Nowhere/Somewhere/Everywhere My work is concerned with the human ego, how it tries to express power and assert it over others. A look of power can conveyed by noble buildings and aggressive war machinery, These may attempt to awe future generations, but ultimately time subverts all such aims, and though they inevitably end in failure, may still result in vast waste and destruction. My practice is interdisciplinary, The manipulation of materials is an important part of it, and I have used a range of different media and approaches, from ceramics to video.My Pieces are visibly hand-made and slightly naïve, as opposed to having very machined finish, resulting in a slightly pathetic and silly air; a counterpoint the darkish subject matter. Nowhere/Somewhere/Everywhere has evolved gradually over the course of its making. The turntable supports were going to be like coastal anti-tank defences; square, concrete lumps, then I found the filing cabinets and thoughts of bureaucracy and governmental secrecy got incorporated. Photos of Murmansk on an artist’s website seemed to echo the look of my models and a cold, dark, arctic atmosphere descended. Ages spent searching for the website again brought up lots of interesting stuff; the huge destruction of shipping on the Murmansk run in 1942, Google earth photos of nuclear submarine graveyards off the arctic coasts of Russia, and how nuclear submarines at New Haven have to wear modesty vests to conceal revealing shadows from over interested snoopers. In Britain we are very complacent about the benignity of government.. Legislation rushed through as anti-terrorist measures vital to national security are now being used by councils to winkle out the peccadilloes of the populace, and there are discussions on the need to keep DNA samples of the non-convicted on file. Once ‘ Farenheit 451’ was a crie du cour. Now celebrity lifestyles are a major interests; why ban books when no one wants to read them anyhow? Brave New World , is seeming remarkably prescient with the old Roman strategy of ‘Bread and Circuses’ still functioning two thousand years later. A light touch is all that is needed when people are trained in self-censorship.
Somewhat at a loss as to what to do as our last term started, and wanting an ambitious finale, I thought perhaps a full-sized tank in calico, a sort of tank-shaped tent? A flimsy construction suspended from and rather upstaged by massive pillars. An extension of the previous term’s work. Suggestions that one should make models of the projected supports seemed sensible. The first two models were tank supports. Then I started thinking about the sorts of thing that might support a tank; church towers, multinational hotels, classical columns, fasces, obelisks. No need for the supports to be a matching set.
So very soon the models were no longer tank supports but had become individuals with a life of their own. In the dark these little models cast huge mysterious shadows. Looking at them on the wall, it became clear that either the models or the shadows had to move. A video of the models’ shadows has become an evocation of overweening control.
For the Interim, having no specific context the models spread across the floor, tiny, lonely grey constructions on a vast grey plain. Their indeterminate function seemed to be a strength, even in their smallness they did not radiate comfort and without the tank still suggested military purposes.
Computers are developing eyes to record and report the cashiers who don’t smile sufficiently at customers, the fast food workers who take over long breaks, and to alert assembly line operatives if they pick up an inappropriate tool. But where does this leave the humans? Are they to become creatures who’s ability to do anything beyond the requirements of a machine pre- programmed to government specifications is no longer required or even legal? The LAPD outline profile for a terror suspect seems to precisely a fine artist; regard as suspicious anyone who, among other things , uses binoculars, counts footsteps, takes notes, draws diagrams, speaks with security staff, and photographs objects “with no apparent aesthetic value”.
There is no indication of scale in the stencilled images, the models could be large structures viewed from a distance, but because are tiny and viewed from close up the perspective is slightly skewed giving a slight uneasiness.
Stencilling is thought of as a ‘street’ technique but the use of deckle edged paper gives them an ‘fine art’ aura.
The reality… With deadlines hurtling down upon us it is evident I have completely miscalculated my engineering abilities and the time it would take to set up the machine so no time is left for all the high tech accoutrements to my installation, although I have been thinking that the proposal was looking a bit over-egged, it will get sound and light but no video projection and no slide projector…Is this a detriment? I find the viewing slot seriously frustrating, but perhaps that is just as in life. We the populace are not able to get a good, clear view of government and its machinations, we just piece together as best we can fragments of information with our own suppositions and draw our own conclusions. The sounds reflect my thoughts on an arctic environment, howling wind, electronic hum, and a spasmodic heartbeat. I think it will need to be adjusted before the public viewing, the balance of wind and metallic flapping is not quite right. On the whole, the installation has potential, but a very unfortunate tendency to stop when running at a suitably slow, contemplative speed. An electric train-set power supply with a variable voltage, rather than set points, has been suggested and will be investigated.
Requiem for a Tank As aspects of power assertion, war and military hardware has featured strongly in my work; with repetitive imagery used to express stillness. The rubbings from a Chieftain tank, parked in a local scrap-yard, are also evocations of stillness. Clearly a functioning tank could not be crawled over and have rubbings made from it; only a decommissioned one could be subjected to such indignity. The rubbings are traces of a thing already past, an investigation of the iconic visual status of the tank versus its current condition; outdated, immobile, dead. Rubbings of the full length of its 5m gun were done onto calico, which emphasises stitching and woven texture in the canvas lagging.
Tank Rubbings – installation view These rubbings on textile have something in common with a shroud; fabric marked with visible traces of what it once covered, they translate these parts of the tank into shadowy, insubstantial and rather vulnerable, feminine things; it is not immediately clear what they might be. The image is of a stilled weapon, but the fabric ripples in response to passing people and opening doors, a contrast to the quite substantial military looking brackets from which the fabric is suspended.
The Legend of Alice Downham. The Legend of Alice Downham is a video installation.Alice’s tale is told in a humorous way,but there are darker undercurrents. She is redeemed by her rejection of power. The inspiration for narratives told through still images is from Chris Marker’s iconic film ‘La Jetee’ (1962), the story of a time-traveller told entirely in black and white, still photographs with a detached, monotone narration. Another formative influence on the Alice video was the 1911, humorous, Dadaist, classic ’What a Life’, a book by E. V. Lucas and George Morrow. They used the engravings from a Whiteley’s Department Store catalogue collaged with text to tell a dramatic, somewhat outlandish story. The Legend of Alice Downham, 2008. Installation view.
What a life , Lucas and Morrow (1911) Two swans - one English and one Australian - were always on the lake The Duke's only daughter, who became Lady Grapholine Meadows, was never seen without her coronet, which was a masterpiece of the jeweller's art. The catalogue must have been huge; it seems to have illustrated every variety of product, from horse blankets to silver cutlery, which could be ordered by customers in the colonies and the shires. The Argos catalogue is clearly a modern equivalent. Title and one of the Alice slides.
Photo-narratives The Journey of a soul, 2006. I have used still imagesto tell narratives before. In the first year The journey of a soul was a series of drawings of the Prague metro. A trip on the metro became the story of a man, his life followed my underground trip, his adventures based on what was in the area above the station (according to the guidebook). As in Alice, the search for power is successful; he meets Mephistopheles, but, unlike Alice,he fails to repent and dies in penury. To somewhat explain the basis of the story, my photos of the metro stations were paired, in a book, with views of Stoke-on-Trent chosen for their congruence with the names, or some other connection, with the Prague stations.
We went for a walk & There is Beauty in the city, 2008. Two ‘photo-narratives’, sort of static slide shows, were made in the second year, one was a collaborative project; We went for a Walk , a search for art in Hanley, the other resulted from looking for ‘Beauty in the City’, Anna Francis’s project. Both were observations of ‘regeneration’ in progress and became slightly elliptical comments upon that process.
The Beauties of Stoke-on-Trent: Electricity Substations. Substation stencils: installation view, 2008. The qualities of stencilled images seemed ideal for expressing monotony and repetition, ostensibly the images are identical, but in fact each comes out different and contrast of the sharp, cut line with the softness of the spray is intriguing. Electricity substations are an expression of power in their way, they also mark the passing of time. Those build between the wars now look very decorative and period compared to their modern, minimalist, cost conscious replacements.
A Reflection Having been accepted onto the Fine Art degree course, the summer project was to produce a suitcase to reflection on our move into higher education. ‘Make it personal, its more interesting’ was the word’, which predictably I disdained - soppy, why would I want to tell the viewer about ‘my life’ or ‘me’? My suitcase contained a head, a toothbrush and a paper staircase to express my feeling of the degree being a journey of the mind not of the body, with an unknown destination. The head has eyes and a brain only, the staircase leads we know not where and the toothbrush is ‘not wanted on voyage’. Now, having ascended a little way up the staircase I can see that it goes on, up and up, much further than visible from its foot. Over the course of three years, light has been dawning – slowly - forms seem to emerge from the darkness and I now see one can make nothing that is not personal! The Suitcase project, 2006
So research starts, examining art, artists’ and authors’ thoughts, like a truffle hound on a hot trail, choosing nuggets which strike a chord. Gradually these are put together, an attempt at a coherence of one’s own. By the second year it had become an on-going project; ‘A unifying theory of everything’. From my research it became clear that an interest in stillness and the boring was related to my own life; a self-aware being trying to deal with the human ego. The works of Jameson, Virilio, Svendsen seemed to suggest a sort of scale or continuum of ego domination which made sense to me, and made rational Buddhist words on ego-taming. My construct also seemed to accommodate the works of Csikszentmihalyi on ‘flow’, and Frankel, who’s paths I had crossed as a result of thinking about the joys and satisfactions of just ‘making things’. My use of military imagery to convey stillness as well as assertions of power may seem paradoxical, but these extremes can come together, for instance in Stella Brennan’s slow contemplative video South Pacific (2007) and Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Nuclear Sail . Ian Hamilon Finlay Nuclear Sail. Stella Brennon South Pacific (2007)
Hotels, Helicopters and Spitfires. . I now see that my work over the last three years does fit together and seems in retrospect, remarkably consistent. Buildings of greater or lesser dereliction have been a constant, Level 0 included the magnificent Waste-to-Energy plant in Hanford, multinational hotels and military hardware accrued in the second year. Clearly there is something compelling about these powerful artefacts. This last year brings the unexpectedly cute electricity substations and more militaria. Porcelain Spitfires, 2008 Hotel Stencils, 2008 Like the tank, the Spitfire was an iconic war machine. Easily sentimentalised and often seen through a romantic, nostalgic haze. In the swirling dream, no mention of death by fire, fuel-tanks being in front of the pilot; hands melting a sign of trouble. No mention of average flying life for pilots; 55 hours. My Spitfires, ceramic to honour Stole-on-Trent, are fragile, multiply mended. Afflicted, they are the halt and the lame, like the tank, translated into something ineffective, inoffensive.
Hotel Malaventura The video has a lot of helicopter noises and a mechanical voice on the soundtrack. I had in mind a sort of Year of living dangerously scenario, the contrast of war on the streets and, within the hotel, international luxury with guests who are non-participants in the momentous events outside. The voice represents an idea of the alienated ego (after Virillio) which has no ability to comprehend anything beyond its own concerns. Perhaps it is all just a construct of the paranoid ego…. One that wants power but feels powerless. The Same Old Picture Show. Stencils used express monotony. This piece, incorporated a 10m roll of helicopters flying above a horizon, seen through a hole in a cardboard box, the viewer wound a handle with the expectation of something happening; but nothing did. Threat, veiled. Stencilled helicopter scroll
Time and change. Work which has dealt with time and change,, includes the hospital projects and the two pieces for the multiples module. A walk in Paris in Stoke-on-Trent. This was a way of comparing cities; the clichéd romance of Paris, but via a completely non-romantic, non-clichéd, utilitarian aspect; the dates,which are stamped into Paris pavements when they are repaired, with much denigrated Stoke. Features of the photographed pavements were lined up with similar features on the ground of Stoke-on-Trent. The walk was completely unexciting, with only the random dates to see and it gradually fizzled out, leaving the viewer with no clear direction in a miscellaneous place between buildings. But the dates on the Paris pavements are signs of an extreme desire for control over even the smallest details. To maintain order, or check up on work, or people?
Tranquillity . Two gilded frames face eachother across a corridor. A decayed image of beauty and a beautiful image of decay, both in oval mounts, to emphase their romantic, nay sentimental, visions of perfect veiws. The first was found with the glass broken, abandoned in the rain outside an antique shop. It seems to show an idelaised view of the Italian lakes but the reproduction has decayed where the glass is missing. The lower oner is a photograph of a photo-mural in an abandoned house in upstate New York. The sort of view of water and pine trees, which when seen in a gold frame over a fire-place or some such, is probably called Tranquity, except possibly for the telephone lines which seem to loop across the image..
Hospital projects: Help from the Hayward Hospital, 1881 – 2009: from underclothing and beef tea to monoclonal antibodies and T-cell factors . This is a project is to clebrate the Haywood Hospital’s move into a Private Finance Initiative building; the thrid move into a purpose built premises since its foundation in 1881. I am looking for parallels and contrasts in the help offered now and as recorded in the Minutes of the Governors meetings. These minutes are at the County Record office in Stafford and are hugely involving to read. The governors seem to have become tied up in the minutiae of organising two nurses and a housekeeper. There are endless entries about tenders for supply of meat and milk and agreements that bills should be paid. Matters which one would have expected to be delegated are seriously discussed; the buying of a single ‘…suit of flannel underclothing, stamped with the charity’s name, is to be obtained under the directions of the nurses and lent, in the first place, to ----- Boulton of Sneyd Street, Cobridge .’ (minutes for 10 April, 1882). The first hospital did not get built until 1887. I plan to use photographs of the Day Case Unit with hand written text from the minutes to make cyanotype prints.
Rebirth – Goodbye Fanny Deakin The Maternity Block of the North Staffordshire Hospital is a large seven storey building .. The building was opened in 1968 and is to be demolished in April 2009.. The top floor of the Maternity Block was the Fanny Deakin Memorial Ward. She was a local politician who campagned tirelessly for the better treatment of mothers. A maternity home was opened in her name in 1947 which was subsumed into this maternity building when it was built . When the building ceases to be used the sounds of its functioning will be lost irretrievably: the noise of a particular trolley the creak of that door, that person’s footstep on that stair, the voice in the lift… These sounds are so prosaic, so un-noticed and ignored, but they are totally specific and unique to the building. To people who have visited the building on a regular basis or worked in it, possibly for years, they will be very evocative. Ambient noise in functioning wards of the old Maternity Building and in the building empty have been made. The sounds make a sort of narrative the entryway, lift going up, functioning ward, the empty space, lift going down, birds twittering sleepily outside at dusk. The recording will played outside the empty building during the Rebirth celebrations and also be possibly by the entry to the new building; bringing a ghost of the old to the new. Plaque on the fifth floor.