`Is there a tension in the congregation, a little shiver of embarrassme nt? I hope so - because embarrassment is gradually being excluded as a legitimate response to contemporary art'
The embarrassment there was largely accidental - though I suppose that Storey quite relished the little frisson of discomfort that stage nudity will always engender in an audience. But I was reminded of the occasion by going to see Mona Hatoum's much-discussed installation at the Tate Gallery's exhibition "Rites of Passage", which ends today. Corps tranger, for those of you who've been away, consists of a circular structure with two small apertures and a dark interior. Inside, projected onto the floor like the image in a camera obscura, is footage of the inside of the artist's body, taken with an endoscope. You stand in worshipful silence ("my body is a temple") as the camera probes and burrows. The result is a moist, pink speleology, a journey strongly reminiscent of the film Alien, with its exploration of organic, threatening corridors. What, you wonder nervously, is lurking round this dark corner?
This is all fine and dandy (and worth seeing, I would say) but by far the most interesting moments come when the image is on the threshold of telling us where we are, moments when the possibility of embarrassment is raised. It might seem that sticking a camera up your butt is the ne plus ultra of artistic candour (not to say a vindication of some gloomy predictions about the ultimate destination of modern art). But actually Ms Hatoum's innards are so unplaceable and unfamiliar a part of the body that there's no discomfort in looking at them. The anxiety arises when we emerge - when we begin to suspect what that thicket of saplings might be and just where that bolster of damp flesh is located. As the camera grazes Ms Hatoum's nipple - a massy outcrop of pink coral - is there a tension in the tiny congregation, a little shiver of embarrassment at this magnified intimacy?
I hope so - if only because a world without embarrassment would be a worse one and because it can sometimes feel as if embarrassment is gradually being excluded as a legitimate response to contemporary art. It is as though embarrassment is a badge of the naive or the unsophisticated, when quite the opposite is the truth. It is the most social of emotions - it's possible to be embarrassed when you're on your own but only if you imagine yourself in company. The sociologist Erving Goffman wrote: "Embarrassment is not an irrational impulse breaking through socially prescribed behaviour but part of this orderly behaviour itself." And we need more of it in a world so blase.
Ms Hatoum isn't alone in addressing the problem - next week, visitors to the Serpentine Gallery will have the chance to see Tilda Swinton, lying for eight hours at a time in a glass vitrine. This art work, called Maybe, has aroused almost as much scornful copy as Corps tranger, but it sounds promisingly squirm-inducing to me. Watching someone sleep is an unusual privilege, fraught with strange feelings of power and hazard. It is undeniably fascinating but, unless the sleeper is a child, you feel a nervous sense of breaking the rules. What if Swinton were to suddenly open her eyes just as you were staring at her face? What will she do about eye contact with the passing crowd? By sleeping in public she risks the familiar embarrassments of unconsciousness - drool and gape. By watching her we take the risk of catching ourselves as peeping Toms, and so exercising our ability to blush.
Life & Style blogs
Ebola crisis: Cases pass 10,000 as almost 5,000 killed by disease in eight countries
Alexander Wang for H&M: Pumping video of the campaign filmed in London has been released
Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
Our gums are less healthy than Roman Britons', scientists claim
NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Tony Blair 'says Ed Miliband will lose 2015 general election'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Putin: The US is to blame for almost all the world's major conflicts
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
- 1 Stem cells that can kill cancer have been engineered by scientists
- 2 Ricky Gervais and Dame Judi Dench back campaign to stop Thailand dog meat trade
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Queen's first tweet: Reply telling Her Majesty to 'f*** off' broadcast on BBC News
£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solic...
£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...