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11 Aug


Some reflections on the mainstream versus the highbrow by David Foster Wallace, from his collection of non-fiction A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I always liked his factual writing and journalism much more than his fiction. Thanks for asking, happy to set the record straight. The eponymous essay is not related to the subject of this post, but it’s also worth reading because I think it’s one of the best and most incisive things ever written about the baffling, illogical, mindless conformity of package tourism. The supposedly fun thing is a holiday on a cruise ship, which makes him wretchedly, hilariously miserable and confused.

The original context of Wallace’s discussions were mainly related to film and television, but I think the quotes are applicable to any medium including contemporary visual art. That’s why they’re here. Duh.

“Art film is essentially ideological: it tries in various ways to “wake the audience up” or render us more “conscious.” (This kind of agenda can easily degenerate into pretentiousness and self-righteousness and condescending horsetwaddle, but the agenda itself is large-hearted and fine.) Commercial film doesn’t seem like it cares very much about an audience’s instruction or enlightenment. Commercial film’s goal is to “entertain,” which usually means enabling various fantasies that allow the moviegoer to pretend he’s somebody else and that life is somehow bigger and more coherent and more compelling and attractive and in general just more entertaining than a moviegoer’s life really is. You could say that a commercial movie doesn’t try to wake people up but rather to make their sleep so comfortable and their dreams so pleasant that they will fork over money to experience it—this seduction, a fantasy-for-money transaction, is a commercial movie’s basic point.”

(Discussing David Lynch specifically, and the period between The Elephant Man and the late nineties when his art– or at least arty– films experienced something like mainstream success. Except for Dune, which was a critical and commercial disaster.)

“Some of which [Lynch’s art photos] are creepy and moody and sexy and cool and some of which are just photos of spark plugs and dental equipment and seem kind of dumb… Watching Dune again on video you can see that some of its defects are clearly Lynch’s responsibility, e.g. casting the nerdy and potato-faced Kyle MacLachlan as an epic hero and the Police’s resoundingly unthespian Sting as a psycho villain, or— worse— trying to provide plot exposition by having characters’ thoughts audibilized (w/ that slight thinking-out-loud reverb) on the soundtrack while the camera zooms in on the character making a thinking-face… The overall result is a movie that’s funny while it’s trying to be deadly serious, which is as good a definition of a flop as there is… the movie looks gutted, unintentionally surreal.”

While also nailing the main problems with Dune, Wallace articulates here what I see as the problem that also afflicts a lot of contemporary art: it too is funny while it’s trying to be deadly serious. Hence, Artbollocks Theatre.

“TV is the epitome of Low Art in its desire to appeal to and enjoy the attention of unprecedented numbers of people. But it is not Low because it is vulgar or prurient or dumb. Television is often all these things, but this is a logical function of its need to attract and please Audience. And I’m not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests… the truth is that there’s some complex high-dose psychic transaction between TV and Audience whereby Audience gets trained to respond to and then like and then expect trite, hackneyed, numbing television shows, and to expect them to such an extent that when networks do occasionally abandon time-tested formulas Audience usually punishes them for it by not watching novel shows in sufficient numbers to let them get off the ground.”


14 Oct

CatSharkRoombaVia Le Guardian.

1) Marc Kirschner, founder and CEO, TenduTV/Cultureband
Plan ahead (more than you think): Where a lot of the arts organisations we work with are going wrong is that they don’t plan long-term enough. A lot will post a video related to an upcoming performance two weeks or less in advance, which is simply not enough time to generate interest in the video or to maximise the potential long-term benefits of that piece of content within YouTube’s algorithms.

