'Age' - Salon at Blacks, January 2006
Sacha Cradock, Guiseppe Mascoli, James Putnam, Achim Borchardt, Ben Bethel, David Toop, Joe Stockham, Paddy O’Connor, Richard Dyer, Jes,
Will Palin, Herman Lelie, Stefania Bonelli, Sheila Cluet, Sally O’Reilley, Mark Wallinger & Anna, Simon English, Sebastian Horsley, Antony Gormley, Robin Blackburn, Donna De Salvo
We live in an era obsessed with youth culture where most people fear old age with its associated decline in health, Alzheimer’s and dementia. The growing ageing population with more centenarians, is referred to as ‘a problem’ and the elderly are increasingly removed from society and placed in residential and nursing homes. Stereotypical images show the elderly as feeble with bent backs and walking sticks; grumpy in character complaining how better life was in the old days. Since old people were a rarity in earlier times they tended to be more respected in some cultures and associated with wisdom. Shamans, tribal elders, patriarchs and prophets were often depicted with long-beards. But while old men were portrayed as benevolent sages, old women tended to be depicted as evil witches.
The stairway of life from cradle to grave follows a botanical model, from seed to blossom to death and decay. Human beings are on a quest for immortality as depicted historically with the Fountain of Youth, (the image of people jumping in the fountain). Refusing to ‘grow old gracefully’ and influenced by the media’s promotion of youth supremacy, people are increasingly resorting to cosmetic surgery with those look younger adverts showing before and after facelift. Movie stars and other celebrities who are constantly in the public eye are thus under great pressure to appear youthful. And yet there is an elusive beauty to be discovered in images of aging. As Rodin said – ‘the more beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of the beautiful thing’. Crumbling buildings, rust, patina, rotting vegetation and meat carcasses, torn and faded Levis all have an inherent aesthetic. The notion of vintage - old cheese, wine and decaying game tastes better while certain breeds of dogs are valued for wrinkles (Chow-Chow and Shar-Pei). There is also this notion of mature sex appeal while there is a social stigma or denial that old people can still enjoy sex. In a consumer society increasingly obsessed with the new, the young and the ‘next big thing’ the media is under the delusion that innovation is exclusive to the young. Rather than being staid, boring and grumpy it is possible to be old and still ‘cool’.