London has a gigantic pair of buttocks. Can any other city make this claim? I think not. My work here is done.
Oh, but I love all you dear readers so much, and I know you must have many questions….like, what has our London Passion done to deserve to be standing with giant buttocks? Can I stand next to giant buttocks? Who gets the credit for these giant buttocks? How many times is she going to type the word “buttocks,” (as many as I can.) And I will now try to answer….this sculpture, by Anthea Hamilton, is one of the four finalists for the Turner Prize 2016, on display at the Tate Britain. The Turner Prize, first awarded in 1984, is to an artist under 50, born, living or working in Britain. It is a way to engage the public with contemporary art. The official line is to “widen interest in contemporary art in Britain,” but what it mostly does is enrage certain members of the public and get everyone talking. This was the platform that gave us Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which, as you all know, I love. But not everyone does. A few years ago, Martin Creed’s piece, Work No. 227, was an empty room where the lights flicked on and off. Satisfying our inner toddler or most annoying thing ever….art is always in the eye of the beholder. And the Turner Prize wants many eyes to behold and react. The more people are engaged with contemporary art, the more relevant it becomes. Or so we hope. If nothing else, it is a great excuse to take the kids out and have a collective chuckle. We might even learn something, about the world. Or ourselves.
Anthea Hamilton’s piece, Project for a Door, after Gaetano Pesce, was originally a design for a front door, made by a New York based architect, Gaetano Pesce, in the 1970s. How outrageous and incredible would that have been! The catalogue text accompanying this piece, however, is some proper art world yap. Phrases like “obscure culture precedence” and “statement of conceptual intent” are used. I don’t think anyone looks at this big ass and thinks “yes, it is the collapse of high/low hierarchies.” Instead, given the headline news over the last many months, a huge arse could easily be seen as a statement on the state of the world: Brexit, austerity, terrorism, insane people running for office, GBBO moving to Channel 4. But it isn’t. Not at all. Firstly, it is very, very nice bum. Beautifully cupped in large manicured hands. There is nothing sad or miserable or frightening about this behind. Instead it says “Look at me, I am gorgeous.” We need gorgeous. Lots of gorgeous. And fabulous photo ops. Two young men in the room with us were very very excited by it all, or one was. He was performing various scenarios, some extremely naughty, in and around the sculpture while the other, somewhat mortified, took pictures. My daughter and I enjoyed the free show. They enjoyed us enjoying their free show. Smiles and laughter all round.
Hamilton’s second room was filled with chastity belts. I have longed to write about chastity belts for ages. Because I know something about them most people don’t know, thanks to the hours I spent, several years ago, in the thorough and exquisitely detailed Museum of Torture, in a small town in Italy. Chastity belts are NOT instruments of oppression and torture and gruesome male dominance. Quite the opposite actually. As a medieval man, you would never have clapped your woman into a metal cage before riding off into battle. You would have hoped to have just impregnated her and to ultimately return, triumphant, to a healthy, male heir. Encasing potential mother and (boy) child would have been dangerous and counterproductive to this progenitive goal. Rather, chastity belts were something women put on themselves. When invaders arrived. Certainly more effective than a can of mace. And Hamilton’s belts are not menacing. Hanging like tiny child swings, decorated, some with flowers, they are pretty and playful and prohibitive. Not upsetting. Liberating. “My body, my choice,” in iron and leather and steel, with some lovely laser cut designs.
In total, 4 artists were on show. Michael Dean’s work included a large pool of 1 pence coins, UK poverty line of twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds…, the amount being exactly 1p less than a family of four needs annually to stay above the poverty line in the UK. Suddenly the coins look very few indeed. The adorable little boy next to me shouted out” Mummy, can I have some money,” as he reached a chubby little hand out. “No, darling,” his mother answered. “No,” we all answered, in our heads, because there is already too little.
Josephine Pryde included a fantastic smallish train in her room, covered in graffiti from cities through which it has already travelled. Too bad we couldn’t actually hop on board. Helen Maarten takes objects from everyday life and re-assembles and displays them in new and unusual ways. I spend my days moving and re-assembling everyday objects. So I should have loved this work. But I seek art to escape.
And that brings me back to the big butt. At the end of the exhibit, people are invited to write their thoughts on a card and pin it to the wall. My daughter and I loved reading them. Lots of complaints. “What is the bloody point,” and “I think this is terrible, or a joke!” being some of the more articulate responses. And then there was this one, from a woman (judging by the handwriting), struggling with depression. “I have been feeling very sad. But Anthea Hamilton’s Project for a Door made me smile, then laugh & laugh. It’s the lightest I have felt in ages.” Wow! The same little boy I mentioned before took one look at the giant buttocks and shouted, with pure glee in his voice “LOOK, it’s a big bottom!!!!!” Given the state of the current world, those reactions are gigantic ticks in the plus column. Gigantic and needed and appreciated. Thank you Turner Prize.
The finalists will be on show at the Tate Britain until 2 January, 2017. The winner will be announced in 5 December, 2016.