Earlier this Summer while still preoccupied with far more important matters of life and death than with anything as insignificant as the Scottish Art, Film or Culture scene (see my other blogs Invisible Bullet 1-5 for that story) I received one of those rare e-mails I still occasionally get from a well-meaning but frustrated TV researcher, who was working on an Arts Documentary ‘special’ for BBC Scotland on the Generation Art Show: A nationwide spectacle that claims to be a comprehensive (but I would argue institutionally prescriptive) survey of 25 years of contemporary Art in Scotland, and an event which you couldn’t miss – even if you happened to be living in a cave as a hermit in the outer Hebrides, or in the former cultural desert of Glasgow’s increasingly hip yet still multiply deprived East-end. Anyway the researcher was briefed to try to find ‘alternative voices’ willing to contribute to the film that was being made, alongside the usual celebrity mouthpieces/suspects from Scottish culture’s elitist sweetie shop of double-barrelled named, multi-talented ‘polymyths’. So as an Artist of sorts (if not considered a proper ‘Scottish Artist’) who in the past was involved in the formative years of Transmission Gallery (among other ‘art and film stuff ’) and who has for the most part been traduced and reduced to the status of an art/sub-cultural footnote in what’s been going on in his adopted homeland in the past 25 years, would I be interested in taking part?
As much as I sympathised with the well-meaning researcher and understood his frustrations with the attempts that were being made both by Generation’s curators (and also by his career-minded Producers alike) to construct a single ‘Local Hero’ narrative, I didn’t return his final e-mails or call him, especially when – having looked at the list of questions that they wanted answering – I also discovered that the show (let’s not call it a documentary – the BBC in Scotland do Factual Entertainment ‘content’ now) was to be fronted by one of Scotland’s Queen-bees of all things Art, High Culture and literary: Kirsty Wark and would (predictably) include contributions from a few of her dinner party mates – such as the ‘Art’ ‘Fitbah’ and multi-platform expert on all that’s dazed, confused and digital in Scotland: Stuart ‘Cosy’ Cosgrove – alongside the Generation shows more media-savvy Art Stars own angsty or smart arsed performances and the obvious contributions of art-world dinosaurs who’ve wandered the corridors of Glasgow School of Art for decades (if not generations) My gut instinct told me that what the programme makers were really after was an anti-establishment trouble-maker (or as the balanced BBC like to call us: ‘left-field whingers’) rather than a constructive or critical contribution from a video-artist and film-maker and ‘incomer’ who – although he still doesn’t know his place as a footnote – has sought to be engaged (as well as at times excluded) from the arts and moving-image scene in Scotland since the early 1980’s. Right back in fact to a time when there was a Miners strike and the Falklands war was still affecting some of us – and our art – in a profound way, and Glasgow was only really known for its big New Image painters and good drawers. Back then the everyday technologies that the Generation Artists now take for granted: Video, Film, HD Projectors, Computers and even domestic tellies, weren’t considered as ‘feasable’ artforms either by the galleries (the old Third Eye centre perhaps being an exception) or most Scottish art schools (aside from Duncan of Jordanstone with its incomer ‘Maidstone Mafia); While many of Scotland’s current crop of star curators who now champion these media along with some artists that use them, were probably still either cramming for highers at Scotland’s better public schools, discovering Art, Alcohol, Girls and Boys on Foundation courses, or pissing about and waiting to be ‘recruited’ up at St Andrews on Art History courses, before – as the story goes – inventing/discovering Scottish Artist Video in 1995 with Doug Gordon’s 24-hour Psycho at the Tramway (for the record: I was one of the blokes who was asked by an art student once how he could slow down a VHS of a Hitchcock film)
Reading in-between the lines at the BBC’s list of questions it also became all too obvious what the editorial agenda was and that the last thing that the films Producers really want was some kind of informed gate-crashing of their celebrity art-party. As a film-maker/Artist who’s worked in/for/with and against the Television medium for decades I’m wise to the way TV works and sensed that what they really wanted in the end, was a protagonist/cynic/fall-guy or girl to fit into their format, whinge and say: “It’s not fair! – We did it first!” and by doing so provide the ‘jeopardy’ and ‘crisis’ needed for Queen Kirsty of PQ to set about doing a put-down job, while championing the kind of success in adversity/local hero drama that the BBC in Scotland loves: A public image of a singular, heroic narrative, which I sense that the Generation Show is attempting to create for its story of contemporary Art in Scotland.
