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As long as you love him
By Alice Hattrick
Brian Harvey is not keeping it cute. “Right,” he says, holding a framed set of platinum disks spelling out the number 1,000,000 – the discs are the zeroes – under the words EAST 17. “My name’s Brian Harvey. A few years ago I had a No. 1 record, yeah? Sold a million copies in this country. Over the past fifteen years I’ve been treated like a complete cunt.” The video, Brian Harvey giving his opinion on the music industry, Published on 11 Jan 2015, was recorded in 9:16 – who records video on an iPhone the “right” way round?
“I’ve got no fucking heating,” says Harvey. “I’m getting abused by the police. I’m getting abused by the court system. I’m getting abused by the CPS. And I’ve fucking had enough of all of ya. Come this way.” He walks down a street towards an alleyway, pausing to ask someone off-camera if they like the music industry. The person, whoever it is, does not reply. “You shouldn’t,” Harvey continues, “cos it’s full of fucking nonces.” Laughter from the person holding the phone. They follow him into the alleyway. A girl with a proper camera is following too.
Harvey starts slamming the framed platinum disks against one of those green metal junction boxes you see all over the place. “East 17. One million sales. This is what it fucking means.” The glass front smashes; shards fall to the floor. “That’s what I think of your fucking music industry.” By enacting actual violence against the framed disks – a symbol of (chart) success – Harvey is playing with the only power available to him: the power to discomfort, to pose a threat, out in the street.
Violence is attached to this image the way it is with deprived youth. To paraphrase Dick Hebdige, it’s a question of Us and Them: Us, the concerned viewer; Them, the object of pity and fear. Harvey is judged as victim and culprit both:
Get a job like the rest of us
I feel kind of sad for him
Cut to Harvey picking up shards of glass and broken discs. “I’m a peaceful person, and I pick my rubbish up,” he says. “I can be angry and fucking tidy.” Of course he can be angry and tidy, but that’s not the way people think about him. His defiance will always be read as “erratic behaviour.” Everything looks like rubbish when you’re looking onto the street from inside. That rubbish includes him.
They’ll lose their shit in the comments section if Harvey doesn’t clear up the mess he’s made. The Daily Mail will lose it anyway; will illegitimise Harvey’s performance by drawing attention to his wonky publicity stunts (“Harvey was left with severe injuries in 2005 following a bizarre accident in which he ran over himself, attributing it to overeating and then falling out of his car while vomiting”). The same copy about Harvey attending the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square in October will be copy-pasted again and again; his ensemble systematically described; his other “failed” protests enumerated (“40-year-old Harvey was turned away from Downing Street after he arrived demanding to see the Prime Minister”). Red-and-blue plaid shirt, black leather hooded jacket, white Fila beanie hat.
What a dick….and still dresses like he’s 15
In the audio for his exhibition Soft Evidence at Legion TV, Matt speaks about a video recorded by Tati Neves, and later shared online. The video was unsanctioned – Tati wasn’t supposed to have her phone with her – and still it’s the perfect image of Justin Bieber. Tati has stayed the night with him in Brazil. It’s the morning after the night before. She’s leaving. Bieber is still in bed, asleep. She turns the camera on herself, blows him a kiss goodbye, but Tati is like Harvey: she could never put her own image to work.
Matt suggests that agency can be articulated through the disclosure of vulnerability, or “cuteness”. Tati tries to keep it cute while Bieber sleeps off the night before, but her selfie, her attempt at agency, is always in the service of his image: “she’s focussed on the wrong details and cut herself out of the picture. The kiss fails as an act of dismissal, and it’s his image, dead still in a grainy slumber, that prevails.” Bieber is pure appearance. He looks worried when he sleeps, seems vulnerable and tiny curled around a red baseball cap, appears to kiss and talk – but never actually fuck. Tati, by contrast, is openly knowing. She knows, for example, that coincidences are rare: “The trick was to be vigilant and keep one’s eyes off the ground.”
Bieber was wearing a custom-made red beanie hat with “1994” on the front when he lashed out at paparazzi in London two years ago. 1994 was the year Bieber was born; the year East 17 released Stay Another Day – their only platinum-selling record.
