Uncomfortable truths

Double Act: Art and Comedy, The Bluecoat, until 19th June, free

I didn’t go alone to this show.  As my mum & sister were visiting for the weekend, it would have been rude not to make it a family affair.  They’re not as interested art as I am and over a post-gallery lunch my sister stated she was of the opinion that “it was a bit pretentious…what is the difference between that and what I can see on YouTube?”.  Which pretty much sums up why I started this blog in the first place.

Viral videos do their job very well: if you’re bored and can take 10 seconds to have your day cheered up and have a new talking point with your friends, then they’re perfect.  That single purpose, though, is not what Double Act: Art and Comedy was really about.  Comedy, like art, is a great vehicle for discussing some of life’s awkward topics.  I’m going to try and explain why 3 of my favourite pieces from the show were my favourites, and what I believe they were trying to do.


Peter Land, Pink Space, 1995.  Took me ages to get one of him actually sitting down.

The first is Peter Land’s Pink Space, the one which is most like a YouTube clip.  To break it down: it is a video of a drunk entertainer unable to sit on a stool to do his act.  He falls off the stool in a different way each time.  I can see how it would be easy to walk into the room and after a few seconds say “OK, that’s that” then walk out again.  Except the full video is 4 minutes, 4 seconds long, and I felt it was a good example of why staying with an artwork for a longer time is worthwhile.  Yes I laughed at first but the more I stuck with it, the sadder it became.  It was like a cringe-factor TV show such as The Office: you knew that all that was coming was more embarrassment.  Comedy is often used to look back on tragic or difficult situations, and this video does just that.


Moving down the corridor, one wall was filled with a series called Fax-Back.  These did make me laugh: letters from art galleries and promoters with the jargon highlighted and commented upon.  Here’s the thing: we all know that promotional rhetoric is a load of bollocks.  I was listening to Michael Rosen’s excellent Word of Mouth on Radio 4 last week covering just this topic.  So how is this art?  Well, I like the fact that the letters all come from art companies, highlighting the smug, self-congratulating way the art world can come across to the general public.  Apparently these were all sent back to the companies involved: I like to imagine the conversations which were had when they were being called out.

I think it’s good to bring attention to the perceived pretentiousness of the art world, because it’s that kind of language that makes people think of art as ‘not for them’.  I am now going to talk about a piece in the exhibition which left me cold: David Sherry’s Red Sauce/ Brown Sauce.  Breaking this one down: it’s a man shouting as he pours tomato ketchup onto his face.  If that sounds like exactly what you hate about art, it kind of is what I dislike about it too.  I didn’t feel anything for this man as he was doing it, and I thought it was too exhibitionist to make much of a point.  Whilst I felt that most of pieces in this show have been placed together well, I would question having Red Sauce/Brown Sauce in the main window onto the street.  I can imagine many people seeing it from the outside, making a judgement that if it’s that kind of art they’re not interested, and walking on.   But this is just my opinion.  Maybe this is the piece that speaks to you the most.

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Gemma Marmalade: Lisa with Leek from Seed Series, 2015

The third of my favourite pieces was Gemma Marmalade’s Seed Series.  Let’s describe this one in simplest terms too: it’s a set of pictures of women holding giant vegetables.  It says something about me that I was giggling in my head even as I wrote that sentence, but I’m sure I’m not alone in that, and that is part of the point.  The innuendo is obvious and, to go back to YouTube, reminded me of this video of a man apparently complimenting boobs.  But there’s more to it: the first frame gives an absurd description of how women’s sexuality can help vegetables grow.  After I’d read this I still laughed but also felt a little bit awkward about it, and why?  Because even in the 21st century, women’s sexuality is not something you talk about in polite conversation.  It’s that extra spin of making you confront your feelings on a taboo subject that, in my view, makes these particularly artistic.


I was slightly apprehensive about the theme of this show: both art and comedy are hugely diverse subjects with a lot of room for interpretation.  What I found was an exhibition which had lots of  art which will both make you laugh and make you think about a wider range of life issues.  The Bluecoat is a well-situated museum, right in the heart of Liverpool’s shopping districts. Next time you’re in town and looking for a way to amuse yourself, don’t go shopping, pop in.  It’s better than YouTube.



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