What didn’t work. In the spirit I always talk about, that discussing failure’s important, here are the bits I want to improve for future (and a rider to this – this is my personal list, not a detailed evaluation, and it’s thrown up quickly). Some of these are very local but are things to watch out for if the game goes elsewhere. You must read yesterday’s post about what worked alongside this one.
- The least used check in was the one inside Dreamland. While the Roller Disco and The Quarterdeck were well used, players didn’t get inside Dreamland, and we didn’t turn the people who were visiting Dreamland into players. We had Dreamland staff playing, but even they didn’t check in inside the park (even though they did go to other venues). If TribevTribe happens in big places, it needs a bigger presence.
- When staff from Dreamland and Turner Contemporary were playing, we could have made more of getting them to play against each other than we did. In week one and two, we kept them competitive, but it would have been good to have encouraged the organisations themselves to push this more internally. I had hoped this would create a game within the game.
- We didn’t use our players as the mechanism to get new people playing enough. We know this could work, and a few times it did, but we should have pushed it harder.
- We got some people Tweeting, using Instagram and watching the Facebook page, but we never took it further. We didn’t have the time or budget to fix the mechanics for people who wanted to play entirely online. An app overlaid on the real world game would be a good way to take this further, but you still need the real, physical game. Could the further away players encourage, mobilise, act as back room teams for the players locally? We needed this version of the game to work out how a more online version could work, though; it was like a big card sorting exercise.
- We didn’t add as many new check ins as we could have, mainly because I ran out of bits to make them! It would be good to have the time to mass produce log books, Chance cards and so on. To be more responsive, to add new check ins quickly.
- Some people ignored TribevTribe, and I felt that while it’s good that Cliftonville is developing its own identity, it was perhaps too separate. Visitors don’t care whether it’s Margate or Cliftonville, and could be encouraged to move around more. We tried to get Resort on the board, and the Tribes Festival was run from the Tom Thumb Theatre, but we didn’t nail either to involvement in the game. Venues in the Old Town and the lower High Street were more enthusiastic. How can we create something which drives visitors to Cliftonville, if Cliftonville doesn’t want to join up with what’s happening elsewhere? We made lots of good links, connections, and moved people to new places, but not in this case.
- With a bigger production team, we could have got check ins set up at some of the events happening around Margate too. We tried to get a check in at the Art Car Boot, for example, but didn’t get it sorted until very late so it didn’t happen. Again the short timescale we worked to made this harder.
- I think 6. and 7. show where we could have done with a little bit of help. TribevTribe played across some of the venues involved in the Tribes Festival, but a little bit of nudging other places from the Tribes Festival organisers might have meant we had check ins at more venues and events. I understand the budget and time constraints, but think future festivals need a bit of active curation to encourage collaboration. The space between exhibitions, events – the bit that TribevTribe occupied – the bit where audiences can find new experiences, move from thing to thing – is important. We need to develop audiences, get new people to see things, and make it easy for people who already see some things to try new ones. To make sure events, actions, happenings, dovetail.
- Our final week was the quietest, although it did swing the final results. It was after the school holidays, and after a big burst of activity in Margate, so there were fewer visitors in town, and fewer residents out around Margate as well. There were fewer check ins, but this allowed the Mods to play tactically, take places, and win the game. We could have pushed extra places, extra rewards more this week.
So after 30 odd days, TribevTribe v0.1 has finished. Game Over. What worked well?
- People played together. Families; we saw mother, daughter, and grandma playing together a couple of times. Was TribevTribe mostly played by women? Seems so, though that’s not data we recorded. Friends; we saw small groups trying to outplay each other, too. On different sides.
- People played as much or as little as they wanted. Some people tried to visit every venue, some tried to find every badge, some played for the whole month, getting tactical towards the end. Some people dipped in for a day, on a daytrip, down from London or on a day off work.
- People found new places, or found that TribevTribe gave them an excuse to go to places they wouldn’t normally go. Richard said he’d found the Shell Grotto by playing, and a couple said they’d had their first pints in The Quarterdeck when they went there to play.
- All the stuff looked good. People liked the Dead Letter Boxes, log books and Chance cards. The mix of designed but homemade appealed; the lo-fi, some people said, made the game feel a bit edgy and underground. People nicked bits of the game to take home and keep.
- We let the Big Boys mess around. We hijacked a locker at Turner Contemporary and hid stuff in Dreamland. At both venues, staff seemed to enjoy the oddness, and were obviously excited or amused by players turning up. They delighted in making grown-ups say a silly password to get the Dead Letter Box.
- The history stuff got people talking. Places displaying posters for old gigs had conversations with their customers about those gigs, about memories, about what went before. People weren’t sure what was real, what was made up. Lines blurred.
- That and the Chance cards made people look a little harder, linger, even go back to find things they’d missed.
- People added bits, Children left drawings in Dead Letter Boxes. Other people added sweets. The boxes looked after themselves, or rather – people looked after them. Nothing went missing, nobody stole all the badges.
- We made things equal. Turner Contemporary got the same from the game as Breuer & Dawson, Rat Race was as important as Dreamland. Old places like The Shell Grotto were on the same level as new places like the Street Art Boutique.
- Players could cheat. Well, they described it as cheating; I think they hacked the game. Found ways to visit more places, found stooges to take their place for a day to score more, found ways to sign other people up for their team. It was a game that belonged to the players, not the referees.
- The Tribes Festival felt bigger because of the game. We took in more players, added a layer, got the places we were using talking about each other and about the game. TribevTribe was an effective amplifier.
- Bolting on things like the Wide Eyed Theatre workshop added layers to the game – even if that workshop had a low signup. Perhaps those things need a bit more integration to really work.
- We opened up Marine Studios. This place is a brilliant space. It’s got room for bumbling artists and anarchic thinkers, even while the main resident company are stretching themselves on a big pitch to an overseas client. More people came in, saw the place, and signed up as coworkers. The building, the space, was adaptable, agile, hackable and professional. We gave something back to the space by being there, too.
- It made me think, to look at my own work differently, to see a new angle on what I’d been doing for years.
- It was all done cheap, fast and dirty. We had about three weeks from the Green Light to having people playing. The budget covered a few days work, but people gave lots more because they were enjoying it.
