Sunday, 24 October 2010

Rainbow pie

I've never seen a rainbow before where you can see it as a full semi-circle and was met with this unexpected surprise as I was travelling through none other than Wolverhampton! The camera couldn't really pick it up but it was there for at least 20 minutes. I guess that's the bonus of having crap weather in Britain, it's just a shame we don't see more rainbows!

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence yesterday when I realised that I just have sooooo much to do and doing a PhD is such an overwhelmingly massive task. I've been loving working in my new studio-office (and it's vacinity to various coffee outlets) and have been trying to write a sort of structure of my thesis and what's going to go in each chapter as my aim is to have a draft of part of the first chapter by Christmas. No pressure then eh?! I'm generally a pretty disorganised person and have been trying to give myself a routine and some sort of structure since studying  full-time otherwise I tend to go off on all sorts of (work-related) tangents and then before I know it, it's about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and nearly the end of the day!

For the past couple of weeks I've been disseminating the research diary I've kept since I started and have been working on a huuuuge roll of sexy fabriano paper where I've been physically mapping it out to try and link together my ideas. I'll post some pics when it's built up a bit more. I also found one of the books that I'd been working in when I've been organising my stuff. This is definately something I want to keep working on and I've been steadily accruing lots of lovely old books to work into.

I had the most a-mazing experience in a fab little second-hand book shop recently. There is a really beautiful and quaint little book shop that I've been in to a couple of times called Paramount Book Exchange which is on a small-ish road at the back of the Arndale Centre in Manchester. There's jazz music playing and a sofa to pop your feet up and have a flick through something you're thinking of buying and every type of book you could want. This place is a little gem. I'm a self-confessed bibliophile/book geek and ♥ books; the physicality of them, the texture of the pages and the aesthetic qualities of them (I think I need to get out more).

I'd been looking for a book by the poet Ezra Pound for a while and I noticed one in this book-shop a couple of weeks ago. When I first saw it I didn't buy it as I'm a bit stingy and I don't really like spending money, but when I went back recently it was still there and I saw it as a sign that I should get it. I bought it with another book and to my surprise when I got to the till, the gentleman who owned the shop told me that because I'd spent over £10 ... I qualified for a free piece of fruit!!! He was genuinely quite sorry when he said all of the oranges had gone as they were the most popular so he only had pears left! I of course exclaimed that a pear would be amazing and that he had made my day! I have to say it was a bloody nice pear as well! Now that's customer service!!

After my fruitful experience (gettit?!) I headed to the Chinese Arts Centre and stumbled across a right beauty ... a piece of street art by Space Invader! Some idiot had painted some dodgy black paint around it so I thought I'd better check that it was actually his and there is a great image on his website here of the original before the black paint was applied.
I came across his work originally in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy which is actually GENIUS if not a little mental and definately worth seeing. Ever since seeing it, I've had an intense desire to make work on old walls etc. but I guess I shouldn't really admit that incase I ended up doing it and then someone realises it's me ...

I visited the Chinese Arts Centre and although the main exhibtion space was undergoing a changover, I got to see Sonia Khan's work 'The Mother and her Untamed Entity' in the installation space that leads to the lower floor.
I really liked the piece and how it worked in response to the exhibition space. I also noticed Tsang Kin Wah's site-specific installation, I Love U, which was printed onto the walls on the lower floor. As I've been working with text quite recently, I was really fascinated by his piece and the way it spilled over onto different areas of the walls quite organically.

Afterwards, I went to Manchester Art Gallery and saw the new exhibition called Recorders by the Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. If I'm honest, I was expecting it to not to be very interesting as I am not that interested in digital and electronic art, however I'm so glad that I had a look as it was absolutely amazing! The exhibition included seven interactive installations where each of the pieces record memories that have been obtained by the works throughout the show such as thumb prints, visual images, voice recordings and pulse rates.

I particularly liked 'Pulse Room' where the participant holds two sensors for about 15 seconds which then detects the person's heartbeat and then converts them into flashes of the lightbulb to the pulse rate. When you'are in the room, your pulse beats really hard to the rythm of the pulse that the lights are flashing to and it's a really wierd sensation. It is on until the end of January so get down there!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Out with the old and in with the new ...

What a strange couple of weeks it has been! The last week has been a complete write off as I've been off sick with the flu and a beast of a chest infection, watching Come Dine With Me/avoiding Jeremy Kyle, sleeping and trying to convince myself that I'm not actually going to die of the flu. The week before last however (and possible reason for my demise) was one hell of a crazy week and one of those weeks where a lot of things happen all at once and your life changes a little bit. Well, quite a lot in my case.

