Friday, 3 June 2011

Wearing William and Mrs Morris

‘Wearing William’ is a 75 cm gypsum cast of a male bottom decorated with colourful patterns loosely based on Morris designs; its counterpart, ‘Mrs Morris’ is a little more muted in its colour scheme, but more than makes up for that by its sheer callipygous breadth. Both are the products of Kent-based artist C.J. Munn, and the former featured recently on the BBC’s ‘Show Me The Monet’ show, in which it got the critics’ votes it needed in order to be displayed at the Royal College of Art where, if you were so moved, you could have bought this handsome Morris rump for £2100.

Introducing her sculpture to the panel of critics, C.J. Munn attacked artistic work based solely on ‘shock value’ and argued for a ‘return to a time when old-fashioned aesthetic values become important again’; art shouldn’t just be based on clever instant gimmicks, but should ‘still be lovely in 30 years time’. Well, there’s something a little disingenuous in this. Morris floral designs may have the requisite aesthetic loveliness, but a Morris arse is in itself, clearly, a piece of ‘shock art’; for, as one of the critics aptly remarked, ‘William Morris would be turning in his chintz shroud’.

The Morrisian visual artist David Mabb has said that his own aesthetic aim is to make Morris designs ‘nasty’, which is in his view the only way to prevent them collapsing into kitsch. Do Munn’s male and female Morris bottoms succeed in this? Perhaps to a degree; for the ‘Wearing William’ cast, in particular, disturbingly resembles the whole-body colourful floral tattoos of the Japanese yakuza or mafia. But I think in the end that the graceful organic curves of the Morris-inspired patterns and the organic curves of the human (and particularly the steatopygous ‘Mrs Morris’) anatomy are too comforting, and dissolve the initial visual shock value of the artefacts into contemplative and mildly eroticised pleasure.

‘It’s ridiculous, but yes’, remarked one of the BBC judges in giving his vote. So I’m glad ‘Wearing William’ has graced the walls of the Royal College of Art; anything that draws renewed attention to Morris’s work and thought is a good thing. But we will need more challenging reinterpretations of his designs if we are truly to remake them – to effect a Brechtian Unfunktionierung of them - for our own century.


Yram said...

For fuller details of C.J. Munn's artistic work, go to Lots of fine stuff there!

ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

"News from Nowhere Day" - first Saturday in June?



Tony Pinkney said...

You're absolutely right, Ian. Unfortunately, this turns out to be 'Exams from Everywhere Week' for me - no respite till this lot of scripts is marked, alas. However, next year, I solemnly vow, I shall make a Lancaster 'News from Nowhere Day' event happen, perhaps with your assistance, if you're willing?

ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

The first Saturday in June next year would be excellent as an alternative to the royalist outpourings that weekend which are already being trumpeted in the British media.

On the day itself, however, I shall be at the WNO's production of "Tristan & Isolde" in Cardiff - Wagner's retelling rather than Morris's.

And, are you confusing me with an Ian nearer Lancaster?

With best wishes,

Ian of Northampton

Tony Pinkney said...

Ah, confusion unravelled, Ian, thanks! Enough Morris enthusiasts in Northampton to organise your own News from Nowhere Day down there too, I should think. Best, Tony

Anonymous said...

long ago, in Manchester with the Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists exhibition, I met a tattoo artist [sic] proud to show photos of his work on various men's backs, featuring versions of Janey Morris as Proserpine etc by DGR. real backs, not plaster bums. Quite horrible, but that's probably because all tattooes make my skin crawl