Albion is Defunct

Albion is Defunct: Some notes on marginal urban art

Albion is Defunct

There is an irrefutable compulsion with collectors of detritus, to invent stories about their discoveries, to elevate them to another plateau of an almost unbelievable mystique. Collectors share an obsession with foraging; the thrill being in the chance occurrence of stumbling across something remarkable that nobody else has spotted.  Mixing these components together, creates a unique environment for fabrication, revealing the manifold narratives hidden within the object. Magic symbols, insignia, messages for humanity on the absolute back wall of the retold story. All these things ferment in the reeling mind of the collector. After all, it’s the story that eventually sells the item.

After an imaginary decline, what remains of art and culture: a  curious collection of  hybrid machines that don’t really do anything, the remnants of a defunct, throw-away, plastic culture, left to pile up on the blackened shore, receptacles for the souls of the drowned, the spoiled viands of a culture gone cannibal.  And what of the destroyed technology hurled in a fit of fury into the spiralling waters? All those photographic portraits imprisoned behind the black screen; now the ghosts of a pointillist yesteryear, rubbed, stained and scraped, occupied by incoming effigies, the vengeful aquatic gods of tomorrow, whose mutterings fuse with the pouting speech of pike. Here are the ingredients of an inedible recipe: artifacts and objects transformed by elemental acts of disfiguration, yet to be retrieved from the tide. This is an art form that does not live in fashionable galleries, or flaunt itself to the posturing demigods of the avant-garde. Its only worth is in the sentimental value given to it by its secretive makers. In many people’s eyes, it simply should not exist. Marginalia, to be side stepped, like a steaming turd deposited on the kerb. Once, crap was art. Now, art is crap.

The vignettes that follow maybe incidentally real. In some instances, they were told by an idiot, to paraphrase the marble-bearded bard.  They waver in and out of meaning, occupying the bald patch beneath the fringe. Written in alternating green, violet, blue, orange and red ink. Recorded in a pocketbook, in Lilliputian script. Some of these incidents were dreamt about afterwards and that is the version recounted here. That is the sum of it. Scruff and fluff, mangled and half digested morsels, spat out only to be scrutinised by the inquisitive.

Pompeiian Pygmies:

Through the many cracks and fissures, something theatrical in tempera occurs. It’s a river Nile rout, painted by an unknown Roman hand:  uncovered in 1882 from the Physician’s House in Pompeii, Italy. Pot-bellied pygmies do gory battle with monstrous crocodiles, or greatly enlarged newts, attempting to enslave them in fetters, riding one (resembling a Dimetrodon) bare back,  swimming against a glaucous tide, lancing and somersaulting on this mottled waterway, covered with leprous blisters, that in time will obliterate every trace of this misadventure. An enraged hippopotamus gorges on a pygmy, reducing his head and brains to crimson squish. The surrounding scene, follows its own peculiar perspective, enlarging and shrinking with alarming abandon, as we scan the landscape eyes agog, wondering if there is something wrong with our perception of space. A primordial massacre is underway. Houses and their doubles appear and disappear, a black swan forming an inverted letter S swoops in from the left, there are four steps leading up to an abandoned, outsized villa. The vast and slithering things have hauled themselves up onto the mudflats, through the rocks and reeds, to greedily devour those industrious little people. Why? You may ask indeed. Naples is a city where you are never far from the miraculous.

One January, some threadbare years ago, I found myself in a shabby zone of Napoli, far from the grand thoroughfares and triumphant avenues with their arches and edifices. Along the litter strewn way, I encountered a dead rat underfoot, warm and spongy, as my heel pressed down on its backbone. Looking up at a myriad of tiny windows, where cobalt lights blinked on and off at random,  I saw the inquisitive faces of pygmies peering down at me. One laughed so manically it unnerved me. A sort of hysterical utterance, bordering on the animalistic. This triggered off a chain reaction, with others unseen, hidden behind lopsided screens and blinds, more menacing than musical,  joining the momentum to form an infernal chorus.  All the while, trapped in this unfolding drama, I could only think of a jaw’s harp, twanging in unison to the sibilance of the crumbling city. Looking up, I could see the protuberant tongue, so reminiscent of medieval art, with its fork-tongued demons and scarlet eyes.

Bun House Year One

A concrete yard with its solitary green stem poking up through a crack. Grubby children play with a dead animal. It is headless and reeking. They throw stones and bits of mortar at the  mutilated cadaver to try to see the purple tubes inside. Their father, who is also purple, looks on approvingly. Hours of buffoonery, of slipping under tables, only to re-emerge on the other side, wide-eyed and startled, arriving as if in a new incarnation, sped by the sap that rises, first pink, then ashen cheeked. Gnawing at the Formica in mock-hunger.  Flushed and vituperative; oblivion of phantom afternoons all concertina into one, black with the oily reside of inner-city pollutants inching down the back wall. Across the way, a faceless murder in the underpass. Spoken about in vague ruminations and hooded gestures. It happened before dawn near the corner shop that always guarantees free credit for its’ tottering customers.

The language of walls tells of scuff marks and  urinating contests. This alleyway is a gallery superimposed with chalky scribblings, the souvenirs of a shuffling, blurred crowd, high on inhalants and juice. Here, nightmares are coloured with a terrible beauty. Perhaps, by the ghost of someone like Gaston Chaissac (1910-64) the cobbler’s son,  who lived on lemon infused potatoes. Gaston’s walls were backdrops for his painted stones, fashioned into liminal houses, wherein the spectres of his imagination found refuge. And what of Chaissac’s misshapen tomfoolery, his 1940’s  graffiti and multi-coloured monstrosities? What rags have wiped away these contrivances, only to see them reappear elsewhere, on other surfaces? Souvenirs survive in half-remembered photographs, glimpsed some 30 years ago in remaindered books. Nobody living can testify to the birth of these banished totems.     End to end, these pictograms seethe and writhe, gap-toothed expressions in a decomposing history of urban expression. They follow an awkward inner-truth and are executed with an authenticity often redolent  in children’s drawings. Half a bleary eye captures this memory in a nail bitten membrane, mapping it out on the sweating brickwork, in the handiwork of drug-infused stealth. Cored, boned and cleaved from the deep interior of the tunnel, with its festering lagoons, shattered glass and exploded aerosols. The only audience now is a charred Barbie doll. Hurled into this intestinal passage as an offering to the degenerate underbelly gods of the city.  

Knock Knapp

147. A house and a half apparently, with a section painted Californian blue because the paint was ultra cheap, explosives and drums under the bed, garden of  unstable lean-to lock up’s, a hirsute hermit’s grotto for the display of enlarged testicles scorched by mismanaged fireworks, collapsing picket fence engulfed with foliage, the cause of many protracted disputes between this side and that, a child’s trampoline, overflowing Victorian lavatory, library of bad joke books. When crossing the threshold, the rotten floorboards imploded, patched up with improbably thick off-cuts and improvisations, often too high for the safe transit of shoe heels. A place of wild and astonishing behaviour, the rowdy antics of borderline personality disorder gone berserk of an evening, high on wine and melodrama. How many autumnal barbeques of singe and soot flavoured gristle were marinaded in lighter fuel? The tapping and drumming on an industrial scale, in unscored rhythms, that beat out the end of the century in all its existential fugues, with fire eaters upstaged by the darkest corporeal fantasies and thumbnail sketches from beyond the kitchen sink, where the worm buries itself against this brainstorm.  Is this place a squat, asked the lenticular art dealer, sporting his Technicolor smile, accompanied by a fake gibbon in an artist’s smock.   Is this something I can put in my gallery?