Tracey Emin To Be Royal Academy Professor of Drawing – ArtLyst

Tracey Emin To Be Royal Academy Professor of Drawing

Controversial appointment of leading YBA to position formally held by William Turner, John Constable, and William Blake

Tracey Emin – one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary artists – has just been revealed to be the new Professor of Drawing at London’s prestigious Royal Academy, the country’s oldest art school.

While, there is yet to be an official announcement, the General Assembly of Royal Academicians (RAs) – an exclusive club of sculptors, architects, printmakers and painters – it seems the decision was made on Thursday.

But the appointment of the 48-year-old artist is somewhat controversial: most famous for the works Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (a tent embroidered with the names of everyone she had ever sleepy with), and My Bed (her unmade bed, surrounded by grimy detritus), Emin is not your typical fine arts academician – and perhaps an odd choice of a professor of drawing. Figurative painter Diana Armfield, for instance, complained to the Times that she ‘wouldn’t have thought that her talents were that way, while conceding that Emin’s scrawling works on paper ‘I suppose are drawings’. And she may have a point that Emin’s draughtsmanship lacks the formal skill of former post-holders – from William Turner, and John Constable, to William Blake.

Tate Galleries director Nicholas Serota has supported the decision, however: ‘there will be a lot of people who say, ‘What a lousy idea, she doesn’t stand for classical drawing’, but I think it’s a great appointment’: ‘Drawing is the foundation for everything she does and I think it’s the thing for which she is most recognised internationally as well’, he told the Times. Here Here!

She shot to fame in the 1990s as one of the leading members of the Young British Artists movement.  In 1997, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, was shown at Charles Saatchi’s New Sensations exhibition and, in same year, she gained considerable media exposure when she appeared drunk and swearing on a live Channel 4 TV discussion.

In 1999, she was a Turner Prize nominee and exhibited My Bed — an installation, consisting of her own unmade dirty bed with used condoms and blood-stained underwear. In March 2007, Emin was chosen to join the Royal Academy of Arts in London as a Royal Academician. She represented Britain at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Her first major retrospective 20 Years was held in Edinburgh 2008, and toured Europe until 2009.

Tracey opened the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate with Jools Holland in April 2011. She has been a major supporter of the project from its inception and it has been suggested she will exhibit there in the future. In May 2011, Emin’s largest major solo exhibition in a public space was held at Hayward Gallery, London titled Love Is What You Want.

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Tracey Emin To Be Royal Academy Professor of Drawing – ArtLyst.

Culture Wars | The middle of nowhere

Culture Wars | The middle of nowhere.

The middle of nowhere

Arcelormittal Orbit, by Anish Kapoor, Stratford, London


I tend to arrive in Stratford at night; the Jubilee brings me in, the Central takes me out. These days as I wait for my train it’s hard to ignore the lurking sense that over my shoulder a parallel universe is growing. I always turn round, you can’t help but stare. The Westfield shopping centre rises over Stratford station with a kind of imminence. Illuminated M&S mannequins in a high distant window reveal what life is like inside. An enclosed bridge crosses above a moat of train lines and disappears into the complex.

Squinting through the darkness, I’ve been following the construction of Anish Kapoor’s monumental observation tower the Arcelormittal Orbit. I saw the press release months ago and now here it almost is. It fills me with a kind of excitement: not the excitement of seeing something imagined become real, but of something real become imagined. It’s really taking shape, though that’s hardly the right idiom. From my viewpoint on the platform, with Westfield in the foreground, the Orbit seems like a cross between an enormous skelter and a Christmas tree.

The Orbit invites comparisons. Described as congealed intestines, a melted rollercoaster, a loop of string arrested in mid-fall, it seems we cannot talk about it without talking about other things. Instead of evaluation we end up with similes. This tendency to describe what the structure is like betrays a sense of unease over what it is. The tower is, of course, strikingly redundant – an inept attempt to satisfy the vague sense that something is missing, another useless thingy to add to Stratford’s menagerie of future relics. But its uselessness is to the point: Boris Johnson and Anish Kapoor have said that the tower is ‘mythic,’ which both acknowledges its unreality and reveals that they want more than they know how to get.

The Orbit, Johnson has said, is being built to ‘justify’ the huge sums of money ‘invested’ in east London. In other words, the tower is being built to give reason to the Olympic project, to give it sense. As when newly-weds nauseously calculate the cost of their extravagance, there seems to be a recognition here that fantasy has got the better of reality, that we may have gotten a little carried away. But is the construction of a large steel squiggle really the most effective way of sobering up? Perhaps the recognition is rather that reality will soon get the better of the fantasy. If so, the solution would be to retreat further into fantasy. When the wax is melting start kicking instead.

