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By: Alex Pearl
I am about to begin a 3 month residency at Bedford Art Gallery. I intend to use this blog as a record of the time I spend there and as a basis for a new book about adventure and a fictive proposal not to go to the antarctic (Bedford seems to be as good a place to begin as any)
# 1 [4 January 2008]
Its finally nearly time to go to Bedford. I got an email from Katie including my contract confirming that my residency officially begins next Thursday. I immediately went to the studio to pack my case. Its a big solid trunk on wheels which is as easy to lead as a donkey on roller skates. The beast is crammed full of broken machines, cameras and other oddments; there's a snow globe with flamingos, a floral Barbie skirt, a polystyrene boat and many other things that have starred in previous films. My plan is to go to Bedford on the train somehow making a film of my trek from the station to the gallery. It nearly snowed today.
# 2 [11 January 2008]
Today I began my journey to Bedford. In my wisdom I decided to make the first expedition by train. As this was likely to be my most heavily laden leg I thought it would be fun to drag my trunk over platforms and through the underground.
My itinerary was:
Melton – Ipswich
Ipswich – Stratford
Stratford – Farringdon
Farringdon – Bedford
Three and a half hours later sheltering outside Bedford station I set up my cameras and began the final haul to the gallery. I am finding the case easier to pull now although it has character and occasionally performs an elaborate twisting flip. This, my occasional swearing and my tank commander’s hat with attached camera caused the inhabitants of Bedford to keep a respectful distance. By the time I arrived at the Gallery I had worked up quite a sweat and Katie suggested I “go freshen up’ (I think she meant have a wash). Then we had a quick meeting with Eva to go over what I wanted to get out of the residency. In my head all I could hear was “fame, fortune, wine, women and song” but instead I talked about sensible things. I did see a club on my travels offering free women on Fridays but I don’t think that’s what they meant. I might try to write a song. Then I started which to be honest was a bit strange. I didn’t have to be anywhere else or worry about anything except how to find the Travelodge later. I’m sure its not good for me.
I reviewed the video I’d made. Most of it is looking straight up my nose luckily the camera is slightly out of focus.
The Travelodge is a little out of town, another half an hours walk. I’m sitting at my built-in desk in my pants. I only ever do this in Travelodges, and I apologise to future users, but I think it’s my attempt at hedonism. I’ve just eaten in a pub festooned with England flags and men the size of polar bears. As I was wearing what my daughter calls my gay jumper I felt I had to order the manliest meal I could. The all day breakfast “a favourite with local customers” consists of 2 eggs, 3 sausages. 300 baked beans, 37 chips and a pint of Guinness.
Near death now, must stop writing
# 3 [12 January 2008]
Today I am told tactfully that there is another artist and I may be in her space also that I can use some shelves if I want. At the interview last year we never discussed how untidy I can be and its true there is a trail of stuff all over the studio. I must tidy up tomorrow.
Later I took a break in a coffee shop and read the holiday guide in a local paper. There was a trip to Greenland in which the journalist described seeing two (mammoth?) whales surfacing in an ice fjord. After this I walked down to the river and watched two large pieces of polystyrene floating downstream.
# 4 [13 January 2008]
It was freezing this morning; the Travelodge car park was icy underfoot. There are no footpaths at the Travelodge you are expected to arrive by car and are considered freakish if you don’t.
On my walk in I have had a sudden urge to buy snow globes. Usually this would not be a problem as lack of time forces me to filter out bad ideas, they die of natural causes. But now I that can do everything how can I tell which ideas should be put down?
I made a wave machine in the morning and filmed an ice flow breaking up while eating a packet of biscuits.
Later, in order to slow myself down, I went for a walk down the river. While I was filming bits of floating polystyrene, queues of rowers shot past shouted on by old men riding bicycles.
In the afternoon I did some editing and James and Christina popped in to offer me a room in their house.
I’ve had another urge to fill the studio with polystyrene balls and electric fans.
The journey home was largely uneventful, though I was pleased to see a Husky at Bedford station.
However, travelers at Stratford should note that platform 10A is nowhere near platform 10. In fact it is down the stairs, turn right, run 50 yards, turn right, climb the stairs on to platform 11, catch breath, continue past some blank hoardings, turn right again down an unlit alley and left round a blind corner where you will see your train pulling away.
# 5 [15 January 2008]
It rained again today, heavily. I'm at home again sorting my life out before returning to Bedford. My morning was spent hunting for my tax calculation so I could pay it. Joy was unconfined when I finally discovered it filed under 'oh my god'.
Later I showed the films I had made to my wife. "what do you think" I said. There was a long silence and a far away look in her eyes. Perhaps its time I went back to Bedford.
