Monday, 23 January 2012

Heathrow photo tales (post 1 of 3).

Early this morning I returned from the Grow Heathrow 'artists residency' called Resistance is Beautiful. It was a fantastic week on a remarkable, beautiful and thought-provoking squatted site, with interesting, diverse and 'full-on respect' people, and I did various drawings and activities that I am writing up on paper now.

In the next post I will feature scans of my drawings, and the 3rd one will be a walk+write psychogeographical ramble I did yesterday.

There's talk of a shared tumblr being set up which is here, and in the meantime, here is a photo diary of my week down south :

I got the train down on Monday - passing Durham (above), & Ferrybridge (below)

Walking south from the nearest station, signs of resistance (literally) appear as you approach Sipson village, which will be ruined by the proposed 3rd runway for Heathrow airport, and is already suffering from the effects.

Having a bit of an explore of the area before I went on site, a flock of lapwings flew over my head (later in the week, I interrupted a meeting to shout 'lapwings!' when they passed again!)

One of the home-made houses on site (squatted land, previously used as a dumping ground, now being converted back into a growing site, green and fertile).

Tuesday, I went for a dusk walk to see the areas east and south of the site, that I had not yet walked through. The rather different aesthetics of transport infrastructure:

And the village of Sipson's location within it.

Next to the squatted site, which once was a vinery, full of glasshouses, there is a much more recently abandoned garden centre (ruined by the airport expansion). We explored, and it was a quite powerful experience, triggering ideas of band performance, videos etc.. On the day of our 'opening', we decided to stick to the area already being transformed, but if there's some derelict or waste land near you, I do recommend you explore it!

This here's Ruffian, one of the 'artists' on site. He likes to chew wood.

Postering for the exhibition/open day on Saturday.

The squatted site is extensive, with much of it reclaimed by nature - these 10-foot brambles are actually inside the old vinery greenhouses.

Ex-battery chickens on site - one died of natural causes while we were there.

Some of the paintings and thoughts-in-process we worked on during the week:

They were displayed in this greenhouse, which is the most restored and lived in (an insulated kitchen & lounge is through the door at the end). When Grow Heathrow moved on site it was all smashed up and full of trash. Bit by bit they restored the panes and made it liveable. It's a remarkable place now.

The residents installed a wind turbine on the Sunday, and by the end of the week were pleased to find it powering their batteries successfully.

Saturday's open day: Rose painted at the front entrance as she welcomed visitors. Note the car seats, remaining from when the previous landowners used to scrap cars on the (greenbelt) site.

Neighbours and friends eating pizzas made in the clay oven.

Conversations held in one of the old glasshouses of the 'back lands'.

The front gate.

Some guerrilla gardening in the village to end the day, as soundtracked by our on-site band.

Called the Dumpstarz, they created 2 songs during the week, and here did us one last performance as it got dark, getting the crowd to bang on every piece of bangable piece of trash they could find.

More to come!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Why I hate artists.

Why I hate artists.

Today I visited the Turner Prize shit at the Baltic and was predictably underwhelmed into a highly annoyed attitude. But that's not what this post is about. (Everyone knows that that side of the Saatchi-Turner-YBA artworld is pathetic, and the outrage and headbanging about it is plenty well enough rehearsed already without me adding to it. Even shit careerist uninspired soul-dead 'artist' fakers think the Turner Award is pants, and it's so off the radar of most decent DIY folk that it can safely be ignored.)

No, what I want to write about is more why my friends who are artists are shit. Why decent well-meaning thoughtful artists are hateful. And a second disclaimer – this doesn't mean I don't like em, admire what they do, wanna be more like them etc.., it's just something that sits in me like an evil goblin and I want to let it out for a bit.

An artist can be amazing. An artist can produce beautiful or thought-provoking or interestingly disturbing or enjoyably fun work. Great stuff. Go for it.

Artists (plural) however are scum.

For a start, they are scum because they call themselves artists. What the hell is an artist? As a label of praise for somebody ('you are a real artist') it is clear and fine. As a name given retrospectively to someone who produced art you value, yeah that's probably alright too, so long as you can justify it. But as a category of work. As a self-appointed monicker. As a badge of status, a claim to inclusion in a certain subculture, a declaration of independence from the everyday run of mediocrity? No.

