The spiral from the veritable belly of Monsieur UBU flew over 118 years and over the distance from Paris to Belfast
courtesy of an artists’ artist Dr Colin Darke.
He whispers something between the bowl and a candle – a talking head on a tablet, a digital puppet.
Apparently there are 142 manias of obsession, including graphomania. Darke’s writing over sets of objects, carefully follows Jarry’s choices in the play Ubu Roi of 1896, and appropriates text of Karl Marx The eighteen Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) in manic obedient handwriting difficult to decipher.
Both sound and text are subordinated to the visual. It may be interpreted both as distancing (B Brecht) or foregrounding (Shklovskij) without descending in to a paradox.
Writing for the exhibition guide, David Campbell offers some statistics : Grotesque Mediocrity … is made up 3038 individual artefacts arranged into groupings of 47 different types of objects…The installation begins with 99 white Carrara marble tiles stacked against the gallery wall and culminates in a collection of 666 apples.
In between marble and apples there are 10 toilet brushes, plates, bowls, 35 green candles, 50 kazoos, 6 DocMarten boots, 1 pair of underpants, 1454 coins, machetes, toy, bricks, scissors and around the apples 20 colanders (they are there instead of Jarry’s sieves, it is easier to write on colanders)
… forming an amazingly elegant spiral, undisturbed by the disobedient umbrella.
Displayed are common place objects each with a clearly defined job in practical life, including the expensive marble tiles. Some are exquisitely made, all seem to be good at their expected function. Except Marx. His thoughts as critical as they may be are rendered impotent by secrecy of small handwriting, as if insisting that to receive their wisdom, every and each reader must read them in an hour of devotion not unlike medieval Books of Hours. It touches on the grotesque via an obsession, escaping any mediocrity.
The text’s transformatory power over use of things is undeniable, although it irritates by being not legible without a magnifying glass, or getting on your knees… The lettering on fruit, boots or candles is there not as flowing text, more a decoration, a dust from thinking about difficult issues.
Colin Darke may or may not be offering a choice: either follow or innovatively develop Marx’s analysis of commodities. His insistence on private consumption mobilises needs for sincerity and honesty, so shy of the public exchanges.
Darke appropriates doubt as an aesthetic category. Grotesque Mediocrity – the very words issue a call to disentangle the relationship between art and nature, and art and society(economy, use). By multiplying each object – for ex Jarry allows just one toilet brush as a King Ubu’s grotesque sceptre- Darke needs ten of them of them to let the writing flow, the association with shelves in a supermarket brutalises the doubt away a little.
To cover any available surface with marks is a privilege of children, teenagers in love, stret artists and vandals. As a separation from those habits Darke uses new objects, not yet used for their intended purpose. Many may return to their intended service, after their sacrifices to art were cleansed off. And, yes, it may not happen. Michelangelo’s worry about the permanent conflict between material and spiritual in art certainly appears contemporary.
The appearance of useful object and organic materials as art is becoming popular, its most commercial peak reached by Christo-esque parcel of flesh in Swiss mountains, the flesh sculpture by Andrea Hasler.
Darke’s distances his floor installation from the ostentation and imposition over nature, I am grateful to observe.
I may be smiling as I read the only text confident to be read and understood – a judgement on a shattered dream – placed so near a personal comfort zone – interweaving hygiene, cooking, and nourishment, in a spiral pathway, neither scissors nor the ready to shoot slings can ever reach.
Grotesque – after all comes from a 16th C grotto – a manufactured garden cave covered in decoration interweaving human, animal and plant forms.
Darke’s spiral interweaves the sign for revolving existence with signs of failed ideas, and confident useful objects, as if in a illustration of Karl Popper’s Three Worlds.
The apples in the centre of the image of being will decay first, in obedience to laws of nature. They are the first of the servants of this concept of art to die. Does my cynical thought that apples can be bought again justify the other word in the exhibition title: mediocrity?
The doubt- as invitation to take risks grounded in sincerity of not knowing- became an avantgarde tradition soon after Jarry wrote Ubu Roi, when picked up by the Dadaists.
Images of the installation courtesy of Simon Mills.