Death of Che

Waxwork & concrete
130 x 120 x 255 cms

A waxwork of Che Guevara based on the photograph famously taken to prove his death.

Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph of Cuban revolutionary hero, Che Guevara, has come to stand for revolution in all its forms. A second famous image of Che, on which Turk’s ‘Death of Che’ is based, was taken in 1967 by the CIA-led Bolivian troops that executed him. For this photograph the soldiers dressed Che’s dead body in his military fatigues and propped up his head to mimic the Korda image. In Turk’s recreation, the artist plays the role of the revolutionary martyr, connecting the political use of Che’s image with that of Marat’s in his previous waxwork, ‘Death of Marat’.



  • This Is Not A Story About The Military - Hardy Blechman SHOW

    This Is Not A Story About The Military - Hardy Blechman

    In 1909, when the Victorian naturalist and painter Abbott H. Thayer published his observations about concealment in nature, it’s fairly certain he had no idea what he was starting. Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom was the first comprehensive catalogue of the many camouflage techniques employed in the natural world, and Thayer argued that nature was acting as an artist, creating optical effects with colour and light. On this basis he suggested that his study belonged in the realm of the artist as well as the naturalist. His thesis coincided with the birth of Cubism and, interestingly, with the emergence of Gestalt perceptual psychology. ‘Gestalt’ means ‘shape’ or ‘figure’, and its theorists sought to explore how the brain organizes and interprets visual material through form, context, spatial proximity and patterning. Perhaps unsurprisingly the primary concepts of Gestalt gained some credence within the art world, in particular with Klee and Kandinsky a decade or so later.

    But it wasn’t just in the art world that significant changes were taking place. The early twentieth century saw a seismic shift in the visual techniques employed by military forces worldwide, primarily as a result of the development of longer range and more

    accurate weaponry. These new technological developments negated the traditional use of the military uniform, such as the famous red coat of the nineteenth century British army. The red coat had long been a symbol of military pride and was intended to visibly intimidate the enemy on the battlefield. But the trench warfare of World War One required different strategies. Colour on the battlefield was no longer used to inspire fear, but to conceal. In an unlikely meeting of opposites – the military and the arts – many modern painters were recruited into the army and given the task of using their new techniques, developed through the study of camouflage in nature, to disguise weapons, vehicles, and ultimately, men.

    The French army led the way with its dedicated camouflage section under the direction of artist Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola and produced new innovations for concealment in the air, on land and at sea. The Cubists, many of whom fought in the Great War, and ever open to conceptual challenges, had already begun to reinterpret and mimic the camouflage techniques found in nature. It was Picasso who apparently first used the term ‘dazzle’, in reference to the need for warships

    to dazzle (i.e. ‘mislead’) their enemies at sea. Under the direction of British marine artist and Naval Commander Norman Wilkinson, the navy founded a ‘Dazzle Section’ based at the Royal Academy of Arts. Here a group of eighteen artists including Wilkinson and the Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth developed paint schemes for warships that used disruptive patterns to confuse enemy gunners as to the target’s course, speed and direction. (In 2008 Jeff Koons showed a painted yacht, ‘Guilty’, that was directly inspired by the dazzle painted ships of WW1.)
    The essential role of the artist as camoufleur continued in the Second World War, and by the time the war had ended, camouflage was deeply entrenched in twentieth century visual culture. New printing techniques had facilitated the mass production of army uniforms, and the development of international mass media in documenting war had brought camouflage into the public eye on a scale like never before. The first post-war artist to appropriate camouflage was the French painter Alain Jacquet. Exploring an interest in the visual effects of disruptive patterns, Jacquet created camouflage interpretations of his peers’ works, including Camouflage Jasper Johns (after John’s Flag, 1954) and Camouflage Hot Dog Lichtenstein, both in 1963.

    In 1964, Jacquet reinterpreted Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, which he described as breaking “reality into dots”, and thus having the same properties as camouflage. In 1964, Jacquet wore a camouflage suit recycled from a US Army parachute to the opening of his show at the Alexander Iolas Gallery in New York, attended by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

    Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-94) famously discovered surplus camouflage cloth (the ‘telo mimmetico’ pattern, created in 1929 for the Italian army) in a flea market. He used it to create works in 1966 and 1967, stretching the cloth as though it was a blank canvas and turning it into a visual artefact, thus subverting its original intention of concealment. The same decade saw the rise of the Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War response to Vietnam in America – the counter culture, in all its many manifestations, took to using army surplus as a new symbol of resistance to the Establishment, again subverting the purpose of camouflage from one of hiding to being seen, this time for political reasons.

