Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Gokwe Kid Strikes Again

How someone’s innocent search for a DVD film caused uproar in the art world.

Ooh – I was planning on posting some other stuff, but it can wait, as I have sensational news! Yes, little me, the infamous Gokwe Kid, the greatest bush detective ever, has unearthed a scandal of all scandals!

Regular readers (if I have any), may recall that I was checking out the Tate Modern art gallery a short while ago. Who cares, you might say!

Anyway, in the cellar, they got this giant crack in the floor. Now, it cost serious money to put it in there. Last year, some artistic Brazilian genius was given some serious bucks (tax-payers, by the way), to create this.

(Hey, you lot. Give me a tenner each, you can come have a look at the cracks in my ceiling. Women only!)

So far, so good – what’s the big fucking deal about a crack in the floor, besides it must have cost £1000 a foot? Very simple, I, through my pure genius of detection, think the whole thing is a sham! Okay, I admit that when I went and looked at it, I was seriously tempted to deposit the wrapping from my POLO sugar-free sweets in it, but was put off by the amount of refuse already in there. The point I am desperately trying to make; is that I think, the giant crack was plagiarised.

In other words, the Tate gallery fell into a very expensive void which was about as original as Hot Cross buns with an extra 25% more currents for free. How do I know this? Well, that’s another story. It all started, long, long time ago…

Once upon a time, in Zimbabwe, my step-mother, along with her late husband, supplemented her income by being a movie extra. One day, a movie company decides that riding the anti-apartheid ticket was always good for a few bucks and seeing that Zimbabwe was sort of like South Africa (having lots of black people living in huts and a few whites living in mansions), they went there in 1989 and made a film call A Dry White Season. Based on the 1979 novel by Andre Brink, it starred Donald Sutherland and a cast that includes sexy kitten Susan Sarandon (Tell us about it Janet!) and Marlon Brando. The story is the usual genre – Blackman good, whiteman evil etc and all bundled up in the millenniums favourite word; Racism.

My Mom was head of history at the exclusive, private St Georges college in Harare at the time. That’s the same one where Peter Godwin went. Most of her pupils, right up until she ended teaching last year actually, were black. The sixth form whites were also used as extras, popped in South African Police uniforms and had a merry time running around kicking in the doors of black peoples huts. There is one scene where Donald is at a rugby match. The camera zooms up on him in the spectators stands and for a few seconds there are Mom and her husband standing behind him chatting! Great stuff. As Mom will be arriving any day now, having had to flee Robb’in Bob the Hood’s madness for a while, I thought it would be cool to get a copy of the film. That way we can both weep over the locations that were once called home. Sniff, shed a few tears.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any DVD cheepies up on Ebay at the moment, so it will have to wait. I have a taped copy from long time ago, but it is in German.

BUT, what has this to do with the crack in the floor? Well according to the blah blah on the Tate’s own website (So read on, you are going to learn something.) –

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall. Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. The concrete walls of the crevice are ruptured by a steel mesh fence, creating a tension between these elements that resist yet depend on one another. By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo dramatically shifts our perception of the Turbine Hall’s architecture, subtly subverting its claims to monumentality and grandeur. Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.

In particular, Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

‘The history of racism’, Salcedo writes, ‘runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side’. For hundreds of years, Western ideas of progress and prosperity have been underpinned by colonial exploitation and the withdrawal of basic rights from others. Our own time, Salcedo is keen to remind us, remains defined by the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass, in Western as well as post-colonial societies.

In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.

So, did you get that? It is all about ‘a long legacy of racism and colonialism’. Any bells ringing yet! So let’s presume that Salcedo wakes up one morning and says

‘Blow me down with a feather, why don’t we dig a huge black crack in a white floor and persuade everyone its all about bad white people.’

And the art world yanks at its hair, grovels to the floor and pronounces the entire concept one of pure inspirational genius. The price tag is so horrendous; it just has to be the ultimate in modern art. Think about it, most people pay to get cracks like that filled in!


I don’t think Salcedo thought up anything artistic. Someone has done it before! All Salcedo had to do was steal the concept from the original art work and pay some Polish labourers a few pounds to dig a crack and pocket the rest. The actual explanation for the work of art has also been given to her. Yup, you guessed it – A Dry White Season.

I discovered, whilst looking for the film, several copies of the book. But it is the hardcover version printed in September 1979 by publishers WH Allen, that really blew my mind. Without actually buying the book, I don’t know who did the art work for the dust cover, but…take a look at this!

There you go then. Who do I turn too? How can I profit from all this?


Robb WJ Ellis (aka Mandebvhu) said...

Howzit - do you mean Peter Godwin, author of "Mukiwa"?

Take care.

Bokonon said...

Columbian brings Crack to London.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Bokonon said...

My previous comment seems very random, Doris Salcedo is Columbian not Brazilian.

You too could make money out of art this if you were intimate with the right people. This best work I ever read on how this comes about was "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe (1975).

Since I failed "O" level I should point out all observations should be taken with a pince of salt.