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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)
# 27 [23 February 2008]
Today I woke stiff down one side but otherwise surprisingly fresh. I rode off to the gallery to show off my wounds. Sarah and Eva seemed keen to see my thigh but I decided that the arm was enough. I started to package up my black flags and gave Sarah a pack to test. Basically the idea is that you can use the flag to claim territory/discovery as long as no other black flags are in sight. I would love it to become some sort of extravagant team game with gangs of people trying to lay claim to parts of Bedford and being disappointed when others get there first. On the way home I started to read a book about the Italian cyclist Marco Pantani. He too came back from many serious crashes to have a glittering career (although he did die in a hotel room from a massive cocaine overdose) He created one of my most enduring memories. During the Tour de France he dropped his main rival on a mountain called the Col du Telegraph it was cold and raining. He crossed the line alone with his arms stretched out wide as if he was about to take flight. I’m off to have a bath now, there may be some screaming.
# 26 [23 February 2008]
It is mild and dull again; the threat of rain is coupled with the threat of a cycle ride with James. Cycling with someone new is always risky. James could be a tyrant of the road, laying down a draconian pace solidly for three hours. I spend the morning working with my scrolling animation machine and I’m really happy with the results, I seem to have struck lucky. I also make a flag-planting machine, which follows a black line and suddenly hammers a small flag into the ground. Eva comes for a chat just before lunch and we discuss the show. As it stands I have made enough stuff for two shows so we may have some tough decisions to make to avoid the jumble sale look. At two I rush off for the ride having totally failed to get anything to eat. There is a good chance I may black out on the first hill. We leave Bedford in a flash of lycra and it soon becomes clear we are going to have a lovely ride hammering up the hills like kings of the road (nearly, there is a strong tailwind). After a couple of hours we head home. Rounding a downhill bend my back wheel slips out from under me leaving me sliding across the road into the verge with a little less skin than I would like. Behind me James fares worse, he brakes when he sees me go, skids on the same bit of road and is dumped head first onto the only bit of kerb for a mile. James looks bad and decides to lie down for twenty minutes. We try riding off but he is too dizzy and falls off again so we call for help. Later we are chatting while waiting for Christina and then while showing off our wounds. It turns out that James has had many and varied crashes, I wish he had mentioned this before.
# 25 [21 February 2008]
Weather mild and dull, it starts to rain as we approach Bedford. The journey to Bedford is beginning to feel a little dull; I may vary my approach from now on. The driver was in a bad mood; he gave us all a lecture about not using mobile phones as one of his earlier passengers had shouted loudly into his from Nottingham to Cambridge. Throughout the journey my fellow passengers could be heard whispering fearfully to their loved ones. Next to me a woman began to knit, her needles ticking and scraping a counterpoint to the squeak of the windscreen wipers. I’ve brought my bicycle this time (more grumbling from the driver) with the promise that I might go out for a ride with James. As I’ve only just recovered from my chest infection I might not last long. While I was on the coach I did hatch a plan to make a sort of animation from a long scrolling drawing. I went straight into a charity shop and bought some old LPs with which to construct my contraption. Big Ben Banjo Band, Popular music that will live forever, and Nat King Cole 20 Golden Greats served me well and unlike most of the things I make, it actually worked first time. Even better though was the discovery that the inner sleeves make excellent portholes.
# 24 [17 February 2008]
Last night I travelled to Colchester to see Franko B’s baroque performance Don’t leave me this way at the arts centre. Lawrence had suggested we go and, although to be honest it’s the sort of thing I would usually avoid at all costs, I said yes. I am usually uncomfortable with performance; especially the theatrical/ritualistic sort which, I find, demands more of me than I am willing to give. Anyway we met at the entrance in good time and had a fortifying pint before filing into the performance space which was set out like a traditional theatre with a single spot lit chair on a podium facing raked seating. Like a couple of schoolboys we headed right for the back. I did sit dead centre, which meant I had a direct unobstructed view of the chair.
