As a recovering art student some of my favourite words to see on entering an exhibition are “do not look too hard for meaning”. So I won’t.
Grayson Perry has created and curated an absorbing and effective show with the British museum in mind. The experience is unusually reflexive with work about the show itself, You Are Here, a gleaming ceramic which welcomes you into the exhibition beautifully illustrates the people you see around you, and probably you/myself too with characters defined by their speech bubbles “i come to everything he does”… “I just wandered in”.
I quickly learn that Grayson Perry was born and grew up in Chelmsford, Essex at the same time as my mum. I make a mental note to ask her about this later. The imaginary world he creates is a simple childlike mechanism to escape his reality but it is clear as this ulterior world develops its own symbols, motifs and story’s the two existences collide and intermingle. There is no clean divide between the real and the imaginary for Grayson you sense he never fully returned to Chelmsford and this escape into a world of his own design has continued all his life. I contemplate how my mum also never returned to Chelmsford, though she chose to escape to Surrey.
I won’t look too hard for meaning. I will look at the effects and not the cause. The experience is notably funny, not the kind of restrained and cultured funny familiar to the museum- muffled chuckles of the historically informed, nor the school children’s sniggering at renaissance breasts, but genuinely humorous. Humour is created in the unexpected, like the Bodyguard helmet with the teddybears face.
The god of Grayson’s world is his bear, Alan Measles. The biblical story behind his name, “Alan was the name of my best human friend, and I had measles”.
The area I found most interesting was the Shrines. Though the work seemed consistently icon like this section focussed specifically o the act of worship and direction of feelings towards objects. His shrines to Alan Measles nestle seamlessly with portable shrines from all over the world and throughout various ages. Time is irrelevant, like Grayson says, “reality can be new as well as old” and “everything I the British museum was once contemporary”, statements which gently led my thoughts on viewing each item
His concern with themes of pilgrimage, shrines and souvenirs seems apt with the new arrival of Hajj- journey to the heart of Islam, but perhaps they are just apt full stop.
Souvenirs from my pilgrimage.