Too much to bear

Should the latest Turner Prize winner really take the credit for his work? And, as a variety of geri

Issues surrounding repetition and reproduction, recently discussed on this blog, were back in the spotlight this week as the feted avant-garde artist and sometime bear impersonator Mark Wallinger won the 2007 Turner Prize for his piece “State Britain”, a faithful recreation of Brian Haw’s Parliament Square anti-war protest.

"It was the best thing that was shown this year, and I don't think I should be humble about it" remarked Wallinger, having been awarded the dependably contentious prize by art collector and arch-Republican Dennis Hopper, of all people, at the Tate Liverpool on Monday.

The piece has a certain poignancy, as Haw’s original display of dissenting art was abruptly dismantled in May last year under the auspices of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, and is still under lock and key (although the protest, you’ll be pleased to hear, is still going strong, albeit in a somewhat scaled down form).

But does it matter that Britain’s premier prize for cutting edge art has been won by what is, essentially, a copy of someone else’s work? Although Haw seems pretty chuffed about the whole thing, shouldn’t it really be him and not Wallinger who gets the credit (and the prize money)? Imitation is of course the sincerest form of flattery, but the win does seem a little strange even by the Turner’s self-consciously wacky standards. Provocative re-contextualisation is all well and good but there comes a point where it’s just too much to bear.  


Walter Benjamin’s classic essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” 

Spiked Online argues that Wallinger's work isn't as political as it's cracked up to be. 

Sue Hubbard on the Turner

Old Man Rockers (Slight Return)

Meanwhile, with the UK concert schedules packed with gigs by musical greybeards like The Who and The Rolling Stones, not to mention the lucrative comeback tours of nineties pop acts, mainstream popular music seems unusually backward looking at present.

The Spice Girls have recently launched their tour, to generally positive, if vaguely lecherous, reviews, and the big reunion gig of the year, Led Zeppelin’s one-off O2 show, is coming up this week. Much hyped,
once postponed, and nearly impossible to get a ticket for, the gig is part of a tribute night to Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic records, and will be the first time the surviving members of the band have played together since 1995.

Some will dismiss the reunion as an over-hyped nostalgia fest for the band’s legions of gnarly, leather-jacketed acolytes, but their fan base remains large and their influence on the bombastic guitar bands of today, from Muse to the Chili Peppers, is so pronounced that it’s surely churlish to deny them a suitably hard-rockin’ comeback. Likewise, it seems unfair to throw accusations of irrelevance at many of the other old time guitar greats. Bob Dylan, for example, still produces some good tunes and captures the public imagination, and Bruce Springsteen, who comes to the O2 on the 19th December, has reinvented himself as one of the most outspoken and thoughtful critics of the current US administration, as Sarfraz Manzoor will gladly tell you.

The more interesting issue is whether the current generation of guitar bands will produce any zeitgeist-defining artists of equal significance to their illustrious predecessors. Innovation certainly isn’t lacking in modern music’s many and varied sub-genres but, of the big rock bands of the day, has anyone really captured the spirit of the times since Radiohead’s ten year old take on pre-millennial angst, “OK Computer”? Which noughties acts will people be coming back to in thirty years time? Coldplay? The Killers?">The Artic Monkeys? Arguably the really interesting stuff is going on in other, more obviously pioneering, genres of music but whatever you think of today’s mainstream rockers, the twenty-first century doesn’t have a Led Zep. Yet.

Comings and goings in Brighton and Bethlehem

In other news this week, enigmatic graffiti king Banksy took a provocative trip to Bethlehem while the young stars of the upcoming film version of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner were forced to leave Afghanistan fearing tribal reprisals.

On the domestic front Rotherham said howdy to Dolly Parton and her rooting-tooting literacy programme, Brighton waved goodbye to homophobic reggae stars and Ethiopian-American author Dinaw Mengestu made an impact on the literary scene, picking up the Guardian First book award.

In the coming week you could queue round the block for day tickets to the Donmar’s booked-out Othello, moan about the populist content of Richard and Judy’s Christmas Books Listor relax at home with the latest CD from the Thai Elephant Orchestra. Dave Solider, one of the orchestra’s co-founders, says  “the elephants, they don't give a damn…they just go out there and they do it the way they hear it. They're real artists.” If that’s not musical innovation, then what is?

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood