Page 1 of 7 :

This project blog »

Bookmarks

Feedback Feedback

Inappropriate material?
Ideas? Technical issues?
» Feedback to a-n

Project blogs

Light Fantastic - the Rink Revival Ballroom project

By: Neil Armstrong

Bringing alive a now demolished but much loved dance hall in the north east town of Hartlepool is the impetus for this piece.

Working with groups that cover the entire spectrum of age, I am making a video installation which combines recall with a contemporary narrative. Although the Rink is physically no more, perhaps it still might inform the present.



click to expand/collapse 

'the book lives!'.

[enlarge]
'the book lives!'.

# 65 [17 March 2014]

2 YEARS IN 68 PAGES

Inevitably projects run their course and you start thinking of other work. That is certainly the case for me. That doesn't mean though I have totally put down this project.

My Rink Ballroom book is now finished and, having had a proof printed, I am now waiting for a few more to arrive in the post. This is self publishing we're talking here, so a 68 pager on good art stock isn't cheap... I am between that thing of wanting people to read it but not being able to distribute the printed version as widely as I would wish.

That being said, the pdf version is freely available for anyone who cares to ask for it (see link at the bottom of this page) so hopefully there will be some take-up. In the context of this blog, what is interesting I think is that the content of my book is taken from an edited version of this very blog. It was always my intention. In a sense I was documenting my own history as this project took shape, so it seemed appropriate to use that as the basis for a piece that is ostensibly about recall and it's re-formation. It has been fascinating to look back over my own posts and to read them almost like a third party, given the distance of time. It is, I think, testimony to the usefulness of keeping a project blog.

Now the book is completed I can no longer procrastinate and must address the less enjoyable job of trying to get myself out there in the public domain to talk about this. I don't mean I don't want to talk about it because in fact I REALLY do...I just mean the actual task of approaching venues that might be interested in me delivering a talk about the project, and then showing the film, is not one of my favourites. Inevitably there will be the usual,' thanks - it looks like a really interesting project BUT...' etc. etc...and of course the ones that don't even reply in these 'too busy and/or under resourced  to acknowledge you' times (oops must be careful not to sound bitter). I'm just hoping that despite this there will be occasional  bursts of enthusiasm pitched back at me that will sustain my own enthusiasm for the thankless task of self/ project promotion.

That reminds me of something. Years ago when my work was often live performance and video related, I made a piece which began, as the audience assembled, with a recorded voice reciting the rejection letters I had received through the post (this was pre email of course). It was quite funny in a nihilistic sort of way. To think, people used to actually take the time to write and post you a letter of rejection. How quaint that now seems. And believe me I am not actually personally bitter...I have a good success rate compared for instance to many poor souls trying to get a job and find a way forward. I feel genuinely sad for society and hope this style of interaction is just a passing historical blip. More and faster communication has definitely led to disinterest (or is it distraction?) which inevitably leads to an erosion of care/ humanity in day to day dialogue.

Enough of that. I shall head forth with positivity...

Here is the link to my book if you are interested to take a look.

http://www.ambitcreatives.com/art_downloads/RINK_BOOK_ALL_vsmall.pdf"

 

 

'Ernie bless him...he had the words 'Mild' and 'Bitter'  tattooed under his nipples'. Stan Laundon et al...popular myths and legendary madcaps

[enlarge]
'Ernie bless him...he had the words 'Mild' and 'Bitter' tattooed under his nipples'.

Stan Laundon et al...popular myths and legendary madcaps

# 64 [16 December 2013]

DREAM ON

...or straddling the world of self promotion whilst trying to get on with new work.

I have it in mind to offer this piece as a series of single screen one off showings but with an intro by me to explain the project and put it into context. It's a universal theme so hopefully will appeal to a variety of venues, though I am under no illusion as to how difficult it is to slot into galleries and museum's  schedules in these 'challenging' times.

To this end I am working on the book. Not because I have any great desire to enter the world of vanity publishing, but in order to give people a more complete overview of the film they might like to show. I think it worked with my previous piece 'Gestalt'. Installations and film/video work require that people sit through the experience to evaluate it, and often people just don't have time (even if they have the inclination) so a book stuffed full of pictures can be the way forward. I will have a short run printed but it will be a useful pdf attachment to push the project as well.

