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Ten responses from JCHP to statements made by various artists on TateShots, the ‘weekly short video with a focus on modern and contemporary art at Tate.’

Pablo Bronstein
Nicole Wermers

“…the dancers are picking it up and they’re bringing references from all sorts of things, from vogueing, from kabuki, from lots of different things and using these to create a vision of early dance.”


Considering an artwork so appallingly referential – Does referencing something significant render the new work equally significant? Is this work’s meaning transplanted wholesale from the referent or re-appropriated afresh in the form of art-cum-merchandising? Is the work’s meaning enacted distinctly in this offensively overt professionalism – displayed in the smudging between its production and its nascent distribution? 


"The idea behind it was that I wanted to – that sort of very fleeting very temporary observation that you can make in a café or restaurant where somebody puts their jacket on the back of their chair in order to claim that little bit of public space, to kind of privatise that little area for themselves. I wanted to take that temporary status of this object and make it permanent."


The notion of the contemporary art object as ‘permanent’ is tied to a widespread dogmatic commitment to an alleged transcendental quality. Apparently, that the contemporary artwork is, unquestionably art – whatever that comprises, and as such is ineffable, that it transcends the ‘temporary observation’ of ordinary objects and precludes questions as to standards, is not up for discussion. But yet it attracts rhetoric like flies round shit. Wermers authorises slippery meaning that simultaneously precludes explanation; critical response or a search for a better formulation of art in the future, is dropped at the expense of bland/sombre professionalism. The notion of art as exemplified in the above quotation is honorific. There is no chance of anything even resembling criticism while this position remains normalised and so conspicuously and blindly celebrated. And for fuck’s sake, cheer up, didn’t the person with the camera tell you… you’re going to be on telly!

Keith Tyson

How are these questions ‘sort of embodied’ in the sculpture? The point is that ‘embodied’ needs defining in an operational way. Since otherwise Tyson deceives himself when he imagines that he is able to attach meaning to the statement of ‘embodying’. A word has to be operationally defined or else it is meaningless. Like a two a penny Lakeland poet Tyson is so overcome by Nature he can barely muster himself from his pit. When he does, he admires his delegated handiwork with the self-satisfied expression that matches the cum face of Sir Alan Sugar. And why shouldn’t he? – he’s fucking his apprentices over, day in day out. “Embodiment’ is left as a plain assertion apparently requiring nothing more than Tyson’s alleged authorisation as a self-confirmed centre of truth.

‘It is because I say it is’. 


“That’s what I always felt that I wanted out of art, you know you go and have a look at art, there’s a sense sometimes that you’re like breaking it with your own interpretation. Because you’re coming from a different history, a different culture, and what have you, and you look at this thing and you take from it what you will.”


“As a child in bed I used to have a kind of game I played with myself… Is something thinking? We can never know. And so this idea of not knowing what the other is thinking, not knowing if we are thinking, not understanding if there’s any force in the universe that might be thinking. These questions are sort of embodied in that simple column.”

Michael Dean

It may come as little surprise that a middle aged man, who grooms himself as a Billy Elliot whilst dressed in a little brief authority, can come up with such dross. The relativism exemplified in the foregoing quotation is so appallingly nihilistic, pessimistic, and dogmatic it sums up the tragic conditions of arthood quite invidiously. Putting to one side that it is almost entirely meaningless, its insidious nature is one of rejecting any enquiry towards learning or improvement, or some better approximation towards truth. Whether it is or is not the case that the viewer will ‘take from a work what they will’, underlining practice in this grotesquely individualistic way precludes even the potential of criticism as a means of collective progress and only serves to function as the theoretical equivalent of licking the gallerist’s arsehole ‘and what have you.’   

Helen Marten

“The kind of live-ness of the world is never calcified by art, and as precarious as the artists’ statement is it at least suggests a sort of provisional way forward for thinking about the world at large.”


