More random notes from the Hackney/ Hoxton border

Posted by Diana Henebury

It’s been a while. Days are shorter and the light is sifter, colder, even when the sun is out. On the anniversary of 9/11 I remember where I was, in the opposite of New York, a place called Ferryland in Newfoundland, looking at a glittering lake, an almost primeval landscape. Driving fast, back to base, we imagined a light aircraft crashing into the building (since I have a habit of occasionally drawing such apocalyptic scenes in a comic way, I was visualising such a sight but then seeing on screen the real event was like a movie at night, in dreams, the planes kept crashing. Then came a series of phone calls to family and friends who may, or may not have been downtown that day. All safe. My nephew goes straight to the emergency scene. He’s a New York cop but says that he cannot describe the scene. Will not attempt language. My daughter calls from Stockholm, lonely and shocked and Newfoundland becomes the landing point for all planes turned away from the U.S. We cannot fly home. The skies are strangely quiet as we wait days for the backlog to disappear. Newfoundland people are immensely kind and hospitable to those forced to break the journey. The island is caught in the tail end of a hurricane and we gaze from our window at a helpless fishing boat tossing about it the grey waves. Guided by a rescue vessel it takes hours to reach shore. Ninjal, the beautiful black cat climbs to the top of a telegraph pole and is electrocuted. Dead comic book cat at night. There really is an apocalyptic rhythm in the air.

Of course, artists must respond. It’s personal for me. New York is my love. I lived nearby the scene once and I’ve been painting horrible (anticipatory) paintings of people falling through the air, skyscrapers behind them. This kind of art already has a long history but I do respond. It feels kind of embarrassing to get so emotional. But fuck it. We can at last say goodbye to cool irony and posturing. Minimalistic tropes do not have a place here. Not now.

Cats spray and so do I.

Back in London. We at 8modern are still meeting and planning. The absence of art, the lack of production is important. For the moment, the process and discussion is all and anyway, 8 disparate and strong egos can’t make a decision just like that. But there is some group working on (subsistence level). Objects and letters criss-cross, boozing and and talking continues, plans are made, substances handed around. Frustrated by lack of action, longing to make a mark, Raof and I meet near the river to do something to Southwark. As a group we a re attached to this historic area. Barry and Mat live nearby. it reeks of history and is rife with the stench and signs of displacement, privatisation and regeneration. We walk through the series of long brick tunnels. It’s like Piranesi. We have made stencils but they are not good enough. So i begin to freespray on those old walls. R is embarrassed. But how do you reach people as an artist? Especially those who do not, will not go into a gallery. I’m not talking about defacement of gloss-boxes here, but the decoration, the markings with art of old and desolate and relatively deserted places where people hurry about, anxious to get out of. This whole impulse for me goes back to childhood where the tarmac street and slate alleyways of Liverpool were on my own drawing board and playground. You waited for some slate to fall off a roof and then used it to draw on the slate floor. Or else chalk was cheap. I played in my own pilots cabin. I drew it out in the middle of the road. There were handles and levers, a cockpit and I shouted chocks away at the planes in the blue sky. And our games were based on drawing. Chalk directional arrows ran through miles of alleyways. We ran and ran, following these. The point was the drawing and the running. And so I mad a return. Big ballsy cats, macho cats on Southwark brick walls. Raof’s delicate stencil in the tunnel, a fine delicate cat lightening the gloom and each brick laid one by one, by hand. My hand on the handmade walls of London. I can live with more street art. Hackney is full of wonderful stuff, mad dogs, slogans, anut-war propaganda, sleek cheetahs, skinhead mohwak outlines. Street art makes my day when the rest of the artworld seems stultifying, entropic.

