The Moping Owl: March 2021


Well here we still are – or perhaps not by the time you read this: goodness me, let’s hope so – but I do rather worry about how you’re all bearing up in these strange and straitened times. Social distancing is one thing, but this Social Hibernation altogether something else: and, with no release in prospect, it does get me down somewhat. But that said, and if around here is anything to go by, it does seem that this time the prescript is honoured more in the breach than strict observance. And I have to admit I do stretch the point a bit myself, with a saunter down to Brockwell Park – only now and again you understand: and just for exercise of course – with the off-chance of a gossip with Silent Joe, the resident Heron, as a bonus. Mind you, that can sometimes be a bit of a frost. Like most people I know whose sole interest is spearing fish, he’s not the greatest of conversationalists, and extreme social distancing is the only option, what with him standing on one leg in the middle of the pond and me perched up a tree. But better than nothing I suppose, otherwise I’d be stuck here alone in this freezing tow’r, with nothing to warm my five old wits but crumpled Arts Council press releases and old copies of Art Monthly.


Ah yes: Art Monthly, the gift that keeps on giving. As I remember, it was set up by two old art-birds, Jack Wendler, who had a gallery, and Peter Townsend, said to be an Australian, over a few drinks in the Museum Tavern in 1976, and seemed a good thing at the time. But that glad, confident morning didn’t last long. The Arts Council soon took it in hand, a dead hand if ever there was one, and has kept it on life support ever since to the tune at the latest count of 40,000 smackeroos for the year.

So what has it to offer this time to help lift the Februarian gloom? Here is Jill Magid (no, nor have I), glossing her I-phone snap of a virgin paper tube split in half to spill out bank-fresh coins. “Like all my projects, in Tender I subverted one element within a larger system. During the current Covid 19 pandemic, a coin shortage developed in the US so the US Mint began overproducing coins, as one does. The coin shortage, like the Tender coins became an artefact of Covid”. Project? Subverted element?? Artefact of Covid??? If you’ve lost the thread, not to say the will to live, you’re not alone.

Next, “Art as Evidence as Art” gives the lobes and synapses another gentle jolt. Miss Stephanie Bailey asks herself “whether Forensic Architecture’s artworks raise further questions about the continuing violence of colonial democracies”: a good question, no doubt, but just a shade perplexing too. What, dear Stephie, has democratic colonial violence to do with Art, or Artwork if you must? I now feel rather for the aged aged man I once saw a-sitting on a gate: questions, questions, all these questions. I couldn’t get his drift at all, but at least I didn’t thump him on the head, as someone did, so I’m told.

But Fair Stephanie hasn’t finished with us yet. “What is notable about the Forensic Architects’ contribution to the cases of Pavlos Fyssas and Zak Kostopoulos (no: again I’m afraid not) is the intent to uncover, beyond the causal relationship between perpetrator and victim, longer histories of oppression and violence”: which is, I suppose, an answer of sorts, but well worth a thump on the nose were chivalry not to stay the fist. For of which or what is it all about? Notable or not as it may be, is intent a contribution of itself: and what, if any, longer histories were thereby uncovered? Good intentions are all very well, but be careful where they lead.

We live indeed in a wicked world. Forensic Architecture, you perhaps should know, is a research agency, based at Goldsmiths’ College (naturally), that makes it its business to investigate violations of human rights committed by states, corporations and police and military forces around the world. It was, or so it would seem, thus well-qualified for nomination to the Turner Prize of 2018, which unaccountably it failed to win. It is also an emergent academic field related to the presentation of architectural evidence within legal and political processes.

Art Monthly is a registered charity, enjoying a consequent statutory duty to maintain its exclusive charitable purpose and deliver a clear benefit to the public in general. It meets such obligation, of course, equitably and with all due punctilio, quite free of political interest or engagement. It is also an Art magazine. Next month: Ginny Limbo on “The Borrowed Landscape as cultural appropriation”; and Jeremy Acroprop on “Diversity, Exclusivity, and the Empty Frame”.


So to the Social Services, and to that notable arm of the modern Welfare State, Arts Council England, now flourishing under the firm, wise hand of Farmer Nick. What’s this at the bottom of the pile? Ah yes, a pre-Christmas bulletin on the recent accomplishments and goodly works of the Arts Council Collection, headed invitingly: “A Hello From our New Director, Deborah Smith”. Hello Debbie.

Pray continue, goes up the cry, and I can tell you it’s worth the wait. “What a year it has been! .. a challenging yet inspirational time. I’m honoured to be leading the Collection’s next chapter, if that’s what one does to chapters, and excited by the future of developing connections across cultures in embracing our mission of working in partnership to bring great art to as many people as possible.” Whew: I’m quite out of breath already, and still trying to work it out. It’s the sort of sentence one has to read twice and still be none the wiser three goes later. A diagram helps.

But on we go. “New Acquisitions – we announced (confessed would be the better word), that 38 works by 21 artists were acquired for the nation, a diverse range of works by artists including Pugh, Pugh, Barney M’Grue, Cuthbert, Dibble and Squab. Working with Communities – Our National Partner Programme venues Firstsite, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange and Sunderland Culture (Awaa the Lads) collaborated closely with their local communities to develop exhibitions and projects which reflect the richness and diversity of their local areas – including Super Black, Art Champions, Go on Being So and My Name is not Refugee. In Barnsley, the Cooper Gallery worked collaboratively with the ACC and Autism & Asperger’s Barnsley to create Allegories for the Senses, an exhibition focussed on the senses. Exhibitions & Loans – In the moment: the art of wellbeing, an exhibition exploring how art can help relaxation and provide a break from life’s daily worries took on a new relevance this year!” 

“The Future – 2021 marks the 75th year of the Arts Council Collection and we look forward to celebrating through a plethora of activity …” Oh dear.


No matter how worthy or well-meant, when the Message takes over, Art leaves the room.