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.  

 
Related:

 
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? http://www.arcticmonkeys.com/">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?

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Serebrennikov's arrest is another step in the erosion of Russia's cultural freedom

The detained director is widely known for challenging more conservative forms of theatre.

“The play opens amid scenery which has already become, it seems, painfully familiar: a room with official furniture and a cage, to which they lead a man in handcuffs.” Thus reads a RIA Novosti review of Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov’s staging of Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots in Moscow in 2013.

On Wednesday, it was the 47-year-old Kirill Serebrennikov who was led to the cage in handcuffs. Crowds gathered outside chanting “Kirill, Kirill” and “freedom” as he took the stand in a Moscow courtroom after being detained on suspicion of embezzling 68 million roubles (£900,000) of government funds, according to reporters at the scene.

Serebrennikov was placed under house arrest until 19 October awaiting trial. If found guilty, he could face up to ten years in jail. The investigation alleged that house arrest was necessary as Serebrennikov has a Latvian residence permit and real estate abroad. However, authorities had already confiscated his passport at the beginning of August, the director said. Travel abroad would be impossible.

The investigation into Serebrennikov reflects the incremental – yet cumulatively extremely effective –  erosion of freedom of expression that has pervaded Russian cultural politics in recent years. Russia’s legal system implicates vast swathes of its residents, and some have suggested that the processes involved in securing funding for the theatre are near-impossible to navigate.

“The laws governing Russian theater financing are so arcane and contradictory that even a mathematical genius could not run a theater and abide by the law,” theatre critic John Freedman wrote in The Moscow Times in June, as the case started to develop. The investigation is also an example to others who continue to challenge the status quo; locals have spoken of “an atmosphere of fear and hysteria” among (what’s left of) the country’s leading liberal cultural figures.

Serebrennikov was initially remanded on Tuesday by the Russian Investigative Committee’s special investigations department. He has himself previously been critical of artistic censorship and called the accusations against him “absurd”. Supporters are now beginning to draw parallels with Stalinist-era crackdowns.

“Director Meyerhold was not arrested by the NKVD, but by Stalin. Director Serebrennikov was not arrested by the Investigative Committee, he was arrested by Putin,” renowned author Boris Akunin wrote in a public Facebook post on Tuesday. “Russia has moved into a new state of existence with new rules.”

Other key cultural figures have stood by Serebrennikov to support freedom of expression and grimly reflect on present-day realities. Writer and director Viktor Shenderovich told television station Telekanal Dozhd (TV Rain) that even global fame cannot “save you from the interests of a repressive state if it decides that it is in its interests to put you on the ground face down.”

Thousands of people signed a petition demanding his liberation. “Artists should have the right to express their opinion freely. That is guaranteed by our country’s Constitution,” the letter signed by more than 14,300 people as of midday on Wednesday said.

The case, in theory, revolves around funding awarded to a theatre project known as Platform between 2011 and 2014. Three other former colleagues of the director were also detained in connection with the case. However, Serebrennikov’s supporters believe there is more to the story.

Serebrennikov is widely known in Russia for challenging more conservative forms of theatre. He is the head of the Gogol Centre – one of Russia’s more avant-garde institutions. It was here that The Idiots was staged. His originality and talent is widely hailed on the Moscow theatre scene.

At the beginning of July, Serebrennikov’s staging of a ballet exploring the life and work of gay or bisexual ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was postponed. The ballet, according to the New York Times, explored homosexuality in Nureyev’s art and his battle with AIDS, which killed him in 1993.

In a subsequent press conference, the Bolshoi confirmed the postponement of the ballet, with the theatre’s director general Vladimir Urin saying “the ballet was not good” and that he and others were “very depressed” by what they saw. Urin did not state that the homosexual themes played any part in the decisio,n.

On 7 August, Serebrennikov told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that his passport had been seized by authorities. At the same time, he said Urin had contacted him to say that Nureyev would be shown in December this year.