Perhaps Marten is too smart to engage in the bloated extenuation most contemporary artists drum up out of professional necessity – her reticence in pocketing the content of the Tate’s petty-cash tin and the inevitable consequent affirmation by acquiescence, that endorsement by institutional bureaucracy exploits, nailing her servitude to the mast – suggests she is. Is it possible that the purpose of art, at its most fundamental, could be to function according to the single-minded intention of exposing the deep-seated lie that exists within the capitalist system; namely that the economic system of capitalism can deliver freedom and happiness? Could criticism, in a meaningful sense, be practiced by artists themselves, while being aware that there is no non-capitalist perspective from which to operate? Criticism in any sense does not appear to operate in regard to arthood; although the use of the word is widespread. What more professionally reputable cloak could have ever been fashioned? Criticism requires, in order to be meaningful, a criterion for judging something as good or bad. Whether artists are critical of the system in which they function or otherwise, they are irredeemably implicated in what they criticise or celebrate respectively. It is difficult to imagine a meaningfully critical practice that does not start from a position of being critical of what the artists themselves are actually engaged in… ‘ and what have you.’  

Simon Starling

“I always like to,  to sort of, I don’t know, try something new and test a new way of working I suppose and so it seemed a good opportunity to try that.” 


It’s not easy to know how to respond to this budget Tate advert and its attendant self-promo video. It is difficult to watch without imagining Walter Benjamin’s trigger finger poised out of shot surveying this ugly tribute to a culture industry gone irreversibly rancid. Stern Starling doesn’t bother to actually say anything beyond anecdote, suggesting even he knows he’s well past the point of constructing the pretence of anything resembling an idea. This is institutional compliancy at its over professionalised and subservient worst. 


Which is the most grotesque? Is it the unquestioning crowing celebration of the assumption of the institution as the site of genuinely credible production or the internal mutual respect for comparably sanctioned individuals. 


There isn’t much between them, so close your eyes and take your pick…

Anchor 1, the epitome of the bad conceptualist artist; very flashy [flashing?] neon signs, very cheap one-liners, work that’s very thin and unsubstantial... [Work by] a much, much, much better artist than I am...


Gander offers the pretence of a critical response. He draws a distinction between some good and some bad work, which (trying to be positive) presumably constitutes the rudiment of criticism. He then inevitably fails to substantiate or attempt to qualify his distinction.


That Gander is discussing fictionalised work makes no difference. What makes this so offensive is not that what we’re offered is the same old view of art as autotelic and the inability  to go beyond individual intuition [as if that constitutes a reasonable criteria for validation] but that the lack of ability to substantiate judgments is celebrated in the form of a mild case of second-order observation. This is the worst kind of institutional affirmation.


This is art for an audience reduced to the capacity of only affirming the conditions that produce the work; them being the relations of its distribution that they’re equally implicated in formulating. Gander’s work achieves the antithesis of the Brechtian intention to engage the audience in critical action, by a cynical and nihilistic attempt to subjugate the audience and reduce it to within a shadow of its former self. The audience is flattened to passivity and affirmation of capitalistic discharge. This is the worst operation art can attain. Here art can never aspire to ‘the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity’. Any possibility of a critical response is precluded because the work, artist and audience have blithely eradicated all potential for meaning, and with it criticism. Nothing can be touched beyond the level of pantomime… Gander plays Mother Goose to Tyson’s Widow Twankey.


Here is art proselytized by the advertising agency and a clever-arsed artist who tragically appears to have no understanding of the betrayal to human dignity his work purports to.

Anchor 2

Welcome to our [s]tudio. This is the area where we build things out of toothpicks and peanuts. [But] We’re actually more interested in the outside world – the real world, than we are interested in the art world, and I think that’s a really important dictum that we try and follow.


Being more interested in the real world than the art world doesn’t make it anymore likely that the artwork will touch the real world. The utterance itself is operative, like the artwork, only within the art world and no amount of mocked-up, self-imposed cool distancing will exit the art system’s self-referential boundaries. Operations are possible only within the system. The system cannot reach the wider environment. There persists an assumption that there is something going on in an art object that is not going on in an ordinary object. This is true only in the sense that what is going on in an art object is the system itself. Smug Broomberg & Chanarin cannot grasp that they are only engaged in reproducing variations of Hirst’s Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. 

