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The arts column: Funded by you, art with a capital F


If you are interested in the reasons for Britain’s cultural, moral and intellectual decline it is often worth taking note of small publications such as council newspapers, event flyers, political pamphlets – of any leaning – and arts festivals programmes. If what you read is absurd, untrue, gobbledygook or an all-round abuse of the English language you should then check to see who funded it.

Did you know that ‘London’s Biennial of International Performance Art and Noise’ took place in Croydon, south London, last month? Neither did I, until by chance I picked up its brochure, a 23-page publication in the shape of a newspaper.

The event, subtitled Tempting Failure, was a series of performance art events across the town. The programme is a remarkable document filled with gibberish, spelling errors and containing a nasty surprise at the end.

Its artistic director, one Dr Thomas John Bacon of the University of Middlesex, states in a rambling and deeply obscure introduction that ‘The growth of fascism, conservatism and extremism in our lives and mediatization and bombardment of technology upon ourselves we find separation and othering . . . Screaming into the void is no longer an answer. Societal bubbles must be confronted, challenged and burst . . .’ He goes on to say that he cannot wait to share work ‘from body artists, queer artists, fetish and modification through to comedic, durational, installation, fine art and noise . . .’

You will note the usual erroneous conflation of fascism, which is the mad, inbred cousin of socialism, with conservatism, which is as far as you can get from fascism. The writing of Dr Bacon (who has a PhD in ‘philosophy and performance’) is not the only thing to raise an eyebrow in the programme. Arianna Ferrari’s show was previewed thus:

After ingesting a quantity of laxatives and diuretics the performer inserts a catheter in their bladder and a tunnel plug in their anus. The performer loses control of their sphincters [sic]. A number of contact microphones are attached to the performer’s belly, detecting the sounds of their intestines.

Not a show to take one’s maiden aunt to, then.

On the page following Ms Ferrari’s preview there is an advert for Joseph Ravens’s ‘interactive performance’. It features a photograph of a naked man, his genitals partially exposed and apparently in a state of arousal. We are informed that it ‘contains a series of modified butt plugs. Always sculptural and gracefully schizophrenic, each sex toy will embrace a different mood, from poignant to playful. The actions and objects are designed to enrapture rather than repel, in an effort to demystify the anus.’

How about Marie Ségolène’s The Eye of the Rib? This is ‘a multidisciplinary performance, that involves projection, sound, tape recording, live reading and ritualistic gestures. The performer butchers a lamb with a variety of surgical tools, while reading a text in dialogue with a pre-recorded tape.’

I’m not making this up.

One artist, Amy Kingsmill, does ‘pain-based ritualistic performance’. She ‘pushes her body through self-designed rituals exploring femininity, pain and fetishisation’.

And so it goes on, page after page of it, larded with the nonsense words of academic Leftism and critical theory: ecofeminism, gendered bodies, biocapital labour, animal theory, queer theory, patriarchal community. There are professors of food policy, neurodivergent lovers, post-neurodivergent families, sound-reactive tapestries and indeterminate pieces for detuned baroque violin.

Now, who is paying for all this pretension, exhibitionism and what amounts to pornography? Someone has to, because it proudly advertises itself as a non-profit event.

You are paying, of course: Arts Council England, Croydon Council, the National Lottery and Middlesex University London, among others. The Arts Council’s budget is £622million per year. Next time you hear someone on the BBC saying that so-and-so area of the public sector is underfunded, you can take heart in the fact that the Arts Council is getting hundreds of millions of pounds of your money to demystify the anus.

As I said last week about the BBC, something needs to be done about the Arts Council: and that something is to abolish it.

I am not a prude, and I do not want to stop any of these things taking place – if people make a personal choice to view and pay for them – I just think the public should not be forced to cough up for them. The Arts Council’s mission is to get more people attending arts events who do not normally attend them. I saw how this bizarre policy worked in practice when I was involved in theatre some years ago. To gain funding, a well-known regional theatre was obliged by the Arts Council occasionally to put on plays by, about and for ethnic minorities. These plays were sparsely attended as they were not to the taste of the theatre’s regular patrons, and the audience they were aimed at did not generally go to the theatre. Thus the venue would need more funding to plug the gap created by the obligations placed on the previous funding. This is the intellectual corruption of state-controlled art writ large. State funding of art encourages self-indulgence which in turn militates against artistic excellence, and the needs of the taxpaying ‘audience’ count for nothing.

Stop someone in the street and ask them what arts funding should do and it is a safe bet they are likely to think that if you fund something at all, it should be in order for the enterprise one day to stand on its own two feet and no longer require public handouts: arts bursaries working like a small business grant. Arts Council England appears not to think that way. State art, like state broadcasting, has an agenda, an agenda that you pay them to ram down your throat.

The Arts Council, like the BBC, is smarmed-down socialism. It is not encouraging what most people would think of as art; it is pushing the new religion of the Leftish middle classes, an admixture of political correctness, diversity, eco-activism, pluralism and multiculturalism. I dare say it does a few worthy things, but could these things be done, or were they once done, by volunteers, the ‘little platoons’ as Edmund Burke had it?

By turning off the money tap, another big gun in the Left’s arsenal of propaganda would be silenced.

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Robert James
Robert James
Robert James is a national newspaper journalist.

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