Whilst working on the Rink project, a myriad of other ideas have presented themselves. It feels like I need a little time to evaluate where I go from here though; a little time to decide which idea will dominate the others. Or maybe how all of those ideas merge into one. Or not, or partially or...

As I wait for the view to clear I want to make sure that this project gets the exposure I think it deserves. Is a room still there if no one observes it? In my memory it is but what if I had never seen the room in the first place? Under the bed is not the best place for ones work.

As for such philosophical debate I have to put this on record. I had a dream (yes I really did have a dream) and there were small jewel-like people dancing across a shiny polished surface. In my dream I watched this scene with a sense of amazement. I then realised the people, whoever they were,  were speaking a language I didn't understand, and then it dawned on me; it was pure sound...vowels and consonants, but not actual language. It made sense at the time, and in a way it still does make sense. It was one of those rare occurrences where a dream can actually inform the waking world. Not to sound spooky (and no drugs were involved) but I have kept that dream as a perceptual reference for where my next piece will go.  Enigmatic perhaps but strangely useful.

Back on planet earth.. a very generous lady called Louise Thody has written a foreword to my little book. She is a phd student at Edinburgh College of Art, came to the Toffee Factory show and very generously agreed to put the Rink Project into a sociological perspective. Very kind of her and really good to get another point of view - albeit a view I invevitably concur with but which does I hope complement what I have done .

Oh and Happy Festive Season to anyone who reads this. Here's hoping the new year brings us all peace and adequate prosperity.

live performance at the opening of my Toffee Factory show

neil armstrong, 'marion encapsulated', doll, glass dome, organza, grass, tv, video playback.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'marion encapsulated', doll, glass dome, organza, grass, tv, video playback.

neil armstrong, 'preview evening performance', vinyl record playing original song performed by soprano Dawn Furness.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'preview evening performance', vinyl record playing original song performed by soprano Dawn Furness.

neil armstrong, 'Our Three Shilling Affair - preview performance', vinyl pressing, gramophone, video projection, soprano Dawn Furness.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'Our Three Shilling Affair - preview performance', vinyl pressing, gramophone, video projection, soprano Dawn Furness.

neil armstrong, 'nancy says, buddy holly's tooth, marion considers that her house is now a car park', glicee prints, typed slips of paper.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'nancy says, buddy holly's tooth, marion considers that her house is now a car park', glicee prints, typed slips of paper.

neil armstrong, 'grass grown high', video projection, installation objects and banners.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'grass grown high', video projection, installation objects and banners.

# 63 [14 November 2013]

FOR THREE DAYS ONLY

Another show came and went.

I wasn't sure at first how it would work in the Toffee Factory as the room is much smaller than Hartlepool Gallery . That fact made me join five of the video pieces together into one longer video, and to concentrate the other installation artwork too. It's a more intimate space and in many ways suits my subject better.

Major difference number two is that here I could black out the room. It meant that I had to employ a couple of people with giant ladders to reach the very top windows and to hang my two banners from the girders, but as they also loaned me a box full of little spotlights it was an expense worth factoring in. The projector was excellent and my HD video (shot 1080p) looked like it was shot 4k... in fact I was asked that question a number of times. Even I, having gone through this material more times than I care to remember, found myself sitting down and watching it with fresh eyes.

Funny how circumstances can lead you into pastures not previously considered. For the preview evening I was (against my better judgement but hey, I was being informal about the whole idea) going to sing my Rink Ballroom duet with another lady whilst the (music only) record played out on the gramophone. After a rehearsal (was it something I said!!?) she dropped out due to work commitments. At that point it all made sense...

...One aspect of the piece that is increasingly important, an idea still in development, involves my composite character Jack Brunel. He plays the trumpet and is a fan of Wagner's sense of the EPIC. There are references to opera all over this narrative and I have been musing how to incorporate this element in another piece. I also had an opera singer in mind - an ex Scottish National Opera soprano called Dawn Furness. She has an amazingly powerful and commanding voice and it seemed serendipitous that I now needed a singer. Sacking myself from the job was a relief, and it freed me up to link the idea together.