    It was newspaper coverage rather than surplus trade that led to Warhol’s re-appropriation of the US Army Woodland camouflage pattern

    in 1986 for his famous Camouflage series. Unlike Boetti, Warhol reworked the pattern’s original colourways and scale, although he left the shapes intact. Warhol used these camouflage patterns as a base for nearly 70 works including The Last Supper, Self Portrait and his portrait of Joseph Beuys. Warhol’s fascination with camouflage as a perfect form with which to explore the possibility of pure abstraction mirrored his own personal need for disguise. Perhaps it’s this central idea of disappearing, blending in, or inversely standing out, whether personally, socially, or politically, that makes camouflage so seductive to many artists. The lure of camo can be seen in modern works as diverse as the ‘pop’ camouflage of graffiti artist Leonard McGurr (Futura 2000) throughout the 80s, the architecturally camouflaged ‘Cloud Towers’ of Emile Aillaud in Paris, and the museum performances of Harvey Opgenorth in 1998, in which the artist stood in front of classic paintings by Matisse and Rothko wearing clothes that blended perfectly with the colours on the canvases.

    More recently the idea of appropriation, the recycling (of theft?) of images has been at the heart of much contemporary artistic work that references camouflage. Gavin Turk’s 2007 exhibition ‘Me as

    Him’ projects both Turk and the Warhol, the men and the images, under a layer of silk-screened camouflage, challenging the idea of the self-portrait as something authentic with ‘deeper meaning’, and looking only to the façade for answers. Damian Hirst’s Amazing Revelations collage (2007) uses thousands of butterfly wings to make abstract patterns and inadvertently demonstrates some of the most skillful camouflage techniques used in nature. Hirst’s interest in butterflies as a metaphor for mortality is perhaps linked to the obvious visual use of camouflage as a survival mechanism.

    Despite all of this, however, and despite the continued presence of camouflage in music, fashion and contemporary culture, the fact that the use of camouflage in the twentieth century developed through the synergy of nature and art is often overlooked. We could argue that its primary symbolic association is still with the military. Today, as more military special forces adopt black uniforms along with the use of new pixelated patterns in army camouflage, the traditional disruptive pattern – the khaki or sand uniforms that have become iconic cultural visual signifiers of war and combat for over a hundred years – becomes less useful. Does this mean that we will

    be able to culturally reclaim camouflage, divorcing its original artistic and natural function from military needs? Each time another artist uses the disruptive pattern in a non-military context, will this slowly reshape our perception on the meaning of camouflage? Perhaps eventually when we see a Warhol canvas or a rap album cover or a Japanese toy that uses a well-known camouflage pattern, it might be possible for us to respond to the colour, shape and form in its new context, without being dominated by the pattern’s prior historical military associations. We have to remember that the desire of Thayer or Braque or Picasso to explore the visual techniques found in natural forms was really a desire to understand themselves. The need to hide or to reveal oneself is not the same as the need to declare war.

  • Guevara In Art - Ben Cranfield SHOW

    Guevara In Art - Ben Cranfield

    In a TIME cover article of August 1960 Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara, was described as the “Brain” behind Castro’s Cuba. Whilst Castro was the “heart, soul, voice and bearded visage”, and his Brother Raul was the “fist that holds the revolution’s dagger”, Ernesto took control of the countries ideological and fiscal policies, although in a particularly maverick way.

    Whilst recent artistic projects, not to mention notable biographies, have sought to put the brain back behind the floating iconic face, it may still seem peculiar to hear Che described first and foremost as a brain, with Castro taking the place of the visage. Furthermore, the TIME front cover of the 8th August 1960 jars with our contemporary imagination. The Che pictured in realistic shades and hues is not the Che of Alberto ‘Korda’ Diaz’s ubiquitous photograph; not the statuesque Che, staring enigmatically off into the distance, not forever young, melting into the mane of his hair and beard as a crown of thorns or a halo, but smiling, engaged and ruggedly lined. TIME, however, did prefigure the objectifying of Che, with the all attendant problems for historical truth, by remarking that he is “the most fascinating, and the most dangerous

    of the triumvirate” and that his smile has a power that “women find devastating.”

