In anticipation of the Tooth Fairy

As I work my way through this project I am becoming aware that my working process is evolving to be very sculptural. Initially I had a very fixed idea of where this piece was going – but now it has become much more open to evolution – in the way one might chip away at a block and try and reveal what lies hidden inside.

I was trying to explain to a lady I want to film for ‘when was NOW’ where exactly I was coming from . It goes like this:

“well when I was in Egypt there was a painting above the table where we used to have breakfast. Not a very good painting it has to be said, in the technical sense, but it was original and showed what appeared to be a Polynesian lady dancing in front of an ocean liner. It was meant to be a scene of joyous exuberance, but owing to the lack of painterly prowess on the part of the artist, the effect was much more of horror or distress – as if the ship was going to run her down. What i would like you to do is be an echo of that painting – but in your flat as the ships pass outside your window”…

Yes it does sound like a bizarre request, although, to be fair, said lady does actually own a flat which is situated directly opposite a fine view of a shipyard and various docks. She seems up for the challenge anyway – which requires that she makes an even more fatalistic leap than me in the overall scheme of things. I think I said something along the lines of “I’m not quite sure how it will work – but I know it will work”… can’t say fairer that that!

In the 80’s I did quite a lot of performance work. I remember doing a performance piece at Coventry events week where I had reduced the content down to a film projector with no film going through it, and used in as a blank frame of light which served as the entry point and focus of my performance. I had forced myself to omit content and to let whatever happened on the day take place. I sat on a high chair in front of the blank projector. It was probably the scariest piece I have ever made – and looking back one of the most successful. It certainly seemed to engage the audience. Maybe it was the danger of failure that gave it an edge.

I use that piece now as a mental yardstick when asking myself where I’m going with my work. Any time based medium, except unscripted live action, is relatively safe. You have the edit and/ or you have a script. I don’t currently have a solid script, but I do have the means to chip away and remodel what I shoot later – which is both a comfort and a safety net. So when I have my doubts about the sanity of my approach, I take myself back to Coventry with a wry smile.


26 years and counting

The thing about making a piece that both refers to time and also tries to circumvent it, is that you inevitably become caught up in it. It’s kind of amusing and also an ongoing source of frustration to me that I am unable to bring filming to an end. Each time I get to the point where I promised myself I would stop filming and start to draw the video together into a workable whole, I find some other avenue to explore. You cannot, for example, plan to use snippets of contemporary news in your work and not instantly become a victim of time itself. I sort of enjoy that fact and am also sometimes outflanked by the rapidity of the incoming news, and it’s equally rapid decline in either relevance or ability to shock (or do I mean entertain?).

I have an office/ studio in a lovely new building called the Toffee Factory. It has chic meeting rooms with glass doors and, owing to the fact that the building is not yet fully occupied, the large meeting room has not yet been used. I decided last Sunday that this state of affairs should be rectified. The vegetable rack at our house has been home for three years now to a bowl of 26 chocolate letters. Bizarre perhaps to have kept them for so long but there is a reason. The letters form a sentence – well a question in fact, and were the starting point for the original ‘when was now 2’ project. The plan had been to get 26 people of ascending years (0-26years) to pick a chocolate out of the bowl and then to answer the question that these letters posed when ranged together. Obviously the answer, if any, would be considered in an increasingly sophisticated way with the participants increase in age year by year. It had a certain completeness as a concept being that, at the time, it was 26 years since I had made the first version of this video.

Nice plan – but not one as you can now tell that I followed through, as there i was on Sunday with my 25 pieces still intact. Twenty five because one of them had been opened, the ship launched, the flags waved…. but I was so underwhelmed by the finality of the self perpetuating concept that I put the bowl away and went off on another tack.

A year or so later I knew all would be well. I would use that abortive beginning as the engine room for a new, more exciting approach, and these pieces, and an explanation similar to this one, would form it’s preface.

So there I was on Sunday afternoon – three years on now. A very long white table, a very ambient room, and just me, the camera and my chocolate letters.

We had fun. It will make sense in the context of the final piece even if it sounds a little fractured here.

I attended the funeral of a friend’s father yesterday, and today I learnt that a musician friend of mine died that same evening. These things seem to come in what statisticians might call a ‘lumpy’ form and it’s quite worrying. It’s like I was sat at the end of some last supper arrangement – but no one turned up.

And the question? – well – the question is also somewhat imponderable. You need to see the video.



After all the Christmas meanderings it was good to get to the gym this morning.

The gym is one of my favourite ideas factories. In particular, because my latest piece is very much concerned with the view of distant events as seen from my own domestic world, I find a certain symmetry in the somewhat safe and conventional world of the ‘gym at the end of my street’ when compared to the oddness beamed in via the twin television combo on the wall in front of the cross-trainers. Add to this the auto captioning device with which many of you are no doubt familiar, and you can be in for a surreal treat.

This particular update is quite new to my gym and the first time I saw it I was taken aback by what seemed like an overly poetic on-location speech by president Obama ‘the man’ to returning troops from Afghanistan. Apparently ‘dreaming of organic fields in a monsoon’ the president looked at once both determined and surprisingly at ease with (even for him) his extended use of obscure metaphor. Later I realised -the auto sub titles are a bit like predictive text – they take you to places you would never logically arrive at.

Anyway – had a particularly odd one in front of their tele’s this morning. I don’t know if it’s because i would never normally watch the box at that time of the day, but there always seems to be programmes on there that i’ve never seen before, mutely strobing whilst I’m running on the spot going nowhere.

Today we had an item on how it was now possible to build a flight simulator in your bedroom and learn how to fly a Jumbo jet. It was all very impressive and the various expert opinions trawled, backed up the credentials of this particular bit of kit. I know i was meant to be impressed, but the first thing that occurred to me (the only thing in fact) was that this had some unnerving implications for do-it-yourself pilots of doom in a similar fashion to those of 9/11 fame. After all – who is really ever going to fly a Jumbo jet except for a qualified pilot or a hi-jacker?

Moving swiftly on – the following item had us in a smaller plane shooting people out of the sky instead. Well – they were real planes except that you can fix this other bit of kit to them that then allows your and your mate to conduct a ‘for real’ dog fight (i.e. you actually fly your real plane in the real sky – if you have one) without actually killing someone. A bit like paint-balling for pilots. Now for me that was moving ever closer to my initial uncomfortable vision of catastrophe – and yet still everyone seemed happy and smiling and suitably positive about the whole experience…

If you haven’t guessed – to top off this triumvirate of terror we then had a news flash item about the latest death of a soldier in Helmand Province – a place whose name i can now trot off effortlessly as my gym’s most commonly referred to Afghan province. There are another 33 but I struggle to bring them to mind…

I say this not to trivialise the news but to highlight the bizarre soup of information we consume. We know we consume it – and I know it’s not a new idea – but still it fascinates me in its Mandelbrot complexity.

When the real butts up against the ‘ wannabe real’ you kinda begin to think you are bound to get what you imagine one day… and there are some people i would like to be in my dream and some i would most definitely rather not.



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.