Tateshots: Childish rules

Billy Childish

Photo: Billy Childish
©Tate Media


Release date: 21 January 2010

Watch on TateShots Website or download from iTunes.

TateShots is an ongoing podcast series produced by Tate Modern, and the latest six films in the series investigate the links between music and visual art through interviews with musicians who are also artists. Even though they’ve been well-researched and curated, watching five-minute podcast films on a cinema screen is disconcerting. Because the podcasts are meant to be watched in short online bursts, teased out over a few weeks, the artists are asked many of the same questions. This probably helps give the segments cohesion when watched in chunks over time, but it grates when all are watched in one sitting. The Flip Cam wobbles of some interviews sit uneasily with archive footage, concert images, and extracts from other interviews shot from many angles, with tricksier shots. (The series is funded by big media corporation Bloomberg so it’s hard to tell if the low-budget feel of some of the filming came from financial limitations or was a deliberate choice to replicate a YouTube DIY aesthetic.)

The artists interviewed – Lydia Lunch, David Byrne, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Billy Childish, Jeffrey Lewis, and Mark E Smith – are all safe choices. Most of these artists came of age during punk and post-punk (with the exception of Lewis, whose work owes such a stylistic debt to Daniel Johnston that he might as well have done). All are established as having been cool. But what about some interviews with musician-artists whose work in one or both fields is a bit naff, or awkward, or embarrassing? It might have been more interesting to hear someone like Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, say, talking about his collection of sexy Polaroids.

What we get is a lot of talk about art school experimentation and subversion in the 1970s, which is fine – but it’s nothing new or unexpected, and not terribly illuminating. Shock has an increasingly short half-life. For Lydia Lunch to explain how she loves Goya’s devils or Duchamp’s Etant Donnés (an installation that lets viewers look through peepholes in a barn door to see a faceless naked woman) will surprise no one. Though she gives an intelligent and impassioned explanation of her choices, her segment makes those works, and the dark, violent sexuality of her songs, all seem oddly quaint.

Mark E Smith, on the other hand, sinks into self-parody in his segment. He talks about painters who work while listening to his music, and about hitting Damien Hirst in the face at a long-ago Fall gig. Mostly he’s just swinging a bottle of beer around, picking his nose and gurning like the old drunk priest in Father Ted. His segment will probably go viral because it’s so obnoxious – and good for the Tate if it can trawl some hits in with this for bait.

Billy Childish’s film is the standout of the bunch. Childish dresses in his onstage clothes and in an exaggerated painter’s smock and neck scarf so that the ‘artist’ and ‘musician’ can interview each other, and both characters play with the questions, pulling faces while joking about the Beatles, punk and Edvard Munch. He’s funny and charming, and his interview shows what the format can do. If the series continues, the curators would do well to try more such experiments.

Emily Bick

This TateShots series of films can be watched on the TateShots Website or downloaded from iTunes from 21 January 2010.