    In the same issue of TIME, there is piece on Marilyn Monroe as she prepared for “The Misfits”, directed by her husband Arthur Miller. The piece poignantly points to cracks appearing in Monroe’s façade. She is painted as a neurotic figure who reflects the character she is playing, Roslyn, as a “fractured, manhandled woman.” Monroe was found dead almost exactly two years later, “The Misfits” being her last film.

    “Che Guevara was the Marilyn Monroe of Marxism, an empty receptacle for fantasy” writes Jonathan Jones in his review of Gavin Turk’s 2001 post-Beuysian teach-in, “The Che Gavara Story” [sic]. This seems an easy association, one which we can accept without flinching. Yes, Hollywood’s tragic heroine of Che’s hated America and Cuba’s martyred hero seem to be part of the same breath. And yet it is only their emptiness which is the same. It is only the remarkable similarity of their magnitude as ciphers that makes this connection so easy. Beyond this they are, of course, complete opposites. It is one thing above all that makes the Marilyn/Che comparison so natural, and that

    is their reduction to a single image; Warhol’s image.

    Within the course of ‘The Gavara Story’, Jones reports, the question was raised as to why Warhol never “did depict Che”. Jones recalls that in fact Warhol had depicted Che, in his 1965 film The Life of Juanita Castro, but not as the Che of Warholian silhouette that we all know. We may in fact be forgiven for thinking that Warhol had in fact depicted Che in typical multicoloured silhouetted fashion. Trisha Ziff has tried to establish the origin of the famous ‘faked’ ‘Warhol Che’ and traces the authorship of the image to former Warhol assistant and star of many a Warhol iconic portrait himself, Gerard Malanga.

    Of course the notion of authorship in Warhol’s silkscreens is ambiguous and debatable and Warhol allegedly claimed the series as his own after Malagna’s appeal for help following the discovery of the forgery. We may wonder as to why Warhol had not produced an iconic image of Che himself. As Jones’ opening assertion suggests it would appear to have been an obvious choice. Perhaps Che had not captured Warhol’s imagination, perhaps, as the campery of Juanita Castro would suggest, Che

    did not possess the compellingly deep one-dimensionality that Warhol usually sought, or perhaps he simply had not got around to it before the forgery and other similar versions had appeared. Forgery or no forgery, Warhol had already made an image of Che; for all images that appear on t-shirts, the icon of the Korda photograph, the Jim Fitzpatrick posters, the “devastating” Hollywood smile, could all be said to be Warhol’s in a crucial way.

    When Jim Fitzpartick made possibly the most famous silhouette of Che using Korda’s “Guerrillero Heroico” in 1967 there was no mistaking the presence of Warhol. Warhol, as a signifier for repetitious celebrity, as an embodiment of one-dimensional contemporary iconography came before and after the flowing of Fitzpatrick’s icon into contemporary consciousness. Although those dependent on the art market might like to dispute it, Warhol’s signature was not so much a moment of artistic authoring, but a statement about celebrity and value itself. The content of the signature as repeated, as the image of Che or Monroe repeated, existed in the act of repetition itself rather than its particular signification. The proliferation of a Warhol image enacted its death with the morbidity which occurs with the

    uncanny fascination of recall and distancing. The attention to the particular and the generic which exists within a Warhol series is like that which makes the familiar strange, like a word or name repeated without context until the tongue becomes awkward around it. The morose nature of repetition leads, arguably to the limit event of Warhol’s “Death in America”, series. Hal Foster asserts, in his essay titled after the series, that;

    “Somehow in these repetitions, then, several contradictory things occur at the same time: a waning away of traumatic significance and an opening out to it, a defending against traumatic affect and a producing of it.”

    In the waning of the traumatic, Foster is referring to Warhol’s own remarks about the diminishing effect of the “gruesome” when viewed “over and over again.” However, Foster also perceives these sites of repetitious unpleasantness to be instances of ‘traumatic realism’ – a reenactment of the death depicted in the horror of the semelfactive seeing again and again. Such a trauma is reminiscent of the film ending of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” in which Rose goes to play a recording of Pinky’s voice to console her after his death, only to hear

    a partial truth as the record hits a scratch and repeatedly jumps with static rupture saying ‘I love you’.

    Similarly, the protagonists of Warhol’s portraits become forever frozen in a permanently repeated death with the question of salvation or damnation deferred. A viewer of “Brighton Rock” is forced to relive a trauma both numbed and accentuated by the dramatic irony of the situation; we know that if the record were to play Rose would not hear Pinky say how much he loves her but would instead hear him tell her “I hate you, you little slut”.

