Thursday, March 15, 2007

Remembering Kurt Cobain: We Hated Ourselves and Wanted To Die

Painstakingly blacking in band names on desks and copy books until every detail of a font face was engrained in my brain was certainly a habit that passed maths classes. Looking back these never strike me as more than glorified doodles. Alongside an NME special poster pull out of Kurt some of these are still etched into a panel on my bedroom wardrobe in my parents' house.

This very teenage art form of obsessive, almost mantra like dedication to particular cult celebrities is revisted by Jenny Brady and Eilis McDonalds. Two Dublin based artists who have organised an exhibition billing itself as a tribute to Kurt Cobain. So if you ever hated yourself and wanted to die as a teenager, then stopping by this exhibition is a must - you can disguise the sudden reawakening of memories of your earnest teenage self in irony if it fits. The opening of the exhibition took place upstairs on the same night as Electronic Resistances last gig, while dribbling like a retard in the wee hours an interview with the artists Eilis McDonald and Jenny Brady was well in order.

Why did you decide to do an exhibition in tribute to Kurt Cobain?

EILIS: Jenny and I were discussing suicide pacts at an exhibition opening and the conversation turned to Kurt Cobain, and we realised he was a really important early teenage obsession - the first grown up who fascinated us - inspiring these careful pencil drawings, melodramatic poetry, and scrawled journals... For some people thats the last time they sit down to make art, for others its the first time they take making art seriously.

JENNY: The kind of aspect of 'teen art' that interests me is that it seems to be a totally different impulse to the way I make art now. I don't even think that I thought what I was making was art when drawing pictures of Kurt on copybooks etc. It seems to be more of an innocent impulse where the only motivation is allowing yourself to spend time thinking about that person. It's kind of an exercise in obsession.

EILIS: We figured a lot of our peers probably had the same experiences, and we wanted to celebrate the vitality of that first expressive teenage art as much as we wanted to re-visit our old Kurt obsessions.

Is the exhibtion a piss take, steeped in irony or is there part of you that thinks its worth commemorating Kurt?

EILIS: The exhibition is quite sincere. We were aware of how it could come across as a joke, or immature, and that didn't really bother us. We knew some people would get it, and some people wouldn't. I think most people who saw the show got it.

The idea of commemorating someone like Kurt is a really confusing concept, and thats why I really wanted to do this exhibition. There's so much going on with the idea of a tribute to Kurt because he was so vocal about hating his celebrity status, but at the same time he feared being forgotten. Recently I've been really interested in that kind of moral confusion - believing in one thing while being unable or unwilling to avoid participating in its reverse. I think most Kurt Cobain fan art is trapped in that confusion.

JENNY: Yeah, I can see how the show could be interpreted as a piss-take and i think there are certain elements concerning celebrity and worship which we've attempted to undermine but essentially we're genuinely intrigued by the kind of artwork made by fans and feel that there's a kind of intensity to it that's quite unique.

EILIS: Yeah, there's an undiluted enthusiasm in it that I admire because as you get older it usually gets complicated by cynicism and art college.

Where does the vintage teenage art on display come from?

EILIS: We put the word out about our plans for the exhibition, and some friends gave us their old drawings. We also spent a lot of time on Kurt Cobain fan sites and YouTube and found a lot of people still making crazy Kurt Cobain art, and other people still proud of Kurt art they made ten years ago.

Figures like Kurt Cobain tend to inspire an obsessive fanaticism among teenagers - why was/is there such an identifaction with him and are there any comparable figures today?

EILIS: I think Kurt Cobain had an amazing charisma that's hard to find. He's kind of an eternal teenager. He was a master of apathetic melodrama - a kind of "yeah, I'm completely emotionally tortured, but.. whatever.." attitude that is achingly cool. To me Kurt Cobain isn't really a person who ever existed, he's like a fictional figure thats a part of my past, like an old imaginary friend, but one that I happen to share with millions of other people my age. I think its much easier and more rewarding to be fanatical about a dead celebrity than a living one. There's only a limited amount of information and photographs to look at, and then you get to imagine the rest yourself.

JENNY: I kind of wonder what how this kind of fanaticism would have been affected had he not committed suicide and how much this kind of 'cult of martyrdom' has affected such obsessions. These kind of stories are great fodder for documentary makers and biographers as they seem to allow myths surrounding these figures to escalate. It seems that teenagers are more susceptible and/or willing to buy into these myths.

EILIS: I can't think of any comparable figures today. I'm not sure if thats because I'm older and I'm not really interested in celebrities, or if its because popular culture and the music industry has changed so much since the early 90s. With the charts being so diverse, and the music industry getting more democratic, and everyone having huge music collections, I'm not sure its possible anymore for one persons death to affect so many people on the scale Kurt Cobain's did.

The show opened last and runs by appointment until Kurt's anniversary, the 5th of April. For more information email and check out this for more info.

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