Thursday, December 26, 2019

Do you know the Muffin Man? Walking in Da Lat.

On 24th November 2019 Dr. Blake Morris initiated his latest marathon walking project entitled '52 Scores'. The envisioned plan is for a walk to take place each week throughout the coming year, spanning 2019/20. Once again this project allowed for other participants to join Blake, walking either in person or remotely in response to the score composed each week by him.

As Blake outlines on the 52 Scores website, "Every day I am picking a piece of scrap paper to add to a weekly walking collage. After 7 additions the collage will form a walking score, i.e. instructions for walking. Each score will be finished on Friday, made public Saturday, and walked on Sunday."

As Nina and I had greatly enjoyed participating as remote walkers in some of Blake's previous walking projects, I immediately suggested joining him on one of the forthcoming walks. As we had planned a trip up country, to Da Lat in the Central Highlands, I thought that responding to one of Blake's walking scores would be the perfect way to discover and negotiate this small town that was completely new to us. Thus Sunday 2nd December became the assigned day of the walk, designated as score No. 5.

As the day approached I picked up the composed score on Instagram and sat down with a nice Vietnamese coffee to allow the collaged texts to trigger possibilities and suggestions.

Score No. 5 (Photo: Blake Morris, posted on Instagram)

The traditional nursery rhyme 'Do you know the Muffin Man?', sometimes also sang/recited as 'Have you seen the Muffin Man?', provided the motivation for the walk which therefore developed as a search with the phrase 'We need you!' adding a sense of urgency. The further clarification 'Dough Bake Assemble' helped to focus our attention on a search for small baked confections. The important element here of course being the local contextualisation of the guiding instructions, how to interpret the score within the local setting.

'Seven Magic mountains' supplied a suggestion for the number of the confections to discover, 'Ring' suggested that the search could be conducted around the periphery of the local Xuan Huong Lake, and the word 'Sunset', along with the accompanying photograph of the setting sun acted as a reminder that the search should be completed within the day. The exclamation 'Sings!' became meaningful as the walk commenced when a street food vendor cycled by broadcasting a recorded advertisement for his products recited in the local Vietnamese dialect, punctuated with musical inflections to add emphasis to each line.

Xuan Huong Lake at Da Lat (Google Maps)

The walk began with breakfast in a local bar/cafe called 'Woodstock', which suggested the famous song of 1971 by Crosby, Stills and Nash pilgrimage describing a musical pilgrimage to the famous concert in 1969. Of course our 'pilgrimage' today was not toward 'Woodstock' but away from it though the connection put a smile on our face and the lovely cafe also provided our first confection of the day.

 Woodstock bar/cafe, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Croissants / pastries - section for breakfast (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

After breakfast in Woodstock our walk continued downhill toward the lake and along to Da Lat Market where a rich vein of delicious and sometimes mysterious confections were found.

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford) 

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

The search for confections lead us through the streets and markets of Da Lat, around the lake and our discoveries are recorded in the photographs posted here. The walk could have had other focuses: fruit, drinks, local basket-ware crafts, clothes, flowers etc. and each one of these topics could have resulted in alternative experiences of Da Lat. 

At the end of the afternoon, the sun dropped to the western end of the lake, closing the day's explorations. The orientation of the lake provides picturesque sunsets, especially when viewed from one of the lake-side restaurants. This was a great way to become familiar with Da Lat and once again, Blake's walking projects have provided an unforgettable and rewarding experience. 

Sunset over Xuan Huong Lake, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

International Drawing Dialogue Phase 3 - 2019-20 (Second Stage)

The second of the three-stage drawing dialogue project draws to a close. Only one stage remains, with the drawings making the final exchange before heading off to the exhibition venue(s).

For this stage I was responding to drawings initiated by Andrea Thoma in the UK. Once Andrea's drawings arrived I first laid them out under a stack of other work in order for them to have some time to settle down and to unroll properly after their journey from the UK to Vietnam in a cardboard tube.

After giving them some time to settle down I took them out and spent some time looking at them. As the sculptor Philip King once said (paraphrasing here) "looking tells you more than if you think about it" (1:00), its about trying to 'feel' or 'sense' what an appropriate response to the work would be.

Overall, in response to the drawings I developed an urge to counter what was already going on in the drawings. For example to answer the fairly light marks already laid down in the image I added darker, heavier elements and in some cases I introduced straighter lines / marks to counter the movement set up by Andrea's work(without closing the drawing down by preventing the eye from wandering).

