Grayson Perry All Man: Episode 2
Last week, I explained why Grayson Perry’s documentary about masculinity could be the most important thing you’ll see this year, and a similar thing can be said of the series’ second episode. Grayson Perry: All Man continued this Thursday with police officers and delinquent youths being the focus of the episode. Leading with a statistic (as in the first episode: “suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45”), Grayson describes how a certain group in Skelmersdale are committing 85% of all crime in the area He joins forces with the police to find out why.
Although the subject of Grayson’s investigation was the same, this episode seemed quite different to the first, mainly in the way that the artist interacted with his muses. It’s safe to describe much of Perry’s previous work as anarchic, but a better description for his behaviour in this episode would be ‘politely anarchic’. The teenagers he meets in this episode clearly intimidate him, and with good reason. Many of them have been convicted of violent crimes on more than one occasion. Grayson is, however, determined to understand the mind-set of the youths. What is it about being male that makes teenagers such frequent inhabitants of prison cells? A number of explanations were provided, both from the police and the youths themselves. The explanation that the artist appeared to be most fond of was the “male potency” theory; the idea that bravado and testosterone-fuelled displays of male aggression were necessary to consolidate their position in a complex hierarchy.
As a documentary maker, Grayson Perry and his team have found a talent outside of his art. Neil Crombie’s brilliant direction provides an incredible sense of intimacy as though his audience is actually with Grayson, following him around Skelmersdale; this then opens up a dialogue that the audience can be involved in. What does it mean to be male? How do I express my masculinity? One particular scene which I found incredibly poignant was one in which images of the children of bygone Skelmersdale were compared to images of the town’s young population today; many of whom are now involved in gang-related crime.
The artworks that Perry created as an ode to his interviewees were, again, very moving. The Digmoor Tapestry spoke of the nature of conflict between rival Skelmersdale estates (Digmoor and Tanhouse) and the ensuing displays of masculine boastfulness. The paradox the artist provides with his work being a tapestry (a work classically associated with bourgeois families in grand estates) and at the same time being covered in phallic graffiti and blood stains was incredibly provoking. Personally, I felt his tapestry was a comment on the undying pride the artist observed in the teenagers’ private ‘microcosms’. Perry also made a sculpture which he named King of Nowhere. It looks as though it’s of ancient African descent; the figure of a native man with knives emerging from his body from all angles. It’s reminiscent of the primitivist and fauvist movements in modern art of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries (perhaps even similar to the work of sculptor Constantin Brancusi). The figure is scarily unflinching, and even appears to be smiling. Perry says of it that men are brought up to not be vulnerable, and that the figure is symbolic of this sentiment. Although the sculpture’s muses (Digmoor youths) first impressions of the art might have seemed nonchalant and even comic (they can be heard making comments like “Ayy that’s sick lad” and “Can I keep some of these knives?”), I think that they were moved by the work. It was clear that they understood it and saw themselves in the work the artist had created in their honour. Because after all, what is the role of an artist? To observe society and interpret what he/she sees? Grayson goes one step further than this and immerses himself in the lives of his subjects.
I wonder if, in the next and concluding episode of the series, Grayson’s aversion towards the upper classes will show in a similar way to its presence in All in the Best Possible Taste. Or whether his persistence on his quest to understand masculinity will dominate.
All will be revealed in the final episode of the series next Thursday (19/05/16) at 10pm on Channel 4.