School of Saatchi: Episode 2

Last week we saw a group of (possibly) thousands of art hopefuls being whittled down to SIX! They are: Suki Chan, Saad Qureshi, Ben Lowe, Samuel Zealey, Matt Clark and Eugenie Scrase and they are competing for the favour of Charles Saatchi. They have a chance – as voiceover man reminds us – of becoming as famous as rock stars.

Ooh – I’d forgotten the prize includes an exhibition in the Hermitage in St Petersberg. Anyway – back to the action. Voiceover man is telling us that Saatchi’s still not appearing and is using Rebecca Wilson as some sort of mouthpiece/oracle. There is also the judging panel: Matthew Collings, Tracey Emin, Kate Bush and that other bloke Frank Cohen.

After a hefty recap the group stand in the rain in Hastings. They are to embrace a long tradition of being inspired by the seaside! They must work in pairs and return in two weeks with a marvellous public artwork for the people of Hastings. It must be Accessible and Exciting. To explain just how inspiring the seaside is we are treated to a couple of seconds each of works by Lowry, Turner, and Antony Gormley.

Collings tells us the artists face a difficult task – there is a low budget (£1.5k per location) and a very short space of time. I think we’ve basically come to the bare bones of the series – it’s ‘The Apprentice’ but with an invisible Alan Sugar.

Suki and Sam are the first pair and have chosen to use the harbour arm for their artwork. They are intrigued by a radar reflector. It’s a kind of skeletal octahedron and looks like an origami toy I used to make.

Eugenie Scrase and Matt Clark are poking around a little pedalo lake with a couple of islands and talking about empty zoo enclosures. Back in the studio space Eugenie channels her love of hanging things off other things (I’m beginning to love her) while Matt likes the idea of an attraction without content.

Saad and Ben stand at the base of some wooden beach huts looking worried. Ben is self taught and has never worked in 3d while Saad doesn’t produce art that’s not about himself. The boys are then seen tying sticks of wood together in an apparently haphazard way.

We are now treated to a montage of successful public art from Anish Kapoor, and – far more extensively – Antony Gormley. Voiceover man points out that Gormley’s Angel of the North took squillions of pounds and thousands of years to put together. Two weeks seems little tight.

Suki and Sam have decided on two related artworks featuring the radar reflector. Saad and Ben are nowhere near as focussed. They appear to have a mural and a load of rope. They have reached some sort of creative stalemate and sit on the floor looking sad. Eugenie and Matt have decided to build the zoo without animals. There will be a dome cage on one island and a rock on another. They are staging disappointment. Voiceover man thinks this might appeal to Saatchi as long as it isn’t too subtle as Saatchi loves the sledgehammer of advertising.

The sad team (Saad and Ben) are in better spirits as Saad has discovered a photograph of the beach huts as they used to be. There are two extra huts which have since disappeared so they decide to recreate the ghosts of these absent huts. Voiceover man tells us that this might be a good idea because Saatchi likes both huts AND ghosts. We see Tracey’s beach hut which she uprooted from Whitstable (The Last Thing I Said Was Don’t Leave Me) – where on earth is she this week?

Oh well – to fill the artistic void here’s Martin Creed. Collings takes it on himself to translate for the artist. It’s very annoying. Creed basically says  “Why do you need two weird shapes when you can have one?” to Suki and Sam and  “What’s the point?” to Saad and Ben. Saad tells him that his question is silly. Saad, as we established last week, doesn’t like being questioned.

After Creed has left Collings jovially tells us “they are all potential disasters”. Basically he thinks the corruption and decadence of art education is usually made manifest in conceptual art and this can be hilariously catastrophic.

Saad and Ben are getting quotes from a scaffolder. It’s all within budget and Ben and Saad have nothing to do for the rest of the fortnight. While they are kicking back and relaxing Matt and Eugenie are building a fake rock complete with aesthetic compromises. This means it’s in bits and looks nothing like a rock. “Am I just a weird amateur builder?” wonders Matt. He decides to solve the problem by wrapping it all in tarpaulin. We are reminded that Christo and Jean-Claude wrapped up the Reichstaag then we cut to the blue tarped rock. Voiceover man is not convinced. Saad tells Matt and Eugenie he liked the awfulness of the original crap rock.

