Miriam Elia - satire in which Peter and Jane grapple with Tracey Emin-style conceptual art
Miriam Elia, We Go to the Gallery. 2014.
Miriam Elia’s new take on a 1960s Ladybird book.Peter, Jane and Mummy go to a gallery and learn about sex, death and contemporary art.
Have you taken children to a gallery recently? Did you struggle to explain the work to them in plain and simple English? Well, those awkward moments are now over. Miriam Elia has created a colourful new ‘Harlequin Ladybird book,’ for parents and young children to understand contemporary art (but mainly parents.)
We Go To The Gallery is the first in a series of ‘Harlequin Ladybird’ books designed to make scary subjects approachable for the under 5s. Described in bold colours and clear and concise English, each book will drag families in to the darkest recesses of the collective unconscious, for their broader cultural benefit.
The jolly colourful illustrations will enable the child to smoothly internalise all of the debilitating middle class self hatred contained in the artworks at the gallery. Key words on every page also help the child to identify the key concepts, so that they may repeat them at dinner parties and impress educated guests.
We Go To The Gallery has been self-published by Elia with help from successful kick-starter campaign. The first edition of a thousand books are for sale at £20 each. Each image was created by Miriam Elia with a mixture of watercolour, gouache and digital photographic manipulation. The text was written by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia.
Miriam Elia (b.1982, London) is a multi-disciplinary artist and Sony Nominated Comedy writer. Her first graphic novel published by Macmillan The Diary of Edward The Hamster 1990-1990 has sold over 15,000 copies in the UK, and has been published in seven other countries including the USA (featured in The New York Post this week). Edward the Hamster is already a favourite humour book at art book shops like the Tate Modern and MOMA. Miriam’s satirical art work has been covered in such publica- tions as The Independent, Hunger Magazine, The Guardian, Dazed and confused and Pop Magazine.
The launch will be accompanied by an exhibition of Elia’s prints.
For more information please contact Victoria Williams: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Is the art pretty?” Jane asks her mother as she walks into a modern art exhibition titled "The Death of Meaning" along with her brother Peter. “No,” says Mummy. “Pretty is not important.”
Thus begins the exploration of the family into the modern art world in the mock-children’s book "We Go To The Gallery" by English artist Miriam Elia. The space of the art gallery sets two worldviews against each other, with hilarious results. ‘Mummy,’ the English mother is the 21st century nihilist. And her two children, little Jane and Peter, exemplify the post-war optimism of the mid 1900s. Ladybird, the English response to the American children’s book series Dick and Jane, is the aesthetic and stylistic inspiration for the work-- also with its roots in mid-century optimism. As the family walks from room to room, Jane and Peter react logically (and childishly) to abstract works, only to get struck down and confused by the cynical mother. “It draws two worlds that are polar opposites together,” Elia says of the book, which saw a limited release of 1,000 copies this month. “The mother is kind of the bridge between them, because she is able to explain the art to the kids in a way that they understand.” As an artist, the irony of explaining of her own, arguably modern, piece of work to a reporter is not lost on her. “I am a modern artist, so I create these, and these are beautiful things. You know, I consider this a piece of art,” she says as she holds up the hand-bound 48 page book. “But at the same time, this piece is very critical of a lot of the philosophy underlying modern art.” When asked if she has offended any artists with her critique of the culture, Elia just laughs it off. “Funnily enough, I am in the middle of a massive legal problem, but not with any artists. Ladybird Books is threatening to destroy my book, take the art away, and suppress it,” she says. “No artists have taken offense to it at all. But [Ladybird] thinks it is upsetting the values of childhood.” “This book is clearly for adults,” she concludes. “But, I don’t like to patronize children. I’m sure some kid out there can get the humor.” All images by Miriam Elia
- Daniel Rivero
An artist and comedian has been told by the publisher Penguin that her new satirical art book breaches its copyright, and if she continues to sell copies it could use the courts to seize the books and have them pulped.
Miriam Elia, who has her own comedy series, A Series Of Psychotic Episodes, on BBC Radio 4 and has had a number of short segments on Channel 4, had produced a spoof version of the Ladybird books from the 60s. Generations of British children fondly remember these works, which famously portrayed the daily lives of Mummy, Peter and Jane as an introduction to reading and writing for young children.
Elia's version sees them visiting an exhibition at a modern art gallery and grappling with existential questions about the nature of Tracey Emin-style conceptualist work, much of it peppered with distinctly adult imagery.
Elia, an accomplished artist who trained at the Royal College of Art and has shown in a number of prestigious galleries, produced all the pictures in the book, We Go to the Gallery, herself. Some she painted, while some were collages made from scenes cut from old Ladybird books.
She had a brief initial run of 1,000 books printed privately and has been selling them for £20 each. But Penguin, which owns the Ladybird imprint, contacted Elia, saying that her work breached its copyright. The company has told Elia that it will allow her one month to sell enough books to cover her costs, but any more have to be destroyed.
"I had the idea two years ago," said Elia. "I wanted to do a satirical version of those old I-Spy books from the 60s where you're supposed to tick off everything you see but they're really predictable. Then, because I collect Ladybird books, the two things came together, and the first image I composed was the 'God is dead' image."
The page depicts an empty room, in which Mummy introduces Peter and Jane to a severe form of Nietzschean nihilism.
Another page pokes fun at the giant inflatable animals that the artist and former Wall Street commodities broker Jeff Koons is famous – or infamous – for. Koons's Balloon Dog (Orange) became the most expensive artwork by a living person when it was sold at auction for $58.4m (£35m) last November.
Mummy, Peter and Jane all stare nonplussed at a huge red balloon dog that appears to have been created by a manic children's party clown. "I want to play with the balloon!" declares Peter. "Only venture capitalists can play with this balloon," replies Mummy.
"I got really into the books," said Elia. "I bought them all and started copying them. I learnt to paint the style and just got hooked."
Asked who would buy the books, she said: "Definitely not children. I never really think about the target audience. I just make things and hope people like them.
"Kids might like the books, though there are lots of rude things in them, but then there are rude things in so much of contemporary art. There's no swearing but there are paintings of a penis or vagina because most stuff in modern art galleries is explicit. Every day thousands of schoolchildren go to Tate Modern and they see that anyway."
Penguin contacted her last month to complain. "It was a bit of a shock. I never really thought about copyright," she said. "Artists just respond to the world in your little room and you're not thinking about much else. You just think: 'Oh, this will be great!'"
She stressed that Penguin has been sympathetic and has been open to negotiation, but ultimately would not back down on what it saw as infringement of its copyright.
"I've been talking to them a lot and suggesting ways around the problem. And they do understand. There's no malice, but it's harsh because they can destroy the work. I just want it to be appreciated. It was supposed to be an homage to Ladybird – and a bit of a satirical comment on the art world, I suppose."
A spokeswoman for Penguin said: "We are in discussions with the artist. While we respect her artistic rights, we take our copyright and our trademark rights very seriously – not least around our Ladybird brand which has been developed over many years to help very young children to read." - Gareth Rubin
The Diary of Edward The Hamster
Translated from the original Hamster by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia
Excavated from a garage sale in a leafy north London suburb, The Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 (Blue Rider Press, 2013), by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia, is a remarkable historical document. Translated from the original Hamster by the aforementioned brother-sister duo, it soon transpired that the document would transform contemporary literature in both the human and rodent worlds. It is an extraordinary work: profound meditations on the nature of captivity and the soul, interlaced with stark reflections on the grinding banalities of everyday living, illuminate its tiny pages. If you take the time to read this diary, you may come to realize that Edward is not just a hamster; he is a state of mind.