Godot’s Day Off

Oil on C-type print
106 x 84 cms
1999

The Artists proof from the making of the photographic artwork Godot painted over with oil to give the figure a check jacket, bowler hat and several smoking pipes. In Godot, The Artist "re-cycles" a Magritte self-portrait which features an apple - symbol of secret knowledge from the Garden of Eden - instead of a human head. In Turk's interpretation, instead of an apple, on The Artist's neck sits a chicken's egg. A recurring theme in Turk's work, eggs are symbols of new life and new ideas. What ideas even now are hatching in The Artist's mind? What new life/meaning has Turk given to the original Magritte painting? Meanwhile, the title of the piece refers to Samuel Beckett's famous absurdist play, Waiting For Godot. Is Godot, the possibly redemptive, possibly fictitious mystery character for whom The Artist also is waiting. (For what? To give him The Answer? Inspiration? A hotline to The Truth?). Or is The Artist, as the title more directly suggests, the nebulous Godot himself? Acquiring even more layers of meaning, Godot's Day Off goes further. Here, the egg head is both surreally - and indeed apparently serenely - smoking multiple pipes in a homage not only to Magritte but also Duchamp, both of whom were famous pipe smokers but also Magritte's famous surrealist joke, Ce N'Est Pas Une Pipe (This Is Not A Pipe) - a drawing of a pipe which questions the notion of representation. Meanwhile, pipe-smoking itself stands for intellectual contemplation and pausing to think. Gentlemen - especially old fashioned ones - tend to smoke pipes. They also tend to wear the traditional English bowler hat. This bowler hat hints at not only the English intellectual but the English establishment - to which the artist may or may not belong - and also to the English stiff upper lip. The Third Eye in the centre of the bowler hat, meanwhile, subverts this institutionalisation of intellectual ideas with its proposition not only of a psychic window onto the soul but also onto the mystery and the enigma of The Truth.

Exhibitions

Essays

  • Which Came First? - Rachel Newsome SHOW

    Which Came First? - Rachel Newsome

    To begin at the end. In a sky-lit wood-panelled room inside the Royal College of Art mounted on an otherwise empty wall in an otherwise empty room, a blue ceramic English heritage plaque reads “Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989 – 1991”. A commemoration of a life, it marks the presence of the artist with the most powerful and evocative of the tools that might be at his disposal - his absence. The curtain has fallen. The titles are rolling. Gavin Turk has left the stage. Death as performance. While the absence of the artist, we make the art.

    The artist is no more and all that is left for the audience in this empty white space is to reverently imagine the work which once filled this space, while apprehending that the emptiness is the work. And so material object of the plaque frames the space and the art work frames the artist, the one somehow preceding the other in an elliptical sleight of hand, as the end frames the beginning. The artist is dead. Long live art!

    To kill yourself off before your career has even begun is a particularly punk thing to do (never

    mind that an unintentional consequence of the piece was that it cost Turk his degree). Even Sid Vicious managed to produce a slim body of work before his bloody act of self-immolation.

    Neither overtly political nor filled with burning intensity nor sneering disdain, what specifically runs through Turk’s work is a quiet psycho-existential angst that says something about all of us in the first decades of a new millennium where all is not half as brave and shiny as we were promised and which finds us on the one hand wanting in desperation to destroy the dream and on the other, equally desperately trying to hold onto it.

    Belonging to a tradition that seeks to critique and challenge what can and cannot be called art which also includes Beuys, Duchamp, Broodthaers, Klein and Manzoni, in Gavin’s work the pipe-smoking intellectual is given an egg for a face and many pipes to chew on at once. Detritus from the street – melons, burnt matches and two pence coins – is cast in bronze as traditional systems and establishment values are turned into surreal jokes intended to reveal all that is hollow within.
    Nor is it any

    accident that Turk is also a fan of Beckett to whom he plays homage in his absurdist puppet show, “Waiting For Gavo”.