- As well as TribevTribe, other work was made. Megan the producer made a series of drawings of the places in the game, and there will be more work for her from that. David joined us on work experience, shot a great bunch of pictures for his portfolio, was forced out of his comfort zone and got an exhibition.
- All that and it’s all only beta, test, trial, This version of TribevTribe is just the start. Imagine it with a budget and time.
Five tribes will fight across Margate for the next month. TribevTribe is a month-long artwork which takes the centre of Margate as a board to play on.
When players choose to play they collect a Game Card, which randomly assigns them to one of five Tribes – Mods, Rockers, Punks, Hippies and Ravers. So if up to five people decide to play together, they’ll be playing for different teams.
Players visit venues across Margate, looking for a hidden Dead Letter Box. Usually taking the form of a wooden box, the Dead Letter Box is identified by some combination of the five Tribe symbols. Players can visit each venue once a week. In a few places, the Dead Letter Box is held by staff, and there’s a password to access it; the clue to these stashes can be found in other Dead Letter Boxes.
Every Dead Letter Box contains two things for sure; a Log Book and a pack of Chance cards. Players record that they’ve visited to score a point, and take a Chance card which can send them to other venues or set them another task to score more points. Dead Letter Boxes might also contain rewards or gifts left by other players. These might change week to week, and special rewards might be announced via social media.
Players can play by themselves, in secret; they can just visit each venue, find the Dead Letter Box and record their visit. The game is like a less technological version of geocaching. It’s a good way to explore Margate.
Or players can choose to play TribevTribe on a more social level. Players don’t know who else is on their team, but can accept Chance card challenges to use social media to meet other players.
Or they can, by gathering strangers together (and without even meeting them) play strategically, agreeing to all visit certain venues in an attempt to conquer them.
That’s important because scores are collected from the Dead Letter Boxes, and announced on a rolling basis. Each week, it will be announced which Tribe has scored most points and conquered each venue, encouraging the other teams to try to retake those places on the board.
Around twenty venues are involved in the work. Each venue can choose how to participate; the simplest way is just to host a Dead Letter Box. But some venues have chosen to get their staff playing, to add extra levels of content, or to champion one of the five Tribes on social media. The first fifteen venues are already in play – and more will be added next week. The venues are large, big public funded attractions like Turner Contemporary, and small, independent shops, cafes and attractions like The Shell Grotto, Rat Race and Proper Coffee.
Other venues are involved in another way. The game’s skin of subcultures has led to the creation of a series of posters referencing real gigs and events from Margate’s past; a residency in a community hall for The Lower Third, a Hawkwind community benefit, a wrestling match and so on. These post for long-gone gigs can be found displayed around the town, and players score extra points for finding them, too.
The game is designed to scale, flex and adapt as it happens; ‘it’s iterative design’, a Design Council expert said as she took her Game Card.
TribevTribe was conceived after carrying out evaluation of last year’s Summer of Colour, a festival organised by Turner Contemporary. That evaluation found that people’s movement across Margate from venue to venue was limited. And that people weren’t generally attending multiple events within the festival.
TribevTribe aims to address that, by giving people an incentive to move between places. But it also creates a linking structure for the diverse venues within the festival, and connects them to smaller independent shops, cafes and attractions across the town.
“And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
“Have you used it much?” I enquired.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr. “The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”
Lewis Carroll, Sylvie & Bruno
Whenever you go down the roads in Britain, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past. And as we move to and fro in this fourth dimension, we see not only landscape but the economic, political and social forces at work behind the landscape. Shaping it, forever changing it, but leaving here and there the record, and the mark.
There’s life everywhere and the tracks we make are shared and crossed by the paths of others, who know this world better than we do.
Travis Elborough & Bob Stanley, How We Used To Live
TribevTribe is a game uses the town itself as the board, and is played not in three dimensions, but in four. It’s a game which celebrates Margate’s place as a home to youth culture, and lays that past over the present townscape.
Players move through the town, and in and out of history, winning points by completing simple challenges, finding clues or building their tribe. As they play they win points for their tribe; Mods, Rockers, Hippies, Punk and Ravers. The Isle of Thanet, which history tells us is the correct place to land if you want to conquer Britain, will be conquered again as each tribe wins and loses territory in the four weeks the game is being played.
TribevTribe has been created by Dan Thompson, a social artist whose work is about mapping, public space, towns as places to play, and social history. It’s been commissioned by Marine Studios, who are behind the GEEK festival, which brings play, art and technology together. It forms part of the Tribes Festival. TribevTribe is funded by Kent County Council and the Tribes Festival.
Margate’s beautiful Main Sands is bookended by two Brutal buildings, bold seaside architecture that is the spirit of a town that’s on the edge, both physically and metaphorically, told in concrete. Turner Contemporary and Arlington House are a pair, a duet, Margate’s story made solid.
Because Margate’s a living, breathing place. It’s not pickled heritage painted in Farrow & Ball, not a Cath Kidston nod to a Ladybird book past, not a 21st century take on a kitsch saucy seaside postcard, but is a colourful, chaotic and always contemporary place. It’s always faced firmly forward and Arlington House is as much part of that story as the Georgian squares, Dreamland’s Art Deco cinema, David Chipperfield’s Turner blocks or the crazy Clocktower.
And right now, Arlington House is the bit that’s been left behind. From the tower’s east-facing flats, you can see Turner Contemporary and watch Dreamland coming back to life. And Arlington has to be next. The site has been in limbo, since Tesco pulled out, and worryingly there’s still planning permission for demolition of the shops, car park and the tower’s elegant 60s-styled foyer block.
So we need to fight. When it was first proposed Turner Contemporary was a crazy idea, and when residents stood up for Dreamland they were told it was never going to happen. Except – Turner’s there, and Dreamland is. By getting together, Margate’s residents and visitors have shown, big things can be made to happen. Arlington’s next. Tell everyone, Arlington’s next.
So right now, we need to get some cash into the Friends of Arlington House accounts, to pay off some of the legal costs from a long fight to save the building and to give them a fighting fund to look ahead. Like I said, it’s Margate’s residents and visitors that will make things happen; and they’ve donated some frankly (and yes, the word’s overused, but trust me – it fits) awesome lots to a fundraising auction.
