boring conferences and boring art

8 October 2010 § Leave a comment

I could not resist posting details of an upcoming conference. Entitled Boring 2010 it is being organised by James Ward – a DVD distribution manager from Kingston upon Thames. Upon hearing that the London Interesting conference – one of a series on obscure esoteric topics – was being cancelled James decided to go ahead and organise his own somewhat less interesting one. 

Being touted as the world’s least interesting conference is however one very good way to make everyone stand up and take note. The Independent for example decided that it was actually so interesting that it set aside two whole pages of the 7 October 2010 issue to report the earth-shattering event. Of subjects reported to be featured this year my personal favourite is on the history of dust, with the reasons for draws in cricket coming in a close second, although to be fair Mr Ward actually aims to put forward the topics as sounding boring but actually that ‘turn out to be really interesting’.

It made me think that one of the artists featured at yesterday’s suitably mediocre private view of Transmission at the Haunch of Venison would be an appropriate candidate for the Boring conference. Katie Paterson was trying rather too hard to be very dull – one of her works for example was a slide archive of the history of darkness over the ages; a box full of black transparencies. Paterson has broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier, mapped all the dead stars, custom-made a light bulb to simulate the experience of moonlight, and buried a nano-sized grain of sand within the Sahara desert. She also laser-beamed the Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back and played the resulting melody back to us. Broken and occasionally distorted it was a rather touching and emotional record of time, distance and loss. Damn it – she was actually quite interesting in the end.

Picking over mind-numbingly dull subjects or the seemingly unimportant minutiae of  life has always of course provided rich pickings for many artists. In no particular order and without much thought, time or deep analysis (that would be way too dull of course) here are a few artists that it occurs to me have looked at the plain, boring or mundane and, at least in their minds, made it a little more interesting.

Duchamp (of course he gets a mention again usual) took the ordinary – a urinal, shoe rack, shovel or phial of air, and told us it was art. Malevich meanwhile reduced representation to a plain black, red or white canvas – his ‘zero of form’ , a reduction of representation to the absolute minimum. Many other later artists have created similar monochromes for differing reasons, for example for Robert Rauschenberg with Erased De Kooning it was the symbolic erasure of what the previous drawing represented that was interesting. Yves Klein, being French, used his own home-made blue for his quite interesting monchromes and took over a New York gallery in order to leave it empty (Le Vide). The minimalists reduced everything to the simplest forms to expose the essential – Carl Andre’s infamous Tate ‘pile of bricks’ (Equivalent VIII) perhaps being one example which proved too dull for many.

John Cage’s 4′33″ of course created another big 1950’s landmark for ‘nothingness’ in art – a period of ‘silence’ where a solo pianist played asolutely nothing at all. Warhol was of course a master of repetition and the mundane – eight hours of someone sleeping, in the 1964 film Sleep, probably the most provocatively boring, whilst the pinnacle of his musical dullness was with the band Velvet Underground playing The Nothing Song whilst people did nothing much on film.

In the sixties Fluxus artists like Kaprow and, of course, Lennon (happy birthday) and Ono inspired by the Dadaists held happenings where nothing in particular actually really  happened or arranged gatherings where the actual act meeting was the art. Ed Ruscha produced photobooks featuring, for example, seemingly random gasoline stations or parking lots. From this period onwards there is almost too much to mention. Many photographers, like Nan Goldin, have recorded the most mundane aspects of peoples lives – and private lives. Gerhard Richter created paintings that were devoid of any colour, copying mundane photographs or composed of random sweeps of paint. Richard Long walked up and down making marks, Bruce Nauman walked in circles and filmed it or made casts of empty and uninteresting spaces,  Joseph Beuys did nothing much at all. Perhaps the ultimate boredom in art prize might go to Martin Creed who won the Turner Prize with a light turning on and off in an empty room.

As far as all of this dull, nothingness goes a lot of people have found it exceedingly interesting. There is actually much more to nothing than there first appears. Any artists will for example know that it is often best to draw the ‘spaces’ of ‘nothing’ than the object itself. Books have been written on it, galleries stuffed with it an even the Pompidou last year ‘filled’ a floor with empty rooms for a retrospective of ‘nothing’. I will quickly conclude, before I get too boring, with some very appropriate Tom Lubbock comments on the Pompidou show from The Independent last year:

Having arrived at emptiness, fill her up again – with meanings. Sometimes the emphasis is on absence, on contemplating nothingness. Sometimes it’s on noticing what you might have overlooked. Perhaps you should notice all the gallery background noises you ignore. Perhaps you should see that art has its environment, which crucially conditions our experience of it. Or perhaps you should be looking at the only exhibits that remain in your empty gallery – yourselves. The empties are always going to be full of something. The art consists of working out what.

Perhaps I will go to Boring 2010 after all….

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