Sunday, January 24, 2010

DIARY 121 - Cultural Exchanges

Last weekend on January 17th, was Jnanasalin & I's 5th Anniversary since we began our a relationship. We celebrated by going to London for the day. First, we went to shop. Once they opened that is, what's with London shops only opening from midday on Sunday? So we cruised the shop windows disconsolately for a while. In Carnaby Street, we bought each other shirts in a mod clothing shop called Lambretta, me tartan, he pale blue. Whilst in the Ben Sherman Sale, I saw a red & white striped shirt, that I fell in love with instantly. Oh, the delight of impulse purchasing, that we regret at leisure. Basically, I mustn't put on weight or it will quickly become an extremely nice, but unworn adornment. I also bought JS a black perspex 'moustache' ring he wanted (what's that? You may well ask. Its pictured on the top right ) from Tatty Divine. Once we located where it was on Monmouth St, how easy is it to miss a bright vicious pink shop front, eh! JS purchased the new CD from Vampire Weekend for me, which is a great addictive treat.

Second, the food of life -to eat muffins and drink coffee. It was also surprising, to us none metropolitans at least, how few restaurants/cafes were open in SoHo on Sunday. Eventually we found a small independently run Japanese noodle place called Taro, which was actually rather fine. It being one of the few places open, it quickly got full to bursting. There seems to be an outbreak of gimmicky takeaways, called things like:- Noodle Oodle, Siam I am, Wok in a Box or Ping Pong, whose tag line is 'little steamed parcels of deliciousness' though this could just as easily evoke associations with gay steam rooms, rather than Dim Sum.

Third, the cultural consumption - the Pop Life exhibition at Tate Modern, on its last day. It took some later Warhol's as its starting point for exploring the 'Pop' sensibility in Art since then. It took in on route, Tracy Emin, Damian Hurst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. The ephemeral nature of popular culture, and transitory celebrity were two strong recurring themes. Much of it seemed to rehash or put a different twist into Warhol's ideas, or merely provoking offense because that's what modern artists have to do. So some of it, by Jeff Koons and Cosi fan tutti, explored the porn and celebrity sensibilities simultaneously. Though neither was that enlightening about it. The most honest, and blatant, was a video by an artist who's name I forget, who arranged for a famous gallery owner to have sex with her, and covertly filmed them in action for over an hour! A difficult metaphor to watch, but the idea of it expertly presents success or celebrity as a type of prostitution.

Some of them, I'm thinking Murakami here, seem to revel in, and celebrate popular culture, highlighting the tackiness of its delights. This seemed a cleaner, more genuine approach, than that of ironic exploitation with all its attendant accusations of charlatanism. From a Buddhist perspective, the ephemeral in popular culture, driven by novelty, fad and fashion, is primarily about impermanence and craving for momentary pleasures. That our enthusiasms and interests come and go, so fleetingly, can, with awareness, be instructive.

What we give artistic value to is constructed around a whole nexus of personal and cultural value judgements. Art, whether High or Low, Elitist or Commercial, Non-utilitarian or utilitarian, is affected by these aesthetic assumptions. Both are prone to novelty, the shock or addiction of the new, the fleeting innovations of the present moment, the ideas of profit and progress. The Pepsi can is a product of the commercial imagination, using aesthetics to attract you to buy it,to consume then dispose of it. Once its drunk it has no further value, it becomes trash. Yet Art, is equally a product to be bought and sold, it has no intrinsic worth, until, that is, someone takes it off the wall and buys it. Once Charles Saatchi buys an artist's work, its automatically accredited some artistic value, and a market for their work emerges that wasn't there before. To buyers in the world Art Market, it can be as much, if not more, about a good investment, than simply appreciating an artists work. Art, and artistic value, creates an illusion of permanence. In the end all these distinctions can seem a chimera, bogus ideas, that we either buy into and propagate or not. Whether we purchase a painting or a can of Pepsi, we are endorsing the value it has been given, we are buying into a way of viewing it, and placing a value on it.

Murakami, by making miniature versions of Pepsi cans, packets of Doritos, or cupcakes in gold, and encrusting them with diamonds, is simultaneously highlighting what we readily overlook, the aesthetics of disposable products and all pervasive recognition of brands, whilst also undercutting the art cultural biases and personal prejudices that support them. Something traditionally with little or no artistic value, by being made out of valuable materials by 'an artist' suddenly gains financial worth. This creates confusion within our prejudicial perceptions. How should we now view this? This is fascinating territory to ponder on. Value and worth, artistic or otherwise, as a co-conditioned phenomena.

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