The Lochnagar Quilt exhibited

The Lochnagar Quilt is exhibited at Lombard Street Gallery, Margate from 3-25 February 2018, as part of From Wasteland To Wasteland. The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday: 11am – 5pm, Sundays: 12 – 4pm, Closed Mondays.

P1220646.JPGThe Lochnagar Crater is as much about what’s not there as about what is.

The vast crater itself is a place that’s missing from the landscape, however many hundreds of tons of chalk and soil removed from surrounding farmland in one defining instant in July 1916.

And it stands today as a memorial to men made absent, the unimaginable 17 million dead and 20 million wounded (some of whom, never really came home, even if their bodies did) by the First World War. The Crater is home to some of those soldiers, killed by the explosion itself, in subsequent battles, or buried within it; but very few bodies have been exhumed.

The exhumation of Private George Nugent from the Crater in 1998 is remarkable because of the rarity of the act.

But more than those obvious absences, taking time to look at the wide and deep crater, or walking the route around its edge, or entering into it as we did, makes you contemplate what else is lost. The physicality of the Lochnagar Crater is an intense experience that art, photography or writing really cannot capture. No artist can capture the way the Lochnagar Crater sits in a calm, managed landscape (so familiar, so like the Sussex and Kent landscapes I know, that I asked a geologist friend; and yes, she said, it’s the same landscape, the same chalk). No artist can record the feeling of standing at the bottom of a space in the landscape that’s the size of a cathedral; the Lochnagar Crater is about as wide as St Paul’s is high.

You cannot really understand the Crater without visiting; art can only record a little of the experience. Each artist, here, has created work that is the size of a person not the size of the Lochnagar Crater. Visiting it does that to you.

So this quilt isn’t an attempt to recreate the crater. The Lochnagar Quilt is white, like the chalk landscape of the Crater and the fields around it. It would cover one sleeping man; one soldier at eternal rest. It is made from vintage pillowcases, which were previously part of Dawn Cole’s Resting Place project. The shape of the crater is taken from tracings of 360 degree photos I took from the bottom and centre, the exact places the mines were laid.

But the making of the quilt is as important as the object itself. The Lochnagar Quilt was made with three important women, who have been made more absent from my life by my move to Margate.

34209021146_486c282b33_z.jpg

In choosing to make it with them, I also wanted to remember the women absent from the Somme, from the Lochnagar Crater, and (largely) from the battlefield tours that take place today. This is for the women who turned their skin yellow making the munitions, and for the Munitionettes playing football. It’s for the women who worked as nurses, and as drivers in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp. It’s for the women who served in the Women’s Land Corps and the Women’s Land Army. It’s for the people who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and the Women’s Royal Air Force. And it’s for the women who stayed at home, and brought up children in such difficult circumstances.

To make the Lochnagar Quilt, I went back to Worthing, to my nan’s house, where I lived for the first year of my life. My nan, Betty Stiles, used to be a dancer, and is an award-winning quilter.

33865784120_f3c49424c3_z.jpg

My aunt, Linda Rush, joined us; a textile artist and illustrator, she trained at West Sussex College of Art & Design. And my mum, Netta Thompson, was the third. She used to have her own company, making costume for children for school history days and reenactments, and while she now works in a factory making precision electronics, she still works occasionally as a wardrobe mistress for a touring theatre company.

We talked about the experience of my visit to the Lochnagar Crater, the impact of the First World War on our family (my mum and aunt spoke of the look in their grandad’s eyes), our collective worries about war, as we designed, cut, ironed and stitched together over one long weekend. By the end, we had a rough shape, tacked together. But over the subsequent weeks they did the hard work – their stitching is better than mine. Their hands have spent hours on this quilt; about a dozen hours to quilt the crater alone. They refused to machine stitch; that’s the wrong way to quilt.

And something like this, the making itself an act of remembrance, should be done the right way.

