Arts & Books: The Week In Radio

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The Independent Culture
IT WOULD be easy to scoff at the idea of putting modern art on radio - "Best place for it," some would say. And it is true that art today demands to be explained and not simply looked at, so that radio suits it quite well. But that doesn't account for the success of Private View (Monday-Friday, Radio 3).

A couple of years ago, Nicholas Ward Jackson's series of encounters with artists won a well-earned Sony Award for an episode in which he almost didn't encounter Douglas Gordon (who went on to win the Turner Prize the same year). That was something of a one-off: Gordon was deliberately and provocatively elusive, playing Ward Jackson along with a series of enigmatic and even downright threatening answerphone messages, before allowing himself to be tracked down. It was the atmosphere that the programme took from the messages which made this arresting.

But the real strength of Private View is Ward Jackson's own attention to what he is being told, his seriousness and evident enthusiasm, and the trust and seriousness he inspires in his interlocutors. This week's pack of five started with a remarkable meeting with Gilbert and George at their studio in Spitalfields. The idea was that he would talk to them about their New Testamental Pictures, about to be exhibited in Italy - photographic montages of G&G at play among the blood, urine, sperm and other bodily excreta. But they were soon pressing on him new photographs: of themselves as zombies, a series of images of chewing-gum on the street (a nuisance, "but we saw a very touching beauty in the fact that each one was chewed by some darling person once"), and landscapes in dried- out piss stains.

On the Today programme, where the rare discussions of art either start or quickly descend to the level of "Yeah, but you wouldn't want one on your mantelpiece, would you?", this would have been a cue for suppressed giggles. For me, G&G have always sat uncomfortably close to kitsch; and their self-spoofing tendency, the suppressed giggle that seems to lie behind their public pronouncements, adds to my uneasiness. With Ward Jackson, they began to sound like considered and considerable artists - their insistence on the primacy of emotion, their persistent engagement with materials that need to be handled with rubber gloves and a bottle of disinfectant a defiance of the limits placed on us by flesh. It was a deeply serious programme; also, though I know I haven't made it sound that way, bloody funny.

There was more defiance of the flesh in Aids and Me (Radio 4, Wednesday), Nigel Wrench's feature about living with the disease over the last three years. Wrench's own unscripted descriptions of landmarks - the day he was diagnosed HIV-positive and had to cancel an interview with Edward Heath; the bout of pneumonia that marked the onset of Aids proper - were admirably businesslike, uncomplaining, quietly optimistic: by far the most affecting account of the disease I've heard, and an excellent piece of programme-making.

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