Monday, 11 November 2013

Art under Attack - Tate Britain

I was all set to over turn the tables and drive out the money lenders in the Art under Attack exhibition at the Tate Britain when I thought I ought rather to check what the curator’s intentions were. It turns out that the parameters were narrower than you might have presumed – this is an exhibition about “Image breaking in Britain”. The show does achieve this end which makes it’s rather puritanical air seem rather appropriate. As with all acts of creativity (curating included) no matter how scholarly the intention, something unintended will emerge. Something that resonates beyond the artist’s intentions. I’m including curators as artists as the idea of re-appropriating and re-presenting is what a lot of contemporary art is about. The something here is the question of literacy rewiring the brain until we (civilisation) somehow lose the language to express the ineffable problems of being human. There are a few powerful moments in the show. I say powerful but they are not the visceral in your face thrills of YBA-dom. First there were the pages from the King James Bible with the image of God carefully blacked out. These are genuinely iconoclastic images that resonate on multifarious levels. They make me think of Richard Dawkins and the idea that we have invented god and the pagan void his absence leaves. Richard didn’t kill God but he is flogging the dead dog. After my visit the connection to Mark Wallinger's blacked out version of Jesus of Nazareth really hit home. The explanation informs us that this is a comment on how we have become attuned to viewing film and therefore do our best to fill in the mysterious void in the same way that church goers once learnt to view icons. There is a point here that we are shaped by any medium that saturates us but yes I can see the connection between the silent meditation of the church and the cinema both being examples of the gesamkunstwerk. There is something rather bothersome about the judgemental quality of the manner in which Wallinger's piece is presented. It seems to say aren’t we silly the way we are manipulated by a medium. Here then is the culture of violation where the hero highlights how easy it is to rupture human perception and ideas of identity lest we fall for the same trick. What I was hoping to find in the exhibition was an example of the forceful creativity inherent in destruction. I thought of Louise Bourgeois smashing plates to make herself feel better, Miro’s urge to scribble over the reified original or Goya’s exhultation of the idiosyncratic wobble of line. What I found was a very effective but literal interpretation of the word iconoclastic – broken icon. The most powerful and creative image was the contemporary image of the slashed Rokeby Venus which in itself was not created as art.