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Sunday, February 10, 2008

I don't know what's happened to me since I moved to Brighton. Eighteen months ago I thought the only decent art produced in the last hundred years was the picture of a tennis girl scratching her bum. But I now find myself in the position of actually liking modern art. Some of it anyway. I still think pickled sheep are essentially rubbish. But I spent yesterday afternoon at the Phoenix Gallery for the opening of their new exhibition 'Everyday Anomalies', and I have to say I loved it. It was like Tate Modern crossed with Candid Camera.

What I can't stand is the pretentiousness of the people who organise these things. The gallery website describes the exhibition thus:

"Using performative strategies and interventionist tactics the city becomes a site of exploration for the four artists. Whilst their works are often nothing more than subtle interventions and shifts in perspective, they quietly question the habitual codes of behaviour in urban society."

Which is complete tosh. It's just four people having a laugh. And I know that, because I've met them all and they couldn't stop smiling.

All four artists are from Hong Kong, and had flown in especially to meet me yesterday afternoon. We got on famously. And I'm not just saying that because the gallery laid on free Chinese food. Although it helped. To be honest I have no idea why more people didn't turn up. There were only about a dozen of us there, meaning that while everyone else quaffed the free wine, I had to single-handedly eat all the desserts. But hey, we all have our crosses to bear.

As for the art, I liked Kwan Sheung-Chi's apple core made out of a used apple juice carton...

... and his attempt to make a splatted mosquito out of his own hair and blood was very amusing too. Then there was his video installation 'Meteor Shower, which had to be viewed by getting down on your knees and looking through a tiny hole in the floor. He said afterwards that he likes to stand in front of the hole so that people look like they're bowing down to him. Like I say, they're just having a laugh.

The only female member of the fantastic four, Kam Lai Wan, presented three works about stars, the most ingenious of which was 'Sound of Stars'. She said she'd wanted to know what stars might sound like, so she'd taken numerous musical boxes and pressed the pattern of a constellation onto each cylinder, so that when you turn the handle, it plays a tune based purely on the position of the stars. I loved that idea.

But not as much as I loved the work of Luke Ching, who appeared to be trying to fill the shoes of Jeremy Beadle in a very literal sense. Luke's attempts at art included walking through a crowded shopping centre with fifteen-foot-long shoelaces, while a friend filmed people's attempts to avoid tripping over them. His accompanying piece, 'Moon', involved buying helium balloons in Toys R Us and then pretending to accidentally let them go in the middle of the mall, watching them float two hundred feet up into the roof, and then asking security guards if they had a long pole. It's work Beadle would have been proud of.

I also enjoyed Luke's video 'Dreams', which he made by spending a few weeks hanging out at a museum, looking for people who'd fallen asleep and then filming them, before putting it all together into a kind of montage of the bored. It doesn't say much for the stimulating qualities of Chinese museums, but having experienced Brighton's very own Denim Touching Event, I'm in no position to judge.

And then there was the giant pillow with his photo on it...

... which he said he'd taken to Brighton Museum the day before and left lying around as a joke piece of art.

Pak ManFor me though, the star of the show was Pak Sheung-Chuen. If all modern art was as brilliantly and amusingly inspired as his, I'd be tempted to become the new Charles Saatchi. Not content with spending ten days filling his apartment with inflated plastic bags, until the entire flat contained nothing but his own breath (which is either art or mental illness), Pak also told us the story behind his work 'Familiar Numbers, Unknown Telephone'. Apparently he'd walked past a bus stop which featured the four route numbers 91, 91M, 92 and 96R. So naturally he decided to go home and dial those eight digits into his telephone. The result is a 3-minute recording of some bloke saying "How did you get my number?" and "What do you mean it was on a bus stop?" in a slightly panicked voice.

Pak was working for a newspaper at the time, so he decided to publish a photo of the bus stop. The result was that the anonymous bloke was immediately flooded with calls, and somebody stole the route sign. Which says a lot about human nature.

Say it with receipts.My personal highlight of the exhibition though was Pak Sheung-Chuen's ingenious work with till receipts. No, really. In 'Love Letter for LC', he'd bought four books, the first word of each title being (in Chinese) 'I', 'am', 'thinking of' and 'you'. He'd then framed the till receipt and given it to his girlfriend. If that's not sweet, I don't know what is. Well, two tickets for Darren Hayes at the Barfly is, but that's not until Friday.

Pak's 'Miracle of $136.70' took the concept one stage further. He'd managed to find eight grocery items in the local supermarket (I won't tell you how much they cost), such that when put through the checkout in the correct order, the second word of each item formed the Bible verse John 3:16, "Whoever believes in him shall have eternal life". I tried to do the same at Asda last night, but I didn't want to buy 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' just for the sake of religious art.