Friends Like These:
There has been a lot of talk in the band press over the past few
weeks about the new commission from the Victoria and Albert Museum
entitled, Breathless by the artist Cornelia Parker.
Given that it has so much coverage, we at 4BR thought we may as
well put in our four pennth worth as well, and give you a
little bit of information to think about before you possibly make
your mind up to whether the £50,000 was well spent or not.
Well come straight out and tell you what we think.
This is a stunning work. One that has given impetus and created
debate, asks questions of us and the role of the brass band, and
above all is very beautiful to look at. For us its a very
positive literal image of the history, present and future of a movement
thats artistically entwined in the very fabric of our society.
We can appreciate that on the face of it, for many people £50,000
is a lot of money to spend on a work of art - especially when it
involves the destruction of musical instruments, but good contemporary
art isnt cheap and it must be stated that both the Museum
and the artist made very proper and thorough investigations to ascertain
that the instruments themselves were destined to be scrapped by
the organisations that were approached and were beyond economic
Some people dont like contemporary art and the one organisation
who voiced their strong opinion about the so called lunatic
scheme to spend £50,000 of the V&As money was the
Churchill Society who were represented on the BBC Radio 4 Today
programme by Norman Harvey Rutherlyn.
Mr Rutherlyn was outraged by Cornelia Parkers work, the cost
and especially what he believed was the wanton destruction of instruments
that in his opinion could have been used by children whose parents
cannot afford to buy instruments. It made for an explosive exchange
We therefore made a few investigations into the background to the
affair to find out something a bit more about both parties.
Cornelia Parker is a renowned contemporary artist who was short
listed for the Turner Prize in 1997, has had works displayed at
the Tate modern and Serpentine Gallery as well as being Artist in
Residence at the Science Museum 1998-1999 and having her work in
collections with the Arts Council, The British Council, The British
Museum and the Saatchi Collection.
The Churchill Society was formed in 1990 ostensibly to research
the causes of war and terrorism. However, a little bit of research
finds that its first stated aim is To alert the British
public to the awesome consequences of their loss of Parliamentary
Sovereignty and to the loss of Sterling both matters that
Churchill would find unbelievable: and to this end, to foster patriotism
and a renewal of the ideals of the Commonwealth. Thats
a bit different to whats been doing the rounds.
The £50,000 work takes the form of a flattened brass band, suspended
on wires in a circular space that was once a solid floor between
galleries. As the work is suspended, it can be either viewed from
above or below and is described by the artist herself as A
vibrant working class tradition has been brought into the British
Galleries in the guise of a heraldic ceiling rose. I wanted to create
something that would explore the ideas of duality: light/dark, silence/noise,
upper class/lower class, the North/South divide, black cloud/silver
lining, death/resurrection. I see the work as a ghostly last gasp
of the British Empire.
The work uses 54 instruments that were purchased from the British
Legion and Salvation Army and were crushed into the required shape
and form by using one of the 22 tonne accumulators that hydraulically
raise and lower Tower Bridge.
Cornelia Parker stated that the artwork had not deprived any children
of needy instruments and that the decision to scrap them was taken
by the organisations involved. This is challenged by the Churchill
However, the fact remains that Cornelia Parker undoubtedly purchased
the instruments and that the organisations involved freely accepted
the payments for them. If, as has been stated by the Director of
the British Legion, there are weekly pleas for old instruments,
how come they were not handed directly to the Legion to be disposed
of before Cornelia Parker purchased them, or why werent the
Legion made aware that a request to purchase the was being made
and that whether or not the organisations involved could sell them
or whether they could be disposed of without financial recompense.
How come Cornelia Parker and the V&A get all the grief then?
What about asking a few questions of the organisations that found
themselves in a position that they just happened to have instruments
to sell but not to give away despite weekly pleas from their own
Director of Music?
The Churchill Society also stated that the lunatic scheme
involved £50,000 of public money wasted through the actions of the
Arts Council. Subsequently it was informed that the money came direct
from the V&A as part of a tradition that has involved the purchase
of works since 1852.
Mind you, the Churchill Society has a grave disliking of the so-called
Public Institutions such as the Arts Council and
In his Christmas Lecture of 1996 for the Society, Mr Rutherlyn outlined
is main objections to these organisations in these terms
To composers Radio 3 is an absolute totalitarian state
run a stylistic anti English closed shop and have for
years favoured foreign or homosexual composers He further
added that The homosexual ascendancy that has existed for
so long in the new music selection department must be controlled
..have favoured almost exclusively foreign and
homosexual composers. He describes the musical period 1955
to 2000 as The Deviancy Period. In addition, its tribute
to the life of Enoch Powell should leave you in no doubt to which
arm of the Conservative family it belongs.
The Arts Council is described as a bureaucratic nightmare
that is luxuriously housed,
lazy, overpaid, over pensionable
past masters at writing buck passing letters.
Just to show they are not out of touch with the so-called pop
music scene he answered his own rhetorical question, Who
actually finances pop music? by posing the answer Is
it funded from laundered drug money? Or is it the other way round?
Now you get a better picture of where they are coming from dont
you? Not the most liberal sympathetic attitude concerning sexuality
or nationhood is it?
Miss Parker and the V&A have done us a great favour. £50k is
a great deal of money, but in the great scheme of things its
peanuts compared to say the £12.5million pounds that was spent by
the National Lottery Heritage Fund to purchase the Churchill
Letters or the £14 million which has been used by brass bands
themselves to replace their own stock of instruments through the
National Lottery. Mind you just about every band created a Youth
Band so that the old instruments could be kept in useful existence
The brass band movement needs to be brought screaming and kicking
into the 20th let alone the 21st century in many ways, and the work
at the V&A has shown that when it comes to progress the banding
movement has a singularly Luddite mentality. The work
will be on show for many years and thousands will enjoy it. With
friends like the Churchill Society, Miss Parkers prescient
interpretation of the work as a ghostly last gasp of the British
Empire runs depressingly true.