Ever since I won my first church eisteddfod diploma for bible reading, I have been quietly confident about reading prose aloud. In contrast to my confidence in any other public speaking it has to be said. I decided to read an abridged version of the Jack Brunel story on the night.. leading into Dawn doing her thing with my song. It was a much more joined up idea. The narrative talks about 'Norns' ... mythical female beings who control the destiny of gods and men.. so Dawn - stood on a flight case with her skirt down to the ground, towering above the audience; a powerful presence to match her powerful vocals; made the idea real.

Oh and there was SPAM! Arts sponsorship made real ha ha. Via my friends at East River PR, SPAM provided a selection of nibbles which were actually delicious. Yes I'm sorry to offend any vegetarians, but there was a relevant reason for it. During the war, and in the dour years following, SPAM featured in many of my interviewees lives. It seemed to fit... for one evening only anyway.

On the night we had quite a few people turn up and what was most encouraging was that everyone I spoke to seemed to get it. I had lots of great conversations about the piece which is really what these things are all about. So much time is spent making the work that sometimes it's just great to get feedback.

 I wasn't sure if many people would come to the show the following days as the Toffee Factory is not so much an established art gallery, being more know for digital media and events, but in fact quite a few people made their way down over the next couple of days, and it was good to get some more constructive feedback.

All in all I'm glad I did it.  Going forward, I hope it will show other galleries how this piece can be shown effectively in differing spaces.

neil armstrong, 'lights, action, vinyl', limited edition vinyl pressing. Photo: neil armstrong (on my phone).

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'lights, action, vinyl', limited edition vinyl pressing. Photo: neil armstrong (on my phone).

neil armstrong, 'lights, action, vinyl'. Photo: neil armstrong (on my phone). recording of 'Our Three Shilling Affair'

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'lights, action, vinyl'. Photo: neil armstrong (on my phone).

recording of 'Our Three Shilling Affair'

# 62 [15 September 2013]

LOSERS AND KEEPERS

My show at Hartlepool is now finished - bits and pieces transported back to Newcastle and deposited in my office/studio. The good news is I will now be showing it in the Toffee Factory for three days - Nov 7th - 9th (where my office actually is) so that will be somewhat easier to sort out. It won't be set out the same, and it will be interesting to present it in a new format. I will be in attendance as well for most of that time so I can surreptitiously take note of reactions.  

The biggest consideration, and one I am looking forward to charting, is how it is perceived by an audience that has a less partisan demographic. I was so aware of the closeness of this piece to the heart of Hartlepool, and the fact that the gallery was literally only a few hundred metres away from my actual subject, that it was bound to have a unique atmosphere. That's great, but now I want it to live outside in the big bad world, and I need it to hold its own.

In fact, it has always been a piece about 'anywhere Hartlepool'. It has wider overtones. It's really a piece that explores more fundamental concerns than a particular Ballroom in a particular place, so hopefully it takes itself off and dances into the 'real' world without too many tears.

Before the show came down, I travelled to the gallery for one last time, and typed up some more narratives I had received. Whilst I was putting these on the wall with the others, a couple came over. I had noticed they had been watching the video which features my father (and which has me waving to the camera in it) and I think they had a bit of a double-take when they saw me. We had a lovely chat; it seems that was her third visit and she was planning another one with a friend the next week. She really loved the show and therein lies an interesting take. She was too young to go to the Rink when it was standing. A featureless, bland building from the outside she would watch the crowds as she went past on the bus and could sense the magic that emanated from within.

For her my show was a window back into world of her imagination. The crucial fact here I think is that she never actually did go in, so she was much more open to my re- interpretation; my own take on the magic of recall. It didn't matter to her that this wasn't a 'trip down memory lane' because her own memory of it required creative imagining anyway. She had her own construct, had formed her own theatre of illusion. I think that is why she was able to connect with the piece so well.

In the visitor book there are telling comments like (I paraphrase) ; 'this is the best artwork ever shown in Hartlepool - it should be in the Tate gallery' ...of course I can only agree ha ha! and another 'I expected to see pictures of the Rink and costumes of the time - it should have been researched better' hmm missed the point methinks. It's what I expected, and it's what I got.

