Sunday, May 19, 2019

Flashback #1 - BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree show 1984

I recently had the idea to spend a few minutes every so often looking back at selected exhibitions in order to review what my ideas were at the time, which materials I was engaged with and what techniques or processes I was employing.

The natural starting point seemed to be my Fine Art degree show. Although this wasn't the first exhibition I had been involved with (in my first year I had participated in a show of art student work at the Callerton gallery in Ponteland, Northumbria as well as a show of work by second year Fine Art students, held in the Polytechnic foyer), it was the first time I had worked on a body of work that would be shown together as a group.

Following my Foundation years at Jacob Kramer College of Art, Leeds, UK in 1977-78 & again in 1980-81, I studied for a BA (Hons) Fine Art degree at Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic from 1981-84.
Since those days Jacob Kramer has been renamed first Leeds College of Art and then finally Leeds Arts University. Similarly, Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic has been renamed Northumbria University.

I mainly studied sculpture as a student although I did develop a healthy interest in printmaking, which grew from a desire to find a way to make more physical, drawn images. In sculpture I was very interested in the language of immortality and that took the form of memorials or funerary architecture - realised or imaginary. Through my research I encountered the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Etienne-Louis Boullee, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Edwin Lutyens, Charles Sergeant Jagger, Alfred Stevens, Alfred Gilbert, George Frampton, Jacob Epstein and especially Michael Sandle who I had the great pleasure of meeting at the opening of his solo retrospective exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery in 1988.

In order to investigate this language I set myself the task of creating a series of works that may be regarded as memorials for chosen persons from history. The choice of subject was very personal and for each subject I attempted to create a suitable memorial that would draw upon certain aspects of their life story. Visual aspects of their life story were crucial for this project and I was not intending to fully represent their entire life or even to pass judgement upon them as individuals. This was an exercise to enable me to explore this language of immortality.

My Fine Art degree show was held in 1984 and I took photographs of the pieces using my old Pentax K1000 (a fantastic camera, fully manual). The photographs were all taken on slide film and the following images are what I have managed to rescue from the slides I could find from those days 35 years ago. Here I must apologise for the quality of the images. If I subsequently discover better quality photographs or photographs of pieces not included here, I will add them to this article as soon as they are unearthed.

Initially I have chosen the following pieces to discuss as they share a common theme:


The first piece, 'Outlaw' considered the film mogul Howard Hughes and the visual elements I manipulated were an art-deco period cinema, the 'Spruce Goose' flying boat, ceramic tiles and a polished wood plinth.

The model cinema was made by combining the found part of a bakelite vacuum cleaner with a wooden structure and transformed to resemble an Art Deco style building seen in a magazine. The cinema faced the colossal flying boat, which Howard Hughes created but which, due to its great size, never saw production and only flew once for a few hundred metres. To reflect this failure I cast the model flying boat in solid lead. 

Instead of a runway I set the flying boat onto a field of ceramic tiles, which were a powerful memory of the two years I had spent working in the operating department of the St. James Hospital in Leeds, UK. Somehow I had the feeling that setting the aeroplane in this white, ceramic environment created the metaphor for 'investigative research' that was at the heart of the work conducted in the operating theatre. The white ceramic tiles subsequently became an important motif for me in later work.
The bakelite cinema and the polished wooden podium referred to the materials and design of Art Deco buildings and furniture of the time.
The name 'Outlaw' was borrowed from the film produced by Howard Hughes, starring Jane Russell, and which seemed a particularly apt name for a piece about Howard Hughes. 

'Monument to Glenn Miller'

This piece was made after I became fascinated by both Glenn Miller's music and by his mysterious disappearance. The best selling recording artist between 1939-43, he had more number one's and top ten hits than Elvis Presley or The Beatles during their careers. Miller created a unique sound by having clarinets and saxophones playing the same melody to the accompaniment of 3 other saxophones harmonising within the same octave.
Glenn Miller was arranging for his band to move to Paris in order to play for the troops stationed there when his plane disappeared over the English Channel.

