Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Work in Progress






These five plates are all work in progress. They are test pieces but they've worked quite well in some ways. There's still a bit of trimming and tidyding up I want to do on the decals, but I'm happy with the basic idea.
From the top, they depict, Neda Agha Soltan, shot in Tehran on June 20th 2009 for being at an anti-government demonstration. Then there is 'Shame on you: Ashkaan's message to George Galloway.' Ashkaan is one my friends who comes to the demonstrations we hold regularly outside the Iranian Embassy in London to protest the coup d'etat, the stolen 'election,' and to remember the many men and women murdered, raped and imprisoned by the current Iranian regime for being political and social dissidents.
The thrird image is Taraaneh Mousavi, who was gang raped unto death by government irregular forces, called the basij, in June 2009. Her burnt body was eventually found dumped by a roadside somewhere near Qazvin. Then there is Sohrab Arabi, 19 year old student protester, shot in the street in June 2009. He is shown here with his mum at one the demonstrations. Then there is another image of Neda.
Apart form Ashkaan's these are commemorative plates some broken and mended. I love Ashkaan's message to Galloway because it seems to me to so completely from the heart and because he's saying something that matters - that the loathsome Galloway is collaborating hypocrite, who would no sooner provide genuine support to the people of Palestine than he would go to the moon.
The four images of murdered and raped protesters are probably the best known among the hundreds who have been killed and the thousands who are still imprisoned. There is so much more to do. This is just the beginning.
The top four plates are currently at Gallery Oldham but I'm not sure which they have decided to display. I hope all of them, but I know they were a bit pushed for space. The Oldham show finishes on November 14th.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Short Post

Dear friends, time to catch up - again.
The kiln is working. So it was time to sort out an ailing computer, an apple mac, so old, so antiquated and redundant at 8 years old, that it could not download new software, had not been able to for about 4 years in fact, and had reached the point that even you tube was refusing to share its secrets with me. No great loss you might think, but you'd be surprised. Fine things can be found on that site and I was missing them. Flash player? you must be joking. I couldn't use it at all. 'Get a modern browser,' barked the pop-up box. 'I would if I could,' I sighed. So, I saved and saved and saved and now have a new computer - which doesn't work either. It's working now, I hear you say. Yes. It wont this evening though. I don't think the fault is with the computer though. The culprit is - oh yes of course it is - BT. I haven't had functional broadband for about a month now. They're working on it, they say. We'll see. This is the first time I've been able to write a post, but I haven't uploaded it yet...
The computer? Well it's a fancy new apple mac. I'll talk about it later. I do think it's SENSATIONALLY vulgar though. I'm sorry. I know I'm supposed to love it but I dont. Well not yet anyway. I shall explore it vulgarity in time. I want to get to the studio now.
Oh, just one more thing - I also have a new mobile number - also my studio number - 07771 872473 - just practising. It is my 'public' number though. It's a blackberry and this I do love. I love it's sound. I can hear it. I love it's efficiency. It works. I love its size and holdability. Spell check doesn't approve of that word but you know what it means and so do I so SC will have to cope. I just love the freedom it gives me. I can check the weather and the transport updates without need of computer - bugger the broadband. Screen's a bit small for facebook but that's probably a good thing. Ok. I really am going to the studio now with my tiny, light, portable blackberry. See you later with proper post of some sort. And stand by for a flurry of posts on The C Word.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Kilns of the North Rejoice!


Kilns of the North Rejooiiiiiice, Riiiiver and mountain spriiing...
So, it's done its first firing and delivered a fully cooked bisque firing. Hooray.
Adrian and his son turn up at 9.00am Tuesday 20th armed with a van full of optimism and good will, an unshakeable conviction that the fault, whatever it was, could be corrected in - oooo - minutes - half and hour max, and alternatives for every part of the kiln's anatomy, just in case.

A couple of hours later,
and several calls to Mr. Stafford Controller later,
and a great many wires and flashing lights,
and testing,
and little peeps and bigger squeals and an alarm or two,
and numerous figures and numbers and mixtures of figures and numbers,
and a small amount of grunting,
all this a two hours later,
it was,
halleluja,
fixed.

