Friday, 1 June 2012

Reigning on One's Parade?: Diamond Geezer at the William Wilson Gallery

I’m so underwhelmed by the whole Jubilee jamboree that I’m planning on disappearing this weekend and avoiding my beloved London for the entire flag waving four days. So anything which pokes fun and subverts this Establishment show is absolutely welcome, which is why I found myself in Hatton Garden, EC1 twice this week heading towards the Wilson Williams gallery. The irony begins before you even get to the curious little gallery, with the gorgeous windows of many jewellery shops having a queenly theme; emphasising the diamond, in diamond Jubilee.

Twinset Optional (2012)
The show is called Diamond Geezer and claims to explore ‘the ‘guilty pleasures’ of Jubilee celebrations; street parties, memorabilia, and all the joys of revelling in the high camp of that very British of institutions, the monarchy. The works in the exhibition are kinds of souvenirs….with more than a hint of playful cheek’. 

The Hatton Garden theme continued with jewellery figuring prominently. Diamonds created from money; Siobhan Barr’s ‘In Memoriam: Minted #1 2012’ is a 0.03 carat canary yellow diamond, produced from £605 of incinerated £5 bank notes set in a two pence piece and copper ring. A contentious piece which consolidates many queen themes as well as linking the queen with our/her money - as well as the issue of defacement. There is a bigger diamond on display which was formed by £1815 worth of £5 notes. Is the artist suggesting that we are burning money on the monarchy? The diamond making company were keen to check you could/can burn money legally (you can!).

Still Waiting (2012)
The other striking jewellery is Chiara William’s ‘Twinset Optional’, a very tongue in cheek but satisfying piece. So many images come out of this very large string of pearls; pearls with their association with purity and innocence are tasteful gemstones which the queen appears to wear regularly. Furthermore there is a historical link with iconic images of expensive ropes of them that other queens in history have worn. But one can’t help being drawn to the cruder, modern ‘pearl necklace’ idea.

On a second visit and after a natter with Director Debra Wilson, the paintings said more. Cathy Lomax’s large 'A Taste of Honey' is rather striking; the young queen’s innocently seductive pink cheeks, vermilion lips and naked shoulders rather uneasily turns that well known image into something sweetly suggestive. Seen along side her other paintings in the Eng-er-land series on the web, gives it an edge. Wendy Elia's 'Queen' (after Cecil) is a more truthful 'untouched' version of his photo which was massively airbrushed. It depicts the flawed beauty of HM in coronation regalia.

Iconic photos of the Queen appear In Dick Jewell's 'Church and State', which was my favourite piece in the exhibition. Perfect in its bringing together icons of Virgin and child with idealised images of the young Queen (including the Cecil), it takes the idea of her as protector and distantly untouchable, ordained by god. The two central images fix us with their gaze and both are surrounded by paraphernalia of wealth and majesty. A striking piece.

A couple of 3D pieces are interesting. I like the 'Her Majesty's Voice' by Kate Murdoch, with a corgi in a tiara watching a tiny black and white TV. A social commentary on the coronation being the advent of home visual entertainment as well as perhaps suggesting dogs are only ones watching it slavishly. The other is a cake stand, a crown with an upturned sundae dish over it, and the Queen standing aloof. 'Still Waiting' pointedly observes the status of Prince Charles, who is very much on the edge, crown unreachable. It's hers and she is not relinquishing it. 

So where is the really subversive stuff? We have a grotesque queen on a throne (loo - sigh) and the well-worn connection to punk with Boa Swindler's 'Coz she's the fucking bollocks'. The single's artwork and the queen have outlasted the band that created it and despite knowing the history and controversy the Sex Pistols caused around the 1977 jubilee, it leaves me rather cold.

However, it's the Olympics that come in for the harshest treatment and made me wriggle gleefully. The two fingers that Sadie Hennessy sticks up to this other massive tax/state funded money drain is very brave. Postcards sending up the Olympics with 'keep wanking amateur', and the 'British Wanking All Stars' including rude shapes constructed from the rings. The cards are probably illegal so with this in mind, I bought all three in a rebellious gesture. She is a controversial artist and she has a solo show coming up - looking forward to that opening.

The newspaper The Great Frock 'n' Robe Swindle presented to the visitor to take away is definitely the most serious comment in this show. It's vigorously anti monarchist and Shaun Featherstone set out to create  a 'piece of activist propaganda to offer up against the avalanche of media and print driven propaganda gathering momentum on behalf of the UK Monarchy. [...] a newspaper format publication filled with informative, creative and amusing content which shares one common theme – opposition to the forthcoming jubilee and/or the current system of an unelected constitutional monarchy it stands for, including hereditary peerage.' It's worth getting hold of a copy to balance some of the pap that is being churned out by the press/media. 

What can I say, I'm all about the balance. Question everything and hope that the underground doesn't fall apart at the weekend and later in the summer!

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