Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Heavens to Murgatroyd exhibition - some thoughts

http://newsevents.arts.ac.uk/event/heavens-to-murgatroyd/

I know, the exhibition's been closed for weeks, so why am I bothering reviewing it? Well, certain features of this show and how it portrayed itself stuck in my throat, so here goes.

First, check out the above, still-live link, the description of this exhibition - or just take my word for how grand it all sounds.

Remember a day when art didn't need a slew of justification, an ocean of context, a swaying stack of theories? And I had reservations about the title - it's the expression of the 50s cartoon character Snagglepus. Wikipedia lists no magical dimensions to this pink lion, so unless the presenters of this show have some personal thing going about the magic of Snagglepuss, this title strikes me as shallow and lazy.

Still, we're all acrobats of the double- and triple-bluff these PoMo days, so we went anyway; the whole shtick promised a real breakout thing.

- but 8 pieces? And the 'installation' that we are told 'will wrap the exterior of the Arts Gallery' turns out to be a poster, admittedly a gigantic one, in the window.

I wasn't going to bother reviewing this little show. After all, I've seen more beautiful, freaky postmodern art objects on a single IOT altar. Many times.

And this is what bothered me and made me write this: the objects on those altars were contextualized to magic, whereas it seemed to me that the objects in this show didn't engage at all with the actual functions of either magic or mysticism; neither did they challenge the consensus ghettoization of magical thinking. This exhibition felt as if it was embarassed by its association with such flaky notions, choosing instead to hide behind the skirts of this glittering, empty culture in order to pay the rent.

This is a kind of cultural imperialism, like explorers arriving at an isolated village and carting away all the cult objects to show back in WestCiv; these artists have appropriated a style - mystery - and isolated it from its meaning, so they can sell it. Or maybe more that they've visited a ghetto, appropriated the style of the original, vital artwork and then gone away and made a fashion statement out of it, its shallowness reflected in the choice of the show's name.

So what could artists be doing with magic? Maybe try engaging with it a bit more; that engagement would surely show through in your theory-blurbs.

Or take a lesson from artists who have managed the interface between art and magic much more interestingly, such as the artist known as Snakebeings (http://www.snakebeings.co.nz/index_2.php ). He approaches the issue from the other end - with a starting point of Catholic magic as found in Compostela, he constructed strange engines for belief, theurgy and divination: here, the irony did not overbalance the seriousness of the questions the pieces asked. This is an artist who is moved and maybe conflicted about magic, not limply theoretical.

Perhaps the most telling exchange was the one my lover had with the woman who was minding the exhibits; she asked her why the Dream Machine in the corner wasn't working. The reply was along the lines of 'the artist thought it was appropriate that it degenerated over time'.
Oh dear, what sad, pretentious hippy crap to justify laziness. Not good enough! Try harder!

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