The culprit was one of the electrical components in the wiring. Controller wasn't 'goosed,' nor was the actual wiring-in the cause of the problem. It was a manufacturing fault elsewhere - which was kind of reassuring - for me anyway. It has, as I write, completed its second firing. I love the controller - it lights up like a Christmas tree and tells you exactly what's going on. It takes 2 days to cool down, if you're uber-cautious, which I am. So, we'll see tomorrow how it all comes out but from now on, it's about how I'm making the stuff, not about whether or not the kiln works. It works just fine. Now all I've got to do is learn how to read the meter...

Meanwhile, there's a very fine story about the origins of Northern Kilns that I'd like to share.
It concerns the founder of this highly esteemed, Best of British, company, one Jim Cross.
Originally a school teacher, Jim, it seems, had an incurable love for clay, kilns and all manner of ceramic invention. He went to Goldsmiths, London - (date to be supplied), which is where he trained - or learned - it's unclear if anyone really trained him as such - what is clear, however, is that there was no kiln and that he had to build one. There must have been some kind of restriction on what could be built where and on what could be visible, and what sort of fumes could be emitted. Jim's first kiln, for such it was, was a wood kiln - built in the middle of London, right next to the railway, but built entirely underground. His son, Dylan, takes up the story:

'The kiln was built, as we said, out of old, made-in-Darwen, gents urinals. The toilets were being demolished. The size was 4' x 2' glazed. This was a most crude system. He said he was very, very green at that stage. The kiln was built out the back of Goldsmiths. There is a hill at the back which he used for the chimney which ran approximately 27' into the railway. The chimney was made out of salt glazed, interconnecting drainage pipes. Earth was packed around the joins. Dad sold on the soil, after every firing, to some people who were growing things in a greenhouse because the soil, by then, was sterilised.

The fuel used was wood and waist engine oil. The oil had added kick because the garage he got it from also did re-spray jobs. Dad said he wasted a lot of time drop feeding oil and a drop of water on top to energise the oil burn further.

I've got him to look at the map. It was approximately where the Ben Pimlott building is now he reckons. Laurie grove was not there at that time. There was the railway in the back yard, so to speak. That’s not there either.' (This is an edited version of Dylan's email.)

So, the story of the Mighty Northern Kilns began in the bowels of New Cross, behind Goldmiths School of Art, in a rail yard, or near enough, underground, with a large number of urinals and some engine oil. The combination of temerity, cheek, determination, and sheer outrageous inventiveness has surely made Northern Kilns the most inspired makers of kilns we have in this country. Anyone that can make a flat pack kiln and, as in one recent episode in a school in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, bring it down a two hundred year old oak staircase, without making a mark on either the stairs or the walls, must be deserving of some kind of collective knighthood.

But somehow you just know that the maker of a wood-fired, underground, unrinal-kiln, would have little truck with any such nonsense...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

New Kiln: The Path of True Love

Having a new kiln is like acquiring a new lover: the anxiety in pursuing your dream kiln, the choosing which to have while wondering if you can you really afford it. Will it want to devour the most expensive daytime electricity the whole time or will Economy 7 do - nights anyway? Have you the space - can you live together? What about your other studio mates? Will it get on with their work or will there be tantrums? And will it be 'high maintenance,' demanding your attention the ENTIRE time, or will it be reasonably self sufficient? Really, on second thoughts, perhaps a new lover would easier. Kiln's hotter though. The spark's there and the electricity - oh the electricity - who could argue with that?

The deliberations were endless. First I thought I'd get a top loading one, easier to move and cheaper, I thought. Then I was chasing round after second hand ones - I mean I'm not hung up on virgins or anything. Then, when I'd settled on which studio I was going to be renting, I realised that I'd chosen one with a narrow doorway. Only a very small kiln could get through there. Back to the drawing board. A flat pack kiln was what I needed but that was just the stuff of jokes, surely.

I Called Northern Kilns. 'What's the nearest thing you've got to a flat pack kiln, Adrian,' I quipped, - oh how I laughed.
'Go on,' comes the reply in a 'sock-it-to-me' sort of voice.
'Doorway's just a normal domestic-doorway-width,' I say, beginning to sound more like I actually feel.
'No problem,' comes the cheerful repost. 'We make 'em in two halves - join 'em up in the studio.'
Could it really be that simple? I couldn't believe my luck. A kiln willing to be split in half just for me? My dream kiln - OMG! Could this really be true?

So I dived right in and ordered my dream kiln - added heated swimming pool, palm trees, ten piece band, cocktail bar - the possibilities were endless it seemed.
KW rating? Bah humbug who would worry about that faced with the possibility of flat pack kiln? So, the KW rating quietly rose and eventually I talked to the electrician.
'Phwooor,' said Jim, 'That's a bit bigger than you were talking about before.' Mutter mutter, 'We might have to route that back to something or other else.'
'Yes yes,' I say, 'Don’t worry about that. As long as it works.' I was getting my dream kiln, after all.
So then Jim rings with the estimate. 'Uurh, Ahem, something something, all told, £800.00.'
Yikes, I thought. But I was getting my dream kiln, so what did it matter?

July 1st and the kiln moves in. Dylan and Stuart from Northern kilns appear at 9.00am in a van with a kiln in two parts and deftly move it into the space: my modest studio doorway welcomes the new bride which is at least four times its size. July 1st also distinguished itself by being one of the hottest days of the year - by 12.00 midday, the room temperature had reached about 30C but, piece by piece, the kiln took shape. Stuart put the finishing touches while Dylan plugged in the Stafford controller and showed me how to work it. In essence it works the same way as any other but you do have more choice about how you're going to set your programmes.

A week later and it's wired in. The meter has yet to arrive, but no matter. I pack the kiln anyway and prepare to do a first firing. Confident I'd be able to set the programme and start the kiln in a matter of minutes, I saunter over the studio in the afternoon thinking I'd get to a friend's for dinner by 7.30.

The controller, however, had other ideas. I closed the kiln door, closed the interlocking system, turned on the power and the controller lit up. It started to go through its steps, but didn't show the ambient temperature - which is what you'd expect at this point. Carefully I read through all the notes in the manual. According the Stafford, the temperature was ranging from -40 to 500C in a matter of seconds. I don’t suppose even the Hadron Collider does this.

My heart sank through the floor and on into purgatory yea unto the very depths of hell - but still no chance of a firing. No matter what I did, I couldn’t override this apparent floating temperature. I tried all manner of things, but nothing worked. Eventually I set off its alarm and, at that point, admitted defeat.

On Monday, after a day's therapeutic gardening, I called Northern Kilns and described the behaviour of the controller.
'Dont like the sound of that,' says Adrian. First he asks me to unplug and replug in the kiln, just to make sure the connections are sound. They are. It makes no difference. An hour or so later, after a call to the manufacturer, he calls back to say he's coming down Tuesday 20th to sort it out. 'Controller’s goosed.' Goosed. I love that.

So, the first firing has yet to happen but my devotion remains undimmed. Adrian and Dylan, Guardian Angels of the Mighty Northern Kilns leave no stone unturned in the quest to produce the perfect kiln and make sure it’s just as you need it. As to mine, it’s as I said: Getting a new kiln is like getting a new lover. The path of true love never did run smooth.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 6: Postscript

Here is the shortest and, I hope, the last of these. The trouble has been discussed at length and solutions, such as they are, proposed. The exhibition is now MUCH better labelled and contextualised. Those basic questions that any viewer would surely want to know are now mostly answered. We have some explanation as to why Shattered is showing in this space, some indication of how the stories in the work connect to the history of the Castle and I have been promised high quality professional photographs. It continues to look gorgeous and I still think that, in this respect at least, it exceeds my expectations.

I did a talk and workshop there on June 3rd which was immensely successful but the sense of loss as one or two people, as always, expressed the wish that they could see the pots better, reappeared like a restless ghost. This problem will remain and is, potentially, a difficulty that attends all museum interventions. To this extent, it suggests that Shattered was not the right work for that space or that that space was not the right work for Shattered - but I'm still reluctant to accept that fully, just because it so right aesthetically. I guess my lingering wish would be to find a way of making all sides of the pots visible but in that space, it's not obvious how one would do that. I remember when I first went and had a look at the venue, I was trying to establish which places would work and it was possible but in two places the viewer would have to be quite far from the pots. At least, as they are, Traffic and Princess Hymen can easily be seen from one side - the viewer is standing quite close - even if the other side is wholly obscured.

