This seems like a fitting first post for my blog on visual culture. It’s a street ‘intervention’ in the rural commuter village outside London where I live; a ceramic tile by an anonymous artist propped at the base of a phone box in the centre of Twyford in Berkshire. The text reads. “Something is missing from your life but I don’t know what that is – sorry”.
It speaks to me because the “something missing” might be what this blog is hoping to address – a need to return to my writing on art which I have justified to friends as important in order to “keep me sane”. But it also introduces some of the aspects of cultural production which interest me most at the moment: the politics of ‘work’, the socio-geographic location of the maker and the consumer, issues of authenticity and originality, cultural and economic value, possession, craft and humour.
The desire to take it – especially for a borderline kleptomaniac like this author – is palpable. And my easy answer to the question the work poses is “This! This artwork is missing from my life!”. Like contemplating picking a wild flower, it forces us to consider our own interests over those of others, and in turn our place in a world where individualism is daily pitted against the needs of society. Is my consumption and pleasure more important than yours?
But this is a ‘work’ and not something from nature like a flower, so it neatly raises all those big issues around production and consumption and the need to own and to consume, which advertising (including street advertising which this work plays on) seeks to create. It reminds me of artist Victor Burgin’s famous poster campaign from the 1970s which satirised perfume advertising and bore the slogan “What does possession mean to you? 7% of our population own 84% of our wealth”. I wonder how this statistic might read today. And is the value of something only to be had from owning it?
There’s something of David Shrigley in this sign (one of my favourite works by him is a photograph of a sign in front of a grandiose public building which bears the text “IGNORE THIS BUILDING”). It’s anti-heroic (especially being positioned on the floor) but also rather twee, manufactured in a format that might be used for a souvenir or keepsake. The handwriting-style font emphasises the intimate, personal nature of the “handmade” art work, albeit slightly mocked by the tile format (an imitation of a mass-produced object). This raises the questions of authenticity and originality – is this a real one-off or a mass-produced item? How would that influence its artistic or commercial value?
The location of the work by a phone box doesn’t seem accidental, suggesting as it does the idea of communication. The antiquated ceramic format of the work reflects the increasingly anachronistic presence of telephone boxes on our streets. The “I” of the work is the (unknown) artist but the “you” is contextual and unstable, prompting us to examine the artist-audience/consumer relationship and to ask what kind of communication or connection is possible. And there’s an even more interesting visual culture twist to my consumption of this work, dear reader: I haven’t actually seen this work. A friend and neighbour texted me the above image and posted it on Facebook. So the maker-image-consumption relationship is muddied further, and completed by the critical intervention of this blog through which this image reaches you.Stay tuned for more of my thoughts about art that I haven’t seen. And maybe even some that I have.