    The initial horror of the dramatic realisation, as the record is played and the abrupt relief of the jumping needle, both softens the feared finality of the death of the illusion and at the same time deepens the trauma by continually reminding us of the emptiness of the words embedded in Rose’s mind. Similarly, the banality of Warhol’s repetitive and softened, ‘Hollywood’ endings are in themselves traumatic instances. A singular image of Monroe as colourful clown could have been seen as a celebration, or at least a monument to mourn, multiple Monroes (proliferating forever more at grotesque rate of speed)

    become a yawning sorrowful emptiness, a morose stuck record.

    As Hannah Charlston says in her introduction to the catalogue which accompanied the V&A’s exhibition “Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon”, “The story of the Che image is in part the story of the growth of visual literacy.” Whether or not Che was a good man or a bad man, a hero or a psychopath, the trauma which is repeated in the proliferation of the image through a continual reordering of the linguistic, denoted and connoted, as Barthes might suggest, results in a deadening loss of aura and history. The multiple instances of Che’s reworking in poster form, by activists (on all sides), admen, artists, designers, becomes an essay in contemporary textual fracturing. Following on from Barthes, the retelling of Che as image may indeed be best understood as a symptom of our visual literacy, our ability to digest and read all as textual mirror.

    Discussing Che as icon is becoming as clichéd as the image itself. If one wants to discuss the rabid force of commercialisation, the ubiquity of celebrity, the reduction of the revolutionary spirit to image, then ‘Che’, via Korda, via Fitzpatrik, via Warhol, is too

    exemplary to ignore. As we attempt to move forward heroically, tragically, romantically, pathetically, tragically, comically, then we may easily find ourselves picturing ourselves as Guevara, in Elvis stance, through Warhol, as an act of trauma magnified; three one-dimensionalities compounding our own.

  • The Outsider - Amber Trentham SHOW

    The Outsider - Amber Trentham

    On the whole, outsiders don’t seem to survive that well. Take the revolutionaries for example: poor old Prometheus was bound to a rock for eternity, Lucifer was consigned to hell, Oedipus gouged out his own eyes with a brooch pin, Jesus was crucified, John the Baptist decapitated, Che Guevara assassinated, Marat too, Bobby Sands starved himself dead, Socrates got to drink hemlock, Travis Bickle executed a massacre and God knows what happened to Hitler, but it can’t have been good. Then there are the half-mad visionaries - the likes of Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Sid Vicious, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis et al - those brooding souls whose depressive talent sets them so apart from the community they could only die of loneliness. And then there are the reviled, the drop-outs, the misfits, the junkies, the street urchins, the bums, who for some reason or other just can’t swim in the main stream. Ad infinitum. Find yourself an outsider, someone who lives on the periphery of social norms, and more often than not, some kind of grisly extinction follows.

    There’s something about being outside of the inside that’s unsustainable, impossible, that just cannot survive. The

    cult of the extreme individual makes for a sticky end. The community needs these raging individuals to drive it forwards, it needs outsiders to push through evolution, it even creates outsiders – but it doesn’t ultimately allow them to survive. Outsiders serve their function in various extremes; they satisfy the community’s vampiric hunger for saints and martyrs, then it’s goodbye Charlie and curtains all round. Chewed up, spat out. They have to be sacrificed.

    This relationship between the outsider and the community, or the outsider and the ‘insiders’, has a strange alchemy to it that seems at one moment graspable, yet at another vague and mercurial. The relationship is symbiotic, co-dependent, each defining the other – the outsider exists only in relation to the ‘insider’, like black and white, light and dark, knowledge and Eden, good and bad. But exactly how and why the outsider and the insider operate, how they fit together, what this alchemy is – is a quandary.

    Long ago, in small communities, in the days before outsiders were ostensible, there were goats instead. Scapegoats. Upon these goats depended the well-being of the community. Once a year, the people would daub

    the goat with symbols of all the ills of the community and then they would banish it. With it, this painted goat would take away the projected sins of the people, thereby restoring order and calm. The scapegoat, or rather the sacrifice of the scapegoat, would purge the community’s defilement, cleanse it, unify it, make it whole again.

