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.




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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


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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


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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.


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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’.


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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.


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