Art from the Arctic

Thursday 19th January 2012

MARC Quinn is a sculptor, best known for Alison Lapper Pregnant, which was exhibited on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Having spent much of this week researching his work and reactions to it, I remain as perplexed and undecided about three-dimensional art as I was when I started.

That’s not a criticism of Quinn, incidentally, whose website held my attention for ages, with its striking images and intriguing videos.

He also corrects a myth about the pieces called Self – self-portrait heads in his own frozen blood, another of which he produces every five years. Contrary to rumour (and gleeful scorn in the popular press), the one kept in Charles Saatchi’s fridge did not melt when builders renovating the collector’s kitchen turned off the electricity.

I don’t fall back on the whole antimetabole – I know what I like and like what I know – but certainly agree with the first half and often end up scratching my head.

The itch, however, arises largely out of ignorance: not just a lack of understanding of form and meaning, but also because I find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to explain my own emotional responses to what I am seeing.

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, for example – described as ‘a hole’ or ‘167-metre-long crack’ in the floor of the Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern – I found exhilarating, mischievous, troubling and strangely calming, all at the same time. But, please, don’t ask me why.

And I would very much like to have been in the same venue last Saturday, to witness Floe Piece.

Part performance, part protest, the ‘exhibit’ was a 55kg chunk of Arctic ice, carried on a stretcher-like bier by four veiled figures on behalf of the artists’ collective, Liberate Tate.

The ice was taken into the hall. An accompanying note drew visitors’ attention to the effects of climate change in the Arctic, the oil extraction carried out there by BP, and the Tate’s continuing acceptance of that company’s sponsorship.

The video recording is 4 minutes and 59 seconds long.

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