July 21st – July 16th 2013
Still is the second in a series of annual exhibitions that invites former Art students from Morpeth School and Cambridge Heath Sixth to exhibit their continuing Art practice in the context of Portman Gallery. These exhibitions highlight the varying pathways students take and the ways they continue to engage with Art making and thinking. Still is curated by Joseph Betteridge who recently completed his A-Levels at Morpeth. Bringing together his work with Charlotte Fountaine, Razmin Haque, Leonie Siden the exhibition poses fundamental questions about Art’s access, language and agency in today’s culture which he has outlined in the text below produced for the show.
Artists: Joseph Betteridge, Charlotte Fountaine, Razmin Haque, Leonie Siden
Within Aesop’s Fables can be found the tale of the fox and the stork. In this tale, a cunning fox invites a stork over to his house for dinner. At the meal, the fox serves soup in a shallow dish, knowing that due to the shape of the stork’s long, narrow beak, he will be unable to consume it. The fox gleefully laps it up, and then teases the stork by asking him if he enjoyed the soup, made especially for him. After the meal the stork decides that he must have his revenge. He invites the fox over for dinner, and this time serves soup in a vessel with a long neck. The stork is able to stick his beak in and consume the meal with ease, but due to the shape of the fox’s snout, he is forced to make do with licking around the mouth of the vessel. After the meal the fox realises that he has been tricked, and admires the stork for his cunning.
If we take the vessels for soup to be the means to consume knowledge, we notice the flaw in the moral of the story. Those who understand only the standard language find themselves unable to consume the knowledge contained within the narrow-necked mystical vessel. Those who have access to this knowledge, however, find too little depth to satisfy themselves within the shallow dish of standard language. Instead of engaging within a perpetual cycle of ‘I will get even with you by enacting revenge for what you have done to me’ we must instead break this cycle and find a third vessel which has the breadth and depth enough to satisfy both, giving open access to the full advantages of both ways of seeing.
This can be expressed:
1) Standard consensus language only functions within social relations.
1a) It begins to address not reality but reflections of itself as it exists within the closed loop of itself.
2) Art is a language without the rules necessary for standard consensus language.
2a) Because art can move outside established boundaries it has the potential to directly address reality; it can free itself from the closed loop.
3) Because art is not an agreed upon language it can’t be accessed by standard consensus language.
3a) Because of this it is necessary for the formation of a new language which articulates a new relation to reality which can be consolidated and dissolved.
4) This new language must be a new socially arrived at consensus which departs from the hierarchy of standard consensus language.
4a) The new language starts to articulate itself to a wider group of people when we are able to approach what is real through not only the new language but a changed use of the standard consensus language.
5) This is not only nice and good but an absolute necessity.
The culture we which live in places the control of how standard language engages with ‘art’ language (or, non-standard language) at the top of the social hierarchy. Since this hierarchy aims towards economic success above all else, access for the lower classes (within this system that is what they are; to refer now to ‘the working class’ is to avoid an uncomfortable truth) to non-standard language would result in a questioning of the symbolic order. This language is therefore privatised and reserved for a cultural elite.
This is not the case across all of the world, however. In Iran, for example, all people of all social classes are familiar with (to the extent of having memorised and referring to in common conversation) many bodies of poetry. These poems are a direct example of the ‘bridge’ language which I propose between standard and non-standard language, in that they speak in standard grammar, using non-standard symbolism, to talk about (entirely non-standard) mystical knowledge.
An important element of the bridge-language is its implicit acknowledgement of universal inter-dependence. A memory which left a big impact on me is of my mother talking about her father and grandfather’s life in rural and industrial Wales at the turn of the last century. Her grandfather was a teacher, and due to being appointed head of various different schools throughout his life, travel, with his family, across many different parts of the country. In all of them he and his son (my mother’s father) found the ‘working class’ people to be familiar with literature, to be aware of political concepts and theory, and to extensively hold discussions on philosophical matters, all the while implicitly acknowledging a common cause or a common struggle, whether that was a common need to maintain functioning farmland, a common need to get the best that they could under the conditions of the factory or mine, a common need for the autonomy of the Welsh people, or all of the above (along with many others). As soon as the mines, factories and farms were closed and a new, individualist and implicitly anti-universalist; way of thinking was handed down from above these cultures began to erode.
Text by Joesph Betteridge