JUNE 2019

We were all winners that night.  The efforts of so many admirable women were celebrated and, put them together in a group, it just leads to more progress.  I was on a table with women rowers who support youth groups coming through the ranks. The discussion lead to the Henley Woman’s Regatta, established in 1988 to promote equality for women in the sport of rowing.  Henley Royal Regatta started allowing very small number of women to compete in 1981, 142 years after it was established.  Instrumental in changing the gender bias of the past, this new event gave independence to women rowers.

I approached the Chairman of the Women’s Regatta, Miriam Luke, who had also been nominated at the Sue Ryder Woman of Achievement awards, and I proposed the idea of doing a site-specific sculpture addressing climate change.  The temporal necessity, the liminality of this historic period in time and the demographic of the event, afforded itself to such a piece.  She was interested in what I would come up with. I came up with a plethora of ideas, and then, I watched ‘Question Time’.  A Conservative representative stated that Thatcher was the first person to mention climate change.  Thatcher, the visionary eco-warrior…  It threw me straight back to a visit to the Big Pit Museum in Wales, where posters such as ‘Coal Not Dole’ adorned the windows of a 1984 picket-line caravan.  GOAL NO COAL immediately sprang to mind.  ‘Save the nation’s energy future’, not, ‘Coal the energy’s future’. The piece started to address the issue of Zero Carbon.  

Henley-on-Thames Town Council is in a liminal, potentially, brink ‘Duchamp-Burdenesque’ phase, of declaring a Climate Emergency.  The sculptural piece, at this stage, began to transform itself to also include messages relating specifically to Henley.  Considering the demographic of the Women’s Regatta, it also addressed the international student protest movement.  The significance of Henley to the 1984 Miner’s Strike is evident through its MP of 27 years, Michael Heseltine, who, as Minister for the Environment, closed 31 pits in one day.  

It’s the liveness of a project that draws me to art.  I find that invariably pieces get better as they hatch and grow.  Space restrictions meant that instead of going across, one solution would be for the work to go up.  I deconstructed the caravan and suddenly had an allusion to the tipping point of the climate crisis.  Turning ‘protestial’ agency into collaborative agency, the work also lended itself to evolve into a participatory installation, taking form in the spirit of working together to protect the future.  

Now for the irony.  Heavy rain in the weeks leading up to the event cast doubts on the ground conditions.  The potential necessity of trackway to protect from waterlogged ground meant that it couldn’t be installed on site.  The climate change installation was ‘scuppered’ by monsoon-like downpours…

 

 

 

MARCH 2019

25 years ago, I was in the cordoned off area when the IRA Bishopsgate bomb went off.  It killed one person, caused extensive damage and was the catalyst to much societal change.  I embarked on a project to mark the anniversary of this life changing event.  I started by revisiting the site.  It bought up many false memories notably of scale and distance.  Buildings smaller, the street narrower, the centre of the blast closer and the run to safety shorter than I remembered.  The City of London had changed dramatically in a quarter of a century yet the more time I spent being in that space, the more I felt a sense of familiarity and belonging.  I became interested in the liminality during the ‘event’.  The scariest moment had been those, I don’t know how many, seconds, of the vacuum.  The sound.  The in-breath.  The depth of the silence of the sound.  Distortion of memory on a temporal level, it lasted, at the time, a really long time.  A Duchampian-Burden definition of liminality about potential imminent mortality became one focus of the project. 

Right at the outset, I had secured the perfect exhibition venue; the 13thcentury medieval church of St Ethelburgas which had been totally demolished by the blast and rebuilt as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.  They graciously offered me the venue, at no cost, for an exhibition to take place on the day of the 25thanniversary. On a preliminary site visit, the venue afforded itself mainly to a large-scale video projection.