I created the piece in the form of a small, private auditorium. On the bandstand (made from layers of wood coated with a mixture of grey acrylic mixed with sawdust for texture) I placed a smaller podium that had been cast in bronze and coloured black. On this small podium, besides the music stand (copied from one seen in an old photograph of Miller's band playing) there is a microphone and a stylised saxophone. Both of these these elements have been made by modifying the shape of a G-clef in thick, metal wire.
The audience section of the piece features a surface covered in small glass tiles that had been found in a damaged pedestrian subway in Newcastle late one night and two classically-shaped seats. The enigmatic part of this arrangement is the question as to whether the seats are human scale and the bandstand podium is smaller than life-size or whether the bandstand podium is life-sized and the seats are too large for the audience. I was attracted to this contradiction as it introduced a disturbing, disorienting element to the piece. These elements were all attached to a thick key-hole shaped plinth made of wood (coloured black using shoe polish) and resting on a larger, rectangular plate clad with blue-grey roof slates. 
All of the materials had been chosen to be sympathetic with one another and because I felt that they possessed a certain melancholic atmosphere that was appropriate for this piece.

'Monument to Amy Johnson'

Amy Johnson had always fascinated me after having read about her amazing flying exploits. As she was born in the East Riding of Yorkshire,  a permanent exhibition had been established in Sewerby Hall near Bridlington on the best coast of Yorkshire and I enjoyed looking through the artefacts and photographs.
She was the first aviatrix to fly single-handed from England to Australia in 1930. Unfortunately while flying in bad weather in January 1941, she bailed out just before her plane crashed into the Thames Estuary. A unsuccessful rescue attempt was made and her body was never found.

I created a cast cement-fondu globe to represent the world, resting on a stepped plinth cast in bronze and around this I wrapped a copper tube showing the trajectory of her flight to Australia, On the copper tube I mounted a small cast bronze aeroplane that been coated in a green patina to represent the colour of her famous plane - 'Jason', which now hangs in the Science Museum in London. This structure was placed inside a ring-like base fabricated from interlocking layers of wood, polished to refer to the furniture and decoration of the period (similar to the 'Outlaw' piece).

The theme that connects these 3 pieces of work is relatively straight forward. Both Glenn Miller and Amy Johnson disappeared in mysterious circumstances and their bodies were never recovered. Howard Hughes on the other hand mysteriously disappeared while he was still alive, becoming a successful recluse due to his seemingly inexhaustible wealth.

I felt quite satisfied with these pieces of work and realised that these were merely the first steps in my working life. Unfortunately, however, my tutors didn't feel the same way. For the degree show I was allocated what was effectively a corridor in which to display my work. Added to this, two nearby displays of work by my classmates employed arrangements of similar materials, bronze, polished wood etc. albeit for very different reasons but I felt that the visual impact of this work had an adverse effect on mine due to this proximity.

On top of this I was unlucky with the choice of the assessment panel. One of the panel was a stone carver who believed that carving was the primary language for creating sculpture, assemblage therefore became a much lesser form of expression. This was a bad start and things went rapidly downhill as the next member of the assessment panel turned out to be a political media artist. In his eyes my work was seen as superficial because I had not devoted my time to investigating the political aspects of my chosen topics, such as the alleged involvement of the Hughes corporation in the Vietnam War and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It didn't go well in the assessment and I received  a very disappointing grade from the panel. To be honest I still feel the pain of this disappointment even after all these years.

I hope to be able to add to this account as more photographs are found.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

'Cine Concert: Hem City' at Salon Saigon - 23.4.2019

On Tuesday 23rd April Salon Saigon presented 'Cine Concert: Hem City' by Thierry Bernard-Gotteland and Andrew Stiff, both Lecturers at RMIT University here in Saigon.
The 'Hem' in question are the ones to be found in District 4 (Hem being the local term for the narrow, often meandering alley-ways to be found all over the city).