So – would you like some art or Wayne Hemingway’s autograph, some coasters or some cushions? Advice on making your home, garden or just your body a bit better? Would you like food, or drink, in one of Margate’s ace eateries? A stay in a boutique b&b, an Old Town apartment or in a flat in Arlington House itself? Would you like records from a frankly rather hip label, or would you like to learn to DJ with them? The Arlington House Auction is odd and inspiring, eclectic and entertaining, and packed full of stuff which I re kon you’ll love and which will help Friends of Arlington Margate keep fighting for this national treasure. Fifty-odd fab lots – bid here in the Arlington House Auction.
The auction closes tomorrow at 5pm.
Great theatre gets inside you, and leaves its shadows across the world when you look at it afterwards.
David Glass Ensemble’s production of Gormenghast, which I probably saw more than 20 years ago, had that effect. The world looked different afterwards. Darker, more shadowed, layered. It still does. Theatre De Complicite did the same to me. So did the work of Bruce Gilchrist.
When I watched the preview of Clod Ensemble’s new show The Red Chair, I had a similar feeling. Like David Glass Ensemble and Complicite, the show conjures a dark, twisted world and tells a long tale on stage.
But while David Glass and Complicite rely on a whole company, The Red Chair creates that intensity with just one actor on stage.
Sarah Cameron wrote The Red Chair and performs it. It’s two hours long. It’s an intense, physical experience, for her and for the audience – there’s no interval, no respite. Cameron makes a decaying household from words and once she’s created that place she tells the story of a man who eats and eats until he becomes swallowed by the chair he was sitting in, and the story of his wife who feeds him, and the story of their forgotten child. She drags you through a Grim(ms) Fairytale, full of lush lyrical language and tumbling poetry.
The world she creates looks, I think, a little like this:
The set doesn’t: it’s just Cameron, a chalk circle to contain the things she conjures, and a wooden chair. There’s a shot of whisky and some chocolate for the audience. They only reinforce the sense that this is some dark mass, some strange ritual.
The Red Chair is coming to Margate. Go, and I promise you won’t ever forget it.
So… would a bunch of you pledge some money, crowdfunding style, without knowing what it’s going towards – but knowing that three people with good taste will pick an artist and commission a piece of work of work with your money, and you’ll get something cool in six months time?
On the outside Games Expo East Kent (known for fairly obvious reasons as GEEK) is a fairly straightforward games expo, with thousands of people descending on Margate’s Winter Gardens this weekend to play retro video games and find out about the latest in computer gaming. But underneath that is a serious purpose, to look at the place of digital in a town like Margate. If GEEK proves anything, it’s that digital today is all about a little bit of chaos, a lot of collaboration, endless crossovers and constant innovation. I edited the GEEK Gazette this year, a free paper distributed across the area, and asked guest writers to contribute. Here’s what Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, wrote:
The digital landscape of the UK is undergoing a period of tremendous change, a transformation that I believe is vital for the economic growth of our country. Government and local authorities are investing £1.7 billion to help bring superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 – to enhance the connectivity and digital capabilities of our homes and businesses.
An improved digital infrastructure will help drive the growth of business within our creative industries, and particularly the video games sector. We recognise the incredible contribution that video gaming makes to our economy and are determined to do all we can to support its continued growth.
That is why we introduced the video gaming tax relief. Industry estimates it could be worth up to £25 million per year for the sector. We are also invested in the development of up and coming talent. Through collaboration with Creative Skillset our funding for the Skills Investment Fund is widening access to industry-led training. We have already seen a positive impact with the Fund helping to place over 100 trainees in 67 games companies.
The UK games sector generates £2bn in global sales and contributes almost £1bn to national GDP. We cannot underestimate the importance of this industry. The UK is a great training ground for the developers, animators and programmers of the future. We are attracting overseas investment and industry figures show that our games studios already employ over 9,000 creative staff, whilst indirectly supporting close over 16,000 jobs.
Within the video gaming world, the UK is renowned for its talent, creativity and the innovation of its products. We can boast of the creation of many world-beating games, such as Elite, Lemmings, Tomb Raider, LittleBigPlanet and Moshi Monsters.
This sector is a shining example of the UK’s strength in innovation and creativity and it is great to see video gaming claiming the recognition it deserves. The UK is already home to the largest games development community in Europe. Together with industry, we will continue to strengthen our position on the world’s stage, ensuring more and more globally successful games will be conceived, developed and produced right here in the UK.
Ed Vaizey MP
Margate is facing away from England. Margate is where Britain began. Margate is Anglo and Saxon and Roman and Celtic and English and European. Margate is always continental, never Little England.
Margate is made for Down-From-Londons, bearded faux-bohemians, hipsters and artists and has been since 1730. Margate is sea bathing, sex and sand. Margate is cheap and brash and elegant and high-end. Margate is old and Margate is new. Margate is a dirty ageing tart with new earrings. Margate is where contradictions contradict themselves until everything makes sense.
Margate is where England swung. Margate is where mods fought rockers. Margate is where it all kicks off. Margate is never crossing at the lights. Margate is where friendships are made and comradeships forged. Margate is where old people come for bungalows and young people come for cheap property and Eastern Europeans come to learn to be English and where UKIP come to die.
Margate is on an island. Margate is defined by lost rivers. Margate is chalk and concrete. Margate is beaches of sand and seagreen bottle glass and old Stoke pottery smoothed by saltwater.
Margate is the second oldest theatre in the country, and the smallest. Margate is a derelict Dreamland and big plans. Margate is the ball that rises once on a clocktower. Margate is a David Chipperfield building without a front door. Margate is an abandoned tidal pool that people swim in anyway. Margate is a cave covered in shells to worship the Sacred Duck.
Margate is TS Eliot and Chas & Dave. Margate is Tracey Emin and Tom Swift. Margate is Dean Thatcher and Dinsdale Landen. Margate is The Beatles at the Winter Gardens and John Le Mesurier & Hattie Jacques at Albion Lodge. Margate is Karl Marx on holiday.
Margate is Retro and Margate is looking towards tomorrow. Margate is then and now, and Margate is dreaming of England’s future.
Written for the Swifty’s Sunday Social fanzine, and first published there.
Here’s some of 2014’s design work for Margate’s The Black Cat.
