The Spirit of Gavin Turk

Bronze & marble


A bronze award figurine of the artist awarded to a different person each year.

Turk created this piece – a small, bronze self-portrait resembling the Oscar statuette – as an annual prize for the person he felt most captures the ‘Spirit of the Artist’. Turk launched the prize in a pseudo-ceremony at the opening of a group exhibition, ‘Le Shuttle’ in Berlin in 1994. Although the first award notionally went to the British artist Michael Craig-Martin, he never actually delivered the statuette, and the award was never presented again (Turk may yet revive the award and present it retrospectively). One of the esoteric references in this work is an unrealized project by the Italian artist Piero Manzoni: he intended to fix the gallery door closed and hand a sign on it reading ‘In here is the spirit of the artist’.



  • Celebrity - Paul Flynn SHOW

    Celebrity - Paul Flynn

    In the immediate wake of 9/11, Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan hastily declared an end to The Celebrity Culture. His polemical wager centred on the dawn of a new age of serious thinking. It cut directly against the grain of tabloid thinking and effectively signed his own newspaper death-knell, as The Mirror’s sales fell directly into freefall.

    Ignore The Celebrity Culture at your peril. Celebrate it with caution. Attempt to defy it and you will hastily become enveloped by its Faustian embrace. Seven years after declaring its end, with an irony arch enough to drive a double-decker bus under, Piers Morgan is a central figure in Britain’s Celebrity Culture. He makes his living mostly as a judge on The Celebrity Culture’s favourite medium, reality TV shows, and interviewing celebrities for a glossy magazine. Soon he will consolidate his own niche in The Celebrity Culture, replete with the requisite spray tan and teeth whitening signifiers, by hosting a chat show in which one self-made Celebrity of the age will talk to others. His brassy soundbite, so potent in the eye of international tragedy, meant nothing after all.

    At the risk of glibness, just as the words were dropping

    out of the Editor’s mouth, 9/11 was confirming temporary celebrity status on previously unfound icons. The good. The Mayor of New York, the Head of The Fire Department, individuals showing previously unseen displays of bravery and heroism. And the darkest celebrity of them all: ‘the baddie’. Bin Laden’s celebrity was such that a distant relative of his became a momentary newspaper obsession herself in the UK two years later, simply on the strength of sharing his surname.

    The Celebrity Culture endeavours to keep a moral temperature between good and bad, but as it twists through the national psyche – encompassing such unlikely candidates as ‘The Canoe Wife’ who hid her husbands identity from her children, the lapdancer who the comedian informed her grandfather he had fucked live on national radio, the nurse who dated the TV presenter on a rape trial, a multiplicity of footballer’s spouses and a pantheon of young folk for whom fame constitutes a dream in itself – it bestows its arbitrary 15 minutes with slapdash abandon.

    The Celebrity Culture was not about to go down in the aftermath of the fall of the Twin Towers. It had already acquired too much personal

    significance for a nation that had bought into the idea of the self as brand. It had begun developing its own serious agenda, becoming at once synonymous with the idea of personal identity and community empathy. (Go on. Start an argument in the pub. Say the words ‘Victoria Beckham.’ Everybody cares, one way or another).

    The Celebrity Culture satisfies a deeper need for a narrative we can all share, a story in which reward for the good and judgement for the bad becomes modern folklore. These stories of the most public beacons of our age frame the moral temperament of the nation. They are stories of redemption and absolution. They satisfy age-old hopes that justice will be done and that the good guy will get the girl and eventually save the world.

    In this way, there is an argument for the case that The Celebrity Culture is the most honest arbiter of the time we live in. The psyche has become a modern instrument to be mastered. Playing it and shaping it is its own talent. Those living in the bookmarks between reality and celebrity have become living works of art. We

    can point at them and adjudicate ourselves against them.

