Cigarette in anus: British art reaches a new high

Art does a lot of things. It follows money, it mirrors pains and ills of society, it highlights insights into issues that people are concerned with, it entertains, it provides an emotional kick, and, ultimately, it makes us happier or smarter, and the latter is often achieved by art that is disturbing or disgusting. Art can be ugly, but if it makes us think about something important, it’s accomplished its mission. Some intellectuals believe art also can make us better but that’s hard to prove because “better” is a tricky notion to define, and history provides too many cases of art lovers who were really bad people.

When art makes us wow in awe, we say it’s great art. When art leaves us indifferent, we are tempted to say it’s not art, or it’s bad art, because we feel it stole our time, the most precious commodity.

Anyway, art is usually connected in some way, whether in its message or benefit, to the living observer.

I don’t know any other country were this connection would be as broken as it is in Britain today.

I can’t explain Britain’s choice of Sarah Lucas as its representative at the Venice Biennale. I am curious to know why she is believed to be the best of Britain today.

This is why I was happy to discover an interview with the British Council’s Richard Riley, who curated the exhibition. I thought, perhaps, he is providing all the answers! Perhaps, I just don’t see some obvious connection between Sarah Lucas and the needs, values, thoughts, or aspirations of the British public.

Having read it, I must admit I enjoyed it, if not as an answer, then as the summit of meaninglessness, climbed by the interviewer so professionally I felt I was asking the questions myself.

See for yourself how the British Council’s Richard Riley justifies splashing out taxpayer’s money on making Sarah Lucas the face of Britain. Try to enjoy it, though it may be a tad difficult if you pay taxes in the UK.

First, he is asked what’s the meaning of the show’s title: “I SCREAM DADDIO”.

Good start. I’d be interested to know that too.

Mr Riley replies, “With this show, the title I SCREAM DADDIO is three words”.

Really?! Why did your parents name you Richard Riley? – That’s because with my name, Richard Riley is two words.

But wait, Mr Riley has more to say. “It’s a play on words: The I SCREAM – as in the desert ice cream – and the DADDIO is just a kind of funny, throwaway piece of beach slang and the I SCREAM DADDIO is kind of a memorable play on words.”

No, that’s not a play on words, that’s a silly combination of letters without, as it appears, any meaning related to the artworks.

These two words are three words.
Earth without art is eh.
S(he) be(lie)v(ed).

This is a play on words.

Anyway, we won’t get any better idea from Mr Riley, who’s just got bored by linguistics and decided to talk about colour instead.

Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015. Photo by Cristiano Corte (© British Council)

Richard, just so that you know, you could say that of almost any artist. Monet used yellow throughout his career.  Yellow so much punctuated Van Gogh’s career that it finally killed him, through the habit of licking his brush with poisonous yellow paint on it. If Sarah Lucas loves this kind of yellow, and does not take it internally, it’s fine. It doesn’t explain why the whole show is yellow. I am sure she likes other colours as well.

Mr Riley goes on to say, “…the wonderful yellow emanating from the building puts you in a good frame of mind”.

Does it? I mean yellow doesn’t always work the same on everyone. A soccer player wandering into this room may get a panic attack. A Sun reporter, as a yellow press representative, would probably feel a compulsive need to share a gossip inside it. This kind of yellow puts me in the mind for Dijon mustard. With grape seeds in it, you know. Why is it “wonderful”? What wonder does it create? Dijon mustard is a small wonder when the steak is bad, but not in itself.

Oh, and why is it “emanating”? Is it radioactive?

Richard, if you stage a show and can’t explain why it has a strange name and is all yellow, you probably didn’t pay much attention to what was going on during all these months of preparation. Admit it. Raise your hands in surrender. It’s OK, one can’t be everywhere.

I guess the reporter felt the same, so he offered another question, “On a more serious level, she deals some quite important themes relating to death, sex, and gender. How will people engage with this more serious side of her practice?”