    Later on, the Greeks incorporated this idea of a scapegoat into human form. If ever there were a plague on the land, it was perceived as pollution that needed cleansing. Rather than exiling a goat, however, they would exile (and early on sacrifice) a pharmakos - a cripple, slave or criminal – who would perform the same purifying function. The pharmakos was remedial – behind this ritual was the shutting out of badness from the city in the way a modern day remedy shuts out badness from the body. The pharmakos was led outside of the city and sacrificed,in order to purify the city's interior. It’s interesting to note that both the ‘pharmakos’ and the scapegoat came from the inside in before they were taken outside. Created by the interior of the city, both were made outsiders by its “insiders”

    thus the outsider is both the ritual embodiment of all that is wrong with the community, while also being the means of healing it. He is both sacred and profane, remedy and poison.

    Later still, this ritual became civilised and formalized on the Greek stage with the birth of tragedy - the very domain of fictional outsiders. It is no surprise that Dionysus was the god of the tragic stage, the deity who even on Olympus embodied the ‘other’ and the one who set up communion between things hitherto isolated, separate. Indeed, the literal meaning of tragedy is ‘the song of the he-goat’, which further underlies the connection between the social function of that and the earlier scapegoat. In fact, you might argue they are one and the same, not least since watching tragedy in its native context had the same effect as the banishing of that painted goat and the pharmakos; the effect of catharsis. Catharsis, coined by Aristotle in his “Poetics”, was a purification that happened for the audience of a tragic stage through the experience of watching the play. The emotions evoked by the tragedy: ‘pity for undeserved suffering, and fear for the man like

    yourself’ are the tenets of this purging, cleansing experience.

    How exactly this catharsis happens is a mystery, but inexactly speaking, it’s something to do with our watching the fictional outsider up on stage meeting his doom. We watch the extra-ordinary tragic heroes of Prometheus, Oedipus, Pentheus, Antigone, Achilles and all the other miserables taking their stand outside the norm of the city, becoming ‘other’ through a profoundly extreme and often noble character flaw that they are unable to abate. The chorus stand by and watch, reporting events, passive, observant. And when the tragic hero is undone, the chorus lament and say they told him so and then are able to return to their ordinary lives. The value of these ordinary lives, now reinforced and vindicated.

    There’s something deep in the idea that this highly sophisticated (and then very socio-political community based) theatre could perform a function similar to that of the scapegoat. And maybe there is a clue here to the function of the ‘outsider’ today. Onto him we project our ills, our hopes, our fears. He acts them out. He is a living archetype. He lives out extra-ordinariness, excellence, loneliness, exclusion, rebellion, anarchy, going against

    the grain. He is punished for it, or sacrificed to it. He is exiled. Banished. Rejected. And as such he is given responsibility for the collective salvation of the group.

    Extraordinariness is perhaps a defining feature of the outsider. As history relates, ‘outsiders’ seem to be extra-ordinary either as exceptionally talented human beings, or as sub-human Hogarthian quasi-monsters like the pharmakos, the junkies covered in lesions and the beggars on the street. In terms of the talented, the community ultimately won’t tolerate them: as Solon observed ‘a city perishes from its too great men’. They have to be culled. The community seems to have a mixture of envy and distrust for anyone who is too gifted or successful. As if someone’s exaggerated good luck or excellence might call down the wrath of god on the town. Aristotle noted that if a man oversteps the common level of virtue, he cannot be accepted on equal footing with the rest of the citizens – which is why the democratic state introduces the policy of ostracism. In terms of the wretched, the community pushes them out for fear of contagion. We cross to the other side of the street; we don’t

    want to be infected or sullied. Displaying an animal mentality, we exclude the diseased among us, in order to protect the survival of the group.

    The men and the women who perform the function of the outsider for society are living out something that is buried deep in all of us. They are doing an important and painful job for the community. They are both sacrificing themselves and being sacrificed. The outsider’s destruction reinforces to the mainstream that it’s just not possible to live out that part of ourselves - the part that is a-social, anarchic, monstrous, divine. The outsider’s destruction allows us to commune with the part of ourselves that is isolated, separate, outside – but safely. We, like the chorus of old, purge the outsider inside of us by ritually observing their downfall so that we can return gratefully indoors to the ironing and the soaps on TV. For it’s cold outside. Maybe we should give more thanks to all those oddballs who are on the outside, for whether they know it or not, whether they want to or not, they realign the natural balance of our lives, and restore the ever so fragile eco-system of our

    community… they allow us our normality.

  • 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!

    community… they allow us our normality.