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Publication Essay (Gemini Sculpture Park - published by the Henry Moore Institute, 2001)
It's a global world, up here in the twenty-first century. Things are in motion whether you like it or not - whether you're part of them or you quit makes no difference because (and this is the killer, since there's absolutely no way round it) you're just one person. You're small. You don't count. You think you do, but you don't. Better people than you, more famous, more important, more talented, better looking, are falling off the map all the time and somehow the planet copes. Everybody knows there's no such thing as irreplaceable because we, I mean we humans, built things that way on purpose. We have structures, procedures, routines and sub-routines. We have governments and corporations. We have teamwork, market research, middle management and focus groups. I know that when it's put like that it can sound wrong somehow, but it's true. We did it, and now it's done. It's history, and it's the future, but most of all it's here, and it's now.
Gemini Park, on the edge of Chapeltown in Leeds (and if the word Chapeltown there didn't make you mentally hit the brakes and three-point turn, I guess you never spent much time in Leeds, or else you come from Chapeltown) is a modest development, not exactly industrial or trading estate, definitely not a retail park. It's an office park, more or less equivalent to those turn-of-the-century sandstone blocks with names like 'Baltic Chambers' carved over the door. The buildings are all alike but different, built to a plan that (I'm guessing here) wasn't created with the Gemini Park specifically in mind. They're off the shelf, and nondescript to the point where they stand out. They enclose sufficient space for economically viable activity to take place with adequate car parking alongside, but you wouldn't come here sightseeing. You might come here if you were in Leeds and needed a debt collected, or a structural engineering problem solved, or a telecommunications or computer system installed, or if you fancied a spot of light ram-raiding. The Gemini Park offers all these things and more. In fact it offers all these things plus a certified quantity surveyor - you never know when you'll need one. The Gemini Park is a snapshot, a controlled sample, of all the almost invisible stuff that makes our service-centred economy tick. It's no accident. It might feel like the edge of something, a place you'll most likely never go, but secretly it's our heartland, a statistical midpoint. More than that, it's the perfection of an ideal, an ideal that nobody wants to claim but that exists all the same. An ideal that we remake every day, any time we take places like this for granted.
Chris Evans's Gemini Sculpture Park is the first project of his UK Corporate Sculpture Consultancy. Corporate art is different to public art. Public art has high-minded aims. It educates, it beautifies, it raises the tone in general. Corporate art is a study in social Darwinism, like the antlers of the great elk or the tails of birds of paradise. It's a case of display substituted for combat, of the ability to channel excess power into ornament standing in for the physical threat of power. Switzerland, for example, is big on corporate art. Consultancy is something else again. We're all consultants of one kind or another. As Oscar Wilde said, 'I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.'
Gemini Sculpture Park is different. It's an experiment in corporate art as public service, a new concept as far as I know. If this was a purely market-driven situation, Evans would have to persuade the companies they needed his services so much, they'd pay. But they don't have to, and neither does he, which allows a certain amount of freedom on both sides. There's room for an exchange of ideas, an element of risk-taking. At the same time the process of negotiation and compromise is central to the project. The sculptures being proposed for the Gemini Park still have to work for both artist and client. They have to achieve synthesis, unity of form and function on more and tougher levels than Moore or Modigliani ever had to consider, though Michelangelo pulled off much the same trick with the Sistine Chapel, working in a tightly defined corporate situation ('on the ceiling? you are joking?') but still managing to get away with a frankly astounding amount of pictures of young naked men. So it can be done.
The first public presentation of the Gemini Park designs is at the Henry Moore Institute, in Leeds' regenerated city centre. It's part town planners' proposal meeting, part cool post-pop art show, and part subversion of both of the above. The UK Corporate Sculpture Consultancy works on a pretty standard business model, with Evans as manager and creative director. He negotiates with the clients and comes up with mutually agreeable concepts, and then sub-contracts other artists to make the work to his specifications. In fact, Padraig Timoney, Toby Paterson, Kevin Hutcheson and Graham Fagen actually produced the exhibition. Evans's most overt input is the design of a series of screenprints, minimal re-interpretations of the plans for the finished sculptures. More like corporate logos, and at the same time more like contemporary art as we know it, they're the revenge of forgotten graphics everywhere - showing us what they could do if they got the chance, playing tricks with art history, rising up and demanding equal rights. The show links the surface of the UKCSC project to its deeper context, from the simple-but-slightly-warped idea to the conversations with the company bosses and their choices; the skewed relationship with the Serra-on-a-bank-plaza school of corporate art; the legacy of Hans Haacke; the genuine engagement with formal issues in sculpture; the idea of the Gemini Park standing alongside the wilderness sculpture parks of the seventies as a place of potential future pilgrimage; and the schizophrenic nature of the final objects themselves. Deep down, it's conceptual art but it's corrupted, in the best way, by the reality of a visitor to a northern office park momentarily distracted by a tiny bronze cast of a Venus flytrap on a patch of well-kept lawn outside a debt collection agency. It has a hidden agenda, of course, but what's hidden is that its agenda is the same one we're all working to, and it's not the UKCSC that hid it. It's us. We hide it from ourselves.
Mostly we look at things upside down. As one, very successful, New York corporate restructuring consultant puts it, if you make a painting, what happens? Somebody puts it on a wall. So you have to realise you're really in the wall improvement business. And what does a better wall do? It makes the whole room somehow more pleasing. So already you've moved up into environmental enhancement. And if you've enhanced someone's environment, you've probably made them feel good. So ultimately you're in making people happy. We all are, aren't we? The Gemini Sculture Park is an experiment in how artists can operate in this situation, co-operate with it, learn to unreservedly love it. But artists don't count. They think they do, but they don't. What counts is how any of us can operate in this situation, and what's good is that an artwork can sometimes bring that into focus, just for a second, and let us see what it is we've done - can make me think, screaming inside, sweet Jesus please, make it stop. And then, a second later...everything's cool, beautiful. Neat.
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