Found object on a plinth
30 x 50 x 40 cms

An object that resembles a smoking pipe found and displayed by the artist in reference to Magritte & Duchamp.

This readymade was found by the artist; a u-bend from a drain, a transition point between private and public waste disposal. The seal to prevent contamination of smells and germs between the individual and civic pace, the shape is also reminiscent of a toilet bowl or the philosopher’s tobacco pipe. The male accessory of traditional patriarchal values displayed as a decrepit old tube.



  • Redundancy of Symbolism - Charlie Porter SHOW

    Redundancy of Symbolism - Charlie Porter

    Redundancy is the hidden downfall of symbolism. Of their moment, an object can seem so symbolic that to possess it in an act of self-definition. But once that item becomes obsolete itself, its symbolism disappears. Indeed the absence of relevancy can then have a negative mirroring effect on its symbolism, as if to balance out its previous power with impotency. Before smaller cars became desirable as well as worthy, oversized vehicles were loaded with a phallic symbolism so blatant that all hoped that the reality was, “big car, small dick”. Nowadays, big cars are so impractical that its “big car, not even worth having an opinion about”.

    It means that symbolism has an inbuilt nostalgia about it, especially as western culture speeds up. For much of the twentieth century, items had purpose and longevity that allowed symbolistic meaning to gather round them. Its seems the mission of the 21st century to shed life of the unnecessary. It may sound weird to state that of such a materialistic times, but it also seems true: we may buy more stuff, but the sheer volume of what we buy makes us care less about what we then own. If we don’t

    care about something, if we don’t associate ourselves with it, then symbolism cannot build up.

    This is particularly true of a man and his possessions. The male wardrobe, as well as a man’s bits and bobs, were both part of an outfit and also symbols of stature, intelligence and also physical endowment. It was once the case that a pipe, a cane or a bowler hat were loaded with symbolism about a man’s wealth and prowess. The secondary message of male stuff was overt enough for René Magritte to abuse it in “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe” as part of the series The Treachery of Images. Magritte was a young man at the time, and his image that mocks the pipe came at a time when speech was entering cinema and the cigarette began to be marketed through movies, intentionally or not, as the modern way to smoke. By the late 1920s, the pipe was losing its symbolism of virility and contemplation, to eventually be replaced with ones of fustiness and even thought-avoidance. To sit with a pipe in modern day life is to pretend that everything is how it once was, and therefore is to avoid

    having to deal with life as it is.

    I am talking here about symbolism of a pipe rather than the use of a pipe itself. I have a strange relationship with pipes that makes this distinction seem important. Until the late eighties, my father smoked a pipe, about which I loaded with no symbolism - I just wished he didn’t do it. I was never attracted to smoking as a child, and have only ever tried a cigarette once, in my late twenties, when a friend asked me to hold hers when we were in a club (this was pre-smoking ban) while she was doing her shoe-lace up, and while she was bent down I figured I may as well bring it to my lips to see what it tasted like. To me, that late on in life, it was like a MacDonalds - entirely ineffectual.

    At the time, I never considered my father’s use of a pipe as odd, outlandish or even self-indulgent, as he didn’t use a pipe as some sort of urban fashion statement - we lived in the country, our family life was fairly isolated, and that was just his preferred way of taking

    in tobacco. Neither of my parents engaged in pop - his preference in particular was for jazz, and I presumed his acceptance of the pipe came from there. Also, his father had smoked a pipe, and I remember a photograph of them both proud with pipes in their mouths, my father a young man.

    I didn’t like my father smoking, and would probably have liked him smoking cigarettes even less. He gave up after he suffered a heart attack in the mid-eighties, the pipe soon forgotten, by me at least, as part of his daily make-up. My father is a painter, and is alone for prolonged periods, working. He has managed to do so just as well without his pipe. Smoking being an aid to contemplation is probably just an excuse conjured by smokers to justify their habit. The mind focuses very well on its own.