District 4 is an interesting phenomenon, delineated by rivers that separate it on all sides from other districts thereby effectively creating an island. The rapid development of the city that has been witnessed across Saigon has previously by-passed this area creating a pocket of residential and commercial buildings that looked back over its shoulder to the past. The district was a little down-at-heel, insalubrious, frequented by shady characters.

However, more recently there has been modern encroachment around the fringes as apartment complexes sprout up, especially along the riverfront facing District 1.

Andrew Stiff has been focusing on the Hem of District 4 as he 'investigates the process of collecting, archiving and (re) producing physical and ephemeral data from the urban realm' *

Thierry, on the other hand, specialises in experimental design and audio production. He is 'investigating through the lens of context/content about audio driven experience in installation and performance art'. *

For 'Hem City' these two researchers came together to create a live performance in which both the visual and audio aspects of the work would be manipulated in an improvised way for the audience using advanced software.

Luckily I had visited District 4 in the past and had spent an interesting morning wandering around, and temporarily getting lost in, the fascinating and seemingly semi-private spaces of the Hem. This meant I was able to use my personal experience as a point of reference for what I subsequently witnessed in the performance.

Thierry and Andrew sat on the right-hand side of the room, each with their Mac laptop as the film unfolded on the screen. The film itself unfolded with an initial shot of a table set up in the street, possibly as a makeshift drinks store for passersby. As the shot pulled back, away from the table, motorcyclists rode past across the frame, interrupting our line of sight. At first the motorcyclists were solid and well-defined but very soon others rode past and these were less distinct, semitransparent, diaphanous in nature.

Throughout the film this transformation recurred, people working or walking in the Hem appeared at first as well-defined figures but almost immediately began to lose their definition and sense of form, becoming shadows or ill-defined reflections. As figures passed through each scene they appeared to leave a trail of their own presence behind them as boats leave a wake in the water they pass through.

As I recalled my own visit to the District 4 Hem, the activity I had seen there formed similar impressions in my memory. The images and details of the things I had seen were now reassembled in my imagination but lacked chronological order or appropriate relationships to each other. In a sense, the film I was watching could easily have been an attempt to recreate the multilayered, yet slightly disorganised images constructed in my own recollections.

Similarly, the sounds played around with the senses. At first, sounds retained a relationship to the situation which created them but as the film progressed, this connection faded and from then onward a similar deconstruction took place (as had occurred with the images). Sounds were heard after or before the points of origin could be seen or the location of the sounds' origins exchanged their positions, approaching towards us (becoming louder) or receding (becoming quieter). Eventually, many of the sounds were gradually transformed further and lost their connection to any recognisable activity. These new sounds spoke to the chaotic nature of the district, the hustle and bustle created by this intense concentration of people going about their business on a daily (and nightly) business.

The performance was challenging and that made it enjoyable for me. Too often I see exhibitions of 'safe' work, or 'safe' performances in which no risks were taken. As an artist I try to work out of my comfort zone as often as I am able and I enjoy seeing the work of others when I sense that the artist who created it has taken a similar approach. I like to see this also in performance art. In the theatre we are used to seeing 'professionals' who have conducted exhaustive rehearsals in order to remove the unexpected but for me unpredictability is one of the important characteristics of performance art.

By working without a script Thierry and Andrew took risks, relying on their intuition and judgement. Sometimes there are repercussions to this approach. At one point the huge files being manipulated by Andrew crashed on his laptop. For me this was no disaster, it merely underlined exactly what was occurring live in front of me, and how he and Thierry were working without a safety net.

For art to develop, first you need to do something. Most ideas emerge not fully formed (at least the best ideas do in my opinion) and they need to be worked on. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen pieces that would have benefitted from a little more development. However, for performance, the only way to develop it is to do it. What happens, happens and this is the crucial feedback that begins the development.
As the great artist Joan Jonas said "You don't know what you're doing sometimes. You just begin". **

I thank Andrew and Thierry for providing an opportunity for me to witness the development of their work.

