The journalist Jon Snow talked to fellow hack David Aaronovitch about his new book ‘The role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History’ …or rather he didn’t because Jon was a Snow-show (the first time I’ve seen this happen in the best part of ten years visiting the festival).
Snow’s non-appearance, or more accurately very late arrival five minutes from the end, was partly what made the session so captivating. Aaronovitch is both a great interviewer and a fine interviewee, and he combined the roles effortlessly and with great humour. The show’s producer also demonstrated his comic flair cutting to Snow’s empty chair a couple of times when Aaronovitch set up a question for himself.
Amongst all of this was the book. Aaronovitch clearly outlined the role of the conspiracy theory in endorsing political agendas and how the impact of such a theory can become amplified by political regimes. He talked in some depth about ‘the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, how seriously it was taken by the mainstream media in the early 20th century and how it continues to be used as a weapon of propaganda. The death of Diana, allegations of fake moon landings and the twin towers were all covered, although as Snow pointed out when he made a brief and witty entrance, no interrogation of the WMD debate that sent us to war in Iraq. Perhaps Aaronovitch is already planning the sequel.
Jake and Dinos are less intimidating in the flesh than they are in print and the explosive confrontations into which other interviews have descended did not materialise at Hay. In fact unreserved contrarians though they are they make quite a charming pair.
There is a line and Jake and Dinos are on a mission to cross it, which they did in this interview but in the main it was engaging and revelatory. Perhaps the most interesting insight from the session was their reaction to the fire in Leyton, east London which destroyed many priceless works of art belonging to Charles Saatchi including their acclaimed installation ‘Hell’. In response to the claim that orginal art can not be recreated they are working on a reversioned installation – this time called ‘Fucking Hell’. Tracey Emin’s famous tent the explicative ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the same fire and the artist has been adamant that she could not recreate it …. so, they claim, Jake and Dinos have recreated it, and they plan to show it and perhaps even produce multiple versions. I hope that’s true.
The charismatic art historian told the fascinating tale of La Belle Ferronniere, possibly the work of Leonardo da Vinci and perhaps not. It is an exquisite work and I am sure that I was not alone in hoping that they would be a grand reveal proving the painting’s provenance.
Alas no, but what we got instead was an insiders eye view of the world of art authentication and how the process weaves itself around the economic fortunes of the wider world. Science plays an ever increasing role and there is the ‘eye’; the ability of the aficionado to spot an artist’s signature in the architecture of a model’s ear or the line of the fingers in a resting had. There remains a strange alchemy to the process and that is something that the art world endorses. We learnt also that when doubt is cast on a painting it’s value may forever be affected by residual uncertatinty even if the experts agree. With regard to La Belle Ferronierre the experts don’t agree and the work remains ‘tainted’ by the celebrated court case in the States the 1920s after it was labelled as a copy by art expert Sir Joseph Duveen, and its the owner Mrs Andrée Lardoux Hahn, sued for defamation.
It’s a blindingly obvious title, accepted. Memories of the mud at last year’s wash out are fading fast as the sun beats on the white tents in the Welsh valley. Actually the tents are in England, the car park across the road is in Wales as is the town centre – a ten minute walk from the literary action.
The forecast is good and whilst there is some rain, these showers will be eclipsed by brilliant sunshine. So we are set fair for a good week