Thursday, 26 May 2016


Improvised While Listening to a Speech by Nicholas Serota 
and Thinking of a Poem by Frank O’Hara
in an Old Music Hall
in Hoxton

Angela de la Cruz has produced a work of history. An impressionist piece, it suggests the spirit of this gallery; its large life crammed into little rooms, the restrained vitality, its relentless will, seeping out between the cracks of its old confinement; we think of a dam creaking, on the verge of breaking… The control panel lowers the water level; and pianissimo, its notes trickle through the door, into a crowd watching this clock eclipse the moon. We wait. Under Chris Ofili’s memories. Under an iconostasis illuminating this tiny triangle, the Pocket Park, a plaza awash with civilities; the harpsichord lost amongst their gathering tide, whose waves carry us off to Hoxton Hall.

“All the small galleries, the most innovative, the most exciting, are run my women;” and with hardly any cash; always doing emergency repairs to their finances; a woman running upstairs to knock on her neighbour’s door - “you’re flooding my place out. I only painted it…” The associations, like the red wine, are flowing freely tonight; they spill into phrases, images, a poem by Frank O’Hara.

For red there is our blood
which, like your smile, must be
protected from spilling into
generality by secret meanings, 
the lipstick of life hidden
in a handbag against violations.

Angela nods to the contractors who rebuilt this gallery: gigantic dust sheets; a sculpture under its protective cloth; a partially blown up air mattress. The phrases are splashing around this talk-drenched triangle when…Ania moves the congregation on.

A hint of the harpsichord, and once more we listen closely to Frank. Peeking inside his handbag we see: the raising of an enormous tent - like Mongolian tribes on the Steppes small galleries roam the funding plains; every grant a temporary encampment; each exhibition a city razed… We wander off to Andrei Rublev, to soak ourselves in its final sacrament; that burst of climatic colour art’s eternal grace, saved somehow from the wreckage. Touching Frank’s lipstick, and thinking about this gallery, its past life, its future promise of an art engulfing the street, we chuckle over a foolish conceit - Cornelia Parker white water rafting over the concrete bollards. These similes. They grow like plants up an iron frame.

Christmas is green and general
like all great works of the 
imagination, swelling form minute
private sentiments in the desert,
a wreath around our intimacy
like children’s voices in a park.

Art so unobtrusive you do not see it. There it is! brightening up this little corner of Shakespeare’s mother’s estate; Arden to the locals. That’s a mouthful; just like your last stanza Frank; though we need your wreath of intimacy, it keeps us warm on this chilly evening. 

Christmas is the time of cold air
and loud parties and big expense,
but in our hearts flames flicker
answeringly, as on old-fashioned
trees. I would rather the house
burn down than our flames go out.

Meaning lights up the street. Art tells the time and guides us to the post box; Diana looking jealously from overhead. 

Soon this church will have a choir. Yes! There will be birds living in own their Radiant City! The harpsichord squeezes through the crowd: these homes, these dark wooden boxes, are the pipes of a modern organ, its music to drown out my quiet chords, evaporating into history.

“He’s a national treasure.”

I was going to a meeting. They happen every day; you know the routine: agenda, apologies, minutes of last meeting, date of the next; and the rest? We whizz through provincial stations in a high-speed train. I was walking up the street, half-thinking about this meeting, how dull, how boring, it was going to be, and how I’d have to say something; something I shouldn’t, like talking about tea, and comparing it to… Well, why not: some ancient Spaniard, one of those old masters. And then go on about what? Velázquez? Elliott’s book on Olivares? A man going mad inside an empire in decline; religion like woodworm eating away at the bureaucratic psyche. My tea? Well tea, as you know, has a wide palette; there’s the Ben Nicholson, but that’s far too weak for me; more milk than anything, it’s almost as if he couldn't afford the… A bookshop! Walking up the street, thinking of what I cannot say at this meeting I don’t want to go to, minutes of last meeting date of the next, I see: books! in a ramshackle place ready to fall down. Fantastic! There’s plenty of time. So I pop in. But of course there is hardly any time at all. Oh well, goodbye my faux pas, bye bye my tea aesthetics.

To dissolve the boundaries between art and life, is this PEER’s purpose? The attempt is often too self-consciousness; the art object in a public place an alien presence in unwelcoming surroundings, distinctly hostile. But estates need art; their spaces begging out for beautiful objects; which, we know, goes against the trend of a century; remembering old Herbert and his definition - it doesn't have much room for the pretty - thinking of Klee and his analogy with microscopes: modern painting a form of bacteria. But here we are, right next to… It’s Diana House; a rectangle box that contains boxes of rectangles, every wall waiting for…yes, a little Grace. On Shakespeare’s mother’s estate there are a thousand galleries, and Mrs Hartigan can exhibit in them all. Oh, hi Frank, I’ve been reciting you.

There’s no holly, but there is
the glass and granite towers
and the white stone lions
and the pale violet clouds. And
the great tree of balls in 
Rockefeller Plaza is public.

