“The name is like Mother Goose to a chemical librarian,
like George Washington, like Christopher Columbus.”
What’s in a Name? / Death of a Honey-Blonde
1956 / 1968
Marc Quinn, The Creation of History (2012)
On Thursday 4th August 2011 officers of the Metropolitan Police Service stopped a taxi on Ferry Lane in Tottenham Hale, London. Its occupant – Mark Duggan – was subsequently shot dead in uncertain circumstances.
This single incident gave rise to a spate of riots across England. The worst scenes took place in the capital. A defining image of that summer of violence is a photograph taken by the Turkish born photojournalist, Kerim Okten.
It shows a man in a grey tracksuit and trainers. The skin on his hands is covered by black gloves. His face is veiled by a mask such that only his eyes are visible: they gaze fixedly at the camera lens. Framing that stare are the orange flames and choking black smoke of a burning vehicle.
Various versions of this iconic scene are available online. They differ in all sorts of major and minor ways. Some depict the main protagonist in alternative poses; others show bystanders looking on at the searing shell of the car.
Text invariably accompanies the picture wherever it appears. A front page headline such as “The battle for London” turns this masked celebrity into a capital warrior. Replace that caption with something like “Yob rule” and our battle-scarred warrior becomes a mindless hoodlum. His slow, purposeful steps and cold stare do indeed make this lord of misrule appear above the law.
The rights to Okten’s image have now been acquired by the British artist Marc Quinn. He has used it as the inspiration for a variety of artworks including paintings, a sculpture and even a tapestry. The latter has been entitled The Creation of History (2012) and exists in an edition of five.
The title chose by Quinn reflects his belief that the 2011 riots constitute “a piece of contemporary history”. The artist is quick to add, however, that this history – like every past event – is “a complex story and raises as many questions as it [does] answers. Is this man a politically motivated rioter? A looter? What is in his pocket? And rucksack? More intriguingly, the mask he wears appears to be police-issue: could he even be a policeman?”(1)
The merest suggestion that our photogenic “yob” might in fact be a lawgiver rather than a lawbreaker disturbs this already troubling image, transforming it before our very eyes.
This is exacerbated further in Quinn’s tapestry transmutation. Metamorphosing the pixels of a digital photo into the knots of a woven image catapults this contemporary history back in time. Now our “yob” can stand alongside armour-suited warriors in a medieval pageant.
The rich heritage of Quinn’s The Creation of History makes it worthy to enter into the sacred realm of the museum. And what better institution than Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery? This establishment rose like a phoenix from the flames of a riot: on 10th October 1831 a group of rabble-rousers intent on creating a little history of their own torched the palatial home of the Duke of Newcastle in protest at his opposition to electoral reform.
For fifty years the burnt out shell of the building remained an admonitory reminder of this bad behaviour. Then, in the 1870s, it was converted into the first municipally funded museum outside of London.
This place of learning and leisure still stands. And it only exists thanks to the sort of scenes that were to take place 180 years later – not only in London but also Nottingham, where Canning Circus police station was firebombed by tracksuited warriors / yobs.
So, with this in mind, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for the curators at Nottingham Castle Museum to acquire one of the five editions of Marc Quinn’s The Creation of History? It could hang on the same walls that were once covered by tapestries – before “yob rule” led to them being unceremoniously ripped down and either burnt or “sold to bystanders at three shillings per yard.”(2)
(1) Cited in Gareth Harris, “London riots get tied up in knots”, The Art Newspaper, Iss. 243, 07/02/2013, accessed 08/02/2013 at http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/quinn-tapestry/28545.
(2) Harry Gill, A Short History of Nottingham Castle (1904), available at, http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/gill1904/reformbill.htm._
The sunset poem of the Reverend Eli Jenkins. (1)
In memory of Barbara Ann Burch.
“Remember her. She is forgetting.” (2)
(1) Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, London: Dent, 1995, pp. 57-58.
(2) Under Milk Wood, p. 52.
Yesterday afternoon was spent wandering aimlessly around Nottingham city centre. On the way to nowhere I stopped off at Nottingham Contemporary where two new exhibitions have just opened. Not really in the mood for art, I devoted most time to looking at all the tiny trinkets on sale in the shop. Trendy, totally superfluous treasures were mixed in with the art publications and designer tat.
Exiting briefly into the sunshine I promptly plunged into a very different world: that of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Hurrying past the serried ranks of empty retail units I descended into the bowels of the earth. Reaching the end of the escalator I glanced momentarily at the entrance to the so-called “City of Caves”. This place always makes me chuckle: I am supposed to have a professional interest in museums and heritage. Nevertheless, in the decade that I’ve spent living in Nottingham I have not once entered this tourist-attraction-that-time-forgot.
Moving on I glimpsed another sad sight: Gordon Scott. This shoe shop has been in the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre ever since the monstrous mall opened in the early 1970s. Now all that’s left are a few pairs of sale items and a couple of extraordinarily bored-looking staff waiting to be made properly redundant. Even more depressing is the disappearance of the mechanical monkey from the shop window. His loopy tricks on the horizontal bar were, for me, the centre’s absolute high point. He was the retail world equivalent of Wollaton Hall’s George the gorilla.
These textual “traffic signals” had a dual purpose.
Firstly, of course, they signified the Riddler. This is not the first time that this cartoon villain has featured in Newling’s art: a precedent was Between (Even the Riddler Makes Wishes), an installation from 1996 commissioned and hosted by Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema and Arts Centre.