Towers are monuments to our uncertainties. When Johnson talks with hopeful vagueness of the ‘mythic’ nature of towers, the word he is really after is ‘magic.’ The Orbit was designed to make the Olympic Park a ‘must see’ destination; the Orbit, that is to say, is a coercion; all towers are. Towers attempt to convince us that they, and by extension we, stand at the centre of things. Stratford is now ‘Stratford City’, and the difference is more than nominal; the name is a declaration of its importance, its centrehood. The tower, however, must not only declare Stratford as the centre, it must also constitute Stratford as the centre. The function of this useless object, Johnson has stated, is to keep drawing visitors to Stratford once the games have left. The Orbit is a hope for permanence.

A tower is a paranoid gesture. In his book on literary modernism, David Trotter writes, ‘The beginning of paranoia is the deep sense that it all hangs together’. A tower ratifies that deep sense. By standing at the centre of things it reassures us of where we are, it defines our sense of place, it precludes our feeling peripheral and our feeling contingent. A tower neutralises the disorder of a city into a kind of project, ideal, or dream. It clears away the ground-level clutter; it makes it all hang together. We build towers when the mess of contingency becomes too much for us, or too little.

The Olympics realises a wish to participate in a vision of, and register our allegiance to, the ‘global village.’ As such, the Olympic project denies the possibility of a centre; the Olympic Park is designed to for all people from all places. For Britain the games represent a kind of liberal (apolitical) utopia (dystopia with PR). We shouldn’t be scandalised by its expense and transience, by the spectacle of boom-and-bust condensed into a fortnight, for it is a global event. We will not be left with, and in, the mess as there is no ‘we’ as such, no ‘we’ in particular, only the global we.

If this picture of things begins to unnerve rather than inspire, we might start to hedge our bets, we might start to feel adrift and crave the certainty of a centre, the magic of a tower. Once the global we starts to lose its meaning, the passing of the games may leave us feeling bereft.

The Orbit will continue to watch us even when the world has stopped. As Barthes wrote of the Eiffel Tower, ‘The Tower is an object which sees, a glance which is seen…[it] transgresses this habitual divorce of seeing and being seen’. We build towers when we worry that no one is watching: they are an artefact of secular doggedness. The French may have killed their king and lost their emperors, but through their ideology they continued to believe in their singularity. To celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution they built the Eiffel Tower; the Tower marked the Revolution as their historical centre. It gave them a story.

Comparisons have been drawn between the Orbit and the Eiffel Tower. Indeed, where the receiving public have resorted to similes in attempt to understand what the Orbit is, its designers have given it a context – a faux genre – by placing it alongside Eiffel, Tatlin and Babel (no mention of Blackpool – too regional). We have also been told that the tower is Art; though there would seem to be a tension between its attempt at myth and its status as Art. Towers are not art just as dictators are not politicians, they ask for our allegiance, not our approval. Art is always contained or framed, but a tower cannot be framed because it is the frame, it frames us, it turns us into the objects of a disinterested gaze. The Eiffel Tower constitutes Parisians as Parisians. The question cannot be whether the Orbit is good or bad, but whether it works, whether it becomes mythic, the object of daydreams.

The Eiffel Tower centres Paris. Barthes describes it as ‘a form which men unceasingly put meaning…it attracts meaning the way a lightning rod attracts thunderbolts’. The Tower works at being everything, at being mythic, because it is nothing, it is an utterly useless object, an empty monument. The Tower draws its life from the ground below; fantasies of Paris are absorbed and released through the Tower. Without Paris the Eiffel would be a curiosity, without the Eiffel there would be no Paris, the city as idea. Built at sea the Tower would stand for nothing, its emptiness would be total, it would attract no meaning. The only international places on earth are the oceans. Their emptiness is their belonging to no one in particular, like a wilderness.

The Eiffel Tower creates and constitutes ideas of Paris. What is the idea that the Orbit is intending to create? Is it of Britain? London? East London? Stratford? What are the boundaries between these? How do we know one from the other? As far as the Olympics is concerned, Britain is London, and London is, to use David Cameron’s phrase following the riots, ‘an international success story’. The Orbit, that is to say, is being built on an ‘international’ site in order to create an idea of Britain as international. But this is an impossible wish. We cannot be centred on nowhere in particular. If we have no sense of where we are to begin with, a tower will not look imperious but embarrassed amid the skyline, like St Paul’s beside the Shard. A mirror only reflects if we have a sense of ourselves, a tower can only constitute a space if we have a sense of what it might mean to stand for something, to be different; paranoia, for us, starts to look blissfully naïve.

