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Independent Glasgow, Wind-Up Tamworth

Ian Martin visits the Tamworth Biennale

MONDAY Submit my two big London Skyline Ideas to   the What Shall We Do With The London Skyline Ideas Competition.

  • Demolish everything higher than the Gherkin.
  • Picturesque, non-carcinogenic e-smog.

TUESDAY Day off. In the morning I recharge my ‘thought batteries’. Classic mistake. In the afternoon, like an idiot, assume I’m fully thought-charged when I’m not. I’ve plugged myself in but forgotten to switch myself on. Every bloody time.

I try to think really hard about the relevance of architecture today. What’s the point of truth and beauty when everyone just wants their own uniqueness? Why bother with shared ideals and civic values in an atomised, caramelised world?

Then I need the toilet and somewhere to charge my thoughts and before I know it I am in a pub with sockets and numbing conversation.

WEDNESDAY Oh dear, Holyrood and Westminster are locked in one of those ‘cultural wrestling’ contests. They’re both jostling to become the patrons of a reincarnated Glasgow School of Art. It’s a tricky choice. Would Glasgow rather be patronised by Edinburgh as usual or by London again?

I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Cultural wrestling is always ugly. Especially that ‘special’ cultural wrestling where the antagonists (who may perhaps have studied Classics at university) are naked. I shudder at the memory* of Nicholas Serota and Charles Saatchi grappling in the nude for nearly half an hour before umpires declared the match a hot and sticky draw. That horrible extended sucking noise their bodies made as they separated will haunt me for some time.

Who pays to put Mackintosh right? Dilemma: I’m currently a consultant to both Scotland AND England. My Five Point Plan:

1. London pledges a Qatari-level cash bribe for the restoration of the school, demonstrating the tribal nature of the Union and how independence would be a costly mistake.

2. Glasgow takes the money from London.

3. Edinburgh’s persuaded to cough up another trouserful.

4. Glasgow declares itself an independent city-state.

5. I invoice everybody.

THURSDAY Independence is in the air though, no doubt. And not just in Scotland. I travel today to Tamworth, the once and future capital of England, destined to lead a resurgent Mercia to new glories as long as it doesn’t go Ukip.

I’m here for the opening of the Tamworth Biennale. This is a mischievous, ironic counterpoint to the biennale in Venice and always attracts a mixed crowd. Architects making a statement about the validity of dreamed space. Artists who can’t afford to go to Venice. People who follow one another on Twitter. This weekend, Tamworth will be like Whitby Goth Weekend but with hipsters instead of goths.

I hate to sound disloyal, but it gets more ridiculous every year. The scowling curators, bitter at their lack of advancement and envious of the cleverness of proper curators, now simply use the Tamworth Biennale to mock and discredit. The Mercian Pavilion this year is called Wind-Up Tamworth. It features various pop-ups designed to wind up visitors so much that their irritation at the curators turns to grudging and then unconditional admiration. Biennale-wise it’s risky.

There’s a restaurant where you have to bring your own alcohol and table. A cinema showing films selected for their bleakness, pretension and tiny subtitles. A rare vegetable market with compulsory anecdotes delivered at high volume by jovial ‘characters from the allotments’. A Museum Of Sober Reflection On The Horrors Of War that includes a terrifying ‘blood flume’. A melancholy, empty marquee.

I’m not the only one who’s yearning for Tamworth to be actually as well as notionally the capital of England. Once London has spun itself into an irretrievable blur of fluid capital going up its own arse forever, Tamworth will rise, and perhaps we’ll get proper biennales instead of this cynical, vacant bollocks.

FRIDAY What a lovely surprise. Honoured to be made this year’s King of the Tamworth Biennale. The citation praises my support for Mercian architectural theory in general and for this year’s wind-up exhibits in particular.

My conscience offers a token resistance, but come on. Freedom of the city, all meals and drinks paid for? Nice and easy lies the head that wears the crown.

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist biennale football. Challenging Perception 3, Undermining Whole Point 2.

SUNDAY Recharge thought batteries, putting self on standby in the recliner.

*2011, Serpentine Gallery, Gentlemen’s Toilets.

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