Dan Thompson, Margate, 2017

lochnegar-mine-crater.jpg

 

Advertisements

Next time in TribevTribe

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Game Over #tribevtribe

So after 30 odd days, TribevTribe v0.1 has finished. Game Over. What worked well?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.Tweet 1
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. That and the Chance cards made people look a little harder, linger, even go back to find things they’d missed.
  8. 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.Tweet 2
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. It made me think, to look at my own work differently, to see a new angle on what I’d been doing for years.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.

TribevTribe

“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

Tribe Icons only

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 Is…

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.

P1160328Margate 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.

Swifty’s Sunday Social, 20 years ago

P1160328It’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.

P1160550Anyway – 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.

P1160510And 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

Folkestone’s on the edge of something

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.

P1150431

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.

P1150451

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.

P1150508

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.

P1150525

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.

In search of fresh air, we headed back towards the seafront, walking along the clifftop and stopping to watch the headless chicken of Whithervanes before catching the lift down to the beach again.

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.

P1150569

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.

P1150577

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.

Nobody told me it was happening…

P1020430For the last 13 years, the thing which has annoyed me the most is when somebody says, ‘I didn’t know this was happening’.

I’ve heard people say this at art exhibitions and open meetings, big public events and intimate get-togethers. I’ve heard it at festivals with 50,000 leaflets, at art happenings that have been on the TV news, at poetry readings plugged across local papers, radio and social media. I’ve heard it said about gigs, talks, books, shows, exhibitions, stunts, interventions, festivals and readings. ‘Nobody told me. Nobody told me.’ (‘But still, somehow, you’re here anyway,’ I always want to shout.)

The truth is, if you want to know what’s going on where you live, you have to make an effort to find out. Art, real art – the type that fizzes and crackles and makes you think, the sort that wakes you up, shakes you about and reminds why being alive matters, the stuff that changes your life – is happening within a mile of where you live. But you have to want it. You have to look for it. You have to find it. Nobody is going to knock on your door, hand you a leaflet, and ask you to come. Artists aren’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Finding out what’s going on where you live doesn’t take a huge effort. Read the local newspaper, online or on paper. Search Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and follow people talking about local things. Listen to local radio. Watch the local TV news. Most importantly, pick up flyers in local shops, cafes, libraries and community centres and look at posters. None of this is a big effort, but it will make a huge difference to your life.

There is a whole industry built around the ‘audience’ for art – there are arts professionals who can provide insight and development and tracking and engagement and mailing list management. But that whole industry ignores one important idea; that actually, audiences have to take responsibility for themselves, too.

London Road

P1130382Stoke’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. It’s a beautiful street, as the photos I’ve taken so far show.

So it’s going to be a great place to spend the next year as artist-in-residence for the whole road, collecting stories, working alongside local people, and making connections between communities. I’ll be living for a quarter of the year in Penkville Street, one of the steep terraces that climb off London Road.

To see some of what I’ve found so far, you can download a map of London Road’s significant people and places.

P1130397This year-long artwork commissioned by Appetite uses the whole street as a venue. As I uncover stories from London Road, they’ll be marked by the reanimation of unloved spaces, restoration of original features, reinvention of forgotten buildings, gentle reminders of why the road is special, and regeneration from the bottom up.

It 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. In that writing, focused on one special road and the people who use it, I’ll tell the whole story of Stoke.

You can follow the progress, and join in with the project, with the Twitter hashtag #allabouttheroad or on a Facebook page.

Classic design and type in poster form

As an artist, my work has – at least recently – become about the marriage of type and design to spread a message. So this book, of posters sorted from The National Archives, is inspirational.

Over 40 posters can be pulled out and stuck on the pinboard; you can literally surround yourself with illustration, typography and design.

A useful resource for designers, social artists and marketeers – but also essential for anyone who loves vintage and retro design. 20140604_095953 20140604_100027 20140604_100041-1 20140604_10005820140604_100214 20140604_100118 20140604_100134 20140604_100156

20140604_100434

Those who argue…

Those who argue that there is an element of the work of art in any locality study, and particularly in one-man studies, have undoubtedly some truth on their side. But this element of the work of art enters into any sociological research.

Margaret Stacey, The Myth of Community Dtudies, 1969

Where’s the artist?

10014578_10151955518951050_850719480_nThere was a moment during Bedford Happy which raised an interesting question; ‘Where’s the artist?

