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?

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump