Currently in England for a quick visit and I accidentally stumbled on a self-funded, pop-up show in an out-of-business high street shop within the confines of the M25; names will be avoided to protect the guilty. What caught my attention was what appeared to be a minimalist approach to shop window display by a florist. Once I’d visually investigated a little further through the window into the unlit, dust mite sodden gloom I realised that I was having a close encounter of the contemporary art kind. There was nothing else happening at the time, the door was open, so I ambled inside. The artist was approachable enough, and initially quite enthusiastic, before I started asking questions on the subject of ‘why’.
The artworks consisted of various ‘contemporary investigations and re-interpretations of the folk-art of floristry’. This involved such presentations as a bunch of flowers in a decorative vase with the flower heads removed (Morticia Adams style), a bunch of flowers upside-down in a glass vase, a bunch of weeds in a decorative vase, a very traditional floral arrangement presented in a chopped-in-half and grubby plastic milk container. You get the picture…
It all seemed fairly obvious, but perhaps all art does seem obvious once someone else has gone to the effort of making it for the viewer to peruse.
I politely, and with genuine interest, asked for the reasons for the work and was informed that he (the artist) was challenging the gender stereotypes of floral arrangement, that he was challenging my assumptions of both what art can be and what its materials can be. Oh, and that he had studied at Central Saint Martins. It was also a celebration of the ‘fugitive’ in art and that I would be able to purchase ‘documentary photographic editions’ of the show. Apparently Marcel Duchamp was ‘almost in the room’, I looked briefly about us but I was sure there was no-one there but me and the artist; perhaps Mr. Artist was mistaken and Mr. Duchamp had popped out for bite to eat.
There was one piece that invited me to investigate further. A single yellow rose, on its own dais, next to an up-turned empty jam jar. I politely started with “Is there any significance to the colour of the rose?”
His response was clearly as unprepared as my question was unexpected. “Not really, but yellow does have associations with cowardice doesn’t it… unlike the colour red…” He didn’t pursue the chase beyond that.
“So, is that why you removed all the thorns from the rose?” I replied, not really cottoning on the fact that my first question was a surprise to him.
“Oh! No! I didn’t do that – I didn’t notice that!” His measured bubble of cool had inadvertently popped and his expression briefly transformed from ‘artist/philosopher at work’ to eyebrow wiggling, excited teenager. He sharply expelled the chirpy child with the low-keyed and calm, vocally expressed thought that this was ‘well weird’ and he wondered how such a strange thing could have happened.
I suggested that if he was not responsible then perhaps the flowers were purchased from a supermarket as sometimes they remove rose thorns to avoid being sued for customer injuries. Unfortunately he didn’t know for sure, so I presume he didn’t source his own art materials; there followed an awkward silence that was big enough to park a small car in. Foolishly I tried to fill the waiting, vacant and accommodating space.
“Perhaps you could replace the removed thorns with sewing pins or needles.” I ventured, “it could be symbolic of a violent human intervention on a violent natural world. Two wrongs not making a right, the cowardice of violence etc. …”
He liked this idea so much that he suggested even Mr. Duchamp (and his love of the strategy of chess) would’ve liked it too. Certainly. He also announced loudly, and as if the gentleman was within earshot, that there was someone at Central Saint Martins who would’ve liked this idea too. Sadly, the reputation and clearly obvious identity, of this individual was lost on me. Perhaps they, like Mr. Duchamp, were observing us surreptitiously through a crack in the wall.
The young artist liked the thorn/pin idea so much that he thought he might use it in the future and he thanked me for it, waiting as if for me to be equally and vocally grateful for his potential future use of my idea. My carefully manoeuvred, small mental car took on a life of its own and transformed, Optimus Prime fashion, into a fully articulated juggernaut. I shrugged, smiled kindly and reverse-parked, perhaps a little unkindly “Do you not think the art object should come from the artist’s conception as the physical manifestation of that concept for public contemplation, rather than the art object being the engine that generates an alternative and perhaps incorrect conceptual connection within the audience?” Reverse…
He wasn’t sure, “Perhaps.” And, after a pause rammed-full with pursed-lipped thought, suggested that perhaps it was ‘fluid’ and ‘dependent on context’. Not being a spiteful or rude person I nodded slowly. Kerb avoided.
I continued. “So the installation is as important as the concept and one does not necessarily have more authority than the other?” Parked.
He wasn’t going to be taking that one quietly…
“No, the artist as primary mediator between the conceptual and material is most important.” I was also informed that ‘they’ had looked at this issue repeatedly and thoroughly at CENTRAL Saint Martins.
I was tempted to ask him if he was always certain that the objects he presented were an accurate and effective representation of his ideas behind them. I wondered if he ever had doubts about his work or even his role as artist or ‘primary mediator’, but my preference for a quiet life without invoking conflict where conflict is unnecessary prevailed, and I left the Q and A where it was. I suspect there was little room for self-doubt here, from this graduate of… Did I mention that he went to Central Saint Martins? I know that this fine institution was mentioned by him at least four times in my brief, accidental visit.
I thanked him for his time and effort to speak to me, I congratulated him on self-funding a show and I left the small shop. As I stepped out of the door and into the street I just caught sight of the back of a hatted figure entering a pub across the road and fancied that perhaps it may have been the mysterious Mr. Duchamp; he certainly was not in the exhibition venue.
“24 hours in the life of a madman 23” (2010)