London had me thinking of Democracy. Actually, it was the theme of my whole summer… outside of Independence Day, you corn ball. Instances of class assertions and inequity kept popping up whack-a-mole, despite my just trying to have a leisurely vacation. And what I was able to surmise is that art is truly the great class/category shattering pitch. First stop, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Rarely is an art exhibition the ‘scape where class inequities unstagger themselves. Time and again those hoisted by greater means see the bright side of exposure, whereas those with shorthanded but raw talent suffer an art world eclipse.
To a certain degree of shock, the Royal Academy in London has an annual summer exhibition that laterally stretches the typical have/have-not dichotomies of gallery hangings, and provides a platform for up-and-comings to sell, sell well, and do so among big names in their field.
Every piece was a number and a name, not an identity, gender, age, degree, class, or race. Each work was, however, a price somewhat commensurate with fame. Money: the great co-denominator piggybacking on creative freedom. Like this piece by Keith Tyson that took my breath away. I came back five times to stand in front of it.
Enter the riots. My politics is lacking and so were those of many a Londoner I questioned, but I feel downright silly not mentioning it, especially after going on about the “great democracy of high art.” As a matter of fact, when I began writing this post in London, a women saw me in a cafe and said, “My, you look so grave!” It was because I was writing about a painting and sirens were going off at the same time. It felt schmucky. So here are some facts that I gathered and responses I solicited:
1. The prime minister increased tax cuts for those making over 150,000 quid/year from 44% to 55%, while unemployment dropped from 68 to 55 quid a week.
2. Police had been routinely stopping young black boys on bikes, under assumption of theft.
3. A young man was fatally injured by authorities. His parents waited four hours outside of headquarters to be told this.
4. In “posh” Richmond where I stayed, everyone was certain that the “… bunch of Yobs having a laugh” (look it up) wouldn’t loot. That is, except for one guy named Chris at the pub who, when hearing sirens, anxiously called his friend to ask if they were watching the news for updates. His friend replied, “No, I’m watching ‘Eastenders’.” (Look it up, Yank.)
5. This summer, world revolutions unfurled across the map, web, and television.
6. A superpower like England can only keep up appearances and niceties for so long before Jack the Ripper and class chasms come waltzing out of closets with pile-of-bones brides.
By the end of two weeks the riots descended into gay pride. That isn’t a commentary on the latent homo-eroticism of looting. I mean I actually stuck around long enough for the only and bestest pride I’ve attended. It was in Brighton Beach, a fairly progressive and scenic beach town about an hour outside of the city. Like Provincetown, but wilder and with a beach you can’t use.
Even though my grandmother and I started drinking at 9 am on the bus to Brighton Pride, I kept my moxie and resolve to capture the fashions of a UK pride in a photo group I like to call, “Uk Pride Fashions: the Ultimate Freedom.” Pure vision was the only qualifier of the day.
True story: I was sitting on this green next to a ferris wheel trying to stay put because I’d lost my grandma. I so badly wanted a picture of these kids for like half an hour but refused to get up and ask. Then they just plopped down next to me. Solved. Oh, my grandma was in the reggae dance tent the whole time. No joke.
The trip was a success, because it held up to me the limits and constructs of category, and personal freedoms in creativity that we take for granted. If status limitations mean something slightly different in every location, then maybe they’re all just contingent on culture, so basically nonexistent–or at least malleable. I’m not in Boston any longer; I said, “Till next time” to England, and now I’m in New York City at the New School in a program called, Riggio: Writer and Democracy. What will I do with it? If my art is a pure representation of self, then not an ounce of it has gone to waste.