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It can't be art because it's too much fun

Eno and Anderson on the roofImage 1
Context
Self Storage.
Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson and the Acorn Research Cell

Image 1:
Pangloss
Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno
1995

The media have been invited to follow Art Angel's Michael Morris (the producer of Self Storage) down what seems to be an endless series of corridors. What is behind the majority of the red doors remains a mystery.

Somewhere along the line London got filled up with too many things and these things got pushed to the edges of the city to be stored in a series of units within a series of labyrinthine buildings.

A succession of these units are now shown to reveal the work of Eno and the members of the Royal College's Acorn Research Cell. The whole is threaded together by the bell-cool voice of Laurie Anderson.

There is a moment during the procession when I feel like a member of a lacklustre team in an episode of the Crystal Maze: "You are now entering Art world." Sniff this door. Put your head between these pipes. Look through this hole. Listen.

I have a feeling that we are part of the theme park/games industry and this is the perennial criticism of any art that comes with a plug attached. If it moves, if it flashes, if it makes a noise, if it incorporates any degree of technological hardware. If it is "interactive": SHOOT.

But the idea that this sort of thing is nothing more than a fine art fairground carries with it a number of unspoken prejudices which can be summed up with the most damning of criticisms: "It can't be art because it's too much fun". Secondly, work of this nature requires collaboration on a technical level which rubs against the comfortable, humanist notion that some great truth is being articulated solely through the hand and brain of one individual. If we all muck in together it spoils it for Johnny Solo.

"I think one of the problems with the 80's -"Eno told everything" - was that people were encouraged not to collaborate. It was so important for artists to individually distinguish themselves and establish their trademark that the spirit of collaboration - which was very prevalent in the sixties and seventies - evaporated. It evaporated too at the Royal College which was throughout that time very market driven. I very much hope that the collaborative spirit is returning."

"In New York [collaboration] happens a lot more than here in London. New York quite a small town by comparison because everybody who is likely to be working on something lives within a few blocks of each other (or that's what it feels like when you go there). It's much more difficult to arrange something in London. You have to contrive meetings with people - you're not as likely to bump into someone. One of my highest hopes is that the art colleges can once again become places where people bump into each other and a new culture is formed."

Acorn Research Cell member Hanna Redler worked with Natasha Michaels on the piece called "Fossils". Hanna's speciality is Museum Curatorship and Natasha's is Fine Art. Hanna says: "For a multi-media work to be really exciting you need people who are specialists - and one of the most interesting things about this project is that we came into contact with other specialists throughout the college who wouldn't other wise have any connection with each other."

Art colleges therefore seem to be the natural environment for collaborative work - they have the resources and the connections. But the culture of artistic practice as a whole and the legendary interdepartmental feuds between staff within many art colleges might mitigate against people working together, despite the will to do so. In the end however it might be the technical requirements of multi-media art that ring the changes.

Seeing contemporary art in London sometimes seems to be all about getting on a train and shlapping your wretched carcass through some post industrial hell-hole to see work in an echoing warehouse. Work which has forlorn aspirations toward the white walled space. There is always the hope that if it looks good in a warehouse it'll look just great in the Saatchi Collection.

In one sense Self Storage is the same. The place has vacant spaces made available by the recession and the context of the work is all important to how we see it. In another sense however it is very different. The maze-like building requires that you are escorted (you might step over the skeletons of people foolhardy enough to enter without a guide) and by virtue of that fact your appreciation of these self contained pockets of artistic activity becomes something to do with other people. Your appreciation of the work becomes collaborative because you have to take it in turns to sniff the door or to put your head between the pipes. You discuss together whether it would be appropriate to sit in the chair in the room entitled "Torture Chamber". You become aware of the unspoken etiquette which every informal group develops: Tall people at the back - shorties at the front - don't push - take it in turns - come along - don't dawdle. And of course this fussiness is all part of the fun. Along with the artefacts and relics comes another import from the museum - the museum guide. How's that for re-contexturalisation ?

© Pangloss 1995elogo

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