There’s some amazing work out there on the web, tributes to Kurt Cobain, copied images of the man, studies from photos and so forth. The only small disappointment I have is that the majority of images rarely extend beyond extensions of photography — there’s a fetishisation of his ‘prettiness’, the kind of beauty visible in the best Rolling Stone images of Kurt that voids the more grungy side of him. Also, I’ve argued that Kurt Cobain was a far more complete artist (of the self-taught variety) than he is given credit for; he worked not just with music but also with sound experiments, art installations, video work, paintings…Whatever allowed him to express. The relative absence of tributes in forms other than the musical and the hagiographic has been a little sad — the man was about far more, it’s a shame the memorialisation hasn’t moved beyond the form and imagery that would fit a standard-issue corporate magazine.
Which meant I was extremely delighted when a gentleman in Scotland got in touch and shared a piece he’d been working on — I asked his permission to share his work here; I feel safe saying that I have massive respect for the name Marcus Gray because he’s a rare individual doing something truly different in the art realm.
The PARASITE project has a cynicism I tend to believe the man himself would have appreciated; it reminds me of the kinds of self-depreciating statements Kurt Cobain used to make about how derivative he claimed Nirvana were. In precisely the same way the way the project is named and wrapped underplays the thoughtfulness on display (the link here shows up as a photo):
The box itself is a wonderful comment on the picking over of Kurt Cobain’s legacy; if they’re going to authorise Kurt action dolls, endless product, mythologise his death ad infinitum then fine, why not sell replicas of his heroin box? There’s a clear depth of knowledge involved — the quip about Silver/Sliver is a neat reversal that made me chuckle — and that makes it very clear that this is a tribute made in love for the subject and individual concerned. The intelligent thought involved far outweighs the lazy reliance on standard-issue pretty eyed photos. The mimicking of the Sub Pop Single Club is a similarly clear reference — if its respectable to deliberately create scarcity to build exclusivity and desirability of music, then why not for art? It’s a fair question; what works or could work across genres of expression…? The combination of figurines, fabrics, printed word and so forth is far closer to the multi-material approach of KC.
The photos themselves are a neat set of close-ups that rely on a broad awareness of Kurt Cobain’s story and his existence as a visual phenomenon; a lot of the photos, the striped jumper shot for example, evoke a specific time and era of Kurt’s existence yet without that knowledge it’s simply a voided impressionistic pattern. A true favourite is definitely the close-up on the Vanity Fair article — it’s hard to underestimate the impact of that one magazine piece on Kurt, his family, public perceptions of the family, the change in media reportage so to focus in on the single couplet picked out is shrewd, ironic, sad all at once.
A secondary piece by Marcus, again an intriguing piece is also present buried later in the Parasite project. The artist traced each letter in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note onto individual sheets of paper creating these clouds of letters — I admit to liking the effect of having page after page side-by-side, the ripples in the paper, the different shading on the photos taken, the way letters gust across the page from one place to another, rigid lines or swirls. Mr. Gray has protested to me that he actually kicked it off in anger at the way arts funding is handed out in the U.K. to ‘stunt art’ (my term), art with a shock value or novelty but not necessarily of much depth, skill or true intelligence at work — this was his way of reacting to that. He’s totally right I’m only sorry that the Arts Council didn’t have a look at this! As usual something commenced with sarcastic intent can float free of its origins and end up as something with a genuine beauty:
To allow the artist to speak for himself, he mentioned in an email “I think the “Number Nine…” is pretty poignant, given the way the first person “I” gets larger towards the bottom, where perhaps the heroin is perhaps taking hold, or Kurt’s rising sense of panic and awareness at what he’s about to do…” This point has deeper resonances for me; when listening to the Do Re Mi demo the most prominent feature is the constant focus on ‘I’, there’s almost nothing else in the song bar the narrator’s limited connection with the world (“I’m dreaming,”) and limited possibilities in which everything is a maybe (“wake me up”/”if I may, if I might, if I do, if I say”). The rising ‘I’ makes an awful sense.
His concept of how the piece could have been presented in multiple ways was also fascinating — the idea of this same single source being extrapolated in different ways including the following “I’ve also decided to do them as a series of 26 large Perspex sheets, which will be a simultaneous installation. They will be mounted, and you will be able to see each sheet through the other, as it were, so they’ll be in a long row of parallel sheets with say a foot or two in between, each being slightly larger than the one in front to account for perspective. On a quiet day in the gallery (and how likely is that!), you’ll be able to look straight through each sheet to see the entire suicide note made up of its composite letters.” That has a certain cool to it.
Anyways, I’ve enjoyed and respected the work going in here — someone doing something other than just retelling the known story, someone taking the materials of the Kurt Cobain/Nirvana tale and creating different frequencies of response. Mr. Gray, a respectful bow in your direction. Keep going fella.