I responded to each of the four drawings as follows:

Andrea 1

Andrea + Patrick 1

In this drawing there was an obvious space left for me slightly off centre, towards the right and I began to sense either a building standing within a clearing or a yacht moored at a dock in the background behind the fence that linked the two groups of trees. 
However, as I worked, the image I was creating started to move forward until it had finally arrived in the foreground. I erased a little more of the fence to allow it to come through and at the same time allowed it to lose its definition as either a building or a yacht to become something that might possibly resemble an abstract structure set up a garden immediately in front of the viewer. Once I had sited this collection of lines and marks within this space, I stopped working and left it for the next participant to to resolve.

Andrea 2

Andrea + Patrick 2

This drawing had a couple of vacant spaces that I could attend to so I felt I initially needed to work within these two spaces. There were several parts of the drawing where Andrea had added small areas of shading that subtly began to define form and to push and pull the various elements within the space of the drawing. I picked up on these and began to adjust them, and in some cases link them together.

In the back of my mind I was thinking of early examples of analytical cubism (which I have always loved) in which the image appears to have been shattered, leaving broken fragments clashing with each other. The shadows created by these fragments caused the image to lose cohesion and disturb our understanding of the image. 
2D and 3D readings become confused and a little contradictory. I have always been attracted to this type of contradiction within art works and I guess this is what was urging me to reinforce the shaded areas of the drawing. Some areas didn't really change much but others did create a contradiction, appearing sculptural at one point and two dimensional at another. It was at this point that I ceased work.

Andrea 3

Andrea + Patrick 3

In the third drawing, the foreground was occupied by many plant pots, tubs and vases leaving a narrow vacant space in the top third of the drawing in which I could introduce something. For this work I imagined myself in a garden, gazing across the top of work table that was covered with pots as if a gardener had been hard at work potting and repotting plants. 
My participation here would initially be to introduce something into this imagined garden. Andrea had already added some feint garden chairs but they had already begun receding into the background. At first I worked on them, pulling them forward into the composition. As I worked I added other chairs and small tables, arranging them into a row across the background. Interestingly, the more I worked on them the more I began to interpret the resulting row of shapes as a bridge. 
Could this garden instead feature a view across a wide expanse to a large rail or road bridge? In the end the chairs became more spiky, perhaps in response to the soft curves of the plant pots below. I eventually decided to keep the shapes as half chair - half bridge, hanging in an ambiguous space (my tendency towards contradiction creeping in again) and I ended my participation in the drawing by literally drawing a line under the elements I had introduced.

Andrea 4

Andrea + Patrick 4

The fourth and final drawing took me longer to assess. There was a central element (a tree) around which were scattered other elements, most of which grew more defined the further from the centre they were. The composition therefore offered a kind of donut or torus-shaped void within the drawing for me to work with. 
I considered many additions / modifications to the drawing and eventually decided to trace an imaginary walk around the garden as if I was laying out a rope or line behind me as I walked or as if a long-exposure photograph had captured my walk while holding a light pen (the type of image Picasso had made so successfully) except that my drawing would be the negative image. 
I made the fairly thick line hover above ground level and allowed it to pulsate a little due to the action of the compressed charcoal, eraser and a little white chalk (my long-time favourite combination of materials, picked up at art college many years ago). 
For a while I stopped work but before I decided to cease work entirely and pack up the drawings for postage, I turned my attention to the circle in the lower left-hand corner. I began by adding some texture to it and this texture eventually replicated that I had used in other recent drawings I had made. These drawings featured what could be described as possessing calligraphic qualities, especially when thinking of written languages containing sensuous, looping strokes such as arabic. I tried to avoid thinking of the calligraphic roundels of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as that would have necessitated going off on a tangent and reworking the entire image. Enough is enough for the moment. For a while I considered treating the eclipse in the top right-hand corner in a similar way but  then decided against it. It would have look heavy siting up there in the sky and I didn't want to remove the sun from this garden. 

I packed up the four drawings and posted them to the third participant, Skye Williams and then moved on to another project which I will work on until the final set of Dialogue drawings arrive.

