It’s an unusual month in which not one, but two, art exhibitions in Liverpool feature beds. But that’s exactly what’s happened this month. And comparing the two makes me think about a lot of issues around what art should stand for.
I wrote recently about Tracey Emin’s notorious My Bed coming to Tate. I said that it’s a good thing because it’s a draw for the crowds, but little about my own opinion of it as a piece. Because it’s an artwork I’ve always felt a bit torn about. I’m absolutely not going to say it’s “not art” because it’s an ordinary objects. Using everyday items to tell a story about society has always been perfectly valid, and anyway it’s at least 100 years too late for that argument.
The reason for my troubled feelings about my bed is that it treads a fine line between talking about personal experience, and being egotistical. Art always tends to reflect the views and experience of the artist. Even in Tate I think of the recent Maria Lassnig show, which I loved, and her art is very much about her personal experiences. But Lassnig’s paintings make the experiences identifiable to anyone – I feel that I understand and sympathise with her feminist point of view. With My Bed what is Emin really giving us to contemplate, apart from herself and her life?
Then a few days ago I stopped by The Florrie to finally see Casting Seeds by Jamie Reid. The Florrie have a curator now and on the strength of this show, I’m very excited to see what else is to come. Jamie Reid is the artist who worked with the Sex Pistols, amongst others, to basically define what most people recognise as the “punk aesthetic”. This show brings together lots of pieces from throughout his career. It made me think about contemporary questions of image, rebellion, and where society is going. And much of this was summed up in a bed.
Quite a different bed from the one down at the Albert Dock – one designed for dreaming in. Let’s start with the message on the bedsheet, which some may call nihilistic – I remember being a teenager and that phrase meaning something. Back in the days before I had to worry about things such as paying a mortgage. The headboard mural, too, is the sort of thing only those who have ambitions to make or stand for something take time to do. Even the fact that it’s a single bed made me think that there’s no distractions here.
I feel like I have known the sort of person who would own this bed in. They’re fairly young, punk in spirit if not entirely in style, and dissatisfied with the way things are. They want to stand for change and – here’s the crucial bit – really believe that they can. That’s what we’ve lost since this bedsheet was designed, I think, a sense that being angry and taking action can make a difference.
I don’t exactly mean to disparage Tate’s show and I think it raises some interesting points for those who already love art. But to me, it doesn’t have the same impact at this. My thoughts on seeing Emin’s bed were pretty much “oh look, it’s a bed”. Whereas I left The Florrie feeling inspired. Alongside the many other great artworks here, this bed symbolises a strength of feeling and belief in an alternative that existed once, and could do so again.
Casting Seeds is at The Florrie until 18th October