Double Act: Art and Comedy at the MAC, Belfast

Art in Liverpool... /Belfast

Double Act: Art and Comedy, Belfast
Double Act: Art and Comedy, Belfast

Double Act: Art & Comedy
MAC Theatre, Belfast, 6 May – 31 July 2016

Words and images, Patrick Kirk-Smith

It’s not always good to find the greener grass. That’s what I learned on Monday when I hopped on a plane to Belfast to visit Double Act: Art and Comedy. The exhibition, curated by David Campbell and Mark Durden, is twinned with an exhibition of the same name at Bluecoat. It shows a different story entirely to the one I visited on School Lane, Liverpool.

This manifestation of Double Act functions so spectacularly because it sticks so strictly to telling the truth through its jokes. Even the simplest piece in the show, a deflated version of Jeff Koon’s Sculpture No. 1 is a satire on satire. How sick must we have become, as a culture, of satire in art that we have begun to satirise it. No longer can we simply write a joke and call it Dada. And that’s very true. It has become near impossible to make art anymore, due mostly to the fear that it will be called pretentious – the result is a new breed of hipster academics presenting timid work masquerading as bold. And the king of those is Koons.

The MAC has become a cultural centre which has made the arts a very popular public face in Belfast. I doubt I need to remind anybody of the Titanic, but the new dedicated museum in Belfast has to be seen to be believed. And the streets surrounding the MAC are a hive of street art and independent spaces, lining one of the main entrances to the city. There’s every conceivable reason that Campbell and Durden would choose to twin their Bluecoat show with the MAC, and I’m unsure if I can rightly express how grateful I am that the second show gave a new side to the exhibition’s story.

What I’m about to say should in no way be a negative reflection on Bluecoat. Their version of this exhibition is utterly excellent, but MAC’s is better. The subtleties of relationships between the works provided a curatorial humour that wasn’t as apparent at Bluecoat, and the range in Belfast told a wider story. And simply put, I laughed more often in Belfast.

It wasn’t the quality of the joke that made the difference, so much as the relevance. YouTube is touched on in The Vide at Bluecoat by Kara Hearn’s Hollywood satires, but at MAC, a film by Cory Arcangel is just cats. And faintly from the other side of the room plays Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Memory, sung by Mel Brimfield, with new lyrics written for her work, He Hit Me… and it Felt Like a Kiss.

But that’s what comedy should do. Put us at ease, then steal it away with a harsh realisation. He Hit Me… and it Felt Like a Kiss was made in reference to the unbelievably poor representations of romance portrayed as clichéd simplicity throughout film and literature. Her work takes one of the most romanticised songs in Western history and turns it into a hymn to Truth. On face value, the film is a funny reworking of a classic, but look a little deeper. That’s what comedy does though, nods to the truth.

Cultural partnerships between cities, be they local to the UK or further afield, should be given much more credit from either side. I made a point of seeing this exhibition while I was away because I wanted to understand the full story, and from my experience, both sides of the Irish Sea tell a different tale here, and I wouldn’t have got the full narrative without seeing both.

It might not be worth changing your holiday plans from Tuscany to County Antrim, but if you’re in Belfast, stay in the city for the day and visit this thriving cultural hub while it’s got a brief injection of Liverpool inside.