Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kelly Mark – ‘I Really Should’

A white room at the back of the main gallery, to the left. Actually more an alcove than a room, there is no door. Its twin on the right is lit in yellow and has hi-fi equipment laid out, playing jazz. This ‘reflects the possible music that the artist’s mother may have encountered whilst pregnant’, says the programme. Really? It wouldn’t mostly have been advertising jingles and TV theme tunes? What a cool mum. I hate that, when there is no way you can guess what a piece is about without reading notes*. The language they use can be so ugly. The programme says of Kelly Mark that she ‘utilises minimal and conceptual art strategies to hone in on the mundane details of daily life’. I’m so glad I didn’t read that before entering the white room.

I really should cut down on my caffeine

I really should watch my money

I really should stop pawning my stuff

I really should leave my body to science

There was nothing there except for a speaker, also white, through which came this list of things someone thought they really should get done. In a monotone voice, blank but not down, the format unvarying: ‘I really should...’ a thousand times. The things mentioned were often banal (‘I really should get my watch band fixed’) or hopelessly general (‘I really should listen more’). A lot you could agree with, but some were silly – ‘I really should start collecting fridge magnets’ was a good one (appropriate, too – there is a version of ‘I Really Should’ written in marker pen on a fridge). Some made no sense out of context (as they were) – ‘I really should wait it out’, ‘I really should have marinaded that a bit longer’. It seemed to be a mix of things which would genuinely improve the speaker’s life, and things which wouldn’t make the slightest difference. A gentle mockery of aspirational society, where everything has to improve all the time otherwise it’s a failure.

I watched as people came in to the room, saw the speaker, cottoned on to the idea of the piece after two or three repetitions. Some walked straight out again, but others leaned against walls, sat down, tilted their heads, closed their eyes. An elderly couple in the corner, a man in walking clobber to the right of them (40-ish), and a younger woman to the left who only managed to leave the room by degrees: having sat for 15 minutes or so, she stood up looking a bit restless, but every step she took towards the exit she paused to listen to another four or five items on the list. It was compulsive listening, leaving you unsure exactly how you’d been undermined – perhaps ‘I really should stop making lists’ was the biggest clue. January was the perfect time for it – if you were short on New Year’s Resolutions, there are plenty of suggestions here.

I Really Should’ is currently showing as part of Dundee Contemporary Arts’ Timecode exhibition, and is also available for free on Ubuweb.


* Actually, the more I think about this piece (Douglas Gordon’s Something between my mouth and your ear’), the more I like it. There is no reason why the artist’s mother shouldn’t have spent her pregnancy listening to jazz on Technics decks, and the way the record player, amp and speakers were laid out – in a straggling line – does in retrospect suggest a floating foetus. If Loveless had been playing I might have twigged.

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