"I Don't Want to Grow Up"
Shifted November 2008
The Nineties were a hard, long decade riddled with recession and the prospect of millennial annihilation. Coincidentally, the world is again gripped by panic and a ‘global economic meltdown’ conjuring up images of the last slump and what it came to mean for those of us that managed to get through it. It’s timely that Craig Cole is exhibiting works reflecting on that decade, its effects and icons. It seems (by the sounds of the beating drums of doom) that we have entered an era much like it.
Craig Cole has a knack for disrespecting the decadence of society by covering the cherished representations of the welfare class in golden spray paint. Gold-coated moccasins, a wine cask on a plinth and a public toilet seat have all had the mock value-added treatment making us aware of his intentions to debase gold’s status amongst the rich. In I Don’t Want To Grow Up, Cole applies his golden paint to the humble audiocassette. With his unashamedly hand painted and constructed golden cassette, Cole takes us back to the Nineties: the music, the technological, the icons – yet most importantly – he reminds us of the audacity we had in criticising the privileged and wealthy among us.
The Nineteen-nineties saw a flannelette and Terry Towelling generation of youth intrigued by the mechanisms of consumption and the worshipping of money. The artworks of Craig Cole embody this time period where you had to do things yourself, from physically hunting down obscure bands to re-spooling the tapes once they wore out. Generation X didn’t want to grow up too quickly nor be consumed by wealth like their Baby Boomer parents. They didn’t want to grow up, just be grown up.
The Nineties can be characterised by really bad music, well it was if you only listened to MMM-FM or religiously watched Video Hits. Thankfully music went through a fundamental shift at this time to focus on anti-commercialism. Music that most radio stations wouldn’t play. A 'fuck money' attitude became the mantra of the recession generation. Everything that had come before had now become worthless. A big middle finger was raised to the establishments of the past – the money, music and fashion – leaving individualism on the surface like the sludge on a stagnant pond.
It was a time where it was cool to look poor, which wasn’t difficult when you were. Representations of affluence had to be hidden and the symbols of wealth had become targets in order to gain street credibility. Gold was one such symbol. Even though Olympians trained their entire lives to win gold and the gangs of Los Angeles killed for chains of it - contrary to its status as a commodity - it didn’t always mean that being associated with it was a testament to being the best (take a look at Daryl Somers trophy cabinet and count the gold Logies). It was frequently used as a mark of mediocrity as much as a reward.
Gold-plated plastic had the same significance in certain instances. In the film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, the plot develops after a character Junebug OG’s (overdoses on gold). It was the cheap imitation gold that got him in the end. Such was society’s fascination with gold - the status attributed to it and its worth - that it is still to this day a measure of wealth.
In stark contrast to the worth of gold is the commodity appeal of the humble cassette. In the Nineteen-nineties, tapes and their players had become cheaply manufactured and monetarily valueless (apart from the TDK MA-X 90 Type 4). The Compact Disc had readily replaced the record and ushered in a new era of quality, only to leave the cassette spooling away in it’s own demise. The primary function of the cassette had to change in order for the medium to survive. What saved them from complete obsolescence was their ability to be dubbed over via the waste not option on top. If you’d been unfortunate enough to receive Big Audio Dynamite’s The Globe tape (not quite alternative – not quite the Clash) never fear, a simple piece of sticky tape over the tab and there you had it – the next blank tape for recording late night programs on 3PBS-FM. When the tape finally chewed up (a concertina like disfigurement that ended in a dozen knots) or the Walkman packed it in (the click of death), out would come the HB pencil to save the day. It was a medium resilient to destruction, and optimal for duplication.
Generation X didn’t see duplicated music on cassette as a means of piracy. Dubbing tapes was a way to spread your musical tastes with those who weren’t as privileged in their musical enlightenment. It was commonplace to give tapes away or leave them in the car for a would-be-thief to ignore (excluding Credence tapes which have more value than a car in the eyes of the Dude Lebowski). A keen eye had to be kept on the master cassettes, for they were worth their weight in gold
You’d be hard pressed to find a pencil, Walkman or unused cassette these days. Generation Y has a MySpace profile to project musical tastes, an iPod to share pirated material and parents to pay for it all. Craig Cole’s golden cassette is a temple to the Nineties and the individual. Back then we were all looking for that golden tape – The one that could fill in the generation gap that no one else was allowed hear. The golden cassettes were never to be taped over, you couldn’t buy them and no amount of money could simulate what was compiled on them. You had to have been there and part of a specific tribe. No one was going to do all the groundwork for you. Generation Y wouldn’t have lasted a day although I suspect they may soon get the chance to prove me wrong.
Brendan Lee October 2008