Today’s Sunday Torygraph had an article entitled “Poetic alchemy that turns landscape into art” by Jeremy Noel-Tod. It referred to three Cornish poets one of whom was Bob Cobbing who “pursued an inversely verbal art. For Cobbing, the sound and shape of words were themselves a poetic subject. In his compositions, the human voice is heard on the cusp of meaning, the printed page seen as a solid image. Yet he, too, wrote a poem evoking Cornwall. Using a glossary of dialect terms associated with the sea, Cobbing arranged three-letter words in an expanding and contracting shape on the page: “pil pol / rep rip / run…………ruz”. As the reader follows the pattern of the poem, its swaying, tidal rhythm and sing-song pairing of syllables bring the alliterative lists of the dictionary to life.”
Why am I telling you this? Because a poem won the neo:artprize 2013. Sorry, Jason and Denis! I meant to say A Performance Piece (which happened to be someone standing at a mic reciting a poem while a record played strange noises) by Rosie Farrell won the neo:artprize.
Now don’t get me wrong! Poetry is definitely an art form. No doubt about that. And two years ago, the 11 Rooms show at the Manchester International Festival was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and it was all performance pieces. (If you click on the link, have a look at the Tate Shot.) But if 11 Rooms had been a competition and a painting had won, I’d have been complaining.
I may be in a minority of one, as I was when debating this with Jason, Denis and Jacqueline Wylie last Thursday at neo:gallery, but I feel that there needs to be something for someone to see/hear/experience when they come into the gallery. Yes, there was a performance last Saturday afternoon when the prize winners were announced, but the gallery is open four days a week and Joe Public will now see only a microphone on a stand and a record on a turntable. Joe will be puzzled to learn it was the winner of the main prize. Apart from rest periods for the performers, 11 Rooms was continuous.
I accept that there are different forms of art, but there are ‘horses for courses’. I wouldn’t expect one of the Grayson Perry’s tapestries currently on show at the RA to win the Man Booker Prize. (“The story it told was wonderful,” gushed one of the judges.) Nor would I expect Hilary Mantel to win the Stirling Prize (“Her books are like bricks,” said an architect.)
So if I wasn’t impressed by the main prize winner, what did I like? Well, I’ll probably need at least another post to discuss the many works on display so I’ll only mention two of my favourites for the moment. The first is a piece by Adrian Pritchard who I wrote about with his ‘performance piece’ at the last neo:artist exhibition. (After the performance, there was something people could see – a ‘finished’ work – even if the performance was the production of that work.)
Adrian’s current piece, like the one in Through, involved thick colour and gravity and was called, appropriately Gloop Tower One. The ‘gloop’ is in a slowly rotating tube over a net. It falls as strings which dry at different levels to form stalactites.
Even a Gallery Director has to get his hands dirty sometimes! It’s Jason’s job to refill the tower with gloop – which isn’t dirty actually.
I made the mistake of telling Denis that my favourite in the show was The Visit by Gina Brown as he had me trying to analyse why I liked it. I was tempted to fall back on the old Philistine maxim of ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.’ However, I was able to explain that even though, or even because, the faces lacked features you could still read a story into it. I thought it was a Victorian scene but later found out it was based on a 1907 photograph in the National Trust archive. Denis felt it was very reminiscent of Munch, and I would agree, but I also thought it had a Bacon flavour. (I’ve always want to be able to say that in a review!)
Gina says about her work “The dramatic contrast between the adults and the children is significant to this composition, making the children appear phantom and ethereal. It is immediately evocative of children’s roles within an aristocratic family unit during this period, made all the more poignant because they are devoid of facial detail, like faded photos and memories of time and place that no longer exist.”