These drawing dialogues are not easy, but that is a good thing. I find the experience gained from such exercises as these is invaluable. Besides learning how to respond to the work of others, I also learn from the way others work. In fact, in every activity I undertake I attempt to put myself into a situation in which I can learn something from the experience. 

I believe that once we stop learning, we stop thinking.

Monday, November 18, 2019

'Walkings New Movements'

The 'Walking's New Movements' conference was held at the University of Plymouth, UK from Friday 1st - Sunday 3rd November 2019 presenting an opportunity for participants to 'discuss the latest developments and future prospects for radical walking and walking arts'.

The organisers of the conference were: Helen Billinghurst (University of Plymouth), Clair Hind (York St. John University) and Phil Smith (University of Plymouth).

The three days were occupied by paper presentations, provocations and events related to walking arts and psychogeography.

As I was unable to attend the conference in person I sent a conference poster outlining my ongoing walking performance 'No holiday'. On the poster I outlined an introduction to the performance and images of various recorded versions of the performance along with internet links and QR codes that would allow viewers to access the recordings as hosted on my YouTube channel.

My conference poster was displayed on the 3rd floor, between rooms RLB3030 and RLB304 and is included below:

Saturday, November 9, 2019

'All Animals are Equal #2' - A.Farm, Saigon

On Saturday 2nd November A.Farm held it's second artist extravaganza entitled 'All Animals are Equal #2' out in District 12 of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

In the main building there was an exhibition of work by artists who have been part of the residence project, collectively showing the results of their investigations. The rest of the A. Farm complex was opened up to local artists to showcase their work both indoors and outdoors.

I submitted two of my filmed performances to be included in the collective artist film screening that took place during the day.
After discussion with the organisers the two chosen films presented my performance 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back' that had been filmed in East Yorkshire, UK and District 7 in Ho Chi. Minh City respectively.

Unfortunately I could not attend the event in person as I had previously arranged to be in Hanoi for the opening of the Vietnam Festival of Media and Design: Hanoi 2019. However, it was a great opportunity for me to show my work locally for the first time since moving here in May 2018. I really hope there will be more opportunities in the future.

'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back', Sewerby Steps, Bridlington, UK

'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back', District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

'British Summer Time: Sunrise Walk 7'

On Saturday 26th October, I had the good fortune to take part in another distance walk organised by Dr. Blake Morris who is currently based in the UK.

Blake initiated the series of walks (entitled British Summer Time) in response to the approaching change of clocks in the UK and how activity experienced each day at the same time undergoes an immediate and dramatic change as the clocks suddenly change back to Greenwich Mean Time (UTC).

The walk for us in Vietnam allowed us to experience the sunrise in Saigon, which was scheduled for 05:43am. I took photographs 15 minutes before sunrise (05:28 am), at the time of the sunrise (05:43 am) and then 15 minutes after sunrise (05:58 am). Of course, there is no daylight saving arrangement in place and the sunrise / sunset does not fluctuate very much throughout the year here.

Blake walked in the UK, in the vicinity of Northampton while other participants walked in a variety of locations.
On 26th October walkers strode out in the early morning in Northampton, Cork, St. Ives and Bournville. Due to the time difference, in Saigon, we walked out 6 hours ahead of everyone else and experienced a wonderful walk. The usual bustling city, verging on the chaotic, was slowly awakening. The environment was therefore much quieter than usual, with far fewer people out on the street. The air was also less humid.
A few meters from where we walked, bats and swallows competed for insects above the local river and as we continued along the road, watching the sunrise, the latter gradually replaced the former.

This was another great opportunity to see our surroundings from a new perspective, a very enjoyable walk.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

'No holiday', Birrarung Marr, Melbourne, Australia

This is the second recorded walk I made during my recent visit to Australia, beginning in Melbourne with me exiting the Flinders Street Railway Station, crossing the road close to St. Paul's Cathedral and then across to Federation Square.

From Federation Square I walked along the Yarra Riverbank to Birrarung Marr where I discovered the large outdoor sculpture 'Angel' by Deborah Halpern standing alone in the midday sun. Not far away, up some steps I found the intriguing Federation Bells, which play music at intervals during the day.

Walking on the William Barak Bridge I made my way toward the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere.  In 2005 this bridge was enhanced by the addition of the permanent sound installation 'Proximities', created by Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, that features a welcome song sung in Woiwurrung by Wurundjeri Elder Joy Murphy Wandin, who is a descendent of William Barak. The installation also broadcasts the voices representing people of the 53 commonwealth countries now living in Australia.

