Things that have recently (and not so recently) found their way to the studio …

1) Homemade wooden Finnish doll.

She sits on my desk just next to the computer; she seems to be taking a sideways glance at whatever is on the screen! She has such character, so simple and yet so absolutely right. It feels good to have her here in the studio.

2) Wooden tube with screw lid.

This is an amazing object! The label has a Swedish address on it and lists the contents as “RAC-55 (Liquid Veneer cleaning sanitary compound liquid in glass). There are also the words “Sample, no commercial value” stamped over the label. The screw lid still works perfectly well. Amazing to think that this wooden tube was sent from America to Sweden with a glass bottle inside it. Maybe one day I will send it back.

3) Wire hooks

I really like the simplicity of these old hooks. I wonder how the machine that made them looks – they are too identical to be handmade.

4) Peanut Bird

This is the first peanut bird that I have found since moving here. During my extended visits I found quite a few that are now packed away in various boxes. I think I have about eight in total. Although they are mass-produced each one is unique.

5) Audio cassette of the Picture of Dorian Gray

Is this irony? Maybe not but it made me smile to see this particular audio tape amongst the “help yourself” pile old tapes, magazines and books at the school library. I picked up a couple of others too; Jekyll & Hyde and Frankenstein, strangely all stories of creation and transformation. I also took a couple of Swedish feminist cultural magazines and was delighted that I understood quite a lot of an article about Mary Kelly.

I am waiting to hear about the possibility of buying glitter in Stockholm and to get advice on a good glue. In the meantime the idea of having to visit Flint’s in Camberwell (wonderful “theatrical chandlers”) is at the back of my mind while I am making plans for my time in London.

The ticket price for Frieze is rather alarming. I wonder if it is an attempt to reduce the number of visitors, as it does seem to have become a bit of a tourist attraction in recent years. I am looking forward to it more this year as traveling to London certainly makes it more of an occasion. Next year I would like to visit Art Copenhagen after hearing about it from an artist who was there this year.

On the Saturday afternoon that I am in London some of the old Crystal Palace Artists group is going to get together. It will be really great to catch up with them. The group was a big part of my life for many years and I certainly appreciate the support and encouragement I got from the artists that I met through it. Last week I started to have some very vague ideas about a show of ‘outer London’ artists here in Stockholm ….


During the second part of a writing exercise at school this week I had a rather startling (and wholly unexpected) glimpse into aspects of my practice. Last week we had been asked to recall a childhood memory that we could develop into a short text. It always takes me a long time to come up with things like this so I was glad when the teacher prompted us with the suggestion that we could start with a particular smell. I have a strong like for smells such as fresh tarmac, warm rubber, and also musty cardboard (sometimes I blame a childhood accident that broke my nose for my ability to savour these fragrances and be completely oblivious to many floral scents). The musty cardboard that I had in mind was that of the old trunk and boxes where we stored our Christmas tree and the decorations. So on my rather minimal spider-diagram for my text I wrote that I loved Christmas in a bubble at the end of one of my spider’s legs. This week we got our diagrams back from the teacher who had marked one thing that we should start to describe in more detail. On my paper she had circled “I loved Christmas” and added a question mark.

In answer I began to write not about Christmas Day or favourite presents but about seeing the illuminated Christmas trees in the windows of houses on our way home from grandma, and the excitement of my father taking those fragrant boxes down from the loft and erecting our faithful old artificial tree. My excitement was not just about the twinkling lights, the sparkling tinsel and the assorted collection of other ornaments, I think my excitement was in part about being part of something beyond my own family, my own town, perhaps I had a sense that putting this glittering tree in our living room window we were taking part in something beyond ourselves, something which (despite the secularity of my family and the materialism of Essex in the 1980s) was actually a sign of some kind of faith.

And suddenly it came to me – I am trying to do the same thing with my art. And now when I look around the studio I see how much of my practice now is about being part of something larger than oneself, and how I am doing this with increasing amounts of glitter and sparkle …

In my search (and research) for glitter I had a meeting with a man from a specialist theatre and event lighting contractor on Wednesday afternoon. I was surprised and delighted at how professionally and seriously he took me and my request for such comparatively small amounts of material. At the end of our conversation he said that now he better understood what I want to do (cover one side of an old door with glitter) he will contact his suppliers and discuss which are the best materials and see if he can get can some samples. I warmed not only to his professionalism but also to his lack of “hard sell”. Afterwards I wondered if in Sweden with its small population genuine customer satisfaction is worth more than a few fast notes in the till. Would I have received the same level of service in London if I had gone to a similar scale company there? What I want is not even part of their regular stock or business it just happens to be produced by one of their international suppliers.

I feel as though I am, by association and necessity, becoming more “professional”. I wonder where this will lead ….


