Hairy, Dirty, Angry Old Apes, Richard Grayson at Matt’s Gallery

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Everyone knows pop stars have nothing to say. Fortunately, Roy Harper doesn’t class himself as one… which is for the best as the ‘legendary singer-songwriter’ talks for eighty minutes solid in Richard Grayson’s most recent video offering shown on a single screen with headphones in the cavernous Matt’s Gallery.

Not that Roy Harper wouldn’t have loved to be a pop star, he would have loved the fans, the women fans, the orgies with loads of women fans… he would have written pop songs all day and employed Max Clifford on PR but, alas, no matter how hard he tried Harper couldn’t write those pop songs….

This is the man in his own words, a folk/rock musician who has sung with Kate Bush and Pink Floyd and Jimmy Page,  well remembered by the swingers of the 60s but never quite becoming so popularised as the aforementioned. Those comments are taken from just one of a series of sprawling and tenuously interlinked monologues with subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. Expressions of love for Beatnik poetry and French cigarettes, of hatred for Tony Blair (who apparently is a popstar… and a pisstaker) and turning repeatedly to the great subjects of God, politics, culture and religion.

Religion is a sticking point, something he has sung about many times and in the most softly spoken lilting voice comes venom; Harper is vehemently anti-religion describing it as ‘at best tribalism, at worst racism’ condemning our current and ‘ particularly annoying pope’. There are snatches of sardonic brilliance, in which he claims that ‘religion beggars belief’ but we also see how Harper meanders his way towards these nuggets of wry wisdom. He is willingly, happily exposed.

Grayson’s own practise as both artist and curator revolves around belief systems and the construction of alternate and personalised realities, (see curated projects A Secret Service: Art, Compulsion, Concealment 2006/7, Hayward Gallery Touring, Sydney Biennale 2002 (The World May be) Fantastic). The appeal of his subject matter, of Harper is clear. Harper is a gentle visionary slipping smoothly from individualised statements on why and how we live to the seemingly anecdotal; collecting birds eggs as a child, the decline of sparrows and the proliferation of magpies. The analogous potential abounds and the glimmer in Harper’s clear blue eyes never fades, there is no nostalgia when thinking on the past and an obtuse humour infects many of his more memorable turns of phrase. We are listening to a man’s inner monologue as he reflects upon life, his own and that in general.

Culture is the subject most reflected on (with an intriguing tangent into bioculture). Based on interpretation, culture is viewed by Harper as the evolution of interpretation in immeasurable forms; penicillin from mould, engines from iron ore, songs from sorrow. But, that all art, all culture is essentially dedicated to the effort of figuring out exactly who we are. Grayson, with little interference, allows a man to completely open himself to this process and this very interpretation, a modest musical stalwart himself becomes an object of the culture he describes… and without it we are merely what the title of this review suggests.

The Magpie Index

18 January – 12 February


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