Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Vacuum

logo of The Vacuum free-sheet

The Vacuum free-sheet is in fine form in their December 2009 issue which can be found at all good arts venues (including just in the door of the Black Box).

Despite receiving funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland – or is that the Arts Cooncil o’ Ulster? – the editors have no hesitation in questioning the role of ACNI and their arms-length bosses at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Newton Emerson pulls no punches with his analysis of the Assembly’s Committee for Culture Arts and Leisure and their recent inquiry into funding of the arts. In How to Dole Out the Dosh, he explains:

“[The report] began with comparisons of arts funding per head between Northern Ireland and other regions and countries, and within Northern Ireland between council districts and census areas. Most participants agreed that this was largely meaningless, not least because there are no accurate overall figures for arts funding in Northern Ireland. But it got things off to a reassuringly statistical and mechanistical start.”

Snippet from The Vacuum - Issue 44 (December 2009) - Art

Next the DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland came up against the censor’s pen and the cartoonist’s pencil in Stephen Mullan’s article.

“This page was supposed to contain an article describing a day in the life of Nelson McCausland. Unfortunately our legal advisors have told us that we can’t publish it without the likelihood of being sued. Rather than join the queue of scientists, novelists, doctors and academics at the doors of the libel courts we have decided instead to direct you to Mr. McCausland’s own writings. We believe that in many ways they cannot be improved upon for comedy, an effect only enhanced by the knowledge that they were not intended as a joke and were written by our Minister of Culture.”

There is a spread of (fictitious?) letters over two pages to agony aunt art doctor Orme O’Bakery, including one that touches on the buoys outside the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus, and the subject of a blog post or two on AiB:


I would like a convincing explanation of the sculptures outside Belfast Art College. Do they represent trees? Inverted buoys representing a nautical past? Thanks, Neil Clavin.

Dear Neil,

I have to ask how hard you’ve looked for the ‘convincing’ explanation that you crave? You could, for instance, have taken the trouble to glance at the plaques that were installed at the base of the three sculptures when they were first officially unveiled.

I’m not sure why you think the buoys are inverted: how would their distinct shapes be discernible in the water, if they were all the other way up? Also I understand that Capt Robert McCabe, of the Commissioners of Irish Lights (who maintain the navigational lights around the coast of Ireland) is not very happy at the colours that the buoys were painted (they were given a fresh coat only this year) ...

There’s even a review of Grimes and McKee’s play Howl! that so under-amused me in the Lyric at Elmwood Hall before Christmas.

Snippet from The Vacuum - Issue 44 (December 2009) - Making Potato Men

But perhaps the most satisfying section was on page 9 (though The Vacuum doesn’t number the pages). It featured

“a small selection of illustrations from the encyclopaedia Taxonomie des Activité Artistique et Non-artistique du Monde, the ongoing work of Fergus Mackerel, North East Education and Library’s Board’s Assistant Director of Technical Services ... Mr. Mackerel is currently in negotiation with Cullybacky Council concerning the publication of the finished work.”

The page was illustrated with line drawings, but I’ll give you a few examples of what they illustrated:

  • Activities which are artistic: making potato men

  • Snippet from The Vacuum - Issue 44 (December 2009) - Training a crow to recite the Good Friday Agreement
  • Activities which are artistic when sponsored by a city council: training a crow to recite the Good Friday Agreement

  • Types of jam making which are artistic: when made from radioactive berries, when made with a cement mixer

  • Activities which are artistic when conducted in an art gallery: bricklaying, being shot in the arm

  • Activities which were artistic in the nineteenth century: tuberculosis

  • Activities which are not artistic: mayoral portraiture

Pick up a copy next time you see one. It’ll tickle, amuse, shock and annoy you ... all in one free paper.

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