These are four club night Face Up!, a celebration of Margate’s place in the history of youth culture:
These are for funk night Watermelon:
Stoke’s London Road connects the buzzing, active communities of Boothen, West End and Oakhill to the town centre along a long, straight road that’s full of history, unusual buildings, old architectural features and public spaces waiting to be brought to life. This year-long artwork commissioned by Appetite will end in the publication of a book. This will be a psychogeographical, slightly fictional telling of the story of London Road, from one end to the other, from the Roman to the modern day.
Here are some of the photos collected during the first six months of the London Road project,
Buildings and street scenes – general photographs from London Road.
London Road – a Walking Tour – takes you from one end of the road to another. An archive of a Tweeted tour.
London Road as a green belt – is Stoke the greenest city in England?
#chumbrella on London Road – an artwork by Sarah Nadin, commissioned by the London Road project and Appetite.
The abandoned London Road Library – inside a forgotten building, sold at auction in 2014 for £128,000.
Inside Portmeirion Pottery – a successful pottery, producing 150,000 pieces of best-grade pottery every week.
Inside Middleport Pottery – a working Victorian pottery, restored by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and making Burleigh ware.
London Road Festival 2014 – a community-run festival, where the London Road project started.
Open air art gallery – part of the London Road Festival in 2014.
Expedition – performance on London Road – commissioned by Appetite as part of the London Road Festival 2014.
I’m looking ahead, from halfway through a year long residency in Stoke, and thinking ‘What’s next?’. I’ve always enjoyed collaboration and have been lucky enough to work with some cracking artists, makers and designers; I’d be far richer if I didn’t use the small budgets I get for projects to work with other people. So here are a few of the people who’ve been on my mind, that I’d like to collaborate with over the next couple of years8:
Lloyd Davis is currently working with me on a project in Sittingbourne, Workshop 34. He’s a master of many things, carries a uke and makes me think and smile.
The Ossett Observer gang are dangerous, full-blown anarchists. They tend to have ukes too. And poetry. And pigeons.
Geek is a rather neat festival in Margate. Built around vintage gaming, it’s really about technology in East Kent. It was set up by Kate Kneale from HKD, and she also has some good ideas about pottery which ties in with my work in Stoke.
She Makes War is the musical project from Laura Kidd, who’s also a film-maker – she made the Pop Up People project much better than it would have been without her. I can’t play anything so don’t know what our collaboration would be… but hey.
I absolutely love The Shell Grotto. It’s got real English magic and mystery and it inspires me every time I visit. Run by great people, too.
Equally bonkers is the Powell-Cotton Museum. I was lucky enough to work with their education chap, Keith, earlier this year. I’ve spent a lot of time around museums, but he’s something special. Another project there would be great.
Company of Makers is the latest thing from Steve Bomford, who joined me on the Empty Shops Network tour a few years back. Top chap, top project.
Tom Swift, madman, That’s all.
Andy Lewis didn’t used to be nearly as cool as he is now, when I DJ’d with him at Blow Up. Ogh alright – he was always rather cool. But now he’s Paul Weller’s bass player too. Another musical collaboration.
I’m already collaborating, kind of, with Sarah Nadin, on #chumbrella. Lovely artist, cracking good ideas.
And further afield – Gap Filler in New Zealand, and Marcus Westbury and Simone Sheridan in Australia. But they take a bit more planning…
* (and no, it’s not an exhaustive list – it’s one thrown together quickly – so don’t worry if you’re not here. It’ll grow over the next few weeks.)
It’s odd, looking back and realising that the summer of 2014 was 20 years ago. We were just having fun in a battered seaside town and I don’t think any of us considered that what we were doing would have such an impact. We weren’t a gang, and never called ourselves Imaginists back then. What we were doing wasn’t a conscious attempt to shape the future, even if we did all secretly believe we could change the world. But Margate was burning bright in 2014. There had been months of great theatre, incredible art happenings, a buzz in the national media (newspapers, back then – newspapers!)
It really came together on a Sunday afternoon at the sleepy end of that summer; Swift hadn’t had even one platinum album then, there was little to suggest he’d win the Turner Prize twice, and the idea that there’d be a room dedicated to him in Margate’s Imaginist Centre was faintly ridiculous. He was Tom Swift, not Swift; he hadn’t become, like Madonna, somebody known by a single name. He was just oddball painter Tom Swift, a lanky, awkward character with an eye on the main chance, fingers in some odd pies, a hatful of ideas, a neat line in drippy paintings. And, in Caspar, a mentor.
Yes, that Caspar – he was charismatic even then, but we didn’t realise how dangerous his religious quackery would become. I’m not sure then he even believed in the Sacred Duck; it was just an in joke. I think after Apple introduced the smart drugs, they started to alter the world around him, and he believed the coincidences and chances meant something. If we had known how far he’d take it, well; we’d have pushed him off the harbour arm, the Thames Barrier wouldn’t have been damaged so badly by that ridiculous Rubber Duck, and London wouldn’t have flooded.
Anyway – together Swift and Caspar and me cooked up the plan for Swifty’s Sunday Social at the Black Cat Club. Not the one you can visit now, of course – that’s a shameless cash-in, a Disneyfied version of where we hung out. It’s not even in the same place. There never was a Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre on the seafront. Back then it was an art gallery called Turner Contemporary, and that summer it was exhibiting work by Jeremy Deller. Forgotten now, but back then he was the big star, not us. Today’s Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre is just an imitation, as authentic as The Cavern in Liverpool, but it’s made Keith Roberts rich and famous. When I watch him on the panel of England’s Got Talent, I can’t help but remember the Gabicci-wearing, quiffed, suited and booted wideboy he was back then. He hasn’t really changed much, has he?
Our Black Cat, back then, was across the road; it’s the toilets of Starbucks now – I know, tiny. It was a proper underground club, sweat dripping from the ceiling and the walls sticky. It was where Swifty’s Sunday Social started, and my own Face Up! too. That was just supposed to be a one-off night, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mods vs Rockers battles in Margate in 1964. I never saw Face Up! becoming the brand it has become, and every one of our coffee shops around the world has a little bit of the Black Cat spirit, every item of clothing in our shops is inspired by what people were wearing in Margate back then, every disc and download in our record shops could have graced the turntables that year. But I digress; the first Swifty’s Sunday Social, all those Sundays ago, is what I’m writing about.