On Saturday, left behind, is the answer. The photographer we had documenting the day was taking a photograph of everyone involved – the Bedford Happy gang, the choir, Bedford Creative Arts production team, assorted artists, and so on. But me, the artist? Left out of it.

Talking to Lloyd Davis, who was helping document the day, we realised that in some ways, that’s the sign of a job well done. The social artist is an alchemist, mixing things up, making things happen, lighting the touchpaper – but a good alchemist doesn’t really want to be part of the bang itself.

But it’s important to remember that Bedford Happy was a work of art, not an event. It had a narrative, the stories gathered by the artist about what makes people happy, which were used to weave the day together.

It used the whole town as a venue, because that served an artistic purpose – to remind people, by using they spaces that they already knew in different ways, that they were special places and that Bedford, as a whole, is a beautiful place.

And it had a very strong aesthetic, a sense of beauty which held all the diverse parts together. (And that worked so well, one lady was overheard talking about how ‘those Happy people’ were everywhere. We were a small team – we weren’t. But the branding was that strong that it looked as if we were.)

So, where’s the artist? There, behind it, underneath it all, interwoven into the fabric of the artwork. So maybe not in the big group photo, but very much there.

PS This photo, taken later by the ace Graham Watson from We Can Creative, does have me in it – because I insisted. 🙂 

Who pays?

20140120_162056Somebody asked me ‘who funds your work, Dan?’ on a Facebook thread about fair pay for artists and funding for the arts.

So, I think maybe it’s time to come out and tell the truth. Nobody does.

I’m self-employed – I’ve pretty much always been self-employed, from working as a freelance technician for Brighton venues and touring with garage bands after 6th form college, through to setting up Revolutionary Arts, about thirteen years ago. I don’t have a regular wage, or an independent income; I work from project to project. I’m either commissioned to do a piece of work, or raise the funds I need to make my own projects happen. I’m currently working for Bedford Creative Arts, the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, The Shell Grotto, a joint project between the Powell-Cotton Museum and the Dreamland Trust, and writing a piece for publication in New Zealand.

20140120_162323Wherever possible, I use the funds I’ve got to employ other artists as well, whether that’s taking The Caravan Gallery photographers around some empty shops, inviting Alice Angus to create a site-specific temporary public art for Worthing Pier, commissioning hundreds of metres of bunting from Sew Swansea’s Natasha Middleton, getting Janet Vaughan to design a pop up shop kit, or working with social artist Lloyd Davis on #wewillgather.

Within each project, I try to squeeze enough resources to do something I think is worthwhile, and to spend some time thinking, and to make the space to develop my own practice, too.

And while being self-employed gives you amazing possibilities (to travel, to meet interesting people, to walk down to Margate harbour and stand with Turner Contemporary behind you while you watch the sun set) it’s also incredibly tough. Don’t ever believe it isn’t.

20140120_163144There’s a constant, low-level worry about where the next cheque is coming from. With that is an acceptance that a serious commitment to a practice that’s equal parts art, social action and constant innovation comes above safety and selling-out, and that means possibly never having a steady enough income to own my own home.

That constant worry is nothing compared to the day-to-day practical concerns. This week, email’s been lost and restored in such great quantities that it crashes my email client, so I’ve had a rapid course in all things to do with mail servers and sorting massive amount of email. And amongst this, somewhere in the middle of all that email was a virus which has destroyed lots of files as well.

20140120_162335But this is normal; being self-employed means you’re the IT geek and the public-facing marketing team, the motivational speaker and the book-keeper, you’re writing the business plan and the next project proposal. All day, every day. It’s incredibly concentrated, it’s all consuming, it takes constant effort. Right now, after a week of struggle and watching the IT failures stack up on top of each other, it’s quite hard to find the energy to carry on.

Like I said, being self-employed is hard work, and so’s being a social artist. And don’t ever believe it isn’t.

Bedford Happy Club

P1100877The biggest chunk of the first quarter of 2014 will be taken up with a commission from Bedford Creative Arts. Their hometown was voted the unhappiest in Britain, and their director Dawn Giles approached me after seeing my work elsewhere and my talk to TEDx Bedford about placeshaking. Could I spend three months placeshaking, and making Bedford a happier place?

I started over Christmas, collecting information about happiness, data about where and when people are happiest, and looking at work by other artists who’ve explored the theme.

And I don’t think anyone else has quite got to where I want to be. There’s some great work, like Invisible Flock’s Bring The Happy and the 100 Happy Days project. But most of it is about remembering, capturing moments of past happiness, nostalgia and memory. I want to go further, and help people do things that make them happier now.

I don’t think that happiness is just contentment; it’s more than not being unhappy. It’s always temporary, not a permanent state. It generally comes from interaction and the social – it’s rarely solitary and self-contained. But it is also autonomous, something we do to ourselves: we can choose to be happy.

So I’m currently wrestling with plans for 25 workshops in Bedford. I genuinely want these workshops to bring people together to explore happiness, to be part of the process of discovery and to inform the end artwork; but (quite understandably) Bedford Creative Arts want more plan and structure, and to know what we’ll be making.

I know there’s going to be an event, a day of happiness, a game played across the town centre’s underused spaces. But what fills the spaces on that giant board game? That’s for the people I meet to decide.

The work starts this week, and while it’s not going to be an easy commission, it’s certainly going to be interesting.

Laughing in Peel Precinct

The square could be a filmset. There’s a pub on the corner, a row of shops (flats above), a park and the Oxford Kilburn club, the school a few doors down. An empty film set now, waiting for the crew, lights, actors, props. A script, of course, and a script.

All London life is here. The whole estate, eleven blocks, 170 floors, tilts up from the square. Rises from the central point, a CCTV camera post, out to the edges – the broad sweep of the train tracks out of Euston, the gentle terraces and Tin Church of Kilburn Park Road. Rises, packed with people; more people than the architects, throwing out the better standards of the Housing Manual 1949 in favour of high-rise living with a bonus for each extra floor built can ever have imagined.

The estate is like Babel after the fall, everyone speaking a different language: English, Somali, Arabic, Portugese, Filipino, Amharic, Yoruba, Albanian, Urdu. And where there should be a noise, a joyous noise unto the Lord, a babble… instead is silence. Nobody talks, everyone walks quietly, quickly. Heads down, hoods up.

Except for two beautiful girls in headscarves, giggling and smiling, chatting and texting, meandering through this and that. They’re the life of South Kilburn. The point, the purpose. Despite the crushing weight of the tower blocks tilting in, the paranoia of the CCTV camera in the centre of the square, the fear of the shops’ shutters, they’re laughing. Happy to be here, today, in Peel Precinct.

Tank Girl in Worthing

Originally written for the Worthing Community website – this comprehensive Tank Girl biog was the site’s most popular page, so when that site was lost I moved it to my old blog, I Hate Dan Thompson, where it’s had 37,695 views. Woo.

“It’s just a matter of trawling our brains for good ideas” Jamie Hewlett

In 1988, artists Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin created Tank Girl for Issue One of Deadline Magazine. The pair, living in a Worthing bedsit, could have had little idea of where she would take them. While studying at Northbrook College of Art and Design, Hewlett, Martin and fellow student Philip Bond, had created a fanzine called Atomtan. Deadline, created by Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins, was a more accomplished forum for these new talents. Even amongst strips like Wired World, the great Love And Rockets and Hewlett and Martin’s own Fireball XL5, Tank Girl, with its post-feminist and post-apocalyptic vision of a not-too-distant future, stood out.

Seminal style magazine The Face referred to her as “Fab!” while the NME predicated “a rise to world domination”. The anarchic comic strips were full of cut-and-paste imagery, and used a visual equivalent of the sampling that was becoming so popular in a music scene where guitar bands like Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones and Carter USM were discovering new technology.