    A playful, anarchist mischief-maker, in 1998 Gavin turned up to the private view of Saatchi’s now legendary/notorious Sensation show at the Royal Academy, dressed as a tramp, replete with newspapers stuffed into the holes of his falling apart shoes in – the “starving artist” thrown amongst rich collectors, Daniel to the lions – in a move that caused as much embarrassment as it did entertainment, his newspaper stuff shoes and piss-stained trousers (the artist’s own) all a bit too real for some.

    Disruptive, subversive, the child who persists in asking difficult questions, the merry prankster mischievously picking at the fabric of tradition, of convention, of preconceived ideas…for all his love of absence, somehow Gavin Turk persists like an indelible stain. Regardless of who or what happens to be in fashion, he just will not go away.

    Meanwhile, in Turk world, all art is punk because all art is necessarily fake. It is all represented, copied, a fragment of an unseen whole – a joke on the viewer, bringing into question both perspective and

    perception and the by presenting something that is not. Yet behind it’s fake-ness, or perhaps because of it, is the same question repeated down the line from the myth of Zeuxis and Parrhasios to De Chirico, Magritte, Klein, Warhol not only through art history but philosophical history and indeed human history; how can we know what is real? And yet through and in and of the fakeness of art lies the possibility of a cool objective truth, which might be reached, as pointed out by William Blake “if (only) the doors of perception were cleansed” for then, “man would see everything as it is; infinite.”

    The point being that they are not cleansed but dark and smoky - more opaque than transparent, like the glass placed in a frame over a painting, which reveals most clearly our own reflection. Meanwhile, peering through the doors into the unseen “beyond”, it is not answers that Gavin finds but dead ends and puzzling blind spots, which lead the artist further and deeper into the psycho-metaphysical labyrinth where the monster is the Lacanian “indestructible other” and where it is impossible to tell which came first; the beginning or end, self or mask, original

    or copy, inside or outside, representation or real, artist or art, chicken or…

    Eggs recurs again and again in Gavin’s work. Symbols of life, of creation, of originality, they appear as surreal faces, giant duck eggs, broken shells and in liquid form as mayonnaise and egg tempura. Transforming eggs from the sacred to the profane, the pure to the parasitical, a symbol of creation to something created, Turk takes us on an inventive journey from eggs to eggs cups to fonts.

    But for Turk – the punk, the hoaxer hoaxer posing as a famous artist - as Beuys, as Marat, as Warhol, as Gavin Turk, the artist posing as the notorious chess-playing hoaxer, The Mechanical Turk – it is not really a question of either/or, real or fake but both/and – real and fake, the gallery and the street, the serious and the frivolous, the original and the copy, the beginning and the end, all pointing to what Kant termed the “noumenal” reality outside of us.

    Hence Turk’s interest in trompe l’oeil, in camouflage, in role-playing, in masks and in what the hidden and the concealed is able to reveal. If Turk is a punk, then he

    is also a shaven-headed Zen monk, constructing visual koans in the form of bronze “wooden” melons or private views where all the exhibits are shrouded, Christo-style, in cloth or presenting himself camouflaged as Warhol or as Warhol’s gun-slinging Elvis as Sid Vicious, with one hand adding a layer of meaning, with another, taking it away.

    Refusing to be one thing or another, eschewing the comfortable in favour of the awkward, Turk’s affinity with punk belongs a bigger narrative – the narrative of the revolutionary, the outsider, the lunatic, the scapegoat, the artist as martyr, offered to the world as the sacrificial “Other” in order to simultaneously remind us of our own inner rebel, while reassuring us of our safe position “inside”. Here, it is not his own death that Turk enacts but that of revolutionary icons, Che Guevara and David’s Marat.

