Saturday was remarkable for the different approaches to engaging with the work that I found with others. Drawn into the dark space of the Messiah piece I saw three girls in their early teens sitting high up on the hay bales enjoying watching the video. They told me they liked the singing and music and just being in the space especially since there weren’t many places in Bexhill they could go to just ‘hang out’. They didn’t believe in God and had long ago stopped believing in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. I asked them how they had felt about finding out that they had been told untruths but they just shrugged their shoulders and seemed rather non-plussed at my suggestion that they might have minded this.

Next, a guy called Dave Minton sought me out to talk to about the exhibition. Dave is currently engaged in painting dead birds perhaps as a way of keeping death at bay and we laughed about how we are all hurtling towards that inevitable end. A kind of circularity was taking shape within our conversation as we tried to deconstruct the way in which the ‘Tombs of Christ’ drawings had been made. This dizzying movement around and through sources of origin, none of which could be found to be ‘true’ reminded us of the spiral form in which the texts are laid out in the ‘Ways the World Ends’ pieces. Dave and I discussed many aspects of art-making, including the fears which it arouses. I suggested to Dave that the attempt to think bigger than one’s capacity to understand might be an ordinary part of human life and that it was sad how this gets pathologised in our society as a disorder as one of the characters in the Hadron Collider works explains has happened to him. Dave spoke at this point about the class system and how sometimes having particular thoughts or questions or ideas can clash with the set of behaviours that are acceptable within a particular social class and that one can appear, or fear appearing, ‘silly’ if one voices them. I was glad that we had got onto talking about class as a very important factor in how our ideas are shaped.

Those who showed up for tea upstairs were Dave, a guy called Alex from Croydon (with friend), two women Olive and Elizabeth and the three girls I had spoken to on the hay bales. Olive and Elizabeth loved the Messiah piece saying how good it was to hear and see the words of scripture because they are declared so rarely in everyday British life. Now, one of the first rules of gallery education work is that no opinion about the work is ‘wrong’. So, if Olive and Elizabeth read Grayson’s work as an all-singing all-dancing, welcome affirmation of the Word of God then who was I to put them ‘right’? They will never see how I think the piece works because the biblical words which appear in the work, in all their terrifying power, are how they wish to read them anyway, complete with the terror and the power. Does the fact that Grayson’s work can be so wholly enjoyed at face value mean that it ‘fails’ as a critique of belief systems? Surely not, rather that Grayson leaves things open enough for multiple interpretations to be possible and valid. With one hand on young Virginia’s shoulder (Virginia was the youngest of the group and was still at Junior school) Olive spoke movingly to her of the preciousness of children and in the next breath, to substantiate her point, was quoting a verse from the Bible about hanging whilst figuring a noose about her neck. I was stunned but held back. Let this group of people be, I thought. Let us all see how we get on, let us observe how each of us is with the others and still be determined somehow to keep deciding to live together. Virginia looked rather baffled by Olive but demonstrated the usual resilience of youth in the face of adult behaviour and carried on drinking her tea and happily telling us about life in Bexhill.

It was a warm, enjoyable, interesting, friendly occasion shot through with a vein of pure violence courtesy of the scripture. Words. “Sticks and Stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. How good that we learn that small rhyme in childhood! How it opens up for each of us a space between language and experience that allows us to assess a situation or a person and judge whether the words alone can really cause any harm or not. We can decide for ourselves, mostly. And this is the right that we must all protect. Elizabeth had a little riddle for us: an agreeable person agrees so what is a person like who disagrees? Why, disagreeable of course.

I, for one, retain the right to be as disagreeable as I please.

More tea, anyone?

If you would like to find out more about Dave Minton’s work you are very welcome to take a look at his website:

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Friday 12 February 2010