    One of the most fun aspects of a Celebrity Culture that embraces not just the extraordinary but the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances is that we can measure how we might behave in a similar predicament. The Celebrity Culture as it stands is embodied in a South London dental hygienist that became one of the most recognisable names in the country after three months of public vilification in the Big Brother house, a subsequent turnaround, a further public shaming and redemption through illness. She is the first woman that has lived her entire adult life and may well die in the full public glare. Even her name feels weirdly symbolic or ironic, depending on the public’s mood towards her at any given moment, as if to prove that ‘Reality’ and ‘Celebrity’ have conspired to become the Dickensian fable of our times. Start a fully blown pub fight. Say the words ‘Jade Goody’. Everyone cares, for better and for worse.

    A graph point somewhere between ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Reality’, not yet named, has become the esoteric watchword of our era. The Celebrity Culture itself has replaced The

    Fairy Tale as the modern day fabulisation of moral and social codes. Heat, OK!, Hello and the daily coverage of The Celebrity Culture’s superstars in the tabloids and beyond act as its very own Hans Christian Anderson.

    One of the most recognisable Fairytale narratives is that of ‘rags-to-riches’. But the pot of gold at the end of the modern rainbow is not only about money, however much the deification of cold and charismatic businessmen Alan Sugar, Roman Abromavich and Simon Cowell might suggest otherwise. In a fractured social state, validity is reached through remuneration <and> recognition. A side order of both remains The Celebrity Culture’s holy grail. The glamour model Katie Price, or Jordan in her Fairy Tale Princess guise, has become the most significant beacon of the acquisitive modern urge for both. The reason young girls look up to her more than other icons of her generation is a complicated combination of business acumen, show-and-tell shamelessness, an implicit understanding of the demands of her epoch and simply fulfilling the affably sexual, game-lass role in culture that calls to mind anyone from Diana Dors to Samantha Fox – those Fairytale princesses of yore, both beacons of an older, more

    innocent incarnation of The Celebrity Culture.

    Within Jordan’s and Goody’s stories and with all the Princesses that try their hand at living this year’s model of the Fairytale, a democratisation of Celebrity has taken place. In an age where the self has become the centre and mass communication fulfils the grand Warholian prophesy to the letter, Fame has become something that is no longer about People Like Them. It is about People Like Us. Public recognition has become about personal recognition. The cycle completes itself. Fame for everyone and everyone for fame. If there is an element of narcissism in not wanting Celebrities to be elevated and choosing to take them Just Like Us, then it is counterbalanced by the needling reality that it presents hope for everyone. And who doesn’t really want that?

    The Celebrity Culture has now delivered its own hard-edged appeal. A collective game of good vs evil has emerged within it. So Fairytale! Sorry to hark back, but no-one quite fulfils these age-old tales with more tenacity and slyly intuitive public exuberance than Mrs Beckham. Her transformation from pock-marked, flat-haired, unremarkable Spice Girl to aerodynamic fashion plate has been a stealthy

    Ugly Duckling anecdote for our times. And there was her handsome Prince, waiting patiently and compliantly, to conduct her down the aisle in a chariot of gold, paid for in an unprecedented deal by The Celebrity Culture’s favourite magazine. Before long her happily-ever-after is interrupted by Rebecca Loos, who instantly slips into the role of the dragon that needs to be slain by the withering, icy disapproval of the public. In The Celebrity Age silence has become the most potent weapon of choice against interrogation. It has invested the blonde model, the graffiti artist and the author of her generation with their own modern superpower. So Mrs Beckham follows the lead of Moss, Banksy and Rowling and keeps schtum on her husbands infidelity, styling out the impasse with a gravity that is both distinctly old fashioned and uniquely modern. Letting us be the judge. Clever girl.
    In an age of transparency, where every aspect of the art of living has its price, to be auctioned off in an insane Sotheby’s of the psyche, silence is the only tool left to keep a myth in tact and protect a fantasy of living the perfect life. At the

    other end there is the serial confessor. Tracey Emin has removed any sense of enigma or mystery about her life by revealing it down to every last artful detail. In The Celebrity Culture, the public has chosen the role of priest in the confessional. We still await Amy, Britney and Kerry to say their rosaries.

