Friday, 29 February 2008

Day Twenty

So far today has been the opposite of yesterday, it’s amazing how fast one’s fortunes can change. I bought a cheap fan from Argos, not as beautiful as my Pifco model, but much more reliable. I am now sitting in the wind and the rain eating a toastie at La Piazza and the boat has been floating on its tissue sea all morning. Similarly I fixed the scrolling animation machine by exercising patience and it is also powering along looking extremely reliable. On the downside I came into my studio this morning to find a black flag. Katie had snuck in and laid her claim. I am pleased to report I was upset. The Flag actually had the effect that I had hoped. I immediately took my revenge by claiming the tea area and later the fifth floor of Lurke street multi-storey car park. Now I am packaging Black flags and tracing pictures from my new book.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Day Nineteen

My wife has gone to sea again so for the first time I drove to Bedford. It was an uneventful journey punctuated only by bouts of road rage (other people’s) and my own lapses of concentration (probably causing the road rage). I tend to think about things when I drive but in an unproductive way, thoughts just cycle round my head and occasionally hypnotise me. Work today was a total disaster. I used an old ironing board to remake my scrolling animation machine and it worked perfectly until I decided to improve it and it stopped working. Then I set up tracing paper, fan and ship that floated beautifully for about ten minutes before the fan burnt out. I’m worried about my ability to make something that will actually survive the duration of a show. I did get a present today, a coffee table book about the Antarctic I think I’m going to make a book of drawings from it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


While pushing people to join The Black Flag Game on Face Book I am contacted by my first girlfriend who I haven’t seen in over twenty years. I would say my first love but that would get me mercilessly ribbed by all and sundry. It is a communication from across the sea as she is now living in the US. The whole experience is a strange one and I am minded of romance, oceans and distances untravelled. Despite the fact we are separated by thousands of miles and many years communication is easy, instantaneous and fun, though I feel like we should be writing letters.

Tuesday is usually my day off at the moment, though I did do a little work today. I have thoroughly settled into a routine now and there is only really a month to go. I like routines but they do stop me trying new things (or, because they stop me doing new things)

Monday, get up at 7 and cycle to work, teach drawing all day with varying degrees of success.

Tuesday, get up at 7.30, walk the dog, go to town to sort my finances out, wander around the charity shops, go to the studio, come home for lunch and then spend the rest of the day on the computer.

Wednesday, get up at 7 and cycle to work, teach painting in the morning (with varying degrees of success) and do a lecture and some tutorials in the afternoon.

Thursday, get up at 7 catch the bus to Ipswich have a coffee in Starbucks then catch the bus to Bedford. Get to the gallery and work until about 9. Go to my lodgings, have a chat with Christina. Go to bed and watch a dvd (Laurel & Hardy)

Friday, get up at 8 go to the greasy spoon and treat myself to single egg on toast. Work all day at the Gallery (Sometimes go to the pub)

Saturday, get up at 8 go to the greasy spoon and treat myself to beans on toast. Work at the gallery ‘til lunch, which I take at the piazza outdoor café. Work at the gallery ‘til 3 then catch the coach home

Sunday, get up at 8 slob around, walk the dog do house work.

There are other people involved but they seem peripheral to the routine.

Anyway today I’ve been working on how to exhibit some of my sculptures and have been playing with an old Pifco fan that I’m hoping will float a ship on some tracing paper. The fan is very beautiful but has only a minimal guard on it and threatens to hack the fingers off the inquisitive.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Black Flag Day

I can still barely move for my injuries so I have been working online. I decided to launch the Black Flag Game on Face Book with the words:

“When Scott reached the South Pole the first thing he saw was Amundsen's Black flag. "Bugger" he said and headed home. The rest is history. This game revives that moment. The rules are simple. Take a black flack go somewhere and as long as there are no other flags in sight, plant it. Hang around and watch the disappointment of others when they arrive second. Admittedly at first the game will be easy but soon flags will cover the globe and things will get interesting.”