Within a close radius from the centre of the blast, I filmed the backs of people’s heads just going about their everyday lives. Random terrorism knows no discrimination and these Deleuzian ‘dividual data packages’ gave the project an underlying socio-political commentary.  I started creating sequences, using these footages in two different ways.  I used a cross-dissolve editing technique to allude to the liminal phase of the work and I then moved on to the historical mediatized memories of the account. My friend and I had featured in the BBC deposition of history and I decided to appropriate certain stills from this footage and render them as my own by means of pixelization in combination with my filmed footage.  I isolated footage of 135 dividuals in squares and colour-matched each one to the corresponding pixel.  This afforded a moving image of the still whose visibility I could then play with. 

On revisiting this footage, my first thought was that I didn’t remember the red bag I was carrying that day, which was unusual.  I attended Young Choreographers workshops at the Siobhan Davis dance studios and as a consequence also started working on improvised performances.  After the blast, my friend and I had walked aimlessly for hours around the City. During one of the improvisations, this aimlessness translated itself into me dragging my body repeatedly across the floor in a square.  I applied this to the pixilated moving image and two of the pixels, one notably being the red bag in that sequence, provided the mirroring of that shell-shocked aimlessness.

With regards to the audio, I had been in touch with my friend I was with on that day, about the exhibition and we had arranged to do some filming on the Good Friday at the location.  This never came about, however, she did unearth an old poetry book she used to write in which contained an account of her experience written the day after the blast.  Interestingly the only words crossed out in the original text were ‘we wandered aimlessly’. I took a recording of her reading the piece and I applied my take on aural trauma to create the soundtrack. It is somewhat difficult to listen to but then the intention of the piece was never one of comfort.  Audio silence accompanies the last phase of the piece so as to afford reflection.    

Whilst I was working on the video, I got a call.  The anti-terrorist squad couldn’t allow a public exhibition in the church on that day as the Prime Minister was attending a memorial service at St Ethelburgas that evening (to which I was invited), as they had to sweep the venue the day before. I couldn’t abandon the project. It had been a lorry bomb, so an obvious alternative would have been to project the video onto the side of a lorry. It was however a time-specific piece starting exactly 25 years later to the minute of the blast and lasting approximately six and a half hours to the time when the body of the victim, Ed Henty, was discovered.  This was during full daylight hours to which video projection is highly unsuited.  The solution was to get a backlit vehicle to screen the video.  I got quotes for digital backlit advertising vans which could drive around the City for the day.  I applied to the University of Northampton’s Chancellors Fund and, gratefully, received the funding.  It made me believe that big ideas can happen and provided me with the means to deliver, in a professional, coherent manner, an important artwork. 

During the making and execution of this project, I received psychological support.  Trauma is a beast.  Multiple traumas are many beasts.  They have a tendency to gang up on you.  I learnt a technique whereby you embody each incidence of trauma and find where it is located within your body.  This, separates, and, as a consequence, dissipates, the intensity of the mob as it were.  Interestingly I felt that the trauma from the bomb was located in my ears.  This gave rise to developing an interdisciplinary performance piece which addressed the embodiment of trauma.  I chose to perform this at the precise moment, 25 years later, in the exact spot I had been when the blast had gone off. 

The video then started screening on the backlit screen and we travelled throughout the City of London for the predefined six and a half hours.  The planned itinerary needed adjusting as we went and the liveness of the happening bustled alongside a questioning audience.  Artistically I brought the historical news directly onto the streets and into the site: a contemporary version of the living newspaper. I did feel a sense of triumph. The work was called ‘If I Hear a Loud Bang, I’ll Count to 10 Slowly Then Walk Towards it’, which were the last words of the one fatality, Ed Henty, to whom the piece paid tribute in name and in duration.  After my personal commemoration of the event, I attended the church memorial service that evening led by the Bishop of London.  My artwork received extensive press coverage in my hometown of Henley-on-Thames and, as a consequence, I have now been nominated for the Sue Ryder Southern Women of Achievement Awards in the Courage Award category.  The winners are to be announced in a Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony at the Madejski Stadium in Reading on Friday 15thMarch.