    To lend Mrs Beckham’s Fairytale ending a strange intertextual twist, Loos’ final public dressing down after public rejection was delivered by another formerly betrayed wife (Sharon Osbourne) who had entered the public faculty and The Celebrity Culture by way of a reality TV show (The Osbournes), on a reality TV talent contest (Celebrity X Factor) in which ‘real’ celebrities imitated the motives of the ‘hopeful’ celebrities of Saturday night light entertainment. Did the whole hall of mirrors come crashing down after this? Of course not. It simply ripped up another chapter of The Modern Book of Fairytales and started over the process of replication, this time with another footballer, Ashley Cole, and another rags-to-riches reality Princess, Cheryl Cole, feeding the public need to cast villains and victims and deify the righteous.

    Is modern day Celebrity any worse than

    Fairytales of old in presenting unrealistic ideals? Or is it just a more complicated variant of the same? No matter how much a Celebrity chooses to control their own myth, no matter how much they shroud it in mystery or unknave themselves completely for public consumption, the judgement is left to the moral hordes. Who stays and who goes? We decide.

    The Celebrity Culture is just a filter, a storytelling exercise, a picture book to turn the pages of and come to conclusions about the deep seated sense of right and wrong, good and bad, that has always been passed down from generation to generation in one form or another. Same as it ever was.

    So rest assured.
    Night, night and God bless.
    Good, in the end, will always triumph over evil.

  • Brand You - Alnoor Ladha SHOW

    Brand You - Alnoor Ladha

    “Starting today you are a brand. You're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favourite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?…Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.”
    - Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company, Issue 10

    As a culture, it sometimes seems that we value the image of people more than we value people themselves. In response to this, we are inundated with frameworks for “identity management”, self-help advice, and the language of personal branding, while the concepts of success and status in the modern era have increasingly become inextricably dependent on the image we create of ourselves. Wealth and power are predicated on a well-honed ‘brand-you’ to use the unsettling language of management guru Tom Peters.

    Beginning with the Enlightenment cult of the personality, which saw characters such as Lord Byron come to personify an early notion of celebrity, as new technologies

    breakdown the barrier between the public and private, the concept of personality as brand which can be edited and shaped to suit the image of ourselves we’d like to project has pervaded our culture and consciousness to the point where we are so accustomed to it that we have appropriated it into our common vernacular, applied it to ourselves and the people around us, and in some cases elevated it to the supreme arbiter of success. Regardless of inclination or occupation, our collective merit system awards on the basis of fabricated personas rather than authenticity of self.

    A number of myths have arisen around the notion of Brand You which seek both to justify and celebrate it as a rational and pragmatic response to a fast paced, attention-scare mediated world, where the power of the image is supreme. Think you are immune to Brand You? Think again.

    Myth One: We are all brands

    This first assumption is the most perilous. Defining our individual personalities, complexities, and nuances in the simplistic language of branding is not only a misapplication of the definition of brands ; it is a distortion of our identities. The

    key distinction between brands and personalities is that brands are built top-down; they are collectively decided upon by brand-managers, their values are considered and measured by committees, they are formalized in board rooms and ad agency sofas over cappuccinos and over-priced catering. Personalities are created bottom-up. We are products of our unique histories, our experiences, our relationships, our geographies, our circumstances, our genetics, our world-views.

    We lose the organic nature of our identity when we inverse the natural order of how we come to be.

    One only needs to look at the plethora of social networking sites to see the extent of our manufactured identities. A generation of youth have internalized the lessons of ‘brand-me’ and rigorously apply them to these ‘identity incubators’. They are thinking about, manipulating, and editing who they are and what image they want to portray before they register their first digital profile.

    The great irony in the common (mis)application of brands to personalities is that while individuals stamp out the genuine and natural elements of their identities, brands are desperately trying to become more like humans in order to create stronger emotional bonds. Brands have been

    humanized, empathized, and personified in the hopes we will choose them over their less human rivals. They have evolved from the old-school notion of the ‘unique-selling proposition’ towards a more complex, multi-dimensional narrative. As brands become more like humans, humans have tried to become more like brands – self-edited, pruned, hyper self-aware – resulting in shallow identities that are often not even as interesting or nuanced as the brands contrived in marketing laboratories.

