‘Community’, undoubtedly the singularly most important aspect of my work!


A New Look for Public Toilets in Dover

(part3)‘The additions’

In my last post I was too busy talking about telling Stories, singing and loud expletives and I forgot to write what I actually ment to talk about:

The artist – builder relationship.

I have have always found this interesting as technical knowledge and information is always exchanged during the course of working together. These conversations often confirm things I am a little unsure about and make me realise that there never is really one correct way to do anything. Which gives one confidence. It goes the other way as well sometimes and I am able to offer something that they don’t know…in this case it was ‘spirits of salts’ which is available in most builders merchants.

When these trade tips are exchanged respect grows and they (the builders) take an interest in what your doing as they appreciate the skills involved because you speak the same language, use the same tools and solve similar problems. Things they know about and deal with every day, but applied to things just a little out of the context in which they are familiar with, this makes it interesting to them and they want to be involved and contribute.

So the additions began to start: these were items which I discreetly embedded amongst the tiling. They represented the builders work or their trades on this site. Rawl plugs, pipe elbows, drill bits, nuts, washers and other items were discreetly placed amongst the tiles. It was clear that disscutions at home had taken place and items brought in from home especially for inclusion.

What I was getting; though my tiling was bonkers and it broke every rule about tiling in their book, they wanted in, they wanted to be associated with it in some way and I think they were surprised when I let them become involved. They fell short of placing tiles on the wall, as somehow this was too far and beyond them which I was surprised at. They were anxious not to mess it up and anyway they didnt have risk assesments for ‘organic tiling’ only ‘regular tiling’ (very funny fell over laughing when they said that).

So they all smashed a tile each, which became a sort of random builder signature. And I placed each tile on the wall in its correct smashed order. Secret makers marks.

The last thing I wanted to mention was the remark by the commissioner when I completed the work.

‘Well – it’s not often that reality outdoes the mental image for me……but this has. It looks great!
Really very exciting and going to be a landmark in Dover.
Thanks very much’

I was happy with that, after a bumpy journey in the early stages of the projct, I am proud to include it in my portfolio.


A New Look for Public Toilets in Dover (part2)

I love the artist – builder relationship.

This particular job used workers from Romney Marsh and the surrounding area and was a smaller building company. They were very accommodating considering the amount of stuff I brought into an already crowded space and made working even slightly harder. They made me teas, did my angle grinding and offered me tools and materials if I needed them.

‘Swaping stories’ about previous jobs is a ritual and ‘story telling’ in this context is an art….. and good story telling is a great way of integrating with them and fostering good working relationships.

‘Singing’ loudly unabashed and badly to catchy songs on the radio. I am not a ‘singer’ I tend to whistle, but the singers are very amusing to me and it puts me in mind of working songs or sea shanties. I wished I could sing and was able to change the words to fit a tune to bemoan how long the hours and low the pay etc. But listening to others sing badly while I whistle is OK.

‘Random expletives’…. might be heard now and then…… ‘Sh*t or Bust then’…..was a loud one I heard out of nowhere breaking total silence. This was so random I had to stop what I was doing and find out what motivated the remark!… A carpenter had to cut the bottom off a door with a circular saw set at what he hoped was the right angle to fit a rubber threshold seal thing, which will be attached to the sloping floor. He smiled at me saying ‘I’ve f**k*d up better doors than these’.

He later told me that he had re hung every door in Dungeness power station. They had to upgrade the fire rating on every door. Which ment taking the old one off and replaceing it it with a better one. Cut to size with hinges, and locks, handles etc. He said it was half a year of changing doors day in day out. I think he said he had to leave the job before it was finished as it was so boring, but I might have invented that bit I cant remember now.

Anyway….my part of this is what started out being described by the architect as the ‘dado’. The Town Council wanted considerably more than a dado rail…. something more? you know, less safe…… with a little more impact….as a dado rail was not going to be the talk of the town. I found myself in the middle of a tussle between high hopes, visions, ideas, blue sky, yes yes break tradition involve everyone and celebrate Dover. And on the other hand…short time scales, impact of others working on site, limited budgets, risk and public opinion on whats acceptable during the public toilet experience and other valid delivery aspects.


A New Look for Public Toilets in Dover

As I messed up my last blog….. I thought I might just pick this one up instead……seems a very relevant title for a blog and there will always be something current in my practice that fits.

