The exhibition consists of a new body of thematic work by James Beckett – a series of wall and floor assemblages delving into the bizarrely high occurrence of premature death in the Guinness family. The exhibition touches on speculation, myth, superstition and, inevitably, pop culture itself.
In keeping with Beckett’s vocabulary, the works are developed in a macabre museological sphere, using formal artifacts to legitimatize peripheral narrative. The pieces combine biographical elements from each family member portrayed with merchandise from the brewing company itself – a mélange evoking discomfort through clash. Using display grids, additional planes of custom printed fabrics and tinted glass evoke an austerity, making for an environment of fatality – then memorial.
The Guinness family is a large aristocratic Anglo-Irish Protestant dynasty known for its accomplishments in banking, politics, religious ministry, and even fashion. Most notable, is the Guinness brewery business founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759. Arthur fathered 21 children, of whom only 10 survived to maturity. The “Guinness Curse” (hence the name of this show) has been a recurring media phrase referring to this high death rate; deemed ‘pre-destined’ and somehow doomed to be repeated throughout the family history.
Beckett exploits this casual media naming of a metaphysical damning, integrating elements of both company and person into commemorative displays. “The Curse” is, for this purpose, exaggerated to the point of b-grade horror, with abstract clichés of death appearing, for example, in the form of blood streaks amid snippets of raw nature. This approach sees life in its entirety as inapproachable, instead turning to the extended drama of others as a provisional model for alternative celebrity. In this sense, as a study of yearning and loss, the show spawns a shallow and sinister form of entertainment.
Tara Browne would be a good case in point. A Guinness heir, Tara crashed his Lotus Elan into the back of a parked truck, swerving at the last minute and crushing his own body in order to save the life of his passenger, model Suki Potier. This event is said to have inspired the Beatle song A Day in the Life, with these lyrics: He blew his mind out in a car; he hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed. The display commemorating this particular death uses car-parts from the same model vehicle Tara was driving, together with an array of Guinness toucan aprons.
As the dark stout began to travel the world, the level of hops was boosted to insure that it could remain robust whilst passing the equator in shifting temperatures. As a parallel, two family members are chosen for portrayal, for their formative roles in far-flung corners of the globe:
Walter Guinness, (1st Baron Moyne) was assassinated by the marginal Jewish terrorist group Lehi in Cairo in 1944, due to his role as British Minister of State in the Middle East. As a member of the House of Lords, Walter had travelled extensively, – one such trip being to Papua New Guinea, a journey which resulted in the publication “Walkabout – A Journey in Lands between The Pacific & Indian Oceans”. The pages of this book appear as excerpts in a series of wall pieces.
Preacher, Henry Grattan Guinness was responsible for training and dispatching hundreds of faith missionaries all over the world, including his own daughter. Lucy E. Guinness published “Across India at the Dawn of the 20th Century” about her hopes of converting the so called “heathen natives” to Christianity. Relentless pages of concerned verse, illustrations, and statistics, paint a portrait of a country in dire need of rescue, all perhaps justifying a role for Lucy, had she not prematurely perished of septicemia. Extracts from these pages and occasional photos form the back-drops of such portraits in “The Guinness Curse”.
The Guinness Curse by James Beckett
Through April 21
Courtesy T293, Rome
Photo by Roberto Apa