I’d go for this topic as well. If the curator doesn’t care about the show’s name, perhaps, he knows something about the artworks in it.

Over to Richard: “…the works that she has made … are focusing on the female form. She has made ten body casts of the lower body parts of women… The women are bending over, or seated or, or astride elements of furniture so I think that they are very thoughtful works that hopefully make people think where she is coming from. They are actually only the bottom half of women. “

Richard, we can recognize the bottom half of a woman. We know these are the bottom half of women, and not some giant squid.  Why is she showing us these bottom halves? Why should I care where she came from? She came from decades of drug and alcohol abuse that, coupled with a strange infatuation with toilets, seem to be responsible for those half-torsos astride toilet bowls.

Richard: “She could have made the full body but then she would have to deal with the head and then they would it become something else”

Richard, two oranges and two oranges is four oranges not because 3 apples +3 apples would be something else. You can’t explain why a vase is hollow inside by saying it would be something else if it weren’t hollow inside. A vase is hollow inside to allow the owner to put something inside.

Anyway, did you see her recent self-portrait?

When Sarah Lucas put this photo of herself online, some people protested. If sharing this photo was dumb, protesting against it was even dumber.

She doesn’t seem like she’s been having any dealings with the head lately. Perhaps, that could explain why she opted for the bottom half.

But really, what was the artist’s intention behind, or the intended meaning of these works?

No… Richard veers off the topic again, “They’re very sculptural but she has enlivened them with the placement of cigarettes, which of course is a classic Sarah Lucas trope from the very beginning.”


A cigarette in an anus. Or a navel. Humorous. Aha.

Richard, if that gives you titillation, I have news for you that’s a potential life-changer. Go Thailand. Go Bangkok. Go downtown. You will be approached by a Thai man who will take you to a club where women do stuff with vaginas and cigarettes that will blow your mind away and beyond a classic Sarah Lucas “trope”.

Also, if a cigarette in a navel makes the bottom half of the body a sort of face for you, google has much to offer. Just type in “[body part] made into a face” and enjoy. Make sure there’re no kids around though.

Seriously, why did she put a cigarette into that particular female anus?

Perhaps, it is a feminist metaphor for the exploitation of women by men? I’d love to hear more.

Richard: “And I think that the cigarettes provoke people to think further about what the sculpture is and why they’re there”

Richard, the whole set provokes people to wonder why the heck they are there and you haven’t explained any of it, yet. I don’t think that thinking about “what sculpture is or is not” is on top of the agenda of the British society. Perhaps, I am mistaken, and that’s a hot issue right now? Tell me more about it!

Hush! Richard has got something to say now.

“I think that the whole gender issue has never gone away.”

Joking again, Richard?

As long as there are genders, there would be issues. Even in the English language (unlike, say, French or Russian) which is relatively protected against gender inequality, there are still issues with ships being “she” and “her”, and the issues will stay until ships are replaced by teleports. You really shouldn’t bother thinking about that, Richard. It’s like thinking about two parallel lines that never cross in Euclidean geometry. Regardless of how hard you think, the damn lines won’t ever get closer to each other.

Wait, it seems I have interrupted Richard:


Richard, I don’t know which exclusive private school you attended in your childhood, but the hard truth is that it’s a stale joke. It’s the kind of joke that gets you kicked off stage at comic competitions after you’ve gone half way through your set. But try not to laugh now, because it’s gravely serious further on.

Do you know that men are the only species out of all primates that don’t have bones in their phalluses? It was women’s choice to have men equipped with the most complicated hydraulics imaginable that malfunctions at the drop of a hat. Erection is a biological signal sent by men and received by women that is paramount to human survival. This is why women tend to choose men whose hydraulics is in perfect order even on a cursory visual inspection. And the faster we live, the more cursory this inspection becomes. In a million years, this approach to natural selection of men by women will make men evolve into giant penises with tiny limbs. “Dickhead” or “Prick!” are insults right now, but give it time, and they’d become the highest praise. This is not a joke to laugh at.

