LETTER:Art and the human condition

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The Independent Online
From Ms Catherine Wilkinson

Sir: Following Marianne Macdonald's article ("Q: which photo shows a work of conceptual art and which a jumble sale?", 25 March) which reports my comment that the question "is it art?" is of little relevance, may I be allowed to explain why.

After being done to death in various arenas, "is it art?" tends to obscure the possibility of discussing the effect of what is actually there. The piles of second-hand clothes in the north gallery of the Serpentine are on the verge of becoming abject: they are without owner and therefore without function. Only the actions of the arriving visitors allows them the chance of resuscitation and re-animation.

There is space for a wariness or even repulsion for these discarded clothes with unknown histories, as well as the attraction of being able to claim possession of them. They remain evidence of the absent human content. There is a potential sense of despair in realising the practical impossibility of sifting through everything, the lost opportunity of not being present in the gallery throughout the work's duration, a point at which the desire to take more requires examination.

I may not agree that it is the "ultimate gesture" which Julia Peyton- Jones suggests, but it is one of many possible significant gestures, here allowing the contents of the gallery to be dispersed outwards. In this respect it could be art about the condition of art, opposing a singular, unaffordable status, but it is also undeniably evocative of the human condition, through its material, its reliance on audience, and a notion of dispersal which parallels the grouping dispersal of peoples or ideas from a central geographic, intellectual, emotional or political moment.

It may be that the art student turnout reflects not only their poverty, but their interest in their subject; I am sure the Serpentine is more than used to a significant student attendance at the opening of any show.

Yours sincerely,


London, SW11

26 March

The writer is a student at the Chelsea School of Art.