Native Turf

Visiting the Royal Academy Bronze Exhibition recently I was struck by the fact that while so many of the Italian exhibits had been loaned by the churches and galleries of their indigenous locations, most of the remainder were on loan from galleries or private collections with no indigenous relationship to the artefact. This made me think about the political questions of public ownership, privatisation, and the cultural needs of a country or nation. 

Nowadays the technocratic solution to a nation's or a community's financial woes would be to sell off or lease its cultural assets; but at the end of it what would be left but a series of gutted cities whose heart had quite literally been ript out - like the old market towns of Kingston, Surrey where I grew up, and which the planners eviscerated in the 1980s in favour of the car and in order to fill the empty spaces with soulless shopping malls that all contain the same national retailers? Even as I write this the ENO announces its intention to auction naming rights for the Coliseum. What is not for sale? It might be financially 'efficient', especially to those advisers who would profit from the process, to sell off all the Greek treasures - but where would that leave Greece? Who would take pride in living there, let alone going there?

In the world of money there is no loyalty to anything other than money. Its practitioners are like electrical appliances that offer dazzling pictures and sound, but only for as long as they're plugged into the juice. Unplug their 'power' - divorce them from their context - and they're dead. The pursuit of money really is the root of all evil: it eats out people's souls. It isn't surprising that deluded folk  pursue it to the exclusion of all else (there are weirdos everywhere!) what is truly revealing about our culture is the attention lavished by the public on these vacuous people.

Knowing who we are, individually or collectively, depends on knowing who we have been. And even if the most people are content to ignore their national treasures in favour of the latest ephemeral slebrity - as Im sure most Italians do - ultimately even the most culturally insensitive person derives identity from their heritage. The biannual circuses of traditional Christianity may be ignored by the majority, yet they're nevertheless part of a nation's mental furniture.

Like Christianity itself, any thought-form that loses its grounding in the popular psyche loses its currency. If art becomes yet another specialist ghetto of intellectually controlled values, demanding an entrance qualifcation either in the form of an art degree or millions of disposable dollars, then it dies. And if proof of this is wanted, one has only to look at the moral bankruptcy of the 'Turner' Prize, whose winner was announced today. While some cynics might argue that the lazy, fashion-driven, craftlessness of the Turner Prize is a perfect way to connect and reflect contemporary social values, it nonetheless fails at the first hurdle of any definition that a primary function of art is to reflect a transcendant reality of those feelings that lie beyond words.

Just as money is an intellectualised commodity valuation system that drains the emotional reality out of whatever it leaches onto; and you have only to look at ogres like Donald Trump to see how those who worship it lose all contact with their human-ness.

No comments: