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MRI scan

Scientists have developed a computerised mind-reading technique which lets them accurately predict the images that people are looking at by using scanners to study brain activity.

The breakthrough by American scientists took MRI scanning equipment normally used in hospital diagnosis to observe patterns of brain activity when a subject examined a range of black and white photographs. Then a computer was able to correctly predict in nine out of 10 cases which image people were focused on. Guesswork would have been accurate only eight times in every 1,000 attempts…

Gallant said it might be possible in future to apply the technology to visual memories or dreams. “Probably the visual hardware is engaged and stuff from memory is sort of downloaded into your visual hardware and then replayed,” he said. “To the extent that that is true, we should be able to reconstruct imagery in dreams.”

James Randerson
Guardian Unlimited


Suffering writ large…”The Two Fridas”, by Frida Kahlo

Among the 15 or so personal questions I throw at artists for the weekly G2 interview Portrait of the Artist, there is one that tends to make people think more than any other – do you suffer for your art?

“Yes,” said both Jane Birkin and Michael Ball without missing a beat – they get crippling stage fright. Painter Lucy Jones, who has cerebral palsy, admitted that she is often in a great deal of pain after kneeling for hours before a canvas. But Herbie Hancock didn’t like the question. “No,” he said. “I just don’t look at art and life that way.”

I was very interested, therefore, to hear what the panel at yesterday’s debate at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, called “Should artists suffer for their art?”, would make of the issue. As the art historian and curator Tim Marlow was quick to point out – addressing the packed room alongside collector David Roberts, sculptor and curator Soraya Rodriguez and performance artist Mark McGowan – the image of the penniless artist quietly expiring in a Parisian garret assumed its emotive power during the Romantic period.

So do we, as today’s consumers of art, still expect its creators to suffer? Do we still picture them in a modern-day equivalent of the draughty attic?

The panel agreed on the fact that the vast majority of artists – with big earners like Hirst and Jeff Koons as notable exceptions – find it very difficult to make a living from their work. This fact can be both liberating, allowing them to further push the boundaries without worrying about whether or not the piece will sell, and galvanising, preventing them from settling into complacency and becoming stale. Mark McGowan’s own provocative (and innately difficult to sell) works have included pushing a peanut around London with his nose, and crawling the streets of New York wearing a George Bush mask and an invitation to “kick my ass” (many people took him up on it). He said that artists should strive to preserve art’s “economy of the spirit”, rather than thinking about how to earn a living from it. Soraya Rodriguez agreed – although she said she’d rather refer to the artist’s necessary poverty as a “struggle”. “If life is easy for an artist,” she said, “will their art be any good?”

By the same token, an artist’s more profound suffering – whether emotional or psychological – can often seem to enhance their work. Some works (the paintings of Van Gogh or Goya, the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, and the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, to name a few) are inseparable from their creators’ personal pain. We are – as Marlow said last night, quoting Damien Hirst – a “trauma culture”, expecting to watch an artist’s suffering play out on canvas or stage or screen – and relating to them through it.

They may not all call it suffering, but every artist I’ve spoken to for Portrait – even those whose art has brought them fame and fortune – has described the real sacrifices, whether personal or economic, that they have made to dedicate themselves to their work. Yet very few of them have said they regret them.

As the ICA panel concluded, for the best artists, the drive to create is so strong that it can withstand almost any amount of suffering – and the life experience it gives them serves only to make their works more powerful.

Laura Barnett
Guardian Unlimited

Review of the current show at the Tate Modern: Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia (through May 26):

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. (image courtesy of Succession Marcel Duchamp/ Paris and DACS)

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia begins as a romp. It is full of surprises, a pantomime of nonsense symbolism, in-jokes, sexual images and wordplay of an often furtive, farcical and even bestial sort, leavened by intellectual cool (at least on Duchamp’s part), anarchism, nihilism (Picabia’s intellectual forte) and chess.

This is a very large exhibition, with more than 300 works: paintings, photographs, sculptures, readymades, films, chess sets, and a wealth of documentary material. There is much here I was previously unaware of. The show takes us from the early years of the 20th century to 1976, when the last of the trio, Man Ray, died. In between, there are shocks and surprises, dirty pictures and beautiful enigmas.

I thought I would be bored by Duchamp’s bicycle wheel, tired of his porcelain urinal and exhausted by the Large Glass. It is impossible not to hear a lecture on their relevance rolling round one’s head; the shock, never mind the thrill, has gone, and they have become icons, which in a way is their tragedy. Duchamp himself would have been bored. He would probably have been happier to hear the splenetic complaints of people who think that readymades are not art. He once told Richard Hamilton that he liked signing the bottle racks and snow shovels and other examples of readymades that people bought him, because it undermined the originals.

Yet, because of the atmosphere of exhilarating iconoclasm that pervades the early part of the show, these sacred relics regain something of their playfulness, and begin to look like images from a lost, more innocent world. Man Ray’s coat-hanger mobile floats in space; Duchamp’s snow shovel dangles from the ceiling with it, as though a riposte; Duchamp’s wooden Hat Rack swims through the air like an octopus with curly wooden tentacles. Man Ray’s Cadeau (or Gift), his best-known surrealist object – the flat iron with a row of nails welded to it – has become a stock object in surrealism’s thrift store of the subconscious, to be set alongside Dalí’s lobster telephone. This is a sad but inevitable fate.

Museums kill the things they love. In the context of this show, it is Man Ray who looks the weakest today. His Venus, bound in rope bondage, begins to look like an illustration to some essay on the male gaze. And if Picabia’s work has also suffered in the years since his death in 1953, it has been largely by neglect.

As well as charting the careers of the three artists, the exhibition traces their friendship, enthusiasms and the influence they had on one another. What we have here is a conversation in art that continued throughout their lives, with Duchamp the pivotal figure. Yet all three gained: they looked out for each other, indulged one another, egged each other on. Perhaps we might see them as the art world’s rat pack. What the exhibition also makes clear is that each retained their artistic independence; their voices and styles are never confused in the way that Picasso and Braque’s cubist-period works might be. Nor were Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia three stooges: they shared no programme and invented no movement. And although they were associated with dadaism and surrealism, they each went their own way, with panache…

This exhibition and its accompanying catalogue do much to bring the complications, developing attitudes and complexities of these three artists to life. It also highlights changing social mores and the ways art has been made over the past century. Rather than presenting us with closure and academic posturings, Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia makes the best of their art look vital again, dangerous and alive.

Adrian Searle
Guardian Unlimited

Awards are all wrong until you win one. Or you judge one…if you, too, end up doing cultural jury service, here are some tips.

Whoever or whatever wins, the world will think the award is fixed. I’ve never gone into a judging process with a preconceived agenda, and I’ve never been bribed (not even a free mouse-mat), but apparently the government picked Liverpool (nope) and Nick Serota, the director of the Tate, insisted that Mark Wallinger must win because State Britain was shown at Tate Britain. I’ve never met Nick Serota.

Judging is not easy. You just rock up, tick a box and waltz off to the winner’s party? Oh no you don’t. Even at the short-list stage, you go round and round, discussing the minutiae of the criteria, pulling rules apart, searching for underlying meaning. What’s more deserving: consistent excellence or a flash of brilliance? Does it matter if an artist has been nominated before (as Wallinger and Mike Nelson were)? Should a winner deserve the prize? Or need the prize? Should we worry about how the nominations will be received? (The Turner shortlist was deemed ‘political’. At no point did the jury consider politics as a theme.)

Your fellow judges are politer than you (by you, I mean, me). Many take care not to interrupt when someone else is speaking and all defer to the chair.

The British press is shockingly inaccurate and rarely knows what an award is actually for, though this can be the fault of the organisations involved. For instance, why doesn’t the Tate make it clear that the Turner Prize is given to an artist not for being a great artist, generally, but for a particular piece of work? It wouldn’t take much. At the ceremony there could be a projection of the relevant piece when each artist is mentioned. The paper inside the golden envelope could read Bilbo Baggins, for Such-and-such installation. As it was, this year not one critic mentioned Nathan Coley’s nominated work, possibly because none had ever seen it.

Not to frighten you, but your decision is vital. If you weren’t there, everything would be different.

This is because, despite your agonies, there isn’t a right answer. There’s a right answer for this particular jury, under these particular circumstances, on this particular day. So your verdict is essential, and yet meaningless. No matter how long you discuss, how much research you do, the resulting decision is not correct. It’s idiosyncratic.

If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by 5 and 6 – too overwhelmed to actually judge (I did) – remember that no matter what the final result, how well or badly it’s received, how awful it is for the losers, the world will keep turning. And true artists will keep on making their art, awards or no.

Miranda Sawyer
Guardian Unlimited