It was a good afternoon. There was a DJ, a local vicar called Emmet Keane (remember, there was still a Church of England back then!), playing reggae and dub; and Helen Seymour performed her poetry. She was an interesting character; slight and hauntingly beautiful, magic eyes, slightly awkward as we all were, slipping rhymes and interesting images into rambling stories. I saw the spark in her, but still can’t believe she’s the same person who wrote that poem for the old Queen’s funeral, let alone that her brief affair with a prince that started at the funeral could topple the monarchy.
And there was a Simon Williams film projected on the wall, too. I know, I know, it seems unlikely – a Turner Prize winner, the Poet Laureate, a ten-times Oscar winner, a TV superstar, the Prime Minister and me all in the one place, on one Sunday afternoon, but it’s true. It really happened. Simon’s film was a precursor to ‘365’, that won him that first Oscar. It was a black and white film (timelapse, of course, could it be anything else, from him?) shot from Arlington House, which wasn’t the swanky, gated place it’s become. Back then it was just a towerblock, Margate just a seaside town.
The crowd that Sunday afternoon was full of good, interesting people, too. Joe Brown was there; he was a shopkeeper, ran a junk shop with Kelly. He hadn’t become a politician then, had no ambitions to become Prime Minister. Really! Back then, people were career politicians, not people like Joe who just rose from nowhere. There were photographers, and writers, and painters, and dancers, and shopkeepers out that afternoon. The Breuer and Dawson boys, before they hosted their TV makeover series, before Breuer and Dawson was just a chain store. IndustroChic wasn’t a thing back then. A good crowd, for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but not as many people as have said they were there; we’d never have fitted everyone that said they were at the first one into that tiny room. I remember Simon saying we needed ten more people to make it feel busy; Caspar wanted fifty more. There was room for ten, room for fifty, and there weren’t queues around the block back then for anything Swift did.
I guess it’s that weekend that changed it all, really; that made it clear we had a scene. I know the Black Cat is compared to Warhol’s Factory, and while that’s a lazy comparison there’s something in it. The atmosphere maybe, that bottled sense of excitement, that belief that we could take on the world and win, that buttoned-down madness – but the impact of the Imaginists has been so much bigger, deeper, wider. It all started one Sunday, and nothing’s been quite the same since.
Margate, November 2034
It’s a pretty neat trick, to take a bunch of stuff you’ve seen before, thread it together and give you a slightly different view of the world at the end. But that’s what Ian Lowey and Suzy Prince do in The Graphic Art of the Underground.
The usual graphic design suspects, and plenty of familiar images, are all here. There’s Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Family Dog’s psychedelic screenprinted posters, Jamie Reid punk graphics, Peter Saville’s hard industrial design for Factory, and Barney Bubbles riotous album sleeves, and they all deserve their places here.
But Lowey and Prince thread together more diverse artists, illustrators, designers and makers to create their narrative, which starts with Von Dutch and Ed Roth customising Hot Rods and ends with Rob Ryan’s papercuts and Naomi Ryder’s embroidered illustrations. It’s that bringing together of the bright mainstream of popular culture, and of the dark corners of underground art, which make this such a strong book.
That wider story finds ‘the spirit of youthful energy and rebellion’ threaded across the last 60 years, and constantly starting underground before moving to the mainstream.
It’s fair to say that in almost every case, the makers – whether of custom cars, psychedelic posters, punk fanzines, street art, designer toys or indie crafts – see themselves as bold explorer’s of unknown places, largely independent of what’s gone before. But the line Lowey and Prince draw from a Von Dutch car paintjob to a Gandalf’s Garden front cover to a Barney Bubbles album sleeve to an Alex Gross painting to a Pete Fowler toy is pretty straight.
It’s a captivating story, well told, and suggests that some things we’re familiar with are worth looking at again, and some things we’ve never seen are worth taking the time to investigate. If you’re interested in youth culture or underground art, graphic design or independent crafting, there’s enough in here to make this a useful (and in the future, well thumbed) addition to your bookcase.
Bouffant Headbutt by Shampoo is a glorious piece of pop. It’s a snotty, sneery punk anthem – 2 minutes 11 seconds of perfect attitude. it was released in 1993 on the frankly too-cool-for-school Ice Rink label.
Now you’ll feel our bouffant in your face
(Bouffant Headbutt by Shampoo)
It’s also the first time I came across Jeremy Deller. He took the live photos on the single’s sleeve. He may have designed the Dolly Bird T-shirts they’re wearing; he produced designs for Covent Garden shop Sign of the Times, and a number of pop stars were caught wearing them. I’m fairly certain he was hanging around some of the same bars and clubs as me – Where’s Jude in Farringdon, Blow Up in Camden and Soho, the Good Mixer in Camden. Those were heady days; late nights, early morning trains, a buzz that wasn’t just chemically induced, a sense of urgency, excitement as the people we danced with at night made it onto Top of the Pops or into Face and i-D.
Those years in the mid-90s were reminiscent in more than just sound and style of the classic years of British pop. And Jeremy Deller’s always been into pop, a cultural archivist as much as an artist: Brian Epstein, David Bowie, Morrissey, Bez, brass bands playing acid house, Keith Moon and posters of Kate Moss.
Shampoo – two teenage girls with attitude and pretty popstar boyfriends – fit perfectly into that tradition. They even ran the Manic Street Preachers fan club, and Deller produced The Uses of Literacy, an entire collection of work inspired by those fans. And Unconvention, an exhibition which he imagined the Manics had curated, too.
I’d like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show
(Andy Warhol by David Bowie)
Deller brought music and art together even further, producing posters imagining Keith Moon having a retrospective at the Tate, turning song lyrics into scripture, imagining the baggy scene coming to the Hayward Gallery, a poster given away at Frieze asking ‘What would Neil Young do?’. Posters and prints are a perfect pop medium, and they’re something Deller’s returned to over and over. Fast, out there in public, easy to produce, and ephemeral.
They’ve been an important part of what I do, too; a minor obsession started because my first real job was producing and distributing posters for the Connaught Theatre. I’ve still got some of those; classic designs, elegant typography, ephemeral. Since then, I’ve produced posters to mark projects and actions; a set of three screenprints for Worthing Pier, a dozen designs for Bedford Happy, posters for Face Up! so good they all get nicked.
