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Saturday, 26 October 2013


"Stick some of these under your arm, will you?" my son says, indicating a pile of bendy grey cylinders in the corner of his kitchen, each about ten feet long and made of polystyrene.

So I grab an armful and so does he and we wachle them downstairs and try to pack them into my car. It's like wrestling an octopus.

"You've done that, have you?" he says, as we stuff them in and they bounce right back out again.

"In my youth as a deep-sea diver," I say.

"Tentacles would be great for an artist," he says. "You can use them as arms or legs. I could paint a picture while having a coffee and a sandwich and hanging from the ceiling, looking cool. "

"The male octopus even has a tentacle that's a detachable penis," I tell him, as we finally get them penned up in the back and take our seats in front. "It's called a hectocotylus. Octopus sex consists of him pulling it off and presenting it to her"

"That's drastic," he says. "Does she like it?"

"She loves it. 'What a beautiful gift for a girl,' she goes. 'Was it expensive?'"

"And he goes, 'Cost me an arm and a leg.'" he says. "Have you been saving that up all your life, waiting for an octopus conversation?"

"Pretty much," I say. "You don't get many. Where is it you want me to take yours?"

"Macintosh Building," he says. "It's going to be the branches of an artistic tree for this group project I was telling you about."

"What's the topic?"

"St Enoch."

"Ah, the ancient Celtic princess," I say. "Sounds like a guy but she's not."

"Isn't she?"

"St Enoch was St Teneu," I tell him. "Raped then condemned to be thrown off Traprain Law for getting pregnant. Survived and was taken in by the abbot Serf, who cared for her and her son Kentigern, later called Mungo. He founded Glasgow."

"You know lots of useless shit, don't you?" he says.

"I do."

"Is there a tree in the story?" he says.

"There is. A hazel tree that Mungo prayed over to make its branches burst into flames, so he could relight a holy fire. The tree's now part of Glasgow's coat of arms."

"Great!" he says. "I've been telling the guys we should set ours on fire for artistic reasons."

"What artistic reasons?"

"Go right here to avoid the one-way system," he says. "It's this 'What is art?' question again. I reckon things not being what they are is part of it. Like I did a cast of the coffee cup in my bag during a workshop and got lots of coffee cups made of plaster.

"I thought they can't be art - they're coffee cups. But then I filled one with hot coffee, set it up overnight and took a series of photos. First wee beads of coffee came through, then they puddled out and the cup went all brown. So now it is art because it's no longer a coffee cup."

"That's the opposite of what we were saying earlier about architecture, beauty and function," I say, pulling into a parking space on Hill Street.

"There's a lot of art like that, though," he says. "Take away the function from something and it becomes art. Like Yoko Ono did a nice piece with a nail and a glass hammer."

"She's not an artist," I say. "She's just the chick that broke up the Beatles."

"You're wrong," he says. "Her stuff's got a light touch I really like. Then there's Tom Friedman who did a piece that's just a blank sheet of paper he stared at for a thousand hours."

"That's not art," I say. "That's bollocks."

"No, I get that stuff," he says. "It's like an idea taken to an extreme. It's the essence of something. It's hard to explain but it makes sense to me."

We get out and I give him a hand to shove St Mungo's tree under his oxters. "I'm starting to see art everywhere I look," he says. 

"I see it in buildings and discarded objects. I see it in people's faces and down deserted alleys in the dark." 

"That must be good." I say.

"It is," he says, balancing himself so he doesn't goose people with his bendy tentacles, then heading down the hill. "I even see art when I look at you," he says over his shoulder.

"Leonardo's Mona Lisa?"

"Tracy Emin's unmade bed."

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