I’m not convinced that this is the first Face Book artwork but I am going to claim it as such until someone waves a black flag at me. Anyone can join by going to:

and either downloading the flag template, emailing me for a kit or merely making their own flag. Then if they want they can add photos comments invite their friends or whatever. I have high hopes for what the future holds.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Day Eighteen

Today I woke stiff down one side but otherwise surprisingly fresh. I rode off to the gallery to show off my wounds. Sarah and Eva seemed keen to see my thigh but I decided that the arm was enough. I started to package up my black flags and gave Sarah a pack to test. Basically the idea is that you can use the flag to claim territory/discovery as long as no other black flags are in sight. I would love it to become some sort of extravagant team game with gangs of people trying to lay claim to parts of Bedford and being disappointed when others get there first. On the way home I started to read a book about the Italian cyclist Marco Pantani. He too came back from many serious crashes to have a glittering career (although he did die in a hotel room from a massive cocaine overdose) He created one of my most enduring memories. During the Tour de France he dropped his main rival on a mountain called the Col du Telegraph it was cold and raining. He crossed the line alone with his arms stretched out wide as if he was about to take flight. I’m off to have a bath now, there may be some screaming.

Black Flag in Bedford Market

Day Seventeen

It is mild and dull again; the threat of rain is coupled with the threat of a cycle ride with James. Cycling with someone new is always risky. James could be a tyrant of the road, laying down a draconian pace solidly for three hours. I spend the morning working with my scrolling animation machine and I’m really happy with the results, I seem to have struck lucky. I also make a flag-planting machine, which follows a black line and suddenly hammers a small flag into the ground. Eva comes for a chat just before lunch and we discuss the show. As it stands I have made enough stuff for two shows so we may have some tough decisions to make to avoid the jumble sale look. At two I rush off for the ride having totally failed to get anything to eat. There is a good chance I may black out on the first hill. We leave Bedford in a flash of lycra and it soon becomes clear we are going to have a lovely ride hammering up the hills like kings of the road (nearly, there is a strong tailwind). After a couple of hours we head home. Rounding a downhill bend my back wheel slips out from under me leaving me sliding across the road into the verge with a little less skin than I would like. Behind me James fares worse, he brakes when he sees me go, skids on the same bit of road and is dumped head first onto the only bit of kerb for a mile. James looks bad and decides to lie down for twenty minutes. We try riding off but he is too dizzy and falls off again so we call for help. Later we are chatting while waiting for Christina and then while showing off our wounds. It turns out that James has had many and varied crashes, I wish he had mentioned this before.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Day Sixteen

Weather mild and dull, it starts to rain as we approach Bedford. The journey to Bedford is beginning to feel a little dull; I may vary my approach from now on. The driver was in a bad mood; he gave us all a lecture about not using mobile phones as one of his earlier passengers had shouted loudly into his from Nottingham to Cambridge. Throughout the journey my fellow passengers could be heard whispering fearfully to their loved ones. Next to me a woman began to knit, her needles ticking and scraping a counterpoint to the squeak of the windscreen wipers. I’ve brought my bicycle this time (more grumbling from the driver) with the promise that I might go out for a ride with James. As I’ve only just recovered from my chest infection I might not last long. While I was on the coach I did hatch a plan to make a sort of animation from a long scrolling drawing. I went straight into a charity shop and bought some old LPs with which to construct my contraption. Big Ben Banjo Band, Popular music that will live forever, and Nat King Cole 20 Golden Greats served me well and unlike most of the things I make, it actually worked first time. Even better though was the discovery that the inner sleeves make excellent portholes.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

I don't understand how I'm at your command

Last night I travelled to Colchester to see Franko B’s baroque performance Don’t leave me this way at the arts centre. Lawrence had suggested we go and, although to be honest it’s the sort of thing I would usually avoid at all costs, I said yes. I am usually uncomfortable with performance; especially the theatrical/ritualistic sort which, I find, demands more of me than I am willing to give. Anyway we met at the entrance in good time and had a fortifying pint before filing into the performance space which was set out like a traditional theatre with a single spot lit chair on a podium facing raked seating. Like a couple of schoolboys we headed right for the back. I did sit dead centre, which meant I had a direct unobstructed view of the chair.