* Text taken from:

** Text taken from:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Contemporary Performance Almanac 2018

The Contemporary Performance Almanac is an annual overview of Contemporary Performance created within the previous 3 years and the 2018 edition was the 5th volume of the almanac since it was initiated in 2013.

For the 2018 edition I submitted details of my ongoing performance series 'No holiday', with the accompanying photographic image focusing on the Venice episode of the series that was filmed in the Dorsoduro district of the city in August 2017, during the Venice Biennale.

It was great to receive the e-version of the almanac and see the work listed among the other engaging work performed by performers / performance artists from around the world.

Cover of the 2018 Almanac

Artist page covering the 'No holiday' performance

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The 11th Online Performance Art Festival

On the 30th March 2019 I had an opportunity to participate in the 11th Online Performance Art Festival, the second time I have joined this event (the previous time being last December 2018).

The online festival concept was initiated by Sandra Bozic, and this 11th episode took place between 27th - 30th March 2019. My 'No holiday' performance was presented on the final day of the festival.

On this occasion I decided to conduct another episode in my ongoing performance series 'No holiday', this time enacting it in District 7 of Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam, not far from where I had previously created a digital print entitled 'District 7 Strata'. I had also written about this print in the online Journal 'Living Maps Review' and the local publication 'Magazine d'Art De Saigon'.

The live-stream performance was broadcast between 10:00am - 10:30am UTC (5:00pm - 5:30pm Vietnam time).

Once again, the pre-performance arrangements and checks were conducted with Dragan Strunjas, and  once again his prompt and detailed communications removed any confusion and allowed me to focus on my performance.

The camera and live-stream was controlled by Nina Yiu Lai Lei, who walked with me unseen, apart from certain moments when her shadow can be seen. The audience are only able to join me on my walk due to Nina's work with the camera which serves to emphasise how important her work is to the project.

During the performance I walked from Crescent Mall, around the Crescent Lake, across the Anh Sao Bridge and into Half Moon Park. In the late afternoon, as the sun begins to set and lose some of its intensity combined with the refreshing breeze across the river and the lake, the environment is very pleasant. Many families come with their children and take full advantage of the park with its grass-covered, shallow, sloping hills, decorative lilly ponds and tree shade.

The walk in total lasted around 30 minutes and as usual with this performance series, the watching online audience are invited to join me in my unhurried, meditative walk, allowing the ambient sounds of people, the wind, birds calling, dogs barking and the wheels of my red suitcase gently trundling along on the varied surfaces.

Also as usual, the broadcast ended suddenly,  there is no arrival, no end point. The journey is everything. The emphasis is on the experience of the moment, focusing on every observation as if for the first time, and perhaps the last time - who knows? Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is assumed. The forward momentum is maintained, the journey continues...the destination, if there is one, can wait.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Work Update - March 2019

Following on from my previous post 'Open-ended Work' of August 2018, I have now worked my way round to pushing forward the wall relief sculpture derived from the 'District 7' print.

I had set aside this piece for a while to attend to other projects and at that stage I had built up several stacks of square plates based upon a system I had devised to determine the heights of each block (determined by the direction of the drawn, hatched lines in my preparatory drawing).

9 square wooden plates of plywood were obtained and these shall form the baseplates onto which the blocks shall be attached. The resulting 9 elements will then be worked on, perhaps using gesso to create an appropriate ground to paint onto and a further surface for drawing. Each of the nine elements need to be integrated so that they read and a unified object.

Once I have achieved this I will need to determine the distance between each block so that they sit comfortably together, creating a field. I will update more once I have begun painting the blocks.

