As a taster for their 2009 triennial ‘curated’ by Nicolas Bourriaud (AKA Boring Ass), Tate Britain hosted a series of talks concluding with one this weekend by the International Necronautical Society (INS). For their 17 January shindig, the INS hired actors to play General Secretary Tom “Thunderbird” McCarthy and Chief Philosopher Simon “Hip Hugger” Critchley. The event sold out well in advance because a sensation hungry public were under the entirely false impression that they would be personally addressed by this notorious pair of lobster loving nude chefs. Despite Radio 4 (Today programme, 29 December 2008) making the outrageous claim that McCarthy is widely recognised as a best-selling novelist, the majority of those present appeared blissfully unaware of the fact that the thespians pretending to be the notorious INS nude chefs were Sexton Blakes!
Before the Gilbert & George clones posing as Thunderbird and the Hip Hugger launched into the main act, the INS pulled their masterstroke by having a luvvie impersonating Nicolas Bourriaud introduce them. The actor playing Boring Ass boasted over-lovingly tousled hair and covering his back (but not his arse) was a truly shitty piece of ‘designer’ knitwear in grey marl with buttons running down the sleeve. The fake Bourriaud proceeded to camp it up outrageously in his impersonation of an inept and self-important curator, and used a thick but phony French accent to render his ‘Franglais’ incomprehensible. This had those of us who have seen the ‘English’ ‘translation’ of Bourriaud’s book Relational Aesthetics, rolling in the aisles. Indeed, my body was so racked by laughter that I failed to write down a single word of the parody Bourriaud speech. Fortuitously a brief sample from Relational Aesthetics (page 29), the text the INS piss-take was modelled upon, will convey its flavour: “Pictures and sculptures are characterised by their symbolic availability. Beyond obvious material impossibilities (museum closing times, geographical remoteness), an artwork can be see (sic) at any time. It is there before our eyes, offered to the curiosity of a theoretically universal public. Now, contemporary art is often marked by non-availability, by being viewable only at a specific time…”
Having lampooned Bourriaud so mercilessly, whatever the INS did next was bound to disappoint and it will surprise few readers of this blog that the impersonators playing Thunderbird and the Hip Hugger were deliberately saddled with a lecture that was more suited to the printed page than public performance. Despite endless ‘highbrow’ (AKA first year undergraduate) references to the likes of Plato, Joyce and Wile E. Coyote, the content of the talk can be summarised with a pair of old neoist slogans: “death is not true”, and ‘whenever someone utters the word authenticity you can be certain you’re dealing with a fake”. The content of the lecture was cannibalised from both earlier INS manifestations and the work of 1990s counterculture networks such as the Association of Autonomous Astronauts and the Luther Blissett Project. The harsh lighting and bland delivery created a post-humorous ambiance in which those members of the audience who did not know what was going on became the butt of this INS joke.
The answers for the Q and A session at the end had been pre-scripted, but this form of ‘democratic’ participation is so ritualised that few seemed to notice that the replies were read back rather than spontaneous. The first audience member to speak during the open mike session wittered on about the traditionalist imbecile Rene Guenon and denounced the INS lecture as ‘incoherent” (obviously not aware of the fact that this was its entire point). The next person to gain control of the mike that was being passed around expressed complete agreement with the INS; while a third specified the form in which he wanted his answers, and yet after getting them as scripted rather than as demanded, he still appeared unaware that these had been written in advance.
The Q and A was followed by drinks. The Boring Ass impersonator used this social as an opportunity to parade a trophy blonde who hung onto his arm before the public. While I was enjoying a tipple, a journalist from the TLS mistook me for Thunderbird. I assured her that I was not McCarthy and when she eventually persuaded someone to point him out, she apparently gave him a ticking off for the prank he’d just played. Literary types are still into nineteenth-century notions such as sincerity, and by using the INS as a vehicle to revive the merciless assault on authenticity that characterised the most interesting cultural currents of the 1980s and 1990s, Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy are successfully distancing themselves from these bourgeois bores.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/ – you know it makes (no) sense!