So Jeremy Deller coming to Margate feels like an interesting collision, my mid-90s life catching up with where I am today as an artist.
Art isn’t about what you make but what you make happen
I’ve spoken on the Social Art podcast about Deller’s work, and referenced him in various talks and workshops. I think our work as social artists is similar; unsurprising as we come from very similar starting points; music, collaboration, pop, and people. So, a couple of times when working on projects or in different places I’ve found myself wondering ‘What would Jeremy Deller do?’
That, and his visit, felt like something that should be marked by a poster. A limited edition, well printed, but given away and produced as a piece of public art. And nickable – it had to be nickable. Something people would steal and take home for their wall.
So the two have come together in my artwork for Margate, produced as an edition of 100, printed in heavy black on dayglo paper. Drawing pinned to walls, stuck up in shops. Find one, it’s yours.
For some time, I’ve been exploring the actions of artists Tom Swift, Paul Hazelton and their friend Caspar. You can read here about how I uncovered connections between them, an ancient religious cult and Margate’s Shell Grotto.
And that led me to finding an old essay, typed up and pasted into a scrapbook I found in one of Margate’s junk shops. It’s signed JR, Margate and dated 1874 and you can read it here.
Swift, Hazelton and Caspar have today given me access to this set of photos on Flickr, which show them finding and opening a box. It was found in a hidden room at the Shell Grotto, so it seems my research was on the right track at least. I’ve uploaded them to my account on Flickr for your safety and convenience.
The box is now being exhibited in London, in an event curated by Alice Herrick. It was apparently the start of the series of artworks which Swift, Hazelton and Caspar called De-In-Stall, which included installations at A Fete Worse Than Death, the Art Car Boot Fair at the Folkestone Fringe and at the Herrick Gallery.
De-In-Stall included text, film, drawing, assemblage, performance and installation. It all started with a box. Swift, Hazelton and Caspar say this is the last work. De-In-Stall is back in the box, and the mystery is set to be buried again.
After going slightly insane discovering connections between Tom Swift, Paul Hazelton, Caspar the Art Oracle, The Shell Grotto and an ancient religious cult, I came across this text typed up and stuck in a scrapbook. It’s obviously a more recent transcription of an older document, although I can’t find the original on the internet.
“Nunquam aliud Natura, aliud Sapientia, dicit.”—Juvenal xiv. 321
The Mystical Sciences, followed out to their fullest extent, are of the noblest subjects to which human minds can give themselves. Beyond the measure, rule, balance and compass, and past the line of the pencil: these are the sciences of the mind, more than the mere observations of the eye.
There is a particular and refined beauty and majesty in the Mystical Sciences when applied to the constructions of man, which pleases certain prejudices and preconceptions of the eye, and inspires and informs such trains of meditation in the mind as to show the true beauty of nature. The peculiarity of the Mystical Sciences applied to the Poetry of Architecture which will be found most interesting is that they trace the distinctive characteristics of the nations of the world.
The ancient Shell Temple at Margate is one such construction, and it is clearly the work of refined architects who understand the sacred geometries and the mathematics of the planets, as it aligns once yearly with certain astral configurations – but the Mystical Sciences behind the edifice are considered by many to be long lost, belonging to some ancient configuration of religions and beliefs. The general public, and I say it with sorrow born from observation, have little to do with the encouragement or consideration of purpose, and substitute spectacle for beauty and understanding.
If such members of the public as make their way to the Shell Temple were to study the measure of the arch, the circle and the serpentine passage they would trace the distinctive patterns of the Poetry of Architecture found in antiquity of the Ancient Romano temples, with an adaptation to the situation and climate in which it has been constructed, betraying that the prevailing turn of mind at the time of such construction was towards the worship of the Sacra Anatis. The intricacies of the construction and the peculiarity of the shells turned inwards to provide particular acoustical properties are found only in temples to this arcane and ancient belief (which considers that the noise of Sacra Anatis is unheard by the Oread Echo), which is known to have spread from great minds of the Oriental scholars to the Mediterranean and the ancient Roman philosophers, hence arriving in Briton on the Island of Thanet.
This temple once stood on the banks for a river, and the flow of the river would be part of the proportioned whole: The Shell Temple must not be seen all at once; and he who reaches one end should feel that, as he can arrive at no conclusion other than he has been on a sacred journey, he is now impressed with a feeling of a universal energy, pervading with its beauty all life and all inanimation.
While the belief in Sacra Anatis is at deliciously low ebb in Great Britain today, the arrival of the Italian brethren into our expanding cities, to provide such excellent skills as brickmaking and fine work in our manufactories, may yet see a return of this belief. And what is the consequence? The return of Sacra Anatis, at a time of revolutionary change and given the fullest considerations of the industrial mind, driven by steam, the manufactories and the advance of mass production with aesthetic consideration, and the iron rail and steamship to spread such understanding across the Mother Country and the Empire, should yet be wondered at.
JR, Margate, January 1874
People ask why we moved – me, Mrs T, three children, a dog, lots of books – to Margate: here’s why.
The summer kicked off with Outboard, a block party in an old boat yard in Margate. Photos here.
Then there was a performance by Siobhan Davies at Turner Contemporary. Photos here.
Margate Meltdown the next week was pretty ace. Well, it’s the Ace Cafe run. Photos here. There were more motorbikes, when the First Night Riders visited the Theatre Royal. Photos here. And we popped down the Harbour Arm a few times, to catch the beautiful cars at the Thanet Classics meetup. Photos here.
Breakfast Club led us off on a walking tour of Margate’s history. Photos here. And Story Hunt by Daniel Bye was rather special, too. Photos here. The storytellers who own Margate’s shop are a whole summer’s entertainment by themselves. Photos here.
The Red Ladies visited town and staged a demonstration at the Theatre Royal. Photos here.
There was also a great night at Follow The Herring at the Theatre Royal.
And Dwelling appeared at Turner Contemporary – worth visiting again and again, as the light changed. Photos here. The Red Ladies and Dwelling were part of Summer of Colour which included bundles of other stuff, too. Photos here.
Roundabout was another bit of Summer of Colour, a pop up theatre which the Theatre Royal brought to the Winter Gardens. Photos here. We saw three shows in there. And in the Winter Gardens in its normal role, we saw Coco and the Butterfields, when my son’s choir sang with them.
