What’s Happening in the Studio
The CERN Project, CERN in Switzerland/France and Tallahassee Florida
I have started working on this new expansive project, a large group of artists are collaborating with CERN at the Large Hadron Collider and the city of Tallahassee, FSU and TCC, in Florida, USA. Our collective aim is to get to know Scientists, technicians, and workers at the CERN experiments, to ask questions, expend understanding of the work going on there and engage a public and fire interest in science research.
My personal focus revolves at present in the very human struggle that the search for new knowledge involves, projecting ideas to places we will never visit and the social and political implications that knowledge brings.
Silent Disco, Dowd Gallery, SUNY Cortland
Just finished giving a talk at the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, NY. A great audience gave me a really good chance to discuss reflections on how moving to the USA has affected my practice and methods of production. Two interesting things I take away from discussion are the ideas of movement, mine in particular but also how I can begin to map experiences across to others. And how I have ever since coming here used the ideas of inhabiting an idea, if not a personality to guide me in decisions. The show, Silent Discos that I the talk accompanied was a great step forwards in showing some of the bigger disco ball works, thank you Jaroslava for the opportunity, it was great to see the missile launcher up at last. This show has lead to the announcement of a show in April, more about that soon I hope when things become firmer.
Point of Contact Gallery, Boîte-en-Valise in Syracuse
Boîte-en-Valise revisited; It was so good, wholesome and interesting to meet up with the Venice group again as old friends in Syracuse. Sadly there we a couple who could not travel but sent work and spirit enough. The show had surprisingly transformed for all of us, new related progressions reinvigorated everyone and created a very different vibe. There are always excitements and disappointment in everything, the end of quite a long collaborative process, the inevitable finishing of work and in this case for me the feeling of the final synthesis of ideas not quite gelling. Anyway I know there is more to explore and perhaps occupy the ideas better in a methodological way.
57th Venice Biennale, Boîte-en-Valise
Just about recovered from the jet lag and trying to settle back into life with the kids again, not all that easy. Venice was, as imagined, fantastic, intense, hungry for more. The show looked great, the six artists got on famously and the tiny bit of the Biennale we got to see was promising to be one of the best in years. You can get a really good picture of the whole of our project through boite_en_valise on Instagram. We arrived at the apartment with no prior knowledge of the space or real location and yet within 24 hours we had removed all the furniture and hung the show to the strength of all the diverse works and retained the feeling of being within someone’s living space. A great opening night with the worry of small show opening in amongst major Biennale parties quickly dispelled, we had an audience! A great Diaspora Pavilion show and party next door just added to out time.
For me the “Inflatables – Boy On The Beach” was a really good test of installation, choosing to wedge the work into the living room, over large and pregnant with feeling. Many good talks, new faces and excited for the future. There will be a return show by the six artists in Syracuse in the Fall.
Have just spent two mad fantastic days doing “Generator” at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth, the first part of Boite-en-Valise. interesting workshop with a wonderful group of Alzheimer artists who kindly gave up their time to talk. Things to think about. now packed and ready for Venice.
Firstly I am very happy to share the news that “It Could Be Paradise But It’s Just California” (part two) has won first place in ‘Made In New York’ juried art show in the Schweinfurth Art Center Aurburn. Great show, great art center and great people, thank you all.
It seams to have been a very long time since I have had anything substantive to share with people. Truth is I have been working hard in the studio when I can grab the time but much of the last six months has been spent helping the fabulous Cassils Heat and students from Syracuse University with a project that began to consume every waking hour, and eventually sleeping ones too. ‘Resilience of the 20%’ was such a great project to be associated with it felt hardly like a sacrifice and please check out Cassils work, it is going to be a fantastic and very busy year for them coming up having just won a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship.
Since a well earned break over the New Year I have been focusing on new work. In May I will take this new project; ‘Boy On The Beach’ firstly to show in ‘Generator’ at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth, England and then onto the 57th Venice Biennale under the ongoing ‘Boîte-en-Valise’ exhibition, run through Syracuse University, Aspex and The Artists Agency. If anyone is around in Portsmouth on the 5th and 6th of March pleases come down to Aspex and meet us all connected with the project. Similarly in Venice on the 8th 9th and 10th, find us on the British Council Map.
