Saturday, May 26, 2007

"If Everybody Had An Ocean"

We here at Socialism towers aren’t adverse to a bit of culture from time to time, despite outward appearances. This week we were beyond privileged to get an very early viewing of the Brian Wilson exhibition down at the Tate in St Ives (they were still hanging the thing when we saw it), which made a nice change from our usual Bukowski-esque barfly behaviour in the Smoke (sitting and talking crap in the back booth of the Social until they turf us out in the cold, miserable night). So, on Thursday morning, we cut work, and, in the company of fellow Beach Boys obsessive and Socialism contributor Sean Rowley, headed west towards perfect weather, the rolling beaches of the Cornish coast and the West Coast's pop art experiment.

Much like the Jeremy Deller curated exhibition “Unconvention” did with the music of Manic Street Preachers back at the turn of the millennium in Cardiff, “If Everybody Had An Ocean” takes it's inspiration from the life and work of Brian Wilson, finding artworks that reflect four distinct periods of the songwriter’s life (from the early ‘60s through to the mid ‘70s). Lovingly put together by Alex Farquharson, the exhibition takes a journey from Brian’s optimistic musical beginnings, where the Hawthorne, California quintet’s primary cares were girls, cars, staying out late and worrying about parental disapproval through to the paranoid, acid fried period where Charles Manson was a good friend of the family, in each case using pieces that evoke the prevailing moods of the times. Here, mainstay artists like Peter Blake and Bridget Riley sit alongside ( less famous Californians (to me anyway...) such as Sister Corita Kent (an LA based nun whose pop art graphic work was an inspiration to Charles Eames and Saul Bass) and Ed Ruscha (whose exhaustive work documenting every building on Sunset Strip reflect the gasoline dreams of teenagers in the Sunshine state in the ‘60s). In room two, all begins to surrealistically drift as details from the sleeve of “Smile” are disembodied and blown up and giant cartoon doors lie propped against walls, leading us to nowhere. One room, reflecting Brian’s meltdown and Dennis’ relationship with Manson, appears to be modelled on the “Black Classroom” from the drugs episode of Brass Eye - a badly looped, crazily warped piano line plays somewhere in the darkness while a projection of reel to reel tape recorder made entirely out of paper goes round and round on a screen. Needless to say it’s absolutely brilliant.

It’s an odd thing but what could have so easily have been a sterile exercise in trying to transpose ‘highbrow’ concepts onto what could be seen to be a ‘lowbrow’ form of entertainment, “If Everybody Had An Ocean” is actually far more inspirational, far warmer and less cynical than recent Wilson shows (trying to get a Glastonbury audience at the last festival to sing a Christmas song whilst knee deep in mud was not one of my Brian highlights, it must be said). The overall effect is to send the visitor scurrying back to “Pet Sounds”, to “Surf’s Up”; to “In My Room” and “Til I Die” (two of the songs whose lyrics are highlighted on the walls). As we leave the quant English seaside town the next day, with it’s beach full of surfers and cool cool water, we’re struck by Cornwall’s transformation into California and the fact that the Tate is currently home to the perfect mix of Pop and Art. Essential viewing – one tip, just make sure you load up the ipod with surf music before you hit the seaside for the full experience on the walkthrough...