That Devil Incubus Prawn

Wake up feeling a bit rough. It’s as if someone managed to sneak into my room in the middle of the night, punch me a couple of times on my right side just below the ribs, and then exit, all without waking me up. It brings to mind the famous Fuseli painting, in which a sinister little incubus is perched upon the recumbent form of an innocent sleeping figure who is totally oblivious to the nightmare dangers ahead. Of course, on that occasion the sleeper is a naive young woman and the devilish character is not thinking about practicing his pugilistic skills.

Notwithstanding a strong urge to return to the arms of Morpheus, I rise and a couple of hours later am doubled up in pain: labored breathing; shaking hands; pins and needles in the fingertips; and a general feeling of nausea. As I struggle with my mobile to do a Google search in order to locate the nearest hospital, quite mysteriously…everything passes and all feels ok again. This seems most peculiar and, having discounted the evil imp theory above, can only assume my condition is somehow related to the prawn curry I ate the night before. I vow never to go near one again. The first time I ever slid an oyster down my throat I was subsequently struck down with the full-blown horrors and now, the only time I’ve ever gone for the sea-food option, instead of the buttered chicken or lamb biryani, once again I’m punished by Neptune or Poseidon or whoever it is who’s meant to be in charge of marine comestibles at the EC.

Despite this unpleasant jolt to what I consider to be my normally fairly reliable, if slightly dented, framework, I determine to ramble on. After all, there is art out there and someone has to go out and rant about the stuff. In retrospect, this will prove to be not such a good idea but then these blogs are written in present historic or future unknown or whatever tense it is that means, even though I know what’s coming up has actually happened a while ago, the reader doesn’t. And, since we’ve all entered into a tacit agreement to pretend that everything is happening at exactly the moment that I’m writing about it – so that even if you’re reading the centenary boxed set of blogs and I’m long since reduced to a tin of ashes dispersed in the Thames – for simplicity’s sake let’s just agree that I’m now standing at the corner of Cork Street and about to enter the Alan Cristea Gallery to check out a display of prints by Naum Gabo.

Although labelled a Constructivist, I think the title Futurist would have suited Gabo better but, annoyingly, that crazy bunch of Italian artists had already copyrighted the name and limited its meaning to a celebration of the art of speed, movement and all things mechanical and violent. Gabo’s interest in the future, though profound, was altogether less macho and more optimistic, and resulted in an art that tried to reflect early 20th century scientific and technological developments in a generally more positive light. Rejecting wood and clay as old-fashioned materials, Gabo preferred to try to create a new abstract sculptural aesthetic using wires and metal foils but, best of all, he liked working with the newly invented plastic polymers and acrylics. I’m sure when he first made his maquettes in the ‘40s and ‘50s, they doubtless looked terrifically exciting and adventurous but nowadays, especially with the perspex and cellophane starting to yellow and discolour, they look like props from the stage sets of old, black and white, B-movie sci-fi shockers.

And what of the work on show here? Well, everything’s in 2-D and the interest is perhaps more historic than aesthetic, with the show of thirty or so prints all variations on fairly simple abstracted line drawings. Fantasy doodles, I suppose, although they could pass for illustrations from the doctoral thesis on some abstruse physics or maths paper – the disintegration patterns of mu mesons, the linear representations of some complex imaginary number equations or the repeating patterns that appear on hospital oscilloscopes to indicate a patient’s happy recovery. In fact, many of the actual works are signed and dedicated to the artist’s daughter as Christmas cards or other celebratory mementoes and, as such, seem both curiously inappropriate yet somehow wonderfully poignant.

At this point, I then tube across town to get to Finchley Road and complete the uphill struggle to get to the Freud Museum, where Emma Talbot has been given free rein to insert her art amongst the famous reliquaries left by the original inhabitant. I was here a few weeks back and quite liked the little jokey interventions made by Gavin Turk but this time it’s very different. I guess it’s just one of those cases where maybe some men art hacks are from Mars and some women artists are from Venus, as I just find her naïve cartoon figures grate and the narratives they illustrate totally uninteresting. I suppose it could be that I’m suffering from some deep and hidden complex or that I’m subconsciously repressing some deep traumatic feeling or maybe it’s even something to do with that prawn curry. But whatever it is, it’s not for me. Eavesdropping other visitor conversations, it’s clear that not everyone shares my opinion. I suppose I could write a few snide remarks slagging off the artist but she seems sincere enough so there’s no real point in doing that but I definitely can’t write anything encouraging or enlightening, interesting or informative. Instead, I retreat to the nearby Caffe Nero for a mozzarella and bacon panini. This tastes of nothing which, I suppose, could also be psychological but is more likely that devil incubus prawn doing its evil work.

It’s only a couple of tube stops to Euston Road and thence to the Wellcome Collection where, it seems, the dismissive blog I wrote about their Tibetan Buddhism show a couple of weeks ago has had a powerful effect, although not perhaps exactly as expected. There now appears to be a massive queue to get to see the exhibition. I definitely wasn’t going to pay a return visit but instead take a look at the States of Mind show in the upstairs gallery. Again there are ridiculously large mobs of people here and I have to barge some tourists out the way in order to get a closer look at a couple of drawings of neurones or cobwebs or blobs of something important. It’s impossible to see anything properly so I decide to give up and perhaps return another time when hopefully it may be less absurdly full.

There’s one final exhibition on my list so I walk down Tottenham Court Road and turn off to go to the British Museum. Just as I am getting close to the main gate, as heralded by the disgusting smell of toffee-coated nuts emanating from that dodgy street vendor who is always there, my eyes are drawn to a display in one of the little shops opposite the Museum. What was once a bookshop is now one of those temporary pop-up boutiques – an art gallery called Plinth. They seem to be showing a mix of limited edition commissions, created in league with Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, and some special site-specific works created for this temporary venue. The contrast between the ancient fittings and creaky floorboards of the five story building and the smooth, chic conceptual work dotted around the rooms is really rather appealing. There’s a print by Richard Wentworth, a rug by Julian Opie, a ceramic jug by Richard Wilson and a whole lot of other conceptual bits and bobs that are all quite interesting for people, like me, who are all quite interested in stuff like that. And then there is the room of very minimal sculptural teasers from Susan Collis, including some carefully crafted rawlplugs in agate and carnelian that, having been inserted into the wall, are slightly difficult to locate. There’s also a rag stuffed behind the pipe by the kitchen sink (see picture above) and finally a silver nail on the mantlepiece that was so minimal it wasn’t even there. No, it hadn’t been stolen, simply removed for safekeeping by a nervous member of staff.

Finally I get to the British Museum, which is heaving with visitors but, nevertheless, I struggle on and make it to the 4th floor print room for the exhibition of 19th century watercolours by Francis Towne, not an artist with whom I am at all familiar. Anyway, I take a look at the first one. It’s interesting but, at this point, I start to feel extremely queasy again and I know I haven’t got the requisite strength to concentrate on another forty of these. I urgently need some fresh air.

As it turned out, it was more than just fresh air that I needed…and it wasn’t the prawn, after all, just a bit of grit, the size of a grain of rice that was causing me all this hassle. Unbeknownst to me, this stone had decided to depart my kidney and migrate to what it evidently hoped would be a more desirable location. As a consequence, a short while later, I found myself in A&E in excruciating pain. Now, a week later, I am just about recovered, having peed the thing out and incorporated it as the smallest item in my own personal sculpture collection.

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