Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The First Cuckoos of Spring

Last night was the second mention for the Avebury stones in as many days and thus these prehistoric lumps of rock are beginning to rival only David Tennant in the frequency of citings (sightings?)...

Digressing briefly to the tall, Scottish time-challenged one, check out Totally Doctor Who, the "new CBBC show for young fans of the Time Lord", on which the star prize was meeting the DTP, if you are in any doubt about Tennant's increasing ubiquity (or the BBC's craven milking of the Doctor Who phenomemon for TV material).

However, it is the ubiquity of the lumps of rock that concerns me here. Luckily, both mentions were from artists and thus, although these Wiltshire stones are credited by both with being more exciting than Stonehenge, it's possible they are still an open secret and not soon to be encased, like Stonehenge, in unscaleable fences due to the wildness of their popularity (or, at least, not till I've seen them au naturel).

The first mention of Avebury fell from lips of Steve Empson, who led the Kerala trip of this February and who was giving me a tour of his house and artworks in the run-up to the Oxfordshire Artweeks Visual Arts Festival. (Sidenote: it's worth a trip to his home to see the colours he uses, the row of toilet rolls, the 187 Ganeshes and the garden plantings alone...) In the process, he showed me an evocative study of the stones.

And, till this point, I thought the biggest coincidence of the week would turn out to be the fact that, on two consecutive days, he and I were both wearing the same colour clothing - first brown, then pink - made more remarkable, we agreed, by our disposition to wear blue. (I guess I'm easily pleased by coincidences.)

But then came the coincidence that made my spine go cold for a moment - a spine chiller with the accompanying mental "daa-daa-daa". This second mention came from a source that cannot be named. This man became famous as an art terrorist through his interference a few years ago with the Avebury boulders and the media coverage this received. Famous in the abstract, as no one found out who the perpetrators were. Which is probably just as well, because they were in their 30s and the world is kinder to young radicals than older ones. Their only brush with acknowledgement was to inform the National Trust what kind of paint they'd used to daub these national monuments so that they could be easily cleaned. (Emulsion... thus water-based, at least.) So hence my slight hesitancy at blowing their cover.

They painted the stones in the middle of the night, shortly before midsummer's day. They painted them with strange symbols: symbols seen as occult by the experts commenting on the radio, but actually, I can reveal here, just ideas out of their heads. I can reveal this because I turned out to be having a drink with one part of the pair that performed this act of "cuckooism". Cuckooism, I learnt, is art that occupies another artist's space. The concept of cuckooism has appeared in many arenas since - in contexts more or less legitimate and welcome - though not the word itself. Their intention was for the term to catch on too, but the continued anonymity of the authors probably made it hard to seed. (They should have left a note.)

In some slightly dubious life-imitates-art way, I felt the whole principle of cuckooism was being played out again this week in my encounters with these men. An innocent reference by an artist in Oxford to the source of his inspiration brutally highjacked and made sensational by an act of art terrorism. One minute a gentle evocation of all that's good in the English countryside; the next, my head is in the grip of a major coincidence, as a big brash Avebury story usurps the modest space demanded by the idea of the simple study even now being mounted on a wall in Florence Park.

All I can hope is that the fall-out from this sudden cuckooist attention manifests in my actually getting to see the stones in situ, before or after the third reference to The Avebury Stones that will now no doubt follow the preceding two.


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