until they remembered that .\lalick makes films at the rate of a snail and that ('ltc.’ (working titlel would not surface until 2006. So the world averted its gaze to Walter Salles’ solid film version of Tllt’ Motorcycle Diaries — the l8-year-old pre-rebel's journals of the journeys he took around South Atnerica in l95l and I952. Che's journals (which were tastily repackaged for yuppie lefties by various publishers in the mid 90s) were only ever interesting for the fact that they clearly sketched out the moments of epiphany in this young socialist's life. God knows Che's writing was at best vulgarly wide eyed and at worst pretentiously naive. Salles is a filmmaker best known in Furope for l998‘s sweet road movie Central Station and his excellent 2()()l tale ofclannish violence Bc/tim/ the Sun. but while his take on Guevara‘s most accessible piece of sustained writing is admirable. it is all too willing to embrace the comfortable aspect of Guevara‘s tnore acceptable (read adolescent) beliefs rather than to investigate the genesis of his more anarchic hard line convictions that he was to betray in his message to the Tricontinental before his death in I967.
But the refraining of history on the pan of The Motorcyc/c Diaries. the movie. is nothing new. A
few years ago. Swatch. the Swiss manufacturer of
watches. released a Revolution model adorned with Che's image on its face. Similarly. Fisher. an Austrian ski and tennis goods manufacturer. unveiled a Revolution model of its skis also adorned with Che's likeness on its product. In the world of music. Rage Against the Machine have placed Che‘s image on everything from album covers to T—shirts. And in Bolivia. tourist agencies offer package tours through the mountains and countryside where Che and his comrades fell 30 years earlier. From posters to even short lived beer and vodka promotions. Che Guevara. long a potent political symbol. has been dumbed down to a mindbendingly simple mythic proposition.
All of which brings us to Gavin Turk. an artist whose Festival show seems to turn on the conceit that just because Che Guevara’s visage never featured in Andy Warhol's work it is now safe to deconstruct Korda’s famous image with a Warholian glee. Turk‘s work is. of course. about far more than that. and the other subjects of his Faces show are a testament to the fact that this fascinating young artist is intent on exploring questions of both identity and empathy bttt there is little doubt that it is the Guevara image that will get the punters through the door. While Turk's use of Guevara‘s face may be levelled by the intelligence and liberal dose of irony behind the concept. Ricky Gervais' use of the Che icon in the publicity material for his one night only Fringe show Politics is more or less unforgivable. But David Brent would surely have it no other way.
All this isn‘t quite what Castro meant when he delivered his eulogy to Guevara to nearly a million people on IS October 1967 and wept: ‘They are
mistaken to believe that his death is the defeat of his ideas.‘ Jean Paul Satre famously said of
Guevara that he ‘was the most complete human being of our age‘. But that was a different age. It was an age before PR. franchises and the warp of ideals to fit commercial ends. It was an age when a trigger fingered photographer could touch a button and create the immortal.
The Motorcycle Diaries, UGC, 623 8030, Wed 18 Aug 9/9.30pm. Faces: Gavin Turk, Edinburgh Printmakers, 557 2479, until 18 Sep. Ricky Gervais Live II: Politics, Edinburgh Playhouse, 0870 606 3424, Fri 13 Aug, 7.30pm.
From activist to icon: Che relaxing (below); Time cover from 1960; architectural sculpture in Havana; stills from The Motorcycle Diaries; Che the hero; 3 print by artist Gavin Turk; and Ricky Gervais (above)
12—19 Aug 2904 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 51