    Mythologizing the outsider on the one hand and setting out to de-mythologize him on the other; can the artist, or the punk or the outsider really save us - let alone himself - Gavin’s work wants to know? In Window, which shows the disembodied head of Turk in a black beret superimposed onto a double-page spread

    of The Union Jack taken from The Sun, the artist is here to save the world as both war hero and advocate for peace. In Pop, punk is a wax work museum-ified in a glass vitrine; impotent, dead, useless.

    While Gavin’s revolutionary outsiders all met bloody ends, there is no blood in his own ending. Rather, the stains he leaves behind come in the form of the artist’s mark - tea stains, excrement, signatures in egg shells, in blue sponges pinned to the wall, which do not so much replace the art as become it. The artist might be physically absent but his spirit remains through the sacred aura of his stains/signature. Like graffiti, “Gavin Turk was here”, it reads. Authorship is all, it implies. Only who is the artist? Who is Gavin Turk? And besides, Stain 1992 isn’t a real stain but a representation of one left by Giacometti on a napkin after a meal as a joke. What are these stains, these signatures saying but that identity is a fiction?

    Derrida called the signature a “parergon” or “parasite” upon the work, which in Greek is “ergon”. Something that confers identity and serves as a threshold

    between art and not art, signatures are dependent on their authenticity. They must be recognisable through repetition as belonging to a particular artist. But Gavin’s “signature” is his repetition of works by other artists. Even his artist signature is not his “real” one.

    Acknowledging the tenuous and fluid nature of identity, Gavin’s work expresses the idea that we frame things but that we are also framed by things. “A Portrait Of Something I’ll Probably Never Really See” shows a face shot of the shaven-headed artist with his eyes closed. Almost like a death-mask, the image is dream-like and tranquil, as if Gavin had reached a Zen-like state of transcendence. But looking inwards, not outwards, what the artists “sees” is that he cannot see himself in all his totality. What he sees is that representation is necessarily false. And this, Gavin’s work suggests, is about as near to any kind of Nirvana he, or anyone else for that matter, is able to get. And yet… and yet, there is that niggling, parasitical “probably”. . .

    Derrida described this invisibility at the heart of seeing as an “aporia” or impassable passage. But far from being futile, he saw

    aporia as necessary to the process of making an ethical decision, even if the consequences of that decision remain unknown. Which brings us back to Cave. All that is left behind of the artist is a memorial to an implied body of work, and by extension, an implied life and worth, while the title, after Plato’s famous allegory, tells of a hidden reality we can neither see nor know. And what of the artist? What of Gavin? He has disappeared into the lacuna, into the beyond, into the hidden reality, behind the curtain covering the canvas, hiding the stage, like Schrodinger’s cat, both dead and alive, chicken and egg, real and unreal both at the same time.

  • Gavin Turk Is Not A Common Thief - Matt Mason SHOW

    Gavin Turk Is Not A Common Thief - Matt Mason

    Some people think he is, but I disagree. I think he’s more like Hans Gruber, the German terrorist who takes over Nakatomi Towers in Die Hard.

    Let me explain.

    Mr. Turk is certainly a copycat. This is a well known fact, and indeed, a reason people are drawn to his work. The way he deals with concepts such as authorship and originality resonate with us, and for good reason.

    Most of us are common thieves.

    Every day each of us break copyright laws many times, without even realizing. If you photocopy a page from a book, take a picture of a work of art you didn’t produce, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in public or forward an email you didn’t write, you’re guilty.

    Our ideas about property rights, intellectual or otherwise, are generally viewed as good for society. Most of the time, they are. The problem is our laws pertaining to intellectual property are no longer sophisticated enough to deal with the ways we use information in the real world.

    A law professor named John Tehranian from The University of Utah recently conducted an experiment that proves this. He made

    a note of every time he inadvertently broke copyright law and then worked out how much he would owe if he was sued each time this happened. He calculated that he would owe an average of $12.45 million a day. If we take Tehranian to be an average law abiding citizen, then the average law-abiding citizen is currently ringing up $4.5 billion a year in copyright violations.