Dwelling on the positives... I had John B on the phone; he features as one of my cameos. I had invited him to the opening but not heard from him. Given the age of many of the participants, including him, I did wonder what might have happened. Turns out he has been to see the show a couple of times and wonders if there is any way he could get a copy of the videos to show his cousin Nancy (who also contributed by writing and doing a telephone interview). She finds getting about too difficult these days and he would love for her to see it. John B was pleased that I had included pictures of Pat, his wife, from their Rink days. It keeps her alive in his world even though, as he says, she has 'passed over'.

neil armstrong, 'room for four more'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'room for four more'.

neil armstrong, 'still room for 4 more'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'still room for 4 more'.

neil armstrong, 'mirror mirror on the wall...'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'mirror mirror on the wall...'.

# 61 [9 August 2013]

FLAG WAVING AND GETTING ON THE RADAR

It's the most thankless task; promoting one's own work. It seems somehow wrong, like... surely there must be a department for that? Although I have had many years of hard-nosed commercial experience to inform me otherwise, somewhere at the back of my brain there still emanates a soft, fuzzy glow that implies somehow it will all take care of itself; that my work will inevitably be recognised like cream floating to the top of the cup. Cream I said not froth. 

It's a dream of course and perhaps an ice cube floating in a gin and tonic might be a better metaphor. A soon to melt metaphor; a few gulps, a pleasant taste and a mild, temporary intoxication.

Well my show is still whirling away in the gallery but I haven't been down to Hartlepool for a couple of weeks so it's doing its own thing and I am back in the real world contemplating how small I am. I really have tried to get national coverage for the show. I had a plan... one that involved doing a bit of a trade with a colleague who has a PR company. We would do a skills swap.  They sponsor the show by adding a bit of umph  to the PR, and in return I do some work on their website.

Yes we know my show is in Hartlepool, so not going to be on the national radar unless it's mentioned in a reference to potential sites for fracking, but I kinda thought there might be a larger 'human interest' (I am talking newspaper speak here) angle that might appeal to a wider demographic. The Guardian were 'interested'.. the Sunday Times didn't say no... straight away... but in the end it all came to nought. It seems, in a sea of flag wavers,  my show is a windmill on a stick, in a very strong breeze, on a very large beach, where there used to be a funfair and crowds, but now only the occasional dog walker ambles by with a poo bag. You get the picture.

But all is not doom and gloom. All the local press came through of course. This week another feature appeared in the Hartlepool Mail. They had enquired what the visitor figures had been thus far. It seems, up to now, they are over 7,000, which is pretty good apparently. They led with that and a headline 'Rink Memories Told on Video'.

I can't blame them - it's the nature of the publication I know... but no matter what I say about the piece; about it being a discourse with narrative construction etc... all that gets mentioned is this 'trip down memory lane' type approach. It's as if there is no appetite to look further. As if the very act of looking to the past demands a purely emotional response. In fact this piece is probably my most emotive for a long time; it is full of emotion. But it is also content in search of a structure, and it is this structure that I am also concerned with. Oh for a more informed eye.

And on the subject of informed eyes... now that the nation is to be graced with 'art at the end of its street' (assuming you have a billboard at the end of your street) do we think the public will be more inclined to engage with art? Hmm personally I'm a bit suspicious. I always thought that the purpose of art was to push boundaries; to be an unfettered eye. This initiative shamelessly takes the 'give 'em what they want' approach.

Should art be for 'everyman?'...doesn't it have a duty to NOT give you what you expect? Isn't sticking the 'top fifty' up there yet another example of X-factor applied to everything?

It's funny - in my piece I have encouraged people to contribute to a wall of typed prose. I set myself up as 'editor' to deliberately emphasise the nature of narrative control. Turns out the aforementioned 'top fifty' was actually finally judged by a panel of worthies, despite pre- voting by the hoi polloi.

Hierarchy  and patronisation, still reassuringly present.

neil armstrong, 'plectrums, coal, box, glicee print, Stratocaster,trumpet, organza'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'plectrums, coal, box, glicee print, Stratocaster,trumpet, organza'.

'me on the mic'. Photo: Julie Leeson.

[enlarge]
'me on the mic'. Photo: Julie Leeson.

neil armstrong, 'typewriter, paper, an invitation to participate'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'typewriter, paper, an invitation to participate'.