Broomberg & Chanarin’s position (at least the one on the left with his turned up collar) is something like a dairy farmer stating that they’re not much interested in milk. It is true that there is a lot not to be interested in within the art world and in actual fact there is far more to be embarrassed about. Not least someone whose situation is wholly dependent upon the conditions they claim ambivalence towards. Someone who celebrates the art world with their every move, whether they claim any interest or not. What Broomberg & Chanarin are not, with regard their relation to the art world, is in any way disinterested. What they might find more useful, than drawing fragile distinctions between what they’re interested in and not interested in is to accept that they are wholly dependent on the art world.  If the delusional Chanarin & Broomberg find it necessary to  run their practice by dictums, we’d proffer one by D.H Lawrence: that they are far from expert at what they want to do.


Brecht removes Benjamin’s uncertain hand from the gun lent by Johst, offers him the morphine tablets and in a stage whisper commands,  “Tu es, tu es für m-m-mich und R-r-ruth!” Do it, do it for m-m-me and R-r-ruth!

Eddie Peake

Collaboration is absolutely fundamental to my practice and you know I’ve said it before and I’ve still maintained, that I see myself as a kind of producer rather than a kind of sole creator of absolutely everything - though a lot of people bring a lot to my work, I have to, erm, you know give them credit for that.


Rhetorician Eddie Peake’s sibilant dialogue in this TateShot from 2012 is reminiscent of Pac Man unrelentingly moving through a heavily prescribed, prosaic system chomping on whatever goodies come his way; the ghosts Peake is desperately gasping to evade represent coherent, meaningful statements or arguments. One ghost manages to manifest itself as: “I like to think that an audience might be left with a set of images in their head”, and another: “I hope the piece kind of takes the viewer on a journey”.


Isn’t it far more likely that what Peake wanted to do with ‘The Tanks’, the subject of this TateShot is to fulfill a prescribed set of self-imposed obligations to the budget on offer, sucking vigorously at the institution’s drip feed of contingent opportunity structures: that it be significantly bombastic and grandiose*, enough to preclude any requirement of critical justification; that it cost, at least the same, if not a few quid more than what Pablo and Simon got; that the pretence of breadth or complexity (or any other meaningless nouns you care to drum up) is compatible with the projected career trajectory.


This is what art looks like when you’ve had lots of shows and earned lots of options. This is not art that searches to understand, learn or progress anything worthwhile.


The somewhat half hearted acknowledgement of his fellow “collaborators” (in scare quotes big enough to fill the Turbine Hall) must strike your average jobbing dancer/actor as conspicuously offensive. What a fucking honour to earn less than a living wage!


What is an audience to do with a work of art such as this? Well, the answer is given at the end of the film: you clap and whoop. Surprisingly you don’t, as might befit the Tanks, put on your Reeboks, douse yourself in petrol, light a cigarette and run round your local petrol station and ask the price of a gallon of 4 star.


Is this what Wilhelm von Humboldt had in mind when he wrote of “the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity”?


...thankfully only one more poster to go. Climax!

Anthony Gormley

My position is somewhat like a conductor of an orchestra in which in a way the score is a given and I have written it, the timbre, the tempo and a lot of the nuances in terms of the way that that score is played is dependent on the sensibility and sensitivity of the assistant. I think that sculpture is collaborative, it always has been, that’s one of its joys actually.


As self-regarding and self-important pomposity goes, Gormley is the contemporary art world’s principal past master. Is there any activity other than art that allows an adult to be productive without at any point questioning the validity of that production?


Everyone’s Uncle Tony states with a feigned, childlike wonderment that he is engaged in making work that can “carry a thought and a feeling”. He doesn’t bother to burden us with any explanation of exactly how this is achieved. But who cares? Gormley indulgently references significant things and dumbs them down to produce meaningless objects, that in actuality reference nothing but the bloated art system itself.


Gormley represents the more conspicuous excesses of the manifestation of art as devoid of any critical faculty. His vain excreta reflect perfectly his vacuous commitment to the celebration of his protracted do-it-yourself maintenance job. 


Enough. End

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