You are just as insipid, thoughtless and uinspired as me and my mum and my neighbour. Sometimes. Calling yourself an artist doesn't mean you haven't wasted the day pottering in your room. I waste a lot of time pottering in my room. I don't claim it is part of my art, even if in some way it is 'developing my practice'. It's different if you are working on a technique, training, working on some niggle or improving something. That is a great use of time, and I wish you more of it. But that's the 'craftsman' side of art that artists do not value. Artists are not into arts and crafts. Artists are into a funding stream in which they get to wear the hat of 'valued artist' who then, at their convenience, drop a few inspired twinkles of their artistic sense down to us and get paid 'artist rate'. They even have tax codes and advisors and careers networks to service them.

Put it this way: I know what a graffiti artist is. I think it is good that certain people get sufficiently recognised for their efforts and their abilities by fans of the form to be labelled as graffiti artists.

I know what a writer is, it's someone who's written something (interesting this one: it's past tense only. If you call yourself a writer and you haven't written anything then you're not, you're 'trying to write' or something equally humble). I know what a painter is, it's someone who paints. An etcher, a chainsaw artist, a photographer, these are all accurate labels for a certain type of activity, of gained skill and experience, and a useful description for the kind of thing that person can do. The artform is intrinsically linked to the tools used and the expertise and awareness of a skilled craftsman (& no it doesn't need to be 'useful').

Live art, conceptual art, experimental art.

You can be a live artist in my book if you've done live art that people reckon yeah, that was live art. Same for the others, and experimental is good, more experiment please.

But if a graffiti artist and a performance artist and a mixed media daubing&sculpting artist sit on a row of seats and recognise each other as 'artists' then something has shifted and has gone wrong. Unless those seats are at the jobcentre or in the doctor's and they are just recognising each other as people who do creative stuff, perhaps prioritise their art over cash and other things. That form of recognition is amazing. But I would say that quite often, if you found yourself sitting on that row of seats and you happened to find a way of having a deep conversation with your neighbours, you'd find everyone there has some outlet for creativity and an aesthetic or playful art of their own. Strangers I've met in cafes and the public library have shown me their poetry; explained what they're trying to learn with photoshop; and revealed to me aspects of the architecture of this city that they adore. Because people are artistic (there may be exceptions), and lots of us manage to gain the time and the confidence or bloody-mindedness to try and develop our inklings into something more, something we want to share.

Artists are scum because they think they are different than these people. Different than people. And I'm not talking outsider or naïve art either, nor the platitudes that 'everyone is an artist' which is so frequently followed by 'I myself, however, deserve to be funded to do MY art'.

Have you ever seen those adverts for an event, exhibition, a funded project, a 'residency' or some such, which is titled 'Call to Artists' or something similar? It is phrased in grand, inspiring terms: “this project is open to artists from the North East”, “suitable for young artists with an interest in”, “artists from Durham and Sunderland will be showing the work produced during”, “looking for an artist to take a lead role in”. Most issues of the Crack have an example, and I'm sure if you join the artists' newsletters and email networks you'll see far more of them than I do. But I doubt you've got more angered about them than I have. Because if there's one thing that's inspired me (in a bad way) to write this rant, it is these adverts and their casual use of the word 'artist' as if it's an OKAY term to use. And they are also a case where the nicer the project, the more inclusive the call to art, the more collaborative and down to earth they are, the more insulting I find them.

Let me explain what I mean by that: if I somehow stumble across some advert for a conference or exhibition in, say, Hamburg, aimed at “artists working in any field” but which is clearly exclusive, dripping with prestigiousness, then as a normal person I straight away realise oh that isn't for the likes of me. It's for people who've slimed their way into some inner circle of society that I not only despise, but am so far distant from I don't even recognise. My day-to-day blinkers take over and I don't even see it. They can all die for all I care – I genuinely wouldn't mind. The art ads that annoy me far more are the ones phrased more at my level. And by my I don't mean 'me a small aspiring artist'. I mean 'me a person who's interested in stuff'. When I see these and start thinking 'that sounds interesting' I suddenly get hit with this word 'artist' and I get the red mist. I have been known on more than a few occasions to get my pen out my pocket and cross out the word 'artist' to replace it with the word 'person'. Not 'artists', 'people'.

If only 'artists' are invited to join in with a cool, fun way of interacting at some public site (an example that comes to mind is a derelict house in Byker ripe for some temporary 'transformation/installation'), then only those who have chosen, internally, to consider themselves 'artists not people' will go. If you have not appropriated artist status for yourself, and you see that ad, then the use of the word artist is an insult and a fuck-off and you are not invited.

So do not invite artists to get involved. Invite people to get involved.