'Betty dances'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'Betty dances'. Photo: neil armstrong.

neil armstrong, 'Lambretta wrapped in organza with a note attached, magenta banners in the background'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'Lambretta wrapped in organza with a note attached, magenta banners in the background'.

# 60 [21 July 2013]

IT'S MY PARTY

DAY FIVE: blast off...

Lewis and my stand-in singer Becky came to rehearse late afternoon. Becky had done amazingly well to learn my song in a few days and be ready for the opening night. We had decided to place the PA on the balcony that overlooks the gallery. I like that, as they will not be fully in view, but being above it fits some elements of the show...the reference to Norns in particular, those all seeing spirits who I refer to in my narrative about Jack Brunel. My angels shall be on high, delivering the song to us mortals below.

We had booked into a nearby hotel for the evening so that a sigh of relief and celebration could take place afterwards. Various people were travelling a bit of distance to get to the opening and it was great to see them in the evening. Back at the hotel I review my notes so I don't get snow blindness when giving my talk. Shouldn't have worried about that though, in the end I rattle on without a break about my artistic vision and of course add in some of the many thankyou's I need to deliver.

Turns out I may have been a little verbose ha ha.. 50mins so I'm told. I had asked for a signal if I was going on too long but none had seemed forthcoming from the sea of smiling faces. Ah well - it was the culmination of a lot of thought and lost weekends so perhaps I may be forgiven.

A few people had made their apologies, you expect that. In a way an opening is not the best place to view this work as there is too much to take in if you are going to do it justice. Video can be a bit demanding like that and this work is ostensibly narrative in structure, so I was happy that those who didn't make it to the preview promised to get over at other times.

Now the silence is deafening. The show is out there chattering to itself and waiting for anyone who is prepared to take it on. This morning I received an email

"I was quite moved watching the videos, getting into the photos, reading the snippets and finally making sense of the whole structure of your idea".

Nice. I do worry sometimes that people won't 'get' the whole of this piece without a bit of effort, so it's reassuring, when someone does take the time, that it does reveal itself. It just takes the occasional comment like that to re-energise my enthusiasm for the next stage of the project - namely re-shaping it for further presentation and compiling the book.

Last week I went back to Hartlepool to show some of the retirement village residents my videos. I have had  a few requests for copies, which is interesting in its own right. This isn't exactly social history in the telling, but I will give those who took part a copy of the complete piece if they want one.

I was chatting to a gentleman I hadn't met before as the videos played and I offered explanations. Turns out he was a singer at the Rink Ballroom and a veritable mine of info that would have been useful to me previously. He is interested and polite, but in a way that I can tell he wants to be the one who has all the stories, and the fact that I now know quite a breadth of stuff about the Rink is perhaps unsettling (annoying?) for him as he is used to being the font of information.

It is only after an hour of sitting 'watching' that he tells me he is blind. His reading of the piece must be very different from my intention. It is at this juncture that I am glad I have my ACE.

"I would be  interested to get your opinion of my song" I say

"I wrote it in the style of the period and I wonder if you think it fits"

His demeanour changes markedly as he listens.

"That is really good"  he says, "well done"

Result.

'the view from above'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'the view from above'. Photo: neil armstrong.

'2 of the 4 monitors that flank the entrance'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'2 of the 4 monitors that flank the entrance'. Photo: neil armstrong.

'opposite side flanking the entrance'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'opposite side flanking the entrance'. Photo: neil armstrong.

'Marion doll...dogs (she loves dogs) virtual trumpet and grass from the Rink'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'Marion doll...dogs (she loves dogs) virtual trumpet and grass from the Rink'. Photo: neil armstrong.

# 59 [14 July 2013]

THE TIDE IS HIGH

Day four of the installation of my installation and we are on schedule. I have a seven metre line of photos to go on the wall butted up to each other and I am glad of the assistance to put them in a nice straight line. The walls are pretty good but it's a working space and inevitably they are not absolutely perfect. There are two breaks where a 'secret' door leads to the store area so I have to make a compromise and break the photographic  line. This is the real world though so I aint going to cry over that too much.

There is a point when you think - yes this does make sense and I feel I have handled the space well. We all feel the overall layout has a cohesive feel to it. Having bought a toy trumpet to go with my Marion doll I now place Kip Heron's real trumpet in the cabinet covered in my recycled plectrums. People have to peer through the gaps to see what lies within. Even to do this we have to get clearance from the museums service as I want to stand it on its bell end rather than the somewhat obtrusive perspex stand that has been made for its display in the museum.  We get an ok on that one as long as it isn't going to fall over.

