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The Independent Free State mobile billboard toured around London on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd July 2012. The following images are from Day 2: Westminster, Central London and selected iconic locations. The Olympic Stadium was also on my ‘hit list’ but we couldn’t get anywhere near it. Stopping on the roadside in Central London is a precarious business – however the Independent Free State and the photographer went unchallenged the entire day which was a surprise in this summer of high security.

I like how the context of The Independent Free State re-invents and re-presents itself in each location – whether it has two large cannon pointing at it outside the Imperial War Museum, peace flags waving in the background outside Westminster, three young women like classical statues lined up in front of it somehow echoing the female forms in the image, the reflected image in the previously ‘occupied’ territory of St Paul’s cathedral, a statue of Churchill looking down on it or the prestigious Lloyds, Shard and ‘Gherkin’ buildings looming up behind it…

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One of my favourite books of recent years has been ‘Wanderlust – A History of Walking’ by Rebecca Solnit. She has some fascinating things to say about women and public space:

‘A woman who has violated sexual convention can be said to be strolling, roaming, wandering, straying – all terms that imply that women’s travel is inevitably sexual or that their sexuality is transgressive when it travels.’

I’ve made a lot of solo trips – I’ve walked alone in the Himilaya and the Alps. I’ve travelled alone in Turkey, India, Nepal, Dominica and Guatemala. I’ve been alone in Mexico City, Istanbul, Delhi, New York, Rome, Reykavik and Barcelona…The key to feeling confident alone as a woman traveller is to have a sense of entitlement. That you have the right to be there. Because few women in few places in this world do have that right. To freedom. And space. And movement.

I’m with Solnit when she says: ‘Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.’

The yearning to travel, the wanderlust, is a very particular freedom for a woman as it can never be for a man. Sylvia Plath said: ‘I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.’ This is the spirit of endeavour, historically always denied to most women.

Most ‘On the Road’ type male odysseys are mapped by women who stay put, who remain immobile. And wait. I am not one of those. I have always wanted to be in the world and of the world. Whatever the risk.

To meander is to be unproductive. It is a luxury of sorts to travel aimlessly, at a slow pace, without the pressure of the shortest route from A to B. That is how these drawings came together really. By taking a meandering route. Where travel is more important than arrival. That is inherent in the creative act – and certainly in drawing.

I’m in an interim moment. Studio based artwork is made and scanned. Next, I’ll be working at ZenEssex design studio to create a layout for the billboard. The Independent Free State takes a pause for breath. It’s down to the other people I’ve enlisted in this project now to help make my vision a reality…

Stop Press: Westminster Council have now given permission for the billboard to enter their Exclusion Zone for one day, which is amazing, as a number of ‘public artworks’ have been denied this privilege. So I’m assuming they must like the visuals I sent. There are some conditions – the logos (Arts Council, National Lottery, Metal) must be discreet and there must be no other text apart from the title and no reference to any exhibition or event. That’s all fine by me. So now I’ll get my dramatic photographs of the billboard ‘in situ’ against a backdrop of central London’s iconic landmarks.

I have yet to direct the routes for the remaining 2 touring days. I’m considering: 1. a tour of all the main London galleries and gallery areas (outside of Westminster) and 2. All the main travel hubs of London. Both of these routes will yield really interesting GPS tracking documents which will fuel further work.

My 3rd and most complex route idea is to follow, as closely as is practically possible, one of the drawings I’ve mapped out – ie so the GPS tracking route will re-form the drawing itself. The female form will be realised though the route taken. This would take some working out and would be at the mercy of traffic and time to complete on the 8 hours hire per day. But it’s got to be worth a go…

While on residency in Tortola in the Virgin Islands for 2 months earlier this year I initiated drawing workshops and a live drawing/painting event on a beach front stage next to a gallery studio/workshop. The drawing workshops really brought people together in what is still a divided community of wealthy ‘ex-pats’ and a poor local community. Tortola is  very small island, only 12 miles long and 4 miles wide, it’s a fascinating platform from which to look out at the world. Whatever you do there has an immediate impact on the place and its people. There is little mediation. There are therefore all kinds of ‘culture collisions’ as people come up so close to each other but also clearly evident divisions. Just as there are everywhere. One night, I was one of three artists making work in the very public space of a ‘Full Moon Party’ on the beach which drew an audience of around two hundred people. It was an incredible ‘buzz’ drawing live, for the artist it is both a vulnerable and powerful position to find yourself in: there’s nowhere to hide.

