I firmly believe in the power and purpose of art to inform contemporary life. That being said, occasionally in ones darker moments that nagging doubter of purpose pops up and questions whether what one is doing has any value. This need for personal, internal validation, can be particularly pronounced when working with an industry that seems so ‘worthy’… so ‘necessary’… as I am with the Specials lab at the moment.

Had lunch with my daughter the other day (she has just begun uni this year) and we had a bit of a debate about the merits, or otherwise, of the ‘light bulb going on and off in a room’ as art. I had to admit I was in the ‘pro-light bulb’ camp. After all, for my degree show all those years ago I had made a video installation called ‘light sources/ light sauces’. In this piece the light from a monitor playback in a darkened room lit a nearby bottle of sauce. A camera was trained on the sauce bottle and the resultant live video feed made the bottle appear out of the gloom in another room. It was the use of the video monitor as a light source that interested me, not so much the literal image produced. I guess that puts me firmly in the light bulb camp.

I recount this to describe my position.

You see, in many ways, those heady ‘conceptual art’ days of the 70’s and 80’s were all the more exciting for their obtuse and often minimal approach. To my mind, much of what I see currently trotted out as ‘new art’…or supposedly democratic ‘street aware’ hip and happenin’ stuff is either deliberately superficial (nothing wrong with that says Andy W – but hey that was sooooo last decade)… or dumbed down in order to not cause intellectual offence and to appeal to the new breed of designer label buyers of ‘art’.

In my world though, ‘democratic’ does not have to equate to ‘dumb-o-cratic’.

Anyway – back to the plot. I mention this little chatette with my offspring really to make another point, one related to my current project.

What I see when I visit the world of Specials Lab is often what may be described as a ‘minimal’ landscape. People work to tight time-scales. Jobs are often repetitive. There is often the sound of air con and little else, somewhat like the seashore beckoning in the background. Everything is super clean. And then it gets cleaned again. There are rituals of dress and undress required in order to enter certain sections of the labs. Work is checked and double checked, and then signed off so it can be checked again in another form. Attention to detail in all things. Everything recorded, except wandering thoughts perhaps.

Now, on the surface, this makes for a less than visually stimulating visual scenario. In terms of job satisfaction, one could be forgiven for concluding that some of the work must be mind numbingly boring. Sexy it aint (and don’t get into the ‘not allowed to wear make-up’ debate – that’s another few paragraphs).

Yet I am struck by the commitment of all those involved.

They are, for the most part, a quiet, considered (but playful) lot – and what they are doing is important. If they make a mistake – if they don’t give it their all, then the consequences could be severe. They are only human. They do make mistakes, but the system is there to back them up. It’s not Orwellian, it’s not even Brave New World . It’s quite human actually. Each piece of detail makes the whole. The light goes on, the light goes off. Each one of the Specials team turns in on, turns it off and passes the switch on to the next team member.

Meanwhile – in my role as voyeur, I can imagine myself back in my other room, at my 1977 degree show, with that bottle of sauce, watching the picture form out of phosphors dancing on a cathode ray tube.

Do I see their bigger picture?

I dunno if it’s bigger, but it’s certainly different and multifaceted – and the picture I see is not one that they see themselves I think – and that’s the point.

When asked what I’m doing, and what it will look like, my explanation is both purposely vague and obscure, whilst hopefully being enigmatic and intriguing. I don’t think anyone else could make the work that I am making for them and, if nothing else, it will add another dimension to their perception of their workplace and quite possibly what ‘art’ might be.

Now that feels like art with a purpose to me!

Not so much criminal minimal… as beautiful musical. The beauty of austerity.



I was introduced to the Specials Lab through an artist agency called Musa, who represent me on a non- exclusive basis.

The client had been attracted by an installation piece of mine which I call 'Gesthalt'. In this piece there are four large prints facing each other, which define a space where a simple tower sits in the middle, playing out four videos back into the space. They liked the idea of the tower for their large reception area and thought it might be a whizz bang idea to have something like it to entertain their waiting clients. I'm not sure how much they considered what the content might be, but I was happy to talk through possibilities.

Now there are only good clients in my books. Some are just a bit more demanding than others, but generally speaking I am always soooooo glad to have some interest from anyone who thinks commissioning art is a good idea. It has to be said they appear to be a somewhat wonderful client so far.

Ok there was a hiccup at first.

You see there was a potential dream scenario. I have this recently completed piece 'Gesthalt' which has taken me all of three years to complete, and was keen to find somewhere to put it on. It was suggested that it might be a great idea to do two things. First show Gesthalt for a few weeks and make a bit of a splash with an opening and a bit of press, then, following that, have me make another piece to play out on the video tower that would already have been constructed for that installation. This would then be left as a permanent fixture on which to play my new piece and would take their business as the starting point for subject matter. Nice idea.

All seemed swimmingly super and wheels started turning. At this point budget seemed of secondary importance and various bods went off to look at the options of building four temporary walls in the middle of their space as per my plan. Time passed and various meetings took place. Tradesmen came on site and scratched their heads. Then sent quotes. Communications became less frequent and it began creeping so close to their proposed show date that I began doubting whether publicity could be mustered in time. We did in fact have a number of good sponsors lined up, including printers and a PR company to give the things a bit of a push. I waited.

So you've guessed the outcome by now.

Gradually the key person is 'somewhere else' or 'off today' etc. And then the final call that says.. 'so sorry but it was just coming in too expensive so we've had to pull out'.

At this point I have to say that I am very happy to work with corporates, because they can have a less academic and a more 'real world' approach to the how and whys of putting things together. I'm quite happy to handle the conceptual bit if they can oil the wheels they're familiar with. Fact is that if I had organised it I could have made it all happen within a fixed budget and cut my cloth accordingly. Somewhere along the lines of communication, what was possible and what was realistic got mixed up. It was a shame, and leaves me still looking for a good place to show what I consider to be a very important installation.. anyone out there?????

The good news

At least the original commission was still on the table, and, glad to say, that is now going ahead.

It was decided between us that, as this piece is to be situated in the middle of their open-plan office space, that two things would be a consideration. One that any audio should be listened to through headphones, and two, that there be the possibility of changing the work so that those working in the office could have a little variety.

I decide that the best way to approach this was to make a piece that effectively had eight 'movements' rather like a musical score. Four of these would play out at one time, whilst another four would be constructed to be shown separately. I'm not sure yet but it may even be that the completed piece will have any number of permutations.

There is one thing I have stressed from the start. Whatever the piece becomes, it will never be a corporate video, and from the outset I wanted the experience of working within Specials Lab to be a two way process. It will inevitably follow on from the concerns of my previous work, but I didn't want to have a fixed plan on going in there. I wanted it to grow. I want the piece to inform itself, with me as the cultural chemist.