Tuesday 7 April 2015

[accelerate] art as game as machine at NAC

Since reviewing Alice in Plunderland, the question of Alice as she relates to contemporary life has been very much on my mind.  I do not think anything drastic has been done to put her forward as a role model where current attitudes are concerned.  To demonstrate this, I would like to take her on a tour of this show at NAC and listen to her comments.

On the wall to the right of the entrance to the back room, you see a series of probing, invasive questions devised by Brian Kent Gotro.  Steve, who was showing me round this exhibit, said they were intended to mirror the way we are constantly invited to give information about ourselves in all kinds of mundane circumstances.  I asked Alice for her comment.  She said that they called to mind several passages in the “Alice” books, starting with the one where the caterpillar smoking a hookah asks her “Who are you?” in a very contemptuous way and is not impressed by her reply.  Other similar passages are the ones where Tweedledum and Tweedledee refuse to believe that she has proved her reality and the Unicorn calls her a fabulous monster.  Already way back then we were being asked to prove ourselves.

The next item we come to is a table made ready for a game at Happiness High, devised by William Robinson, where you are dealing with people with various perceived handicaps, such as being poor, ugly, gay or stupid, and you have to relate to these people in one of three ways.  You can make a friend, bully them or kill yourself.  Alice would have no difficulty with this game.  After her initial faux pas with the Mouse on first entering Wonderland, she makes a real effort to be considerate and polite, and she is even capable of making a friend out of the disconcerting Cheshire Cat.  Other people set out to bully her a lot of the time but she refuses to give in.  It looked as if she was risking killing herself at the beginning by falling down a rabbit hole, but Steve told me it is possible to kill yourself and still win the game.

Next, on two opposite walls are feminist messages from Hannah Epstein, who is interested in showing how women who stand up for themselves get attacked by men in power, condemned as evil and immoral, and put in jail where they are systematically ill treated.  Again that is not all that far from Alice, who is constantly ordered about and insulted, this it quite possible that she might go to prison if her punishments were saved up for long enough, and is threatened with having her head cut off.  Even when she achieves her goal of becoming a Queen, the barrage of bullying and insults reaches a peak where she is forced into an act of violence to defend herself.

Finally on the far wall there is an installation by Andrew Roth that appears to be a campsite lit by artificial moonlight.   After studying Andrew Roth’s statement I think I can understand him too in terms of Alice. What springs to mind is the claim by the Gryphon and Mock Turtle to have learned “the different branches of Arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” These quite untruthful distortions of the actual branches of Arithmetic, coupled with the fact that if they went to an English public school these reprehensible activities probably were what they were studying, seems to fit in with what Andrew Roth shows about a mixture of truth and lies in current language. Or one might refer to Humpty Dumpty’s statement “Impenetrability, that’s what I say!”, meaning “there’s a knockdown argument.” I would almost suspect Lewis Carroll of being able to predict the approach of the French Postmodern philosophers when he comes up with this example.

The French (the ordinary French) say that the more things change the more they stay the same, and these four artists are using the most subversive, innovative methods to uphold certain traditional values: self respect, respect for others and respect for the truth.  Right on!

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