Yesterday at the Broadmarsh Centre the Riddler’s question marks had an additional function. Passersby were stopped and asked to identify something that they valued. In return they were given a swatch of the same cloth used to make the Riddler’s jacket. They could then head off into the crowds with this pinned to their chests – generating riddles wherever they went.
My smart-arse answer to the question – what do you value? – was respect.
Because that’s the quality I appreciate most in people and groups: “the condition or state of being esteemed, honoured, or highly thought of.” If you think about it, the root cause of our society’s ills is the general lack of respect for politicians, big business, organisations and for so many individuals we come into contact with in our daily lives. And how many of us manage to get through life with their self-respect intact?
Newling intends to collate the “public values” gathered together at the Broadmarsh Centre and integrate them into a talk to be given as part of his “Ecologies of Value”, on show at Nottingham Contemporary until 7th April.
My advice would be to get there as soon as you can – and ideally before the whole of Nottingham city centre goes into liquidation and all that we value goes with it.
Screencap from Life in a Day
Over the weekend I spent more hours than is healthy at Birmingham Airport. The reason for my enforced stay was Britain’s inability to cope with a bit of ice and snow.
To pass the time I decided to overdose on coffee and, with too much caffeine in my bloodstream and a lack of real spice in my life, I reached for my Sony eReader. The story I chose to read seemed appropriate given my plight: The Machine Stopped by E.M. Forster (1879-1970).
Written in 1909 this novella is scarily prescient. It concerns an imaginary future in which the human race lives underground and eschews direct contact with the outside world. To achieve this it has constructed The Machine. This networked intelligence tends to the human race’s every need, be it physical, intellectual or spiritual. As a result, the thought of leaving the glorious isolation of one’s artificial cocoon is an anathema. Natural air, daylight, direct human contact – all are nauseating to people conditioned to living their lives sat on a chair, staring into a monitor and waiting for their virtual friends to message them with an original idea.
Don’t forget, all this was written over a century ago.
I am now back at home, safe and sound after my Birmingham exile. And what am I doing? Well, I’m sat in a chair, staring at a monitor, of course. Meanwhile life is probably still going on outside. One thing of which I am certain is that the world existed on Saturday 24 July 2010. I know this because I’ve just watched the film “Life in a Day”. It’s a 94 minute edited compilation of 80,000 YouTube clips all recorded on a single day in July a few years ago.
One of the best bits of the film is the sequence that features Angolan women chanting as they work. I am clearly not alone in this view. A YouTube user by the name of Pellentior has uploaded the music. While listening I scrolled down to the comments, where I found the following post by “cherryblossohm”:
When watching this scene it made me feel like I was doing it all wrong.
What exactly? Idk [I don’t know], life? Sitting here, on my ipad,
cell in one hand and tv on... when I’m up to date on stupid status updates
in actuality I’m missing out. I think I want to spend my time on this earth
in a different light. Light as in, the sun lol. Out and be humbled to
experience how others around the world enjoy living. Cuz I know I’m not.
In a single paragraph cherryblossohm has confirmed the sad truth of Forster’s prophetic tale.
I just hope for all our sakes that he got at least one thing wrong. After all, we will be in for one hell of a shock if the machine does ever stop working.
It is reported this morning that certain leading supermarkets in Britain and Ireland have been selling “beef burgers” that contain pork and horsemeat.(1) Indeed, almost a third of one product tested had more in common with the racehorse Frankel than it did Daisy the cow.
It’s as if I’ve woken to discover something I’ve long suspected: we are all in fact characters in Dylan Thomas’ magnificent Under Milk Wood.(2)
This “play for voices” recounts a day in the life of the residents of Llareggub on the Welsh coast.(3)
One of the most memorable personalities is the town’s butcher, Benjamin Beynon. In his first appearance he is dressed “in butcher’s bloodied apron” with “a finger, not his own, in his mouth.”
His poor wife’s sleep has been disturbed by a dream that Mr Beynon has been persecuted “for selling owl meat, dogs’ eyes, manchop.” Not surprisingly, breakfast in the Beynon household is no easy affair, especially when the butcher announces that the fried liver they are eating is “pusscat”:
Mr Beynon then proceeds to list the savoury delights enjoyed by the family that week: “Monday, otter. Tuesday, shrews...”
Lily Smalls, who is also tucking into the breakfast, tries to placate her distraught mother by dismissing Mr Beynon as “the biggest liar in town.” But Mrs Beynon is having none of it:
Don’t you dare say that about Mr Beynon.
Everybody knows it, mum.
Mr Beynon never tells a lie. Do you, Ben?
No, Bess. And now I am going out after the corgies, with my little cleaver.
Oh, Lily, Lily!
Perhaps it would be wise to keep this little scene in mind next time you’re out shopping for tasty morsels in one of those posh supermarkets that “never tells a lie”. Who knows? Perhaps it’s pusscat on the shelves?
(1) “‘Horsemeat beefburgers’ investigated in UK and Ireland”, BBC News, 16/01/2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21038521
(2) Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, London: Dent, 1995. The incident recounted above appears on pages 27-28.
(3) It is instructive to read the name of this fictional town backwards.
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.
key words: architecture | archive | art | commemoration | design | ethics | framing | freedom of speech | heritage | heroes and villains | history | illicit trade | landscape | media | memorial | memory | museum | music | nordic | nottingham trent university | para | parasite | politics | science fiction | statue | stuart burch | tourism | words |