The first thing I saw when I arrived at the cricket ground was the statue of Dennis Lillee - the legendary Australian fast bowler. I remember this amazing cricket player terrorising batsmen during Ashes matches when I was a youngster at school in the UK. There are further statues of Australian cricketing legends around the exterior of the ground.

The film concludes as I continue on my way crossing Yarra Park.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back' - 28.9.2019

During my research into the cityscape of Sydney prior to my recent visit looking for suitable locations for walking, filming or other activities, I discovered a very interesting set of steps close to Sydney Harbour Bridge. Later, when I arrived at the foot of the steps, I immediately felt that I had made an excellent choice.

The steps were built during 1912-14 and formed part of the redevelopment of the area which included construction of the wharves at Walsh Bay, a layout of new roads, and the steps themselves (named after civil engineer Robert Hickson, the first president of the Sydney Harbour Trust).

The steps (which formed part of the route from Hickson Road to the Harbour Bridge walkway deck) had so much character I was drawn to responding to them in some way and the natural way for me seemed to be in enacting a new version of my performance 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back'.

The individual details of this performance are always governed by the specifics of each particular location and in this instance I stayed close to the right hand side (when facing uphill). This allowed me to employ the beautiful and powerful wall as a backdrop and also enabled the use of the handrail. The central rail and cast iron fence that ran down the opposite side of the steps contrasted nicely with the sandstone steps.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

'No holiday', Farm Cove, Sydney, Australia

Last month I had the great fortune to be able to visit Australia and what was even more fortunate was that during my visit I had enough time to contemplate creating three new performative works. One of them was a 'step' piece, which I shall post about soon, while the other two became episodes of the 'No holiday' saga.

The first walk, in Sydney, was particularly enjoyable for me. Since being a child I had been familiar with the landmarks in this beautiful city for example, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the stunning harbour itself and wondered if I would ever actually see them. To finally gaze upon these sights with my own eyes, feel the wind on my face and take in the full scope of the landscape as I moved through the city was indeed a realisation of these, once fanciful, memories.

The route I finally decided upon for my walk began at Mrs. Macquarie's Point, which is more correctly known as Yurong Point by the indigenous Gadigal inhabitants. Here, in 1810, was a large seat or bench hand carved by convicts for the benefit of Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of major General Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales.

From there I walked around Farm Cove, which forms the coastline of the Royal Botanic Gardens. originally known as Woccanmagully, it was the site of a farm to sustain Government House and the first Governor, Arthur Phillip.

The filming ceased close to the iconic Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon.  
I gazed across Sydney Cove to 'The Rocks' before continuing towards Circular Quay and it was at this point that the current film ends.

Details of the second walk will be posted soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

10th International Conference on The Image

For the 10th International Conference on The Image, this year held at the Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK on 5-6th September, I decided to submit a conference poster for inclusion.

Being preoccupied by performative walking in recent years, I thought it would be good to compile a collection of working methods that could be engaged in and at the same time to present examples of these methods that I had personally experienced.

I titled my poster 'Strategies for Performative Walks', created in collaboration with Nina, Yiu Lai Lei (with whom I have collaborated on several recent projects) and set out to present these strategies. To fully illustrate each method I presented a representative image, short description and a QR code that would direct people to a more in-depth blog post. 

The strategies I outlined were as follows: a) Photography, b) Videography, c) Live-stream Broadcast, d) Sound recording, e) Social Media posts and f) Colour Collection.

The strategies were introduced in isolation but, of course, they could be combined to create multi-faceted projects. 

The abstract for the poster read as follows: 

Walking can be thought of as a medium just like painting, printmaking or sculpture so the crucial question is: What happens once the walk commences? There would usually be a strategy employed when approaching the walk unless the plan is to deliberately dispense with strategies. The strategy can involve observations and responses to the location the walk takes place within or, alternatively, can relate to discussions with fellow walkers or even communication with other participants walking simultaneously in remote locations. Thesis communications, along with observations of the locale, can be transmitted and/or recorded to form an archive or even the basis for a future, related piece of work. This poster outlines six strategies for approaching performative walks.

