Saint Artist Taxi Driver

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Saint Genet concerns the French playwright and occasional thief Jean Genet, and at one point claims that it is a goal of his works to lead ‘others to declare that “the thief is a Saint”.’ That Genet ‘ha[d] to steal in order to live’ is a contributory factor to this called-for canonisation. The Artist Taxi Driver – the performance artist Mark McGowan’s latest and most popular charactorial creation – fervently opposes thievery, on the other hand. But a different kind of thievery, State-sanctioned thievery: a theft which, in contrast, he claims, rather steals in order to kill, to inhibit, and to force attrition. The current world-economic situation the Artist Taxi Driver describes as ‘not a recession, it’s a robbery’; the title of the feature-length film he’s planning, of over 50 interviews from inside, or out of, his taxi.

Mark McGowan, through his creation of the character of the Artist Taxi Driver, has been charged with accusations of being a conspiracy theorist, and dismissed on grounds of ranting, but what he is actually providing us with today is an embodiment of Walter Benjamin’s call at the end of his famous essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility’. Here Benjamin discusses the ‘aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism’, and claims that ‘communism replies by politicizing art.’ To find this comment’s relevance today we do not have to stray too far: in what’s been called George Osborne’s ‘Wonga budget’, we see the chancellor of the exchequer (again) buddying-up to those being ripped off whilst covering up those who are feeding at the trough (to put it in the Artist Taxi Driver’s words, his favourite epithet of which tends to be ‘pig’). The aestheticisation going on here is thoroughly modern. This is no longer a beautification of the war machine as it is, such as had been seen in 1930s fascist trends, particularly that of the artistic movement Futurism, but rather a cosmetic correction of its image and branding in an attempt to render this image appealing to political punters. As Deleuze and Guattari would put it in A Thousand Plateaus, it’s the demonstration of the reversal of Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum, to now read: ‘politics is the continuation of war by any means’. How seven-day JSA queues and the selling of the student loan book, with the possibility of a retroactive interest-rate carte-blanche, will really look, of course remains to be seen …

Thus, to all of this, the Artist Taxi Driver’s constant barrage of opposition, even in the the form of his expletive-laden rants – grounds which those who want to criticise him will dismiss him on – is a reply, as the politicisation of art. The repeated catchwords of ‘pigs, robbery, genociders, etc.’, delivered in his informational news reportage slot from his taxi, the ‘BBC SuCks O cocks News’, addresses the perceivable dearth of such a stance in today’s art-world, long noted at least since the days of Bob Dylan’s protest songs, or Bertolt Brecht’s theatre. Although Chunky Mark – as he has been known in the art-world of the past 20 years – has been around a while, it’s this incarnation as the Artist Taxi Driver that brings Benjamin’s demand for what art is to do to today’s situation, in the most visceral of manners. The manners of a saint? The Artist Taxi Driver is certainly closer to them than to those of pigs, who, in Obama’s famous phrasing, it remains the task of the government to ‘put lipstick on’.

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