Mnemorex Tour Journal 2
Kreidler / Momus
November 31st - December 19th, 2000
Chapter 2: Rumination On The Autobahn
Click on the thumbnails to see full-sized photos.
Pictures on this page are from Detlef of Kreidler's scrapbook.
Sunday December 3rd
Whose arty tour video was called 'Travelling, Sleeping, Waiting and Playing'? Oh yes, it was Air. Well, that's what it's like. Long rides down the autobahn. Waiting. Travelling. Sleeping. Shizu and I lie in the back of the van. I pass the time writing or processing photos on the laptop. As the kilometers tick by beneath me on featureless (yet somehow rather evil) grey tarmac, I have time to mull over little things, like an article the BBC's political editor Andrew Marr wrote last week about the Turner Prize. I read it in Helsinki in last Sunday's Observer. Marr begins like this:
'They are in their twenties, probably lovers, certainly unmarried. He wears a thin grey jersey and leather trousers, with carefully maintained stubble and wraparound shades, despite the dim light. She is Japanese, dressed in a bright plastic jacket, child colours, unsmiling. They are standing among a scattering of domestic electric detritus on a polished floor. They exchange a look, impossible to interpret. The man mutters and they move on, glancing at a book he holds...
All around there are people like them, all part of a modern tribe, a vast nomadic group, mostly young, urban, clever, a little intimidating, given to expensive hodden clothes and rimless glasses. They speak a dialect closely related to that of neighbouring peoples, but studded with other names - Ofili, Opie, Sensation-Apocalypse, Takahashi. And anyway, they are not voluble, as they stand in front of inscrutable images or slow, silent films. They seem poised. They treasure silence. I am talking, obviously, of the followers of contemporary art.'
Marr ends the article: ' That couple I started with - the cool ones? I hate them. It is time to elbow them aside and fill up the galleries with the rest of us.'
At first I'm merely amused to recognise myself and my 'colourful, childlike' Japanese girlfriend in this caricature of the gallery-going public. But the more I think about it, the more disturbed I get that this sort of thing -- an unashamed and blatantly expressed hatred of sophistication -- is what passes in the UK for cultural coverage.
I try to imagine it in the New York Times -- a paper which covered my New York art show under the headline 'Innovators Burst Onstage (Ka-Pow!) One By One' -- and fail. I try to imagine that 'I hate them' in French or German. 'Ich hasse ihr'. 'Je les hais'. I can only visualise it in some incredibly marginal right wing paper, filled with a peevish resentment of jews and foreigners. And yet here it is, the BBC's political editor, in the Observer. About as far left, as humanist, as the British press goes. And apparently it's OK to hate us.
What is our crime? Some clues come in Marr's choice of adjectives. We're lovers yet unmarried. A 'vast hoarde' of supra-national miscegenators. Our clothes are 'thin' and 'grey' or 'bright plastic', 'childish'. We don't grow up, and we don't come from anywhere. We take things seriously. We are 'unsmiling, nomadic, young, urban, clever, a little intimidating, given to expensive hodden clothes and rimless glasses'. We like 'inscrutable images' and 'treasure silence'. The blustering of politicians and the rapid-impact edits of TV trailers can't reach us any more. They strike us as ever-faster, ever more emphatic bursts of exhausted language. Only 'slow, silent films' make sense to us. Sorry, Mr Political Editor. Your job is becoming less and less relevant. You resent it, don't you? Something is happening here and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?
Speaking on behalf of the vociferous majority, the ones who mostly choose not to visit art galleries, Marr wants to 'elbow us aside'. I suppose he thinks it's some sort of democratic gesture. In a way, his complaint marks the moment at which subcultural values enter the mainstream. Here's a political editor waking up to the fact that Tate Modern -- weird, slick, oblique, formalist -- has been a riproaring success and the Millenium Dome -- for all its poll testing and calculated populism --a dismal failure. In a world in which power resides in symbols, the people who question, undermine and refresh them begin to seem strangely trustworthy. As I'm travelling in the land of Nietzsche, I'm happy to cite his phrase 'the trans-valuation of all values' and remind people like Marr that it's artists who do that best, and the beginning of new centuries when people most want to listen, to look, to freshen up their ears and their eyes.
That's the kind of stuff going through my head as I watch them go by, the placid flat fields of a country ruined a while ago by another elbower, a man who also wanted to take art out of the hands of the sophisticates and the foreigners. One of Toog's new songs, 'Mappemonde', starts up in my head. It's about how Hitler just wanted a bigger canvas to paint on.