When you're dealing with audio visual material (and despite the addition of other elements in the show, this is ostensibly a video installation) the main concern has to be how it plays back. The monitors look great. Somehow the two sets of headphones for each screen is only currently one as the others have apparently gone missing... hopefully these will re-appear at some point. The main screening looks good too in its own discreet cinema space, but there are a number of variables, like the fact that each day the sound will re-set itself to lower than it should be, so I have to hope that the gallery staff get on board with checking that. I have stretched the resources of the gallery a tad and one of the videos has to play off DVD rather than digital. I have had to compromise on that which is fair enough. The audio is a little low though so we agree that a pre-amp needs to be installed at not too much cost. This won't be done for the opening but soon after.

Luckily I have made a video to accompany the song - something I didn't at first intend but decided to do at the last minute. My 1940s gramophone doesn't pass the council PAT test and they aren't allowed to do any work on it. I could get my own electrician to sort it out but in the end I decide to steal my daughter's all in one screen/ DVD player and play the video of it instead. The gramophone stands silently on a plinth next to it, my record tantalisingly held in the stacker ready to play someday, someway, sometime... never?

There are indicators of what I always knew but still have to get used to; the fact that some people will be enthralled and others will be thrown by the fact that it's not what they expected. It's great to see people sat in a row in the 'cinema' and watching the 30min video all the way through. It's puzzling to watch others move around the space, pondering screens as if they expect them to somehow transmit the meaning telepathically. For some there seems to be a real resistance to engage directly, as if to put the headphones on is a commitment too far. It's as if they expected to see a static picture on the wall and that this moving stuff has thrown their world off kilter.

One woman says to me (not realising I am the artist) "this isn't what I was expecting - it's all people talking, I thought it was going to be about the Rink". I wonder how she could not find anything about the Rink here- it is stuffed full of references and recall.  

'monitors lined up...plinths getting a touch up'. Photo: neil armstrong.

[enlarge]
'monitors lined up...plinths getting a touch up'. Photo: neil armstrong.

'Daniel from Artistic Solutions...a very handy man with a drill'.

[enlarge]
'Daniel from Artistic Solutions...a very handy man with a drill'.

neil armstrong, 'plectrums in progress - beautiful reflections a bonus'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'plectrums in progress - beautiful reflections a bonus'.

# 58 [10 July 2013]

TO ARRIVE IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

Walking  across the tarmac to the easyjet experience, bound for Schiphol, I get a call. It's Ashley from Hartlepool Council;
"Radio Tees want to do an interview with you can you do it live on the 3 o' clock show?"
Such are the wonders of technology that it seems I can.

So it is that, looking out of my Amsterdam hotel window as the planes dip in every two minutes, I find myself doing a spot of Press n PR about the Rink project. It's all a bit chirpy, and the reception seem a tad dodgy, but I make my bid for media glory and rabbit on about the upcoming show.

Yes the upcoming show, and there I was in the Netherlands filming something a lot less arty in order to earn a crust. The coming week though was to be dedicated to the 100 mile round trip to Hartlepool each day, something I was looking forward to but also a little nervous about. You never know how it's going to hang together do you; and with this piece in particular there are so many elements that have to sit in quite a demanding space, that it was deep breath time.

Day one and there is a small team of people;  four to be exact, plus me, which is encouraging. Plinths have been built for the four large monitors, which look great (and substantial so they won't fall on anybody... always good even with that five million Air public liability insurance as backup) and a wall gets underway to make a separate viewing area for the main video. We have cinema seats too...only four but it makes it a bit special and in keeping with the cinematic theme.

Day two and the gallery is open, so rather oddly members of the general public come breezing in whilst we are putting the show up. They look at what there is to see at this juncture and I find myself sneaking sly peeks at them to assess their reactions. I have a bit of a protected space at the end of the gallery as I have put up two bright magenta banners and strung hazard tape across the opening. This leaves me room to work on one of the cabinets which, it turns out becomes a lengthier task than I had first envisaged. I have a box full of recycled cardboard plectrums and my self imposed task is to cover the glass facade of the cabinet with them. I am using spray mount.. not sure if there might have been something better to fix them with but there you are. Spray mount, three large cans as it turns out and a very tacky floor by day four, despite covers. In fact driving home on day two I noticed the soles of my shoes were sticking to the pedals.

