A definitive guide to the land of lavatories
What is art?
Now were the Porcelain Gentleman an artist, with the obligatory crazed predilection for exuding profanity, banality and insanity in roughly equal measure, I could probably leave it at that. Plaudits for my minimal application and succinct encapsulation of the narrative would naturally roll in. Alas I am a man whose pencilled curve on paper would certainly not endow me with any quantity of toffee and thus I can only impart, with each laborious thousand words, what others can convey with one pithy flick of their wrist.
To the untrained, this seems a defining feature of art – the artistic act itself, more often than not, emerges from a haze of breviloquence, as if those talented protagonists need only ever be terse in their explanations, because ultimately their expressions are highly personal, often narcissistic and inevitably from a place in their mind we don’t know. What this often means, in a comedic twist of events, is that wave upon wave of overweening analysis can be expended upon a few coloured dots or an unmade bed presumably in an attempt to allow everyone else to momentarily peel back the veil and see what it is all really trying to say. The less the artist gives away the more we want to understand.
The cliché we tend to be force fed in somewhat patronising fashion is ‘don’t worry about what it meant to them, art is about your take and interpretation…’ This is true to an extent – a song shared with an ex lover will almost always have its own resonances and interpretations for you quite apart from the lyrical intent of its author – but the fact remains that deep down we all want to know what it actually means, what the author intended to say because ultimately we all want to put our hand up and scream ‘I knew it – didn’t I tell you all- you fools!’
In the meantime, whilst artists refuse to provide an instruction manual with each masterpiece, we can either accept that art might just be some cruel game to make us look silly, with artists pointing at us and laughing whilst we continue to fall down the rabbit hole of interpretation and shudder to a halt in some pathetic cul de sac of a conclusion. Or, you can get more involved, understand through osmosis if you will, by seeking out art and even participating in its creation.
And so, keen to create my own unfathomable piece of brilliance, I picked up some charcoal and headed to the Proud Archivist.
If one wanted to exemplify how far the world of art has come from huge ornate frames and some stuffy old plump chap telling you to be quiet, the Proud Archivist is Exhibit A.
This is not some daunting, gothic building looming over the Seine, silently judging you for your bum-bagged, ready-meal exterior, but rather a modestly elaborate bike shed tucked apologetically along a canal in East London. The clandestine nature of the establishment is testament to a promotional strategy reliant on word of mouth and social media and the whole things feels a long way from a ‘required reading’-style destination lifted from an undergraduate’s textbook.
The art is immersive – it’s where you eat, where you drink, where you sit – but at the same time non-committal. You may legitimately be here simply to read a paper and take shelter from the locust plague of Boris Bikes wreaking havoc outside.
The art itself is approachable. No need to try and decipher the Baconian brush stroke that implies a lover’s suicidal whim – most of it is the end product of someone with phenomenal Photoshop skills and an eye for the cryptic.
And rather than this being a reminder of a world with which one shall never be a part, in the back room was a life drawing class, of naked people dressed up like day of the dead. One can literally churn out piece after piece of terrible charcoaled stick men and rather than being immediately ostracised you are high fived and drenched in red wine and canapés in celebration of your inabilities.
I momentarily got carried away with the aesthetical fanfare and wandered to an area ‘back stage’ (evidently life drawing still needs to partition master from mister) and got to see ‘what artists eat’. In my head this was always a large bucket of fried chicken, with the final greasy skin of a family feast catapulting these troubled geniuses into a shower of self-loathing that in turn gave rise to their melancholic masterstrokes. Instead, I was greeted by a sad smorgasbord that looked like a cast off from a picnic at Henley Regatta.
Whether it’s to offset the onslaught of photographic montage, the toilets in the Proud Archivist are a very simplistic bright white, with everything scaled back as if to mimic the blank canvas from which an artist will perform their mental contortion.
This works to great effect.
One’s mind is somewhat neutralised again, brought away from the fanciful world of elaborate artistic rhetoric and into the spotlight of requisite human bodily function. Doors remain unpainted, tiles homogenous.
The Dyson hand dryer juts out almost with a knowingness of its unusual material make up. It’s flattened design ensuring a level of continuity with the wall, the discharge of air subtly to the side as to avoid blasting warm particles of recycled dust across the room and disrupting the equilibrium.
The toilets are unisex, a controversy compounded by the fact that there are urinals, un-partitioned. To the Porcelain Gentleman this is a melange of faux pas. However, this being an art gallery and not a late night discothèque I waited to one side to see how much mental anguish this caused to the bathroom frequenters. After a few minutes I came to realise that the gallery brought some veil of social etiquette that prevented male urinal exposure in knowledge of female presence. No one used them. I started to wonder if they were there almost for the benefit of women, to allow them to see first hand the barbarism with which some men conduct themselves in such facilities.
Upon exit I saw this.
The out of place coke can, the casually strewn bog roll – was this art? Was this some sort of Tracey Emin cast off that had been thrust within the loo by some altruistic visionary who wanted me to experience art first hand, before it is commoditised?
Of course it wasn’t, I had become a pretentious buffoon.
The Porcelain Gentleman:
When The Porcelain Gentleman used to think of the world of art, the song ‘time to pretend’ by MGMT would spring to mind. The salient narrative of the song alluded to the fact that to a chosen few art was an inevitability – twas fate and thus (even though under a cloud of pretence) always slightly out of touch from the rest of us:
‘Yeah it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?
Forget about our mothers and our friends
We were fated to pretend.’
In reality however, the bubble of pretence has been popped and now we can all get in on it. Not only has the iPhone and instagram created a mediocre writer and artist in us all, but the spaces where they are objectified and commercialised are no more intimidating than the bedroom of an A-Level art teacher. Given this and the fact that I thought I had ‘witnessed’ live art in the toilets – 7/10