How this all came to pass is a longer story and one which I have no wish to rehearse in full now. The shortened story is as follows: The proposal I submitted was sound and was accepted as it was but was then passed on and, to some extent rewritten - in effect rewritten anyway. About this I knew nothing until that first email on February 23rd, a month before opening by which time, 'making the best of it,' was the only available option.

So what artists can learn from this? Unfortunately it's a 'learn to live with it' situation. This is one of those occasions where the artist could not have changed the course of events. I guess that is the lesson - keeping a small place in the back of your mind somewhere that says, 'some things you can't control and some things you can't change - be prepared for the occasional situation about which you can do nothing.' That said, I / we have changed the labelling and absurdly small though that may seem, it makes quite a big difference in practice.

A possible suggestion: When submitting a proposal for the first time, it may be a good idea to say something like: 'This proposal can be modified or changed to some degree but this must be done in consultation with the artist and agreed.' Having checked my original proposal, I did say I was happy to discuss possible changes. It's not quite the same as 'must be done in consultation and agreed,' but even so, it's there in black and white. Ultimately, my assessment of this situation is that even had I done that, it wouldn't have made any difference. This is one of those cases that you file under 'e' for experience and add, 'be happy anyway because it's still a good show!'

Monday, 12 April 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 5: Proceedure

This is a very short, quick post to say that I have now filed a formal complaint to Bradford Museums and Galleries. My email and attached letter have been received and read and I've received a sort of 'holding' reply, saying that it would be looked into as 'a matter of urgency.' I suspect the writer may very well feel a sense of urgency. I would in her position, but I have a feeling she's going to find a colossal amount of resistance. I know the curator / exhibitions officer did. I have a feeling that Cliffe Castle has been the way it is for donkey's years and they damned if they're changing anything.
I, meanwhile, am investigating Article 19 which, in 2008, launched Artist-alert, to support artists around the world who are being threatened or whose work is being threatened. Most of these artists are in real danger. I am not. No one is sending me death threats. However, Article 19 is interested to hear about all instances of censorship and understands it to be indicative of a potentially threatening situation or emerging situation.
In their own words:
'ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.'

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 4: The Fog Thickens - The Full, Uncut, Story

It is April 8th. Shattered has been in Cliffe Castle, Keighley and open to the public for a little over two weeks now. I said I was cautiously optimistic about the censorship of Princess Hymen and, as it turns out, both caution and optimism have proved well founded.

Princess Hymen, I’m happy to say, has been included. About this I was optimistic. She is not, however, visible from all angles. About this I was cautious. The viewer can see only one side of her. Below, pictured with me, is what is visible. To the left is the side you can’t see.

As I said in the piece two posts below, I was advised that PH would be excluded on grounds of, ‘the title and clear vagina imagery.’ In the second email that I wrote to the curator I observed that neither of these two ‘reasons’ given are, in any real way, reasons. The reason is, surely, something to do with the way they understand their audiences. Such decisions as these are usually taken on grounds of either morality, or decency. The fear is that someone or some people will be offended. But, to date, no reason other than the one quoted has been offered, or not officially anyway. I have not been included in any discussion and it is only because I pointed out that they had used an image of PH in the publicity literature and suggested that they didn’t know what the pot actually looked like at all, that it was agreed that the she should, after all, be included.


When we started to install the pots, I remarked to Dale, the conservator who was working with me, that PH was the one that ‘they’ had wanted to withdraw and, given that no further discussion had been had, beyond the concession to include her, it might be best to display the ‘least controversial side.’ This remark depends, of course, on who is defining the controversy. I pointed out that there was no vagina imagery and that what the image concerned was based on an Ingres painting which includes a peacock feather fan, (see below). To this he replied that there was a ‘very conservative mosque’ in Keighley. This is point where the Yorkshire fog thickens. I had until this point, heard nothing about a mosque. I didn’t really want to take the discussion any further with Dale because it was not the moment and, anyway, he is the conservator, he has nothing whatever to do with exhibitions policy. At least I don’t think he does. He continued, though, saying that it wasn’t the imagery they objected to, it was the writing…’They thought you were being critical of their culture.’