Bieber gets angry when the cameras are out: when they’re obstructing his way to the car, when they’re in his face. Not that it matters. He’ll always be sexy/funny/cute. His enraged body is read as fragile still, guarded by other, less cute, more knowing bodies, people who actually have a plan. It’s vulnerability rather than illegitimate violence that gets fixed at his image, whether he’s lashing out, running someone over, or even unconscious. You can buy his custom-made 1994 hat online. The website displays a pic of Bieber wearing the hat – white stitching on red – reaching out for the photographer’s camera, the photographer who called him a fucking little cock.
Bieber isn’t driven to exhibit his life out on the street out of necessity. Public disclosure only happens to occur there. He’s keeping it cute even when he loses it, when he embarrasses himself, when he launches out of the black van saying: “What did you say? What did you say? I’m going to fucking beat the fuck out of you.” Cuteness is, after all, an appeal to someone else’s needs. It’s a look, a pose.
Even Bieber’s body in collapse, stumbling off stage, becomes a performance of cuteness, and therefore an articulation of his agency. Hand to his eyes (something’s not right). He’s always in view, unlike Harvey, who only gets attention when he’s making a spectacle of himself. As Matt says in Soft Evidence: “Justin is exhausted, having grown up too fast.” But being debilitated by your own power is not the same as being powerless. Bieber can harness the power of “the industry” and still come off cute because he performs vulnerability across his body, even when it looks hard and strong. Those eyes. That lifeless mouth, lips slightly parted. He’ll keep it cute for as long as you love him.
Amir Chasson | Matthew Clements | Lucy Clout | Julika Gittner | Anthony Green | Laura Morrison |Sianne Ngai | Joscha Schell | Daniel Shanken
Curated by Matthew McQuillan.
1 April – 3 May 2015, Wednesday – Sunday from 11am – 5pm.
CGP, Southwark Park, London SE16 2UA
I found your note on a shelf at work. It was written on the company headed pad but I guess it was to hand. Can the same be said for the red pen? It was brief, with short sentences like I’ve been more than patient and I have made concessions. There were bullets next to a number of words: access, privacy and inconvenience. These pierced the paper (I held it up to the light). There was also something about a broken window and broken promises, which you circled three times. Perhaps you felt this summarised the predicament, and now it can’t be fixed.
Anyway, the note wasn’t for me and I am sorry for reading it. I was clearing up but that doesn’t require me to inspect all of the rubbish I collect. It wasn’t for anyone in particular, more a note to self, full of prompts and reminders. Was it for a phone conversation? Did you use the note to present a thorough argument? Did it work? Did the other party take them on board? If so, then I commend you on being so prepared. Perhaps you were writing the list while on the line, writing these hot phrases for future ammunition? Maybe you had a change of heart? This would explain why the note was abandoned. But I doubt this – surely you would of disposed of it properly if this was the case. It’s hard to be sure because it really was a note to self, FYEO.
The shelf is 9 ft high, so I picture a phone conversation whilst using a step ladder. You were outright angry or concealing your anger. You used one hand to write and the other to hold the phone or one hand to write while holding the phone between ear and shoulder, meaning potential hands-free ladder operation. Either way, you were angry and elevated and I think that ladders should come with a warning or disclaimer advising against this. Angry up a ladder. I wonder what that would look like: to walk in at that exact moment, to see your feet at eye level and to hear your raised voice.
I understand the need to tend to such matters at work, and getting paid to do so is something of a silver lining. It is horrible to spend the day with such things hanging over your head. I often write to-do lists first-thing in the morning; so I can offer other tasks my full attention. But it doesn’t always work out this way. I get distracted by something else, and later catch the list out of the corner of my eye, I wonder how long unchecked items can wait or question their importance, knowing full well these are tactics of avoidance. And then I have to go to work.
I’m writing to ask if the note is still needed? I hope not. I hope that the matter has been resolved and that the note served you in achieving this. Most of all, I hope that the anger has subsided or been expressed, rather than you still being burdened by it. I couldn’t decide what to do with it so I just left it there, in case it was needed, in case the situation intensified. If you need it, it is on the shelf above the rack. I don’t think anyone else will see it. Nobody goes up there usually anyway.
