Sadly around midnight on Monday 28 June a fire started in part of the ground floor of the Wilson Road building at CCA. As a consequence quite a lot of the work that belonged to the Fine Art MA students got ruined. The work was put there for assessment and them to be included in the exhibition on the 13th, but it was consumed by the fire itself, or destroyed by the fire extinguishers.
This is very sad and of course dreadful for everybody involved. A lot of people were in tears. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them. Later on I was told that the cause was mostly likely the combustion of painting oil and canvas and tissues that had been discarded in the plastic waste-bin. Which, on a hot day like we’ve been unexpectedly having, was more than likely to set these materials on fire.
On the Wednesday I went to Wilson road to pick up my paintings and materiel from the studio upstairs that I was using. And around this time the following conversation happened between me and one of the security guy:
me – “what happened?”
him – “they are bloody stupid, mate; bloody stupid.”
And then he proceeded:
him – “Anyone with half a brain in his head would know that these materials are highly flammable. But it seems none of them has a clue. It’s all very well these Health & Safety guys always going on about silly stuff, but then they change the bin from metal to plastic! You could have just baked jacket potatoes in a fire in a metal bin, without setting the whole place on fire.”
And then, without giving me the chance to say anything he said:
“They deserve it anyway.”
me (shocked) – “what do you mean they deserve it? How could anybody deserve that?”
Him – “The stuff they do is shit. It can’t be art.” Then he pointed at one of the paintings that I was preparing to lead into the van “If this work had gone up in the fire it would have been upsetting.”
I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. That was the most twisted compliment I’ve ever received about my work.
So I asked him “Why do you think my work shouldn’t burn?”
him – Because this work justified your being here for a year. And it looks like art. But the stuff most of them do is f**ck*ng crap, mate. Just a bunch of rich kids with a lot of time on their hands.”
I left him and sat in the van next to the driver who seemed to approve what the security guy was saying. I really had to think about this. Sure it’s easy to dismiss him as just a poor, undereducated working class security guy. And surely there’s no instant gain for me from his praise of my work – he’s not very likely to write an article about me in Art Monthly or Artforum. Or to buy an art work.
But if you know me, or if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I am always interested in what the “ordinary man on the street think about both my work and about art in general.
And since my first time around in art school in 1989 I developed a habit of discussion art with the models, the cleaners, the security and even some of the admins. That’s because:
most of these people have seen it all. They’ve been working there in the art school for years and they have seen everything. They can, by now, know something about art even if they’ve never cracked a book or picked up a brush. They have eyes and ears and brains. They also have no agenda.
Most majority of people on earth are “ordinary people” just like these guys. Which makes it pure stupidity to dismiss them.
No company in the right state of mind would reject the idea of members of the public testing in their products for free and giving them feedback about it. If the art school is a factory for art or artists, these guys are our only contact with “the street” in our little art school environment and our fluffy bourgeois existence.
So, I think we all have to ask ourselves a few questions:
How can we have students at the MA level who don’t have any clue about the basic nature of the materials they are using, and the basic rules of industrial safety.
How can the health and safety guys keep going on about stuff such as the decibel level in the air compressor and its long-term effect on your ears, and how you can’t be on your own in the studio in case you “injure yourself” and nobody finds you – and then get to ignore the basic rules of industrial chemical safety which is that flammable materials must be disposed of in closed metal bins.
Why does the “ordinary “man and woman dislike post-modern art that much? What do they feel it’s lacking and why do they feel that it’s an indulgence of the privileged?
And why do they like my work? Because they do. The postman who comes to my flat comments on my work; and so the gas man coming to read the meter. The policeman who came to investigate a burglary in my place. And the plumber who came to repair my toilet. Even the angry security man.
And the last question is:
until when will most of us – artists and art academics, curators and gallerists – stay in self imposed exile in this fluffy bourgeois bubble where we just turn around and around congratulating one another about “interesting” ideas, all the while we don’t give a monkey’s about what the majority of the people think.
Do we really “deserve to burn?”