Conference banner

Conference Poster

Sunday, September 8, 2019

4th World Congress of Psychogeography, 2019

The 4th World Congress of Psychogeography was held on the first weekend in September 2019 at the following venues in West Yorkshire: Huddersfield on Friday 6th, Dewsbury on Saturday 7th and Marsden on Sunday 8th.

I have never classed myself as a true psychogeographer but it has occurred to me that many of the activities associated with psychogeography do have connections to the methods I have been drawn to in my performance work and, with walking as a primary element in my work, it seems to be the closest approach that has been defined as an area of study.

With this in mind I have been actively seeking opportunities for me to present my work whenever such appropriate opportunities arise. The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography was immediately attractive to me for a couple of reasons. First, the venues were located in my home county of Yorkshire in the UK, and secondly I noticed that a number of notable figures within the field of psychogeography were either presenting work or initiating events and activities.

I secured a time-slot between 12:00-12:30pm on Friday 6th September to present a live-stream performance to an assembled audience of around 60 people who had gathered in the Oastler Building of Huddersfield University. This was an opportunity for me to enact a new episode of my on-going saga 'No holiday', this time conducted in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam, on the wide 'walking street' Nguyễn Huệ.

Originally the Kinh Lon canal that allowed goods to be brought from the Saigon River, into the heart of the city, it was renamed the Charter Canal from around 1861. The canal was subsequently filled in in 1887 and turned into a boulevard in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The boulevard grew increasingly busy until April 2015, when it was converted into a pedestrian street.

An introduction was made to the assembled audience at Huddersfield University before the live-stream broadcast commenced and I began my walk.

Beginning at 6:00pm (Vietnam time) my walk took me down the northwestern edge of the street, walking towards the river until I reached the busy Đường Tôn Đức Thắng road at which point I turned and made my way up the centre of Nguyễn Huệ, past the joggers, the students, young couples, hawkers, tourists and street performers.

During the walk dusk arrived and the lighting on the street changed dramatically. Early in the walk it began raining but luckily despite the forecast of heavy rain, it lifted and allowed me to continue walking unencumbered by the umbrella.

The performance went well and, according to the organisers, was well received back in the UK. I always hope that audiences can relax, suspend their expectations and enjoy the meditative walk with me, wherever I happen to be in the world.

It was a great honour for me to be a participant of the Congress and I thank the organisers for allowing me to showcase my work in this way.

The Congress website can be found here.

The full conference programme can be viewed here.

A recording of the live-stream performance can be viewed here on my YouTube Channel.

A full playlist of 'No holiday' performances can be viewed here.

One-page Congress Programme

Recording of live-stream performance

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Layer Drawing Project

The development of work can be a logical process, progressing in a methodical linear way as ideas are unraveled and understood. This would continue in a similar fashion if attention is focused on the journey and what the direction of the next step should be.

My own experience, however, is a lot more chaotic, messy and unruly but no less enjoyable or, importantly, productive.

I have developed an approach in which, at almost every stage, there are multiple possibilities, possible directions, appropriate decisions and therefore solutions. There is, of course, a central element that does progress, develop and arrive a resolution but in addition to these multiple starting points or as I see them, possible 'threads' that can be returned to in the future and then investigated more thoroughly.

The most efficient way to keep track of all these possible threads is to have notebooks around in which to record the alternative ideas so that they may be taken up later. Without these notes many of the additional ideas may be forgotten and never taken up. What waste that is.

When initiating a series of drawings as participation in the Drawing Dialogue 2 project, I started 4 drawings by covering part of a sheet off paper in marks that resembled either 'scribbles' or unknown calligraphic characters, depending on one's attitude. Theses drawings of mine were then worked on by two other partners in the project until a final resolution was reached.

Later, I thought back to these initiatory drawings as I wished to investigate the method a little further than I had at the time. I began laying down these proto calligraphic marks using a light HB pencil and then worked on top of them with a darker pencil, B or perhaps 2B. I was attracted to the effect of having multiple layers of marks of varying intensity and boldness. The resulting image resembled a kind of palimpsest in which marks from the different layers could be read intermittently through the various layers. I tried making some drawings in one of my notebooks, initially as a solid block of marks but then trying leave part of the drawing with some of the marks but with not all the layers superimposed one on another. With each drawing the section that was not covered by all the layers was laid out formally so the number of layers put down could be easily detected simply by counting them as they were revealed in the more open section. For convenience, and for want of a better term I simply called these works 'Layer Drawings'.