Firstly I started off by joining a French class - I can already order an aperitif how cool is that?! I've wanted to start French lessons for ages as the gendered structure of the French language relates a lot to my research and a lot of the key writers I've been looking at are situated within French discourse ... although it'll be a long while before I can understand an academic text so I'll settle for ordering an aperitif for now! I also had my panel meeting for my 9r which is the document which officially registers my PhD. I only had some small amendments so I'm looking forward to it being completed and my research being officially being 'registered'.
I was casually flicking through the pages of a magazine called Stylist on the train home from my 9r meeting and I noticed a piece of work which I was certain was by my fellow artist Georgie Vinsun. I checked out her blog when I got back and it turns out it's her painting 'Celestine'! How much of a cool surprise is that to find?!!

On the Thursday, it was a bit of an emotional day as it was my last day teaching at Stafford College and working at the Shire Hall Gallery as I have had some really really amazing news ... I have been really really lucky enough to receive the AHRC Doctoral Award for Fine Art at BIAD where I will be funded to complete my PhD full time for the next two years! : ) I'll also have a studio space at Margaret Street which is really cool as well! I'm a little bit nervous but also très excited. I would have been more excited if I hadn't gone in on my first day and then been ill for the rest of the week ... so next week is really my first week, yey!

I attended the conference for Interrogation: West Bromwich which was a really great day and it was really nice to see all of the finished projects. I decided at the beginning of that week that I would carry out a post-mission reconnaissance before the conference started and extend the project I did the week before. Armed with some hefty signage, duct tape and a giant paper pigeon posse I re-interrogated West Brom.
As it was raining, I  had to pretty much place everything in doors which was actually really good as it meant that everything was placed more explicitly in the public realm.
I tried to be as inconspicuous as you can, putting up signs with a big fat role of silver duct tape, particularly when there was a lot of CCTV cameras around and no-one stopped me or questioned what I was doing. A lot of the signs stayed up all day to my surprise however the Tescos sign only stayed up for about half an hour as it was removed by the shopping centre security staff! The guys at the street stall were brilliant - I paid them £2 to put my sign up with their veg signs all day. When they realised that I wasn't trying to do anything too dodgy, they even tried to barter with me to pay them to put some more signs up!

I put up loads of pigeons and got a really good response from people who laughed and thought that it was quite funny. The picture I used was of a wood pigeon rather than a city pigeon so it was actually quite beautiful when you looked at it.

I also just had to put a picture up of this sign I noticed whist pigeon-putting-up-ing in the market. I really didn't want to find out what was inside the shop ... do they actually sell babies in there?!! Err ... I'd rather not know, thanks.

The conference was really interesting and included talks by Anna Francis, Ania Bas, Juneau Projects, Michael PinskyRich White who talked about his new piece of writing State of Practice and Gemma Thomas who talked about SHOP. It was really nice to see everything brought together and reflected on, especially in the context of the talks and also to all go for a swift beverage at the end of the day in The Public.

I finished off the weekend with a really heavy but interesting conference at the delightful Perry Barr campus at BCU which brought all of the research staff and PhD students across the whole university together. The conference focused on 'What is Research?', a question I will keep coming across in the context of Art & Design, so it was really intersting to hear the question examined by different departments.
Prof David Boyd's talk in particular was really inspiring and focused on an interdisciplinary approach and reflexive thinking.

Anyway, back to bed I think so I stop feeling sorry for myself and start to feel a bit better soon!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Signage, pigeons and a right old party!

Last week I was lucky enough to take part in INTERЯOGATION: WEST BROMWICH which is a series of artistic investigations in response to the regeneration of West Bromwich; exploring the impact than one artist can have in one day. The project is run by Longhouse and lead artist Anna Francis and is based over four weeks, where each week different agents take part in missions which focus on a specific methodology - Action Research, Participation, Site Specific and Intervention. I was involved in the mission 'Site Specific' where our aim was to spend the day undercover as an agent to work quickly and responsively to a specific site and interrogate of the public spaces of West Bromwich.