The performance itself was not as scary as I was expecting, although the incredibly loud, discordant soundtrack made me blink and wince. The body itself (theatrically appearing on the chair in total darkness) was unmoving and barely visible throughout. One moment of aggressive light shone directly into our eyes punctuating the darkness and then it was over. Overall my main response was “ow!” Afterwards Franko and his light vj collaborator came out to answer questions, or rather to make statements. Mainly Franko B wanted to state that he had finished bleeding and he wasn’t going to do it again, and if that was what we came to see, tough. I wanted to say that if blood had been involved I wouldn’t have come. But I thought that might be stealing his thunder. Franko obviously loves performing; he kept grabbing the mike to tell us stuff. One thing stuck in my mind, he said that the body means so much, has so many associations that it gives his performances richness. But I left feeling that the body means nothing. Not necessarily in a bad way.

Afterwards Lawrence and I wandered around Colchester, surrounded by semi-naked clubbers, looking for a hostelry with a quiet soundtrack. Eventually we stopped at a “hotel”, a sort of Formica oasis with a single moustachioed guest eating shepherd’s pie.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Stayed in all day today feeling low, my snotty cough persists. To raise my mood I spent an hour or so painting flag picks black. I think they are going to be used in some sort of pointless game where the players seek to stake claim to a discovered location. They can only place their flag if there is no other within view. Later I started work on a sort of comic mainly to get my ideas in some sort of order.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Flag Day

Weather cold and dull

I’ve decided to have a week off from Bedford in an attempt to recover my health. The cough persists and seems totally unshiftable. Tess is spending the week doing a fire fighting and sea rescue course, which seems very exciting in a smelly, dirty and wet way. So I am at home ready to hand cash out to the daughter and walk the dog. Today, to break the monotony of Internet gallery hunting and application writing I decided to make a quick visit to London to see the Bedwyr Williams show at Store and Limoncello, which has replaced Associates on Hoxton Street. The train journey was very productive. I managed to have a mild nervous breakdown about the aesthetic of my work, recover, have some new ideas about flag planting and a good think about how to lay out an exhibition. London itself, yet again, was a total debacle. So much so that I have vowed never to go again without a trained sherpa. When it comes to finding things I seem to be a disaster. I did managed to locate Limoncello but, despite being open, I could not get through the door, nor could I attract the attention of the shadowy figures in the back. Surely they must have seen the frantic figure in a Homer Simpson hat trying to gain entry to their gallery? Luckily I could see most of the show through the window, though I probably smeared the glass a bit in my attempt to view the stuff at the back. Store was next on my itinerary but despite being on the right road and knowing the address could I find it? I’m beginning to identify with Scott’s disappointment when he saw Amundsen’s black flag, though I didn’t even see that.

I plan to make a black flag kit so people can go and claim discovery of places and others can be disappointed that someone got there first.

Monday, 11 February 2008

I had a dream..

I arrived home to find that my daughter was having a sleep over and my wife had moved one of her sailing friends in. Steve seems very nice any way. Today I’ve been working on an application for the British Antarctic Survey’s Artists and Writers programme. Of course I am proposing not to go and I’m not quite sure how they are going to take it (probably straight to the bin). At the moment it’s a bit rough and looks like this:


I am making a proposal not to go to the Antarctic.

I have an interest in the inconvenience of adventure and its subsequent demystification of place. My previous practice has also become involved in fiction, imagined narrative and grand plans. A recent commission at The Foundling Museum saw me working in the shadow of Hogarth and Handel attempting a portrait, an act of charity and an opera. I am currently working on a residency for BCA gallery in Bedford where in the footsteps of Scott and Shackleton I am working on a diary and series of films and sculptures based on an imagined journey to Antarctica. The works are deliberately made without research and constructed entirely in the studio above the gallery and mostly under my table. The residency is also inspired by Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa. A surrealist novel allegedly written after Roussel had briefly glimpsed the coast of Africa through a telescope. The films, sculptures and books were tied up with the more mundane narrative of my constant journeying back and forth between Ipswich and Bedford. The writing of this proposal forms an integral part of the residency.