    Myth Two: Personality brands help us navigate within society

    In extolling the virtues of personality brands, we are taught to believe that clearly delineated identities not only help us determine who we are; they are sign-posts for the outside world to know what we represent. In practice, when we consciously fabricate our identities, in a social arena of other pre-fabricated identities, we collectively reduce our interpersonal relationships to commoditised transactions.

    The people we spend our time with, who we are seen with, whose pictures occupy the precious real-estate of our social networking profiles, are vetted not by our genuine, altruistic desires for friendship, but the symbolism they emit to the outside world.

    The other inherent

    fallacy is our belief that we determine decisions about our identity in complete isolation. This forgoes a fundamental truth of identity: we are formed not for people but because of people. Our identities do not exist independently of concomitant actors in a social world, but because of exposure, interaction, and interdependence.

    The transactional nature of relationships and the artificial belief in our independently created identities corrodes our intentions towards each other. We relegate treasured relationships to curated accessories that either hinder or augment our personas. Once we start treating each other like joint ventures in a branding exercise, we start denigrating the very edifice of human relations.

    Myth Three: Creating personality brands differentiates us

    In the collective race to find the thin layer of identity that represents us, we are constantly barraged with the same stimuli. What is considered aspirational in one social circle is the result of cues and cultural reference points targeted by the media to that very audience. Paradoxically, as we forge our brands, our identities look strikingly similar to the person next to us. The clairvoyant investment banker, the billionaire real estate mogul, the aspiring hip hop artist,

    the stay-at-home mom turned novelist are all reinforcing their archetypes (or more accurately, stereotypes) rather than differentiating themselves from the mould.

    When everyone is applying the same aesthetic strategies, with the same props, affected by the same trends, in hopes of appealing to the same audience, we homogenise the personalities that should be the source of creative variety in our culture. Even the dissidents of our counter-cultures have veered away from their once idealized purpose of subverting the mainstream; they evaluate their success by the cultivation of their brands, their commercial prowess, and their popular legitimacy.

    As our mavericks are muted, the rest of us look around at our generic brands and find ever more novel ways to stand out. Our increasing exasperation leaves us feeling alienated and ineffectual, as we replace our identities for attention-seeking stunts, distinct idiosyncrasies, and peculiar behaviours that will have us remembered by others, but forgotten by ourselves.

    What must be done? Does it even matter?

    As language philosophy suggests, the words we use to articulate our world are reflections of our societal values, and they propagate those values in a powerful way.

    As Wittgenstein famously remarked, “Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.” The words we use determine our behaviour and ultimately culture. We cannot talk about identities as brands without reducing our behaviour to brand mimicry.

    The creative industries that play a formative role in culture creation, in defining the grammar of language – from art to journalism to advertising to entertainment – are co-authors in staking out our collective values. They can help champion a return to embrace what’s beneath the social veneer. But there is also an onus on us as individuals, as consumers, as identity-generators, to become conscious again of how we come to be. We must recognize that who we are is a result of the communities we are a part of. And the quality of those communities is a direct result of our contribution. There is a fluidity and flux, a give-and-take, that defines our social fabric. The narcissism of brand-me must give way to a broader social purpose.

    There is no easy way out of our current situation. The idiom of brands as personality is well entrenched. However,

    we can start to question the values it dictates – we can foster a consciousness of the effect of fabricated identities and the misapplication of branding to personalities. After all, recognition can be the strongest form of rebellion.

    Fairytales of old in presenting unrealistic ideals? Or is it just a more complicated variant of the same? No matter how much a Celebrity chooses to control their own myth, no matter how much they shroud it in mystery or unknave themselves completely for public consumption, the judgement is left to the moral hordes. Who stays and who goes? We decide.

    The Celebrity Culture is just a filter, a storytelling exercise, a picture book to turn the pages of and come to conclusions about the deep seated sense of right and wrong, good and bad, that has always been passed down from generation to generation in one form or another. Same as it ever was.

    So rest assured.
    Night, night and God bless.
    Good, in the end, will always triumph over evil.