There was more music for the Margate Soul Weekend – with Norman Jay, who I DJ’d with years ago. Photos here.
Another day trip took us down to Folkestone. Photos here.
And in Margate, there’s a constant background noise of artists like Paul Hazelton and Tom Swift to keep you entertained, too. Photos here.
Throw in trips to Whitstable, Herne Bay, Broadstairs and Canterbury, days out at the Powell-Cotton Museum (below) and Quex Park (photos here from their military weekend), art on the doorstep at Turner Contemporary, the Giant Print festival, sandy beaches and chalk cliffs… well, why wouldn’t you move to Margate, if you possibly could?
PS And that’s without including the fast train to London so I can get to work in Stoke quickly…
Roundabout from Paines Plough, straight from the Edinburgh Festival to Margate.
Roundabout from Paines Plough, straight from the Edinburgh Festival to Margate.
England’s seaside towns are unlike anywhere else in the world. They were the places that the country’s industrial workforce went for rest and relaxation, certainly, but the mass market that appeared there meant that they were also the places that industry carried out its research and development. Seaside towns are scattered with rusted remains of prototyped cutting-edge technology, from concrete seawalls and cliff paths secured by man-made stone to mechanical marine lifts and electric railways. So Folkestone, overlooked on the South Coast because Dover, Hastings and Brighton have more pizazz, is an interesting place for an international arts festival, especially as it became a prime stopping-off point, as people abandoned the south coast’s seaside and headed for the continent.
There are two strands to Folkestone’s festival – the ‘official’ bit is the Folkestone Triennial, titled ‘Lookout’. Running alongside it is the Folkestone Fringe, on the theme of ‘Future Now’. Both run from 30th August-2nd November, and together, they’re a very good reason for (at the very least) a daytrip to Folkestone. In all honesty, you’d need a weekend to fit it all in, especially as events, installations and interventions are spread out across the town, with some walking needed to get from one to another. Our one-day visit with children was certainly not long enough to get more than a glimpse of an interesting event.
We started at the Art Car Boot Fair. This I was excited about; I’ve seen reviews of this in London, but never been able to make it (not living in London, I can’t always get there). The idea is simple; well-known artists and emerging artists side-by-side, selling affordable work from the boot of a car. The reality, though, was a little different. Emerging artists and small galleries made all the effort, with new work and a degree of performance in their presentations. Tom Swift and Paul Hazelton‘s De-In-Stall, Heidi Plant and Julia Riddiough (pictured), Bayle Window Lost Pigeon Archive, Quiet British Accent, Hello Print and Sadie Hennessey stood out. Collectively, these artists created a chaotic carnival atmosphere.
The name artists, meanwhile, knocked out work to a willing audience of ebay dealers who were throwing cash at them. At the Emin International stall, a proper fight broke out between two pushy dealers. Meanwhile, Peter Blake didn’t make an appearance, but you could buy a colour photocopy of an old Folkestone postcard with his signature on it for £60 from a trestle table. Now – I’m a huge Peter Blake fan and own half-a-dozen of his works, but even I can see that’s just lazy.
Just round the corner from the Art Car Boot, on the platforms of the abandoned Folkestone Harbour station, Tim Etchells has installed ‘Is Why The Place’, a pair of neon signs, one on the ‘up’ and one on the ‘down’ platform. This work is simple but effective, occupying the space well. We saw it twice; on the first visit, families were wandering along the abandoned rail tracks and climbing across both platforms, unguided urban explorers. On the second, a steward had stopped people leaving the platform they entered on; the work was far more powerful when you could explore the station, rather than being a passive viewer, standing on one side and looking across to the other. And I think people can manage that slight risk for themselves.
Adjacent to the station, in an old waiting room or ticket office, is a small exhibition, presumably part of the fringe but unsignposted and unlabelled. It’s well worth finding – the work is about travel and journeys and the atmosphere of the unloved space (pictured below) is a perfect complement to the art.
We wandered along the seafront after the station, visiting the Folkestone Future Choir‘s ‘Lookout!’ before stopping at a battered white shipping container under AK Dolven’s piece ‘Out of Tune’. This bell, suspended high in the air between two poles, is a beautiful piece of public art, and a permanent addition to Folkestone’s seafront since the 2011 Triennial. It rings out over an abandoned space, left when a seafront amusement park closed.
The booklet explaining the work in the shipping container, Centipede, wasn’t available to take away. Which fits – the container was a secret research laboratory, funded by the EU, with a range of equipment monitoring the local area for signs of the mysterious centipede. Secret equipment, mounted on a tuk tuk, was wrapped in tarpaulin. Everything’s waiting to be uncovered here and I like the mystery.
From the seafront we wandered back into town, through the Creative Quarter. These steep, narrow streets are giving Folkestone a new heart, full of quirky and interesting shops. Somewhere in here (but we overlooked it – ironic in a festival called Lookout, no?) is Andy Goldsworthy’s shop. We did watch Strange Cargo scanning people, though.
We headed for Wilkinson’s, instead – in search of both flip-flops and Hollington & Kyprianou‘s The Castle, art inspired by the idea that as every Englishman’s home is his castle, so he should carry out DIY improvements. Some great interventions in the shop are confusing shoppers.
We headed back towards the harbour, where most Fringe and Triennial activity seems to be happening. Gabriel Lester’s bamboo pagoda over the unused railway line was closed, officially, but is actually uncloseable so was soon reopened by people-power. Straddling the line and with a view down to the station and ‘Is Why The Place’, it’s a calm space in a place that should be inaccessible and busy.
The pagoda looks out towards the Grand Bustin, a monolithic hotel with architecture like something from Soviet Russia. Perched just above the highest balcony is Alex Hartley’s Vigil. Hartley has installed a climber’s camp, hanging outside the top floor rooms. This spot, the artist says, is ‘a unique vantage point from which to look out over the sea and back over the town [from which] a lone occupant will inhabit these exposed ledges, acting as a lookout over the sea, harbour and extended coastline.’ That’s a beautiful, poetic explanation, so I was looking forward to seeing Vigil – and I enjoyed the feeling, walking around the town, that there was somebody up there, watching over us. However, it’s not unique vantage point nor a lonely spot, as hotel visitors have much the same view from their balconies, and I’m not sure the work stands up to this contradiction.
