[The Cunning Tower by Kim Davis: November 22, 2011]
It has been Stewart Home month in New York. Not officially, of course. There's not much official about Stewart. For me he provides reassurance that my generation (okay, he's a couple of years younger) understand the world. Oh, and how to change it, of course.
After all, changing the world should be easy enough. As easy as standing on your head. In a strip club.
His own history of this avant garde is preserved in his outstanding first book The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War (1988), an aggressive stomp through the European art/politics underground, taking account of Dada, Surrealism, the Situationists, punk and everything else along the way. It's an invaluable source book as well as an articulate record of the underground's repeated absurdities and failures.
He instantly emerged as a novelist, continuing his personal assault on culture in a series of books which parody the sex'n'violence skinhead pulp fiction of the '70s, overlaid with obscure parodies of the Communist novelist Edward Upward. The main theme of all the work, however, is a sharp critique of the anarchist grouplets which had formerly considered him one of their own.
At a remote Twelfth Avenue strip club on a recent evening, Stewart performed passages from his books, both while standing on his head and as a ventriloquist.
He preceded this by shredding a brand new paperback copy of one of his novels, page by page, explaining that it was worth more as a unique, shredded, signed art object than as a book.
I'd visited a retrospective exhibition at the White Columns gallery earlier the same day. In addition to vitrines containing rare copies of Smile and records of various actions, visitors could also watch a video of Stewart explaining the Art Strike and see the bed on which he'd reclined during the strike. In the "years without art" - 1991-1994, as I recall - Stewart had ceased all artistic production. This permitted a recalibration of his subjectivity, as well as posing a challenge to the commodification of creativity as a whole.
Once back at work, the novels came in a steady stream. They were on display at the gallery. The titles alone are poetic:
Pure Mania, 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, Come Before Christ and Murder Love, Defiant Pose. Blow Job, Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie.
The climax of the WestSide reading was a pounding performance of the main character's climax from one of his novels as he floats on a boat down the Thames, engaging in some kind of polymorphous sexual activity while London burns around him. Derek Jarman should have lived to film it.
Our hero rode into the Manhattan Night.