C O L U M N   2:
i dunno really, i'm no good with words

Hi there Art Baby Art visitors! This is a sample of a monthly column I write for a free online satire magazine called Idlefish. The magazine thinks I'm joking, but if you're a practitioner or a student like myself, then you'll know all this is for real...

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Half-measure - Jurgen Amstrad, 2001"Wow, just look at that!" That's what someone said, don't know who, as we all sat around the studio space. We looked at it for ages. No-one said anything. A few of us squinted or nodded. Those at the back weaved their heads around to get a peep through the circle. Someone who couldn't see properly whispered "What is it, can you make it out?" Jake went to say something, but the thought escaped him as quickly as it arrived. Which is what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is that none of us art students know billy-oh about talking about what we're doing. It's a scandal! Everyone thinks art is all talk and no art. If only you were here. Which you're not. Then again, you are, 'cause you're with me, aren't you? Which is where? Oh yeah, Juergen's piece.

Part of introducing ourselves to each other has been through showing our work. Nightmare City. On wheels. No-one but no-one wanted to go next. I've survived (see last column) so I should be able to sit back and enjoy. But instead you squirm with everyone as they begin just as you did when you began yourself. Except Juergen. He just strolled right on in and got on with it. Those of us with the benefit of being down the pub the night before cackled at everyone's reaction to what he brought in. If you know about the previous night it makes more sense.

He leaned over his beer and told us: "Where I come from is difficult to have a voice. You are too much just a part of society. Not only this but we have strict licensing laws and drink is expensive so it's like you're not allowed to relax. So sometimes I'm feeling censored and this makes me feel doubled-up and sick. I find this hard to get this across so I think it is good if I can find some measure so people can relate to my sickness. Then it occurs that I need to, literally, you know, measure my sickness."

Half-measure (detail) - Jurgen Amstrad, 2001"So one evening I get so drunk that I suddenly feel bad, quickly snatch an empty glass, and then, you know, ..." and at this he slunk his tongue out while making a sound like slowly saying 'earth'. Apparently his drinking pal, name of Pål by coincidence (how we laughed - it seemed funny after a few pints), was apparently very civil about this and helped Juergen down to the toilets so he could sort himself out. When they got down there, Juergen was splashing his face and wiping it on his sleeve when he got beguiled by the endless reflections of the glass of sick. It was a sublime moment, he said, "of reflection, literally."

He tried to discuss this feeling with Pål, to marshall his thoughts around the subject, to find the words that fitted the moment. It was then that a local walked in. What he saw as he took his pee was Juergen on the floor looking like a drunken wretch talking up to Pål about how hard he found it to put in words his feelings about this moment while gesturing with a glass of puke. Juergen didn't say what happened next. He looked glumly into his glass. He mumbled something about Neanderthals having no critical tools. We figured something bad had happened. We didn't ask.

But we didn't believe him anyway. If this sort of thing happened in pubs then why hadn't we seen it before? "The glass was warm to carry" he said, as if this was the irrefutable evidence we were looking for. We looked incredulous. "I just carried it home under my trenchcoat." Too simple. We doubted and continued our individual conversations for that last hour. Ignore him, he's bullshitting, I think we thought. So as the landlord rang the bell and some of us caught a glimpse of him cradling his glass while wobbling off to the toilets we knew our doubts were in themselves doubtful. Those of us who saw at first hand bear witness to this repeat performance.

Half-measure (detail) - Jurgen Amstrad, 2001Ah, but, remember, he showed it the next day to all. So how he got it home and, as Shakespeare might say, thence, to our merry little gathering and discursive, is, as Wet Wet Wet might say, a sweet little mystery. I've thought long and hard about how it could be done and have to say: don't go there. Suffice to say that artists are skilled where necessity is your invention's mum. We might not necessarily be able to paint, but what use is that in circumstances like these? Getting a glass of sick to home and then to college is a truly unique skill.

What we do know though, is that work on one of these sick pieces got Juergen evicted from his last bedsit. Apparently, another tenant, out of curiosity, opened one of Juergen's tupperware containers in the fridge. I mean, really. Too many people over-react when they confront art. They should realise how good art questions your values. What right did he have to look into someone else's property for instance? And if you want to know the unknown, what else can you expect but the unexpected? There was a lesson in that tupperware. But only for minds open to receiving it. And with eyes with which to see it.

And Half-measure really has lessons in full measure. Like how it takes drinking much more than just a half-measure, an excess if you will, to get into a state where you puke. Also, I suppose it says stuff like how we put stuff into us that's supposed to be good but turns out bad and makes us sick. And maybe it's a bit like how we're all sick inside, you know, deep down, and it takes something, I dunno, a catalyst or whatever, like alcohol, to get all that sickness and badness out so that everyone can look it straight in the eye and say "It's cool, we're not afraid anymore, 'cause we can see we can get it out of our system." And maybe underneath all this need for excess is a kind of malaise. It's like being choked up with your stomach in knots, not knowing what to say, but knowing something's wrong, so the only way to express it is to puke.

And everyone knows art is a way to get something out of your system that needs expression. Whatever it is will find its way out. Take the Mona Lisa. It's now known from overlaying computer images that she's none other than Da Vinci's self-portrait as a woman. Mona is his feminine side. Or is it a Freudian slip, somewhere between self-castration and self-empowerment, a conversion from paternal to maternal phallus, Da Vinci's way to come out of the closet, to tell someone apart from a lover about his sexuality? In this way, Juergen's puke sits beside the Mona Lisa, continuing a long tradition, enacting a catharsis for our time.

But it's a Marxist paranoia too. It's about how soldiers were treated by their ruling classes during the first world war. Some of them came back from the front unable to speak. The horrors they'd seen left them so shell-shocked that they were tongue-tied. And silence was the only rebellion possible against their overlords. But this was before the authorities admitted soldiers suffered post-traumatic stress. Have you seen the film Brazil? No? Well the next bit is soOOoo Brazil. The army got doctors to electrocute the soldiers' mouths to force them into speaking. Sick ain't it? Cured. Back to the front. And so it is with alcohol. Slavery to corporates rather than governments and their armies. Down to the bar instead of the machine guns. Tightly squeezing your eyes from the chucking up instead of the oral electrocutions or a slow death. It's all the same thing. And so artists like Juergen are like soldiers on the Western Front. It's duty and sacrifice. A cry for help in a world that doesn't listen.

I asked Juergen if these were his intentions in the piece and he smirked a little so I think I'm reading him well. He just modestly shrugged his shoulders and said 'I dunno really, I'm no good with words'. Which is why he did the piece. And you can see how it says so much in so little. That's art.

And it's art that his art Institute, or Kunst Institut or whatever, wouldn't display for health and safety reasons. I mean health and safety what? It's healthy and safe enough to be made in the studio space and then be put forward for marking. Mind you, it would have niffed a bit after a day's exhibition. But I'm sure he would've happily given it a refill from time to time.

And speaking of refills, in a way, Half-measure symbolises the first few weeks at college because we've spent most of them down the pub. I think we've had to overcome our initial nerves with a few pints. Like troops at the front I suppose! And like troops, we don't like to talk about what we do.

Anyway, is that the time? I've been going on for ages! See you next month.

Yours queesily,


*The names have been changed to protect the innocent. .

You can follow my column by visiting http://www.idlefishsatire.com/ and emailing them for a free subscription. See you soon.

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