I politely observed that, in this particular piece of text, I was critical of British and American foreign policy and the double standards in some UK public services which are passed off as a response to multiculturalism even though they’re manifestly an example of racism. ‘I know,’ came the tired reply.

We did leave it at this point and I resolved to take up the issue with someone sometime, but not before I left Keighley and not before the opening. The priority, I felt, was to get to pots safely positioned and the pieces in place. Given the obstructions I had already encountered, (see post below), this was a tall order in itself. I had no intention of adding to the already demanding and nerve wracking nature of the work, besides which, I still had to work out who on earth I should be talking to.

I still have not, at the time of writing this, broached anyone at Bradford Museums and Arts but I am gearing myself up to it. The reason it is taking so long is that the situation I am attempting to deal with is so unclear. Is there a mosque involved or not? Is this, as I suspect, a ‘let’s blame the Muslims’ way out of an embarrassing impasse? Has anyone actually asked anyone at this mosque what they think? I doubt it. Does this mosque community regard itself as conservative? What constitutes 'conservative' in this context anyway and can it be considered representative of the population of Keighley? I chatted to plenty of Muslim girls while waiting for bus, they didn't strike me as even slightly conservative. So what was the original objection? Some kind of bourgeois misogynist exercise in protecting the lumpen proletariat, poor simple-minded souls that they are, from the decadence of the metropolitan arts? Well it would certainly be in keeping with nature of the Castle but why bring artists in at all in that case? Why have ‘museum interventions?’ And whose exhibition is this exactly – mine or theirs??

Turning to the display of Shattered itself. Yes, it does LOOK fantastic. But…Decoration is a primary narrative tool for artists. It is used variously to subvert, to satirise, to generate social and political commentary and critique, it is used as parody, a kind of self-irony, its own function to embellish and to charm is turned on itself and used to tell difficult and wretched stories, those for which metaphor must be found. Here, in the showing of Shattered at Cliffe Castle, the decorative nature of the work really shines, but it has been robbed of meaning, its stories have been brutally silenced. Or they have for the time being anyway, unless and until I can change the situation. Shattered is a response to women’s stories of surviving sexual violence – yet again, these stories have been suppressed, sanitised, violated.


Just before Easter, a few days after the show opened, I received a copy of a letter sent to the head of Museums and Arts at Bradford MDC complaining that the work could not be properly seen - much of it, he complains, is obscured. The writer is the Rector of Bolton Abbey, the father of one of my best friends, with whom I stayed while installing Shattered. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. I had no idea he felt so strongly about this. I was astonished that he had written. I was astonished and pleased but also saddened that he felt the display amounted to an ‘assault on their purpose.’ He had been able to find the meaning, purpose and narrative of the work from reading the catalogue but not, of course, from looking at the show itself.

So, I hope to find at least some remedy to the above situation by providing explanatory notes for the audience. I am, once more, cautiously optimistic but I’m not as optimistic as I was though. There is a nasty whiff of that suppressed, buttoned up, bourgeois violence hovering over Cliffe Castle – but let’s just hope I’m wrong.


I don’t expect the red carpet treatment. I don’t expect anything much, but I do expect at least a modicum of respect, of acknowledgement, of understanding and of appreciation for the work I’ve done, the effort put in and the many years research and experience that goes into a work like Shattered. I know that the cost of travelling to the museum and the time spent installing the work is done at my own expense. I do expect some appreciation of this however. I got a thank you from the curator and an enormous amount of support from Dale, the conservator, but from the others I got a mix of anxiety, grumbles and outright hostility. This is inexcusable. On the matter of money, the only opportunity I get to receive any revenue from this kind of show is through the sale of catalogues. This too was obstructed. Far from facilitating their sale, I was asked to provide complimentary copies - at my own expense of course. Given the paucity of response from the staff at both Cliffe Castle, Cartwright Hall and the department as a whole, it seems that the least they can do is to show the work and its narrative fully and honestly. Make no mistake, I am a very minor artist with a very very slender reputation. Cartwright Hall, however, is a Museum with celebrated international reputation and should be able to treat all the artists it works with respect no matter how magnificent or lowly we might be – or why bother inviting us at all?