The Olympics offers a picture of Britain’s drab liberalism in which we have individuality without idiosyncrasy (freedom without imagination). The sports we most readily associate with the Olympics involve individuals who have trained tirelessly to become expert at performing narrowly defined tasks, they are mad to succeed over others and their success is quantified in terms of time and speed. This is the working life of a professional today.

If we feel that such lives are hollow, that something is missing, if we feel that our lives have too much change with too little direction, this sense of empty contingency will only be exacerbated by the expensive and fleeting nature of the Olympics. The Olympics undermines the permanence of structures; it undermines the capacity of structures to provide structure. But the Orbit cannot work as an antidote, it cannot hold it all together for a liberal utopia can have no centre. The physics of liberalism is without gravity; we are each our own centres (we are all threatened by each other). The Orbit is an impossible object, a tower centred on nothing, with a self-defeating purpose: to constitute Stratford as a place so that it will be visited by tourists. To commodify Stratford by predicating its future well-being on the attention of tourists is to eviscerate it as a place; it cannot both flourish and be consumed. Why must the good of Stratford depend on this? Why this appalling lack of imagination? If the Eiffel Tower is an empty monument, the Orbit is a monument to emptiness.

Barthes wrote that the Eiffel Tower is able to perform as an ‘infinite cipher’ because of its simple primary shape. Most towers are symmetrical and centre on themselves, they coerce us into their myths by embodying them. The arc of the Eiffel’s lines do not actually meet in the centre, the point of their convergence is implied, existing at an infinite vanishing point. Its centre is not stated but suggested, the Tower works its way into our minds by leaving our imaginations to complete it indefinitely; this is part of the Tower’s oneiric quality. To paraphrase Kierkegaard: a tower which cannot seduce us cannot save us either. A tower must be able to find its way into our daydreams, our mindless glances skywards, our doodles.

Towers become mythic only through their powers of seduction, their magic. Can the Orbit seduce us? It seems unlikely, the Orbit, which is dwarfed by the monumentality of Westfield, is a hysterical structure; it does not wear its impossibility lightly. In recognition of its predicament it has no centre, is in constant transition and looks unstable. These are features which Kapoor boasts of. Towers are centred, ordered, imperious, permanent and certain. The Orbit is uncentred, disordered, liberal, transient and hysterical. Is it a tower or the repudiation of one? If the latter, why was it selected by Johnson and his team?

A contradictory object would seem best qualified to realise an impossible wish. And perhaps the Orbit’s hysteria is a welcome distraction from its redundancy. By being unsure of itself, by being nothing in particular, perhaps it suspends the question of what is wanted from it. Or maybe the Orbit’s embodiment of the Olympic predicament forecloses one’s awareness of it. If the Orbit can seduce, maybe this is where its powers lie. And maybe the similes applied to it are subversive rather than confused, maybe they are a resistance to the tower’s pull, a refusal to be brought within the field of its emptiness. But when we have to resist the places we live in by making nonsense of them (Pringles and gherkins and shards and intestines), where are we then? Kapoor gave a straightforward answer to that question: the Orbit is, he said, ‘truly 21st century’.

Close the doors on The Public | Tiffany Jenkins | spiked

Close the doors on The Public | Tiffany Jenkins | spiked.

Last week, there were two announcements related to The Public – the arts centre in West Bromwich in the English midlands that frittered away £31million of Arts Council England (ACE) money, producing a burdensome and embarrassing white elephant that was deeply unpopular with its namesake – the actual public. The first, a report, rightly draws lessons from the fiasco. The second, about funding, shows that no one is paying any attention whatsoever to those lessons.

Branded as a ‘new exciting arts centre’ with ‘digital technologies at its heart’, The Public was intended to regenerate the area through culture. But, despite the many millions, it went into administration before the expected opening date of 2006. Six years later, it has been through three insolvencies, been recognised as a deeply unpopular disgrace, and is now open again as an ‘exciting creative, community, cultural and business space in the heart of West Bromwich’.

Anything that describes itself as an ‘exciting creative, community, cultural and business space in the heart of West Bromwich’ still doesn’t know what it is. But then, it always had a confused purpose at its heart and low expectations of what the local audience might like.

The very public failures have been firmly scrutinised, including by the House of Commons Culture Select Committee inquiry into the funding of the Arts and Heritage. On publication of the report, John Whittingdale, chair of the committee, singled out ACE and The Public for criticism in his statement: ‘Our report highlights in particular the case of The Public gallery in West Bromwich, which the committee considers a gross waste of public money by the Arts Council.’

