Art Critique: Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences

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In his 2012 documentary series In the Best Possible Taste, Turner Prize-winning textiles artist Grayson Perry explored the social and cultural aspects of ‘taste’, as a conduit for looking at class difference in the UK. Through visiting a variety of people from all over the country, immersing himself in their culture and confronting their tastes Perry proposed to use his findings as the inspiration behind a series of six tapestries. The exhibition of these pieces, The Vanity of Small Differences, in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery was of great interest to me having so enjoyed the TV series.

In the Best Possible Taste confounded the working, middle and upper classes into three words for me; expressive, conformity and appropriateness, respectively. The working-class “beauty that you can measure with a ruler” is immediate and extremely visible. The middle-class “tug of war”, between showing off and not wanting to, is brand-conscious and standardised yet understated. Whereas the upper-class “semaphore of inescapable appropriateness”, whilst hard to imitate, appears unkempt and shabby, affecting an inherited air of not having to care what others think.

The tapestries show all of this. All of the places, people and objects within them reflect Perry’s findings from the working-class women in their glad-rags ready to hit the town and paint it every colour under the sun – to the middle classes cradling their ‘Le Creuset’ casserole dishes and unfettered adoration of Jamie Oliver (a.k.a. the scraggly King of class mobility). Not forgetting of course the dying aristocratic stag of the upper classes, in tattered tweed, being hounded by the dogs of tax and the upkeep and fuel bills awarded to their inherited landowning.

Perry’s work is intricate and dense with these class signifiers, perhaps to a convoluted level. Both in the TV series and the tapestries Perry’s exploration of class taste finds many stereotypes with little or no outliers. As a young working-class writer from Liverpool, who as a matter of personal ankle safety doesn’t wear heels over 3 inches high and who as a matter of non-judgemental personal taste has never fancied getting a tattoo, I found his exploration of the similarly working-class Sunderland lacking. Although everything Perry discovers and depicts is true it isn’t a tireless exploration of neither class nor taste. I didn’t fit his portrait of working-class culture. So does he force his subject to fit the brief of his work?

Talking about his work in The Telegraph Perry says that, “a childhood spent marinating in the material culture of one’s class means taste is soaked right through you,” (1) and ultimately his tapestries confound this assumption. Although I could not deny the existence of taste tribes in Britain and the values with which our upbringing equips each of us individually, I’m afraid that I see a contradiction between what Perry has discovered, or not discovered, and what he has depicted.

In the final episode of the TV series Perry tells us that there is no good or bad taste, only ‘different taste’. Yet Perry indicates through his aptly-named final tapestry, ‘#lamentation’, that modern class mobility and taste is a discriminatory system. Tim’s ascension through the classes alienates him from his working-class roots whilst he never quite fits in with the middle and upper class that he joins and ultimately perishes within. Do we rejoice in this modern capacity for class mobility awarded to the intelligent? Or are we not led to lament Tim’s journey as he is killed by a Porsche car, a flashy status symbol of the middle-class? This damning indictment is contrary to Perry’s assertions in In the Best Possible Taste. So Perry, which is it?

Perry’s work will be on show at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery until 10 August 2014.

(1) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/10117264/Grayson-Perry-Taste-is-woven-into-our-class-system.html

#likeagirl

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P&G ‘Always’ brand have created a new ad campaign challenging the sexist notion of doing things ‘like a girl’ being a negative or lesser thing. The ad, posted below, juxtaposes the reactions of adults and a young boy being asked to throw, run and fight ‘like a girl’ before asking some young girls to do the same. The younger girls, pre-puberty, are fierce and serious where the older ones mock themselves and other women by flailing their arms about ‘like a girl’.

Watch the ad for yourself. It might be a little too pretty or contrived for some due to the high production value but I really have no arguments about a big international brand company like Always marketing themselves in this way by publicising an issue of everyday sexism. It’s refreshing to see Always, as Jeff Beer puts it in his post on this ad campaign:

Challenging seemingly innocent phrases and impulses to effect positive change in gender identity and attitude. Source: http://www.fastcocreate.com/3032424/this-always-ad-asks-what-it-means-to-do-something-like-a-girl?utm_source=facebook

 

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In defense of the Vine app…

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I can’t help but sound pathetically pretentious when, faced with an unsympathetic adversary dissing the smartphone app ‘Vine’, I inform them that they are clearly watching the wrong Vines.

But, pretentious or not, it’s true.

The bane of the talented but less-popular Viner’s life is the aggravatingly stale orgy of racist and sexist humour (interspersed with the not-so-light relief of poor quality ‘relatable’ vines by boys made popular by their young and easily-manipulated fan base or perhaps the trend of inane ‘smack cams’/shovel fights/’twerk videos’) that is the ‘Pop’ or ‘Popular Now’ page.

