The Studio Game by Peter Burnett, follows a young couple trying to ‘make it big’ in the contemporary art world. However, Liska and Guy Poynti ng believe the only way that this can be achieved is through their own death.
Having completed their final collection, the couple plan to jump hand in hand from a ferry bound for the Orkney Islands. Guy loses his courage at the last moment and leaves his soul mate to plunge alone into the icy depths of the North Sea. As was the plan, Liska’s paintings become the most sought after work amongst the art dealers of Aberdeen but, contrary to her dying wish, her collection of 58 paintings is dispersed amongst different owners and galleries. An aimless and heartbroken Guy falls in with a crowd of ‘art activists’ who are determined to see Liska’s work destroyed if it cannot be preserved as one collection.
Set around the pubs, galleries and artist’s squats of Aberdeen, the city is depicted in The Studio Game as being populated by struggling artists, oil magnates, militant ‘art activists’ and frustrated, yet erudite, traffic wardens. Aberdeen appears as a mesmerising place with Guy as a troubled and often drunken flâneur. We see the city through the eyes of Guy as he struggles with the grief of losing Liska, and the guilt he feels at losing the courage to follow her to an early grave. However, through such chaos comes order, eventually. Burnett uses Guy’s descent of Guy to explore themes of love, loss, the nature of creativity and the relationship between art and commerce.
The Studio Game raises big questions about the art ‘game’: when does art become art?; who do we define as ‘artists’?; what makes a successful artist?; how do we define success? These issues are never resolved nor are they, I suspect, meant to be. Instead, each character promulgates their different opinions with as much conviction as any other.
The Studio Game is a satirical commentary on the contemporary art world, a fictional playground of (also) heavyweight intellectual theory as big ideas are thrashed out by a cast of unlikely characters. At one point, a tea room filled with artists working as traffic wardens offers a scene rife with comic dialogue that moves from a literal huddle of work-mates to a cluster of debating intellectuals as they discuss their insights and experiences of art. This scene is comic, one warden recalls giving “Tracy Emin a parking ticket… but she framed it and sold it for £6000”. These absurd and self-deprecating flashes of appear throughout the book, offering respite from the darker inner monologue of Guy Poynting; there is also some authenticity in the North East of Scotland voices of the author and his characters.
At 240 pages long with short chapters The Studio Game is an experimental but not unreadable novel that is amusing, intriguing and entertaining. The fourth offering from author Peter Burnett, it is a fine achievement that merits a second reading.