The performance itself was not as scary as I was expecting, although the incredibly loud, discordant soundtrack made me blink and wince. The body itself (theatrically appearing on the chair in total darkness) was unmoving and barely visible throughout. One moment of aggressive light shone directly into our eyes punctuating the darkness and then it was over. Overall my main response was “ow!” Afterwards Franko and his light vj collaborator came out to answer questions, or rather to make statements. Mainly Franko B wanted to state that he had finished bleeding and he wasn’t going to do it again, and if that was what we came to see, tough. I wanted to say that if blood had been involved I wouldn’t have come. But I thought that might be stealing his thunder. Franko obviously loves performing; he kept grabbing the mike to tell us stuff. One thing stuck in my mind, he said that the body means so much, has so many associations that it gives his performances richness. But I left feeling that the body means nothing. Not necessarily in a bad way.
Afterwards Lawrence and I wandered around Colchester, surrounded by semi-naked clubbers, looking for a hostelry with a quiet soundtrack. Eventually we stopped at a “hotel”, a sort of Formica oasis with a single moustachioed guest eating shepherd’s pie.
# 23 [15 February 2008]
Stayed in all day today feeling low, my snotty cough persists. To raise my mood I spent an hour or so painting flag picks black. I think they are going to be used in some sort of pointless game where the players seek to stake claim to a discovered location. They can only place their flag if there is no other within view. Later I started work on a sort of comic mainly to get my ideas in some sort of order.
# 22 [14 February 2008]
Weather cold and dull
I’ve decided to have a week off from Bedford in an attempt to recover my health. The cough persists and seems totally unshiftable. Tess is spending the week doing a fire fighting and sea rescue course, which seems very exciting in a smelly, dirty and wet way. So I am at home ready to hand cash out to the daughter and walk the dog. Today, to break the monotony of Internet gallery hunting and application writing I decided to make a quick visit to London to see the Bedwyr Williams show at Store and Limoncello, which has replaced Associates on Hoxton Street. The train journey was very productive. I managed to have a mild nervous breakdown about the aesthetic of my work, recover, have some new ideas about flag planting and a good think about how to lay out an exhibition. London itself, yet again, was a total debacle. So much so that I have vowed never to go again without a trained sherpa. When it comes to finding things I seem to be a disaster. I did managed to locate Limoncello but, despite being open, I could not get through the door, nor could I attract the attention of the shadowy figures in the back. Surely they must have seen the frantic figure in a Homer Simpson hat trying to gain entry to their gallery? Luckily I could see most of the show through the window, though I probably smeared the glass a bit in my attempt to view the stuff at the back. Store was next on my itinerary but despite being on the right road and knowing the address could I find it? I’m beginning to identify with Scott’s disappointment when he saw Amundsen’s black flag, though I didn’t even see that.
# 21 [11 February 2008]
I’ve been working on an application for the British Antarctic Survey’s Artists & Writers programme. Of course I am proposing not to go and I’m not quite sure how they are going to take it. At the moment it’s a bit rough:
11. DETAILS OF YOUR PROPOSAL:
I am making a proposal not to go to the Antarctic.
I have an interest in the inconvenience of adventure and its subsequent demystification of place. My previous practice has also become involved in fiction, imagined narrative and grand plans. A recent commission at The Foundling Museum saw me working in the shadow of Hogarth and Handel attempting a portrait, an act of charity and an opera. I am currently working on a residency for BCA gallery, Bedford where, in the footsteps of Scott and Shackleton, I am working on a diary and series of films and sculptures based on an imagined journey to Antarctica. The works are deliberately made without research and constructed entirely in the studio above the gallery and mostly under my table. The residency is also inspired by Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa. A surrealist novel written after Roussel had briefly glimpsed the coast of Africa through a telescope. The films, sculptures and books were tied up with the more mundane narrative of my constant journeying back and forth between Ipswich and Bedford. The writing of this proposal forms an integral part of the residency.
More specifically I propose to use the programme to make a body of work that reflects my absence from the Antarctic. This will include a series of books and films. I am especially interested in entering into correspondence with artists/writers in the Antarctic. I also want to deal with the idea of the contemporary media based concept adventurer as self-publicist.
Although I do not hold strong political views I believe it will also be an interesting statement to divert funding to a proposal which would have zero environmental impact on the Antarctic and would save money in terms of transport, training etc. I would like to propose that any moneys saved be donated back to the Natural Environment Research Council.
