DEMOLITION AND THE TURNER PRIZE
Two things happened this last sunday.
Firstly I went down to the quayside to document the on-going destruction of the Spillers building. It has taken them a surprising amount of time to drag this building to its knees but I had noticed the other day, driving high above on Byker bridge, that I couldn’t see it protruding above the skyline anymore. The surrounding wolves have gradually worn it down and now it is much easier prey.
I am using buildings in ‘when was NOW’ as a reference for passing time. I’m not quite sure how this will work as yet, but I am struck by the similarity of the scene to those I shot six months ago in Egypt. A building going up and a building going down have a lot in common. Dust and debris. I was fascinated in a similar way by the building of the Northern Rock flagship offices at the end of my street sometime back – well just before the collapse of Northern Rock in fact. I documented its rise – and then watched the company fall.
The Spillers building, this former giant on the Tyne, has echoes of another building just a jet ski ride away round the river bend. The Baltic – once a place of storage – then, as a shell, the structure on which Anish Kapoor strapped his giant trumpeting sculpture Taratantara, is now our most wonderful temple of curiosities. And indeed we are most honoured – the Turner prize is being held there atm and I duly queued in the early weeks with my youngest daughter in the hope of seeing some art that might make the front page of the Sun for all the wrong reasons. No such luck. Nothing too shocking to be found here. A sign of the times perhaps.
This Sunday, after flming the Spillers building, I went with my partner and my oldest daughter to see the prize again – although in truth i was only being sociable. I love the fact that we have such shows on our doorstep and long may it continue – but somehow the show itself is a bit erm…. underwhelming. Reading the comments in the Turner prize cafe it seems everyone wants George Shaw to win. Far be it from me to disparage the patience and steady hand that his work displays – but I’m pretty certain that his popularity is a product of collective memory – namely the punters aspirational A level art ambitions. He would certainly get an A for his work. ‘Sometimes I look at my work and its conservatism shocks me’ said George in the Observer – well i have to say i agree with him. It’s not that i don’t get it – in fact my childhood memories resonate with similar images – it’s just that i can’t help thinking that these current economically depressing times are reflected in a collective lack of aspiration… and, dare i say it inspiration, and the Turner prize offerings seem somewhat to suffer from a lack of both.
Scribbly and the stars
I have been grappling with the stars. Well the concept of the stars really.
Scribbly has a cat-flap – a very smart electronic one that allows her to come and go, but which recognises her electronic tag and only lets her in, excluding her hungry pals. The beauty of this technology is that with the press of a button (or when it gets dark – using the light sensor) she is prevented from going out at night and thereby from running us up large vet bills by coming back battle scarred. She was puzzled by the idea at first – but very quickly got used to it and now happily passes back and forth.
It occurred to me this morning that it’s not that different for us humans.
I downloaded various star field pics from NASA recently and made them into my rotating screensaver. I can stare at them for as long as i like, but the feeling is always the same. Wonder -yes – awe -yes – but also an overwhelming sense of vastness and loneliness. It’s a big prison we live in – similar to the back room she is locked in of a night. Her cat flap is a big black worm hole through which she passes into other worlds. She doesn’t question it and i’m thinking that, to get on with day to day life, i pretty much don’t question the mechanics of my captivity either – well i do but i try not to all the time!
I am always grappling with these concepts to some degree in every bit of work i do and use the term ‘dysfunctional toolbox’ to describe what i regard as a set of givens which it is impossible to break free from i.e. the space we inhabit and the reasoning we can bring to bear.
Scribbly may not question it. Often neither do i, as it all gets a bit too much if one does. Gravity, soil, history, energy, radio, birds, pebbles on the beach etc. etc. etc. WTF…
I at least recognise my own reflection – i’m pretty sure scribbly doesn’t. It’s like it’s there but it has no meaning to her. What must there be that is also in front of me that i can’t see?? i am getting into deep water here – or should i say deep space. The infinite can seem like an infinite prison but lack of perception is a much more profound problem. One cannot know what one cannot imagine. Scribbly and i live in the same world but we also live apart. Scribbly purrs – she is happy. Scribbly stretches out for ten minutes then gets mad and lashes out at the nearest thing to her. Perhaps we have that much in common.
It just occurred to me – i’ve been having an Alvy Singer moment.
Yesterday was a very productive day for when was NOW.
I had almost forgotten, but one of the reasons I was jolted back into my on-going hunt for NOW, was because of a particular event that took place about 10years ago. It was the day the world went slow.
Not to be too dramatic about this, but it was probably the closest I have come to death in recent years. I was cycling to work in rush hour traffic one morning and whilst moving briskly with the flow of vehicles, found myself unexpectedly confronted by a double decker bus coming the wrong way round the roundabout. On with the brakes and, well, straight over the handlebars I went. Head met tarmac and seemed to be glued to the ground as I lay there, all too aware that the big rubber tyre of the bus’s front wheel was about to roll over my head. You hear all kinds of stories about these types of situation – all I can say is that my life did not flash before my eyes, but that time went very slowly and that I experienced a profound sense of calm – like I was at the centre of a hurricane. Time really did tick by – nano second by nano second.
This story obviously has a happy ending as I’m here writing this. Tyre touched cranium but nothing more – coming to rest against my head. A broken arm and not too much else. A much better result than might be expected .
I recount this to explain that yesterday I decided to do that journey again, but this time film it with a video camera strapped onto my handlebars. I shot the journey 1 frame per second, so on playback it rattles through the screen at a rate of knots. This will be the opening sequence to when was NOW. Its relevance is in the fact that my concern for what constitutes ‘nowness’ seemed to stem from this accident. I didn’t exactly realise it at the time, but looking back it was definitely the defining moment.
Later the same day I shot another sequence. I’m not sure exactly how this fits in but I know it will. I had been fishing around the official NASA website a couple of weeks ago and downloaded a video clip that I knew I would use. It is of a Russian cosmonaut cutting his hair with electric clippers whilst in the gravity free interior of the orbiting space station. It is such a human, domestic type of activity that I feel it will cut (excuse the pun) well with my own ‘at home’ type footage. I want to somehow mix my domestic life up with material that is ‘big public domain’ – material that is of global interest rather than small domestic. Funny thing is that that the cosmonaut looks remarkably like me from the back… so I set to work clipping my own hair – which also, sadly, is in a similar state of recession!
It has been a long time coming. Well the first version of this video was made erm… 30 years ago now. So obviously a lot of stuff has happened since. Some time ago I rediscovered my ‘when was NOW’ video on a ¾ inch u-matic video reel and had it transferred to digital format so I could ponder it more easily. I wasn’t so interested in much of it, except for the fact that a. I still seemed to be pursuing the same concerns in my work after all these years and b. there was the novelty of a much younger ‘me’ apparent on screen – clicking his fingers in an attempt to stop time NOW and then again NOW etc. There is an obvious irony here as he stared back at me over time.
So… four years ago I decided to make version 2 and use this distant character as a little insert into my present day work. I liked the idea that I might put the two of us on screen at the same time. I devised a whole ‘conceptually sound’ structure that was to make this happen and could almost see the finished piece in my mind’s eye. As it turned out – the sheer predictability of this (in my own head anyway) kind of meant I kept putting it the bottom of my list of things to do. It didn’t have the urgency of some other ideas.
Eventually I was amazed to find some more years had slipped by and I hadn’t actually got very far with it.
I decided it was still definitely worth doing, but that I would take a slightly different tack and use my initial idea as a starting point rather than an end in itself. Thus has been born my new found sense of urgency… and it is this that I will try and document in these postings.