There are only three pieces in Annabel McCourt’s exhibition, Suffering Arcadia at Scarborough Art gallery. Two of them are placed together in one of the gallery spaces, Happy Hour in the Harmful Factory and Electric Fence. Happy Hour in the Harmful Factory is described as a “feminist response to the futile optimism of milk as cure all” which probably explains as well as anything I could write why it didn’t really work for me and Electric Fence is a powerful and hard hitting work that deserves a more resonant space ( as it had in Beverley Minster) so I will concentrate on the third, MAGA Grabber, which has found the best home it could possibly have in Scarborough. I absolutely loved it.
Scarborough has a cheerfully kitsch seafront along the South Bay which has been shamelessly taking money from visitors in return for short blasts of fun for decades. The most popular machines, and the ones which do this particularly successfully, are the grabbers. You stand in front of a glazed box, pay your money and try to manipulate a grabber in order to pick up one of the tempting prizes- usually a cheap soft toy- and dump it in the chute. If you do that you win the toy. Let’s just say it is harder than it looks.
The MAGA Grabber is Annabel McCourt’s version of one of these. A response to the personality and tactics of Donald Trump it is loud and red, flaunting itself, seductively beckoning you in under the “Suffering Arcadia” title neon. It is a shallow sound bite, a sop to those who don’t want to think too deeply, populist in a way that Scarborough understands well with a hint of menace behind it. His well known speech about pussy grabbing is painted on the side. It is Donald Trump made mechanical and it suits his style perfectly, while managing to sum up how the entire modern political world operates shrewdly and concisely. A play on it costs nothing and it cheerfully admits- several times over- that you “the loser” will lose every time if you play it. You can’t say that you don’t know what you are getting into. In spite of this I still found myself using the grabber, which worked more easily than the seafront ones, to move the MAGA hats into the chute and the first time I did it I looked at the chute hopefully and then stood there wondering why I hadn’t won. More fool me. LOSER!
There are not many Art exhibitions where I have been stopped on my way into the gallery by a stranger- an older man- who was still excited and bemused by what he had seen and wanted to talk about it and the young woman on the reception desk inside was being buttonholed by people- including me- who wanted to process what they had just seen. Accessible Art that makes you think. We need a lot more of that.