Those who are artists will progress their career by getting to know people who can send money, contacts, prestige and access their way. For some this is only a sideline to their main practice, or so they think. But if they are entirely outside the networking circles and gravy train of the art world, then they are either already rich, already hugely specialised & well regarded, or more likely failing and lost. So an essential element of being an artist is schmoozing, turning up to your friend's opening, saying the right things over drinks, and getting your name out there as someone who will take on that kind of commission, etc... This is a poisonous and often depressing part of the life, for which any individual artist need not take the blame. It's because we live in a fucked up capitalist, rich-say-what-goes world, that uses social mechanisms to weed out and train fresh talent to serve it. But what artists ARE to blame for, and do deserve the occasional globule of spit for, is treating this networking part of their social world as the PRIMARY or preferred or superior world. Parties in galleries are okay, maybe, live performance even better, but look around and is it the same narcissistic and vulpine faces? Has a partial clique become a full clique? If so, then you are once again raising a big fuck-you to the city you live in. And next day you'll tell yourself that this city owes you something back? What for? Being a prick? Be a prick by all means but don't then consider it JUSTIFIED because you're [wait for it], because you're an 'artist'.

Today I went through town with two artfiends from Middlesbrough, eagerly looking for what's going on. We visited 5 art galleries: venues which are windows onto the street, a place where artists (or people doing art) display and, hopefully, engage with the public.

  1. The Baltic, set in a scenic spot where Gateshead used to be. Ignoring the Turner shit, there were 2 big floors of big art. Both relied on projected film as the main medium. One was a bloke pissing about dressed as a baby at Burning Man festival in Nevada. Nothing wrong with that, it's what people Do at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, but what did he as 'artist' contribute? Funding for himself and his mate to do the festival thing, and then to share what they got up to with the public, leading to huge prestige for which future funding and future prestige will come piling. The gravy train. All profit accumulates to the artist. The better floor was about the bureaucracy and waiting involved in visas etc.. in Pakistan. A fine video, quite beautiful to watch the waiting people's faces, thankyou for making it. But even here, in the GOOD example, it is the people in the film, the set-up accessed by the artist, the scene revealed by the film, that is the really interesting thing and beautiful/challenging etc.. So I hope the artist does not now present herself as 'the artist' who 'owns' that footage, and that effect, because she was only one participant, the one directing the camera and the one receiving the pay and the prestige. She, and you Mr Artist, had better not forget that the art does not belong to her, it's just her edit of it that's gaining the bucks. Payment received for effort put in, fair enough - like a photographer selling his shot of the Tyne Bridge, it's his craft at photography (and photoshop) and his effort at framing it and flogging it that gets paid for. But it's nothing more 'special' than that.

  1. The Side Gallery. Perhaps my favourite gallery in the toon, being the fuddy duddy old man that, increasingly, I am. Amazing historic photos of Afghanistan plus recent ones that suffered a little by comparison, except for the truly wonderful richly-photographed display of the anti-Soviet uprising, as displayed in a museum over there. It's worth popping in just to see that exhibit. The best part of the recent photographer's work was actually the film in which he explained what it was like being over there. I keep denying to myself that this horrific human and environmental disaster is being forced through year on year in Afghanistan, so I am grateful to the old leftiness of the Side for reminding me of it. But while it wouldn't have been possible without the photos, in terms of impact, for me the issues won out over the form.

  1. The New Bridge studios / gallery / waste of space. This has been there for ages now. It is full of young hip and happening 'artists'. It is in a fantastic public location, directly opposite the public library in the centre of town with giant glass streetlevel walls. And every time but one that I have walked past, it has presented another of those giant 'fuck-yous' to the public walking past. There is more of a public service delivered to the city by the average mobile phone shop than has been delivered by this waste of space. I'm sure it's all very fine for the people who use it, no doubt developing marvellous things and hanging out with such funky fellows. But the ground floor has, aside from one party, one gig, and one short-run exhibition, presented to the non-artist world nothing but empty, white or building-work style rooms. This offers a daily argument for why arts funding should be cut (which I am not, incidentally, an advocate of). Have I missed something? Admittedly I'm only in the city every single week of my life, so perhaps there's been surprise 'come join in', 'ooh look at this' things that I've missed, but I think not. If you know of more that goes on there, then you are probably an artist, and wonderful an individual as you may be, your kind needs to get a grip.

  1. VANE – we just went in for a laugh really. An A4 blu-tacked piece of paper said VANE on the outside of the building. Upstairs there were a few more A4 blu-tacked pieces of paper, and empty rooms, some of which were locked, for variety. And it's another massively expensive city centre space.