I am tired; it has been a busy week. My head is swimming with the tasks for my Swedish course (finish reading a novel that I only bought last week, learn all the tenses of 10 irregular verbs, write and rehearse a presentation about my ‘homeland’, and revise chapter six of the course book for test next Thursday). In addition to this (and possibly to keep things in ‘balance’) I found myself coming up with ideas for a (short notice) installation opportunity as well as starting to think about how my experience of London studio groups might be useful in developing a strategy for the studios here now that the site is earmarked for redevelopment in three years.

Birgitta, who I worked with on the snow carving projects, asked if I was interested in doing something for an event she is organising on All Saints Day evening (Hallowe’en). At first I was stumped and could not think of anything that would fit the bill; outdoor, in a field, little or no technical support, undefined budget(!), one night only. Two good ideas came to me while running on Monday morning (it was a beautiful morning to be out early running along the water front). Birgitta and I met yesterday and I am delighted that she likes both proposals. Next week I am going to do some trials and see what works before I make a decision as to which one to develop.

A talk at Iaspis last Friday evening started me thinking about why ‘fine art’ and ‘elitism’ are often linked together. It struck me as a peculiarly British and possibly even English phenomenon. There is nothing intrinsically elitist about art (fine, contemporary, etc.). Most museums in the UK do not have entrance charges; I accept that many charge for temporary and special exhibitions. Commercial galleries might be a bit daunting to visit but again they are free, unlike the theatre, cinema and most sporting events. Art is perhaps one of the most inclusive things I can think of (but then I am an artist): you can often see it for free, you can do it on your own or with friends, it is often (though not always) text free so you don’t need to speak the same language as the artist … So how does it come to be thought of as so elite? Perhaps one thing that is required is time, and sometimes a lot of it! And in the UK there is an almost palpable sense that time is money.
My experience so far in Stockholm is that generally people have a far healthier relationship to time than they do in London. I also have the sense that people do not immediately think that (fine) art is elitist. Things are never this simple however the relationship between time and art is interesting.

Suhail Malik (from Goldsmiths) was one of the three speakers and presented an argument for an as yet unknown alternative to contemporary art that is “more real, more political and more social”. Given the chance I would argue for the exact opposite! After many years of projects that were too real, too political and too social I realised that the best thing I could do was to stop, go back to the studio and produce the best art that I could. The work that I started to make was so much more than the real, political, social stuff I had been producing (myself and on participatory projects) and in my mind it started to function as art rather than illustration. Not only that but also far more people became interested in what I was doing, and not just in the art world. The conversations I had with friends and neighbours (who are not involved in the arts) became much more exciting, dynamic and rewarding when we talked about forms, materials and colours. And seeing what my friends’ children and I could make out of scraps of old fabric was so much more creative than any project “about” recycling ever was …

It has been a busy week; productive, exciting, challenging, thought provoking – I am “good” tired!

It is also exactly one year ago today that I moved to Sweden!


Last night there was an opening in the gallery here at the studios – a painting show. It was very nice to find myself speaking with one of artists (a Finn living in Berlin) and realising that we know some of the same people in London. Later on and talking to another ‘wip’ artist he told me about his show in Norway which it turns out is curated by people that I know there. Perhaps it is time to re-consider my current feelings of being invisible and adrift …

Writing is on my mind. Partly due to my reading of Enrique Martinez Celaya*’s writings and partly due to the number of writing exercises that we do on my new Swedish course. These two parts are however miles apart: one being the thoughtfully constructed words of an intelligent (and humble) artist, the other being an assortment of poorly thrown together Swedish substantives, verbs and adjectives with the hope that they come close to being a clear and simple sentence. Moving between these two word worlds is dizzying. Despite my attempts to resist I find it very hard not to try and write in Swedish in the same way that I write (and read) in English – and at this stage it is just not possible. The sense of frustration at not yet being able to write (or say) what I think is new to me.

It would be interesting to know how my fellow students experience the same sense of having a divided self – part capable and eloquent, part incapable and dumb. It is not that I want these two parts to level out, I want the less able part to reach at least the level of the more able if not to succeed it. The irony is that in our primary school Swedish we are unable to discuss anything approaching this!

With the new course I am back to having just afternoons in the studio. In December I will sit for a National Test along with all the other course students. Already I find myself looking forward to January and starting again with part-time studying.

A parcel of ties arrived this week. They are from a good friend’s partner whose father recently died. Although we had discussed her sending them to me on the phone and I was expecting them it is an entirely different thing to unwrapping them and sitting with them in my lap. I do not know what to do with them. The previous pieces I have made with second-hand ties play on a rather crude double-entendre that seems wholly inappropriate for these ties. The anonymity of things from charity shops affords fantasies that familiarity does not. I have a feeling it will be some time before I am able to work with these ties.…

* His show at Andersson / Sandström is wonderful. There are two paintings in particular that appeal to me, The Confession and The Early Hunger.