Last week, ACE published a report called The Public: Lessons learned by Arts Council England by Anthony Blackstock, a chartered accountant and once financial director of ACE. It is as critical, although it concentrates on some very early decisions and is a bit technical. It also suggests that because many of the initial staff have left, things are now okay, which couldn’t be more wrong.

Even so, the report makes a number of useful observations. Blackstock details that ACE supported and funded a building they knew was not working. ‘In summary’, writes Blackstock, ‘Arts Council England agreed to fund a building that was not fit for purpose’. The organisation then found it politically impossible not to continue its support.

Blackstock implies throughout that the social goals of the project overrode any spending control and all critical assessment of the building and what it was delivering. The social and political agenda got in the way of the art, which meant that no one wanted to visit the centre because there was nothing good to see. Despite this, funders continued to throw millions of pounds into it. ‘The Arts Council was responding enthusiastically to the policy demands of the day: so far that, with hindsight, it might have compromised its power to determine policy independently while acting within the terms of its Royal Charter.’

The rationale for the space has always talked up the importance of participation and regeneration, of breaking boundaries and involving people who wouldn’t normally go into art galleries. Today, the website boasts of being a ‘force for the better in the community’ and that the centre makes art ‘accessible’ because: ‘At the core of our business we are committed to using the arts to raise aspirations’, to play a role in ‘changing lives’ as well as ‘improve individuals’ health and wellbeing’. But the website is less clear on how an arts centre might be able to do such amazing things.

There are a number of exhibitions on right now, but none that catches your attention, especially not ‘Heads’ – which is a ‘fun and interactive piece’ where the audience uploads an image from their phone before they ‘stand back as it evolves in to the artwork’. It’s like something anyone could do on their own computer – if they wanted to, that is. Another – ‘The Art of Noise’ – shows more promise, with a series of exhibitions that look at the significance of sound and music in the arts. I had a look and a listen, but it was very thin: a rag bag of a couple of films, talks and photographs. There was no depth, research or real reflection and little to look at.

Unless the building is built around a collection of art work – old or new – that there will always be a hole at it’s centre. The Public will never be the lively, participative space its promoters long for unless they realise that good art doesn’t deter people – in fact, it is the only reason why people will come, and come back.

Blackstock points out that those who created the centre had ‘good process’  but that it wasn’t applied properly, despite ‘clear and strong misgivings’. Reflecting on why the centre’s creators ignored good advice, he states: ‘The speculation is that the wider social goal dominated all other factors.’

In case this isn’t clear, he makes this point a number of other times, concluding: ‘It is curious that Arts Council England found itself so ready to bypass the assurances it ought to have made, as described in the five sections above. It suggests that an overriding force was in play: that the Arts Council became so persuaded by the transformative role of the project – for art, society and the built environment – that it was prepared to override due claims of prudence. Perhaps it was seeking too far to fulfil the social agenda of the government of the day. If this was the case then it strengthens the current Arts Council’s case for insisting on the integrity of the “arms-length principle”. At the time, it had ample resources from the Lottery to back an extension of its role – too much, one might argue with hindsight.’

Blackstock is thus rightly, if quietly, angry at this huge, irresponsible, waste of money on a project that ACE knew was deeply flawed.  But, there is a problem with his suggestion that it was the social agenda of the last government that meant ACE ignored all advice.

At the same time as this subtly searing report was launched, it was also announced that The Public would be awarded more money. Now, this cannot be due to the social agenda of the last government, or a few misguided staff members who have long since gone. These decisions are being made in there here and now, in spite of the well-founded criticisms of the centre.

Even though everyone knows it has already had too much money, for some crazy reason, The Public has secured more. It will receive £600,000 funding for the next three years to support its visual arts programme. That’s £200,000 a year for the next three years (2012 to 2015) from Arts Council England’s strategic funding.

What is strategic about funding a failure in times of economic crisis? We seem to have a situation that even when problems are publicly acknowledged and crystal clear, these directionless, bottomless pits of arts buildings that no one wants to go to stillget hundreds of thousands of pounds. The press release states that the ‘grant will be used to grow the digital and interactive content of the building’. This is worrying. It is unlikely that anything good will ever be shown here, for no real content is mentioned. There is nothing to see.

It is abundantly clear, then, that it wasn’t just the social agenda of the Labour government and the failings of certain members of staff that have allowed this project to continue at huge expense. There is also the creation of cynicism in place of cultivating an appreciation of good art. Just think what treasures that money could have been spent on, to truly contribute to peoples’ cultural lives. It is a public failure and should be shut down. Please close the doors.

Tiffany Jenkins is a cultural sociologist and author of Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority, published by Routledge. (Buy this book fromAmazon(UK)). Visit Tiffany’s website here.