Chicks on Speed/Douglas Gordon

  • The List
  • 11 November 2006

Chicks on Speed

Isla Leaver-Yap attends a private arty party with the Chicks on Speed and Douglas Gordon, and wonders at the display of irony.

According to Chicks on Speed, the art star recipe is a simple one: ‘stir in a concept, technology as well, whip in some finance and a pinch of cocaine, add in a harmless scandal and you’ve got a media plan’. In spite of all this fashionable contra-speak, there was of course an original media plan: The Chicks on Speed/Douglas Gordon collaboration was programmed by that wholesome New York art institution MoMA, in an effort to bring the NY hipsters (one MoMA organiser said that’s ‘the post-college, prenatal crowd’) back to the museum for Gordon’s Timeline exhibition.

On leaving Glasgow School of Art, the young Gordon had promised himself that, as well as having at least one retrospective and a book, he would cut a single by the time he was 40 years old. And on the eve of his June retrospective Gordon delivered the Christopher Just/CoS/Gordon collaboration track, ‘Art Rules’, in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden to more than 800 adoring hipsters. With its lyrics smacking of a 20th century manifesto and a hard-tech bassline remix capable of giving its listeners an anal prolapse, the song in its live incarnation has since travelled from the Manhattan cocktail environs to this side of the Atlantic.

With CoS in tow for the exhibition after-party, the Edinburgh gig on Hallowe’en night had all the campy trappings of a warped school leavers disco - the Glasgow School artists mingled with the dealers and gallerists in the shadowy Caves, while deputy director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Keith Hartley bopped along to the CoS punk sound under a sign saying ‘Hot Cunt’. Douglas Gordon appeared dressed in a white Man-from-Del Monte suit and sporting black contacts that gave him a doe-eyed Bambi aspect. As he clambered up onto the speaker stack, CoS duly sang their feminist ideals, all the while stripping down to their perfectly sculpted and freshly shaved bodies. The artist looked on in the role of failed muse, or, more likely, arch orchestrator.

The affair, like the exhibition itself, was spectacular and sensational. But, also like the exhibition, the rhetoric was saturated in thin irony. It’s worth recalling CoS’ earlier single ‘Fashion Rules’, which lambasted the Size Zero elite. The fashionistas revelled in the irony and attention, responding by making it the hit soundtrack of the summer catwalks, and the single was eventually pressed with a cover photograph of CoS loyally flanking Karl Lagerfeld.

The art of both CoS and Douglas Gordon struts precariously close to capitalising and become supplicating participants of the very thing they critique. Whether this is edgy or simply entertaining is questionable. Regardless, the Edinburgh grand finale of Gordon’s opening night was undoubtedly the performance of ‘Art Rules’ itself. Bathing the audience in white strobes, heavy bass and splatters of paint ejaculated from the stage, the accompanying video of a naked Gordon and CoS writhing like satyrs was a minor distraction. Most of the crowd forgot to watch and instead, wowed in ecstasy, joined Keith Hartley under the ‘Hot Cunt’.

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