To return to Hoxton/Hackney. Development continues apace. Don’t walk down a road for a few weeks and then go and be surprised by a new block of luxury flats aimed at those aspiring, would be urbanites. These buildings have strange names, redolent of say, New York or attainment, say something Heights or whatever, luxury lofts Philippe Starcke bathrooms, Conran designed toilet brushes. It is necessary to keep a close eye on the parade of folk. dressed in designer downbeat gear, almost like the real poor who shop for cheap goods, imitation sportswear at markets. You need to notice the tiny signifiers that indicate and validate these ‘authentic aesthetic’ types in cashmere and silk grunge and tee shirts that resemble rock ‘n’ roll and cost a bucket of moolah. Wodges of dosh are now needed to eat and drink in Hoxton Square. On dry evenings it’s like rush hour and when the White Cube has an opening a desperate crowd poses hysterically. Dear old Damiens charity statue is standing there. Has it got a big slot for money. Post it in and all money goes to Damien. Did he ever look at charity boxes and wish a full one would come his way. Don’t get me wrong. The boy’s done good, he really has and the work does at least have (or did) energy and a kind of cynically malevolent quality at times. Me, I prefer WC Fields and old patent medicine men, any old charlatan who’ll make me laugh, but Damien is up there with the really good hucksters and hustlers…

Also in London was the Frieze Art Fair. I went on press afternoon, thereby avoiding all the liggers, boozers, crowds and queues. As it was the crowd was peculiarly “art”, but many of these were real serious collectors having a preview. I heard money money money, only 250 (meaning 250 thousand) and elderly Americans squealing over Richter. “Gee honey comma here, this is just like our liddle one, we bought it years ago, we shoulda bought the bigger ones, I mean just look at the price now, wadda ya think hon?” Squeal squeal and other satisfied greedy pig sounds. Why do art collectors have to behave and talk so stereotypically? And why does everyone look the same, wear the same clothes (with minor variations)? Well, we were near the penguin enclosure at London Zoo. Was subliminal influence at work?

We do need a decent art fair(fest) in England and this went some way to meeting market requirements. You could practically hear the arrows of target marketing swishing through the air and if you did not have access to free tickets then each person would have to pay a tenner to get in and another tenner for the catalogue and a lot of dosh at the expensive bar and restaurant for shite rations and there’s a lot of poor artists in London and some of them have families and to take them all out cost more than they can afford. It was, I’m sure, very successful. Dealers from Hong Kong, New York, Milan, Cologne, Berlin, etc etc. And very Selfrdiges and I would not pay to shop there… So what is an art fair? entertainment, a shop, a peep show a promenade, a showcase or a show-off case? Roll up roll up roll up ART MARKETS ARE HERE TO STAY. PURCHASE YOUR PLACE ON THE LADDER OF UPWARD MOBILITY, PROVE YOUR UTTER TRENDINESS, YOUR WORTH, YOUR SOCIAL STANDING BY BUYING ART…

OK this was a rant. Well fuck it. I feel mean and sulky at the moment and when I want to moan I moan. Moan back if you dare. We can take it.

I must mention also Caroline Fishers show at Bolwick Hall in Norfolk which was like a wonderful treasure hunt. Four artists responded to an historic house and grounds. To see it meant walking and seeking with the aid of a map. Wonderfully inventive interventions - an almost invisible screen or mesh maze in a wooded section created a feeling of trapped in transparency, a peacock feather gate backed with camouflage , a witty mobile and water feature involving household appliances - buckets, sieves, etc. A cut swan near the lake mixes with the real swans. BolwickArts is an exciting new Norfolk based arts venture and all artists should access it for information.

October 10th, 2003 | Residents, General, Reading Room, Diana Henebury

3 comments

So is “meaningful” art really something you can make a living out of? Is the presence of investors and dealers making it into just another kind of stock to invest in, where the only way to “succeed” is to play them at their own game, ala Damien Hirst? Wotcha reckon?

Comment by Mr Bum Fluff esq
Fri 23 April, 2004
@ 3:46 pm

Depends what you mean by “meaningful”. If a person buys a painting because they like it, then it’s “meaningful” to them. And the more it costs them, the more “meaningful” it’s likely to become ;-)

Comment by raof
Wed 05 May, 2004
@ 4:08 pm

yeah, it could mean “oh shit, now i’m broke” :)

Comment by Mr Bum Fluff esq.
Thu 06 May, 2004
@ 10:24 pm