The asset-strippers

I love the Duveen galleries at the moment. Mike Nelson’s The Asset-strippers fills it. Wooden walls and doors from factories make corridors through it. The machines are beautiful, and forlorn, not needed in our modern, services finance and consumerism economy. Knowing the prevalence of industrial deafness I would not want to work on such machines.

I see how important sharpness in the photograph is.

I also feel photographing inside the item, so that it stretches beyond the picture, makes my picture more intriguing.

I am happy to go along with the institutional definition of Art- art is anything shown in an art gallery, or even called so by an Artist. It may be good or bad art, morally or in terms of expressiveness, but it is still art. Richard Anderson says Art is culturally significant meaning, skilfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium. The skill, here, is finding and arranging things to be affecting.

Then to the Don McCullin. He photographed new corpses, with their relatives staring at them. He says he tried to catch the eye of the relative, to gain implicit consent for his work of documenting the atrocities. Just, no- I would not be consenting, I would be too shocked to take it in, leave alone to object. Possibly some others might relieve anger and despair on the photographer. He photographed people in Berlin, looking at the other zone, and homeless people in London. A man sleeps, standing up. He photographed a battle in Vietnam. I have seen half of it: I hope to go back to see the remainder. I decided to walk round the outer wall of the exhibition space, pay at least a few seconds’ attention to each picture, and more time sitting before some of them.

I met H on Friday evening. We ate in a Greek restaurant and went to Deborah Tannen at Tate Modern. I may get her poems. I cycled to the station, and was pleased to see my bike still there on Sunday evening.

5 thoughts on “The asset-strippers

  1. Interesting – when your photograph includes most or all of the machine, it appears as a industrial machine (admittedly, out of it’s ‘proper’ context and on display in a gallery. When you photograph just a small part of it, that photograph becomes art to me, not just a photograph of a machine.

    I do not like defining art as what is in an art gallery – if I personally create art just for me, and hide it away, does this take away fromm it being art? Well, I am the Artist and I say it is, so your second part of the definition saves it. But what about ‘accidental’ art? I create something of asthetic value to someone else, while not attempting to create art. If it is then added to a gallery, it ‘becomes’ art? But if it cannot be (for whatever reason) then it is not art?


    • Yes. Thank you. I like to look at art, but do not create art objects- or even installations or activities intended as performance art. With that in mind, I can use the institutional definition, and appreciate whatever I find in an art gallery as “Art”- but it does not mean that anything I did not find in a gallery was not art. I saw busts created by a friend, in her studio, and was happy to conclude they were Art. With that in mind, I can wander now through the Duveen galleries experiencing the whole as an Art exhibit, or study one particular item. I like to do that in a state of mindful presence, to perceive the art object: I might analyse or categorise it later. Imagining something is Art helps me relate to it in that way.


      • If you made something and told me it was “Art” I don’t think my saying “No it’s not” would be fruitful. If I did not see how it was art, I might ask in what way you thought it was.

        Some painters make technical exercises to get more technically proficient. So there is a painting, created by a recognised Artist who declares that painting- it’s Jack Vettriano I’m thinking of, I am pretty sure he said those paintings were not real Vettrianos. I think he is entitled to make that judgment. I got the impression he thought they might depress the price of the paintings he valued, or depress the esteem people held him in, if they were sold as his Art.


      • “I like to look at art, but do not create art objects” – but you do! I say this photograph you link ( is art. OK, so it’s not physical but that doesn’t stop it being art, does it? Otherwise I could argue that films can’t be art on the same basis and this gets silly.

        Although I would not try to argue all the photographs you take are art, other clearly are. There is then a debate about if it worked how you wanted it to, and try to assign it value as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, although what scales you judge that on are complex.

        I think Richard Anderson has a point – I think art needs to try to convey a emotion or feeling, it is not just an image of record. I guess how skillfully encoded or culturally significant it is would be how I judged the importance of the art (I don’t like saying good or bad…). Unfortunately, if the encoding is forgotten or the culture changes making it less significant, this might mean the art is no longer as important?


        • Jan van Eyck- Arnolfini portrait 1Thank you. Yes. I was trying to create something beautiful, interesting, worth looking at, and ideally to establish that wordless communication immediately to the perceiving viewer. And- it is ephemeral. There is a web archive site which regularly samples my blog, so it might live indefinitely, but not any longer seen.

          I was thinking about the culture changing, actually, with particular reference to the Arnolfini portrait. One may see it as beautiful, or not, but needs it explained- who was the sitter, who the portraitist, what the picture meant at the time, why it was groundbreaking- to see the value of it. If all that were forgotten it would still be beautifully executed, striking, even beautiful. There would be a glimpse of another culture, which could no longer be understood.

          Ancient Egyptian tombs and temples survive, and the script in them can be read, even pronounced.


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