The latest exhibition at QUAD Derby is Ha-Ha Road, an exploration apparently of the use of humor in contemporary art. It advertised itself to me quite nicely via a hefty dose of jokes via Twitter, good, bad and ugly:

what’s black and rhymes with snoop? ………. Dr Dre

Why was the Tractor magic? Because it turned into a field!

What did the ocean say to the beach? Nothing, it just waved!

Digressions aside, I visited the exhibit the other day wearing my reservations about contemporary art on my sleeve (I want to like it lots, but often I don’t). As I entered the exhibition room I was immediately assaulted by manic laughter emanating from a video projection to my left (From Ravensor Odd, 2006 by Stella Capes). The pictures showed a chap buried to the neck in sand with the grating laughter soundtrack behind. I find video installations the most difficult to appreciate, and this one made me anxious rather than laugh, perhaps I didn’t get the joke?

On the whole I think that may have been my biggest issue with the show, that I just didn’t get the joke. Works such as Anika Ström’s canvas signs pronouncing “please remove me from your mailing list” suggested irony but didn’t seem to have a punchline. I understood the point of Matthew Sawyer’s placards pronouncing “No to Bad Things” but didn’t find them funny.

A couple of other exhibits did make me smile, Ceal Floyer’s “Solo”, which was a retro wooden hairbrush in a Mic stand was charming and Rodney Graham’s “Two Movements for a Prepared Cello” in which a cellist shakes objects including cuff links out of his instrument caused a chuckle.

The concept behind Ellie Harrison’s “Vending Machine” was smart, hooked into a BBC RSS feed, each time a headline involving recession appeared on the ticker, the vending machine supplied a packet of crisps to a lucky member of the public. Sadly the RSS was offline when I was looking so there was no chance of a pack of prawn cocktail coming my way.

By far my favorite piece was Michael Shaw’s “Prepared Fan and Acoustic Guitar” which base comprised of an Acoustic Guitar, a desk fan and some ‘sparkly shred’. The shred was attached to the fan whose projection was set just within reach of the guitar strings, as the shred danced in the fan’s airstream it occasionally lightly plucked a string producing a feint plink or two. Quite hypnotic.

To me, the show is spinning two highly subjective plates, contemporary art and humor. Both create strong reactions in the viewer, contemporary art with it’s ‘is it, isn’t it art’ and humor which varies so widely for everyone.

And it sort of works, in that I did find some exhibits funny and I did like others. Perhaps the ones I didn’t like where not my kind of humor (Lee Nelson) and the ones I did where right down my street (Shooting Stars).

Anika Ström – Please remove me from you mailing list, 2010

Mail List

Michael Shaw, Prepared Fan and Acoustic Guitar, 2011


Oh and don’t miss the comic strips in the corridors, which are funny, in particular this one featuring the very hungry Caterpillar…


Oh, and in postscript, disappointment on the application of the lettering to the walls, which was of the transparent sticker style which I’ve mentioned my dislike of previously.