  1. We went for a coffee in the Laing. A nicer room for chatting than your average coffee shop, and we loved the room full of schoolchildren's responses to Mervyn Peake. A very suitable provincial gallery for its location, that makes all the right efforts to be accessible. Two thumbs up for the Laing, but I am not my mum and dad and I do want something a bit more involving and challenging in the city. Something a bit more DIY. And right now I cannot find it except on the street (literally), often through interactions with strangers at bus stops and on the walk back from town.

Shall I go on? Perhaps this is long enough to exasperate you as much as me.


If a child tells you 'you're an artist' you are allowed to smile and feel happy.

If you see an advert in which “artists” are invited to contribute to some group exhibition or event, and you don't feel excluded, you are probably a bit of a knob.

You can be less of a knob by doing creative stuff with normal people.

Footnote 1: Pictures taken from the Laing, various schoolchildren's responses to the Mervyn Peake exhibition.

Footnote 2: I am doing my first so-called 'artists residency' this month (albeit unpaid and on a squatted piece of land down Heathrow way), and put in my first ever application for funds as an 'artist' back in Autumn, so the issue of naming people as artists has become more prominent for me.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Winter Solstice : Interviews with three people who mark it.

These 3 interview responses explain why 3 people in Newcastle celebrate solstice.

I really like them so I thought I would share them now, rather than wait for them to appear in the zine that will be coming out in Spring. (The zine aims to explore the meaning of the pagan year - I don't have a name for it yet).

The first person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

Me and some friends created our own ritual day. We firstly gathered some evergreenery from the nearby woods and came back and made an altar emblazoned with candles, the greenery and lovely damp twigs covered in lichens and mosses that were revealed by the falling of the leaves and that jumped out at us in all their bright green finery. We all like dancing so put on a bit of music and danced around together, then we did some hindu chanting then got the tarot cards out and shared our present moment issues and future hopes. Then as it finally got dark we each had a candle set before us and I invited us to share something about the year, or any gifts the dark had given us, each spoke in turn then snuffed their candle out until we were enveloped in the glorious dark. Then after a time I lit the main candle again to herald the (slow) return of the light. We then shared what we hoped and dreamed this light might bring and anointed our heads with glittery scented water to symbolise spring and sunshine! Then we drank a fair bit of alcohol and ate a massive dinner.

  1. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

Ceremony and ritual can help to simplify and relax in the midst of the complexity and hubbub of our electronically infested lives. I have an ever deepening connection to nature which is my inspiration and to readily mark the turning of the year is clarifying and helpful. For example it is darker and I do feel sleepier so why fight it? Winter always ushers in a sense of interiority and reflectiveness. It is imperative for me to honour this deep and natural link rather than gloss it over with internet use and buying stuff. And also I LOVE the dark and yearn for it in our orange light polluted world so I guess this is a potent celebration for me. As there is no clear tradition as such to follow that is unified or has wider community endorsement we have a lot of freedom to create which rituals we want and pull from whichever cultures we want, so the ritual was essentially a mish mash of elements that basically was tailored to suit us.

3. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

As said because it is at a clear turning point of the year when it's darkest...because the darkness is deliciously special and healing and needs to be honoured...rituals and gatherings are nurturing especially in this cold weather when people get all snotty and a bit mopey, it helps clarify, gives direction, meaning, a sense of, “this comes with winter, I am not alone”, rather than the isolation of, “I am a manic depressive”. Helps people reach out and share, rather than close off and mope. Also, the solstice is like the real christmas to me and that is where my heart is, though i love meeting up with my family and sharing the usual presents and eating etc too.

The second person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

    Each year at the time of Solstice I am working up at Kielder Water with friends, and each year we have some kind of fire ritual. This year, our work had actually finished on the day before the longest night, so some people had had to go, but 3 of us stayed up especially, and the other 2 got their partners up so we were 5 people in total. We had candles in jars and went walking through the dark wood to a quiet spot where you can get down to the lake on a slipway. There was quite a wind and we had trouble keeping the candles going, but it was a magical sight following the bobbing jar along the path, and it was only once we'd climbed fences and reached the slipway that the last candle failed. Then it was just the darkness, a glowstick, and, for a little while, Susan spinning her fire poi. The others wrote down some things they wished to leave behind, and burnt them. And they shared things they wished to keep and see flourish in the new year. I went into the lake in the dark up to my knees, and that was as much as I could stand! Then we cleared up some smashed glass and took the dark walk back to our cabin to eat chestnuts!

