Last weekend saw individual artists, galleries and all manner of creative endeavours open their doors to the public. It was a weekend designed to encourage public participation and dialogue between the cities artists and galleries – a lot of fun to be a part of!
For me, it started with the Andy Holden Opening at Spike Island, a fascinating evening not just for the main exhibition, but because all the studio holders put on their own shows (pictures to follow soon!). It was a rare chance to get a glimpse of a massive array of artist’s working practices, providing a really fascinating evening.
But, as to the main exhibition. I was unsure at first – it seemed slightly unfinished, ungainly and in need of ‘thinking through.’ It reminded me of the sort of work my friends and I may have produced, back at Art College. This was, however, exactly the point. Holden, very self-consciously, had replicated his teenage exuberance for an an arts movement, started by him and his friends in 1999.
In the space of fifteen years though, how had things moved on?
Not a lot. As far as I could tell.
This too though, the ‘total’ nature, an almost cyclical self-referencing, fed into the structure of the exhibition – producing (overall) a well thought out and effecting show.
The central question asked: How can we reconcile Irony with Sincerity?
Is it possible to say anything with conviction and meaning in a culture dominated by Post-Modern Irony?
The whole exhibition is an attempt to marry these two concepts. Holden has re-created the conversations, locations and ideas from his past – the period when he was formulating MI!MS (Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity!), and loaded the exhibition with sentiment and effect; the passion, self-awareness and clichés of his teenage years. It’s a sort of ‘Art Theory Coming of Age.’
Two works in particular stood out for me:
1. Entelechy, or Bedford as the Garden of Eden.
This was a video showing audition tapes of Bedford teenagers (Holden’s home town), reading excerpts from the manifesto. In the previous Thursday’s walk-around of the exhibition, Holden told us that he loved the disjunction of their reading off autocues – making these complex theoretical statements, which they didn’t seem to fully understand. Young people trying desperately to be authentic, yet somehow failing.
But what intrigued me most about this was the title; ‘Bedford as the Garden of Eden.’ It was the first (and last) place of naïve hope. The phrase was actually inspired by a religious group ‘The Panacea Society’, based in the town – who maintained Bedford was the original garden of Eden (Don’t ask me why!?). More interestingly though, the prior word, ‘Entelechy’ is a term taken from Aristotle’s ‘De Anima’ (The Soul), and it means:
‘The condition of a thing where its essence is fully realised.’
This is Actuality, as opposed to Potentiality. So for instance, matter (wood), needs ‘essence’ to become ‘table’ – or more pertinently, an animal needs ‘rationality’ (our essence) to become a man. Entelechy, then, is a form of conclusion; we are starting this exhibition with its conclusion (again, linking back to the ethos of ‘totality’, the show as a cyclical, self-referencing, inseparable, whole).
2. Last Stop for the Good Old Times (After the Age of Innocence), 1999-2014. Collected and Found Paintings.
Moving on from the last piece, focused on the process of writing MI!MS, this artwork came out of the manifesto; a series of kitsch, stylised images, numbering just over 300, collected by Holden over a fourteen year period. Sentimental depictions of crying children, pets, bubbling streams and Victoriana are displayed across canvasses, plates and trinkets. It attempts to represent the manifesto; the reconciliation of Irony and Sincerity, because these images, now almost laughable to us – used to be carriers of emotion and meaning. But they no longer do, we are cynical and wary, as they’ve been taken up by big business and manufacturers, most famously in the case of one John Everett Millais painting, used for selling soap.
But, when looking at these now ironic, cynically viewed items of sentimentality, for Holden at least, he was emotional, at seeing these images on mass – at the very lack of emotion engendered. He was sincerely touched by the fact that the emotion wasn’t there.
These different ways of constructing emotions are what the show is all about – how we construct and organise our memories of the past. In his tour, Holden mentioned that the concept of ‘Collective Memory’ drove a lot of this exhibition. It is a personal representation of a group moment. He hoped he had managed to get across not just how he sees the world, but more of a synthesis (a totality again), of how we, more generally, process things.
(Here, in the impossible synthesis, I was reminded of Satre’s existentialism – reconciling the key concepts of ‘being’ and ‘nothingness’ or Hegel’s dialectical logic; pointing out the necessary contradictions contained in ideas, i.e the concept of ‘being’ will automatically contain ‘nothingness.’ These contradictions can (and should) be unified under a higher concept, i.e. ‘becoming’…)
But for Holden, it’s all about the collective – the social memories which shape our behaviour. As any collective memory theorist will tell you; it is individuals who remember, but groups who define what’s memorable. (Think of state celebrations, statues, parades and museums). And the artist is doing this too – with what he calls an ‘absurd over-investment in this early phase of his life’, he is archiving and structuring memory, transforming it into this self-conscious attempt to preserve the past; in a very communal way. (A synthesis of the Personal and the Universal, or a destruction of the memory, by the very act of its re-creation?) In the end, and after spending a lot of time in the gallery space, I found the exhibition a thoroughly effecting and enjoyable experience. Definitely one that needs a lot of thought!
I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this show, as I think it may divide opinion. What meanings did you take from it? Do you like it? What do you think of the ideas in this post?