Can everybody who does PR, marketing and audience development for galleries, public talks, readings, gigs, festivals and venues please pay very close attention to what Marc is saying here? It’s nice when your friends spontaneously call you or send you a message about doing something, having a coffee or a swift pint, just hanging out and catching up, or whatever. Shoestring, artist-run places can be somewhat forgiven for this one because they usually work bloody hard and don’t have full time staff or very much money. Major commercial or publicly funded spaces can’t be forgiven for it. A MAJOR ART GALLERY IS NOT MY FRIEND. I’m not at its beck and it doesn’t get to call me up when it’s in the mood or because it’s having a last minute flap that nobody seems to be interested. Maybe it’s because they never tell people anything or get their shit together until it’s too late. The first I know about an exhibition or event shouldn’t be two weeks (or worse, two days, and worse still two hours) before it’s happening. Two weeks, two days and/or two hours before is when I should be additionally getting a reminder. I don’t even know how many times I would happily have gone to things if I’d had more than twenty seconds notice. In many cases I would have bought a ticket, i.e. given them money, which is the whole point of your marketing job, Mr or Ms Marketing.

On the other hand, many galleries seem not to care if nobody sees the art. Indeed many of them seem more comfortable if nobody sees the art, so I don’t forsee many of them rushing to accommodate YouTube’s audience-maximising algorithms.

2) Simon Walker, chief strategy officer, Rightster
Influence: What we are seeing is the emergence of a new set of influencers…  it was only last month the rest of the industry noticed that sitting on the front row next to Anna Wintour was a bunch of YouTube kids who have suddenly got the same kind of editorial power as the editor of Vogue.

The question for the arts sector is: who are the new influencers?

My emphasis on the last sentence. This gentleman is from Rightster, beneficiaries of a £1.8 million Arts Council grant for a new arts video network. (Previously on Career Suicide…) The team working on that project seriously need to take Rightster’s own advice if they don’t want the ACE MCN to turn into another pointless money pit, or the art world equivalent of a shark cat riding a Roomba. The latter is a particularly big trap lying in wait, because most contemporary art that gets covered in the mainstream media already doesn’t have any more depth than a video of a shark cat riding a Roomba.

There definitely are new influencers in the visual arts, and they most certainly ain’t critical darlings like Ryan Gander, Ai Wei Wei, or Grayson Perry, critics from national newspapers or big art magazines, or dead horse floggers like Emin or Hirst, despite the fact that they and their ilk are still constantly pimping their dreary old work and flapping their dreary old mouths in the mainstream media. Mainly because the mainstream media and mainstream galleries are too fucking lazy to even follow an artist they don’t know on Twitter, let alone to go outside their own postcode and actively cultivate artists who are doing interesting, original stuff.

“Influencers” sounds too much like influenza (and comes from the same Latin root), by the way. Nobody wants that. It’s an autocorrect mistake in waiting: “Up to 100 million people died during the influencer outbreak.” These people are paid enough and they’re meant to be good with words; they should be able to come up with a better one.

PS: Talking of influenza, this blog has more readers per month than most of the printed art magazines in Britain. Just saying…


1 Oct



“This video work is an ontologically complex vehicle for the exploration of domestic space, oscillating between the predatory subtexts of the manufactured consumer sphere and its products, and an ironic postmodernist subversion of so-called “innocence” in nature.”

The Arts Council has just awarded a “seedcorn investment” £1.8 million grant to Rightster, the “global b2b video network for distribution, content-sourcing, audience engagement and monetisation”, via the National Lottery. That’s a large seed corn, approaching inexplicable James and the Giant Peach proportions. It’s in aid of a new YouTube-based multichannel network (MCN) for the arts. You never know, it may be brilliant. It may open up opportunities and wider audiences for lots of previously undersupported, excluded or underappreciated artists who deserve more recognition and reward. Stranger things have happened. Maybe they’ll genuinely bring in people other than the usual suspects and the same boring old brand name artists who really don’t need any more help. They need to do some proper research and outreach, look properly at what artists are really doing and really interested in right now instead of just going straight to the established galleries who don’t have a bloody clue about either of these things. They’re always 5-10 years behind the actual practice of most artists. Bypass institutional curators entirely, because they only know what and who they like, not what’s really happening at ground level. The AC’s previous effort, The Space, seems well-intentioned and appears to be doing something even though to me their website is such a usability horrorshow and so sparse in its content that I can’t tell what exactly they’re doing or what they’re hoping to achieve. I’m not even being sarcastic. Seriously, if anybody can explain it to me, feel free.

