Monday, January 23, 2006

;">"I'm allowed a Disney Princess card, as I'm a Princess"

"I'm allowed a Disney Princess card, as I'm a Princess"

If I've never been able to muster excitement at the fact that I share a birthday with a former Spice Girl*, then I do rather like the fact that I'm cosmically connected to Louis XVI, Lenin and George Orwell. It should probably be noted that the cosmic connection in relation to the latter three are not so much in their days of birth as in their days of death (c'mon the middle of winter is bound to yeild that) but I celebrate it nonetheless. Such is life when you're a first-day Aquarian, 21st of January bunny.

After initially intending that I'd have a fairly quiet birthday (there's a very expensive March in prospect, what with my intensions to stalk Jason Donovan and Fox), I ended up - once again - in Val's tank (Take That playing in my honour, even if my increase in age meant I temporarily lot the ability to co-ordinate the dance moves to 'Never Forget') on the way up to Newcastle to see Spencer Tunick's exhibition at the Baltic [Tunnick in a tabloid worthy sentence - he's the guy who takes the pictures of the groups of naked people]. And equally excitingly on the way to what Cat had assured me was a rather fabulous giftshop. And if the experience at Newstead hasn't taught you anything - there are few things I love more than a good giftshop.

Shona having joined us in the coffee shop it was time to head upstairs, not to the exhibition itself but to hear Spencer Tunick in conversation. And if there's anything that could surpass a giftshop in my affections it's hearing anyone of an even vaguely creative bent talk about their work. I love to hear what makes people tick, what lies behind their urge to create. Which in the harsh light of blogging sounds poncey, and artsy, and something that one of the more over-wrought characters in SSoB might say. But it's something I enjoy unashamedly. Before I get on to the talk itself, which was wonderfully intimate and only slightly disturbed by the man behind me taking pictures of Tunick at every opportunity, I should probably say I had very few thoughts on Tunick's work to start with. Other than that I didn't quite understand it as art. Not in the way I understand Monet, Da Vinci or even Andy Warhol as art. And I didn't know much about it other than what has appeared in the rather 'oh look at all these naked people' manner that it's been treated with in the papers. So I was willing Tunick to make me understand, if not everything then at least a little bit.

Tunick came into the lecture room with a black baseball cap pulled low down over his eyes. He didn't look like an artist, rather like a slightly bewildered American tourist. And from the moment that he started to speak he didn't speak like an artist. And when I say artist I mean artist in the stereotypical modern-art-concept-laiden speak that almost seems to come with the territory. He referenced a couple of photographers I hadn't heard of, but he never left the plain of my understanding as I thought that he might. And as he talked about the experience - complete with its financial limitations - I began to see more than I'd expected. Video footage of Tunnick being arrested, of the brilliant reaction of guests at the opening of Saatchi Collection to Tunick's installation and Tunnick's rather obvious dissapointment that his work is limited in his home city. His views that his 'art' is the finished photo, not the installation itself, his desire to do this in some shape or form for the rest of his life led to a realisation. Unexpectedly it wasn't about Tunick's art but it was about the events themselves. That somehow Tunick's idea had increased beyond what he could ever have expected. That is was about something beyond him, something beyond the individual. Watching footage of the participants wandering through Newcastle I was awestruck with the power which radiated from the group. It was liberating, heart swelling stuff. And if Tunick thinks that there is no longer something overtly political about his work, then I think there is something inherently political about the sea of humanity in his videos. This shared group, which is not noticeable for its nudity or some fleeting moment of titilation, seems to be capable of almost anything. It is at once humans at their most vulnerable and their most incredible. And, if only for that moment, I understood.

Afterwards we went to look at the exhibit itself. The pictures themselves were often striking, but there was nothing that hit my stomach as the video footage did. Indeed it struck me that, as so often, the split served to demonstrate the difference between something being pretty and something being beautiful. The idea, the people who took part, the results of the gathering were oddly, strangely, unexpectedly, beautiful something which the photos didn't quite capture. And I remain unconvinced as Tunnick as an artist, but as a facillitator of the event, I hold him up.

Then it was up to the viewing deck, where there was the hold-your-breath beauty of Newcastle's Quayside at night, before it was on to the giftshop where I managed to sidestep the urge to gain my second Ginny Woolf mug of the day. A walk over the Millenium Bridge later [much nicer in my opinion than the one in London] we rolled up to the Pitcher and Piano, where we had food, white wine, red wine and, in my case, a woo woo:

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If you're wondering, that's my homage to Edie Sedgwick. I also managed - for the second Saturday in a row - to consume a ridiculous amount of chocolate in the shape of a chocolate brownie. When we walked back to the tank, after hours of easy conversation, I could have quite happily have set up shop in Newcastle without the blink of an eye. But that could have been the woo woo talking.

NB: For anyone who is wondering, I have written an IOU to the Parliament Street Fountain, which I intend to fulfil when our membership to the Vudu Lounge comes through.

NB 2: A big thank you to everyone for their birthday messages - in all mediums. I was genuinely touched.

*Baby Spice if you're wondering.


Roger Coss said...

Rather interesting to hear a non-participants ideas on Spencer, his works, and the videos. I was unable to be in Newcastle but took part in 3 here in the USA and the one in Lyon, France in September. I think you capture in a small way how some of us feel. After Cleveland(2,700+) people we joked we could have stormed on into the city, as who could have stopped us. See my website and/or the MSN Group site
to read more about how we feel about being there.

Jen said...

You certainly get around. It sounds like a wonderfully special day. Glad you all had a good time.
Baby Spice hey!

Corinne said...

Thanks for popping in, Roger. Very interesting to hear what you have to say...I am officially intrigued about the whole experience.

CreditDoc said...

I agree with Roger. Very interesting experience, Cornie.