    Of course, the majority of us don’t get sued for these heinous crimes we commit daily, because these laws are ridiculous and unworkable, and most acts of copyright infringement are entirely harmless. The crimes are ignored and we go unpunished. But we’re still common thieves on paper. This huge crevasse between law and reality appeared because two things happened.

    First our technology changed. When these laws were written, information used to flow in one direction. Producers produced, consumers consumed. There was a clear line between broadcaster and receiver, artist and fan, creator and pirate. But today that line is just a blur. Information now moves in many directions at once. Anybody can produce, rebroadcast or remix information of all kinds. Consumers can talk back in a variety of ways.

    They can form angry mobs or fan clubs - the fate of producers is in their hands. There is a power shift going on.

    Secondly, all this new technology amplified one of our oldest behavioural traits; copying. Copying is part of the human condition. It is the backbone of our culture. It is how we learn to talk. It is how we learn social norms and manners. We are, all of us, relentless copying machines. And now we have access to the internet, the most advanced copying machine we’ve ever created.

    The big problem is that our laws are not written with the behaviour of billions of human copying machines in mind. We common thieves don’t spend large amounts of time and money coercing governments to make sure copyright laws suit our behaviour. But large multinational media companies do. The result is a set of rules that serve their needs, but don’t work quite as well for everyone else.

    But the lot of the common thief is worth defending. Families shouldn’t be receiving takedown notices from record labels for posting home movies up on YouTube of their kids dancing to copyright protected music. Companies shouldn’t be

    able to use copyright law to stifle free speech and stop information that makes them look bad from reaching the general public. Entertainment conglomerates shouldn’t be allowed to upload damaging spyware onto your computer without asking you, just to make sure you’re not stealing any of their content. Telecoms companies should not be given the power to decide what information you do and don’t see online. If the disconnect between law and reality is not addressed, our freedoms will be eroded.

    It takes a different kind of thief to defend such freedoms. It takes artists like Turk publicly questioning who owns what. We need pirates that speak truth to power in order for things to change. Without the outcast at the outer marker moving the boundaries, everything stagnates. Ideas capable of making society better, fairer or more democratic are always resisted by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. We need people who innovate without asking permission.

    Some of the greatest innovators in history were thought of as common thieves when they started out. When Thomas Edison invented the phonographic record player, musicians branded him a pirate out to steal their work and

    destroy the live music business, until a system was worked out so everyone could be paid royalties. We now call this system the recording industry.

    Edison went on to invent film making, and wanted to charge a license fee to every film maker using his invention. Several New York film makers, including a young man named William, disagreed with this policy, and fled to the then still Wild West coast where they could make films illegally away from Edison’s team of lawyers, and flee to nearby Mexico if said lawyers were dispatched. This town of pirate filmmakers is still there today, it’s called Hollywood. William’s second name was Fox.

    Today these industrial monoliths established by pirates are locked in fierce battles with us common thieves to protect their intellectual property rights. But when throwing lawsuits at your fans suddenly becomes an important part of your business model, you no longer have a business model.

    When information flowed in one direction, it was easy to take culture and attach it to a product in order to sell it. Those on the edges of society created meaning, and then the commercial world stole it. But now the outsiders

    are finding ways to take meaning back from the market. People are organizing without organizations. Loose-knit networks and open source structures are proving to be more effective at doing some things than governments and markets. As a result we’re rebelling in new ways. Warhol famously said that “good business is the best art.” Culture used to be one of the only ways of rebelling in a non-violent manner, but today we can kill bad ideas with new business models.

    It already seems like bad ideas and old power structures are being brought to the slaughter on a daily basis, and the revolution hasn’t even started yet. The future promises even more unfettered access to information and intellectual property. In May of 2008, a Professor named Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath created the world’s first 3-D printing machine that can print out a copy of itself. The internet may be the world’s ultimate copying machine at the moment, but that was just Act One.

