I had a moment of clarity last week – sadly one of only a few in any one year.
Myself and Mrs O were visiting exotic London for the weekend (we like to remind ourselves from time to time what an economy looks like). Anyway, we went to the Tate Modern, mainly to see the Gauguin stuff (not bad for a failed stockbroker – but I prefer Dudley Watkins). However, wandering around the Tate saying things like “is it Art”, “must have been grant money”, “somebody is taking the mickey” and the classic “this artist seems to be intent on self harm” I stumbled into something that made me remember that the Green Economy isn’t new.
The artwork that stopped me and gave me a moment of clarity was called Venus of the Rags (I found a better picture here). Apparently its a “complex juxtaposition of modern and historical images and ideas in which the solid Roman goddess props up a randomly formed pile of modern clothes”. Yip – that was what I was thinking. Well no – actually what I was thinking was – I haven’t seen a pile of rags that big since I used to take rags to Maileys and get a shilling for my trouble.
Maileys was a scrappy & rag dealer based in Bannockburn. They traded in pretty much anything, but mainly piles and piles of rags. You entered the huge cavernous shed at your perl – steering well clear of the ferocious looking Alsatians at the entrance and approaching the rag dealers sitting on reclaimed car seats with caution. They eyed you up and down and looked at your wares with obvious resentment at their being disturbed. Nonetheless it was a trial and tribulation worth going through for that extra bit of pocket money.
The ragmen would go through the ludicrous process of pretending to segment the rags into woolen or cotton or nylon and then they would weigh them as if dealing in some precious metal. Finally they would give you a random amount of money which never seemed to bear any relation to the amount you had brought or to any previous trip. The sum was never as much as you wanted and always as little as they thought they could get away with. The piles of rags in the shed were enormous – woollens piled 20 feet high, cotton and bedding reaching to the roof, I can’t remember the smell – but it must have been of stale sweat.
That was in the mid 60’s – recycling alive and well. No special coloured wheelie bins for rags, no council lorry coming around on a weekly basis to lift your glass. Just kids trying to get a a shilling or two by stripping their mothers best bedspread from the front bedroom and running down to Maileys with it. My maternal granny never threw out a brown paper bag or a jelly jar – everything was reused because everything had a value.
So I’d lke to thank Michelangelo Pistoletto for his Venus of the Rags at the Tate Modern – I don’t really know what on earth he is getting at, but it made me think of recycling rags and my granny keeping empty jelly jars in her press. And it allowed me to confirm that all this Green stuff that is suddenly very trendy and politically popular was never trendy in the 60’s or earlier – it was simply a very normal way of life.
Apparently long before I was born a Jelly Jar would get you into the cinema (or pictures). So I’d like to suggest to all Cinema operators when they are considering their green corporate policy and their carbon emission levels to allow cinema entry to anybody bringing with them a pram full of sweaty woolens or a dozen glass jars. Now that really would be a green economy – just like the one that we used to have.
So thanks to Michelangelo (one more time) for my moment of clarity, but despite his help I still can’t help thinking, “is it Art?”