Blog has moved, redirecting you to the new blog...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

She might be in Tangiers

This blog has gone on holiday for a couple of weeks.  You can have a taste of the fun it's having by clicking this link:

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Love is what you need

I love everything in the Tracey Emin show – I’ve been twice now, and although the shock's gone the second time, the deep and poignant truths are just as strong.

I love her blankets with their intimate personal tales told in cramped handwriting; I love her fluorescent phrases glowing from the walls; her line drawings, as fragile and vulnerable and broken as their subject matter and her extraordinary artefacts, her chairs, beds, sofas, boxes.

But I’m going to pick out three things, two are films and the other is … hard to describe.

Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer, is one of those stories that speak of despicable injustice that turns it into triumph.  Tracey describes her early teenage in Margate and how at 13 she started having sex with older men.  It was free and fun, as indeed, by the sound of it, was she.  And then at 15 it started not being so much fun.  She was disillusioned both with these older men who shouldn’t have let her do all this, and fed up with Margate, and turned to dance as her escape.  She entered a disco competition which might have catapulted her away from the tedium of her seaside town.  It was going well, the audience was loving her, clapping, cheering, she knew she was going to win, then she heard a group from the audience and they were shouting, Slag Slag Slag.  Humiliated, she fled.

The film moves forward.  Tracey is dancing to You Make Me Feel, in an grand empty room, while the voiceover lists the boys’ names, “Shane Eddy Tony Doug Richard …this one’s for you.”  Tracey has transported herself into the stratosphere of fame and fortune, by talent, hard work, determination and personality, while they will still be strapped to the grim ordinariness of their lives, arguing with their girlfriends, shouting at their kids, hard up, no prospects, same low level misogynist attitudes skulking around their ugly heads.  Dressed in cut offs and a red shirt as if she’s just popped in off the street, a portable CD player in the corner, the clinching beauty is her smile.  She remembers the names of these men who should have known better, and they are, right now, the reason for her success.

The second piece I adore is the conversation that plays on the tiny TV set in the corner of the main gallery.  It’s between Tracey and her mum, presented artlessly, no interviewer, just someone with a camera, a little table and some chocolates.  Only four people can share this at one time, from headsets.  We are in the front room with them.  Mum is telling Tracey she would have been disappointed if Tracey had had children. It’s complicated, unusual, multilayered, touching truths that belong to all women.  But this piece of the conversation delighted me:

Mum:  If a cat slows you down, what would a baby do?

Tracey: You can get on a plane with a baby.  You can’t get on a plane with a cat.

Mum: Non-plussed silence

Tracey:  A baby grows up and makes you a cup of tea – a cat can’t do that.

Mum:  Are you sure about that Tracey – are you sure about that?

And lastly, The History of Painting Part 1 - used tampons, one little blackening thing in each of four perspex boxes, resting on a piece of toilet paper.  I’m not sure what it’s about, except it’s linked with pregnancy tests and abortion.  But I loved it, for its sheer brass neck. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I just want to let you know ...

Teachers nowadays are encouraged to send motivating notes to their students just before their GCSEs.  The purpose, I presume, is to give the kid a last boost of feel-good before the big day, a pat on the back for all their hard work.  What a lovely idea.

I found out about these when clearing out my son’s room, discovering one of them in his bin.  It was a postcard, the first words I just want to let you know… were pre-printed. 
This is what the teacher had written next:   “…that you have been very lazy but if you learn the key words you should be able to get a decent grade in the exam.”

There is a sub-text to this, about the curriculum, playing into the hands of those that argue (I am amongst them, actually) that GCSEs and the modular curriculum is a dumbing down, that the stuff they have to learn is banal, boring and largely basic.  But what I tackled him about was the main event.  “Lazy!!??” I screeched.  "But I thought – you told me – don’t you realise how important these – your future - blah blah water off a ducks back blah – you said you’d pulled your socks up - blah." 

“I have,” he said, in his laconic drawl, and to prove it he fished out another of the notes he’d received and read it out to me:
“Dear [identity protected for legal reasons]
I just want to let you know that although at times you seem half asleep and ask me questions that make me worry, you have been a pleasure to teach and deserve to do very well in your exams.”
Again, there was a glaring sub-text – or not so much that, but a irreconcilable paradox. I mean, how can a kid like that be a) a pleasure to teach, and/or b) deserve to do well - very well?

"And you're trying to convince me this is proof that you’ve mended your low down ways?" I wailed.  "Don't you realise – blah – future – education opportunity – how many times do I have to - university very competitive – water off duck’s back – blah – nothing worthwhile you don't have to work for  – blah."
He looked at the note again, then at me, raising his shoulders, holding out his palms in that way that signals, how come you can't even understand this?
Half asleep,” he said, “not actually asleep.  Seem,” he said, “not are.”  He paused to check the text.  "At times," he said, "not always."
"But that doesn't make any sense," I shrieked.  "How can you - what do you ...?"  And that was the point when I realised that the contradiction was reconcilable afterall, and that he'd demonstrated exactly how in the last couple of minutes.