I have long been  interested in the viewer/participant’s relationship to drawing through my education work – leading drawing workshops and more recently the live drawing ‘events’ I have led as an artist. For example, ‘The Curve’ interactive drawing wall at The Southbank London, a live drawing installation on a chalk board sculpture designed by Jane Woollatt for Metal in July 2011. ’15 Artists 15 Days’ at Firstsite 2009 where I transformed an empty shop unit with drawn ‘interventions’ in the physical space and a live drawing performance ‘TEFLtastic’ in Whitechapel Library for Five Years which produced a visual narrative on a 25m long ‘scroll’ of my experiences teaching English in the Far East in the 1980s.

These all presented ‘free association’ for both artist and participant. I’d like to ‘test’ this out further in the public realm.  The performative drawing ‘event’ presents the drawing process as ‘spectacle’, drawing as shared experience with the audience’s direct contributions to the work.

Watching someone draw is always fascinating, it’s the hidden process behind the final work we rarely see. I often run life drawing workshops and observe people drawing, I never tire of watching a drawing evolve, a visual manifestation of thought and perception. When I sometimes make demonstrations in these workshops it’s always a ‘performance’, a hushed concentrated silent audience. And it’s always intimidating for the artist…

I am interested in developing my drawing practice into a ‘monumental’ scale. This is my ambition as a maker of image, to achieve maximum exposure, taking the work out to an unsuspecting audience.

A really exciting development – I’m in discussions with a billboard company – Outdoor Plus – about giving the Independent Free State a prime billboard site for the artwork during the summer. An amazing opportunity which really ups the ‘maximum exposure’ for this project.

I’ve had discussion over the phone with Westminster Council – they were very helpful about enabling this project to take place within Westminster. It apparently all comes down to whether the artwork could be described as an ‘advertisement’ by the Advertisement Regulations. Both parties are studying these regulations carefully. It will be interesting to see how the people I come into contact with perceive the ‘Independent Free State’ – ie how political this notion can become. Its ‘power’ is in its ambiguity after all.

I have started work in the studio – which now looks like the ‘bunker’ HQ of a covert military operation. I am reflecting on copyright issues right now as I am appropriating images and maps for the artwork. I tend to use old out of print books for inspiration for my imagery – my eclectic resources include books on ‘Beauty Culture’, anatomy, pre-Christian figurines, the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, the history of dolls…these are all ‘simulacrum’ for the human figure. They literally ‘become’ the maps of the land masses they inhabit and so become ‘Independent Free States’ of their own. The maps are also from a number of sources, including an old Atlas from 1902, OS maps of the locality and East London, physical geological maps, road maps, satellite maps and the Tube Map.

Maps are of course political documents that chart territory and power and go out of date very quickly with the ever changing face of the world we live in. Most fascinating is the fragmentation of Russia and the German Empire, the Middle East, old atlases include maps of ‘Palestine in the time of Our Lord’ which seems as fantastical now as Tolkien’s map of ‘Wilderland’ in The Hobbit. I’m well aware that any map of Israel is going to be incendiary, in whatever form I choose to use it, even as a ‘veiled’ or obscured fragment which is how these maps will be seen. There’s a great book called ‘You Are Here’ which explores artists use of the map – they are such rich and vibrant visuals, seething with curiosity and intrigue. Irresistible to the artist.

I used to hate geography at school – how can a subject so close to my heart be made so dull? Since those days I have travelled half the planet – mostly solo trips, so my use of maps here could be seen as a personal narrative. I also have a mixed cultural heritage – my mother is German, my father’s father was Belgian. Both my grandfathers were ‘Lost Presumed Dead’ (one officially, the other ‘unofficially’) – one on the Russian Front fighting with the German army, the other in Brazil working in the diamond industry from Antwerp. These are both mysterious stories waiting to be told and integral parts of my compulsion to travel and seek – some kind of genetic imprint that feeds my urge to cross borders and boundaries and find my own ‘Independent Free State’. My son has four grandparents of different nationality: German, English, Spanish, Italian and a French father. He could be a mascot for the European Union.