The blocks during the process of stacking them to appropriate heights

Laying out the blocks onto the new baseplates

Final intended viewing angle once the plates have been fully resolved

Thursday, February 28, 2019

10 Mars Bars

Recently I received the sad news that an old college friend of mine (Mick - Michael Dean) had passed away. Although those days were now 35 years in the past, the memories remain as vivid as ever and probably will remain so unless I suffer a lapse of memory brought on by old age.

At times like these there is often an exchange of memories and photographs between friends and, though we feel have a clear picture of events, there are also surprises or 'blasts from the past'. I received one of these 'blasts' in the form of a tangible record of something that occurred within the first few weeks of arriving at college.

In the Autumn of 1981 I arrived at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic (Later to become Northumbria University) to study on the BA (Hons) Fine Art degree course and initially stayed at the Lovaine B Halls of Residence. There I met a group of friends, most of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Within the first 2 months we collectively decided that life in the Halls of Residence was horrendous and so 7 of us rented a house in the Benwell area of Gateshead, just across the river from Newcastle. However before we moved out an event occurred one Wednesday evening the memory of which has now been brought to the fore.

During a casual and mundane conversation, mention was made of Mars bars and how filling they were. I personally liked them and declared that I found them so tasty that eating one would be as easy as anything, in fact I could probably eat more than one. I'm not sure how this happened or what exactly was said but within a short time I had stated that I could eat 10 Mars bars without problem.

Consequently, on Wednesday evening on the 21st October 1981 a group of friends gathered in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, primarily to eat dinner but also to witness me eat 10 Mars bars. As 8 of my friends sat down to eat a perfectly normal meal, I lined up the 10 Mars bars in front of me on the table. At 7:00pm I began eating the first one and by 7:40pm I had consumed all 10. Surprisingly, after dinner I accompanied the others into the city to have a few drinks and didn't feel worse for wear. In those days, it is worth noting, Mars bars were considerably larger than they are today.

In recent weeks, following Mick's sad passing, among many truly nostalgic photographs there was one of a page in a notebook. It turned out that this page, in one of Andrew Brown's notebooks, commemorated the Mars bar event in the form of a declaration, stating:

'Between 7:00pm and 7:40pm on Wednesday the 21st of October Patrick S. Ford at 10 Mars bars in quick succession without any break longer than a minute and without throwing up. We the undersigned are witness to this event.

Andrew Brown
Jane Watmough
Mark Dunn
D. Todd
Alan Laffey
Nigel Roberts
Michael Dean
Heather Craig (I took some pictures)'

I could only marvel at this document, seeing it now after so many years. It is a terrible tragedy that this news only surfaced due to Mick's untimely passing, but this is often how the world works. Mick was a hard-working, kind man and deserved to live out many more years with his family. It just doesn't seem fair at all.

Despite the event being the result of a silly, playful wager among friends, it is also quite prescient as it seems to point towards performance as an activity to be explored. This is quite possibly my first performance piece. If only I could track down those photographs taken by Heather Craig!

I would need to check the dates but the event may possibly have been inspired by visits to The Basement in Newcastle where, as a first year Fine Art student I saw artists such as Alastair Maclennan performing a 24 hour walking performance. Seeing him perform was such a privilege and I feel grateful that I had such an experience and I feel exactly the same way about attending a lecture by the great Joseph Beuys at Leeds Art Gallery (Henry Moore Institute) back in my Foundation Course days, wonderful experiences that should be treasured. 

The page in Andrew Brown's notebook

Since this account was posted I have been contacted by Alan Laffey, one of the signatories to the 10 Mars Bars event. He made two pertinent comments that are worth adding here:

A) He felt sure that the event occurred not in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, but in the house we subsequently moved to in Rectory Road, Benwell, Gateshead. He remembered that the wrappers from the 10 Mars Bars were attached to the wall in Rectory Road as a memento of the event. I remember this but cannot recall if the event happened there, or if the wrappers were brought from the Halls of Residence when we moved. I need to find my now misplaced diaries to check as I'm sure there would have been an entry to record exactly where the event took place.