There is much to learn from this confused mess of clandestine gossip, deceit and dishonesty. There are also some significant issues that artists might want to consider about the vexed question of museum interventions. For me the main one is, as stated above: whose exhibition is this exactly – mine or theirs?? Originally, back in November 2007, I sent an exhibition proposal which was, as I understood it, accepted. So I thought it was my exhibition, hosted by them, and therefore, as with all exhibitions, a joint venture – but an agreed joint venture - a collaboration. The answer to this should help to provide a pathway to the answers to many of the other questions. For the time being, however, this show would appear to be theirs and very little to do with me. I am, as I said earlier, the ‘necessary evil,’ the inconvenient artist, there to service the museum. I really should have known my place and stuck to the tradesman’s entrance.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 3: Breaching The Ramparts

Front entrance and tower of Cliffe Castle

Five Giant Pots Take Trip Round England


On March 23rd Matt Fairley came with his truck and crane to collect the pots - all five of them - in their telephone-box sized crates, which stand upright in the back of a van or, as in this case, on an open wagon attached to the truck. They were strapped in and covered with tarpaulin and, to the best of my knowledge, made an uneventful journey to Keighley from London via Salisbury and survived several torrential storms en route. I learnt that, collectively, they weigh about a tonne. I have also learned from this experience that their packing system is pretty secure. The trolleys still move about a bit when inside the crates, so need to secure the wheels better and allow for upward shock which I think is still rattling them a bit and causing the odd one or two pieces to come adrift during transport but, considering the distance they travelled and their oddly circuitous route, they did brilliantly.

Two pots arrived unscathed this time, two only mildly scathed and one, Dancing, with one giant piece adrift. This poses a problem: its immense weight and height, combined with its inherent precariousness, make it extremely difficult to reposition correctly. Thankfully, god invented conservators - Dale Keeton in this case - who settled the piece to exactly the right place and pretty much saved the show.

Shattered still wrapped in grand Victorian drawing room

From Tardis To Toad Hall And A Journey Into Wonderland

I'm beginning to think that Wind In The Willows is in fact some great satire on life in the arts in the 21st Century. Time and again I find myself in Toad Hall type situations with a cast of characters which almost always includes The Badger, The Rat, Toad, and a collection of extras from Alice in Wonderland and, this time anyway, from Beatrix Potter - appropriately. A more Toad Hall kind of venue than Cliffe Castle would be difficult to imagine. A mighty, late Victorian pile outside Keighley, away from the hoi poloi, it was built in 1828 and later acquired by the Butterfield family and rebuilt in the 1880s to a much grander scale to display the wealth and status of textile magnate, Henry Isaac Butterfield. It was at this point that the lavish chinoiserie and twirly french furniture, grand romantic landscape painting and marble copies of Cuipid and Psyche moved in. Toad would have been in his element. Sadly however, Toad, on this occasion, was not present, unless I've mutated into Toad, but I think I was closer to Svetlana, who's really more of a weasel and who also belongs there too in a way - see post for August 2009 - and I was very much missing my co-stoat/weasel, Hossein, my much valued helper at these times. I certainly felt consigned to the tradesman's entrance - a 'necessary evil,' the inconvenient artist.

I arrived in Keighley Castle the same day the pots arrived. We started to unpack immediately and move them into the SENSATIONALLY, almost absurdly lavish, 'grand Victorian drawing room,' all recently restored to its former glory. The manager of the Castle, we'll call him The Badger, did not seem pleased to see me. He seemed even less pleased when the five pots were rowed up in the splendid room dressed in their bubble wrap and he began to fume, visibly, when a million polystyrene baubles escaped and multiplied all over the grand Victorian parquet floor. By the time the bubble wrap started to come off - and this is when the condition of the pots really becomes apparent and the pieces start to leap out all over the place - I really thought he would spontaneously combust.


