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Mark McGowan, 'On the Road to a Miracle'
House Gallery, and various parts of South London

Gavin Bower
posted 30 March 2005

In his latest performance piece, the inimitable Mark McGowan kicked a crackhead through London. Starting at the House Gallery in Camberwell, Mark booted the crackhead to Peckham and on towards New Cross, Brockley, Forest Hill, and East Dulwich, before finally arriving back in Camberwell at the Maudsley Hospital Detox. Here, having been kicked for seven miles over ten days, the haggard object of Mark's satirical sadism was given help.

Despite what this sounds like, Mark is thoroughly likeable in person. He's also a notorious pariah of the official art world, with quite a history as a protestor. He took on class prejudice towards cleaners - while he was, naturally, working as a cleaner - by rolling through London in his marigolds; he remonstrated over the insidious expansion of the bus-lane by dragging a bus for thirty metres with his toe; he pushed a monkey nut with his nose to Downing Street, as a metaphor for the financial predicament of students; and he single-handedly confronted obesity by walking around London with a turkey on his head, shouting at fat people to stop eating bad food.

For 'On the Road to a Miracle', Mark held interviews to find a crackhead willing to volunteer for his scornful parody of the treatment of addicts. Mark also mused over what position this personification of rock-bottom should take while being impelled by the artist's Doc Martens. He finally settled on the foetal position, thus allowing the crackhead to appear suitably penitent and deserving of help. Though ostensibly banal, 'On the Road to a Miracle' manages to make a clear and unpretentious point. By depicting an objectified drug-fiend being physically beaten into submission, Mark satirises the actions of a society in which desperate individuals - whether drug addicts, beggars, or the homeless - are coerced and expected to suffer before being given help. Mark sets out to arouse empathy for the subject among a previously uncaring public, and succeeds in vividly portraying an addict as someone not only needing but also deserving our help.

Perhaps predictably, Mark's work is often met with contempt. After all, he's a self-confessed attention-seeker who consistently uses the most ridiculous means to make a point. Nevertheless, he does, at least, have a point to make. Mark has frequently remarked that he would like to see more artists working in the street than in the gallery, if only to make art relevant. Rather than being yet another example of the 'But is it Art?' phenomenon, therefore, Mark's conceptual work has more in common with traditional street art, bringing art to the public in order to address local issues. For those tired of the truly banal, sterile furnishings of the out-dated gallery space - and for those unconvinced by the equally trite 'Live Art' - Mark's work offers hope. His latest effort, 'On the Road to a Miracle', is no exception, succeeding as an uncomplicated allegory for tough love and the shameful treatment of the shameless.

'On the Road to a Miracle' started on 21 March at the House Gallery, 70 Camberwell Church Street, London, ending on 30 March.


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