International Writers Magazine Tate St Ives - Cornwall
Zobernig and the Tate Collection
ensure you do not sit on the golden chairs, the attendant
implores us in reverential tones, they are part of the installation.
Expectation intensifies. I feel pleased that I have cajoled my husband
into doing some art with me. And not just any old art.
We are at the Tate in St Ives; a gloriously converted gas works
rapidly gaining a name for itself in the art world.
The first gallery
is perplexing. Here we see a pebble painted white (helpfully entitled
Painted Pebble), a vast rectangle of chipboard also painted
white with the exception of the final few inches making it look remarkably
like - unpainted chipboard, and a series of toilet rolls stuck together
in Blue Peter fashion. We look to the guide for enlightenment and learn
that: Zobernig, perhaps frustratingly makes no definitive artistic
statement with these works; on the one hand they remain ohne titel (Untitled)
looking like vehicles for the analysis of where art has come from and
where it could potentially arrive, on the other hand they are works
of art made by an artist for the purpose of exhibition. I avoid
catching my husbands eye. We move on.
A golden chair heralds our arrival into the second gallery. Detecting
a theme here, I am not surprised to see that the ornate throne of my
imaginings is in fact a standard canteen chair painted golden. Our preconceptions
have clearly been challenged again. The centrepiece is an empty Ikea
Billy bookcase. The bookshelves we are told are appropriated
by the artist to echo the modular forms of minimalist sculpture
painting from two to three dimensions in an attempt to reject the illusionism,
literal space and space in and around marks and colour that were the
last relics of European art. My husband, who has had rather too
many close encounters of the Ikea Billy kind, snorts audibly.
I hope for redemption in the final gallery with its promised video installation.
A tall, thin black haired man in painfully tight jeans is staggering
barefoot across a well-manicured park sporting a long blonde wig. I
watch the tape twice in case I missed something the first time. But
no, he doesnt fall over, he doesnt speak, he doesnt
do anything except stagger. We are told that this early video
portrait of the artist
apes the nascent experiments of early video
artists exploring notions of the self with a new medium.
The low-tech camera style captures repeated jerky actions in a reduced
format of one viewpoint, shot in real time with no effects. My
husband, in similarly real time and with unrepeatable jerky actions,
return in a rather melancholic frame of mind to the first gallery
and the exit. A group of art students earnestly clutching folders
are now gathered round the toilet roll tower. They listen reverentially
to their tutor who exhorts them to tell him what they see. I wait
with bated breath. They see power, movement, continuity. Not one
of them mentions toilet rolls. I feel like the child in The
Emperors New Clothes. Why are they paying homage to Zobernigs
overweening ego? Why cant they see that he is naked? That
a toilet roll stuck to another toilet roll looks remarkably like
a toilet roll stuck to another toilet roll?
Undoubtedly I would
be viewed as the philistine not understanding the power of art to challenge,
that I have not grasped the fundamental issues involved in the What
is Art?debate. It may be so. I do not expect art to be comfortable,
easy. I like a picture or a sculpture to challenge my senses but I dont
expect it to leave me feeling cheated. I join my husband in the coffee
shop at the top of the gallery. We look out over the spectacular views
of St Ives. Finally we find a picture that speaks to us.
© Mary Colvin
Mary is studying
for her Masters at the University of Portsmouth
dresses. I had party dresses when I was little. With sashes, rainbow
sashes. And party shoes. Shiny red t-bar shoes that winked at me as
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