It was easy, in the politicised late-’80s and early ’90s, to identify with Tank Girl’s aggressive attitude, upfront humour and sexuality. Hewlett and Martin said “She was Thelma and Louise before the fact; she was Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood; Action Man designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.” She was an obvious icon, and Tank Girl t-shirts began to spring up- including one for the Clause 28 March, against Thatcher’s homophobic legislation. In 1991, Deadline was approached by Wrangler, who, keen to build an advertising campaign for their jeans that was individual and anarchic, used Tank Girl in a series of press ads in 1991. Hewlett and Martin subverted the character at every turn. She flirted with a hippy revival and new age fashion before it was fashionable, dabbled in post-modernism, and hung out with riot girrrls and the beat generation. Tank Girl could be all things to all people and Hewlett and Martin revelled in their artistic freedom.

More surprisingly, readers loved this freedom too. Far from wanting Tank Girl to be tied down to shooting, shouting and spitting, they wanted to see what Hewlett and Martin could dream up next.

Tank Girl wasn’t just a British phenomena, though. Penguin, the largest publisher in Britain, had bought the rights to collect the Tank Girl strips as a book (they all appeared first in Deadline), and offers for foreign rights were plentiful. Before long, Tank Girl had been published in Spain, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Argentina, Brazil and Japan; several publishers were fighting for the US license. Eventually, Dark Horse Comics acquired the US rights to publish Tank Girl and a US version of Deadline. Two successful series of Tank Girl’s adventures and two collections created a stir in the US, and before long there was interest in a film version.

Established rock stars including Adam Ant, Billy Bragg, The Ramones and New Order loved her and were keen to be involved in the magazine. In the early ’90s, bands like Blur, The Senseless Things, Carter USM, Curve and Teenage Fanclub all appeared in Deadline. In true post-modern style, comic strip and reality blurred. Many of the bands appeared in the strips and Hewlett’s artwork appeared on their record sleeves. Sarah Stockbridge, a catwalk model and favourite of punk designer Vivienne Westwood’s, brought Tank Girl to life in a series of photos that went on to be used in Elle, Time Out, Select and The Face. Vogue, too, featured Tank Girl. They cited her as a crucial influence on “Bad Girl Fashion” which featured shaven heads, body piercing and tattoos.

Rachel Talalay, producer of Hairspray and Cry Baby for cult director John Waters, and herself director of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, called up Deadline’s Tom Astor. Talalay had been sent the Tank Girl book for Christmas and was immediately smitten. With an unswerving belief in the project, she steered the Tank Girl movie into pre-production with MGM in January 1994.

Hewlett, although still living in Worthing with girlfriend and one-time Elastica member Jane Olliver, was spending time with fellow Deadline artist Glynn Dillon, hanging out with bands in Camden’s Good Mixer pub and helping formulate a scene that would become Britpop. Hewlett and Dillon brought their new friends to Worthing, and to seafront venue The Wine Lodge. The pub was described by press as ” Camden on Sea.” Elastica, Menswear and Blur could be seen listening to DJs like Worthy Dan, who went on to work at legendary London club Blow Up, whose website http://www.blowup.co.uk charts their long-running success. After the Wine Lodge, the party carried on at The Factory, a nightclub whose design- by Hewlett, and friends including fellow artist Philip Bond- echoed the Tank Girl strip. Bold red and green stripes, a wall of blown-up panels from Tank Girl set against ’70s wallpaper, a Ford Escort hung from the ceiling and toilets pasted with pages from old annuals were a suitable backdrop for a mix of alternative sounds. [Hewlett’s nightclub designs were eventually lost when I redesigned the club. DT]

Meanwhile, the Tank Girl film was ready for the cinemas. Disappointingly, the final film was a result of much fighting, some agreement, and too much compromise. Although it preserves the anarchic and nonsensical charm of the Tank Girl strips, reeling from Busby Berkley to Mad Max and back through Tex Avery, it mystified critics and public alike. It sacrificed the danger and raw vitality of the original, and was a box office flop. Deadline, after reputedly taking huge gambles on their future with Tank Girl merchandising, folded.

A new Tank Girl comic was short-lived. Meanwhile, Hewlett and Olliver opened a vintage clothes shop in Worthing. Called 49, it, too, folded after a short life. It looked like Hewlett and Martin’s fifteen minutes of fame was over. Hewlett moved to London. After splitting with girlfriend Olliver, he moved into a flat with Blur’s Damon Albarn. He had also just split from his long-term girlfriend, Elastica’s Justine Frischmann.

