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Ian Martin: Cultural bearings

Ian Martin
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Architecture is now the official and autonomous mascot of hung-parliamentary culture

MONDAY As expected, I am summoned to Downing Street to discuss Where We Go From Here, Culturally Speaking.

It’s not as straightforward as you might think. A lot of panicky noise coming from Number Ten at the moment. When I arrive, the ‘ideas room’ is febrile, and jammed with a pretty eclectic crowd of opinionated culture-formers. Digital farmers. Community arts wardens. Knighted tabloid types. Overdressed vicars. Satirical potters. Property developers in vintage clothes. YouTube ‘gloggers’. Teenage politicians. There’s even an AI singer-songwriter in robot form. 

No architects though. Odd, as they usually beat the traffic on their fold-up bicycles.

Our direction of travel, culturally speaking, is by no means settled. ‘I am clear,’ says the prime minister via videolink, ‘that Culture is Culture. That is all I will say on the matter.’ The screen goes blank, a second after she does. Well, says Big Sharon, the prime minister’s press secretary, a powerful message there from the incumbent PM…

It would be logical for us to be going forwards from here. But these are strange and culturally volatile times. Should we then strive to go backwards, wonders a junior minister from the department of entertainment. No, says Sharon, firmly. Our opponents want to take the country backwards, culturally speaking, and we are very clear that we do not want to go there.

The anti-gay Ulster miserabilists have turned up downstairs, so it’s no alcohol and heavy soda bread sandwiches

Is there any merit, wonders a conceptual artist who got a CBE last year, in culturally moving sideways? Could that be a thing? Ooh, ooh, says an experimental theatre director. Culture could maybe shift laterally for a bit, then move back to where it was? This idea is dismissed as frankly absurd and, like many theatre productions, slightly longer than is strictly necessary.

Lunch is very dull. The anti-gay Ulster miserabilists have turned up downstairs and Number Ten has to put on bit of a show, so it’s no alcohol and heavy soda bread sandwiches. Everyone’s now speculating aloud about the future of culture, and suggesting even wilder destinations. A ballistic trajectory? A horizontal slide? A complicated chess move ‘eg castling?’

Then Big Sharon announces that culture will for the foreseeable future be represented by architecture. So that’s why there are no architects. No need. They finally did it. All those years of arguing that their institutions represent not venal commercial interests but the noble art of epic space itself have finally paid off. Architecture, mother of the arts and economic bellwether, is now the official and autonomous mascot of hung-parliamentary culture. 

Sharon holds up a hand in caveat. Just London, though. Let’s concentrate on the big shiny lumps, yes? While we get our cultural bearings. We might create similar lumps on the skyline to represent our culture. Or lumps that are a little different? More lumps, but in the same place, if you will.

An air of bafflement. So where then are we to go from here, culturally speaking? Nowhere, warns Sharon, menacingly. Nowhere. The consensus is that we remain where we are culturally for the time being and just, you know, harden.

TUESDAY Oh thanks very much, geopolitics. After years of co-operation with the Qatari monarchy, suddenly my massive stadium – Doha World Cup Football Vagina – is ‘on hold’. 

Should have ignored HRH when he advised me to suck up to his mates. All that guff about noblesse oblige and it turns out the Qatari royal family couldn’t give a toss about little people, like him.  

WEDNESDAY Dragged along by a very emotional and soberly-dressed Darcy to some weird Gothic dog hospital in north London. Bit distracted to be honest, waiting to hear if my Basildon Pompidou’s got the green light.

We’re visiting Darcy’s muse, the architectural dachshund Bauhau, who’s been under the weather lately. Bauhau can’t stand. He’s also lost his voice, so it’s not all bad news.  

THURSDAY Sketch out proposals for a Tamworth Low Line, reflecting its likely budget. Basically an old railway cutting, left alone for atmosphere, with selfie points and a ‘grilled cheese’ kiosk.

FRIDAY Darcy calls. Bauhau’s ‘worsening’. Oh, has he got his voice back? Darcy rather rudely cuts me off. 

SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist allegorical football. Unelectable Trad 1, Ineluctable Modern 2.

SUNDAY Research in the recliner. I Google the weird dog hospital, which turns out to be a hospice. Oh my God, no – I didn’t get the Pompidou gig!

Epic Space, an anthology of Ian Martin’s columns for the AJ, is published by Unbound

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