A video compendium of conceptual performance and physical theatre. Contains nudity, writhing and vegetable slurry.
Magdalena Chowaniec, Amanda Piña and Daniel Zimmermann perform Neuer Wiener Bioaktionismus: “Three young Viennese artists/dancers from Chile, Poland and Switzerland translate the actionist mystery into a vegetarian orgy in which dead carrots take the place of the massacred lamb. A portrait of our time.”
The Observer’s Elizabeth Day asks, “Should artists have to work?”
Stipends allowed Bettina Camilla Vestergaard to travel to Los Angeles and spend six months sitting in her car at taxpayers’ expense while “exploring collective identity” in ways never quite made clear. Oh, and doing a spot of shopping. For art, of course. After sufficient time had been spent idling and, as she puts it, “slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events,” Ms Vestergaard struck upon a deep and fearsome idea. Specifically, to let strangers deface her car with inane marker pen graffiti. This radical feat allegedly “explored” how “identity and gender is constituted in public space.” Though, again, the details are somewhat sketchy. The freewheeling disposal of other people’s earnings also allowed Ms Vestergaard to film herself and her friends looking bored, tearing up grass and pondering the evils of capitalism. And, in an all too brief moment of awareness, wondering if what they do is actually any good and worth anyone’s attention. The resulting videos, all bankrolled by the Danish taxpayer and showing highlights of four days’ artistic inactivity, have been available online for over a year and have to date attracted zero comments and no discernible traffic except via this blog.
Meet Joan Brady: novelist, umbrage-taker, colossal hypocrite.
Corporations, see, are wicked. They “chew us up and spit us out,” and how could anyone with a soul want to be part of that - especially an artist like Joan Brady, for whom purity is everything? Of course, this being the Guardian, Ms Brady’s display of indignation is just a tad selective. Despite the author’s outrage, I somehow doubt that Whitbread will be getting their prize money back. I think we can also assume that our morally lofty wordsmith won’t be withdrawing her novels from Waterstones and Amazon, both of which have no doubt aroused very similar umbrage from many small booksellers. And it’s perhaps worth noting that Ms Brady’s latest novel, The Blue Death, is published by Simon & Schuster, an imposing division of that even more imposing multinational corporation, CBS.
In 1989 Theodore Dalrymple paid a visit to North Korea’s Pyongyang Department Store Number 1:
It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways - yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking.
Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.)
They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that - despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation - they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf.
Novelist Joan Brady is outraged. So much so she felt compelled to share her indignation with Guardian readers:
In 1993 I became the first woman to win the Whitbread Prize, and it changed my life. Money! One winner blew it all on a swimming pool for the family’s French villa. Not me. Mine paid off my debts: there are few joys in life to beat clearing the slate.
Yes, I know. Bear with me. The outrage is coming.
I suppose I should have given some thought to where the money came from. I didn’t.
What, pray, was the source of this dirty, dirty money that freed Ms Brady from debt? A company that promotes cock fighting, orphan hunts or live kitten peeling?
The shortlist was awarded at the Whitbread brewery – which meant I could hardly avoid knowing it had something to do with beer – but how was I to know that Whitbread saw the whole excitement as just an advertising gimmick?
Yes, trembling readers. A brewery chain. And in return for their chunk of cash Whitbread hoped for some… publicity. The fiends. Brewery chains, it seems, don’t
in fact exist solely for the benefit of Guardian-reading novelists. And it gets worse.
I didn’t learn the truth until a few years ago, when a transformation took place in some distant boardroom. Whitbread, a vast multinational corporation,
had just acquired the coffee business set up in Lambeth by Bruno and Sergio Costa, and with pubs declining, coffee looked like the future of the hospitality business.
Beer and coffee. And hospitality. Will the depravities never end? No wonder Ms Brady feels morally soiled.
Literature is supposed to be independent...
Of what, economics? Isn’t winning a large cash prize - say, around £30,000 - a way to be
independent, to write more books – and to pay off one’s debts?
It’s supposed to be a statement of an individual view of the world, not a corporate tactic… Costa is strong-arming its multinational way into small towns and villages all over Britain.
Yes, even in Totnes, Devon, where, Ms Brady tells us, not everyone is happy about the new arrivals. Especially, and unsurprisingly, other coffee shop proprietors.
Corporate juggernauts mowing down local communities is a part of modern life. Powerful, ubiquitous international brands that are convenient and familiar but dull as hell: that same smell, that same taste, that same plasticky look and feel. This kind of commerce has nothing to do with the lives of people except to chew them up and spit them out.
They’re selling coffee, remember. Which people choose to buy, having walked in voluntarily. So far as I’m aware, Costa doesn’t employ press gangs of burly men to prowl the streets in search of coffee-drinking prey, while armed with clubs, tasers and heavy nets.