    Act Two promises even greater levels of conflict. The war over intellectual property is going to get weird. But this movie has a happy ending. The truth is this new reality is

    good news for creators and copyright holders large and small - it’s just taking a while to figure out the details.

    The future promises unlimited opportunities to create, reach audiences, gain notoriety, earn money and all the rest of it, if we can only reconcile the two conflicting forces at work when we have a new idea. At the same time as we are thinking “how can I get this out there?” we’re also asking ourselves “how can I benefit from/monetize this idea?” We want to spread ideas as information, but capitalize on them as intellectual property.

    Which brings me to Die Hard.

    Just before 20th Century Fox released the fourth Die Hard film in 2007, the marketing team at Fox had only one question: How do we get people excited about the Die Hard films again online?

    They didn’t know a comedy rock band named Guyz Nite had just uploaded their new video for their song entitled Die Hard, to YouTube. The verses of the song outlined the plots of the first three Die Hard set to a sequence of tightly edited clips from the movies. It was hilarious enough for millions

    of people to watch it and tell their friends about it.

    The legal team at Fox found out about the copyright violating video. They did their jobs, and asked YouTube to take down the infringing material. And YouTube did. End of story.

    Except it wasn’t. When the marketing team at Fox found out about the video, and the millions of people getting excited about the Die Hard franchise again because of it, they called Guyz Nite. They had only one question: How much do we have to pay you to put that video you made up on YouTube?

    It all worked out in the end – copyright laws were ignored in favour of user-generated content that helped everybody out. The band even got an invite to the New York premiere of the film. Pirates can reach the places other advertisers cannot reach. It’s like Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

    This period of corporate cognitive dissonance we are experiencing will continue for some time. But unreasonable and outdated notions about intellectual property will eventually become history, if enough of us strive to be more

    than just common thieves.

    Towards the end of Die Hard, Holly McClane says to Hans Gruber, “After all your posturing, all your speeches...you're nothing but a common thief.”

    Hans replies, “I'm an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane.”

  • 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.
    ENDS

    good news for creators and copyright holders large and small - it’s just taking a while to figure out the details.

    The future promises unlimited opportunities to create, reach audiences, gain notoriety, earn money and all the rest of it, if we can only reconcile the two conflicting forces at work when we have a new idea. At the same time as we are thinking “how can I get this out there?” we’re also asking ourselves “how can I benefit from/monetize this idea?” We want to spread ideas as information, but capitalize on them as intellectual property.

    Which brings me to Die Hard.

    Just before 20th Century Fox released the fourth Die Hard film in 2007, the marketing team at Fox had only one question: How do we get people excited about the Die Hard films again online?

    They didn’t know a comedy rock band named Guyz Nite had just uploaded their new video for their song entitled Die Hard, to YouTube. The verses of the song outlined the plots of the first three Die Hard set to a sequence of tightly edited clips from the movies. It was hilarious enough for millions

    of people to watch it and tell their friends about it.

    The legal team at Fox found out about the copyright violating video. They did their jobs, and asked YouTube to take down the infringing material. And YouTube did. End of story.

    Except it wasn’t. When the marketing team at Fox found out about the video, and the millions of people getting excited about the Die Hard franchise again because of it, they called Guyz Nite. They had only one question: How much do we have to pay you to put that video you made up on YouTube?

    It all worked out in the end – copyright laws were ignored in favour of user-generated content that helped everybody out. The band even got an invite to the New York premiere of the film. Pirates can reach the places other advertisers cannot reach. It’s like Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

    This period of corporate cognitive dissonance we are experiencing will continue for some time. But unreasonable and outdated notions about intellectual property will eventually become history, if enough of us strive to be more

    than just common thieves.

    Towards the end of Die Hard, Holly McClane says to Hans Gruber, “After all your posturing, all your speeches...you're nothing but a common thief.”

    Hans replies, “I'm an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane.”