MAPPA Dundee: The Presentation (2013)

ENTER ARTIST: DRESSED IN A JUMPER WITH A PENGUIN EMBLAZONED UPON IT; SHINING A TORCH IN HIS FACE; LIGHTS SWITCHED OFF IN GALLERY

‘Hello, my name is James Lee. I am an invited artist to the MAPPA project. Now, I know what you’re thinking: is this going be performance art or is this the reason there’s no wine left?

I should probably reassure you at this point I am actually usually quite good at this kind of thing. I understand your concerns, however. I’m standing here with a torch shinning in my face in a dark corner of a gallery. Admittedly, if you haven’t seen my work for the MAPPA exhibition this does not make very much sense. To explain, I’m actually playing a spectre of myself; a resurrected being

For my MAPPA project – the project that looks at how artists sustain themselves in Dundee- I ironically managed to kill myself.

I wrote my own obituary as you can see on the computer over there as a way of melodramatically placing a gravitas upon my existence that which had not been realised in my ‘real’ life.

Now, it may seem disrespectful to fake one’s own death in the same week when someone as significant & important as Nelson Mandela died, but I can assure you I didn’t plan it. His death that is. I can only apologise the Mandela family. And the nation of South Africa.

So what am I going to do tonight, whilst standing on this spot, with a torch in my face, wearing a penguin jumper? Well, logically, it’s obvious: I’m going to compare myself to Jesus for a bit, then I’m going to defend public art funding, then leave.

So you may have figured out for this project I actually faked my own death, I couldn’t therefore do this performance as James Lee, logically that would be impossible. In the context of MAPPA, James Lee is no more. Deceased. 

So what I am, that you see before you?  You’re all confused, I see, trying to work this out. To answer your question, I am the resurrection of James Lee. Therefore, a bit like what happened to Jesus after he came back from the dead, appearing to his peers in visions. They were not sure if they are seeing flesh & blood or a spectre. Don’t worry, Jesus’ disciples were unsure too what they were seeing- you are in good historical company. I will leave it open if what you are seeing is a flesh and blood resurrection of James Lee or a ghost.

I am not Jesus though, that is for others to decide.

Many people think that is a Stewart Lee joke. It’s not: it’s a Simon Munnery  joke. He stole it. So if anyone questions if I’ve stolen a lot of ‘moves’ from Stewart Lee, tell them that he stole his routine anyway.

But, now, I think it is pertinent now to point out similarities of my life and the life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a simple day labourer and artisan, which would have been regarded as one step up from a slave in 1st century Palestine. Much like the present day arts graduate. I basically built this performance around that gag. It’s all downhill from here, sorry.

Jesus, as Mark & Luke stated, was known as the Nazarean. Nazareth was a small, backwards town that could not support a day labour like Jesus- there was just not enough work. Like Jesus i am from a small town: Forfar. Many biblical scholars argue that Jesus probably began his working life – and started his ministry- in a city a day’s walk away from Nazareth, called Sepphoris.

I moved from Forfar and to a big city like Dundee to earn my crust, just like Jesus, but he did it in 1st century Palestine. He moved from the small town of Nazareth to the big cosmopolitan city of Sepphoris.

Now if Jesus was around today, in the U.K , as a day labourer or artisan, he wouldn’t life in that Glasgow or that London would he? He would come to Dundee, obviously.

Dundee & Sepphorris are quite similar places. Both by the sea, fishing heritage, all that. Jesus’ first disciples were talented fishermen. Dundonains are famous for chasing down a whale and clubbing it to death. How talented must we be as Dundonians to do such a feat, just like Jesus disciples? A whale: it’s just a big fish isn’t it?

Sepphoris is a day’s walk from Nazareth. Forfar is a day’s walk from Dundee, likewise. 

Sepphoris was a city of lavish baths, mosaics of nudes & public latrines. An artisan could ply a modest trade in this city, always in need of budding labourers.

Jesus was crucified for sedition, challenging Roman authorities. Much like what will happen to me. Being crucified, in front of his peers

I think however my mission to impart to you my disciples, I should use this opportunity to defend public arts funding. 

Without public funding this exhibition would not have happened. Council funded building, Creative Scotland supported project. My project was dreamt up and imagined as a response to the work I do at the publicly funded DCA. I also took out a lot about my work as a removals man because that was just really dull. I am supported by the DCA, by virtue of being an employee. That is my sustenance.

I sustain myself in non-economic ways by virtue of an artistic peer group providing feedback and guidance here at GENERATOR i.e. the committee of this place.

Public funding is important too because it can open up discussion, be a place for outsiders to have their voice heard, be a place for thought, serious though, but also to be a place of fun, that versatility, be inclusive- to build community. It can fundamentally be a site of resistance to art that is pro-market, or that is integrated into our neo-liberal hegemony.  A democracy should fund it’s own reasonable decent. Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking… ‘But Jesus got on fine and he wasn’t funded’ Jesus never had to fill in a Creative Scotland End of Project Monitoring form. Did he?

Well it didn’t end so well for Jesus. You might have heard. What they don’t tell you is that Jerusalem was burnt to the ground in 70 A.D by the Romans. The Jews – the Zealots- kept rebelling against Roman rule.  One of their major problems was a Romans statue, put in a synagogue. The Romans failed to realise that context is half the work; if only they had studied at Glasgow & If only the Romans used art as a form of cultural propaganda. The Romans brought it on themselves. The Zealots rebelled and Jerusalem was burnt to the ground.

I sustain myself by virtue of an artistic peer group providing feedback and guidance here at GENERATOR i.e. the committee of this place. I am supported by the DCA, by virtue of being an employee. That is my sustenance.

Now, doing this has no commercial future.

You are watching a man dressed in a penguin jumper, wearing a penguin hat, playing a spectre of his dead self, comparing himself to Jesus. This is a direct result of public funding however.

Therefore, If I am to defend public funding on the macro scale – which is quite easy- it has also to be defended on the micro scale: allowing idiots like me a chance to experiment.

So what am I doing here? I am defining the edges of art, creating a new pathway of artistic exploration,  unsettling taboos, hoping that what I do here can be integrated and trickle down into other forms of creativity that are going on in Dundee by virtue of this context. Defiantly rejecting the idea that art should be an asset first and fore most. Most importantly therefore, I am defending arts funding so that all the rest of you can get on with just being artists. The lamb of art.

Goodnight and thank you’