It is important to remember that this was not my primary project and so the work on the drawings was done sporadically, whenever I had some free time and whenever I remembered to return to the drawings. I was also working on a journal article, a conference poster, several performances, a photographic project and a sculpture. I juggled these projects according to relevant deadlines and so some of these projects are still unfinished (especially the ones without a firm deadline).

Up to this moment (17 August 2019) there are 5 configurations of the 'Layer Drawing' approach recorded in my notebooks and one that has been realised on a slightly larger sheet of paper that was made to investigate how the drawn marks, and the experience of making them, change as the scale is increased.

In future I shall post further updates to this project which runs in the background to my other work.

First, the 5 A5 notebook images:

July 2018

August 2018

September 2018

September 2018

August 2019

...and here is the slightly larger (43cm(h) x 32.5cm(w)) experiment:

October 2018

Saturday, July 20, 2019

International Drawing Dialogue Phase 3 - 2019-20

The third episode of the International Drawing Dialogue begins and this time I have been partnered with two artists who are based in the UK: Skye Williams and Andrea Thoma.

As with previous episodes, each artist initiates four A2 size drawings before sending them to the next artist to work on. These drawings are then forwarded to the final artist, ending up with 12 drawings that each display contributions by all 3 three artists.

For the four drawings I initiated, I looked to some of the work I have previously been working on. In preparation for 3 of my previous 'No holiday' walking performances I had created maps as I explored the possible routes for the walk. These maps became the basis for the current set of drawings, two relating to the walk in the Dorsoduro district of Venice, Italy, one relating to the walk on Cheung Chau Island in Hong Kong and the fourth relating to the recent walk conducted in District 7 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The configuration of the maps were modified slightly as they 'found' their position within the paper surface and therefore took the first step towards their new life, existing independently of the original reference. I also only took the images far enough to make a start without finalising anything or rendering anything too difficult to modify. It can be tricky finding the balance with this, initiating some kind of image without determining the direction too much so the next contributor has fewer options when working. I tried to ensure that if the subsequent contributors wanted to render some of the marks more concrete, they could, but if they decided to erase any part of the image, then this could be achieved without too much trouble.

Now, I wait in anticipation of the first set of drawings arriving here in Saigon. 

Below are some of the original references used, followed by the 4 drawings I made:

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The 12th Online Performance Art Festival

For the 12th edition of the Online Performance Art Festival I decided to conduct a second version of my recent performance piece 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back', which I had created and recorded at Sewerby, Bridlington in the UK. I have already written about the motivation for the piece here.

For this performance I needed to find a suitable stretch of steps and this proved to be quite difficult in Ho Chi Minh City. I eventually found an appropriate location, quite close to where I had filmed the District 7 version of 'No holiday'. The height of the steps was much shallower than the steps in Sewerby but the environment was particularly engaging, with a background forming a geometric concrete grid and an overall pale beige aspect.
In Sewerby the focus seemed to be on the distance travelled from the top to the bottom and the inexorable journey away from the intended destination. Here in Ho Chi Minh City, as the run of steps was much shallower, I found the focus shifted more towards the thought process and the decision to take a step up each time even after this action had resulted in moving two steps further down. The performance lasted just under 8 minutes.

Initially there were some problems with 'Cameleon' - the chosen app for the live-streaming. These issues delayed the performance for around 10-15 minutes and was only resolved by restarting the iPhone I was using. Once filming commenced everything fell into place and I was very pleased with the end result.

Dragan Strunjas handled communications and monitored the streaming. His calm manner helped Nina and I to steer through the technical problems and contributed to the successful performance.

Once again it was a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to participate in this Festival. The only way to develop performative work is to perform it and the Festival provides this crucial platform for me to develop my work from concept to realisation.

The recording of the performance can be viewed on the Festival website here.

...or on my YouTube Channel here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

'No holiday' - York, UK

A recent visit back to the UK to see my parents gave me an opportunity to take my 'No holiday' performance on a further episode, this time in the historic city of York.

The trip to York spanned two days, which didn't give me much flexibility if the weather was not favourable and up to that point on my trip it had not been too good. In fact the first day in York was marred by heavy rain and so filming was postponed until the following day. If the rain persisted, then it would be necessary to film with the aid of umbrellas etc. Luckily, however, the next day opened to bright sunshine and blue sky.

