Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Funny Art Foundation?

This morning I was reading about an exhibition of humorous modern art, which has sparked a debate about whether art can be funny. It reminded me of one particular evening, many years ago, on my art foundation course.

(A brief bit of background on my foundation course at Mid-Warwickshire College circa 1987: it was, undoubtedly, the most disastrous thing I’ve ever done in my life. It started badly, as I’d cut my own hair badly and was covered in hives after becoming allergic to a virus. So much for first impressions. I also had a feud with another student that led to my becoming an outcast. Then, finally, there was the course itself. At 18, all I wanted to be was a comic strip artist. I was totally focused on this. The lecturers were all abstract expressionists and surrealists who thought comics were crap. This led to me attempting, half-heartedly, to adapt to their thinking and failing. Add demotivation to extreme laziness and it became inevitable that I was going to drop out.)

Anyway, the flipside of the foundation experience was another student who was revered by the lecturers as a prodigy. I forget his name now (possibly Paul something), but he’d got the whole modern art thing right. The zenith of his work, for me, was a performance art piece that he staged for the lecturers and other students one evening.

Picture this: a large branch, some may call a bough, from a tree resting in a large pool full of mud. Now imagine the prodigy naked, his skin plastered in feathers perched on the bough. The 80s video camera, at least the size of a small car, is rolling. He shivers and mimes a tentative preparation for flight, momentarily lurching forward and then rocking back.

Unfortunately from where my friend Amy and I were sitting, we could see that a twig on the branch was poking his balls every time he rocked. Then he repositioned and the errant bit of wood was working its way up his arse-crack. We were both fighting a massive fit of the giggles as everyone else was sitting there taking it all terribly seriously. Every time he rocked, we had to avoid each other’s eyes and cover our mouths as the twig poked deeper where it shouldn’t.

The performance reached its denouement when the bird-man finally did jump from the branch and mimed dying in the mud. I suppose the message is “we all long for freedom, but we’re also all doomed to fail”. This serious subtext was lost on me, however, as I sat hyperventilating, desperate to suppress my laughter.

So can art be funny? I’d say only when it isn’t trying to be…

5 comments:

Steve said...

I never saw this superlative bit of bum-invasion performance (alas) but do recall your feud with Gordon "serious face" Hargreaves quite well. I seem to recall his cronies hanging an effigy of you in one of the classrooms and feeling very appalled by it. They were all under achieving arse-munchers anyway, Tris. You were better off out of it. And Paul whateverhisnamewas ended up working at a picture framers in Leamo a while back... hardly the upper echelons of the Tate Modern. I'd say that particular bird liked floundering in the mud a bit too much...

Tristan said...

It still horrifies me to think that I inspired such hatred that people went to the trouble of hanging an effigy above my desk! Not a high point in my life...

Helen (Codd) said...

Great posting Tristan,and I can just imagine you and Amy falling over laughing at the pomposity of it all. As to the comic strips, well, you WERE the greatest satirist 'The Bin' ever had and I still smirk when I see a film credit for Lee van Cleef....... :)

Tristan said...

Thank you for your kind words, Helen - I'd forgotten all about my Lee Van Cleef era! It's a phase I'd obviously blanked out somehow...

Steve said...

Lucky you. I still have nightmares. And various copies of The Bin lying around...