You can go through the full version of the interview but you won’t find any sense in it.

Now, I really can’t understand why a former junkie and, as she admits herself, presently a lady who never says no to a drink or two, with a paranoid idea of putting together urinals, toilet bowls and human half-bodies with cigarettes stuck into their butts is the best of Britain.

Any ideas?


    1. Erm… I am not sure I have any serious take on her art. I rather have a take on the whole situation with her. She made a few scandalous things that somehow have been noticed and interpreted by feminist art historians who’ve selected her as their flagship artist (along with a few others). more, I guess for the fact she was a woman than an artist.
      Today, white male art critics seem to be unable to interpret her art (Richard Riley’s gibberish is amazing), she can’t explain what she’s doing (no surprise here, for artists rarely can explain what they are doing and why), so the honour of interpretation fell on feminist art historians. Did they put her on the pedestal for the depth of insights her work generates? Well, perhaps it was true with some of her early works. Now it is just repetition over repetition over repetition, but – as often happens with someone already on a pedestal – people do their best to keep her there, trying to dig deeper, find hidden rhymes or symbolism in her work, but there’s just reinforced concrete floor.

      I am more willing to agree to a conspiracy theory that white male curators choose to promote those female artists who are, in fact, harmless to their alleged domination over the art world.

      I am sorry if it runs contrary to your beliefs, and I am very happy to discover your blog. I’ve read Pissaro, and I am yet to read your post on SL.

  1. I think that this “artist” is the same as our Piero Manzoni who, on 1961, put his own shit inside of 90 sealed cans and those were sold at the price of 30 gr. gold each, and considered ART by a lot of museum…..
    That isn’t Art, is only business, one has an idea, mad or good, another realize how many money can obtain from it and there are people who run to see all this because they think it is ART.
    If all this “art” symbolize our time, we are really in bad shape.
    Good afternoon.

    1. You see, Manzoni was first. First to claim that anything an artist makes is art worthy of being exhibited and sold. It was a relevant, and valid argument in the debate on art at the time, and from this point of view, his very real shit made a very strong metaphor. It was like in mathematics: one of deduction methods requires you to test hypothetical ultimate limits to see if the theorem holds true. Being first, and stretching art theory to its limit, Manzoni made it to art history books. But Sarah Lucas is simply secondary )

      I totally agree that it’s business only )

  2. It is it’s absurdity that makes it funny as for representing the British art scene I think you are giving it more status than it deserves. Today if you want to be noticed you need a talking point and think Sara Lucas has certainly done that.

    1. You see, I am not giving it any status, I am wondering why she was chosen to represent Britain at the biggest art event, globally. It’s critics and the British Council that give her this status, and I thought they could come up with an explanation, but they failed. It’s been decades since the Shock of the New went on air, and I would expect a new generation of artists, the ones who go past the pure shocking effect, to appear. And I know that such artists exist, yet the art world sticks to “names” built on the sand of meaningless absurdity.

      1. it is what the establishment wants not the man in the street. I discovered a long time ago if you do not dance to the tune you are rejected.

        Thanks for your reply.

  3. The art scene reflects the times in which we are living. It isn’t exactly up lifting, mybe a little absurd? Perhaps there’s some benefit from the anatomy. I guess this is just Sarah Lucas’ brief moment of fame? I’m really curious as to what is coming next.

    1. She’s been into this kind of “metaphor” (though no one can say what exactly this is a metaphor of or for) since the very beginning. I am afraid that there’s no “next” from her, but the same smoking vaginas and phallic representations

  4. The answer to your question is in the show – and it is not flattering for the concerned. I am no expert on British society, but I want to think that the show reflects the British art scene and not much more beyond. There has been so much shocking art around for years, that we’ve grown completely numb to it. This is just offensively crass. Sad.
    Refresh your mind with Adrian Ghenie of the Romanian pavilion.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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