    To me, as a child and teenager, the pipe had no symbolism - using it was just what my father did. This might be because he smoked a pipe removed from a context that would imbibe it with such symbolism. Maybe also by this point the pipe was obsolete in popular

    culture, and actually in the farming villages in which we grew up it actually found a less potent and more natural home. When I think of my father, the pipe is not part of the picture. I actually think of him most concentrating on his work. When he does so, I became aware early on that he did with his jaw locked open. I noticed it when I would sit for portraits for him. I notice it now because it is a habit I have picked up - if I am working hard, some people think I am sat there yawning. It is the mouth open that is crucial - you can’t hold a pipe with your jaw stretched out its furthest. Obviously it satisfied my father’s nicotine cravings, but to me the pipe was superfluous.

    As it has proven to be now - I cannot think of the last time I saw a man with a pipe. Cigarettes, too, have been marginalised by smoking bans, and I feel no sadness at this. The modern male wardrobe has softened to become a thing of functionality and comfort - few men manage to wear a suit and still look as

    if they are living right now, but they are the rarity - men in suits tend to look like they wish they could be wearing something else. The male wardrobe has many of the same elements as the female one - jeans, hoodies, trainers - a way of dressing that is a middle-ground between the two genders, hence removing symbolism from what either sex wears.

    Indeed the stuff we carry around has also lost its symbolism in the race to become more useful, more efficient, less burdensome. Try sexualising an iPod, or a mobile phone - pretty impossible. Now try getting on a high horse and claim that these items are an affront to society and our cultural life - a pointless position to hold, since they’ve made life so much better. In their design, these items are not imbibed with symbolism, and nor do they gain any when they enter into public use. Symbolism is one of the great casualties of modern life. It is not one we should mourn.

  • The Fool - Hari Kunzru SHOW

    The Fool - Hari Kunzru

    “This work I call a looking glass
    In which each fool shall see an ass…
    Whoever sees with open eyes
    Cannot regard himself as wise
    For he shall see upon reflection
    That humans teem with imperfection”

    Sebastian Brant “The Ship of Fools” 1494

    Who is the fool? In the tarot pack, he is shown as a figure setting out on a journey, with a bundle on his back and a little dog tugging at his ragged clothes. Sometimes he is about to step off a cliff. The dog, symbol of social domesticity, is trying to drag him back home. But is the fool making a mistake, or taking a leap of faith? Is he actually wise? Verbal and visual genealogies of the fool link him with other figures – the beggar, the madman, the mascot, the scapegoat, the seer, the poet. Many of these figures intersect with Romantic images of the creative artist: the inspired outsider, at once absurd and magnificent. So, among other things, the fool is an artist, and the artist is a fool.

    As a historical figure, the court fool is a parasite, a professional dinner guest. In Ancient Greece, parasitos was originally a

    dignifed term, applied to someone invited to official banquets because of his personal merits. It soon became debased, a word for a flatterer, a wit, someone who would use his talent for clowning, mimcry or telling jokes in return for a free meal. The fool is an entertainer, sitting at table with the nobility, his position privileged but precarious. He must never be ordinary, never dull. The artist sits at table next to the collector, then goes back to his underheated studio.

    The fool has a very special position at court, or the gallery dinner. He is ‘all-licensed’, empowered to say and do things others wouldn’t dare. Sometimes he is a wise fool, cleverly telling truths under the guise of wit. He may also be a ‘natural’, a dwarf or a cripple or a moron. His physical or mental deficiencies place him outside the normal social system, depriving him of both rights and responsibilities. The fool speaks truth to power, but since he is dressed in motley, a caperer in cap and bells, no one is obliged to listen. “This is nothing, fool” says Kent in King Lear, and the fool knows as much. His words can

    be ignored if they are too near the mark. “Then tis like the breath of an unfeed lawyer,” he quips. “You give me nothing for it.” No one need draw his sword: there’s no honour in avenging the fool’s insults.

