Friday Ephemera
The Sound of Wringing (2)

You Are Privileged to Witness Just How Brilliant I Am

Omar Kholeif, whose plea for racial favouritism in the arts recently entertained us, is enthused by a project named Unrealised Potential.

The project features,

An expansive collection of proposals from a breadth of contemporary artists, writers, musicians and curators.

And how does it work?

The unproduced ideas are lined up in the first gallery, alongside a set of terms and conditions, whereby visitors are invited to purchase the artist proposals for ‘realisation.’ The setting adopts a similar structure to an auction space, where a red sticker is placed on each idea sold, with the purchasing ‘producer’ being offered two years to realise the project, before it returns to the marketplace.

Isn’t it just wonderful? And so terribly clever. Visitors to the exhibition get, 

The opportunity to purchase the right to interpret and realise an artist’s idea.

An artist’s idea. Oh fortune, she smiles upon us. Think of it as a remix, but with no original recording, or demo, or evidence of talent. Apparently, this constitutes,

Critical and, at times, contradictory commentary about the commercialisation of the arts.

And not a cheap and derivative hustle. Why, the very idea.

Some readers may recall the ICA’s Publicness exhibition of 2003, which - in ways never quite specified - “interrogated globalisation” and “notions of the public realm.” The exhibition’s four-page press release promised the thrill of “proposals for projects that may never be realised.” In other words, the artists were so heady in their conceptualism they could short-circuit the tiresome business of actually making or finishing anything, and could instead be acclaimed - and paid - simply for airing “proposals.” One almost had to admire the efficiency. After all, it saved everyone – especially the artists – a great deal of time and trouble. Though you can’t help wondering how the artists would have felt had the audience adopted a similar approach to visiting the ICA: “Let’s not bother going and just pretend we did…”

And lets not forget the non-existent giant flying art banana, a theoretical masterpiece that cost Canadian taxpayers over $130,000 and which, had it materialised, would have said something unflattering about the previous incumbent of the White House. Because, hey, artists are just so goddamned edgy.

But back to Mr Kholeif and his keen curatorial insights:

The very act of potentially encouraging complete ‘amateurs’ to consider the delivery parameters of such creative output offers audiences an insight into the graft and expertise required to produce a successful creative project, while simultaneously reminding them of the risk involved... What is worthy here is this notion of process: audiences are granted the privilege of witnessing the multifarious facets of an artist’s psyche.

You heard the man. It’s a privilege. Well, having climbed the heights of Mount Vanity, let’s bask in the glow of that creative lava stream, shall we?

Doug Fishbone, in There Once Was a Man from Iraq, proposes that a monumental sculpture of Saddam Hussein be re-erected onto the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

An endeavour that would,

Situate the war in Iraq in its place in imperialist history.


Look at the queasy underbelly of the contemporary imperialist project.

Other contributors probe even deeper into the artist’s inner being:

Tim Etchells, in What Your Right Hand is For, puts the audience to the task of producing a show that unearths the masturbatory fantasies of some of the world’s most famous visual artists (including Steve McQueen, Jenny Holzer and Chris Ofili).

As Mr Etchells explains,   

Artists’ fantasies – from sex in unusual places to stranger rape, from homosexual threesomes, object penetration and incest to complex consensual gang-bangs – provide a revealing insight into the psychological underbelly of contemporary art practise and into the work of the artists themselves.

At which point, we can only hope that Mr Etchells is having a little fun at the organisers’ expense.


Ploughing through the 60 or so proposals, what’s interesting is... No, wait. What’s almost interesting is how many of the artists are hedging their bets with irony and piss-taking. For instance, Roisin Byrne proposes a scam involving bar bills, two weeks at a hotel “drinking cheap reproductions of famous French wine” and some guff about “reflexively focused performative play.” Is this meant to be a satirical comment on arts funding? On arts jargon? Is it a dig at the premise of the exhibition? It’s so very hard to care.

Conor McGarrigle ventures further into absurdity, suggesting an exhibition of his own photographs of abandoned single shoes, each labelled with the time and place of its finding. A team of mathematicians would supposedly be employed to analyse this data for a thousand years and thereby deduce the former owner of each shoe and the reason for its abandonment. It’s intentionally stupid and, more to the point, uninteresting.

A series of promotional videos tells us the exhibition is meant to reveal “the mechanics of curating and authorship,” and that the artists are “creating strategies to engage the audience physically, to partake in other artists’ ideas.” Though in truth the effect is insular, cliquey, and doesn’t seem aimed at the public at all. Unless the general public has secretly developed an appetite for flimsy conceptual noodling.

A few of the proposals are banal and apparently serious, the rest are banal and unserious (though not actually funny). Robin Nature-Bold offers to kidnap and imprison “artists who have a habit of making the same old shit over and over again,” while Adele Prince proposes a series of drawn instructions on how to fold a bus ticket. There’s little to suggest the need for “graft and expertise,” let alone aesthetic flair, and little hope of bearing witness to the “multifarious facets of an artist’s psyche.” Thrilling as that prospect is.

In fact, the lingering impression is of cynicism, resignation and fatigued mockery. It all seems rather spent, as if the artists had been painted into a corner by their own assumptions. I suspect few of the participants expect any serious or interesting bids from the public, which renders the project little more than an exercise in self-importance and bad faith. Sort of, “We know it’s crap, you know it’s crap, so let’s just laugh at the fact we all know it’s crap.” Which isn’t an ideal showcase for people hoping to attract sponsorship and taxpayers’ money.

Unrealised Potential is at the Cornerhouse, Manchester, until September 12.