Round the corner from the pagoda is a piece which really isn’t quiet. Michael Sailstorfer has rather won the Triennial with Folkestone Dig. £10,000 worth of small gold bars have been buried on a small beach by the harbour. Dig, find them, they’re yours. This simple idea has created an incredibly powerful work, bringing hundreds of people together every day in a communal activity with a selfish end. It’s a spectacle, worth watching from the harbour wall – but it has also created an incredibly social space, where strangers happily talk to each other while doing a job of work which they know has little chance of success. And that’s totally in the spirit of Folkestone and the seaside town; a place where holidays were an industry, where work is about leisure.
So, with the Triennial and Fringe, it seems that Folkestone is finding a way of reinventing itself, presenting challenging art in public places. It’s certainly worth your time to visit, and you’ll find meaning, challenge and enjoyment when you do. But Folkestone’s still very rough around the edges (it felt much, much harsher than Margate, say) and while that adds an edge, it also left me a little uneasy. A couple of times, I saw locals reacting angrily to the art – similar to the problem faced by Turner Contemporary in Margate.
I really believe that good art (considered, careful, made for the site and calmly explained) can make the places we live, better. And I hope that with events like the Folkestone Fringe and the Folkestone Triennial, we can persuade other people of the power of art in public spaces, too. That, yet again, England’s seaside towns are the research and development spaces for society. Spectacle, yes; challenge, for sure; but enjoyment, shared experience, education, and enlightenment too.
For A Fete Worse Than Death, artists Tom Swift and Paul Hazelton got a gang together. Meeting in an ice cream parlour in Tom’s hometown of Ramsgate (out of the eyes of Margate’s art cognoscenti) the boys (and one girl) planned one perfect job, never to be repeated. De-In-Stall is a joint collaboration between Tom and dust artist Paul Hazelton featuring pop music video director Simon Williams, artist Steve McPherson, colour poet Emrys Plant, musician Steve Graham, and seamstress Beth Anderson. They ended up being joined by the ice cream shop owner, a reclusive ex-millionaire called Caspar (who once owned Gillingham Town FC), who dispensed advice to visitors.
To move from running an ice cream parlour to mixing with the art elite in a short space of time seems like an unlikely career arc. So just who is Caspar the Art Oracle? Ahead of this week’s Art Car Boot Fair in Folkestone (at which he may or may not appear) I’ve done some digging. Here’s his voice, on the trailer for a new De-In-Stall motivational film by Swift and Hazelton:
He certainly sounds like an interesting character; a guru, passing on knowledge, giving insight into the world. So what’s his role in Swift and Hazelton’s artistic practice? Notice that accompanying Caspar’s voice is an image of a duck – not a realistic duck, more an icon.
At the last De-In-Stall, Caspar the Art Oracle appeared with slicked-back hair, a duck’s bill mask and a rapid-fire patter. So these leaked images appear to show bizarre effigies of Caspar the Art Oracle, tattooed dolls with silvered duck heads and giant hands. They appear to be constructed in a ritual way, with three artists working to produce the various parts, and to have similarities to the Greek Kolossos tradition.
So – what’s the significance of the duck? Historically, the Sacred Duck appears in Tibetan folk stories (such as ‘How the sacred duck got his yellow breast’). It is also one of the spirit helpers of the Siberian Shaman.
In the 20th century we find it in Hans Gál’s opera Die Heilige Ente or The Sacred Duck, which premiered in Düsseldorf in 1923.
The title is as farcical as the opera: Chinese gods, fed up with perpetual worship and the smell of incense descend into an opium den where, as a distraction, they swap the brains of various miscreants. A duck, historically a theatrical tool used as a symbol for the ridiculous, is a by-product of the farce and ultimately leads to a happy end. There are no recordings of this work.
In 1938, Hans Gál fled to Great Britain, and after internment as an enemy alien, he settled in Edinburgh, where he taught at the University. He became a much respected member of the Edinburgh musical scene and was one of the founders of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Edinburgh is of course well-known for the Italian community who settled there – and for the ice cream parlours they opened there from the 1920s onwards. And one of the few facts we know about Caspar the Art Oracle is that he is the owner of an ice cream parlour in Ramsgate.
So it’s possible that there’s a connection between the Italian communities in Edinburgh and Ramsgate, and that connects the older Hans Gál and the younger Caspar the Art Oracle. Was the recipe for a good ice cream the only thing that was passed down?
The other connection worth exploring is in Celtic mythology. There we find Sequanna who was a Celtic river goddess, and her sacred animal was the duck.
Both Swift and Hazelton are Margate residents, and in this town on the Isle of Thanet, water is very important. As well as the River Wanstum which cut the Isle of Thanet off from mainland Britain, a lost river flows through the centre of Margate. It’s easy to track; it follows the line of King Street and Dane Road through the town centre.
Just off this line is the mysterious Shell Grotto. This would have stood on the banks of the river. The Shell Grotto’s underground labyrinth was discovered in 1835, we’re told, by somebody digging a duck pond! Obviously it was already known, and this tall tale is an in-joke for the initiated.
The Shell Grotto is either Celtic or Romano in origin. It’s an underground temple, with a serpentine passage suggesting that activity in this site was connected with the flow of water. Hazelton has produced and exhibited work in the Shell Grotto as their artist-in-residence. As such, he’s almost certainly been inducted into the secret cult around the temple.
So we’re left with an intriguing possibility – a series of connections between Hans Gál, Hazelton, Swift, Sequanna, the Sacred Duck, and the mysterious Caspar. Are the De-In-Stall artists modern-day custodians of the tradition of Sequanna and her Sacred Duck, a secret knowledge passed to them by Caspar the Art Oracle, who received the knowledge from his teacher Hans Gál, and kept alive at the ancient Shell Grotto where it was passed from Celtic to Romano ownership? It’ll be worth watching future De-In-Stall events for more clues.
We’re all familiar with the blue plaques we see across the country, celebrating the great and (sometimes) the good. But this project unlocks more ordinary, but nonetheless still very interesting, stories.
A great way to remind people that a place is about more than the famous people that lived there, and that history is about all of us.