I’m yet to see the finished BBC Documentary on the Generation show (though I’m sure it does its job and that the production values and spin in it are all that you would expect) and I don’t feel I need to – judging by Jim Colquhoun’s eloquent embittered review demolishing it and the responses he’s received since his posting:
Needless to say like other folk that I’ve since spoken with who were also approached to take on the role of whinger, I declined to have my 30 seconds worth of infamy for all the reasons I’ve mentioned – Call them what you want and dismiss them as you will as being conspiratorial lefty-paranoia, or just plain professional bitterness – but more importantly because I readily admit that I’ve not seen that many of the works that are showing in Generation (outside of those in Glasgow) so I don’t feel qualified to write/contribute to a proper critical review of the show or the works included (but then you could argue who actually is? – and where is it anyhow!?) I am however familiar with many of the Generation Artists work and career trajectories as down the decades I’ve sat in pubs with some of them (as well as on Transmission and Scottish Arts Council Visual Arts Committees) and even been harassed on the telephone by their London agents and American dealers into recommending (but mostly rejecting) the purchase of some of their early works; I’ve written for Variant on occasions over the decades for some of them (mostly when it had learnt to spell and was in its high-gloss SAC funded stage) about Football and Art and also regularly visited Scottish art galleries to see their work – as both a punter as well as a ripped-off competitor – in between staging my own video installations (with some of the ‘scotia nostra’ acting as trainee rubble collectors and TV cable-bashers) and I’ve sat through skips full of their often (for conceptual as well as aesthetic reasons) badly made and unwatchable films and videos while involved with NewVisions. I even once (through my production company: autonomi.tv) was involved in the production of a BBC TV Arts Doc which ended up (though sadly not on film!) in a drunken Saturday night brawl between me and one of Generation’s ‘Art Stars’ on the streets of Korea (who I was actually meant to be nurse-maiding/minding at the time for a film being made by a self-proclaimed German genius with a DV camcorder about his football loving artist best mate) All I can say about the final film (commissioned probably by the same suits behind the Generation Doc) is that I took my name off the credits – but at least I got to go to a world-cup on a BBC budget!
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But what really concerns me the most about the entire Generation ‘spectacle’ ‘phenomena’ or ‘miracle’ (as some call it) isn’t so much the construction and editorial line of a BBC Arts Documentary (what else do we really expect these days from such a discredited institution?) or even a lot of the Art on show itself (some of it apparently is very good, though much of that which I have seen personally seems tired, dated, derivative and uninspiring – despite its scale) but more the re-writing and redacting of history down into a single story and institutional time-line, rather than an acceptance that what really did happen was far more complex, often politicised, chaotic, disconnected and a conflicting series of fragments rather than coherent narratives (some of which were anti-establishment) and which I – like many of you – have lived through and been a part of but have over time been institutionally excluded from. In the end History is there to be written as well as rewritten as much by us: the footnotes/whingers/left-field, as it is by them: ‘the success stories’ and ‘local heroes’ What’s important though is to at least acknowledge what really did happen, rather than ignore or deny it a place in that (re)writing, as seems to be the case in the Generation story. But then also – on the other hand – there is something appealing about art, artists and what they did or didn’t actually do becoming the stuff of myth and legend – rather than just included/excluded in an official/establishment sanctioned narrative/timeline, or turned into the content of a glossy exclusive coffee table book or factual entertainment show.
So here’s a new/fresh idea: Now that it’s nearly over, let’s consign the entire Generation spectacle to the very thing that many of its Artists crave to be a part of yet in the past have chosen to ignore or (even worse) in the case of its Curators denied (Neo-liberal agendas and the end of history have much to answer for) And rather than just look inward at what’s happened in a self-obsessed art-world that’s stuck-up-its-own-archive (just what is it about timelines at the moment?) let’s instead start looking outward and search for the new and diverse visions that are to be found in one of the most militarized nations in Europe, and listen to all those other voices in a world that’s more dangerous and uncertain then it’s ever been before. Oh – and while I’m at it – and for the record: It really just isn’t fair – We were there first….
A 101 things to do with Old TV’s:
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101 TV sets: David Hal and Tony Sinden
(Serpentine Gallery, London 1975)
A Stylish reappropriation that’s just Angry and not Art?
Multi-screen and not Installation?
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Pictorial Heroes/Doug Aubrey and Allan Robertson:
Faction, Fragments and Divisions
(Transmission Gallery Eventspace#1 Glasgow 1985/Re-staged at Lost and Found, Street Level, Glasgow 2010)
A case of what goes around comes around?
Homage? Rip-off or Re-inventing of the wheel?
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Douglas Gordon: Pretty much everything I’ve ever done: 101 TV sets
(Part of Generation at GOMA, Glasgow 2014)