Highlights of Hay Literary Festival

Gilbert & George, Taryn Simon & Simon Baker, and Rob Lowe

Gilbert & George

Since their emergence from St. Martin’s School of Art in the sixties, Gilbert and George have become the most recognisable duo in the art world, as well as the most mythical. Their appearance at Hay-on-Wye was a rare one; their self-designation as ‘living art pieces’ means that public appearance is never separated from performance and demands their ubiquitous and formal stylization.

There was little stepping out of tweeded character here, but despite their awkward affability the pair were highly entertaining with frequent anecdotes about their time at art school followed by tales of their competitive and often audacious attempts to get into the art world which involved the frequent gate crashing of exhibitions amongst other risqué indiscretions.

It seems, however, that in their old age they have calmed. After fifty minutes of finishing each other’s sentences and never once looking at the crowd they ended with a surprise – and usually infrequent – performance of song. Unfortunately, I was still none the wiser as to which was which. LA

Taryn Simon and Simon Baker

Taryn Simon’s talk with new Tate Photography curator Simon Baker marked the genesis of something truly exciting. The American photographer was not only discussing and displaying her new project A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, but also the beginning of a new phase in photography at the Tate with the dedication of more space and curator man-hours.

And what an exhibition to begin with. The concept was simple: to record family bloodlines with portraits of each living member and other miscellanea relating to the aspects that make the group unique. The content, however, was extremely powerful with subjects ranging from Saddam Hussein’s son to victims of genocide in Bosnia as well as a collection of portraits of Australian rabbits originally descended from the original 24 taken over by European settlers in the nineteenth century.

The work was often harrowing, but well executed and in discussion with Simon Baker it illustrated exactly the justification for the increased emphasis being placed on modern photography. LA

Rob Lowe

Hay was rife with an air of excitement as the Hollywood fans amongst the more literary heavyweights anticipated the celebrity event of the week: Rob Lowe’s interview with Mariella Frostrup.

Though it had the potential to be somewhat grating – a live performance of Ms Frostrup’s giggling, and Mr Lowe’s flexing – the interview panned out to be surprisingly candid on the part of the star himself, whose autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends appears to hold a more satirical and refreshingly self-deprecating edge to it.

Lowe, of course, discussed his life story – meeting a wine-drinking, dressing gown-clad Liza Minelli at the age of nine, before going to school with the Penns and the Sheens – and in doing so truly deconstructed the false sense of security a star is padded out with.

Mariella Frostrup was, surprisingly, a very skilled interviewer, guiding the conversation, but open about the fact that “I’ve never been more aware that an audience is not here to see me!”

All in all lived up to the high expectations. MDG