    Above all, the fool is the only one who can insult the king. His jokes lay bare how the regime functions – the political regime of power, the aesthetic and economic regimes of value, the epistemological regime of meaning. Only through the fool’s clowning is the regime made visible to itself. The king needs the fool, for he is surrounded by sycophants. Yet however wise he is, the fool must never mistake himself for someone influential, who can wield power like ordinary men. This was the error of Archibald Armstrong, court fool to James I. Armstrong went as far as travelling as part of a royal embassy to Spain, where an off-colour quip to the Infanta about the sinking of the Spanish Armada undermined months of careful negotiation. Nevertheless, he thought of himself as a masterful diplomat, signing himself paradoxically ‘youre best foole of State’ in a letter to his royal master. His talent for making enemies finally

    tripped him up when he insulted the Archbishop of Canterbury and was permanently banished from court.

    Armstrong tried (and occasionally succeeded) in bridging the gap between foolery and political power, never accepting their essential opposition: if the fool is taken seriously, he will be hanged for his insolence. To be a fool is to be homo sacer, an exile from the Law. In the formulation of Giorgio Agamben, the ordinary person has two types or levels of life, basic biological existence (zoë) and political or social life (bios). The fool is denied bios, the life of the subject or the citizen. He has no status, no rights or responsibilities, only bare life. What he does has no significance. Nor what is done to him. This is why, as Erasmus says in In Praise of Folly, “the most violent tyrants put up with their clowns and fools, though these often make them the butt of open insults”. Since the fool is homo sacer, under a state of exception from the Law (the Law of courtly honour, of social propriety), he is a living demonstration of the sovereign’s power to give the Law, to enforce it or suspend it

    at his pleasure. So the fool is related to several figures from our contemporary period of permanent emergency - the stateless person, the untouchable, the unlawful combatant, the concentration camp inmate, the mental patient, the refugee. All live under the same suspension of the Law, isolated from social and political existence.

    Though, he is only a “poor, bare forked animal”, sometimes the fool can be a king. In his role as the Lord of Misrule he is, as Mikhail Bakhtin puts it, “the constant accredited representation of the carnival spirit in everyday life” For Bakhtin, “Carnival celebrates temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marks the suspension of all heirarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions. Carnival [is] the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal. It [is] hostile to all that [is] immortalised and completed.” The fool is productively disruptive. He just won’t let things be. At the feast of fools, the slave is master, women are men, excrement replaces incense at the ritual and the dignified clergy are paraded about the streets in carts. The fool inverts the king, and during the period of his carnival rule, the

    iron network of moral, physical and social law feels temporarily as light as air. The powerful art collector becomes a puppet. The heroic artist is a tramp. The great names of the past are no more than waxworks.

    If the fool is an artist and the artist is a fool, that was never more true than now, after conceptualism. The Romantic artist struggles with the raw material of the world, transmuting it into art through the heroic operation of his genius. The conceptual fool reduces this to absurdity, by eschewing the noble work of transmutation. He may claim an everyday object as art. He may utilise comically humble materials or use noble ones to fashion humble things. He may reproduce an artwork that already exists. He may reduce his art to the simplest artistic gesture of all, that of signing his own name. So Duchamp is a fool. Warhol is a fool. Foolish Piero Manzoni says shit is gold. Beuys is a fool, though often he forgets. People get angry at this motley crew of artists, who say art can be made of repetition, boredom, or banality. Artists should be hacking away at a block of marble, not

    sleeping late and getting drunk on promotional beer. Art should involve craft. Craft should involve skill, difficulty. Conceptualism makes craft look foolish – mere dexterity, juggling.

    “When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools.” This is Lear’s realisation, the truth that bawling babies know and adults forget as we get caught up in the serious mummery of our social and cultural lives. Only the fool-artist still knows the truth, and we carry him about in an international charivari, the pope of piffle, the sultan of senselessness. The artworld (the very term is a carnivalesque inversion of the real world) is a veritable ship of fools – gallerists and curators and collectors and writers and artists all stroking their long velvety asses ears, taking the fool seriously, buying his golden shit. No accident that Brant’s medieval poem was first published in Basel. What could be more ridiculous than the consensual hallucination of artistic value? Hey nonny!