Having never been to West Bromwich before and being slightly (okay, very) geographically challenged, it took a while to find my way around ... however I finally managed to negotiate my way to the meeting point - Stand F at the Central Bus Station at precisely 09:45 hours as I had been instructed. After surveying the target area from afar, I spotted the INTERЯOGATION agent (recognisable by his beret and moustache) that I had been instructed to meet who was discreetly reading a newspaper to blend in with the public. Little did he know however, I had come prepared with my own disguise for a bit of counter espionage ... a copy of The Times with two little eye holes cut out ... ah ha! Originally, my plan was to sit in the bus stop for about 5 minutes reading my spy-newspaper-disguise
nearby to the Agent (ideally I wanted him to notice) and then get up, inconspicuously stroll around and then approach the agent and deliver my code phrase ... wait for it ... at the same time throwing him with the fact that I wasn't really a member of the public but I had actually been spying on him, playing him at his own game! Anyway, in my head, it was a beautifully romantic notion that would be perfectly executed and I would ingeniously baffle the agent and at the same time gain spy notoriety for my clever game. In real life, however, things don't often go to plan ... particularly when they work so well in your head. Instead, I approached the bus stand with my disguise rolled under my arm and realised that in fact, the agent was leaning against the side of the bus shelter opposite the bins and a huge bus timetable and that all of the benches were quite far away ... and that it just wasn't going to work! Nevertheless, after faffing about in a split second of panic and confusion, I approached him (not so cool and composed as I had planned) and delivered the code phrase I had anonymously received the night before. After confirming my identity as requested, I then received a set of instructions that directed me to the INTERЯOGATION HQ where I deflatedly trundled along and was finally met by Agent Francis to brief us for the days mission.

After getting changed into my uniform - a beret, moustache and t-shirt (yey!) I then got acquainted with the three other agents on the Site Specific mission - Agents Cooper-Willis, Goodenough and Porter.
Throughout the day, we were each expected to carry out a project with a quick response in the INTERЯOGATION Zone which was located in the end of the High Street near the clock tower. We received a masterclass firstly by Agent Francis and then with Agent White who was our specialist mentor for the day which gave us an historical overview of West Bromwich and Site Specific artworks and a contextual overview and framework for the mission.
We had a quick tour around the immediate vicinity of the headquarters and the target area where I familiarised myself with the area and took loads of photos to document anything of immediate interest ...
taking in the view of The Public

There were quite a few things that stuck out for me - the amount of signage there was, from hand-made signs on market stalls to printed one on empty shop units; pigeons (and their poo) everywhere, particularly around the clock tower and statue at the end of the high street which were both things built to celebrate the town and also the bright red balloons that I saw which seemed odd in contrast with everything else in the town. There seemed to be a big paradox whilst I was walking around ... there was The Public, a £54m arts venue and then lots and lots of empty shop units and deserted areas.

From my initial research, I decided to focus on the positive elements of the town and to create a dialogue with the public that tried to find out: What is the best thing about West Bromwich? I asked participants what they thought the best thing about there town was and in return paid them in chocolate money. Many people struggled to find something positive, but they all came up with interesting things. I also focused on the pigeons by creating a sort of secondary project by placing them in different locations around the target zone to get people to think about and celebrate mundane areas of the town they would normally pass by.
I used the information that I collected from people to create adhoc signage from discarded bits of cardboard from some of the market stalls and placed them randomly along the High Street. Earlier in the day, Agent Goodenough and I also identified a common theme of celebrating West Bromwich and decided to collaborate at the end of the mission by holding a party so I also used this opportunity to advertise the party and hand out the invitations that we had made.
The mission became a multi-disciplinary approach, merging different projects so that they overlapped and influenced each other and also collaborating to create a more explicit project and way of creating dialogue with the public. By spreading the word of the party through signage, invitations and by telling all of the participants I spoke to, it was a great success, although some people were wary that we were giving away things that were free and promptly avoided us! We set up a table near the clock tower and had loads of food, sweets, drinks, party poppers and balloons and managed to speak to people quite easily about why they thought West Bromwich was a great place.

All of the information that we collected was put up with other documentation from the day in the wall space in the HQ where we were able to disseminate our findings and reflect on the days activities.
I was really quite sad when I had to take off the beret and moustache at the end of the day! I got such a mixture of looks from people - surprise, confusion, and suspicion and it kind of gave me the authority to do things that would be perceived a pretty weird, such as sticking pigeons all over the town centre or attaching signs to the back of moving trucks! I am planning a post interrogation intervention this Friday before the Interrogation exhibition and conference is open to the public at the Interrogation HQ to extend the ideas that I started so we'll see what happens ...