Cliffe Castle, through the trees, late March 2010 with bank of crocuses


A moderately large piece from the upper reaches of Dancing was the first to part company with its pot and fall crashing to the floor where it broke into a million tiny shards and frightened poor Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, the exhibitions organiser, half to death. I'm really more frightened of people getting injured and, in Cliffe Castle's grand fancy rooms, I feared for the furniture too. By this time, I really thought I was dead meat – the Badger was baring his teeth and snarling audibly. He then demanded and audience with Dale, (Ratty), and Mrs Tiggy Winkle and thus deprived me of the help I desperately needed to the extent that he seemed to be sabotaging the show - which would have been an extraordinarily self defeating act but there's no accounting for public sector Badgers, they're a breed unto themselves. Word on the gold-plated, silk hung rococo(esque) corridor is that people are in line to lose their jobs in the Bradford museums and arts department. Taxidermy, I suggest would be a good solution. There is a very fine selection of stuffed beasts in the ballroom. One more would never be noticed, surely.

Perhaps Mrs Tiggy Winkle suggested it. She told me she’d ‘had words.’ With the Badger. Whatever passed between them I shall never know. I know only that a curious transformation occurred the next day. Inexplicably, the Badger was suddenly overcome with paroxysms of joy. The show, largely thanks to Dale-the-conservator – looked FABULOUS and the Badger knew it and showed it to visitors on open day with considerable pride.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Trouble At Mill, Part 2: Vaginas And Peacocks

The trouble, I'm happy to say, has been resolved for the time being. There is room for more but, for now, it's settled until the next wave of curatorial nerves falls due. It happened like this. Shattered will be showing at Cliffe Castle, part of Bradford Museums and Art Galleries, from March 27th until September 27th 2010. It will show in the highly ornate, Victorian reception rooms - a sort of 'intervention' you might say. At around 5.00pm on February 23rd, so that's just over a month before the show is scheduled to open, I receive an email from the exhibitions officer saying, '(we decided) not to show Princess Hymen ... due to the title and clear vagina imagery.' Only four of the five pots would be collected.

Gob-smacked - to put it mildly. I was just setting off to the launch of, 'Possibilities and Losses: Transitions in Clay,' a book of pictures with a couple of pretty good essays in it by Glen Adamson and Jorunn Veiteberg, when the email arrived. Fortunately, I had to rush off, otherwise I might have replied and that would not have been a good thing. So I went and sounded off at Emmanuel Cooper, (Ceramic Review) and Alun Graves, (V&A), and Rosy Greenlees, (Crafts Council), and quite a number of other people, in fact any poor sod who was willing to listen. Before you imagine I routinely hang out in such illustrious company, I don't. This was just one of those weird little moments that bursts through the haze of everyday normality from time to time. Armed with words of comfort from the said confidants, I returned home and emailed a suggestion that all five pots be collected and the final decision made when they had actually seen the work - which they hadn't and still haven't. They've seen only photographs.
No reply came for ten days so I emailed again, this time saying quite a bit more and that I'd spoken to various people with big names. I also pointed out that there is no 'clear vagina imagery,' as such on Princess Hymen, it is in fact the inside of a peacock feather purse and is copied from one of Ingres's 'Odalisques.' It is a visual pun. They had had all the documentation about Shattered for over a year and only now, such a short time before the show was due to open, had they raised this matter.

The next email I received was a proof of the invitation, but still no reply to either of the two emails. Interestingly, however, the proof included a picture of Princess Hymen. I replied saying I liked the invitation, but couldn't understand how they could use an image of PH as a marketing image but not show the pot itself. Again I suggested that they might not really know what the pot looked like in reality and it might be better to collect all five and then decide. This now has been agreed. What actually happens remains to be seen, but I doubt they'll find the pot anything like as scary as they think they're going to.
The thing that puzzles me more than anything though is this: by far the most disturbing pot in Shattered is Traffic, (left), and I must say, I would have thought that was clear from the photographs. One child at the Original Gallery show said that she found the inside 'scary,' and hid behind her mother and I have seen three people dissolve into tears in the show, all three because of that pot. But it is not this one they wished to remove, it is Princess Hymen, which has proved consistently popular.