Hewlett worked on a number of advertising campaigns. His designs also appeared on the set of children’s TV programme SM:TV, presented by ex-pop stars and Byker Grove actors Ant and Dec.

Rumours about how Albarn and Hewlett spent their time were rife, but no-one predicted the end result of their relationship – Gorillaz. The band are four comic characters who could easily have appeared in a Tank Girl strip. Using digital technology, Hewlett has animated his characters, giving a new twist to his distinctive visual style. Interestingly the band’s live line-up includes The Senseless Thing’s drummer Cass. The website, http://www.gorillaz.com is a testament to Hewlett’s creativity. And with Gorillaz winning MTV Music Awards including Best Dance Track and Best Song, Hewlett has taken the earlier crossover of comics and real life to new extremes.

Carlisle’s edges

“Carlisle’s all about edges, borders, the delineation of one thing and another.

It’s on the edge of England, or maybe the edge of Scotland. It’s a border town, a frontier place, a fringe; the edge of every empire that the last two thousand years has seen. It’s very much the end, the full stop.

It’s the thing between sentences, full of squares and courtyards, the space between places. It’s transient, shifting, always in a state of flux yet ancient, solid. Rooted in Roman history and a local deity, but alive with even more ancient religions. Standing stones, early Christian Celtic crosses in the cathedral, Green Men on the walls of shops in the market square.

The buildings are heavy, made from a local stone that itself changes from one thing to another, sandstone sedimentary layers blending from deep, faded-blood red to a soft yellow, often in one carved piece. Stone from a Roman quarry eight miles away.

The stone is so eccentric it makes the cathedral look like a patchwork. A feeling that’s only enhanced by the slipped lines of decorations, the wonky and skewiff Norman arches, the might of pillars whose feet don’t quite match each other’s ground levels. Maybe the clay, when they built one bay, was wet, (don’t forget, ever, that Carlisle floods), but for whatever reason, stone pillars sank. So even the cathedral is in a state of movement, neither one thing or another. Where there should be something static, unchanging; there’s something that wiggles like a fish.

There are solid stone city walls and metal barricades on Botchergate. Heavy gates across empty alleyways and railings around war memorials. Clear, strong definitions. Black and white. With so much that is transient, temporary, timely, the city tries to draw strong lines.

Of course, a firm line always makes you see what’s either side of it. So the city’s attempts at definition only make the change, confusion and incoherence more apparent.

Carlisle’s about shift and uncertainty, the edge of places, the impermanence of stone.”

Written for an exhibition as part of the Empty Shops Network tour in Carlisle

Carlisle, city of two halves

The third stop on the Empty Shops Network tour (the second, Shoreham, was so manic it goes unblogged) is Carlisle.

It’s a bewildering, beautiful and bewitching city. I’m staying in a moderately grotty guesthouse a few minutes outside the city centre. The straight route here is down Botchergate (‘bid the dishonest man mend himself; if he mend, he is no longer dishonest; if he cannot, let the botcher mend him’).

Botchergate is the main road into the town, but it’s shabby and semi-derelict at the bottom end, and at the top end is a string of pubs and rough alehouses. The drunkenness on a Friday and Saturday night is so bad that they actually close the road to traffic, to stop people falling under passing cars. Locals are obsessed with how bad the street is, and it’s certainly in need of some love and attention, especially as it’s the gateway to the city.

The other side of the city is where I spent today, starting in the gentle, intimate cathedral. It’s a magnificently shambolic building; some of the arches are wonky, and in one place a pillar sunk during building and the line of detail above is interrupted. The local stone changes colour from a white to a deep red, sometimes in one block, giving the building an even more haphazard feel, like patchwork made from favourite scraps. The ceiling holds the whole together; a dramatic blue with gold stars, best viewed by laying on your back on the stone floor and relaxing for five minutes. Which amuses local schoolchildren no end.

