Thursday, October 4, 2007

Turkish Delights

Strange, these coincidences. I've recently been reading Snow, a recent novel by Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.

Turkey's precarious place on the threshold of East and West is one of the most interesting current geopolitical issues. How will the country reconcile its identity as a 'secular' Islamic state with its prospective membership of the European Community? Will something have to give? Pamuk has been acclaimed for his imaginative meditations on this issue in his award-winning novels.

Then yesterday, Douglas McLennan's Arts Journal digest included a link to Peter Schjeldahl's recent New Yorker piece on the 2007 Istanbul Biennial.

Schjeldahl is very good on the "shallow, frantic" nature of contemporary art biennials and the "yuppie-ish, wine-swilling social milieu" around which they revolve. One doesn't get much sense from his piece of the quality of the art on show, but then these colossal, masturbatory, incontinent art jamborees resist cogent description and are unworthy of intelligent criticism in my opinion. Nor are they really about art, although quite what they're about nobody seems able to say.

But I guess if your publication is prepared to sponsor an expenses paid trip to Istanbul, you would, if you're wise, choose to spend a certain amount of your available time as Schjeldahl did, soaking up the numinous attractions of the Süleymaniye mosque rather than necking booze with odious corporate art sponsors at the 'main event'.

Such carnal pleasures were certainly denied to Michael Dickinson — "the Istanbul representative of the Stuckism International art movement" (whatever that means) — who is currently 'stuck' in an Instanbul jail awaiting trial. Which brings me to the third Turkey-related trimming to tumble into my inbox over the past 24 hours.

This morning I was copied on an email from Charles Thomson, a founder-member of the Stuckists. The members of this loose affiliation of superannuated chip-on-the-shoulder Sunday painters are still whingeing about the state of the Turner Prize and what they see as a Serotacratic conceptualist conspiracy at the heart of British visual culture. Excuse me while I take forty winks.

[40 minutes later...]
Where was I? Ah, yes. Thomson has taken up the cause of his fellow-Stuckist, who was locked up for making a collage depicting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as a dog on a stars-and-stripes lead, eating dollar bills. It seems that Mr Dickinson could be rewarded with a two- to three-year stretch in jail (cue Giorgio Moroder theme tune) for his ill-advised 'satirical' swipe at the Turkish PM.

The Stuckists have never been the most intelligent purveyors of social and political comment, as Dickinson's offending collage, entitled Good Boy, makes clear. I'm sorry, try as I might, I can't take this seriously. Why on earth do the Stuckists need an, er, "Istanbul representative" when their founding beef is with the British arts establishment?

Thomson has now written to Gordon Brown to ask for the PM's intervention. I can see Gordon wrestling with this in Cabinet. Call a General Election, lobby Turkey for the liberation of Michael Dickinson, or have another shortbread biscuit? Decisions, decisions...

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