12. JUSTIFICATION FOR UNDERTAKING WORK IN THE ANTARCTIC:
13. SITES TO BE VISITED
I may go to the seaside (somewhere relatively warm and mundane)
14. ANY SIGNIFICANT SHIPPING REQUIREMENTS:
15. PROPOSED OUTCOME OF VISIT:
I propose to produce a range of outcomes including films, sculpture and books
The main outcome will be an online blog and at least one book stemming from my time not in the Antarctic. Current ideas include:
A correspondence between an Antarctic adventurer and myself.
A sort of vox pop imagining of the Antarctic using a range of contributors.
A series of posters advertising my non-adventure.
Last night I had a dream in which all those TV explorers Griff Rhys Jones, Ray Mears, Ben Fogle etc. all accidentally meet up and have a big argument.
# 20 [10 February 2008]
Frosty and clear this morning. It looks unlikely that I will see any snow, flocculent or otherwise. Also I still don’t know what sastrugi are though I’m imagining some sort of corn snack. I woke this morning with a trachea full of snot that I had been unsuccessfully trying to cough up all night. I began work feeling so ill that I started to try to make an iceberg out of a wine rack that Katie had been trying to throw out. It seems an exercise in futility beyond all others. I’ve noticed that there is whispering in the office regarding my fitness to continue. But I am by no means worn out. Actually, I seem to have been quite busy. Last night I think I finished a suite of films I have been making in secret after everyone has gone home. They involve an iceberg being dragged into the gallery and then hoisted upstairs and a clockwork explorer exploring the first floor. Today (apart from the wine rack debacle) I’ve managed to make a sort of snow globe out of a cocktail stick holder bought at Wilkinsons. It has gone part way to dealing with my disappointment with the weather. Suzanne Mooney’s show also opened today; there was wine and the interesting game of watching elderly passer’s-by spotting their souvenirs in the window. I’m typing this on the coach, not an easy task, as I have to pin the laptop with my elbow. At least this week we are more or less on time and I should get home before long.
View one of the videos at:
# 19 [8 February 2008]
Last night I was late at the studio filming an iceberg being hauled up the stairs the plan is that this rather pointless endeavour will be glimpsed in another film of an explorer wandering around the gallery offices.
Today started cool and clear. I woke with a headache, which steadily worsened through the morning until my vision was blurred, and I felt sick. Eventually I was forced to lie down in the studio with my hood pulled over my head. Sleep helped but I still felt weak and shaken. I’m still struggling for ideas for the 3D view-master. Part of my problem is that I don’t want to risk outlaying a load of cash unless I’m sure it’s going to work. Later I did go out to a café and drew my surroundings with little flags claiming my discovery.
# 18 [7 February 2008]
Weather mild, journey uneventful. My health is going steadily downhill. I now have a phlegmy , hacking cough and a headache, which just won’t go away. The work is going ok though. I’m just beginning to take a series of images for a 3d view master I want the images to be neither from one of the films nor of any of the existing sculptures but beyond that I’m not exactly sure what they will be yet. I have made a little series of flags, which I imagine would mark the pole but I’m not sure about them either. BCA is a lot busier of late. Jane, the other artist in residence is back hiding behind a camouflage sheet at the back of the studio, she’s making a beautiful looking film about flight and trying to sort out her car insurance. Downstairs Suzanne Mooney is preparing her show The Secret Life of Things. The first piece is a narrowing aisle of plinths leading into the gallery each topped with second-hand souvenirs. Suzanne was slightly miffed that she couldn’t place the plinths even closer together but her artistic will was defeated by health and safety regulations. Then to the left is a large print of photography manuals. The books are arranged as if on a shelf with pieces of paper sticking out of their tops marking unseen pages. They are photographed over life size and create a pleasing abstract pattern but I am still fooled into turning my head sideways as if browsing the shelf of a charity bookshop. Towards the back of the gallery are a series of photographic postcards each depicting one of the souvenirs and two digital photo frames playing a series of images of photographers found in books and magazines. One has only images of women, the other of men. It’s fun to flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Everything is carefully arranged to draw you into the space and the show manages to be simultaneously engaging, coherent and cool in a way that makes me want to hide under my table. I’ve always struggled with my lack of coolness, which is the only word I can think of to describe that sense of ironic detachment coupled with an intense aesthetic control that is totally lacking in my haphazard approach to making. Suzanne did come up to the studio and said “you are a messy man” which sums it up really.
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