Tullie House Museum is equally eccentric, with Stanley Spencer paintings hung in stairwells and corridors where it’s almost impossible to see them and appreciate their incredible beauty. There’s a Peter Blake tucked away in a stairwell amongst some far less impressive portraits, as if they didn’t quite know where to hang it. And the Roman galleries, with a mock up of Hadrian’s Wall, butt up against a gallery about railway history which includes replica First and Third Class carriages with a view across to the castle.

The Cathedral and Tullie House are in a beautiful quarter, all rambling cobbled streets and corners with arches and turrets like a Harry Potter film set. It’s also home to the perfect Foxes cafe lounge, a quirky and eccentric eaterie with great staff, art on the walls, and comfy seats. The ideal way to end a day exploring.

It’s been difficult to get to grips with Carlisle this week, with the clash between rough drinking and ancient history and contemporary art making it hard to understand. But it’s a great city once you explore and just accept the accidental collisions, chance encounters and culture clashes.

The Empty Shops Network – a big thank you

A couple of years ago I ran a small local arts organisation, the Revolutionary Arts Group, struggling with no resources to stage artist-led festivals and open studio events, and using non-traditional venues for exhibitions- an old bakers, a functioning church, and other community spaces.

As the recession bit, I was fielding more and more enquiries about how we did it – particularly using empty shops – so the Empty Shop Network was born. The aim was to start collecting information about work in the redundant spaces in town centres, and provide a central point of contact for anyone wanting to find events local to them. It was always a big ambition on no budget, but I realised that I was thinking along the right lines when Susan Jones from a-n offered me a small grant to produce a piece of research which became a ‘Knowledge Bank’ article. It laid the foundations for the Empty Shops Workbook as well.

I’m typing this on the train back from Gatwick, afterflying out to Belfast for an a-n AIRTime event where I was able to talk to 60+ Northern Ireland artists about using empty shops.

The last year has seen me writing strategies for local authorities, talking at national community conferences, spending timewith Central St Martins students at graduate week, hobnobbing with the great and occasionally even the good at the Conservatives Arts and Creative Industries Network… the list is kind of endless when you include all the conversations, BBC News interviews, magazine articles and other stuff that’s happened around the fringes.

I’m starting to earn a sensible (but by no means excessive!) wage as an artist and arts manager.
And it’s all because that small, early grant gave me the confidence – it was tacit recognition that I was doing the right thing.

That grant has helped us to access even more funding and set up a range of projects – and the thing I’m most proud of, we’ve already paid about twenty times the original grant to other artists and small creative businesses.

So thank you Susan, and thank you a-n for providing real support just when it was needed.

Empty Shops 2.0

As I’ve had time and space to work on ideas for empty shops this year, and as I’ve been able to support others in their work, I’ve become ever more keenly interested in the ideas, inspiration and ideology behind the work.

The Revolutionary Arts Group started nine years ago, by using an empty bakers in Broadwater as a temporary art gallery. We’ve since brought together artists to use spaces for more conceptual work, as places to inspire site-specific art and installations, and as festival hubs full of exhibits but also hosting workshops, short-term studios and performances. This is a similar flightpath to many other artists and groups who’ve taken over empty shops.

And now I’m watching the birth of a new phase: the thing I’ve always hoped would happen if we gave creative people space and support.

The next wave of empty shops projects won’t just be about artists exhibiting existing work on bare walls: they won’t be about easy in, easy out market space for makers: they won’t be about graphic design to cover empty shops. Although all of these have a place, are (thanks to the work of groups like the Empty Shops network) well established and proven to be better than barren and bare empty boxes littering the high street.

A wave of new projects on the starting blocks across the UK are about interaction and interrogation, community and chat. Over the last week, I’ve talked to people about ideas based on technology and tv remote controls, geography and urban exploration, science and social enterprise.

As funding is becoming available, artists are moving from static ideas to serious reinvention of high street spaces.

The Empty Shops Network has a mission to revive, restore and reinvent the high street. The next year is going to be seriously interesting. You want out of a recession? Welcome to a new high street, a next generation of enterprise, an inspiring movement and the future of town centres. Welcome to Empty Shops 2.0.