Suki and Sam’s thing is being built from mirrored acrylic. The panels have been badly cut and must be redone – they will arrive at the last minute perhaps with lots of dramatic music and swearing. “I don’t think the public will like any of it” says Ben. The Mayor of Hastings is not a fan of modern art, specifically mentioning Tracey Emin in her criticism. Other people are more positive but no-one is ecstatic.

Suki and Sam’s acrylic panels have arrived and a lifeboat crew are helping them assemble it. Suki is convinced the whole thing will crack and so is only hitting it with a mallet very gingerly. It looks pretty darn impressive and doesn’t collapse after all. There is also no dramatic music or swearing – perhaps this is the difference between ‘School of Saatchi’ and ‘The Apprentice’.

Saad is watching the scaffolders building his and Ben’s huts and is completely unable to cede any control, telling people they have missed bits and generally fighting against the unpredictable world. Ben thinks things are fine.

Eugenie and Matt realise they should have built their giant empty cage thing on the island and recruit Saad and Ben for assistance. The Hastings inhabitants look on in polite bemusement.

Suki and Sam decide to leave their mirrored object on a weathered boat on the beach generally looking space age and contrasty. The harbour arm itself has a spinning version of the same shape on the top of a pole. It no longer functions as a generator or radio transmitter but Suki thinks this is okay as losing functionality make it even more like real art.

Hooray! More about the hideous rock (you’ll be pleased to know it’s no longer in blue tarp). There is some drilling and then some jolly music while we see Matt and Eugenie assessing the situation from all angles. Matt has talked himself into liking it in a patchwork fashion. Eugenie thinks a giant patchwork rock “doesn’t suit the island”. The pair then attach playful zoo animal  information signs on the nearby railings the emphasise the empty zoo. Conceptually I like this the best but visually it’s the worst.

Saad is heaping pebbles in an exacting fashion around the base of the ghost huts. The boy hasn’t really got the hang of beaches has he? He’s a bit like the lady who decided to sweep the beach or Canute turning back the tide.

It’s the grand unveiling. Collings – still the only judge to be seen – is explaining how difficult public conceptual art is. As if to demonstrate, the Mayor of Hastings is nonplussed. In order to judge the public’s response they are asked to fillin comment books and drop like or dislike counters into a pot.

A little boy in a green tshirt gets Matt and Eugenie’s but doesn’t like it. ‘The cage feels like a monkey and the rock is rubbish’ gives you a paraphrase of his opinion.

A woman with a dog tucked under her arm explains the bare bones of Suki and Sam’s artwork (as an art history graduate who would have been severely berated for saying something like “it’s about the old and the new” it grates hugely) and she then tells the pair that a local fisherman thought it was  load of rubbish.

Saad and Ben are functioning as gallery assistants and are relentlessly explaining the work to bystanders. The approach seems to be working and a man in a hat loves them. He is indeed so keen that both he and his dog put a chip in the “like” pot.

The next day it is raining and Rebecca, Collings and Frank arrive. Pathetic fallacy perhaps? It’s time for verdicts:

Suki and Sam – the panel think the boat bit was good but the shape on a stick was not as it wasn’t working properly. Rebecca-channelling-Charles says it just fell short of being great but it got an 83% popularity. “Random and confusing” was one of the comments from the general public. Collings thinks the necessity of an explanation made it unsuccessful. Sam says what I believe are his first words of the episode.

Saad and Ben – Rebecca thinks the huts are beautiful “monuments to the missing”. She thinks they relate to people lost at sea. I’m not sure that Saad and Ben thought anything of the kind but it’s a relevant observation and caught my interest. 91% of the public liked it but Collings links it relied on the inherent sadness and intrigue of the other beach huts not on anything particularly that Saad and Ben did. Rebecca-channelling-Charles loves the simplicity and perfect finish. He would be happy to have it in his gallery.

Matt and Eugenie – the panel get into pedalos and have a look around the islands. There are lots of elements and the like the playfulness. There was a more negative response from the general public with one of the comments being “technically of low competence”. 65% approved. Collings liked it though – it was British surrealism with a gag. He feels that it succeeded on its own terms. Frank also liked it. Rebecca-channelling-Charles was very impressed and thought the piece worked well with the site.  He also liked the awfulness of the rock (HURRAH!)

In fact Charles liked Matt and Eugenie’s artwork the best. “Despite challenging them to create work accessible to the public Charles chooses the one the public like least”  – that gem courtesy of voiceover man.

The montage for next week’s art in stately homes features the phrase “two thousand chapatis” – I’ll see you there!

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