Reviews Performance Published 4 June 2013

Art and Fame: What Celebrity Does to Identity?

Southbank Centre ⋄ 24 May

Jarvis Cocker vs Gavin Turk

Bojana Jankovic

It’s probably not that surprising that the Art and Fame: What Celebrity Does to Identity? discussion, chaired by Miranda Sawyer, and with Jarvis Cocker  and Gavin Turk attempting to unravel the mysteries of having a fanbase, revealed much more through subtext and performativity than through the actual dialogue. On the face of it, the talk which was part of the London Literature Festival, provided for an entertaining hour featuring Cocker’s cynical and astute social observations, Turk seemingly amused at being part of the conversation in the first place and Sawyer using her inside knowledge in attempts to avoid the cliched questions. Behind the obvious however, the discussion seemed relatively mundane compared to the dynamics created between the speakers. If a mythical creature unaware of the panel’s credentials (or indeed an average tenager) was to appear in the audience, they would have no problems discerning who amongst the trio has the fame-factor that recently made David Cameron pretend he witnessed that Brit Awards Incident.

While hearing Cocker talk about his ‘crazy years’, being chased by tabloids and Michael Jackson yet again is undoubtedly fun, seeing Turk’s interest in the topics is far more intriguing. Turk is a niche celeb compared to Cocker’s world-wide fame; more importantly Turk’s line of work means he was never in danger of being exposed to excessive amounts of teenage stalkers and paparazzi alike. As a result it seems the art household name has remained relatively intact, and the overall impression is that Turk doesn’t consider  himself as a subject of fame, choosing instead to subject it to artistic interpretation through his work. On the contrary and probably in response to decades of interviews, autographs, and general media attention, the legend of Jarvis Cocker has perhaps become a performance of Jarvis Cocker, at least when on stage with hundreds of people staring at him. His answers are a combination of avoidance and distraction with digressions looming everywhere – all this presumably so as to avoid the looping ‘who IS Jarvis Cocker…really’ question. In that, he manages to become a one-man answer to the question of celebrity meddling with identity: with the celebrity performing whenever in the open, the only identity on show is the public one. Whether or not the likes of Jarvis Cocker or Madonna (mentioned as the ‘real’ superstar) turn off a switch when no one’s looking will remain a secret.

Gavin Turk first became a known quantity when he put a heritage plaque on his RCA studio and called it his graduating piece; he then continued to subvert superstars, historical figures and his own signature as his practice developed to one heavily based on observing fame, rather than participating in it. Seeing him comfortably lounging in a sofa, gazing in the direction of one Jarvis Cocker, asking more questions than the discussion moderator, and probably making mental notes along the way, is perhaps more subtle but certainly equally as intriguing as noticing just how easy it is for Cocker to perform  – even if he is performing the casual version of himself. To get a different insight into the man behind Pulp tune into his Sunday Service, and see what difference a lack of a tangible audience makes.  To get a different insight into what celebrity does to identity, take one of the next 10 days to visit Turk’s latest exhibition.


Bojana Jankovic

Bojana Jankovic is one half of There There, a company composed of two eastern European theatre directors who turned from theatre to performance only to repeatedly question their decision. Before shifting to collaborative projects, she worked as a director and dramaturg on both classics and contemporary texts. She also wrote for Teatron, a Belgrade theatre magazine. She has a soft spot for most things pop, is surprisingly good at maths for a thespian, and will get back to learning German any day now.

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