More specifically I propose to spend the time of this programme making a body of work that reflects my absence from the Antarctic. This will include an online component, which will be developed into a series of books, sculptural works and films. I am especially interested in entering into correspondence with artists/writers in the Antarctic. I also want to deal with the idea of the contemporary media based concept adventurer as self-publicist.

Although I do not hold strong political views I believe it will also be an interesting statement to divert funding to a proposal which would have zero environmental impact on the Antarctic and would save money in terms of transport, training etc. I would like to propose that any moneys saved be donated back to the Natural Environment Research Council.


Not Applicable


I will probably remain in the UK for the duration of the programme. I may go to the seaside (somewhere relatively warm and mundane)




I propose to produce a range of outcomes including films, sculpture and book works
The main outcome will be an online blog and at least one book stemming from my time not in the Antarctic. Current ideas for books include:
A correspondence between myself and an Antarctic adventurer
A sort of vox pop imagining of the Antarctic using a range of contributors.
A series of posters advertising my non-adventure.

I did have a dream last night in which all those TV explorers Griff Rhys Jones, Ray Mears, Ben Fogle, those twin doctors etc all accidentally meet up and ruin their programmes by having a big argument.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Day Fifteen


Frosty and clear this morning. It looks unlikely that I will see any snow, flocculent or otherwise. Also I still don’t know what sastrugi are though I’m imagining some sort of corn snack. I woke this morning with a trachea full of snot that I had been unsuccessfully trying to cough up all night. I began work feeling so ill that I started to try to make an iceberg out of a wine rack that Katie had been trying to throw out. It seems an exercise in futility beyond all others. I’ve noticed that there is whispering in the office regarding my fitness to continue. But I am by no means worn out. Actually, I seem to have been quite busy. Last night I think I finished a suite of films I have been making in secret after everyone has gone home. They involve an iceberg being dragged into the gallery and then hoisted upstairs and a clockwork explorer exploring the first floor. Today (apart from the wine rack debacle) I’ve managed to make a sort of snow globe out of a cocktail stick holder bought at Wilkinsons. It has gone part way to dealing with my disappointment with the weather. Suzanne Mooney’s show also opened today; there was wine and the interesting game of watching elderly passer’s-by spotting their souvenirs in the window. I’m typing this on the coach, not an easy task, as I have to pin the laptop with my elbow. At least this week we are more or less on time and I should get home before long.
View one of the videos here

Friday, 8 February 2008

Day Fourteen

Last night I was late at the studio filming an iceberg being hauled up the stairs the plan is that this rather pointless endeavour will be glimpsed in another film of an explorer wandering around the gallery offices.

Today started cool and clear. I woke with a headache, which steadily worsened through the morning until my vision was blurred, and I felt sick. Eventually I was forced to lie down in the studio with my hood pulled over my head. Sleep helped but I still felt weak and shaken. I’m still struggling for ideas for the 3D view-master. Part of my problem is that I don’t want to risk outlaying a load of cash unless I’m sure it’s going to work. Later I did go out to a café and drew my surroundings with little flags claiming my discovery.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Day Thirteen

Weather mild, journey uneventful. My health is going steadily downhill. I now have a phlegmy , hacking cough and a headache, which just won’t go away. The work is going ok though. I’m just beginning to take a series of images for a 3d view master I want the images to be neither from one of the films nor of any of the existing sculptures but beyond that I’m not exactly sure what they will be yet. I have made a little series of flags, which I imagine would mark the pole but I’m not sure about them either. BCA is a lot busier of late. Jane, the other artist in residence is back hiding behind a camouflage sheet at the back of the studio, she’s making a beautiful looking film about flight and trying to sort out her car insurance. Downstairs Suzanne Mooney is preparing her show The Secret Life of Things. The first piece is a narrowing aisle of plinths leading into the gallery each topped with second-hand souvenirs. Suzanne was slightly miffed that she couldn’t place the plinths even closer together but her artistic will was defeated by health and safety regulations. Then to the left is a large print of photography manuals. The books are arranged as if on a shelf with pieces of paper sticking out of their tops marking unseen pages. They are photographed over life size and create a pleasing abstract pattern but I am still fooled into turning my head sideways as if browsing the shelf of a charity bookshop. Towards the back of the gallery are a series of photographic postcards each depicting one of the souvenirs and two digital photo frames playing a series of images of photographers found in books and magazines. One has only images of women, the other of men. It’s fun to flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Everything is carefully arranged to draw you into the space and the show manages to be simultaneously engaging, coherent and cool in a way that makes me want to hide under my table. I’ve always struggled with my lack of coolness, which is the only word I can think of to describe that sense of ironic detachment coupled with an intense aesthetic control that is totally lacking in my haphazard approach to making. Suzanne did come up to the studio and said “you are a messy man” which sums it up really.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

