The weather has changed. In addition to working in my room at Camden every day, with the doors and windows open, last week I made a performance for the opening of the two new shows by Eric Bainbridge and Simon Martin (in the main galleries).
Feeling like a change, and wanting to continue my practice of mirroring or responding to what is going on in the rest of the building, I decided to clear my room and do a bit of light maintenance (during the new exhibition changeover). I mopped the floors, painted out a stain, and cleaned the spaces between the old iron radiator slats.
Whilst doing so, I noticed that the radiators are quiet percussive, and being hollow, amplify sound well. I placed a microphone on top of one radiator and found that the amplified sound of running a brush along it resonates and echoes beyond what you might expect. I thought of a piece I read about recently, by artist/musician David Byrne, in which he turned a room into a musical instrument in a similar way.
My idea try to make new work that might fit the sculptural and conceptual emphasis
I was thrilled that the 'Ship of Crips' event on the 12th had a good turn out, and that I wasn't canned-off stage following each screening and a short q&a. Our only hitch on the night was that the gallery lifts had stopped working a couple of days before, and despite two engineers being in all day working really hard to try to fix them, they were still broken on the evening of the 12th. as such, I hastily moved some of my stuff from my studio - all spookily lit, with spinning mirrors and market-bought automata - down into the cafe area to perform there.
Wearing an outfit that might not have looked out of place in the Bruce Lacey Experience (a suit with glow in the dark stars attached, a pink top hat, a tie-die skirt) I played electric guitar with a range of market stall automata - including a Pedalo cyclist, a puppy, a butterfly,and a doll singing 'Twinkle Twinkle' into a mobile phone'. Lucien, Shiri-Shalmy's son, joined in, and we made an impromptu, sculptural sort of cacophony. Afterwards the skies opened and there was a torrential downpour of rain - which felt like a good sign.
The lifts at Camden Arts Centre are now working again, but the 'Bruce Lacey Experience' has ended. The gallery is currently closed while the next show, featuring works by Eric Bainbridge and Simon Martin, is installed. To keep up, I'm clearing my space too, and have been painting the walls and getting tidied up, with my plan being to make new work that resonates within and among the new show. More of that later, but expect sculptures made of scaffolding...
I'm also working on a small 'File Note' residency publication. Gallery staff have been helping me take photos in poses reminiscent of a Norman King. Seated in the arched doorway to my studio, I wore a plastic tiara, silver grass skirt, tin foil head-piece, fake breasts, and a crown to cover my modesty - among other regal-meets-tabloid props. The idea is to suggest that an artist in residence might be considered similar to a monarch - with no responsibility but to dwell in a room, perform the occasional opening, and get photographed in compromising situations. I know I'm on slighly dodgy ground with this work, but some of the images are quite funny and just maybe one might adorn the cover of my little booklet. I'm waiting on advice from a friend.
I've now settled into a routine of being resident at Camden Arts Centre, with an open studio (the doors wedged open, people free to come in for a chat) every day the gallery is open. I keep waking up early, and I like getting into work amidst the working - 9-5, and sometimes later, through the weekend too. Maybe it's a bit of a literal approach to being 'resident', but I am planning to make some performances and films out about around Camden soon, including a visit to all the Jobcentres in the borough, which linked together on a map to me suggest the shape of a boat:
The work is going to be called 'Back to the Jobcentre' (as in Back to the Future). My plan is to stand with my back to camera, facing each Jobcentre, in the manner of a figure pausing before deciding whether or not to re/enter. Then I'm also thinking of dressing up as a no- budget robot from a sci-fi film, before attempting a performative invasion of each one.
Yesterday I made two performances at The Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow - an old Workhouse and prison. for 'OCD Dance', I stood at the entrance gate to the museum and invited the audience to dance with me, in the ballroom style, over the crazy paving that led up to the door to Vestry House (without stepping on the cracks ) The work had a great response, and was quite uplifting. One guy turned up and said he really did have OCD, so wasn't going to step on the cracks anyway, and then joined in the dance. One guy danced on his heels, like Charlie Chaplin.
For the second work, 'The Grim Weeper', I disguised myself in a skeleton mask with two butterfly automata attached to the head. Wearing safety goggles with two different wind-up music boxes attached over the eyes, a flat cap, and smoking a pipe, I performed in the small butterfly garden. The strangest thing happened at the start of the work: a cat came and sat with me, intrigued by the butterflies I guess. I wandered around playing a quiet cacophony on the 'crying glasses', and spent a long time slowly circling one of the exhibits - the first petrol engine car to be driven in London, which was invented in Walthamstow. I'll post some photos soon.
Last Saturday I chartered a fully accessible barge from the wonderful 'Pirate Castle', in Camden Town, for a group performance/trip down The Regents Canal. Having researched the Renaissance practice of setting disabled people adrift on boats, and the famous 15th Century allegory based on that image ('The Ship of Fools', Das Narrenschiff, by Sebastian Brant) it occurred to me that our current government's practice of withdrawing financial support from up to 40% of disabled benefits claimants (via ATOS) might be viewed in a similar light (eg setting people adrift) My idea was to create a comedic and empowered version of 'The Ship of Fools', poetically inverting a historic relationship between disability and powerlessness or folly.
In a panicky two days I corralled a group of fellow artists to come on an indeterminate journey with me. Unlike the Royal Floatilla wash out, we were lucky to have 30 degree heat all day. Dressed in a collection of medieval garb, and with no filmmakers direction, we headed down the canal drinking cava and eating boat shaped h'or dourves in the sun, singing 'God save the Queen' by the Sex Pistols, performing Royal waves to onlookers, and generally had a riot.
Aaron Williamson and Katherine Araniello, who collaborate as DAG (The Disabled Avant Garde) injected a lot of their brilliant humour and energy, Tom Coogan taught me how to play songs by Smog (Bill Callahan) on guitar, Lucy the Chihuahua played an unconvincing corgi, Lisa Selby and Jill Van Epps transformed into very beautiful, sultry, then vampiric mermaids, Jimmy the skipper was cool, Kate Mahoney wore a cape and beak, Jack and Yuko Catling were reflective, until we hit a long tunnel, when Jack had an inspired idea to sing a song from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory - the one about being lost. We all drank too much and got too much sun, and by the time we reached Little Venice that calm that descends on long journeys kicked in and we stopped performing and just enjoyed the ride. Then we raided t a large supermarket in full costume to restock on booze and sundries...
Thank goodness Rachel Dowle, a very professional filmmaker who works with Kate Mahoney a lot, was on board. She filmed from the banks and the boat, with no direction at all, and is editing a film of the trip for screening at Camden Arts Centre, on September 12th. I got a bit of footage on my camera, so plan to make a short/trailer out of that.
Meanwhile I've been in the studio at CAC working on new 'Pugs in Space' paintings, chatting to visitors about the residency and my work, making sculptures, planning a new film about Unicorn Hunts, collecting Boring Stories and one word poem 'SHHH's' to camera, and eating delicious panini's from the cafe, which has a brand new orange juicing machine that is a thing to behold and is keeping me in Viramin C.
I'm giving a talk about my work as part of the Cafe Curio programme at Camden Arts Centre this Sunday 26th, from 3-5pm. If the weather's good it may well turn into an invitation to everyone to star in a new Unicorn Hunt film, to be made in the garden, drawing from some 15th Century Dutch tapestries that I'm a bit obsessed with...
I've been away from Camden for a week but return today to dig in for the rest of the residency, until November. Last weekend I performed with my band, Flat Soufflee, at Supernormal Festival (Braziers Park, south of Oxford) a very small, independent music festival. We applied to set ourselves up as a cult, wearing all-white clothes. It was great fun, not least because Aaron Williamson joined us as Grand Master for the first two days.
Aaron led us in call and response versions of Stones classics (Mick Jagger visited Braziers when he was dating Marianne Faithful, who's father ran the commune there). We also chanted by a suckling pig, played cricket with grapes, and performed an acoustic set on the Sunday night - film forthcoming - which I'll likely show at CAC.
I'm in London! Staying in an enormous and very beautiful flat for a few weeks, near the Ally Pally. On arrival I went to a nearby pub, the Salisbury, where I'm pretty sure I saw the guy who plays Dr Watson in the new version of Sherlock Holmes, which was exciting.
I've been at CAC three days. The show by Bruce Lacey is super and I recommend a visit - if you like robots, shamanic robes, and a wonderful family history...
I've been in the 'Artist in Residence' studio, where I've started a new 'Pug in Space' painting. It was stuffy indoors today, so I took my paining kit outside and carried on there in the sun, then it started to rain, so I moved into the cafe. That led to an impromptu 'tea party' performance.
Where possible I'm inviting people into my studio to have a chat about the residency, and asking each to contribute in a film I'm making. As part of the past two shows I've made this year, I've asked all the audience to say the same one word to camera, to make a 'one word poem'. Each word relates to the space I'm working in. The first, 'Class', was in an old school.
I was interested in the way that 'class', through its pronunciation, can reveal the class of its orator. The next word, from a show in a hairdressers, was 'Cut', as a film director might say. For CAC, which is sited in an old library, I'm inviting everyone to say 'Shhh'. Quite a few people have contributed so far, and I look forward to building up an archive to screen at the end of the residency
During the Olympics I've been wearing a plastic gold medal that I bought from a joke shop ages ago, when it was first announced that Britain, or 'Team GB', had 'won' the games. It has a star on one side, with the word 'CHINA' in raised lettering, where the medal was made, and the word 'WINNER' on the flip, amidst an explosion of smaller stars. When tied around my neck, the cheap circular sun hangs right up to my throat, so it looks as much like a doggy collar as a medal. As a performative gesture, wearing it might have a number of connotations. One - the idea of winning is cheap.
Another - everything, even a silly idea/totem of victory, is now made in China (by people who are paid a lot less than the private individuals who profit from that labour, all the way down the chain) 'Winning' the Adam Reynolds Bursary was also a bit of a conflict for me, because a good friend applied too who I know is easily as deserving of it as me, so wearing a medal reminds me of that.
When I was at school - I went to a posh boarding school from 11 to 16, not quite as posh as Eton, but the kind David Cameron, Lord Coe, and most of the Olympic team went to, we had an extrordinary range of sports to choose from, from sailing in Summer to Shooting, Fives, a full sized swimming pool - you name it. This matched the cost of attending the school, which, just over 15 years ago, was up to £15,000 a year. The motto, 'A healthy mind in a healthy body', was often touted by one of my 'sports-mad' Chemistry teachers - meaning that sport would keep the mind healthy.
It occurred to me, even then, that this was a load of rubbish. I knew that Steven Hawking has a great mind, but that his body didn't match the sort of sporting health that my teachers equated with a 'healthy mind'. You could say, well it's all relative - but I dont think that that was the way the motto was intended, and certainly not the way that it was implemented. As fun as it could be, enforced sport was also used, and viewed by many of the naturally less athletic, as a sort of punishment.
The idea of a 'healthy mind' was used in a sense that was physically, and socially, divisive. I was interested to read a recent scientific report which stated that there is little or no correlation between depression/mental health and exercise. If there were, Usain Bolt would be the happiest man alive, rather than a braggard. Indeed, when I see sportspeople being interviewed, I often notice how unhappy they seem. The exulted mood that springs from a victory is short-lived, and a spike in an otherwise flat or quite negative emotional curve. Maybe that's the way it is for everyone, but seems more pronounced in sport, where there is an emphasis on 'hope', 'dreams', and some kind of bizarre, ultimate, life-sustaining goal of attainment. To me, that language is a gloss on the obvious underlying indulgence, and joyful meaninglessness of sport.
That said I'm not a kill joy. Watching bits of the Olympics, I have been really moved by some individual and team efforts, but I still see the idea of wanting to beat rivals as being childish. I respect individual accomlishment, and competition can be healthy, but I think it is better to celebrate the weaker soldier, not the one who comes first. I think when we see a victor weeping it might be in a sudden, rather pathetic realisation of this truth, which is bigger than any individual achievement. That's the humbling perspective sport can bring, which is at odds with even the socially motivated, beautifully orchestrated, well meant pomp of the opening ceremony (which had nothing whatsoever to do with sport!)