Saturday, November 04, 2006
The shopping centre form of modern art, for various reasons, is basically a gloss on this experience of substitutability. You could perhaps account for it as a process of natural history, simultaneously intricate and banal, (as if art naturally sprang up where streetlife didn’t interfere, in the same way that plants reappear in disused carparks) although obviously in reality it’s all down to business and/or the council. The message of modern art is stupid and grandiose: “Citizens! Tremble!” - it’s all about the disclosure of this possibility of substitution and it’s fundamentally ambivalent toward the consequences. It hardly matters whether art is pro or con the shopping centre terror effect it inevitably piggybacks. Hans Arp once said, anticipating this ambivalence: “we had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds”. Go and have a look at Peckham Library if you don’t believe me.
Probably it isn’t totally sensible to regard the modern world as the time of hell, but there is a certain logic to it. As shoppers, or just wandering around, we are subject to a set of practices that follow from the urban environment and that are self-reinforcing. Without wishing to alienate intelligent readers, these would be the practices that differentiate responsible adults from kids and dossers. The theory would be that the set of practices that follow from the urban environment do not account for the totality of that environment. So imagining this picture as a sort of schematic of a busy shopping centre, where the rings represent the course of human circulation and the wedding cake hill the concrete environment, the whole “time of hell” theory would at least capture something of the nature of this environment, which we must unfortunately describe with the ugly word “substitutability”. Adam and Eve could just as easily be, for example, Shrek and Shrekette.