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RE if the Chapmans were good artists

From:     blp
Category: Art
Date:     10 June 2008
Time:     11:31 AM


Naive? You sound like you're about 20 yourself, dear. 

What is it you think we 'need' artists like the Chapmans for? Is it to shock these Bourgeoisie you 
speak of out of their complacency? If so, isn't it a problem then that the work, being so plasticky and 
distanced, whether by design or failure of design (it's never very clear) is not shocking? I used to 
wonder if the Chapman's were making some odd, self-fulfilling point about the impotence of attempts 
to shock, but there's an interview with Jake Chapman floating around the web somewhere where he 
admits they really did set out to shock, with a sort of moral purpose that roughly equates to rousing 
people from their complacency. Sorry, I wish I could cite it, but I can't remember where I saw it. 
Possibly someone posted it here. Anyway, he says he realised this was fallacious because people 
actually like horror and get off on it, which means all the Chapmans are really doing is adding to the 
generally not very awake mainstream culture of sensationalism, which is presumably why they are so 
successful. If they were able to shift things to make it clear the work was actually about how people 
get off on horror, it might be interesting, but so far, this message isn't coming across. Instead they're 
frequently subjected to a reading they repeatedly refuse, both in the work and in conversation, one in 
which they're seen as simple, two-dimensonal moralists, pointing at horror and saying it's bad. 

Artists don't have to feel pain to depict it? What is this? It seems to be some half-articulated 
shibboleth abroad in art (or art schools) now, where the idea of an artist suffering at all is seen as 
some laughable nineteenth-century/teenage gauchery. I know the following isn't the intention behind 
these kinds of sentiments, but it feels a bit like a product of the same millennial arrogance that gave 
us the end of history theory. Are you suggesting, Clem, that there are people who, um, no longer feel 
any pain? Artists who don't suffer? Oh my child. 

Of course the Cs aren't obliged to talk about their own suffering and there are a million ways to do this 
(e.g. Tracy Emin) that wouldn't be good. My point is, they seem to me to be part of this climate of 
arrogance about feeling that leaves what? A lot of horror and a refusal to feel anything about it except, 
at best, a desire to burst out laughing. This is the intent at least, vis Jake Chapman's Channel 4 
documentary about other wannabe shocking artists he likes like Paul McCarthy and Brock Enright, 
which ended in a montage of demonically cackling clown heads. This is what's going on in the 
defaced Goyas - monstrosity into monstrous bathos and sod your finer feeling, which is just a 
dishonest way of flattering yourself anyway. 

Psychosis as dominant cultural tendency - a phrase I can imagine the Chapmans nodding their heads 
at approvingly. Except that the idea of psychosis, of being unable to experience ordinary human 
feeling, seems to precisely pinpoint the contradiction in their work, where they're not really psychotic, 
but want to use psychosis in a theatrical way to ridicule feeling, but also, uh oh, exactly, provoke it. It's 
not a total dud as an idea. It's just that they don't seem to have quite made up their minds. You don't 
really get the horror of it, but you don't really get a laugh either, just the damp squib bathos and two 
kidults looking like they're trying too hard to enjoy themselves. 

What they don't do is implicate the viewer in evil in a way that is uncomfortable for them. You could 
argue, and I would, that this is the dishonesty of denying all feeling and, to pull it off, the Cs constantly 
have to depict a horror that occupies something like the realm of myth for their viewers. The quotidian 
horror of the way the Chapmans' audience lives is not gore, serial killings, fascism and war, or even 
psychosis; it's subtler than that and it's kept at bay, beyond the radar of ordinary human awareness, 
by basic denial. The Chapmans don't even create a ripple in the water here. They don't, to borrow a 
phrase of William Burroughs', deliver 'that frozen moment when everyone realises what's on the end of 
their forks.'  In that sense, they're escapists.

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