Interesting photographic event recently, at Tate Modern.
There are a few different ways of considering this; one is that neither the Tate Modern nor indeed any major galleries have been well disposed towards photography. The National Gallery broke a little ground, and the Tate Modern has done some stuff before (eg showing Robert Frank), but on the whole my point is accurate, though not confined to Britain. I understand that France, notably, has a more favourable appreciation of both photography and film. That’s maybe understandable when we turn out Mike Leigh, they turn out Jean-Luc Goddard; the former is dreary and thematically boring while the latter, though I don’t even like Goddard especially, has a certain je ne s’ai quoi. It plays with the genre, does interesting and cool things, whereas all Leigh does is depict chavs who shout at each other where one scene in particular (I saw it recently), seems to me the inspiration for the comedic exchange on recent UK TV:
No you shut up!
No, YOU shut up!
Look, just shut up!!!
Etc etc, as chavs have a go at each other like England’s just lost to Germany and the dole cheque hasn’t yet arrived. But I digress…
Other than that, what strikes me about this exhibition is how it’s an exercise in curating. The Tate Modern are not photographers, not on the whole well disposed to its art (see above), and have basically made a selection of amateur images consistent with a curatorial idea they have, which they call How We Are. It seems that two curators Val Williams and Susan Bright took the lead, and this is where it gets interesting and complicated more like a novel interpreted in different ways than the suggested definitive title. Who can possibly say this is ‘how we are’, and on what is that based? In particular, which We are you referring to?
I don’t know for example, if Nicholas Serota is still the uber-Director of the Tate Modern – he used to be, and favoured stuff like the art of Brancusi – but if he is, then the images in this collection are not How Things Are for him. He goes home to wherever he lives which is undoubtedly supremely comfortable if not opulent. London, at that strata, becomes I think an exciting and great place to live. I’ve known a few people who showed this to me, how you can float around enjoying its vibrant cultural riches and cosmopolitan dynamism, not too bovvered by its accompanying expense and squalor. Nine o’clock at night after drinks with colleagues, you don’t descend into the horrors of the Tube but call a taxi and float across a £20 note and tell him to keep the change. Serota, and the same applies to anyone in a senior position at Tate Modern, only has a distant if not voyeuristic view of How We Are. Not that that’s necessarily a big criticism…I actually enjoy the selection they’ve made, and enjoy the fact that they got the images from ordinary folk at Flickr.
In fact I like that a lot. In fact it may even be the most important part to this, an exhibition that has bypassed all the wine-drinking grand-opening hello-darling bullshit which is the currency of the art-celebrity world of who you know, not what you do.
Sam Taylor-Wood, once asked for art career advice, said get an agent. Don’t make great stuff, don’t bother about your skills, just learn to sell it. And check this out…after cruising the internet for a little back-up, I find this:
The Young British Artists from an early stage were more socially than aesthetically connected. Sarah Lucas has had relationships with, in turn, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume and Angus Fairhurst. Gillian Wearing had relationships with Mark Wallinger and Michael Landy. Tracey Emin had a relationship with Carl Freedman and then Mat Collishaw. Fiona Rae dated Stephen Park for several years, and then Richard Patterson for a similar duration. Sam Taylor-Wood has dated to Gary Hume, Jake Chapman and is currently linked to Jay Jopling. Places where it would be possible to spot YBAs included the Groucho Club, St. John (a restaurant specialising in offal) and (in the early years) pubs around Hoxton, such as the Bricklayer’s Arms. Hoxton is known as the heartland of conceptual art (i.e.Britart).
So its not even who you know, it’s who you shag. And Charles Saatchi, though more an investor than a shagger as far as I know, engineered all that nonsense with his financial support. It even had an advertising guru catchy brand-name, which was YBA.
There’s nothing to genuflect to about contemporary Art, nor the Tate Modern, nor the fact that they’ve run this (cheap) exhibition.
Having said all that, though it may appear as surprisingly contrary to it, I really like the idea of ‘How We Are’ as a photographic exhibition, and sourcing its images from the ocean of Flickr. Congratulations to the photographers for being recognised for interesting work, and for the fact that they did it as unknown amateurs.
We see a dog, pretty young people, sweet elderly folk you want to make tea for, quirky rural imagery, suburbia, squalor, random domestica, chavs, caravans, and…you get the idea. How We Are.
I maintain that this not how Serota Is, or the curators and the Tate Modern senior staff Are…but you can see their point, and enjoy it. Actually we’re not all binge drinking chavs so that selected image misrepresents me and plenty of others, raising the question about where one is supposed to find oneself represented in that photographic collection. But, you can see their point. This is narrative-making photography, where its success corresponds to what we recognise from experience, ie ‘narratives’ or themes we are familiar with. We know for example binge drinking is a UK problem, so one of the images is a vomitting chav. The exhibition is an exercise in cultural, narrative self recognition about society as a whole. I quite like that, but think it’s useful to deconstruct what’s being constructed here.