B) He also reminded me that following the 10 Mars Bars event there was talk of a follow-up project, namely the eating of 25 Cadbury's Cream Eggs. I can remember this now and I wonder why it was never followed up. Perhaps I gained some sense?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Saigon Citadel Walk - Terminalia, Festival of Psychogeography

Following on from the previous post: Saigon Citadel Walk - Planning, 25 January 2019.

On the morning of Saturday 23rd February, I travelled to District 1 of Saigon accompanied by Nina, Yiu Lai Lei to mark the occasion of the Terminalia Festival 2019.

This one-day Festival of Psychogeography has been held every year on the 23rd of February since 2011 and brings together individuals and groups who mark the Festival of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and landmarks.

To participate in the festival Nina and I chose the location of the old citadel of Saigon, which I had plotted from evidence gathered from old maps. As is often the case, different maps indicate slightly different configurations added to which is the fact that there were more than one citadel. I had chosen the first and largest as the focus for our walk. The larger incarnation of the citadel presented more opportunities for exploring the city and I also felt it was the most attractive in terms of design, however dubious the actual precise details of the design may be.

Map of District 1 showing location of the original citadel

Nina and I began our walk at the junction of Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton and walked north-east to Hai Ba Trung which is approximately where the centre point of the south-eastern facing wall of the citadel would have been.

The corner directly opposite the Vincom Centre on Dong Khoi

Start Point: Junction of Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton

Light vehicles and cyclo riders are banned from this street

Beautiful typography on this retro building facade

Flexible modular blocks allow the tree roots to rise without cracking the pavement

This face of the citadel wall would have continued until Ton Duc Thang and then turned a 90 degree angle to run directly north-west.

The East Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang

Reinforced concrete slab masquerading as an ancient architectural wall plaque

Street sign: two typefaces plus graffiti

Carmelite Monastery of Saigon

Potted tree dancing in the wind

Hem 45, not particularly inviting

Christmas bells hiding away until next year

A sign indicating the location of a street-side motorcycle repairman

Inverted motorcycle helmet becomes an artefact

This north-east facing wall would have crossed what is now Le Duan and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai before reaching Nguyen Dinh Chieu and the citadel wall's most northerly point. It then turned 90 degrees to head south west.

The North Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Ton Duc Thang and Nguyen Dinh Chieu

Gold and cream wall with bottle green accent

Navigating the fractured pavement

The bewildering spaghetti of cables

Misaligned pastel coloured pavement patterns

Reaching the western corner of the citadel (with local cooperation)

The north-west facing wall ran across what is now Hai Ba trunk (again) and Pham Ngoc Thach before reaching Nam Ky Khoi Nghai and the most westerly corner.

The West Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia

New year celebratory gateways still in place after the Tet holiday

2019, Year of the Pig

Flaking stucco reveals pastel green sublayer, works well with the small sculpture

Supreme People's Court

The path of the south-west facing wall ran across what is now Vo Van Tan, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (again), Le Duan (with the Reunification Palace on the right) and continued until it reached the most southerly corner at the junction with Le Thanh Ton.

One street before the South Corner (Ly Tu Trong) we found a small park dedicated to Quach Thi Trang, a student protester who was killed by the Police during demonstrations against the South Vietnamese Government in August 1963. The wall around the park featured decorative spheres that closely resembled cannon balls. Could we have stumbled across remnants of the defensive power of the old citadel?

Cannon balls used as decoration? 

The South Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Le Thanh Ton

From here the walk took us back along Le Thanh Ton (with the People's Committee Hall on the left) to the junction of Dong Khoi, where we started.

The People's Committee Hall

Colours collected with the 'City Palette' App at intervals during the walk 

Our walk allowed us to gain a better feel for the city, and instilled in us a sense of how large the original citadel must have been and how much of the central area of the city it occupied.