5 Oct

Firstsite, Colchester, 8th September-25th November 2012

How the hell does somebody who makes such dim, shallow, repetitive and pointless work get such a big show? Oh… she’s been in Frieze. Mystery solved. Frieze seems to be all Firstsite cares about, because they appear not to care that there’s usually a ratio of about 10 staff to every visitor. There was exactly one other visitor when I was there at lunchtime, a period when a large public gallery should by rights be full of people even if they’re just passing, curious, getting out of the rain or killing time. This other visitor looked like a professional on her lunch break, but she was obviously bewildered and left quickly. Every alienating, vapid exhibition like this escalates the already sky-high resentment, disconnection and mistrust that still constantly swirl around Firstsite’s arrival in the town and in the east of England at large, whose flagship gallery it’s meant to be. I only sat on a bench outside for five minutes and I heard three passing pedestrians opine about how much they hated it.

The artist herself is present as an endless loop of babbling, random, artspeak Tourette’s syndrome on a wall monitor, with– yes– her Frieze cuttings in a file below. It seems the curator had a bit of a wobble and realised that the exhibition was all over the place and mostly incomprehensible.  Nice try, everybody, but this video isn’t helping. I actually found it highly entertaining and engaging for entirely the wrong reasons and I had a really good laugh at it (or rather, at her). I have to thank Hamilton for that, at least. And to be fair, she seems to be the first artist to find some viable way to actually show art on Firstsite’s intensely stupid and art-hostile sloping walls, even though it’s just giant wallpaper decals of John Travolta’s head. I don’t know what John Travolta has to do with anything, but he reappears as a screensaver in the foyer as well. Again, credit to Hamilton for calling a screensaver a screensaver instead of doing a Tacita Dean and claiming it as art.

There’s some legs made out of perspex and wood (or similar), some dummies dressed as chefs, some kimonos. Who knows why. They reminded me a bit of those concessions at train stations and airports where they sell socks and tights, except that the work experience girl has totally fucked up the window displays while her boss was on a break. There’s an ineptly made video that sort of vaguely alludes to disco in some muddled and pointless way, with You Should Be Dancing playing at the wrong speed. It’s not faux-inept or deliberately naive, just badly made. Playing the Bee Gees at the wrong speed actually just makes it more obvious that it’s a blatant rip/copyright violation. I’m 100% behind creative appropriation, satire, fair use,  comment, sampling, recuperating  or subverting mainstream media products, criticism and transformation. But getting yourself paid and on the cover of Frieze by just ripping off other people’s work or intellectual property wholesale, (presumably) without paying for it or even providing proper attribution and credit– even, I would go so far as to say, ripping off Travolta’s or the Gibb Brothers’ work and IP– is wrong, it’s lazy, it’s plagiarism and above all it’s not art.

Things I experienced at Firstsite that were far more memorable than Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition:

  • As mentioned previously, the artist herself on the screen, talking sheer poppycock about being confused by blue paint etc. Seeing her try to think was adorable. If it wasn’t for this I would have felt really cheated of the time I wasted looking at her work. I might go back and film her talking this drivel, then use it in an artwork without her permission. I could play it back too slowly. That would make it art, right?


    This stuff blows Anthea’s mind, apparently.

  • The staff who were standing around bitching loudly about the horrible attitude and demanding ways of somebody they work for or with at the gallery, not once but twice, in two different locations and in two different groupings. If I was one of their work colleagues I think I’d tell everybody to cool it with this kind of talk in the workplace itself. Even if the grievances are valid, you probably shouldn’t air them in front of your customers, clients, visitors, or whatever. But on the other hand, when employees stand around in public areas in a state of fairly open mutiny, someone obviously needs to adjust their attitude and it usually isn’t the subordinates. (Update, late 2013/early 2014: certain staff members at Firstsite are, ahem, no longer working for the gallery. Although one of the least liked and most culpable definitely still is.)
  • The boys in black T-shirts sitting in the rain shadow of Firstsite’s looming glass entrance, playing Magic: The Gathering together, cards laid out on the pavement, teasing each other and shooting the shit like old Cantonese men in a Hong Kong alleyway.




    […] and full of character. The immediate unflattering comparison I’d make is to the dysfunctional Firstsite in Colchester, with its meagre selection of badly planned, sterile, poky spaces that in fact seem […]

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