It turns out the museums service aren't too keen on me putting real grass in another cabinet with Kip Heron's trumpet from the collection so I have a quick re-think. My Marion doll is going in that cabinet and I really did want grass from the ballroom site to be in there as it has become a bit of a motif and adds the element of time and decay. I decide I must get a toy trumpet instead. You would think that would be easy, but these days most things are online and ordered for collection or delivery a couple of days later. Got one eventually after scouring Newcastle and ending up on an out of the way industrial trading estate, then back to the plectrums.

Day three and we lift the Lambretta scooter onto its plinth. This is a very garish collector's item type machine that definitely hasn't seen Brighton, unless it went by rail. Almost immediately blokes of a certain age appear as if deposited from a train spotters convention bus trip. They coo over the pristine object and I feel like a bit of a killjoy for doing what I know I am about to do. Time to wrap it in organza, hoping I have estimated enough meters. Now that looks better and far less brazen.

neil armstrong, 'the auteur vs the wisdom of crowds'. In the show I have a line of 8cm square pics that make up a 7meter length when placed end to end. Here and there I pop up, collaged into archive footage. I replace the actual photographer who was present taking pics of the launch of a ship by William Gray and Co. from their Hartlepool docks in the 40s. I am in effect an updated participant in this ongoing narrative.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'the auteur vs the wisdom of crowds'.

In the show I have a line of 8cm square pics that make up a 7meter length when placed end to end. Here and there I pop up, collaged into archive footage. I replace the actual photographer who was present taking pics of the launch of a ship by William Gray and Co. from their Hartlepool docks in the 40s. I am in effect an updated participant in this ongoing narrative.

# 57 [14 June 2013]

58 YEARS

You can perhaps look for too many points of reference in a piece, still it's an interesting fact that the Rink Ballroom was open for exactly the same amount of years as I have been on this planet. Either I am very old or my impression of its lifespan is effected not so much by the building or even the people I have met who passed through it, but by its place in a wider world context.

It began life as a roller rink for pleasant Sunday excursions  and local pageants, a place for Victorian families to loosen up a bit. Pretty soon it was billeting first world war soldiers and the skaters were soon up to their knees in Belgian mud and futility. Bit of a break for general societal re-ordering and the demise of the servant class. Votes for all but no real change in the Great British class structure. Then another world war; the disillusioned now given a more noble cause to fight for. You really would be pissed off if you had been unlucky enough to have to fight in both of them though. How easy us baby boomers have had it in that respect.

Moving swiftly on, post war you actually get a health service, a dwindling empire and a little hope on the horizon for better days ahead (even though the majority are still in comparative  post war poverty). You make it through the fifties into a generational revolution where all previous values are turned on their head and for a brief moment love and peace prevail as a plausible concept at least. You have to say that's quite an accelerated burst of history going on there. From servant to soldier to master of your own destiny.

By comparison what has taken place in my lifetime? On the surface technological development has been exponential. We brits have been blessed with avoiding compulsory war. You can of course still follow it as a career route. We have seen the rise of consumerism as god, and the idea that year on year growth is the only possible model for mankind; so we have obligingly consumed as much as we can. I was lucky enough to come from a back street in Leeds, go to sixth form and then art college without too much pressure to conform to previous employment or obvious class models . I did my own thing. I am a product of relative societal affluence and freedom. Even when I hadn't a bean to my name I felt positive about the future. There was a safety net of sorts.

As far as I can see the biggest change in my lifetime has been the explosion of information and the challenge of what to do with it all. We exploded a communications bomb and got buried in data fallout. Our ability to evolve as a bunch of people who can all get on together doesn't seem to be getting anywhere fast though. We just have more and more background noise. Jaw, jaw is only any use if you speak the same language. We are still somewhat in need of metaphysical interpreters.

