Monday, 12 December 2011


So the boat's being stripped back in readiness for winter.

Winter's a more subtle season on the coast. We lost our leaves about a month ago and the saltmarsh stays greenish brown the year round. It's just the increasing winds (although last May was ferocious) and shift in light that flags up the change. I don't know whether you can actually see further on a clear winter's day than in midsummer but it certainly seems that way. And while we lose daylight, the sun (even behind clouds), reveals a fantastic smelting of metals: platinum, silver, aluminium, pewter, all the cliches you can imagine hammer their way across the sea and sky at this time of year - even if it is blue enough, sun shining, the message never quite gets through to the water.

And of course winter is announced by migrating birds. Now is the time for huge flocks of geese to cut across the sky, the waders are loud and in party mood at twilight, curlews everywhere, and starlings schooling from early afternoon branch to branch.

And the same subtlety happens around the boat too. From the pontoon it almost looks ready to sail, to a passing glance, but look closer, and the sails are off, engine decommissioned, cushions out from below, all the charts and nav gear are tucked away from the cold and damp. It is stripped back from all our comforts to its essence of hull: fibre glass and paint, and bare rigging. Bouyant but unsteerable. Cold and unappealing. It has become the sea it sits on. Maybe it always is, but in this sharp light its uncreaturely nature is more evident than when prancing through waves. A nautical hibernation. Not really a hibernation, not a sleep so much as a shhh

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Turner Prize, Art and Emotion

Tonight the Turner Prize is announced and in an uncharacteristic spirit of relevance, I'm bloggin about it. Well, not the prize, but the shortlist.

I went to see the four shortlisted works last month in Newcastle, more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. I wasn't expecting much. Which is always a good way to enter any gallery, or open any book...

First room: Martin Boyce: my hightlights were the strangely greasy-looking paper aeroplanes scattered on the floor and beautifully wrought air vents in the wall (reminiscent of Moroccan design). These and the other objects in the rooom were formed from the same structural form. Askewed repetition, endless geometry. Art for mathematicians?

Second room: Hilary Lloyd: video installations just don't hit my x-spot, but the room had a great view eastwards over the Tyne - a huge widescreen realtime player that drew most of the people who were int the room when I was, so turning us gallery visitors into Big Bro.

Third: Karla Black: Untamed plastics and paint. Multi-coloured sheets made for a kind of fly tape entrance. Another world. The hanging knotted plastic sheets, lightweight and glacial in colour was beautiful but also reminded me of a little girl who suffocated in the mounds of plastic waste in Darjeeling in India.

Fourth: George Shaw: Urban landscapes / wastelands painted in model paint which gave them a not quite real not quite surreal quality. I loved this not being able to put my finger on what wasn't 'true'. My favourite was the bent railings, as if someone had slipped through them, a very small someone or a very strong force...But there was nobody in the picture.

All these works have no evidence of people in them - I couldn't even really see people from the third floor window of the Baltic. How is the emotive content, I'm told is required in art (include poetry in this catagory), created, if there are no 'characters' to relate to?

How does the viewer (reader) connect? Where do we find the emotional resonance in a plastic bag? Or some bent railings? Or, more personally, in a boat, or the sea? Is there something visual art and poetry can offer that negates the need for protagnists? And if so, do we, the viewer/reader, always need to supplant our own into it? Are we so egocentric to always need recognisable life in art? Be that from our own back catalogue of experience if the artist has kept one (themselves) from it? And if there is no discernible emotive content what do we seek instead?

Addition: Stephen Burt answers many of these questions in this issue of PNReview