Elvina and the Tweets

To Old Street tube station and a nearby Turkish café to meet my techie acquaintance Elvina.  There are a couple of tweaks to be made on the Brixton Art Gallery archive website, that she helped set up and now maintains, but mainly I want to talk to her about starting up my putative art blog. Thankfully, she thinks it’s quite a good idea.

As a seasoned denizen of webworld – writing programmes and designing systems and all the stuff that I don’t know anything about – I’m curious as to whether she follows any blogs, herself.  I certainly don’t, and I don’t think I know anyone else who actually does, although this probably says more about me and my friends in the grumpy gray demographic rather than anything about the popularity of the blogosphere itself.  Mind you, I have actually asked a few of those posh, trendy young things who sit at the front desks of the commercial galleries if they know of any good art apps or blogs and none has ever replied in the affirmative.

Anyway, it seems that Elvina has recently started following the tweets of Edward Snowden – you know, the subversive bloke who leaked all that sensitive US government information to the media and then scooted off to that haven of civil liberties and press freedom Russia.  I’m not sure this is such good news as it probably means that she’s on some CIA watch list and now I’ll be on it too and they’ll be bugging my phones and intercepting my mail.  Paranoid, what do you mean, paranoid?  Are they really going to be interested in a boring old fart and his opinions on art?  You think they’re not interested in art?  How naïve.  In the 1950s and ‘60s the CIA were famously active in helping to fund the global spread of American culture, specifically promoting Abstract Expressionism.  No wonder poor old Patrick Heron got so humpy about the yanks stealing all his abstract stylings, he must have felt badly let down by our boys at MI5.  Mind you, their special section dealing with culture and the arts must have been pretty half-baked as they didn’t realise that the cadaverous old weasel Anthony Blunt wasn’t just running the Courtauld Institute and looking after the Queen’s art collection but simultaneously moonlighting as a Marxist traitor and fourth man, spying for the Russians.

I digress.  Back to my art blog idea and I’m pleased to say that Elvina is keen to help me set one up.  Her enthusiasm for the project is infectious and, after talking for a short while, we’ve mapped out how the site could grow into a monster.  Far from being just a diary of the ramblings and rantings of a jaded oldtimer, journeying through the outskirts of the artworld, championing the neglected and condemning the overrated, it could become a complete cultural guide and interactive magazine with listings and interviews, previews and reviews, gossip and competitions, adverts and advertorials.  Then, after a short while, it should be possible to engineer a reverse takeover by Amazon or Google with wads of cash and billions of stock options cascading into my bank account enabling me to retire and spend my time wandering around art galleries to keep myself amused.  By the time Elvina has munched her way through some strange vegetarian kebab we’ve convinced ourselves that it should all be pretty straightforward to create this media empire and become paper billionaires.  Phase 1 – I have to keep churning out the words and send them to her.  Phase 2 – she builds some kind of blogoplatform and, before you can say Phase 3, we’ll be as big as Mumsnet.

Great meeting and I have a spring in my step as I head back to Old Street, thinking about all those bitcoins that I’ll be sticking in my virtual piggybank and all the accompanying kudos as I become the Zuckerberg of the cyber artworld.

By the time I exit at South Kensington and walk down to the Kings Road I’m wondering whether it should be Daniel Craig or Al Pacino playing me in the forthcoming feature film, but maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself.  Anyway, I’m brought back down to earth when I get to Chelsea Town Hall for the annual Antiquarian Book Fair and am confronted by a sea of pasty-faced old men in raincoats shuffling around the dozens of stalls with their thousands of interesting second-hand books on display.  I join them and inhale deeply, savouring that marvelously comforting musty smell that comes from the pages of well-thumbed old books – or it could just be the men flicking through them.  Either way, I feel very much in my milieu here which, I suppose, could hardly be further from the virtual computer chip world.  It starts me wondering if I really will be able to step quite so easily from one to the other.

Books, and especially old artbooks, are very appealing and I find it hugely enjoyable just wandering among the stalls picking out copies and flicking through them – the Grayson Perry limited edition catalogue; the first edition of Burroughs Naked Lunch; the Roland Penrose Scrapbook; Andy Warhol’s A to B and Back Again – all signed by the artists, all quite expensive and all somewhat desirable.  But it’s not just art books here, there are illustrated books with beautiful pictures covering every conceivable subject from the ruins of ancient Egypt to the plants of outback Australia and from 1930s fashion to diseases of the skin.  There’s books on Latin ephemera, military history, British topography, natural history, maps and manuscripts, science and technology, sports and games, astronomy and astrology, and everything else under the sun.

By the time I manage to extricate myself form this bibliophiliac cornucopia I feel quite exhausted but perk up a bit walking down the Kings Road.  I’m not sure that this is still the trendy thoroughfare it once was although I do notice one smart dude scooting along on one of those so-called hoverboards, which I suppose is a bit trendy.  Naturally, he’s transfixed, gazing into his mobile phone, and not looking where he’s going but, to the great disappointment of everyone (well, me at least) he doesn’t bump into anything or fall off but just glides very smoothly along.  Pity.  Mind you, this chap’s probably the kind of smart young trendsetter who reads blogs all the time and instead of being rude and mocking him, I should really be trying to pander to his tastes and cultivate his friendship.  I can see that this might well be difficult.

Ahead looms the Saatchi Gallery but I deliberately walk by, continuing my boycott of the place. I was never a fan of Mrs Thatcher and Saatchi’s PR company played a large part in getting her elected and re-elected and re-elected again.  But more than that, Saatchi exemplified all that went wrong in the artworld in the late ‘80s and…oh well, there’s not enough space to go into all that here.  If you’re really interested you’ll just have to wait till my artworld memoir gets published and the guilty men are blamed, named and shamed.

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