2871 different shows are being performed between 2nd to 26th August at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. I have used a computer and discovered that in order to see them all you would have to stay in Edinburgh for the whole festival and see 114* shows daily. In my experience any more than four or five shows in a day is a struggle, so I think 114 is beyond all but the sprightliest culture lover.
How then to decide which shows to see? At the start of the festival, before the reviews are flowing and the gossip, sorry, word of mouth has been spread, there is nothing more on which to judge than the list of names in the programme. Many give no clue of what to expect. I flicked through the pages of the Free Fringe programme wondering what to see. It’s a real dilemma. For example, tell me if you will what Simon South’s Cat Flap of Opportunity is about. Or Existing. Waiting. Fish. Let alone Professor Neal Portenza’s interactive Goat Hour.
It was therefore with some relief that my eyes spotted a title at the top of page 25. It sounded like a solid show and certainly a strong contender for most sensible title of the fringe. How to be a Modern Artist. Where most shows had a humorous picture of the star next to their title, this had a Magritte-inspired-apple-mouthed-bowler-hatted fellow. The only problem was to be a modern artist you should really be dead by now, but let us not quibble over definitions.
Will Warren has been coming to the Fringe for years and last year put on a show about living homeless in Nottingham and Edinburgh. This year the 22 year old philosophy graduate is performing a free piece that sees him question what an artwork is and the concept of value in the art world. And yes, to get in is completely free, which further adds to the layers of meaning to unpick if you’re that way inclined.
Every day one member of the audience will be completing a work of art during the show. The rest of the audience members can help name and price the work which will then be hung in a gallery and offered for sale. The pieces will also be available worldwide on the Saatchi Online website. Questioning what art is, Warren hopes to subvert the machinations of the art market, demonstrate how anyone can create art and examine how value is assigned in a secretive market that Adam Smith would not regard as remotely perfect.
Warren is an enthusiastic presenter, keen to get the audience involved and add to the debate. Driven by youthful exuberance rather than careful preparation ideas race past as he moves from one topic to the next with nary a pause. (Is nary a word? And if so is that how you spell it? Let me check…Yes!) Using an overhead projector rather than a PowerPoint presentation gives the event an old school charm, helped by Mona on slides who does not speak but adds amusing details with her special OHP pens. I went on the very first night when there was an endearing unreadiness to proceedings. I don’t think the participants would deny it was a tad under-rehearsed. Nevertheless I heard a truth about Rothko in the Tate (ahh, but what is truth my friend?), learned about Will’s life modelling career and helped invent a new -ism.
At the end of each show the world will have acquired a new work of art. When – let us be optimistic – it is sold the proceeds will go to the person who created it. When I was there Dave created the vibrant piece below, entitled Subtitled (Apples).
Subtitled (apples) by Dave
The photo does not do this work of art justice. (A deliberate blurring filter has been applied to protect Dave’s copyright). It is of course a Paul Klee inspired mixed media montage that appears at first sight to be a simple exploration of the ethics of aesthetic theory. Of course that would be a naive reading, ignoring the almost Nietzschean dialectic which exuberantly reverberates within the confines of the frame. Seducing the viewer whilst simultaneously exuding a gargantuan froideur, this is a disconcerting painting that will attract buyers of contemporary art from around the world.
This is the most interactive of shows, relying on audience feedback and debate as much as the script. Will’s claim not to be an art expert allows him to attempt a storming of the citadel of the bourgeois, metropolitan, art-world elite with verve. It is for everyone to make their own decision whether he succeeds.
As a mixture between lecture/performance/audience participation/practical art demonstration this is a niche work that will hopefully bed down as the run continues. If you want to hear Warren’s views on art, share your own or make a million from a painting with a guaranteed place in an exhibition then get to the Fiddler’s Elbow, venue 71 at 17.15.
*Send me an email and I will explain how I worked out this calculation. Disclaimer: The calculation may be incorrect depending on the veracity of mathematical relativism.