scarecrow editorial

Monday, December 12, 2005


6: Tainted Love

Has Stewart Home's time finally arrived? Is he, at last, beginning to be accepted? Understood even? Welcomed into the established literary fold? Probably not - which can be construed as a good thing - but he is one step closer with his latest offering, the extraordinary novel about his M/other: Tainted Love.

Stewart Home has been way ahead of our time for, well, a long time now. We have a whole body, a whole decade's worth of intellectual provocation. Rooted, as he is, firmly in London's underground art world we pose the obvious question: would Brit Art be what it is today without his shadowy influence? We seriously doubt it. Stewart Home invented Brit Art we tell you - you doubt us don't you? Well so what, we beseech you to look into the facts. Read his work. But just try telling Brit Art's jet-setting, bed-wetting, Gin-swigging, coke-snorting stars this. They'd ignore you; they'd wander straight past you towards someone who looked more interesting and didn't bother them with questions. You know who they are, we know who they are and they know who they are. But they just won't budge.

It must be a strange predicament to find one's self in: knowing that your work is relevant in every conceivable way but still your publishers and the bourgeois world they inhabit don't know just what to do with you. How do you exactly market Stewart Home? What would you do? Where would you place him? Exactly, you can't. You just allow his work to speak for itself - and it does. As we stated, it was London's art world that first felt Stewart Home's sting, his genius tying them into knots, the vainglorious left in paroxysms of wonder.

His Art Strike of 1990-1993, for instance, was a stunt that still rankles in some quarters:

"The 1990 Art Strike was called as a means of encouraging critical debate around the concept of art. While certain individuals will put down their tools and cease to make, distribute, sell, exhibit or discuss their cultural work for a three year period beginning on January 1st 1990, the numbers involved will be so small that the strike is unlikely to force the closure of any galleries or art institutions. It will, however, demonstrate that the socially imposed hierarchy of the arts can be aggressively challenged.

Art as a category must be distinguished from music, painting, writing &c. Current usage of the term art treats it as a sub-category of these disciplines, one which differentiates between parts of them on the basis of 'perceived values.' Thus the music of John Cage is considered art, while that of Madonna is not. Therefore, when we use the term art, we're invoking a distinction between different musics, paintings, works of fiction &c., one which ranks the items to be found within these categories into a hierarchy.

Given the diversity of objects, texts, compositions &c., which are said to be art, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is no common denominator among these 'art works' which can be used as a criterion for deciding what should or should not be considered art. What distinguishes the art object is the particular set of social and institutional relationships which are to be found around it. Put another way, art is whatever those in a position of cultural power say is art.

One of the purposes of the Art Strike is to draw attention to the process by which works of art are legitimated. Those artists and administrators who are in the privileged position of deciding what is and is not art constitute a specific faction of the ruling class. They promote art as a superior form of knowledge and simultaneously use it as a means of celebrating the 'objective superiority' of their own way of life on the basis that they are committed to art. Appreciation of art is generally used as a mark of distinction, privilege and taste."

Part prank, part serious caterwaul against artists that deem themselves to be existing on a higher stratosphere than the rest of us via their creations, Stewart Home simply wanted to point out that art isn't that important so he encouraged the entire art fraternity to partake in a strike for the duration of 3 years - it is of no surprise, then, that only Stewart Home did [apparently doing nothing all day except sleep and watch Kung Fu films]. The strike, of course, was an act of plagiarism in itself, aping Goran Dordevic and also giving more than a nod and a wink to Alain Jouffroy.

After his strike Stewart Home exhibited the one constant in those 3 long years: his own bed. Do you see where we're going now with this, eh? Understanding the power of plagiarism he knew he could stoke up more than a few fires to help keep his name burning for a long time. Maybe this is something that Tracey Emin - who was exhibiting some of her paintings alongside him at that very same exhibition, at that time an unknown 28 year old - should take into account herself. Who knows? Maybe one day she will?

Stewart Home's literary output over the last fifteen years runs, pretty much, on the same level of insouciance it always has. His work to date being one gargantuan anti-narrative that juxtaposes pulp/trash/porn with high-minded literary/social/political theory - an intertextualising of dissent, and a vital one at that. It's about time we begin to accept that Stewart Home is the shadowy figure lying beneath modern British artistic/literary culture as we know it today - like it or not. Don't believe us? Then we urge you to dip into his numerous essays written, self published and distributed we hasten to add, over the last 10-15 years. Or try Neoism, Plagiarism & Praxis for example. Go on, we dare you. You'll find that his influence is fluent, tangible and integral. It already lies with us; we've just got to scratch beneath the surface to find him that's all. Take Tracey Emin and other British boom artists and writers circa and post 1990 and look a little closer, all are not what they seem are they? Yup, there he is, there's your man Stewart Home, that's him there, lurking beneath their polished façades.

But do we actually care? Robert McCrum et al may not, but we certainly do. We beseech you again to read his work, anything; we don't care just as long as it's written by Stewart Home. As the novelist Ellis Sharp once to us: "...his [Stewart Home] footnote in 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess on the late Ann Quin is worth the asking price any day."

All that Stewart Home is responsible for [including a detailed bibliography of his work to date] is recorded in great detail here.

Lee Rourke © 2005.


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