The Independent OCTOBER 19, 2008 - by Andrew Johnson & Ian Johnston


A London gallery asks a host of artists to bare their souls and share their own philosophies.

Without art," said George Bernard Shaw, "the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable." Perhaps this is what fifty artists had in mind yesterday when they began laying down their manifestos for the twenty-first century.

Gilbert and George, Yoko Ono and Mark Wallinger were among the most prominent of those offering their insights into the important things in life this weekend at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

Today, the musician Brian Eno and the ninety-one-year-old historian Eric Hobsbawm will offer up their personal manifestos or, in Hobsbawm's case, anti-manifestos. Yesterday, Dame Vivienne Westwood told art lovers: "We have a choice to become more cultivated and therefore more human," in a twenty-page pamphlet called Active Resistance to Propaganda.

So, what can they offer to lead us through the complexities of a globalised world on the brink of recession? Gilbert and George reiterated their manifesto from 1969, the Laws Of Sculptors, which includes the rules: "Always be smartly dressed, well groomed, relaxed and friendly, polite and in complete control"; "Make the world to believe in you and to pay heavily for this privilege"; "Never worry, assess, discuss or criticise, but remain quiet, respectful and calm"; and, "The Lord chisels still, so don't leave your bench for long". "Ban religion," they added for good measure.

The pair, who once complained of being ignored by the British art establishment, also told art lovers that they took their cue from a 1909 music-hall song written by Fred Barnes. "It's a queer queer world we live in," the song goes. "I'm the black sheep of the family / Everybody runs me down / People shake their head at me / Say that I'm a disgrace to society."

Before reading from their manifesto they told The Independent on Sunday they had attempted to live their lives by their manifesto's values, but did not expect others to follow their example.

"We always make for ourselves, not for others," the duo said. "We did quite well for our manifesto. It worked. Religion is criminal. It brings about murder and suicides as we speak. Milosevic killed fewer people than the Pope with his condom and sex policies.

"All religions - Islam, the Catholic Church - they have all been at it for generations. And they are trying to bring it all back. Only artists free themselves from the tyrannies of religions."

They added: "We have many manifestos, like never go to our neighbour's house. No theatre, we've not been to the cinema since 1976. We don't want to be brain polluted. This helps us remain normal and weird at the same time, which is what an artist has to be."

Today, Brian Eno is due to set out his principles, among which is a call for a new political party called the Thank You Party.

"It will be for congratulating people for things they're doing right rather than criticising people for things they're doing wrong," he said. "There's too much cynicism in the world. I like manifestos... They are one of the few times in the art world when people say anything with articulacy and people can understand what they are saying."

For nearly a century, artists have baffled the public with ever stranger works and obscure musings about life, the universe and everything. Nevertheless, the so-called manifestos of the likes of the Dadaists, Surrealists and Futurists have had a profound effect on Western culture. The Futurist manifesto, which told the world "Beauty exists only in struggle", is credited with helping to drag Western art into the twentieth century.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of exhibitions at the Serpentine, explained that the aim of the project, now in its third year, was to try to reintroduce the idea of manifestos into the art world. He added that the gallery's setting in Hyde Park was apt because of the park's association with free speech.

"Manifestos have played a very important role throughout the twentieth century up to the 1960s, particularly in the avant-garde," he said. "It's interesting that now a new generation of artists is beginning to do it. So we've invited a line up of legends and younger artists to revive the manifesto. Eric Hobsbawm will be speaking against the idea of the manifesto, however."