which jar with the art is but if you want to give my personal best a run for its money pick your targets and get in and out as quickly as possible. Just prick the pomposity and contradictions in the mainstream art world because after all there is a city out there just waiting to be assaulted.
13 November 2015
Everyone should hear “you're not wearing that” from an outraged parent at some stage in their life. From teddy boys to punks and football casuals this meant you were doing something right but few mothers have the opportunity to change your clothes to something more acceptable while you were away at work. Welcome to the world of Hull's trawlermen and the distinctive fashion which contributed to them being dubbed Three Day Millionaires.
Currently being celebrated by the “Suited and Booted” exhibition touring Hull the flamboyance of the outfits in a place which is seen by many as a dour northern city is immediately striking. Individual suits from the imagination of trawlermen being left to be brought to realisation by one of about a dozen outfitters in colours such as powder blue with crescent moon pockets and silk linings. The trousers had a depth of waistband which put the Zoot Suit in the shade and while they got narrower over time their beginnings in the mid 1950's saw them described as flapping “like at sea”.
The decision to wear a tie rather than the open neck look Grimsby trawlermen favoured more than justified by a contributor on the video which accompanies the exhibition conjuring up a vision of Simon Cowell. The outfit was finished off with square toed shoes which were jokingly explained as meaning you could get nearer to the bar.
This glamour is in sharp contrast with everyday reality and no doubt a big reason for it. Working 18 hours a day for three weeks at a time in the perilous conditions of the North Sea meant the need to pack a lot of life into 72 hours leave won the trawlermen their nickname.Before the homecoming however their families pressed shirts and often collected some of the suits owned by each man from the pawnbrokers after putting them into hock to keep going. At least one would escape this fate as part of putting on a show would see trawlermen getting on and off ships in a suit.
Without much reason to learn to drive men would hire a taxi for £5 a day to take them shopping for the likes of the “Hessle Road pink coats” associated with their wives or on trips to Beverley. Sometimes it was to go from pub to pub but it is Rayners at the top of the main street to the docks which features most prominently in folklore. In order to save time pints were pulled and put on the bar half an hour before opening time at 11. One trawlerman on the exhibition video speaking fondly of the yellow silk in the vents of his jacket arms which were “great when reached for pint”.
My grandfather worked for the gas board and he arrived home on Christmas Eve with an enormous fish over his shoulder and no explanation after drinking in the area. I worked with with an occupational health nurse at a factory which employed many of the women of Hessle Road and she recalled the somewhat worse for wear state which followed many of these riotous periods. Meanwhile the men would put the remainder of their money into charity collections or even throw it into the road for children to collect rather than take it back to sea.
A police officer who worked the docks area said their outfits made trawlermen easy to recognise and ship owners would take money from them if a glut in the market meant they didn't make enough. In the 1970s the Cod War over fishing territories off Iceland finally put payed to the industry but not before one final tragedy when the disappearance of the Gaul in 1974 meant the loss of all 36 crew.
With such a precarious existence and a society which emphasised conformity the Three Day Millionaires style was a very particular type of defiance but one which seemed to draw inspiration from the westerns and country music beloved by many of the trawlermen. As a soundtrack to the exhibition the use of “Hurt” by Johnny Cash is telling and its refrain of “Everyone I know goes away in the end” even more chilling than usual. A more lighter epitaph for this way of life and one the trawlermen must have relished comes from the stir the Three Day Millionaires caused when they went to Liverpool and people thought they were pop stars.
Touring Dates :
History Centre - 6th -29th January
Holy Trinity - 30th January-27th February
13 September 2015
Going into the station at Bristol Temple Meads a ticket inspector wondered why I was was going to Weston-super-Mare as “nothing will be open”. Deflating or a wonderfully apt start to my bank holiday at the Dismaland Bemusement Park? Surely Banksy's reach doesn't extend this far. With the ominous looking Shoreditch types on the platform I braced myself for a volume of post modern analysis audible back in his old stomping ground of Stokes Croft.
Thankfully upon arrival at Weston and the lengthy queue of people already standing in line it became apparent that there were too many people for the Late Review audience. Indeed some criticism of Dismaland on the internet seemed to focus on it attracting the “wrong” type of crowd. People who might not be rooting for Corbyn or think Shephard Fairey is a character in the fairytale castle being somehow evidence of Banksy “selling out”. Since its nadir with modernism there is nothing the liberal art elite seem to find more off putting than the plebs gatecrashing the show.
Guardian critic Jonathan Jones missed the point spectacularly by maintaining that funfair's are more “subversive” than Dismaland. While the old farts were contributing to plans for a Thatcher Museum designed to challenge the one supported by David Cameron by highlighting her friendship with dictators and paedophiles (thatchermuseum.org to join in) children were collecting postcards in Darren Cullen's Pocket Money Loans shop. If a small percentage go on to question their roles in a system designed to pacify them with mortgages or jobs in the army to pay it then nothing could be further from the truth. Or after prompting such a strong reaction if they flick through the programme and read about the Museum of Cruel Objects. I certainly wasn't confronted with Israeli companies marketing designs along the US- Mexico border as “field tested” on Palestinian people at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Not since punk has there been a bigger counter cultural movement than street art and this felt a bit like its “God Save The Queen” moment. Now getting Daily Mail readers hot under their starched white collars is always good but the recurring theme of this theme park is even more pressing. From Tammam Azzam recreating Klimt's “The Kiss” on a battle scarred building in Syria to the work of cartoonist Mana Neyestani who was imprisoned by our new best friends Iran for his cartoons the spectre of the refugee crisis loomed large over the former Tropicana lido.
However crude the new art establishment think Banksy's work is the pond where people steer model boats full of refugees up to the white cliffs of Dover is disconcerting and all the more visceral for it. Pot shots at Disneylands celebration of capitalism like Mickey Mouse enveloped by a snake or putting The Grim Reaper on the dodgems to a soundtrack of the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” made me smile. This combination making criticism sound like the keyboard solo on a prog rock concept album. Indeed parts of Jones review were immediately put on the Dismaland website in a way Malcolm McLaren would have been envious of.
Perhaps the talking heads agonising about the death of music as a life changing force could look elsewhere or conclude that having the Sleaford Mods rather than Oasis scheduled to play Dismaland means there will always be a pulse. Jones waxing lyrical about funfair's like an adolescent Morrisey and making references to Tod Browning's “Freaks” made me wonder when he ever went to one. Hailing from Hull I can assure him the days of Jim Rose style bacchanalia or edgy, rebellious youth in “strange, wild places” disappeared under a welter of health and safety legislation and complete hopelessness a long time ago.
One of the security staff who wasn't in Dismaland role decided to tell me how much easier the British were to herd from one place to another than the Greeks. Why the Greeks I don't know but they have had a lot on recently and whether the subtext was that we should be more like them in our response probably wishful thinking. Mindless fun is great but combining it with Banksy's hope that people will be encouraged to “consider, not just consume, to look, not just spectate” is at least as relevant as ever. Working as an entertaining and thought provoking day out is hard enough but when visitors create experiences and really participate in their own amusement Dismaland will have its ultimate vindication.
Contact via Steve John at: