Art Monthly article, ‘Cuts Both Ways’

New Art Monthly article  Dec/Jan edition


‘Cuts Both Ways’

Mike Watson argues that artists should abandon

the accredited university system.


– ‘Adorno famously remarked that it is impossible to make art

after Auschwitz because the necessary conditions simply did not

exist to allow for its production in a late capitalist society, and

Fredric Jameson later quipped that, in the post-Soviet world, it

was arguably impossible ‘to read Adorno by the pool’, now it

might be said that it is becoming difficult to read Peter Hallward

in the dole queue.’


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Watch Dark Fibre

Dark Fibre is premiering now in episode format on babelgum, an independent film streaming site:

Dark Fibre is an important  film about industrialisation in India, and more particularly about the risk that emerging economies may not choose to follow the path to democracy.

BANGALORE. THE ‘SILICON VALLEY’ OF INDIA. A mysterious private military contractor (Wintonick) rides into town with a mission to take control of the city’s dreams –– to master the desires of the burgeoning slums that his bosses believe will soon determine the world’s future. Meanwhile, young “cable wallah” Rama, who presides over micro-TV-empires in each of the city’s districts, begins to be pursued for a mysterious piece of ‘information’ he may have unwittingly received, and is forced to undertake a journey of discovery that puts him face to face with the foreigner and his plans for the future of India.

Written and Direct by JJ King and Peter Mann. Produced by JJ King. Executive Producers Sean T O Saillaigh and Karol Martesko Fenster

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Art Monthly report on MAXXI, Rome

LR writer Mike Watson has an article on MAXXI Gallery, Rome, in Art Monthly, October Edition, out now:



More positively, architecturally speaking, the unimaginable has been achieved by Iraqi-British Architect Zaha Hadid. The MAXXI fills a sizable area, like a huge and impossibly aerodynamic spaceship, whilst its interior comprises wide and shifting vented spaces, inviting future site specific ventures of great scale. In London such a space would be impressive, in Rome – where contemporary architectural projects are often stalled by protest – it signals incendiary change, to be fanned, or extinguished.


It is unclear whether this space will be matched by the works on display over time. The choice of opening shows, a huge Gino De Dominicis (b.1947, d.1998) retrospective, signals the precariousness of contemporary art in this most immobile of cities. One feels it may be impossible for Italy to accept contemporary art until it learns to speak of the Renaissance and Duchamp as if in the same breath; the latter – and his line of followers up to the current day – as a continuation of, not challenge to, the heritage of prior art. Whilst one best not hold their breath, the De Dominicis retrospective presents something of an opportunity in this respect, for the late artist’s creative diversity as much as for his being Italian.

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The Provenance of ‘Untitled’.

A Prose piece.

I would see the City as if painting it, as if caught up in the goings on of this grand old dame, and daubing its traces on cotton duck, getting caught up, drunk in the city, pissed up with paint and drink and notions of our demise. Me and the Great British populace giddy with notions of immortality and computer utopias, botoxed to the hilt and ready for the ‘ever’.

It is Twenty-Something A.D in the year of my lord, but I’m not sure the date matters too much anymore.

Lanny placed 33 candles on my last Birthday cake, but I could not tell you if it was one more than she had placed a year before, and the year before that I am sure that I had just the one candle. Last time I took account of the date was the year following Pete’s death (2006), up until a point…In any case I think on the whole diaries are redundant these days. As we face a kind of eternity, or oblivion, perpetually waiting.

This waiting for it to happen turns all of time into just one long morning.


When I’m not painting I pace the city tired of what I’ve seen, though I will tell anyone who has time to listen, ‘Come to an end, this never ending end.’

For now though, I am wandering, and painting…mostly wandering. And I see (this, just this morning):

So roll…and roll…and roll…and rock… AND ROLL… Spits the Great Director…

All is dude in heaven’s fair city dude … The city is like a virgin angel
… we all want to fuck her: In our cars, on the trams and buses, in the
pubs and museums … we’ll try and we’ll try to run her arse ragged,
tanning those pink cheeks blue and bluer … but this city is olde and
virginous, she keeps her secrets close and hidden, no man approaches her entrance without being swallowed up head and all in that nice fine labia …
the penalty for trying to screw our fair maiden is to die trying at her
hands, never mastering her; he’ll try to form a sluice for her sweet
juice, but, No!  …She’ll cut him loose, he’ll never savour her,
though he’ll always inhabit her space… This is her cruelty … she laughs …
He, the embodiment of us all, drowning on her river, choking up the Thames … That ole big-bowled- Barge-boy chugging and huffing thru the City in pursuit of love, someone warm and sympathetic to rub up against, wealth – a slice of that all English-pie,  the ever-new (art, Cars, and whiter toothbrushes) and eternal life.

He stops chugging along and takes a left up by the Tower of London… and he waves to the hordes of tourists, and he waves to the hordes of Ghosts, who have come to see the tourists… The old boy goes land bound… Up past Leadenhall Market, which reeks of fish, and of not a little intrigue… the perfect setting for something lurid and illegal to occur… casting his minds eye back, his fishy middle eye, he sees more than a little that was hot to trot, and much more downright rot… Yes, here in the City, the Top hats, the Bowler hats, the Baseball Caps stayed on (and stay on) at all times, whilst the trousers have always remained firmly around the ankles… and who knows why the whores ever wore skirts (or pantyhose)? In these times of fast living and ever faster pleasures we could do a neat line in ready to baste Chica’s… the hide stripped bare for the bachelors, whilst the madame (or an unscrupulous Surgeon) could administer your daily botox injection in the forehead… and of course, this being Liberal Central, Our Fair City, a similar line of trade could be tailored to suit heroin addicts and women, who’s needs would be different.

On up the road, past Liverpool Street – this majesty of a stretch, skyscrapers and pizza bars and chain pubs with no smoking and no music licences, no binge drinking, no character, no life and no soul (but plenty of ghosts!) right through and through to the Spitalfields market extension… and how does it take to the old market adjacent…? And what does the old think of the new? We ask the Ghosts… and this place is full of Ghosts… maybe it’s the high ceilings… Like heat rising, these Ghosts float up to the ceiling of the old market and get left there…and they are hot… the heat of whoring, the friction of fighting, the warmth of money in hand, artists chatter and activity, all forcing the souls of them and us to the rafters, where there is much Yaying, Neighing and Baying… “‘Tis good to change, it is bad…I am indifferent, Yay, Nay,’” and thrice baying. Thrashing and howling …these dogs on the scent…And they hang here to see us living Londoners, who bring youth, and yet more ‘ghosts’…

There are Ghosts here and there are ghosts here… The Ghosts of the dead… and the ghosts of the living… this is a place, if any, that stores up emotions. Stand in one corner… the South East corner, if our old barge remembers correctly… and you will be soaked to the bone in a lingering tear… held sweetly, yet pulverized by the purity of one mans silent croaking… and this is no ‘Ghost’, but the ghost that is a trace of a feeling, deposited, shed, dropped with fearful abandon… only last Tuesday. And then there are the ghosts that are us… botox shells… and fuck me bells… and the why haven’t we burnt in hells?

Painted in, suffocated, fighting for space, these are they that found eternity too soon.

Some of us sense the Ghosts of our forebears on the ceiling… and the emotional ‘ghosts’ that are ours, borne of the fleeting births and deaths of love… We see this place as a swirling soup of Antiques, human smiles and cries… sexual assaults and bath salts…  organic cabbages and freakshow cabbages…

Jack the Ripper frequented this area… but that is a red herring… or cheaper even, like sardines… That is for the uncouth and gormless; just too burlesque, like pantomime, and Punch and Judy… Because in the whole of time before and since Jack… and the market dates back to the 13th Century, and was granted its current location by Charles II… the complete amalgamation of the good the bad, and the ugly; the making loves, through to the breaking loves; the births; the murders; the friendships; lunches; ball games; brisk walks; wonder at passing of others; fallings over onto paving stones, with grazed knees; first steps; last steps; exact middle step (and who’d know?)… the reaching in the wrong pocket to pull out trouser fluff… The pickpocket reaching in the wrong pocket to pull out trouser fluff… Different styles of pockets on different styles of trousers… and those tears in the South-East corner, which cared not of pockets (except perhaps those of his dearest, whose pockets he surely cherished like her bottom!)… that cared not of Jack, or his poor maidens… In this soup that swirls round and round the ceiling in Spitalfields, there is great gnashing of teeth, and great tenderness… like Jack knew, yet Jack is less than a pea in this great dance-soup…War Dance… Rain Dance… Dirty Dance… we are all there… least, all of us who are there… It is one of the pinch points, the G-Spots in this great whore of a city… It is a climax of sorts… if you feel it… some kind of little death that might satisfy the deathless, the botoxed and puckered… us living ghosts that stand on the threshold of the death of death… us ghosts of Ghosts… perhaps our kicks lie here… the old barge stationed in old market places, old churches, and graveyards… we find our jouissance, our climactic joy at defying death, with Ghosts… This is a free liberal society, this is where we go when anything goes… and goes… and goes. This is the cosmic swirl from the Market at the end of the world that won’t end… this is our free City.

This is our free city as it stands… both at logger-heads with the advancement of technology and complicit with it… the original boundary walls protrude  like the remaining tooth on a bronze-age skull, whilst skyrises, Prescott’s erections, the ‘shards of glass’ break through an otherwise clean and tight sphincter. The city representing what we ourselves have become. The dead, the dying, the immortal and the eternally dying.

It was 10 years ago or so (and who knows?), when I was still in art College, that an announcement was tacked onto the end of Channel 4 news to the effect that computer intelligence had surpassed that of human intelligence. Two weeks later it was announced that an individual’s human DNA map had been fully mapped onto a computer. What did this mean? Nobody that I knew was sure. All I know for sure is that since that point, the greed for ever more stuff has become a greed for evermore life… counted in aeons, not years. The mark of a man now resides in his longevity for sure – even more than in his potency. The reams of botox ghosts, just desperate for a fix that would add a month or two, erase a crows foot here and a beak mark there, attested to that. This was the butt end of the experiment. Across town, people were having their entire selves backed onto databases and beamed into imaginary utopian worlds. I had yet to meet one of these people. Either a myth was being peddled, or no one had wanted to come back (and to be sure, it was the latter, because all the crematoria West of centre had long ago stopped billowing their smoke at night).

What I have seen is a neat little venture into art tourism, which involves the beaming of a persons DNA into the perfect computer replication of an old master oil painting, allowing them to explore both the machinery, the narrative and the material makeup at close hand. It was dabbling in this which bought me to the conclusion that there is a case for the continued existence of humanity as is and that art may be fundamental to this project.

The hospital rang and Gran croaked her last again this lunchtime. This never ending end…She had refused a Botox treatment, old wrinkly leatherface, one of the last few, but there were time lapse treatments for her heart and lungs. They would keep her ticking over endlessly as some sort of consolation, a second best to a computer Utopia that she could not afford (but what if she just wanted to die?).

I tried to paint all this, this darned pain – thing. Grey-green river. Zombie flesh, with its metal spine ripped right out and presented like a bridge between two monoliths – to God and to Art.

And so I drank to Art and I drank to God and tried to paint them both.

This damned painting.


The pallor of these botox ghosts, and of those who have had the fortune to be granted ever lasting life is interesting. It is a fearful one. On the one extreme you have those that fear they will never be granted eternal life, and on the other hand you have those who fear because they have been. There are television celebrities – and if you have the money, you can meet them on the ‘Ether-Vision’ – with radiant baby flesh that belies their true 80 years or more. They have a glint in their eye and a sense of self assuredness like none seen before. But there is a grey ground, just back of that glint – a concreting over of the soul, like tar routes riven through elysian fields. There is no duping fate. This ‘immortality’ really will be the death of us.

In seeking after eternity London grows ever sicker and older. Parts of the City that had stood for hundreds of years crumbled as if in indignation at humanity’s arrogant and ill fated path. The Churches were the first to fall. St Paul’s Cathedral, though braced on every side by Scaffolds crumbled, in any case, from the inside. Now it is all skeleton – invertebrate Church: The inside is hollow. It is said that a ghost of the last Dean still holds service daily, attended by sewer rats, spiders, and the dead that are buried there. Between services Lawrence of Arabia tries hard to escape Horatio Nelson… ‘He only ever wants to talk about military tactics,’ he complains to Wellington.

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Meaning of ‘Kafka likes Kafka’.

Facebook’s unremitting automated ability to keep users posted on the connections happening across its pages has recently produced some interesting results, my two favourite being ‘Franz Kafka likes Franz Kafka’ and ‘many People who like Roberto Saviano also like Pizza’.

Indeed, both of these statements, typical of facebook’s predeliction towards banality, tinged with rare moments of unwitting self deprecating brilliance,  are notable, at first glance, for being Kafkaesque.  Kafka deals frequently, most memorably in ‘The Castle’, with  the senslessness of bureaucracies which aim to administer daily life. Facebook, similarly, is a system so perpetual in its production of inanities pertaining to people’s preferences, whereabouts, etc., that these proclamations occasionally point to its own utter inadequacy for the task at hand; managing social and cultural life.

Roberto Saviano, less well known outside Italy than Kafka, is famed for writing an expose’ of the Camorra, Napoli’s organised crime gangs – entitled ‘Gomorra’ –  and is now in hiding for having done so. Unremittingly critical of Berlusconi’s regime, which this week was barely exonerated of its involvement with the Mafia in its formative years, Saviano is Italy’s most outpsoken ‘public’ figure. In a moment of brilliance he responded this year to the violent expulsion of underpaid farm workers from a town in the South of Italy by arguing that Italy’s future lay with its African immigrants, not least as they are uniquely forthright in their opposition to injustice, as opposed to the native population who are famously resigned to the corruption that characterises Italian life. Such a bold statement is maybe decades ahead of even Italy’s most Left/Liberal politicians. People who ‘like’ Saviano on the pages of facebook do so as a political statement. Saviano has over half a million followers on his official facebook page, most of whom, naturally, are Italian.

Amar Lakhous, Algerian born Italy based writer, wrote  in his brilliant satire on race relations in Rome ‘Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio’ :

‘…I saw an Italian girl devouring a pizza as big as an umbrella. I felt so sick to my stomach I almost threw up. Thank goodness she got out at the next stop. It was a really disgusting sight! The law should punish people who feel free to disturb the peace of good citizens going to work in the morning and home at night. The damage caused by people eating pizza in the metro is a lot worse than damage caused by cigarettes. I hope that the proper authorities do not underestimate this issue and will proceed immediately to put up signs like “Pizza eating prohibited”, next to the ones that are so prominent at the metro entrances saying “No Smoking!” I would just like to know how Italians manage to eat such a ridiculuous amount of dough morning and evening.’

Pizza is an intrinsc part of Italian identity, the critique of which opens Lakhous’ witty expose of the diffculties face by communities coming together in Rome’s most multicultural district: Even Italians from different regions find it hard to abide one another.

This aside, the critical import of Pizza, in its relation to Saviano, and his fans, was no doubt missed by ‘facebook’ which ploddingly makes its connections like a very bored administrator, counting the hours until an unspecified date of retirement. The trick played by this machine is to be so thorough as to give its owners exacty what they want… all possible informational connections, all of the time. A final revenge by facebook – which really is the collective will of its users – upon those who honestly want it to  be used for marketing, or other business and political ends. Facebook is Kafkaesque only on first reflection. Looked at more closely it seems more like a random machine for generating the kind of absurdities associated with 60’s and 70’s British comedy. As in Monty Python’s ‘Is this the room for an argument?’ sketch:

1:   Come in.
2:   Ah, Is this the right room for an argument?
1:   I told you once.
2:   No you haven’t.
1:   Yes I have.
2:   When?
1:    Just now.
2:   No you didn’t.
1:   Yes I did.
2:  You didn’t
1:   I did!
2:  You didn’t!
1:   I’m telling you I did!
2:  You did not!!
1:   Oh, I’m sorry, just one moment. Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
2:  Oh, just the five minutes.
1:   Ah, thank you. Anyway, I did.
2:  You most certainly did not.
1:   Look, let’s get this thing clear; I quite definitely told you.

And so on, with the ‘client’ gradually ever more aggravated at the thoroughness of the argument he willingly paid for, though, of course, being aggravated is precisely what he went in for! Similarly, advanced capital, what  Mark Fisher calls ‘Capitalist Realism’ may at points be so thorough as to render it ineffective, whilst the consumer (in this case the facebook user) remains entertained despite the inefficiency that utter efficiency brings about, or, rather, precisely because of that inefficiency! There appears to be an inherent resistance to effective commercial control on the pages of the ‘web 2.0’ era internet, and it may, one hopes, be endemic to social networking. Facebook likes facebook’s ineptitude!

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Art and Criminality

Art is criminality because the law demands it : Though not all criminality is art!

We artists are foul dogs and pigs and weasels,

and not beautiful princes and princesses

WE stabbed you in the bath for a quick kick

All the better to paint you Marat

And that first great Revolution with It’s bloody terror;

Art demands fresh heads,

The guillotine; the first great modern artistic invention: How else to grasp the history of modernist social progression, when all that is left of our social revolutions, with their Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – prior to that, Faith, Hope and Charity – is the art? Hanging in the state museum, beautiful pictures of psychopathic social tendencies, on a massive scale, or put another way, society’s tendency to be psycopathic on a massive scale, with absolutely no pretense to the original demands of the revolution that spawned them. As if working in reverse the perfect painting of criminality – terror – got everything it could have wished for in a subject; whilst the subject (social revolution) never really took place. The whole of modern art progresses towards a refinement of this process; First World War poetry (from the war to end all wars, that started the biggest war in history), the tomb of the unknown soldier, as art installation (lest we might forget, yet we did forget, that’s why he’s the unknown soldier and dead), Vietnam War Photography as coffee table books (and we forget to look at them) then a complete convergence of art/war, with the real time broadcast of the twin towers collapse. We are left with a hollow image stuck on a loop. Played forever, as if perfectly arranged to illicit maximum audience interest (maximum audience participation?). Art and life finally meet, albeit in a wholly empty and negative fashion (and we even forget, that this isn’t just art, it’s about war – lest we forget; only it actually is a war, and we’ve forgotten it!). This is art as criminally insane; but not art it’s criminal best, which is the sound of the beating drum that precedes the revolution; the call to arms that calls for a ban on arms. Not the hijacking of reality for artistic pleasure, but the hijacking of art for the sake of our reality.

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Logical Regression at Art Monthly

LR writer Mike Watson has an article in the June 2010 editon of Art Monthly.

See here for internet blurb for  that edition:

Mike Watson on Mark McGowan’s pre-election provocations
‘While McGowan demonstrated the ability of art to mimic politics very convincingly, he also demonstrated the still existing freedom of art from politics. That nothing useful should be done with this freedom from responsibility by artists generally may be the real pity.’

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