Coales' Notes: Peeping into trouble: Gordon Coales finds the Centre making an exhibition of itself

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: I will try to put down what has happened as clearly and objectively as is possible, before trying to think about what to do about it.

I am, incidentally, extremely ill, and unable to go into the Centre, something which always seems to happen whenever I return from having been away. It struck yesterday, shortly after I got back here, and found an envelope waiting for me. Inside it was a note from Terry.

'Alan and myself have worked ourselves into the ground. Result: You have a residency exhibition. You have a sponsor for it. You even have a catalogue (pfe an advance copy). Taking a short break now, so thank me later. Cheers.'

I looked at the catalogue. On the cover: ALAN DUNN: VISION ON. And beneath that, in equally prominent lettering: SPONSORED BY LOVESTYLE.

I opened it up. The first page had two paragraphs, headed: LOVESTYLE AND THE ARTS: A PARTNERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE.

'Although for the last fifteen years Lovestyle has been committed to improving the quality of life throughout all sections of the local community, we have remained up to this point 'sponsorship virgins'. But Lovestyle has always acknowledged that there is a 'higher' side to life and we are therefore delighted to take this opportunity of expanding our activities into a previously unfamiliar territory.

'We believe that Alan Dunn's exciting and innovative exhibition demonstrates clearly that a real partnership of interest can exist between the 'fine' arts and the wider world of adult leisure services.

Desmond Pullet, Director.'

There then follows a catalogue essay which makes things horribly clear.

'In Vision On, his most ambitious work to date, Dunn effects an extension of the Duchampian ready-made, from single object to whole environment. As the viewer enters the Wormwood's dimly lit gallery space, s/he becomes gradually conscious of an installation comprising twelve booths or cubicles, each large enough to hold only a single individual, and with a lockable door. To enter, or not to enter? To lock or not to lock? Immediately, issues of privacy and space are raised - even before the viewer becomes aware that inside each cubicle there is a coin- operated machine, requiring the insertion of a real coin to make it work. Only when, in response to the inserted coin, the machine starts, and a flickering, fleshly image is projected on the back of the cubicle door, does it become fully clear what Dunn has done.

He has simply transferred, lock, stock and barrel, an arcade of peep-show film-booths, out of the space in which their purpose is perspicuous (the back of a 'sex shop', traditionally a male environment) into another, estranging, space (the art gallery); and through this apparently simple act of re-siting, he has raised such a panoply of issues - about looking and the gallery (as a site in which looking takes place, as a site for the public enjoyment of essentially private pleasures), about art and money, about the gendering of space, about the tradition of the 'nude' in both 'high' and 'popular' 'culture' - that I will only be able to touch on a few of them in the remainder of this essay . . . '

I rang Fiona first thing this morning and put a number of questions to her, to clarify the situation.

Could we forestall it? No, it opened last Friday.

Were the words Lovestyle Leisure Services conspicuously displayed outside the centre? Yes.

Who could reasonably be blamed for this catastrophe? Me, (for leaving Terry in charge).

Had a headline containing the words GALLERY, PORNO, SPONSOR and OUTRAGE appeared in any local (or national) paper? Not as yet.

Any other serious complaints from visitors? Not as yet.

Any ideas about how we might justify ourselves? Not as yet.

After this, I collapsed with a vomiting attack. Fiona also said that Juliet had tendered her resignation as Exhibitions Officer on Friday. I would find her letter on my desk if I managed to come in. It's alright for her. She's still young. I just feel we are not going to survive this one.

FRIDAY: Still in bed, very weak. Still waiting for the storm to break. I used to be quite a competent gardener. I suppose I could do that.