The Week in Arts: The cutting edge turns blunt at the ICA

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The Independent Online

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has always been a bit of an oddity. Championing cutting-edge arts since the Sixties, it is situated in the Mall, a matter of yards from Buckingham Palace and geographically right at the centre of Britain's establishment. Its latest extravaganza only served to underline its oddness.

Two days of events under the mildly clever title ErotICA were billed to include striptease artists and a session on how to start a sex magazine. It was an examination, perhaps even a celebration, of pornography and erotica. Disturbingly, the ICA seems to see the two worlds as synonymous, even though one is exploitative and the other is not.

The ICA's enterprising and often inspired leader Philip Dodd has long had the idiosyncrasy of seeing unorthodox attitudes to sex as a vital part of cutting-edge art. He once bent my ear at some length on the need for the ICA to explore paedophilia.

I can see, though, why he feels the need for the ICA to make waves and redefine the words cutting edge. The problem for the institution is not its splendid location; it is its history. What is a cornerstone of Sixties cultural revolt to do in an era in which little if anything shocks? And, if there are shocks to be had, then those former bastions of the cultural establishment, the Tate and the Royal Academy, want a part of the action too. Not forgetting the Hayward gallery, White Cube and a host of others. There are any number of institutes of contemporary arts these days.

The Arts Council, which funds the ICA, seems worried. A spokesman said this week: "The challenge now is for the ICA to be more than the sum of its parts. It needs a clear vision for the future." Joan Bakewell, who chairs the National Campaign for the Arts and can remember the ICA in its iconoclastic heyday, went further. "It was a place we all used to go to once, but it's not essential any more," she said.

The ICA can still be challenging in its film programming; it holds some provocative seminars and talks; and with Becks Futures it has developed a contemporary art brand that can be a lot more interesting than the studied radicalism of the Turner Prize. But on the whole, the Arts Council has a point. The ICA seems unsure of its identity.

Mr Dodd leaves in the new year. His successor should start with a public mission statement, declaring just how he or she intends the ICA to be different from the country's other publicly funded arts institutions and just how a cultural institution can be radical and challenging in 2005. No doubt there are many ways. Striptease, I feel, isn't one.

A lot more girls' talk would be v good

I've had a sneak preview of the new Bridget Jones film and am in no doubt it will delight the fans of the first outing. Renée Zellwegger again does an excellent turn as the overweight, accident-prone singleton whose travails began in the columns of The Independent. But I have the same irritation about the second film that I had about the first. Where are the hilarious and incisive chats between Bridget and her female friends that pervaded Helen Fielding's original columns and, later, books? When Bridget, Jude and Shazza got together with a few bottles of chardonnay. The ensuing confessionals and exploration of the dichotomy between feminist leanings and bloke pleasing were brilliantly conveyed.

Yet in the first film Jude and Shazza barely existed. In the second they get only a bit more time. I wonder if this is because Helen Fielding's fellow scriptwriters are all male, including her old friend Richard Curtis. I suspect that if she had gone it alone, more wine and anxiety would have flowed with Jude and Shazza.

¿ Every page of the marvellous Bob Dylan autobiography is like a Bob Dylan song. No walk down the street takes place without a dog howling or a cameo appearance by one of the beatnik folk singers, boxers and drop-outs that form the kaleidoscopic cast of characters.

The book, Chronicles Volume One, also reminds us of Dylan's longevity. He recalls how in his early years on the New York folk circuit he had to choose his words carefully in his weekly phone calls to his mother as she had a party line and the neighbours could listen in. Quite a few readers, I suspect, will never have heard of a party line. Those who have will be equally bemused that the rebellious young Dylan never forgot his weekly phone call to mum.