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Nottingham Castle

Where's Daddy Pig?

2 August 13 words: Wayne Burrows
Pigs and politics...


Mark McGowan: Where's Daddy Pig?

Mark McGowan: Where's Daddy Pig?

You could probably argue that there’s no real reason to visit Where’s Daddy’s Pig? on the grounds that everything it contains is already part of Mark McGowan’s ARTIST TAXI DRIVER YouTube channel. McGowan regularly posts campaigning rants (and occasionally more subdued musings) on anything from the privatisation of the NHS to the history of immigration in the UK, from the function of corporate gallery sponsorship to devastating parodies of Daily Mail populism.

There are rumoured to be around 1,500 of McGowan’s ten-minute videos available online, and he adds more – sometimes several – most days. Over the years he’s also developed a strong online following, so the chances are, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, a link to one or another of his efforts will have crossed your path. Long threads of debate rage underneath each video, debates which McGowan himself never seems to enter, and run a gamut from 38 Degrees activists to David Icke quoting conspiracy theorists. One recent subject of heated Facebook contention was whether or not McGowan even drives a taxi in real life...

With all that in mind, it’s clear that this is an artist who has made Social Media his canvas and political campaigning his subject and purpose, but who tends to contain his own views within the rants and musings he uploads. To view Where’s Daddy’s Pig? on the big screens in the dedicated dark spaces of Trade Gallery, raises the question whether McGowan’s campaigning activities are ‘art’ at all and, if they are, whether they gain or lose anything when seen – as Trade director and McGowan’s curator Bruce Asbestos explains – “without the framework of the internet around them”.

Mark McGowan: Where's Daddy Pig?The answer arrives in three very distinct segments that occupy the huge screens in different ways. The first room edits together a string of bulletins from McGowan’s Where’s Daddy’s Pig? protest, staged on 24 April 2013. McGowan pushed a toy pig from the doors of King’s College Hospital, where he’d been receiving treatment for bowel cancer, all the way to David Cameron’s front step at 10 Downing Street. The protest symbolised the ‘pigs at the trough’ of a Lords vote on a health reform bill that opened the NHS to private providers – the sort many of those voting were invested in, funded or employed by. The conflicts of interest and implications of the legislation went notoriously under-reported by the press and BBC.

Originally uploaded as a series of live updates throughout the day of the protest, here they form a kind of low-budget documentary. The narrative momentum gives it all a very different feel to the urgent updates you’d have experienced following McGowan’s feeds during the event itself.

A follow up protest a few weeks later saw McGowan push the same pig from Downing Street to the City of London, which leads to the second room’s footage, filmed outside the Royal Courts of Justice: an impassioned speech to a gathered audience and an interview with a surprisingly sympathetic banker. Both these films differ from the shorter, sharper shocks of their online equivalents.

Yet perhaps the most revealing room is the final one, where a show-reel of McGowan’s patented ARTIST TAXI DRIVER monologues is shown, drawn from all points in the development of the persona. For all his emphasis on being the angry, opinionated London cabbie, wearing sunglasses and raging behind a steering wheel, there’s a lot of variation in tone and more research than there seems here. What we see is both informative and interesting, as campaigning material and in an aesthetic sense – we see McGowan exploring the textures of frustration and rage in the same way a traditional painter might explore the properties of a particular colour.

Mark McGowan: Where's Daddy Pig?

Mark McGowan: Where's Daddy Pig?

The showreel covers a lot of ground, from early art-centred commentaries to a vivid bit of word-painting about Irish navvies in England – even a gleeful impersonation of a tabloid reader decrying gay rights (while leering at the fake lesbianism in the ‘family’ newspapers that pander to their prejudices). It illustrates that while McGowan’s palette is deliberately restricted – just him, a digital camera and the view from the dashboard of his car – he plays a surprising number of variations on the format: sometimes saddened, sometimes enraged, sometimes philosophical. This is one man calling out across the clutter of the internet for an immediate revolution against the bosses, capitalists and MPs.

As an exhibition Where’s Daddy’s Pig? shows the work of an artist with a very definite purpose and a strict form. The ARTIST TAXI DRIVER persona is glimpsed evolving over time, like a performance being gradually honed in public. Whether it’s best seen as art or not is another matter. Viewing the material in a darkened room with no distractions gives it a very different impact to that it carries online, where the content trumps the form pretty decisively: perhaps showing this work as art weakens its campaigning impact. After all, the upshot of the Facebook discussion about McGowan’s actual or pretended cab-driving was also a debate about whether what he was doing was genuine or some kind of fake. In this context, maybe being an artist is more of a liability than an asset, and this gathering of films suggests McGowan’s online persona is a purposefully blunt instrument walking a very fine line.



Where’s Daddy’s Pig? was shown at Trade Gallery, One Thoresby Street, Nottingham, from 25 May - 3 August 2013.

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