Alternative Gallery Tour with Harry Hill

With the current Cornerhouse exhibition – David Shrigley’s HOW ARE YOU FEELING? – being very much focussed upon participation, it was the ideal opportunity to return to last year’s successful format of an alternative gallery tour with someone able to cast a fresh light upon the work on display. Barbara Nice would be a tough act to follow, her seemingly clueless but ultimately sharp-as-a-tack schtick having gone down a storm as she equipped visitors with feather dusters and requested they keep an eye out for mucky pictures taken during her glamour modelling days.

One name that kept popping up in one form or another was that of the TV comic Harry Hill (Harry Hill’s TV Burp, You’ve Been Framed), with whom I’d already collaborated for 2011’s The People You’re Not: Harry having initiated a starter proposal which I then picked as part of the intended, creative baton-chain to add my own interpretation through to realisation, recreating key scenes from George Cruickshank’s The Worship of Bacchus (1860-2) through a series of toy theatres of differing dramatic styles, populated by a cast of drunken celebrities drawn from fact and fiction.

With Harry having previously been interviewed by David Shrigley for his own exhibition, My Hobby, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, the pair already had a knowledge and interest in each other’s work. Harry own aura of irreverence and on-pulse style of satire matches David’s keenly observed deprecatory and dysfunctional aesthetic, so it was a no-brainer… but would Harry be up for it? Despite a hectic writing schedule he was able to squeeze us in, and not just one tour but three across the same day, the better to accommodate the surge of public interest.

Harry was accompanied by Jan Van Der Burke, his ventriloquist dummy assistant and supposed former flatmate of David’s during their bean-eating art school days. It soon became clear that Jan was more than a little bit embittered, blaming David for stealing his own ideas. That giant gong? Allegedly inspired by Jan’s predilection for liquorice wheels, while The Life Model in all its naked glory (admittedly bearing a family resemblance) dates back to an incident when David walked in on Jan soaking in the bath, or so the mealy-mouthed sidekick would have us believe.

Participants were challenged to lug The Burden, bang The Gong, thrust their bonce through Peephole, recline upon the Napping Stations and imitate David’s childlike yet pithy, poo-obsessed illustrations, creating a fake group work to pass off as legitimate to unknowing visitors. Each tour culminated in a catwalk drawing presentation where winners paraded with their own attempts at drawing the giant model, plus for one lucky group an impromptu musical interlude: a spontaneous song on the subject of David Shrigley to the musical accompaniment of Hey Jude.

As with Barbara Nice, the tours were a smash and further supported the need and wish for talking about creative practice via more accessible methods, with so many would-be visitors feeling disenfranchised by the alien word salad that surrounds contemporary art. I’m already thinking of a couple of do-we-dare-approach guests for some of next year’s exhibitions. Comedy has worked well, but there’s a musician, an actor and a former supermodel that may be suited to some upcoming themes… fingers crossed! Huge thanks again to Harry Hill for his incredible generosity and support.

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