A fun day experimenting (doing stupid things with stuff) making alloys and pouring Lava for a series of works based on fighting religious wars in the 21st century, martyrdom and a return to the stone age. Firstly though I need to thank Noah Hausknecht and especially the artist Bob Wysoki who has let me play with his amazing lava furnace, he is doing some great things up here in Syracuse, worth a Google. Work has been so focused for over a year that I have forgotten the joy of just trying something without pressure. It has been an ambition of mine to cast in lava for longer than I now care to remember. I always imagined putting a mold in front of a diverted lava flow in Hawaii or Iceland, leaving it for a year to cool and return with a jackhammer to excavate. In reality the surroundings of Syracuse University and a controlled pour were not as exciting as my dream situation but the results, after some disasters, were fantastic. The final cast went really well, a smooth pour, a gentle cooling time and when I started to remove the mold it looked perfect. Sadly as soon as I lifted it out the cast fell into 40 or so pieces and had to be glued together. The second play, with the different historical ‘ages’, combining bronze and aluminum, which mix, making a crude alloy inside a hand axe mold was also something I had put off due to not having the time to test. The resulting metal was a transition from bronze to aluminum. The mix being incredibly strong but so brittle it shatters if you drop it on the ground.
The building of In Transit a collaborative work between the designer and fashion thinker Tony Bednall and the artist Tom Hall – April 2015
So, it was a good few months ago when Tony Bednall (Manchester Metropolitan University) asked me if it might be a profitable idea to collaborate on something he was wanting to put together for an IFFTI conference in Florence. Tony put forwards a proposal which was accepted around the title Stories Without Stories.
“The jacket, left discarded, a monument to the day to day, dressed up or dressed down, a victim or an agitator; a uniform or symbol of non-conformity. Who is the owner? Why is it here?”
We wanted this collaboration to be about the making of the work so apart from setting out a few basic structural parameters left everything to the now fast reducing time we would spend together working. The scale and ambition of the proposal really deserved at least three weeks to build together, discuss, perhaps argue and construct a significant object more interesting than just a jacket.
It was inevitably a slow start and the twelve days we ended up with was soon reduced to nine before we had really started. Travel, finding all the tools and materials and getting them all to the right place was enough, not to mention the new information that the site had changed to the steps of the impressive Villa Favard, headquarter of Polimoda Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing. Things only started to turn that impossible corner when we started to really discuss critically what we were doing and start the collaboration. This happened in different subjects of discussion. A notable breakthrough was Tony talking me through the subtler parts of pattern cutting and then us trying to relate that to making in cardboard. It is a beautifully engineered thing a jacket and the physical interrelation between seams, straight and gentle curves and proportion was surprisingly more possible to replicate than we assumed. Other discussions significant were around music and cloths documenting our lives as a more significant cultural dialog than what is fashionable and the global freedom of ideas to transcend physical boarders and the repercussions of this politically in terms of trade, ideologies, people and things.
This idea of movement and transition was mirrored by the people and places the jacket has been conceived and made in and of. From my studio in Syracuse New York to Manchester via China and onto Italy and Florence, each place has left a mark from commerce and colonial trade to the Baroque and the Middle East.
To finish the narrative we spent the next nine days pulling 14 hour days and coming back exhausted to collapse in font of an amazing dinner cooked by Tony’s wife Fang, a picture diary is included, and then to bed only to start early the next day. It was never certain and more likely that we would fail to finish in the time but as we got closer a natural questioning flow took over to see us to completion.
The work In Transit will be on show from the 11th – 15th of May 2015 at the Villa Favard, Florence
VILLA FAVARD – via Curtatone, 1 – 50123 Florence (Italy)
7th March 2015
It has been a while since I have reported on the studio but that is more due to being busy rather than not having anything to report. I am off to LA on Tuesday, a fitting destination to end this first body of work. The new piece is nearly finished; It Could Be Paradise But It’s Really Just California (Part Two) is the counterpart of part one; The Frontiersman installation. It talks on the endpoint rather than the journey and brings this project and my feelings of ‘moving west’ to an end and a new sense of being here taking over. So, now just to solve the hanging of the wings off its disco ball motor and figuring out what kind of space it needs. It should give a disorientating sense as it turns though it is always unexpected the outcome. I suspect and hope light reflections will oscillate from higher up to lower down, or maybe they will alternately give a light show and then blind you as the wings turn.
Thoughts have turned to politics of the Middle East, the Pitt Rivers collection in Oxford especially its topological ideals of collecting, recent iconoclasm and a return to a new stone age full of martyrs.
2nd February 2015
The final few pieces for the show later this year.
It has been a funny month, full of nice visits, deep doubts and revaluations, applications and making new connections, not a lot of time in the studio. Frustratingly everything is looking a ‘little while off’ at the moment but that’s the game. I think It Could Be Paradise But It’s Really Just California is finished but I have just started something different which might make a grand appearance in it. I have been playing around with mosaics and see exciting possibilities. There is something materially needed about new works in the future. I have a lot of time-consuming work to do on it yet but will let out images when there is more substance to it.
13th December 2014
Step by step.