So the censorious instincts of galleries is alive and well. I had not thought for a moment that it would be like this in an organisation of such international renown as Cartwright Hall. I hope we pull through ok. I'm cautiously optimistic for now. But it's salutary to be reminded of the extent to which this goes on and the power that petty officials have to decide what can be seen and by whom.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Trouble At Mill

It's a shame to start with trouble, but such is the way with diary writing and I frequently read that blogging is 'diaristic.' So it is with this blog, it is, I suppose, a kind of diary. I had intended to write about the progress of Shattered - I mean the process of showing it - what happened, what was the audience response and so forth. I read also that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions,' and my road to hell certainly was. Ah no, before you get that idea that showing Shattered was hell, it wasn't. This is just another moment when I have to refer to the evil behaviour of my sciatic nerve, which kicked up a turbo-charged storm on October 19th and didn't begin to unravel until December 2nd. How can I be so precise? You'd be too, if you'd had that experience. It isn't easily forgotten and is easy to date precisely. The day I couldn't either stand up, lie down, or sit down, had to piss in the bath because using the usual ceramic recepticle proved impossible, is not one that vanishes easily from the mind. So I'll spare you the rest of the details, except to say that I know the date of the turning point as well because it is the date on the prescription for the tranquilisers, which was the only thing to have any serious and properly discernible impact on this condition. And my purpose in regaling you with these intimate details of my bodily dysfunction - well it's the reason there are no posts on this blog until now and, in particular why the first adventure of showing Shattered is not on record here.

Having said all of that, there is a post on The C Word, which refers to the back problem, but nothing about Shattered, because I prefer not to write about my own work on that blog. If you have a facebook account, I have uploaded some the pictures of the show in my Events space and shall, in due course, post more pictures in the albums bit, once I've done the other 500 things I didn't do during those three months of the nearest thing to hell that I've experienced in a long time. It is now the turn of my computer to go into 'intensive care,' so for a few days, I am without that too and borrowing a friend's, so I'll upload pictures to this post as soon as we're all working at the same time. Roll on!

So what's the story? The briefest outline is that Shattered showed at The Original Gallery, Hornsey Library, Haringey, London, from November 18th - December 17th. The show was expected to last three weeks, but the extra week came free and the response had been so good that it was added on to Shattered's exhibition time. Immensely gratifying and productive - visitor numbers rose steadily throughout as word got around. Which visitors? Local mainly. I invited all the very proper people of the institutions of the ceramic establishment but, alas, I just don't seem to have the 'pulling power!' None came, but Jo and Joanna public turned out in droves. My Iranian friends/ co-demonstrators / hamtazahoratkonandeha - now there's a word to conjure with - turned out in impressive numbers, much to my delight and a good sprinkling of feminists and human rights campaigners of varying sorts.
The big surprise was the numbers of children who came and greatly enjoyed the show. The stories passed them by, they just got involved in the giant, (especially to them), pots and played hide and seek, taking particular delight in the gaps and holes through which they could spy each other. It was declared 'wicked' on several occasions which made me swell with pride!

Groups of teenagers took a close look at the pots and asked if they could watch the film several times over - they could and it produced heated discussion on which i was tempted to eavesdrop but then thought better of it.

Adults in large numbers made their way steadily through, reading the catalogue from cover to cover and spending a remarkably long time looking at the pots, in my estimation. I felt quite guilty, I don't very often spend that long in exhibitions myself. So how do I know all this stuff? Well yes, I had to 'invigilate' it much of the time, a task shared with Geraldine Williams. I had originally planned to employ someone else to do it, but when my sciatic nerve took over my life and I couldn't do studio work, I decided to do it myself. I've never witness one of my own shows in process like that before. I wouldn't want to do it again, but it's extremely revealing doing it once. All sorts of 'received wisdoms' turn out to be wholly untrue. One I have already mentioned,'no-one reads a catalogue,' not a word of truth in it. Very few people don't read them. 'No-one spends more than half an hour in an exhibition and most only about twenty minutes.' Again, I don't know where the evidence for this comes from, but not from any exhibitions which include comfortable seating, a television, a selection of books and a cafe right next to it.

Time to sign off this post. More will come. I haven't yet mentioned the trouble. Actually it did begin with this show. There was a frazzle over the film. The arts officer had a nervous fit and summoned the 'head of diversity' who pacified everyone, 'I've seen it and approved it - what's the problem?' Job done. The film went ahead as planned and was very much loved as it always it. The next bout of trouble will now be saved for the next post. Supper's ready.