I really fear, though, that MCNACE* will simply favour an art world version of the lowest common denominator trash that racks up the views everywhere else on YouTube, facilitated by corporate interests like Rightster– unknown to most people, who still somehow manage to delude themselves that there’s any kind of indie, grassroots creativity or spontaneity to million hit+ channels. I’d love them to prove me wrong, but at the moment I really don’t see how it makes sense to tackle an inherently minority interest aesthetic realm like the arts with the same toolbox as uncomplicated, zero-subtext, zero-craft virals about people wearing GoPros as they leap off a cliff, or cats riding Roombas.

The biggest clue to the purpose and mentality behind these MCNs is in the very name: “channel”, like on your TV, programmed, commissioned, corralled and controlled in exactly the same way except that the investment in production and artists’ development is a fraction of what broadcasters have been accustomed to. It’s what they’ve been trying to do with varying degrees of failure since the internet became a genuinely mass medium. Does anybody remember “web portals”? And if so, do you know anyone who liked them? Start planning your new video art practice now, but only on subjects like kittens, pugs, various other pets in costumes or boxes or otherwise doing human-like stuff, screamingunhingedrunk commentaries while you play video games, what you bought when you went shopping, your dinner, reactions to or parodies of other YouTube videos, setting fire to things, cruel and psychopathic pranks, unfunny skits with you wearing a wig, drippy low-fi ukelele or piano covers of pop songs, etc.

Also, from the same link and presented in the same no biggie, FYI, just-thought-you-should-know spirit as the press release:

“Rightster applied for the MCN grant commission in May 2014. In July 2014 they bought Base79**, a company in which Arts Council Chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, had a shareholding (declared in the Arts Council’s register of interests in November 2013).  Rightster’s purchase of Base79 is a cash+shares transaction, the shares dependent on Base79’s future performance, so Sir Peter Bazalgette has a potential interest in Rightster. He has not been party to the decision to award the grant to Rightster.”

* Somebody from Rightster should contact me privately to discuss licensing this name for use on all the channel’s branding. <Tony Soprano voice> I’d like a taste of that £1.8 million, just like Baz… you know… POTENTIALLY.

** Base79 is an existing MCN, which seems fairly ghastly.


25 Sep

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See some of Artbollocks Theatre, series 2 at the Outcasting: Fourth Wall Festival of artists’ moving image work in Cardiff this October. Various dates from October 6th at Porter’s Bar Cinema, then at ATRiuM, University of South Wales from October 13th. Other screening programmes continue throughout the month at different venues, including Chapter. Launch on October 1st, 4-7pm. Even leaving myself aside (which is both hard to do and extremely foolish because I’m AMAZING) there are some great artists, commissions and films in this one. Anyone who doesn’t like it or doesn’t find it appealing is dead to me. YOU HEAR? Dead.

New art bollockers brought to justice soon in Artbollocks Theatre 3: Super Cop.

Also, bloody hell, how did it get to be October already?


28 Jun



A 26 minute barrage of bollocks, compiled from series two of Artbollocks Theatre with a new disturbing laugh track and inappropriate library music. I know, just what you always wanted. The writing of many artists, gallerists and curators is a tragedy, so I’m repeating it as comedy.

You can also check out my new Artbollocks Theatre channel on Vimeo. There’s now a facility there for you to leave me a small tip with PayPal or your magic pretend money kurejittokādo if you like Artbollocks Theatre WHICH I KNOW YOU DO BABY. It’s like Kickstarter, but I’ve already done it so that’s better, surely? You could even regard tipping as if you’re in the USA, and you have to leave a tip or your “ass” will be shot by the waitress and you will probably die. Or something like that.

I’ll leave it up to you, though. If you want to die, obviously it’s your decision.


“I could go on, but I’m probably boring you.”

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