The arrest of a couple in Melton Mowbray for shooting at four burglars, wounding two of them slightly, drew the following comment from Pam Posnett, councillor for Melton North: “I feel sorry for the residents who were put in this position, I also have sympathy for the people who broke in, in so far as how the situation was handled…” Was Pam Posnett thinking of her electoral chances when she said this, calculating that there were at least as many criminals in Melton North as ordinary householders, and that therefore it was advisable for her not to come too firmly down on the side of householders against burglars? Even more alarming, however, was the manner in which she expressed herself… Nothing corrupts (or bores) so completely as the passive voice, and Pam Posnett speaks of people being put in situations, and of situations that were handled, as if no one were doing either the putting or the handling. Thus there is nothing to choose, morally, between the putters and the handlers, for all is a matter of fate, not action.
Incidentally, a new collection of essays by the good doctor appeared in my mailbox earlier this week. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so I can’t tell you that it’s good. Just that I expect it will be.
“Tanks, jeeps and other test vehicles litter the desert floor milliseconds before the force of the explosion destroys them. Just below the bottom of the fireball, a crescent-shaped shock wave has bounced off the desert floor and is merging into the expanding nuclear fire.” From the New York Timesslideshow, Capturing the Atom Bomb on Film. Image taken from Peter Kuran’s book, How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb.
Attend an organised public display instead of setting off fireworks yourself in your own backyard. Surely it’s better to contain the noise and pollution in one area than see it dispersed across a wider area?
This fairly innocuous suggestion leads Mr Hickman to more emphatic, and revealing, territory:
Quite why fireworks are not just restricted to organised public events has always been beyond me, given how dangerous they can be to children. Or maybe – as was fiercely debated on this site last year – fireworks should be banned altogether?
An earlier Guardian poll - Should Fireworks be Banned on Environmental Grounds? - was a close-run thing, with a narrow majority willing to permit an evening of explosive hedonism. The Guardian’s Felicity Carus suggested a possible compromise in the form of “green fireworks,” a quieter, less colourful, less explosive alternative made from sawdust and rice chaff.
As regulars will know, Mr Hickman and his colleague Lucy Siegle steer Guardianistas through the labyrinth of modern living with their Ask Leo & Lucy column - “your ethical dilemmas sorted.” Dilemmas that, for Guardian readers, include, Should I Employ a Cleaner? (“If you employ a cleaner, their pay should be fair. Buy some less toxic cleaning products or make them yourself using ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice or vegetable-based soap.”) Among many other agonies of note are, What’s the Greenest Way to Wrap my Sandwiches?and What Should I Do with the Fur Coats I Inherited from my Mother? (Since you ask, suggestions range from the inventive – “donate them to an animal sanctuary that uses them as bedding for abandoned puppies” – to the slightly surreal - “Turn the central heating down and wear them indoors.” And, “Use them in the home, where everyone understands their history etc.”)
There are plenty of facts - Quaker Oats and Tropicana juices are both owned by George Bush-backing PepsiCo - and a selection of helpful letters, like the inspiring one from a woman who crochets her own dishcloths.
By the mid-1970s, Britain was widely regarded - choose your favourite cliché - as the Sick Man of Europe, an economic basket case, ungovernable... In  the year before Thatcher came to power, Britain, upon whose empire the sun never set, endured the Winter of Discontent. Labour unrest shut down public services, paralysing the nation for months on end… Rubbish was piled high on the streets of Britain that winter, and so, at one point, were human corpses. The Soviet trade minister told his British counterpart, “We don’t want to increase our trade with you. Your goods are unreliable, you’re always on strike, you never deliver.” This was what had become of the world’s greatest trading power.
From Claire Berlinski’s “There Is No Alternative”: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, which I’m halfway through reading and enjoying quite a lot. It’s a brisk and witty reminder of what was at stake and how socialism can lead to extraordinary selfishness. It also has plenty of revealing incidental nuggets, as when Berlinski notes the feelings of some of Thatcher’s loftier enemies:
When asked why intellectuals loathed her so, the theatre producer Jonathan Miller replied that it was “self-evident” – they were nauseated by her “odious suburban gentility.” The philosopher Mary Warnock deplored Thatcher’s “neat, well-groomed clothes and hair, packaged together in a way that’s not exactly vulgar, just low,” embodying “the worst of the lower-middle class.” This filled Warnock with “a kind of rage.”
Claire Berlinksi is interviewed by National Review’s Peter Robinson, again in 5 parts:
Glenn Reynolds also interviews Berlinksi here. (Registration required.)
Related: Tory! Tory! Tory! An excellent 2006 miniseries tracing the history and context of Thatcherism, the miseries it involved and the much greater miseries it avoided. Well worth viewing in full. The three episodes are embedded below in six parts: