Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Apologies for my absence. You will have to take this on trust.

Photo courtesy of Louise Charlotte Eames
The late eighties was a time of extreme change that not many people saw coming , there is always a lag in perception between the expectations and bias we grow up with and what is actually happening. 

The Art college I went to was deeply conservative, emphasizing the traditional skills of drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture,  it was also fighting for its existence  in the face of widespread reorganization in higher education ( it would eventually be sucked into Southampton  university) , the tutors were good , mainly practicing artists based in London or Bristol, but not particularly revolutionary, though a horde of visiting lecturers were interesting , but still very traditional. In london there was a revolution brewing , Saatchi , the YBA's , dead sharks in tanks, a return, in some part, to conceptual-ism. 

I hadn't a clue any of this was going on because I'd stopped going to galleries, they'd ceased to have meaning for me. What interested me in my broken way was what a young first year was doing out in the water meadows near the private school. We went out one day , me with my camera and her just with herself , and she took mud and twigs and water and just starting making these ephemeral works which would just decay and fall apart within days and hours , but it was fast and quick and different. We got chased off by a groundsman eventually). She also introduced me to the idea of asemic writing, she showed me some pages from her sketchbook where she had written in black marker then turned the page and written over the writing so it took on the appearance of a new language or graffiti , a technique I still use.
Glossolalia - 2000-2003

I'd started thinking a lot about tarot ( a friend had given me a pack just as we left high school) and I had decided to write my thesis on them, I'd also moved into a house, which soon became a squat, with other students and it became one of the most productive and  frenetic times in my life.I started to write a lot , and one of my friends , Dave Howell , had started to put together a fanzine , an obsessive eye, and he was kind enough to put some of my writing in that, I'd also started collaging a set of tarot cards from colored paper , just what they meant to me , these again are lost, the fanzine writing later turned into the basis for a couple of books , but thats another story.

I Didn't want to paint - I'd seen what the Tutors approved of (there is always a favorite student) and it just didn't interest me, it wasn't a spirit of exploration it was a conformity to accepted values , what kind of art school was this?

At the beginning of the new term they'd given me a new space to work in, in one of the larger studios, so to begin with I started making assemblage. I had a song in my head all the time , 'invisible' sun by the Police , it reflected the bleak mental state I existed in at the time. I cut a square of hardboard about 2ft by 2ft then cut a circle into that , then another board 3 or 4inchs
away from that , with a cut out of my own hand balanced between the two, and for some reason a series of ping pong balls stick to the ends of doweling of different lengths coming out from the circle , all , except the white ping pong balls , painted black , I think in retrospect I just wanted to play with physical distances rather than the imagined distances within 2d painting . But it was still flat.  

The head of painting thought I should be making artists books , after having seen the prints that I'd been making down in printmaking having disappeared from the cold and wet greenhouse , the printmaking department being a bit like the French foreign legion for students who didn't fit in anywhere else. The prints were large woodcuts based on the tarot card the devil and a few others , I forget which , but they were surprised when they realized I'd been working , they thought that I'd just gone on a massive bender.

But then the Spanish exchange students arrived yeah!

I'd started buying model kits and making small dioramas reflecting what I saw happening within and without , think apocalypse now , I mean overnight the whole college started wearing combat gear ( or was that just the sculpture department) - I had tank crew suits and a jacket with Captain paranoia in silver and black letters scrawled on the back. It seemed like a state of war , I was using materials I hadn't even thought of which ended up with me constructing a bender out of tree branches in my studio space and covering it with a lot of baco-foil , putting tiny Napoleonic soldiers onto a map of winchester with a plan of attack centered on the college, in a corner was an old record player playing a stuck groove over and again , a segment of sensoria by cabaret Voltaire from the Micro-phonies album. I'd been re-reading Orwell's 1984 , James Gleick's book on chaos theory and a pamphlet from the second world war by Mass observation on the subject of propaganda. I saw the college as an environment to manipulate and stretch.

One of my favorite pieces  was me basically resigning from painting. I made a crude box from  sheet copper, took one of my favorite paintings and then burnt it to ash inside the copper box , outside the principals office , whilst the principal was working , I don't think he noticed . I took delight in goading tutors with my actions to see what their reactions would be , to know what your work does you have to observe your audience. I think this is the work that turned into the sculpture kit .

The Spanish exchange students were brilliant , great artists , full of ideas , quirky, they had the idea of turning the whole of winchester into one giant installation , and they did , I think I might have taken part in it but I can't remember , it all gets a bit hazy , nor do I have any photographs to prove any of this , as I say I wish I had paid more attention when they told us to record our work . What remains seems precious. 

Of Course , you are going to have to take all of this on trust , there is little evidence remaining of anything .

One of the strangest ideas I had was to conjure poltergeists within a contained environment like the small gallery attached to the college , the poltergeists I imagined would create a huge swirl of broken debris , chairs etc . I wonder if that would even be possible ? This idea later resurfaced in the book '21 Proposals for the turbine hall' , published in 2011 by Road books  Produced and edited by Peter Morgan and Judy Kravis , you can see it online here , http://www.tableofcontents.ie/resources/21%20proposals.pdf

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