Who could blame a new user for seeing the Popular page as all that the app has to offer? With so much new content being posted everyday it’s hard to find good quality vines if you don’t know where to look. I can’t last 5 minutes on the popular page and if I was a new user I’d be the same. The difference is a new user might not come back again without knowing that the app is hiding so much more. I blame Vine itself for promoting such low forms of offensive comedy. Or should that be ‘comedy’.

So in protest of the popular page, and to try and help more people to see why the Vine app is worth their time, here are 6 of my favourite hilarious and grossly underfollowed viners. I won’t give you potted descriptions as they are devilishly funny but you really have to see for yourself. (Click on each of their names to be taken to the web version of their Vine profiles or search for them through the app):

Matt Post
thejasminator
Ollie MN
cole hersch
Gabriel Gundacker
Cody Ko

And here are 6 creative vine accounts spreading artistic all natural vines, clever wordplay and their ‘loops’ are off the hook:

Tony Besides a character created by internet comedian Tony Oswald (note: the Besides runs like a story in six second parts, to understand you must start from the beginning of you can find them on Youtube).
MATTA_TAT
Reno Shaw
Ameera Belle
y wilde
Corypoppins

Watch them or don’t it’s up to you but, whatever you do, don’t follow Nash Grier because, well Ollie MN put it best…

“8 million people may like you Nash but millions of germans were complicit in the Nazi regime so…*self-righteous head bob*”

 

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East Avenue Bakehouse, Liverpool

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There are so many new independent eateries opening up in Liverpool’s Ropewalks district (Bold st/ Seal st area), using lots of locally-sourced produce, that it’s hard to keep up without damaging both my bank balance and the balance I try to maintain between staying in my size 10 skinnies or giving in and filling my face with bread.

But god help me if I won’t valiantly visit them all and write about them for my minuscule online audience. I’m just that noble.

This week I finally went to East Avenue Bakehouse on Bold st after being seduced by their twitter account (https://twitter.com/EABakehouse) where they bait weak cake-lovers like me on a daily basis. I’m onto you, Bakehouse.

East Av Bakehouse is just as delightful and wholesome as I had imagined. Joined by my mother and younger brother, and armed with her debit card, we sampled a few different things from the menu including their small plate ‘Wild Liverpool Bay Sea Bass’ – pan fried and served with broad bean and pea puree and local strawberries and ‘Sam’s Sourdough’ which is a pleasingly thick slice of freshly baked sourdough topped with sautéed mushrooms and pistachio rolled goats cheese finished with a balsamic drizzle (both inexpertly pictured below).

photo 5The Sea bass is cooked to perfection and matched well with the pea and strawberry garnish. All I have to say about the sourdough is that the rolled goats cheese was a little thick and might be improved if the ratio of pistachio to cheese were evened out a little. However, when your only complaint about a place is that there was ‘too much’ goats cheese I think you need to have a word with yourself. (So I will have a stern word with myself).

Now I come to the main event: East Avenue’s Spring Lamb Trencher. According to the menu: “Best lamb rump, green beans, pea shoots, radishes and pink peppercorns, with a mint yoghurt dressing” and served on freshly baked herb bread. Pictured below next to the pretty Sea Bass again.

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As a voracious carnivore I know what I’m talking about when it comes to meat. I especially know a good ‘meat butty’ situation when I see one and I can personally vouch for the lamb trencher as a superior meat (open) sandwich.

Why, you say?

For this simple fact: the tender lamb soaks the bread in meat juice which makes for a moist coalition of meaty/bready yumminess.

And before you start panicking, yes, the East Avenue Bakehouse peeps have got their heads screwed on. The bread is thick enough to withstand the meat juices so you don’t get that fally-aparty ‘me-biscuit’s-fallen-in-me-brew’ Peter Kay flashback to any repressed soggy sarny disasters. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself, or maybe the trencher was just that good. (I’m telling you right now it was the latter and I can’t wait to have another one).

Their prices were more than reasonable and the staff were friendly. Our short wait on the food was no problem at all as we enjoyed East Av’s clean and fresh interior as well as their cracking playlist (Phil Collins Su-su-suddio-ing along to our lunch specifically made my lovely mum’s day).

If you live in and around Liverpool you should definitely pop in and see what the fuss is about for yourself. And try the Blood-Tonic cordial because it tastes like childhood.

 

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East Avenue Bakehouse is situated at the top of Bold St (opposite Tesco) about a 5 minute walk from Liverpool Central train station.

East Avenue Bakehouse, 112 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HY.

Tel : (0151) 708-6219.

 

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