I’m sitting outside the Royal academy on my lunch-break. Looming over me is a large, printed banner of Kate Moss, dressed in a metallic one piece. Her eyes are wide and glassy, she looks stone cold. A friend once explained to me the USP of Moss: “It’s her face” she said, “It’s always, undeniably hers and yet it could be anyone, it’s a blank canvas”. So what’s in a face? One could answer that a face is a map because it aids recognition of a person. Limbs and body-parts are attributes of people but a face offers specificity. However, the face is also an abstracting machine; a system of lumps and holes that obscure the reading of an individual. In Year Zero: Faciality, Deleuze and Guattari assert that, “faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency and probability, and delimit a field that neutralizes in advance any expressions or connections unamenable to the appropriate significations”. This logic applies to the banner of Moss. It is her and not her; it is a map (a model of a reality) but not the territory.
Stuart Middleton’s sculptural figures, currently on display at Piper Keys, appear to lack a face. They lack heads altogether in fact. Entitled Sad Sketches, the show contains a group of paper-mache couples, intersected by white table tops. Surrounded by a soiled lino floor and mop-smeared, pink walls, the figures are stuck to one another, in acts of botched foreplay or a drunken fight. On first impressions, the absence of a face saves these sculptures from the faciality dilemma; they could be deemed body-objects or body furniture, they are definitely body-orientated. The peripheries of each body are rendered in detail, with weathered hands, wrinkles on penises, or bulging veins on calf muscles. They clutch and tug at clothing, displaying the weight of struggle and the effort of searching for something upon, or perhaps within their partner. This sense of searching is also present in Middleton’s recent animation of the same title. Set to Depeche Mode’s A World full of Nothing, the animation features two grey feet tip-toeing on a deserted background. The feet gradually pick-up pace before entering a sudden spasm and collapsing on their side. The lyric, “though it’s not love, it means something” echoes over this closing image. The longer spent with these bodies, the more this atmosphere of hopelessness, of a search cut short persists. With it, the realisation that these table tops are not replacements for faces but instead are faces, albeit empty and expressionless ones.
Middleton’s ongoing interest is with fingers, feet and cocks, the lowlier elements of the human body and its’ existence in the day-to-day. These features have been exaggerated for comic effect; but they are also sites for a particular kind of contact with the chaos and mess of the exterior world. Think of how grime gathers under a finger nail or the way a foot collects dust with each step, for example. The walls, the soiled lino, and the Madame Tussaud’s exhibition e-flyer all posit the show within specific realms of value and taste, an effect which could appear stretching if Middleton had not been so thorough in making it all look so shit. Instead, these elements help ground the bodies in the making and exchanging of dirt – what mere people do. Rather than show us a specific face (map), the sculptures in Sad Sketches mark out a more universal territory of human experience, emphasising a reality rather than a model.
Games of recognition are central to Faciality. The banner relies upon recognition, on the viewer reading the model as both Moss and not Moss. In doing so, she becomes frozen by the image, frozen by the viewer’s gaze. This is a desired result of advertising, and in part, explains Moss’s death-like, sexual expression. Middleton’s figures are not frozen but stuck, stuck against one another and the tables’ empty surface. There is a difference between being frozen and being stuck. To be frozen suggests a lifeless, inactivity whereas to be stuck implies a struggle, a push-and-pull or an attempt to escape. The bodies in Sad Sketches enact a struggle between recognition and loss; recognition in finding oneself in the eyes of another, against the loss of rejection – in one’s gestures and expressions not being reciprocated. Such a result creates a void and perhaps a reason for the figure’s round, blank faces.
Somewhat contrary to Deleuze and Guattari’s readings of the face as an abstracting machine, are those of psychologist, Silvan Tomkins. The human face was central to Tomkin’s research and he regarded it to be the display board of the affect system. Prioritising the role of emotions, like anger or excitement, he developed nine innate affects, which acted as scripts for human behaviour. One of these affects was the protective mechanism of shame-humiliation, an uncomfortable experience which causes a cognitive shock, upon the subject. The clearest example Tomkins provides of this affect is acts of intimacy. Sexual foreplay for example, operates on a knife-edge, whereby partners exchange expressions of excitement and joy but the merest flicker suggesting that something has gone wrong triggers the full expression of shame. Middleton’s sculptures are engaged in this battle. Each pair are stuck, pre-coitus, searching for recognition, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of shame-humiliation. The table-tops on the other hand, signal a possible result; the blank face brought on from a cognitive shock. By creating a tension between these scuffling bodies, and the empty surface of the table tops, Sad Sketches points towards the familiar horrors of intimacy and relationships. It sets the scene for a world full of nothing, and what happens when our advances draw a blank on the face of another.