So I look at the sad black and white photo of the Rink Ballroom with its windows boarded up. It's difficult to appreciate the journey it has been on. I talk to the people who made the building come alive and I am impressed by the diversity of their lives, but it is my imagination powered by the background of documentation from earlier times that puts it into context. It is actually quite annoying that early BBC television broadcast tapes were typically erased for re-use, but in another way that lack of total documentation allows other forms of reconstruction.

This piece is about how a grain of sand can make a pearl; about making magic from the not obviously magic. It requires that you see it through both a macro lens and a wide angle. My own life seems to have been uneventful in comparison, but maybe future generations will be amazed by the fundamental shifts in world order and perception my generation have (albeit grudgingly) had to adapt to.

neil armstrong, 'nancy says'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'nancy says'.

neil armstrong, 'nancy says (detail)'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'nancy says (detail)'.

neil armstrong, 'nancy says (detail)'.

[enlarge]
neil armstrong, 'nancy says (detail)'.

# 56 [3 June 2013]

ONE MONTH TO GO

Four weeks and counting to my show. I had a blitz over the last month and have ironed out what goes where and, most importantly (bar tweaks to the technicals like  colour grading and audio balancing) the content for the various video pieces is all complete. I suppose I always knew I would be flying close to the deadline, but by virtually living and breathing this piece for the past month I have wrestled it into shape.

There was a point the other morning where I was just about to squirt shaving gel onto my toothbrush. It was a close thing. I will check back into the real world shortly.

Typically my daily routine involves making cardboard plectrums mornings and late evenings, out of the content of whatever is left to go out into the recycle bin. I hardly give it a second thought. Will I miss the routines this piece has imposed on me? Hmmm.. I'm sure I will get over working 7 days a week (including bank holidays) but no doubt something else will replace it in due course.

Getting so close to the show's opening has made me reflect on its shape. When I first imagined this piece it was going to be a number of mute video projections in a darkened space with one audio track. Over 18 months it has evolved into a much bigger beast. Six unique video screen narratives, each with their own audio, plus a projected video to be viewed in its own discreet viewing area. Added to this, I now have two glass cabinets which include such things as a trumpet, a box of coal, my Marion doll, an electric guitar; the aforementioned plectrums applied to the inside of a display cabinet... a Lambretta wrapped in organza...two banners on which is written the back story of a constructed character, a gramophone which will play the now complete and mixed bigband song I wrote, my 1950s typewriter on a plinth which invites contributions to the narrative echoes on the wall that will be dotted around the gallery.... various framed prints and a 9 meter length of 8cm square photographs that will traverse the walls in a way that invites the viewer to consider the powerful tool that is the frame of authorship .

In short - there is sooooooo much more here than I initially envisaged. It has been a journey and a half for me and I am now hoping that some of what I intend will transmit to the visitor and that perhaps other unknowns will pop up along the way.

I have had two vinyl records pressed of my song (I am hoping nobody pinches them from the gallery) and a short run of vinyl cds. I am really pleased with these - they look like smaller versions of the real thing... grooves and all. I did worry that the making of the musical element of this piece was taking up a disproportionate amount of time and effort, but now I have it in my hands as an actual real thing it seems worth it. In fact it was never just about the song itself but more about the process of working through the idea and gleaning experiences along the way that I couldn't have obtained any other way.

Sifting though some of the photography, juxtaposing my own photographs alongside still frames I have taken from archive Hartlepool shipping company films, has been an archaeological journey of magic. Blowing up details of pics I took a year ago, I have discovered things I didn't initially realise were there. In the same way, taking still frames out of 70 year old film stock gives you the feeling of being the first person to examine them in such detail. Enhancing and selecting has allowed me to bring alive material which I am sure has never been seen before. Digging through the past, sifting it and reforming it, provides a unique medium to model something that hopefully has a relevance to the world of today.

I knew there was a reason I enjoyed museums so much when I was a kid.



Page 1 of 7 :

This project blog »

Neil Armstrong

I am an artist from Yorkshire who lives and works in Newcastle. My work is predominantly realised as large scale photo pieces and/or video installation, although I still regard myself as a painter.

Much of my work involves the exploration of time, how it is experienced, recorded and then re-presented. The nature of this process has led me to collaborate or become part of worlds which I might not have otherwise touched. This has proved to be both challenging and beautiful.

narmstrong@ambitcreatives.com
www.neilarmstrong.me