Once again, I find myself overtaken by the tsunami of mass-produced shit that is the British market for seasonal gifts. On Monday (29th September 2015), my local Cooperative, Morrisons and Poundland had already got Halloween stuff on their shelves. Yesterday (30 September), the Sheffield “Christmas Shop” was stocking up and displaying a sign saying open.
Last year, my wife told me that she had been in a shop and overheard a child nagging their parents for a Halloween advent calendar. The pedant in me pointed out that “advent” has a very particular meaning, but that’s not the point. It’s just another highly manipulative way of selling more shit to weary parents via the powerful marketing tool of pester-power.
It was too late by the time I heard about the Halloween advent calendar last year, but by way of compensation, this year I have decided to steal that idea, but adapt it to include the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) celebration. Unlike our consumption-fest, this is a commemoration of friends and relatives who have died, and is normally celebrated between 31st October and 2nd November. According to Wikipedia, the Spanish Roman Catholic church coincided All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) with existing pre-christian local celebrations, rather like the hijacking of Midwinter and Easter.
My Halloween advent calendar will publish a graphic each day (first one shown above), referencing the day of the dead, but also with each day depicting Stalky Ringbits as a representative of a particularly rapacious corporation or imperialistic nation. See if you can spot them.
There will also be a “making of video” for each of the 31 graphics counting down until Halloween. Here is the first:
Collect the set!
It seems I’m behind the curve yet again. Just as I was starting to think about this year’s anti-Christmas commercialism satire, I find myself left standing at the starting line, once again.
Idly, I dropped by John Lewis’ website on 14th September 2015 only to find they have already stocked their online shop with a very healthy range of Christmas supplies. I haven’t seen any TV or newspaper adverts yet, so maybe this is just a “soft opening”, but I was a litle shocked at how early it is and how comprehensive is their range of Christmas essentials.
What’s more, and I am assuming they got this idea from me, for those happy shoppers who are uncomfortable about the religious aspect of Christmas, they also have a range of “Midwinter” goods to satisfy any middle-class atheists and pagans with disposable income.
As I’ve said before, I do not have it in for John Lewis in particular, but my attention was drawn to them by that mawkish and manipulative Monty the Penguin campaign last year. My response was Wally the Lonely Penguin.
I await this year’s campaign with baited breath.
A few days ago, a friend posted a message of frustration on Facebook about how she doesn’t want to hear anything about Christmas, either positive of negative, and I wholeheartedly agree, although I thought she was being a little premature.
Not so. The missus has just returned from our local Matalan, only to inform me that reindeer-shaped homeware is being stacked on the shelves and, according to the Manchester Evening News, Primark have already launched a range of tasteful Christmas jumpers.
When I say tasteful, I mean crass, of course.
This kind of cynicism is making us satirists redundant. It’s almost impossible to parody this anymore. Soon Christmas will be reminiscent of the US-sponsored policy of endless war, but as a continuous holiday season of middle-class, capitalist consumption.
Something I didn’t know (but Wikipedia sorted me out) is that in most Christian denominations, advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (not necessarily December 1st), meaning that this year it begins on 29th of November. However,“In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day (11 November).”
I had thought of conflating Halloween and Christmas into a kind of Advent Xtra, counting down from 1st October all the way to 24th December, but I am already too late.
I await inspiration for my own Christmas satire, either self-incepted or as a response to the forthcoming pre-Christmas storm.
Sheffield cathedral has just had a bit of a face lift and now the main front entrance is through a gift shop. No, really.
Back in 2011, the Cathedral had the fixed pews removed from the nave in order to make the space more flexible. It was ironically appropriate that the first commercial event that was hosted after the removal was the annual dinner for the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It seemed the priests had invited the money lenders back into the temple for dinner and drinks.
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller‘s comments about the economic value of culture betray the pervasive nature of the Thatcherite ideology where you can “measure the price of everything and the value of nothing” to quote Tony Benn (at 3:16).
I originally got the idea for my Richard Bolam at 50 project from the Paolozzi at 80 major retrospective at the Dene Gallery in Edinburgh in 2004. The gift shop was crammed with pretty much every single product that could have a logo imprinted upon it. I bought a catalogue for the show but, ironically, the one thing that was missing was the one thing that I really wanted; A comprehensive coffee table book about Eduardo Paolozzi’s life and work. They also had an expensive café.
I must thank my good friend and artist Bryan Eccleshall who often acts as Virgil to my Danté, guiding me through the circles of contemporary art Hell so that I don’t have to go there. He drew my attention to this series of talks by Director of MIMA, Turner Prize judge and über-curator Alistair Hudson, and particularly the idea of the gallery as social space first and art space second.
I can’t deny a genuine admiration for Hudson’s clarity. However, where Hudson fails heroically is in the way he looks, the way he sounds and everything he says. Sounds harsh, I know, and contradictory, and I am not saying that he is either a bad person or wrong in any way. But what he represents is everything that is wrong with the art world / gallery / museum establishment.
Effete, apologetic, middle-class fucking liberals.
It takes one to know one, I guess, and the interesting contradiction here is that I agree with pretty much everything he means but disagree with pretty much everything he says. His example of responding to a collection by 3D scanning and printing a Christopher Dresser teapot is reminiscent of the Apple Watch adverts that show its functions as a product of its target demographic. None of the things that the Apple Watch does are things that any of us need to do, they are simply expressions of consumption perpetrated by the people who can afford to buy one.
Hudson’s idea of Museum 3.0 is an example of how Zinga might monetize Museum 2.0 for the Facebook generation. Many artists are already working in noodle bars to make a living, or serving overpriced coffee to hipsters. His examples show just how pervasive Maria Miller’s or Margaret Thatcher’s attempts are to see everything as an income stream, and how everything leads you back to the exit through a gift shop.
Hudson’s examples of how the gallery might work differently all pivot on an already accepted model. Rather than suggesting that artists run a noodle bar or make stuff to sell in the gift shop, how about getting rid of the fucking gift shop and the café and using the two rooms as gallery spaces for artists that don’t have a Master’s Degree in Fine Art or an artist’s statement that includes the word “trope”?
Having said all that, I am strangely hopeful for Sheffield Cathedral. When I was in there on 11th September 2015, I bumped into one of the curators from Museums Sheffield who was supervising the installation of contemporary fine art from private collections for the forthcoming city-wide “Going Public” show. This includes Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Cyber-Iconic Man” (1996).
I am not one for starfucking nor indulging in personality-cult worship but I can’t deny a genuine thrill to be able to see something so powerful in a CofE chapel. I look forward to the complaints.
Whilst I am not qualified to comment on the financial motivations of the Church of England, I still wonder at their business model. I welcome the use of spaces outside the white cubes and it might be that rather than Jake & Dinos selling cock and cunt ramen in Museum 3.0, the next stage might be a full circle where people experience art like they did before the “Kantean model” became universal.
At home, in their everyday lives and in even in Cathedral X.
[This is part 2 of a much longer, unfinished contemplation on commercialisation, perceptions of value and exclusivity in the art world and beyond. Expect more parts plus revisions]