A good few weeks in the studio has nearly bought the making part of the project to an end. It has been a busy month broken up by Thanksgiving, serious snow and Christmas looming. The studio, despite that, has been going smoothly. Testing times have quickly been sorted out and as each element is taken to the point where I am happy the vision of the whole grows.
I have only one last major object to make, a large cottonwood tree. It is probably the most theatrical part of the installation and it should pull the ‘scene’ together.
Along side this major work there are a number of other projects on the go. It has been 15 years since I have cast anything in metal and it has always been a want to cast in iron. Excitedly I get my opportunity over the next few months. I have made a set of missiles for the first set of objects. I have always loved topographical collections that question linier history, function and form, narrative and how disparate similar functioning concepts are.
Excitedly a collaboration I am involved in, with Tony Bednall, has been shortlisted for Polimodas 17th Annual The International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institute Conference in Florence. It is ambitious and substantially bigger than other works I have made but should really stand out against the classical architecture. We will find out next month whether we are successful or not. I’ll post outcome as soon as we are informed.
20th November 2014
I have just put on Dvorák’s New World Symphonies, a kind present from my dad and realised it is time to update and share what is happening in my studio. Work is progressing at a pace and ideas are galvanising, murky mystery into clarity. I’m very excited as to where this may lead to as an outcome, with the work beginning to pull together disparate narrative into something holistic. Most elements are really there, in terms of questions I want to rub up against each other, those of the cowboy, the American psyche, contemporary history and my own narrative of new expansive views and geography the journey is nearly complete. There is however still a lot of visual to fill in and a good few unbroken weeks of making in the studio still to go. The bike has been a lot of stress and fun. The way I go about making is very important. Things in one sense are props language or recurrent symbols but in others hold a boyish exuberance, which is the essence and core of my methods of enquiry. I never work out a plan or draw ideas, I set about it with the energy and excitement of a young boy with a slightly too complex Airfix model (a younger me from days gone by) and ignoring the instructions stick the basics together as quickly as possible to realise an iconic wing shape or gory detail. This keeps thoughts fresh and fluid and links and questions meld and knit together.
In resent weeks this has been interrupted by other projects that I’m trying to get off the ground, which I will talk of more if they are successful and the planning for the immanent arrival of our cat from the UK.
I’m happy to announce my first US show though here in Syracuse some time later in the New Year. It Could Be Paradise But It’s Really Just California will mark the completion of this piece of work; date to be announced.
20th October 2014
Exciting things happen when your fully focused on a project and what feels like serendipitous acts seem to happen. I have purposely set this experience out like a journey, a trip into the unknown where I can make discoveries and links and recombine ideas and ‘live’ the intrepid explorers of the west. At present things have come quite naturally, I have a set of objects I need to make camp and I must construct these as a survival kit. Periodically my mind gets distracted or an idea from somewhere else links in and poses a question. And then pull myself back onto the trail.
“I suppose I am a prospector, searching for a future out west. A month our two ago on the radio there was an interview talking about a new comedy based on a group of metal detectorists, contemporary prospectors looking for Saxon gold. Metal detectors are used by the military in bomb detection, a very different prospect at the end. Where is the cowboy here?”
I first met the reference to the cowboy as mirror to the American dream in Robert Pirsig’s book Lila An Inquiry Into Murals and then recently found what I think must be his reference in Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” which explains Americans positive expansionist mentality.
On this professor Christopher Grayling sets out the relationship through the presidents of the United States saying that Lincoln was bourn into that cowboy world directly. Theodor Roosevelt evoked the myth of the west in his book “The Winning of The West” as a guiding light through the romanticising and sanitising the reality on his way to the Whitehouse. Reagan who acted out the part of cowboy in the movies and George W. recalled watching a warped view of it through films as a kid and said, whist sporting a Stetson, “I want Bin Laden smoked out, captured; dead or alive.” Even Obama has tried. These are the narrative changes I am enjoying plotting at the moment.
7th October 2014
It is always hard to start a new project/piece of work, this one doubly so as moving to the US has turned the proverbial world up side down. I have been keen to start making work since we arrived but it has taken time to settle and get stuff together and find a studio.
Now I am, and now in, thoughts turn to work. I have started with a simple premise of coming to America. This new work is based around the frontier explorers and speculators, much like my move west. I have limited myself to the cardboard boxes in which we moved our belongings to the States. Warn and damaged it sets a different prospect to the normal materials I have recently used but I enjoy the poetics of movement it sets up. It’s all very simple at the moment but I know the layers will build as time hours stack up in the studio. Starting a big work is similar to what I imagine the opening writing of a novel; you have the theme and some of the bare bones of a narrative but you have to discover what you are writing about. I have started pragmatically by making my defences, warmth and food. The significant next step is to move ideas away from just reconstruction towards a less linear reading of the cowboy epics of my youth.