Monday, 22 February 2010

The Baltic Newcastle

On a recent visit back home to the North East I thought I would travel into Newcastle to visit the cities contemporary art gallery, the Baltic. It’s a great building made from an old flour mill so it really feels part of the city’s heritage and is situated right on the quay side. Unfortunately I possibly picked the worst time of the year to visit the gallery as they were between exhibitions at the time so the displays were limited. There were in fact only two exhibitions one, the first being a exhibition of video work by the American artist Jordan Baseman. Baseman uses a technique of voice driven narratives, often that he has obtained himself through interview, accompanied by found footage or even stop frame animation. The piece claims to ‘explore belief systems, human motivation and experience through three though-provoking and poetic works.’ I watched the pieces and I couldn’t help but feel that maybe Baseman was overstretching himself and that the pieces would have possibly worked better as individual pieces focusing on separate emotions. I felt that Nasty Piece of Stuff was the far stronger of the pieces with an entertaining narratives and impressive visuals. I waited for over ten minutes into one other piece, Joy on Toast, before any visuals were introduced. The story itself was highly engaging, telling the first hand tale of a botanist travelling through Borneo and I found myself begging for some imagery but none was forthcoming. Overall the piece was enjoyable and compared to the piece I’m about to talk about was like I rollercoaster ride…

The second display was apiece entitled Pharmacy by British artist Damien Hirst. I’m going to resist turning this into a rant about Damien Hirst’s work and try to keep it as impartial as I possibly can. My feelings towards the work of Hirst are similar to that of a man I have been researching for my dissertation project, Billy Childish.

“I contend that Damien Hirst would not pickle sharks for 20 or 30 years in his garden shed through belief, he does it once off purely as because there's a market that will pay cash on the button now, he doesn't invest anything of himself. There is no vision or interpretation, just the object and a weak poem to introduce the notion or simulated experience of thinking if you like. In short, if the artist doesn't believe in his work then why should I?”

Billy Childish is himself completely opposed to conceptual art and consumed by figurative painting but I can appreciate conceptual art I just can’t help but feel that Hirst is almost taking the piss. Pharmacy is attempting to show that ‘medicine, like art, provides a belief system which can be seductive but deceptive.’ The installation is a perfect remake of a doctor’s waiting room/pharmacy complete with floor to ceiling glass cabinets full of medicine bottles and equipment but then in the middle of the floor lies honeycomb. I may have missed the point completely but it feels to me that Hirst’s fame from the Brit art times have given him the freedom to do whatever he likes and people will accept it. I wasn’t taken in by the surroundings at all and it didn’t induce any feelings within me other than contempt for Damien Hirst and the people who buy into his work. This may have turned into a rant, never mind.

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