The performance followed the route of the old walls of the city beginning on Lendal Bridge and passing close to the Multi-angular Tower and Yorkshire Museum before mounting the walls themselves at Bootham Bar. The walk then continued clockwise via Monk Bar, Jewbury, The Red Tower, Walmgate Barbican and Fishergate Bar to the Fishergate Postern Tower after which both the Foss and Ouse rivers were crossed before the walls were remounted at Skeldergate.
The route then continued via Victoria Bar and Micklegate Bar before crossing over the roads near to the railway station and descending to the gardens on Station Road where the walk began at Lendal Bridge.

The weather was magnificent for most of the walk and only became cloudy, threatening rain, towards the end. Passing behind York Minster, just after Bootham Bar, I was fortunate enough to be greeted by the Sunday morning peal of bells which enlivened the walk somewhat on this bright Sunday morning.

Besides the expected groups of students on field trips it was also great to see many people out walking the walls and even 4 or 5 energetic runners circumnavigating the old city at a brisk pace.

The recording of the walk can be viewed via the embedded video below or by visiting my YouTube link here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back' - 6.6.2019

I had been considering the potential elements for a new performance within the pages of one of my notebooks and it was earlier this month during a trip to see my parents in the UK that the opportunity came to bring this piece to completion.

The world today seems to be fraught with so many problems that appear to have no current answer. Since the Second World War there had been a vague but nevertheless inexorable move in support of what we could for convenience sake call 'progress'. This development has been hardly ideal but for sure things were improving and we could have been confident that at some time in the future the world would be a fairer and safer place.

However, in more recent years, many of the positive gains made since the war have begun to evaporate or to be more accurate, have begun to be deliberately unravelled. Hatred and conflict have increased in intensity and hurtful intentions towards certain sectors of our societies have reemerged from their hiding places. These hiding places, it seems, were not so deep or remote after all.

On a more personal level, everyone faces challenges and usually we can face those challenges and in many cases overcome them, or if not overcome then at least come to terms with them. Sometimes though the challenges seem to arrive quicker than we can deal with them.

In this new performance I take on the role of another Sisyphean character attempting to scale a flight of stairs. Unfortunately, and frustratingly for him, with each step he takes towards the summit he must take two further steps away leaving him further back than when he made the initial progress. Sisyphus was not a man to give up easily so this new character persists with the task again and again until finally arriving against his wishes at the bottom of the flight of stairs.

Sisyphus was able to enjoy a brief respite from his labours during the short period as the rock rolled back down the hill and he was able to walk down unencumbered by the load, and so our new character takes some time out at the bottom of the stairs to look out at the ocean, finding a moment of calm before possibly beginning again.

The performance was conducted on the steps between the cliff tops and the beach at Sewerby near Bridlington in East Yorkshire, UK on 6th June 2019.

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.

'An Heraldic Emblem'

During the years 1978-1980 I had spent 2 years working in an operating theatre in St. James Hospital and as I was only 18 years old when I started it had a huge impact upon me.
The heraldic emblem was an attempt to create a visual representation of my self during that time. The white, ceramic tiles and dark wooden frame was inspired by the interiors of the operating theatres and the small, round objects were simplified versions of the lights that were used to illuminate the patients during the operations. I changed the middle bulb of each lamp to represent a red green stop-sign. Sometimes the operations I saw were so crucial that whatever transpired during that time, it defined whether the patient's life continued or ended.
The cruciform shape deliberately suggested Christian symbolism. Although I am not religious, I was raised as a Catholic until I was 10 or 11 years of age and the associated symbolism has remained within me, for better or worse. The shape can also be read in a more representation way. The 3D vertical, nimbus shape stood for the operation site, and the framing mechanism was derived from the metal clamps that are used to hold open the patient's body. The body cavity obviously is represented in a convex format rather than concave, as would be expected. I made it this way because as I working on the piece I began to feel that I was searching within myself to discover what value these images and forms held for me. In a way I was conducting an exploratory operation on myself, albeit a psychological one.

A photo of me contemplating the future, taken during the foundation year 1980-81 
in the studios of Jacob Kramer College of Art, Leeds - later to become Leeds Arts University.
I attended the foundation year twice, in 1977-78 and 1980-81

Setting up my corner of the communal studio in the sculpture annexe of 
Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic during the first semester of the first year, 1981. 
My alma mater would later become Northumbria University.

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