Magazine article Art Monthly

Vote Art

Magazine article Art Monthly

Vote Art

Article excerpt

'Vote Conservative'; these were the two words with which Mark McGowan outdid even himself on 23 April, in the thick of the UK's most unpredictable election campaign in living memory--never mind the YouTube video in which McGowan advertised his intention to carry out 10,000 'prostrations' in front of a large portrait poster of Tory party leader David Cameron on 6 May, election day. Like much of McGowan's work, the irony in the said video was laid on so thick--with McGowan practising his movements, lying flat, arms outstretched in front of said poster--as to render the exercise absurdly gauche. Similarly, the real-life performance was by all accounts pure McGowan spectacle, the artist professedly breaking down in tears at points, following the pressure his own campaign had brought upon him.

However, the provocation to think the unthinkable--to 'vote Conservative', or to urge others to--came about weeks earlier via a series of Facebook announcements posted by the artist--and, later, in another YouTube video--which rattled cages in a manner no one could have imagined pre-Brownite Britain and pre-social networking. The viral, if generally banal, spectacle that Facebook threads have become, together with the possibility that some artists and spectators might actually have been persuaded by McGowan to vote Tory, combined as factors to demonstrate that if a 'just' politics isn't possible then at least artistic debate might be, and this in quarters--ie Facebook--where many had all but written off the notion of intelligent interaction.

Perhaps there was little clever, logical or sophisticated about the response provoked by McGowan's support for the Tories. Dave Beech scrambled to denounce the shock artist in no uncertain terms: 'This pathetic cynical display is a measure of the kind of artist you are spineless, unprincipled and crass. I call on all curators, critics, artists and funders to boycott you and your work. And I pledge to stand against you at every opportunity. You, Cameron and all your conservative friends can rot in hell!' However, the ensuing discussion served to reopen important debates about the role of art, politically speaking. And while the first person to comment on McGowan's longest Facebook thread, one Iphgenia Baal, may have been the most insightful with regard to his intentions 'how adolescently subversive'--there is no denying that this particular stunt, for all its hilarity, had serious undertones.

'Stop the campaign, Mark', implored Beech in one Facebook thread. 'I can't' retorted McGowan, demonstrating a 'commitment' at odds with the political kind seemingly demanded by the former, a writer, lecturer and regular Art Monthly contributor. The subsequent formation of a Facebook group by Beech and Laura Oldfield Ford entitled 'Mark McGowan is a Tory' served to strip whatever was ironic from the situation. While the ranting and mudslinging might initially have seemed suspiciously like a group of artists in cahoots, by late on 23 April it came across like the embarrassingly desperate online attempts at political point scoring undertaken by technophobic members of Parliament who quite often are Tories. On 24 April Beech wrote on the 'wall' of the said Facebook group: 'OK, let's think about this. …

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