Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mark McGowan

Dead Good Artist

TV News at IPS, Bournville

Two days after Remembrance Sunday Mark McGowan started six days of lying on the ground on Birmingham’s busy New Street in a semi-foetal position dressed in full military combat dress and a red beret. BBC Midlands today were there to interview him (as they were during the dry-run in September).
The performance ‘Dead Soldier’ is “the latest in a string of bizarre stunts”1 by “Yob artist Mark McGowan” 2 and it accompanys his current show at IPS entitled ‘TV News’.
Passers-by were outraged at the afront to our troops overseas, but I suspect that if the ‘reporter’ said to passers-by “This man is protesting against the war in Iraq” or “Raising awareness of the War in Iraq, in order to spark debate”, I suspect there would have been more “Here here”s and less “Not here”s.

“Performance artist Mark McGowan is no stranger to wild stunts” 3 and “his latest mind-boggling stunt” 4 of “so called performance art” 5 succeeded in getting exactly the Media attention that is the focus of the IPS show. The audacity of “Madcap Mark McGowan” 6 and curator Andy Hunt is impressive; their confidence in being able to put out exactly the right press release material to get the desired response from the press and incorporating it into the installation in time for the opening speaks volumes about the predictability of the press.
“Controversial artist Mark McGowan” 7, “a man whose art doesn’t really exist unless people take notice of it” 8, exploits the laziness of British journalism and it’s mindless sensationalism: On close inspection of the newspaper articles that form a significant proportion of ‘TV News’, the “Lonely maintenance worker” 9 is referred to as “Madcap Mark McGowan” 10 in three separate articles by South London Press over two years, and there were at least 8 separate stories in the show that had variations on the Question “But is it art?” If you believed everything you read in the papers “Whacky Mark McGowan” 11 has been 37 years old since some time in 2002, except for a brief period in 2004 when he was 38. If you believed the Mass Media unquestioningly, you’d be fucked. It is also notable how little evidence there was of some of the more arduous performances (Cartwheeling from Brighton to London, or Sailing a shopping cart to Glasgow for instance) ever having been completed.
As “The latest stunt by Camberwell Arts College tutor Mark McGowan” 12 ‘TV News’ is an exhibition specifically about the Media attention his work has drawn from 2001 to the present, as well as various bits of documentation from those performances and related letters of communication, and as such offers a good overview of his practice in all its aspects: the ‘Work’ in artwork; the Exploration of suffering; the manipulation of the Media. Frankly, considering the effort, time, and thought that has gone into this show (including the performance), I’d say the £4,000 fee that The Sun was so disgusted by was fucking cheap.
Although the Media focused entirely on the “Loveless Mark McGowan” 13, “A man posing as a dead soldier” 14, and stoked up resentment and anger against him personally, and against the Arts Council for ‘giving away’ public money, there is much more to ‘TV News’ than is immediately obvious to the casual observer. If the show has a failing, this is it: The performance ‘Dead Soldier’, on New Street, may well have achieved the artists’s aim of gaining Media attention for the performance, but it failed to draw any attention whatsoever toward the exhibition at IPS, which I think is a shame. One other mystery in the exhibition though is the inclusion of “£1,000 three legged celebrity impersonator race” as there appeared to be no press coverage in evidence, contrary to the nature of the rest of the show.

In conclusion, McGowan is far from being an “idiotic artist” 15, and ‘TV News’ provides a good benchmark against which to measure all future encounters with the Media. The show also throws up two things that I found surprising: The first is the idea (from one woman on a news report) that ripping someone’s head off is a measured response to having a car keyed; and the second is that in this whole exhibition of Media reaction to McGowan’s work, chat show presenters Richard and Judy are the only ones to provide a considered response to McGowan’s work.
© Stuart Milgram 2006

Mark McGowan's 'TV News' at IPS, 16 November to 16 December 2006
Performance: 'Dead Soldier', New Street, Birmingham 14 to 20 November 2006
International Project Space, Bournville Centre for Visual Arts, Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, Maple Road, Birmingham. B30 2AA
T: +44 (0) 121 331 5785

1] “I vandalised 47 cars ‘for the sake of art’”. Jayne Atherton. Metro. 18th April, 2005. p.11

2] “Your art’s not up to scratch”. Nick Sharpe. The Sun. 18th April, 2005. p.15

3] “Running on empty”. Helen Pidd. The Guardian. 7th July, 2005. p.6

4] “Cartwheeling artist going nuts for rocks”. Sara Wallis. The Argus. 11th August, 2005. p.12

5] BBC Midlands Today. September 2006.

6] “Loon for one more on top”. Chris Pragnell. South London Press. 20th August, 2004.p.3

7] “Warning Mars race”. Adrian Pearson. Southwark News. 16th February, 2006. p.16

8] “Running on empty”. Helen Pidd. The Guardian. 7th July, 2005. p.6

9] “Bachelor’s 55-mile crawl in search of a girlfriend”. The Times. 27th December, 2005. p.26 There is no mention of McGowan even being an artist in this article.

10] “Off his trolley”. South London Press. 12th December, 2003. p.4 & “Pranks for nothing...”. Oscar Mortali. South London Press. 17th December, 2002. p.3, as well as note 6 (above)

11] “Forget’s a real British nutter”. Gary O’Shea. The Sun. 13th September, 2003. p.19

12] “Not art but crime”. Soutwark News. 10th February, 2005. p.10

13] “Love is Crawl”. Greig Box. Daily Mirror. 7th January, 2006. p.27

14] “Gunning for a reaction”. Jasbir Authi. Birmingham Mail. 8th September, 2006. p.25

15] “Dead Stupid”. Virginia Wheeler. The Sun. 15th November, 2006. p.25

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