Three months ago Kurt Cobain’s ashes were stolen from Courtney Love’s place. At the time it seemed as though the urn in which they were contained had been mistaken for something valuable by crooks who, no doubt, disposed of it when they realised it was full of ashen smackhead. But apparently not! No, according to a press release which arrived in my mail box today, the theft of the ashes was actually a bespoke crime, carried out for the good of conceptual art. Who’d have thought that the arms of the Berlin art scene extended into the LA underworld? Well they must do because German based Aussie creative Natascha Stellmach claims to have them. In fact, she has rolled Cobain’s dust into a spliff and promises to smoke it at the culmination of her exhibition Set Me Free at the Gallerie Wagner + Partner in Berlin. Wow, what a derivative combination of death, drugs and rock music, she’s clearly been thumbing heavily through the Wanker’s Book of Cliché and Tedium. I wonder what her next piece will be? Maybe a portrait of Bush with red buttons for eyes, or a vagina made of rubbish? Or maybe she’ll just crack out that missing Ian Curtis headstone and do coke off it at the Venice Biennale...
“This final act”, Stellmach says, “will release Cobain from the media circus and into the ether” (her statement of anti-media circusry slightly tarnished by the big-top of media clownishness that is her press release). This work, she hopes, will claim “an ephemeral place in the life story of the Grunge star”. Yes, for her, as yet another chump making money from a lonely junkie’s corpse.
Though Stellmach’s people are keen to point out that she is now one of “a number of artists to use human remains as a medium”, it, of course, doesn’t matter whether or not they are (they’re not) actually little flakey bits of Kurt. With art you see, much like with mother’s day, it’s the thought that counts. Unfortunately for Stellmach though, the ‘thought’ stinks worse than twenty year-old singed junky corpse that’s been kept in a casket beneath the LA sun.
As a meditation on suicide it’s a bit crap. Cobain’s death is compelling because it was both the most enormous of pop-culture events and a miserably private one. By publicly smoking the ‘joint’ (…with Cannabis! Boom! Take that 1960s family values! Another pie in the face from the art community!) she’s gleefully and momentarily edging into the spotlight he detested, without even thinking about the man. She’s pissing on his back whilst riding his coattails all the way to absolute mediocrity.
Obviously Stellmach can twist and turn through the intestines of irony to get out of any criticism of her art, but that wouldn’t make her look like any less of a dick for pretending to smoke a corpse.
PS: Ten years ago some teenage idiots told my flatmate they’d smoked the ashes of her dead friend Lee Citron from UK punks Stony Sleep. She thought it was lame and pompous at the time, it was. At least they, unlike Stellmach, weren’t thirty eight.
PPS: Remember when Keith Richards snorted his dad’s ashes without making a fuss? Now that’s a dignified way to get high on the dead.