# 6 [18 January 2008]
Word keeps ‘unexpectedly quitting’ actually now I’m kind of expecting it. My brain feels similar, I spent most of today staring at the stuff I’ve done and wondering what to do with it. All of the bits work ok on their own and I could imagine them displayed on separate screens but my original intention was to use the time to make something a little more narrative. I have to keep telling myself that its only day four and that if I don’t relax a bit I might go pop. I’m still reading bits of Scott’s journals and thinking vaguely about Moby Dick, which might not be helping my frame of mind. Today I started work on a machine that will reproduce the Aurora Borealis in my studio.
I was also feeling slightly guilty at my lack of research; this has never been a strong point. I love the story that Raymond Roussel wrote ‘Impressions of Africa’ after seeing the coastline through a telescope. Three minutes on Google revealed two interesting people with Bedford connections.
1. Commander Frank Wild (1874-1939), Polar explorer
2. Charles Wells, (1860s), Brewer.
Wells was a sea captain who abandoned the sea to marry the woman he loved. Unfortunately he suffered from depression and committed suicide by slashing his wrists.
# 7 [19 January 2008]
In the morning I go shopping. I arrive back at the studio with: a towel, some paper and pencils, polystyrene balls (I accept now that I have a problem), a polar bear and a clear plastic box. I’m really pleased to have found a polar bear in Bedford and although it is not truly a creature of the Antarctic it was cheap.
Filming is continuing and I make a concerted effort to edit the clips together into a cohesive whole. I think this will be the biggest struggle of the residency and I am more than a little worried about it. While I am worrying I accidentally tear a blue bouncy ball in half and glue a drowning couple into its icy depths, this cheers me up no end. I also make a balsa wood sailboat with clockwork motor, which I hope to launch on the river with a camera in it.
In the evening we make a BCA excursion to Wysing Arts, which is reopening after a 1.7 million pound refit. I catch a lift with Katie who doesn’t know the way but makes up for it by driving as fast as she can. We arrive to find a glowing space station full of undercover arts council operatives (I forget to wear black again). The new studios are hugely impressive über-clean loveliness some containing living spaces, kitchenettes, double beds… Franko B is there, handing out plastic bags and jellybeans as we file awkwardly through, trying not to touch anything. Matthew Collings does a speech in which he worries: about his eye (runny), about the forward looking nature of the building and art within, about his own 70s painting and about the need for artists to look back at the Greeks. He says art is about stress or pain or worry which makes me feel part of things. Later the talk is of funding cuts and I drink too much champagne.
# 8 [20 January 2008]
Rain all day today. The river has burst its banks it is wide and brown and fast flowing. I spent a lot of time filming a piece of polystyrene with a face drawn on it as it sped downstream. I must have looked a bit odd charging along the bank trying to get ahead of jetsam while trying to shelter my camera from the rain. After a mile or so it washed ashore and I headed damply back to the studio. This isn’t really a piece for the Bedford residency. I’ve got a solo show, Little Deaths, at the Salt Gallery in May and I wanted a few more options when I come to hang.
The coach journey home was dull and wet .
Mother to son:
You're being very silly,
# 9 [24 January 2008]
The weather is mild and dry.
On the coach this morning I was making a list of all the processes involved with polar exploration. I had got as far as 'planning' and 'provisioning' when I realised I had left my camera bag at home. Admittedly my survival does not hang in the balance because of this, but I did feel a bit of an idiot. The only upside of the journey was that the driver looked a bit like a walrus.
The loss of the cameras has meant that I have spent more time than usual worrying about what I am doing, fiddling around and trying to look busy. I have completed the Aurora machine and I think it will work quite well. I have also started work on a number of pointless endeavors which I think may become videos in the near future.
Last week I joined in with a kids workshop for five minutes. They were making spiders. Mine was a rather feeble creature and one of the boys pulled its legs off. Coincidentally, spiders are one of my declared reasons for not going to certain countries /continents.
# 10 [25 January 2008]
It is my birthday, a fact I might gladly have forgotten, but Tess didn’t, she emailed Katie. At lunch a chocolate birthday cake appeared, Eva had found a penguin and placed it on top and Katie had fashioned a sign using a bit of card and a q-tip. This was coupled with a delightful selection of haggis canapés. Otherwise my day is filled with meetings. First Catherine arrived, full of cold, from Commissions East. We were to discuss the end of my experience on Escalator, and the progress of my Arts council grant. To be honest, and I know I shouldn’t be, I have not been giving the grant much thought as I have been so busy with other projects. However she seemed satisfied with my efforts and on the whole I have enjoyed the experience (see my other blog for the bits I didn’t enjoy). Later I will meet with Katie and Eva to revue my progress so far on the BCA residency. I am really apprehensive about the whole thing. How will they hide their disappointment? Will there be a silence? A shuffling of feet?… I may drink heavily tonight.