    2. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

    I personally like to mark the four solar points of the year (solstice and equinox), and also the cross quarter days (beltane etc..), to retain my connection with the seasons and the planet's other life-forms, and also to enable me to have a moment of pause and reflection. The winter solstice is the point that is easiest for me to do this, because I am always in the same place with sympathetic friends, so the night-time ritual lets me remember what I was doing last year, and it helps me realise that this is the darkest moment, and it is emotionally strengthening to be able to share this time with people. Over the last 7 years we have burnt straw bales; jumped over fires; hung burning things from trees; pushed out a little wooden boat aflame onto the waters and watched it bob out beyond visible distance; and last year with the strong ice I was able to build a fire directly above the lake and walk around it making my commitments and working through my thoughts. So we've kind of made up our rituals as we've gone along, and what we do varies each year according to who is there.

    I don't know exactly where the different ideas come from, but the two most important elements are to me the fire (as a kind of sympathetic magic- it is the fire of the sun that we wish to return to bring us summer, so we call it back with an earthly fire), and the marking of the changeover (until now, the light has been reducing, and this moment is the fullest extent of the dark: it is very important to me to recognise this, to realise it, and a ritual is a helpful way to support and fix this realisation and recognition in my mind). I also have to be outside when the clock strikes 12, but that's just habit! – to see and feel the sky and the weather.

    3. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

One thing about solstice for me is to realise and remember why humans get so superstitious – whatever our scientific and unthinking expectations (that of course summer will return and of course the year is cyclical ), this is a moment of awe and thinking “shit! What if the sun never came back? Please come back!” It reminds you that we are entirely dependent upon a wider nature, that our survival and all these edifices we build are founded upon a hope. Hope that the planet will keep supporting us, with sun, heat, fertility, life. In my opinion this hope is the deepest root of religious thoughts. And during the past, the vast majority of the time that we humans (and other animals) were on the planet, this was the time to realise that not everyone was going to make it to next year – is there enough food in store, enough animals, enough health, will our shelter hold us together and is our community strong enough that even though some of us won't make it, our group will survive till summer? So it's a pretty serious, grave moment too. And so perhaps it's an honouring of our ancestors to continue to mark it. A way to step out of the day-to-day headlong rush of this and that, and to connect with those ancients, to connect with time itself!

The Third Person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

Started by making my way to cow hill with my son where we met a a couple of friends, their daughter and my brother. We had a very small bonfire and watched the sunrise. We sang and chanted some sun songs, some of us danced and once the sun was up we sat around the fire as it burned down and had hot chocolate/coffee/herbal tea. I said a bit about winter solstice, my son explained about how it was the shortest day and we all talked about our plans for the year to come. We heard the siren of a fire engine and joked that it was for us. about 20mins later three firefighters trekked up the hill, water backpacks and all, closely tailed by two out of breath police officers. The fire was nearly out by this point, but we were told to stand back whilst they put it out with the hose pipe (children excited as allowed a turn). Somebody had reported us, so five adults and two 4yr olds warranted this 5 man rapid response unit. It was a beautiful morning and the officials soon buggered off so we finished our hot drinks and went on our way.

My son and I went home to be with Joe (partner/father) and had a lovely solstice breakfast and a house ablaze with fairy lights. We exchanged gifts and spent the next few hours playing and making sweets for the evening party.

The evening was the party that my family has held for the last 9 years or so. We have family and friends around at my mother's house. Many people bring something to eat - at least there is always a good meal provided. We have a ritual that follows more or less the same course each year. This year I was master of the ceremony so to speak, and lead us through blowing out our candles in turn as we let go of something from the year past. We were then left in darkness apart from the large candle burning in the middle of the circle - I said a few words about letting go and also about light always remaining, dawn coming - we sat quietly and then went round one by one and lit our individual candles from the centrepiece and spoke aloud a hope for the year to come. Once the room was again ablaze with lights we burst into a hearty round of 'deck the halls'. After this small homemade gifts were distributed and appreciated and people chatted and appreciated each other's company - some of us only see each other once a year at the solstice party and it is always a lovely evening.

  1. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

The evening solstice party has been family tradition for the last decade and aims to do something different from the usual commercial christmas rubbish. The ritual can feel quite meaningful and I enjoy the conscious time I spend reflecting on the year gone and to come. The Sunrise was a new thing for us this year and I loved it! Love fires, singing with friends, watching the sky. I love to feel connected to the environment and to the people around me, and times like the winter solstice can help me by providing a focus.

  1. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

See above! And I would add, winter solstice is, for me, a time of hope. Midwinter, and the lengthening of days that follows is a vivid representation of rebirth and renewal. I find the solstice dates to be a more meaningful measure of time, years passed, than the new year of dec 31st/jan 1st. Love to party then too though! Find wintertime an important time for celebration and socialising, and winter solstice is for me a very special time of year.