So: A New Look for Public Toilets in Dover.

This was the title of a document I put together after being asked to submit something in the way of ideas for Dover Town Council. Now I’m sort of tongue in cheek when I submitted this document, as it was inspired by Hundertwasser and I have been a great admirer of his projects for many years. In the past I did make myself unemployed for a while by submitting proposals and tenders inspired by his work. As soon as I stopped being inspired by him I started winning commissions again. So when I submitted this ‘visioning document’ I had dismissed it the day I emailed it off.

Shit the bed….they only feckin said…. ‘yeh great lets do it’.

To cut a long story short I am working on site in public lavatories with builders, plummers, electricians, tilers and carpenters on a refurbishment programme. This would be described as site work not studio based remember and today the water has been turned off. The power has been switched on-off-on-off all day as the electrians were in and the floor has been just been tiled so you can’t walk on it, the door had a trestle in front of it so you can’t open it because someone is working on the guttering. And when the power is on the sensor on the lights is faulty making them go on and off like a slow strobe light. They get in each others way, they have to block each other off as access to stuff is inevitably probematic, as a result they can’t reach their tools, they have to time and rotate their work to where no-one else is working. Just to mention a few of the obsticles going on. These guys work in these conditions on a daily basis and its routine..They are a team, they all know each other very well and have worked together for years……….. What they want to see is how an ‘artist’ deals with the situation.

I’ll tell you tommorrow or may be the next day!


Respect and friendship

I knew something must be wrong when small groups of staff stand at the edges of your working area looking at what your doing with shaking heads and folded arms obviously horrified at the delivery of your workshop.

To cut a long storey short we were playing musical chairs with a twist and blind mans buff with 30 secondary school students, followed by falling backwards into trusting arms, all activities designed to place participants in positions where trust and respect and friendship are highlighted.

The expectations of the school were so very different from what we were trying to achieve and a quite word in my shell like made me feel extreemly awkward and that this was inapropriate free form woolley liberal nonsence that did not fit into this school of artistic exellance where teachers at the top of their game taught students who learned things!

Oh……..we were trying to demonstrate the values of respect and friendship as the project was designed to include participants in experiencing the core Olympic values and this afternoon we were going to write some thank you cards make some friendship bracelets and do some art and craft stuff you know watch an instruction video showing you how to make some paper flowers and that out of crepe paper, possibly read a poem make little gift holder simple origami sort of pyramids, whatever you want to do really.

I felt pretty humiliated and that how could we be this far into the project and have missed the target so completely. I found myself being shown a display of wildcat sculptures from lce cream tubs and paper mache with leopards painted on them. All 20 of them were formulaicly painted and constructed, obviously a lot more art was involved in creating these sculptures which had shown how to research something and make it.

Fair enough.

Our values project has a budget of £20 materials per day and is not being marked for exam criteria and we send a gift onto the another school as indeed will receive one in turn from them.

I am delivering this with a new collegue and we both have the full support of our project manager who assured us we were doing exactly the kind of thing that was expected of us.

We have three more workshops to deliver and as it happens determination is another of those Olympic values. A quality which we undoubtedly need to reach the end of our programme!


I have decided to switch blogs?

Promted by: Annabell Tileys last post.


And this is because working with other people is really what I am doing all the time and will be for a while. It is also what my professional world is all about. Pooling resources, sharing knowledge, combining skills and ideas to move things forward.

This way of working has become essential for me to survive as an artist and gone is that notion of a discovered tallent with singular recognition as an artist, in the manor of ‘celebrity status’ Annabel describes. This is the model that art education still persists with (in my experience) and is out moded, when was the last time a collage lecturerer rewrote their lesson plans and course objectives? Are they like Norton Motor Cycles and we’ve built them like this for years and they work so why change them…..while far eastern industrial powers launched Honda, Yammah and Suzuki and Norton’s bikes did not survive, neither can our artists now!

Could artists be trained for the world so they work with Head School Teachers, Church Leaders, Landscape designers, Programme Managers, Maths Teachers, Architects, Planning Officers and Wildlife Organizations, Builders and the General Public. Surley the invention and skills of artists is better utilized in the world than put in a don’t touch box. I dont get that.

Anyway another rant over…..and to end I decided to post a picture of the catapult / trebuchet type machine we used in the school hall for a game with secondary school students…a bit of light relief and a really good laugh.

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