The Fisherman’s Prayer, The Ice Prince and Me

At 7am this morning, with the streets still dark and empty, I loaded the bike pannier with six chunks of ice. Inside each was a splinter of pine from the cargo of the Ice Prince, which sank a year ago. And – a year ago today – Worthing, West Sussex woke to find thousands of tons of that pine on its pebble beaches.

I rode along the prom, and stopped at the Foreshore Office, by the Lido; locking my bike to an old fishing boat winch. 

One by one, in the dark, I unpacked each chunk of ice, photographed them, and took them to the sea. In the dark, cold, wind and rain, I recited a traditional fisherman’s prayer before releasing each chunk of ice into the salty sea. Each release was one groyne to the east, leaving a trail from west to east.

By the time I released the sixth, by the pier, the sun was rising and the beach was light.

As I walked back along the beach, the chunks I had launched had been released by the sea again, thrown up the tide line and left stranded. Unusual, odd objects but somehow looking as if they belonged there, amongst the pebbles.

It felt raw, and rough, and primal, and ancient, and religious, this simple action. It marked a year. It marked an event. 

Tomorrow, I will walk the beach and see if I can find the pine splinters.

Brighton Art Fair 2008

Brighton Art Fair (known to friends as BAF) is back at the city’s Corn Exchange. The annual show is organised by Worthing artists  Jon Tutton and Sarah Young, who have brought together a great collection of painters with just enough quirky artists to make the whole show interesting.

There’s a full review on Artists and Makers, picking out the best of the bunch, but here’s a more personal take from last night’s private view.

Firstly, will somebody buy me a painting by Christopher Noulton. His odd little paintings capture an old-fashioned England, full of milkfloats and whicker men, Routemaster buses and round edges of Art Deco architecture. If you like Ladybird books or Thomas The Tank Engine illustrations, you’ll join me in starting a Noulton fan club.

Natalie Martin is similarly brilliant, with a series of brooding, slightly menacing paintings that capture lost corners of buildings and deserted staircases in almost architectural detail. I’ve known Nat for a long time now (we used to exhibit at Contemporary Gallery events and at Brighton Art Market) and back then she produced installations and odd assemblages. ‘I didn’t know I could paint like this,’ she said modestly at the private view last night.

Make sure you check out The Arthouse, hidden away by the cloakroom. They produce editions of work by people with learning difficulties, and it’s all marvellous stuff. Might treat myself to that rock ‘n’ roll T-shirt.

And make sure you avoid Fran Docherty’s pottery. I do since she had a go at me at a previous BAF preview. She didn’t like my suggestion in a Brigton Festival review that the Fiveways Open House Trail was the art establishment these days… and the Fiveways committee were ‘considering taking action’ apparently. If ever I go missing, you know who’s to blame.

But do find Sam Lock‘s chunky, all-male abstracts, painted on nice bits of wood and feeling like they’ve been chiselled off the walls of buildings facing demoliton. Like Natalie, he’s an old friend from Brighton Art Market and he’s a very nice chap. A masterful (and again, very modest) painter.

Have fun finding the roosting birds, carved by recent graduate Chris Knight.

Before you leave, make sure you say hello to Democrat-supporting resident of Virginia, Farhanna Hussain, who got very excited by my Barack Obama badge.

And one last thing – if you see Fred Pipes, say hello. He didn’t appear to be at the preview last night. Maybe he said something critical of Fiveways in his blog, eh?

Bill Drummond Said (Part Two)

Bill Drummond said: “All recorded music has run its course. Dispense with all previous forms of music and music-making and start again”

Bill Drummond is right.

How many times have you bought a CD only to find that the recording you now own is a pale shadow of the track you heard the band play live?

How many times have you bought a CD only to find that the recording you now own has lost something since you heard it on the radio?

How many times have you bought a CD and only played it the once?

Bill Drummond has formed a choir, The17.

I’m going to do something different. The Revolutionary Music shop will close on Saturday 20th September, at 5pm.

Revolutionary Music is dead. Long live revolutionarymusic.co.uk

Dan Thompson, 8th September 08