An incident in Birmingham


The journey home did not go exactly as planned. After waiting for an hour for the 305 at Bedford bus station, a cold brutal place, I phoned the National Express emergency number. I wasn’t really sure it was an emergency but I was getting a little cold. A lovely young woman called Kay or Jay or something similar told me the coach had broken down in Birmingham but that a silver replacement bus was on its way and should arrive in another hour. She also told me that, as I would miss my change in Cambridge, she would arrange a free Taxi from Trumpington, park’n’ride to Ipswich. Reassured I went to find a Cornish pasty. For the next hour I attempted a number of keeping warm techniques. I tried: pacing, shivering, waving my arms about, dancing, an abortive moonwalk and even imagining warm places. By the time the coach arrived and the driver asked me my destination I couldn’t remember where I was going. An hour later in a warmish coach we were still circling Cambridge trying to find the way to Parker’s Piece. Unfortunately the driver, from Birmingham, had never been to Cambridge before and was finding the road layout a little troublesome. Eventually after much shouting we made our rendezvous with the second coach, which was to take me and a little old lady to meet the taxi. After waiting 20 minutes at the park & ride we persuaded the man on duty (Bob) to phone the National Express emergency number to find out where our taxi was. Again I’m not sure it was an emergency but the little old lady was quite elderly. Bob announced, proudly, that the taxi had indeed been booked but that it was waiting for us at Park-side not Park’n’ride. An easy mistake. Its times like these you realise how close death can be. I finally reached home after six hours.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Day Twelve

Eva’s maiden voyage was a bit of a flop. As I had feared the river was full of rowers rowing. However the weather was ideal so, after a little walk, I went to find a quietish spot to launch her. Once in the water I found myself so embarrassed by the whole debacle that I couldn’t film her and only watched as she immediately got tangled in some twigs and, once freed, slowly floated crabwise down stream sinking at quite an alarming rate. One success was the onboard camera that despite a soaking performed admirably in its little rubber suit.

Time for a redesign,

I’ve added a huge keel, which should make her straighten up, and little fins at the back which just look cool. I’ve also taken out the clockwork propeller as it only propelled backwards and sealed all the holes. Hopefully next week will be more of a success.

In other news I’m afraid I have to report that yet again I am working with a hangover. Yesterday BCA got its Arts Council funding for the next three years so Laura, Sean, James and Christina invited me to a champagne dinner (and beer and wine). There was much talk of: shiny shoes, running for councillor, and Katie’s lucky pants, which were widely thought to be behind the BCA’s recent success.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Day Eleven

Last night I was filming late in the gallery. It was an important moment as an iceberg was being slowly dragged into position by an electric mule. I was reminded of Scott's boyish faith in the tracked snow machines that he was trialling on his way to the pole. The main failing of these machines, apart from the constant breaking down, was that you couldn't eat them when they did. My mule made it and I retired upstairs for a microwave curry.

Failed to launch boat but I wasn't thwarted by the weather rather the batteries for the receiver. they just took all day to charge up. Instead I spent the day wrestling with my magnum opus. It was really beginning to wind me up as different bits niggled and irked. So much so that I have developed a grinding headache and my eyes are pointing in different directions. I did manage to film a whale surfacing in the sink and sorted out the sounds of mating seals that seem to have accidentally appeared in the aurora sequence (I made them louder). Perhaps it is time to stop.

Whale about to surface?