Years later I’m offered a job around here. My excitement! walking up the street. And worry trotting after it, like a line of school kids behind their teacher; for that awful bookshop is going to be a too terrible temptation… I’ll pop in, for just a few minutes; but there’s the proprietor, wanting to talk; the usual litany: he can’t smoke in his own shop; that bloody Oxfam on Kingsland Road; he will be agin the government; a whiff of a once youthful Trotskyism still lingering in the air, like the stale ash he keeps as a memento, in a tiny saucer ensconced upon two volumes of Gramsci. He’ll talk about hard cash -  it's the fuel of the black economy, the poor need it to survive - as I give him a secondhand tenner. The man’s an aristocrat. He has to be - few workers are so radical. Up the aristos! I want to say, instead I mumble out: “sorry, you know how it is, I’ve got to go now.” But he doesn't know how it is; sitting here alone in his bookshop all day. So he starts talking about “Delooze; no no, I mean Deleuze.” There’s always one, talking about their French philosophy. I can’t resist; I mention that reference Hume, in the forward to Mille Plateaux; and suggest Deleuze never got past the harbour in Boulogne - “he must have read about the Scotchman in Rousseau.” He pulls a face like an angry labrador. “How many times does he appear in the text?” I smile, and answer my own question. He replies, they always do, always they have an answer. Back at the office, a 95 year old lady is ringing up reporting a flood. “Citations do not matter; Delooze's, no no Deleuze’s idea of the rhizome, that is what counts.” The old lady is banging on the office door, screaming out for assistance... “Humans are nomads, it is our natural condition.” “We don’t look after our national treasures.” “Help! Help!” “But that’s a cartoon concept; as if we are children for the whole of our lives.” “Help! Help!” “We must burrow under the bureaucracy.”  “It’s the bath.” “Collapse it…” “Are you ok, lady?” “We are not…” I’ll call the fire-brigade…” “…from underneath.” Ring! Ring! Ring! “Deleuze and Guattari far from giving a radical critique were actually boosters of Capitalism; shallow thinkers they had little idea what they were writing about, they daren’t read Hume, he’s too deep for them, they’d drown in his…” I turn towards the door… “Shallow!” “Thank God!” “You should read my…” “Oh thank you thank you…” “Dropout Boogie.” I look into the street. I move to leave… “Ingrid never rests. Nine o’clock tomorrow morning she will be at…” I turn back and… “It was like a waterfall, all over the balcony…” “risk a last passing retort: “I did a case study…” “Cartoon Concepts!” I smile at the shock shaking his face, my hand taking… “She is already thinking…” “You’re a fine young man; thank you so much; but the office, why is…” It’s not there! Someone’s stolen the bookshop! An art gallery, for heaven's sake.


  1. I have passed Peer Gallery many a times and seen the display in the shop window extending in all directions into the walls of the room. It looks as if a large mattress or sports venue floor covering is about to be fitted. It is waiting to be trimmed to fit into the floor. I assume this is “high culture” because nobody is really interested in it apart from a handful of people. But who are these people creating and adoring this “high art”? I understand in the past “high art” was created and financed by the higher classes and intelligentsia or the nobility. What was created then drew inspiration from the environment, ideas and feelings – it was an interpretation of something that could not be said in words. The elite were the custodians of the “high art”. In the current state of degeneration and decline the elite and custodians of our “high culture” can offer nothing to us or for the posterity. This art is as disposable as the rest of our society. In fact in Hoxton area I see this kind of “art” all around me in the form of damaged pavements, drains, shop fronts, discarded take away food and pickings – a scene of decay. Of course as an artist one can portray this environment in its decaying state in a more clever way that can be felt or understood by a greater number of viewers. I fail to see how a pile of construction material and debris in the middle of a gallery passes as “high art”. I have just seen a pile like that on my way to the gallery and it was more interesting because a broken yellow hard hat was slicking out of plaster and sand.
    There used to be a builders merchant shop in Old Street at the top of Curtain Road. I think it has become another hip drinking place of so many in Shoreditch. Sensing the changes taking place in the area and in response to them (this was around 1999) the shop keeper created a piece of artwork and placed it in the shop window. He placed a sign next to it labelling it “modern art” with a number of exclamations marks and a price tag of I think £120. The artwork consisted of sickly yellow expanding foam out of the canister dried up on a length of guttering with a screwdriver stock in i, probably result of an accident. I remember the joke to this day, would I remember the “installation”?

    1. Oh dear, my grumpy old bookseller has come to life!

      Good to see that the age-old relations between high and low culture continue the ancient tradition...

      "The minds of ordinary people are not like blank paper, but stocked with ideas and images; new ideas will be rejected if they are incompatible with the old. Traditional ways of perceiving and thinking form a kind of sieve which will allow some novelties through, but not others. This is most obvious in the case of painting. Swedish peasant painters took over baroque details but the structure of their works remained medieval... Official texts and rituals may be imitated but imitation often slides into parody." (Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe)