Archives for posts with tag: personal geography

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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On Exclusion Zones and Routes…

Just as I was planning my mobile billboard’s routes around London for 3 days in July, I came across this in The Guardian:

Writer Iain Sinclair has said he fears freedom of movement will be restricted in Westminster because of military-style tactics to be  used in the build-up to the Olympic Games this summer. The Ministry of Defence is reportedly considering deploying surface-to-air missiles in parts of London.

 “My impression of central London is that it’s becoming a gradual no-go zone, or a very difficult zone to manoeuvre your way through. There is no longer permission to move through. There are all these suspended permissions and barriers and the whole operation of security.

All of which makes my having gained permission for my billboard to enter the ‘exclusion zone’ of Westminster even more of a ‘privilege’. A double-sided artwork titled Independent Free State. OS maps of London and the Thames Gateway. ‘Human replicants’. What kind of strange equation is all that?

Sinclair added: “I was walking around the Olympic site two days ago with an American writer for Harper’s magazine, and he revealed at this point that he was formerly a US marine. “He said, ‘I recognise this landscape totally. It’s a military exclusion zone. It’s been treated in exactly the same way as we would operate in Baghdad’.

“It’s true – you’ve got these people who have dug in and are securing perimeter fences and are putting up barbed wire and checkpoints and overhead drones. We have now invaded ourselves.”

The Westminster exclusion zone means the billboard will only be able to visit all the central London sites on one day, I’ll have a photographer  onboard and hope to get some dramatic shots ‘in situ’ though it’s unpredictable where and for how long the billboard will be able to ‘stop and linger’ – particularly a few weeks before the Olympics.

My 3 routes look like this:

Sunday 1st July: All the main Galleries and cultural hubs outside of Westminster. Stopping along the way for ‘unsuspecting’ audiences on the street: include the V and A, Saatchi Gallery, South London Gallery, The Drawing Room, South bank Centre, Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern, Barbican, Cubbitt, Victoria Miro, White Cube, Whitechapel Gallery, Maureen Paley, Cell Project Space, Matt’s gallery, Wapping Project, Clifford Chance…

Monday 2nd July: Westminster – all the main tourist sites plus Battersea Power Station and other iconic city buildings including the Gherkin, The Shard, Canary Wharf and of course The Olympic Park. (If we can get anywhere near).

Tuesday 3rd July: The billboard will tour all around the perimeter of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ – parking up at the perimeters of Hyde Park and Regents Park and other high-visibility locations wherever possible.

The GPS tracking’s going to be really interesting documentation…

‘The demand for freedom is universal and political, but also intensely personal, and one which can require courage to follow…for its path sweeps lonely to the summit, no map, no guide, no god at your heels…If you want to play safe, you should never have come up here, to the site of freedom…Modern, urban, work-oriented societies teach people that freedom is something you outgrow…Our innate freedom is dulled and dimmed, deadened and demeaned by detail and deadline and caution and clocks. But roaring underneath all this, still, freedom growls in the dusk. Freedom is because life is, and to be most alive is to be most free.’

Jay Griffiths from ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey’ 2007

So where did the title for this project ‘Independent Free State’ come from? Partly, it’s a personal narrative, I am now an autonomous artist, having taken ‘voluntary redundancy’ from the public sector a year ago. (ie ‘If you don’t jump off the cliff we’ll push you…so what’s it to be?’) Alongside a whole generation of creative people, I’m part of the recession-fallout with its crippling arts and education cuts. So, I’ve worked for the State for around 15 years and now I’m out on my own. It was the right moment for me. As a product of the early 80s Art School scene I was never going to be happy being complicit in the new regime of the aggressive business model that art education (all education) has become.

With this kind of freedom comes insecurity and precariousness but also excitement, renewed energy and curiosity, you have to be resourceful. Above all, you have to believe in yourself in order to keep getting out there and to make things happen. Freedom can go to your head. I may be out of the stifling bureaucracy and Health and Safety clampdown of the state sector (with its heavy handed infantilization of the thinking adult) but there are still rules, negotiations to be made, mediations to broker, when working in the public realm with public money…

I’m waiting to hear back from Westminster Council (re its ‘Exclusion Zone’ for the billboard) as to whether my artwork will be deemed to be an advertisement after all. The Advertising Regulations are certainly broad. I’m not sure what exactly the artwork will seen to be ‘advertising’: myself? The Arts Council? Art? As a former colleague pointed out recently when we were discussing the project, the mix of irony and truth of art appropriating the language of advertising then in turn being defined as advertising is pretty interesting here.

Westminster have sent me the regulations that define advertisements:

“any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, awning, blind, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of, and employed wholly or partly for the purposes of, advertisement, announcement or direction, and (without prejudice to the previous provisions of this definition) includes any hoarding or similar structure used, or designed or adapted for use, and anything else principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements”.

Apparently a number of public artworks have recently been defined as advertisements by these regulations, they’re that broad.

I’ve had to seek written confirmation from the Ordnance Survey people that I will not be breaking any copyright laws by using OS maps in the artwork. I was concerned, as were other people I spoke to, that to display this work in public would be a breach of copyright. I’ve been told that if I own the maps (I do) and they are not to be reproduced to be distributed as maps then it’s fine. Which is great news. Appropriation is so commonplace in contemporary practice – the use of other images and representations to make ones own – that copyright seems an antiquated notion. Everything’s ‘up for grabs’ in the age of the World Wide Web isn’t it…? Even our entire identities can so easily become someone else’s property.

I’ve been talking to other artists, writers, film makers and lecturers about this project. There’s been a lot of interest. There have been a few cautionary conversations around my use of the World map ie ‘contested’ areas and Islamic countries. That my super-imposing figures that could be interpreted as ‘naked’ on an Islamic State could certainly spark controversy. I’m not interested in courting controversy in this way – it would detract from the project. So I’ve pretty much decided to avoid depictions of these areas. When I showed a friend the map of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ he remarked that it reminded him of the ‘Ring of Steel’ that was de-marked around London during the IRA bombing campaigns. He also said that the billboard would seem to ‘legitimize’ anything I put on it particularly with the title being ‘Independent Free State’ it could easily be perceived as being sponsored by The State.

I’m considering the map images working as pure visuals without the title, the intrigue and ambiguity of these images are enough. ‘Independent Free State’ will still appear but as the title (brand?) alongside the Arts Council, National Lottery and Metal logos, who are my funding bodies. However, it will still appear ‘written large’ on the reverse side, a kind of ‘blueprint’ for ‘freeform’ human figures where the public will complete the drawing at Village Green arts festival.

 

 

 

 

I work in a communal studio space. I have my own ‘territory’ within this space but may spread out as necessary depending on what I’m working on.  It’s an unusual set-up which comes down to the economics of slicing up a large space to make it affordable but avoiding the ‘rabbit-hutch’ enclosures of many other studios. It’s an intense way to work. Cross-fertilization occurs. A black abstract mark on one wall re-appears in a graphite drawing of a disembodied dress that stares back across the divide. The studio is cluttered, stained and smeared with the detritus of 12 years of creative practice. It’s dirty and rich with the history of creative endeavour.  People have ‘spilled their guts’ here. It is a kind of psychic battleground. It is also emotive and intimate: all your ‘stuff’s up there on the wall for anyone to see. Your failures as well as your ‘breakthroughs’.

The work unfolds. I get my hands dirty. I breathe in noxious fumes of spray paint, adhesive, graphite powder…

After 2 weeks in the studio I’ve made a kind of break through: broken through my prescribed processes and something unexpected has happened. A kind of euphoria kicks in, a ‘revelry’ of the mind and spirit. You suddenly think you know exactly what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t last long, but while you’re in that zone it’s the best thing in the world, you’ve glimpsed a tiny universal truth all of your own. By the next day self-doubt returns but you’re on more solid ground from which to ‘take-off’. You’ve made progress

I’m working with Ordnance Survey maps now. They are exquisitely beautiful. The soft colour palette and contours are, for me, inherently female. They are on a human ‘walkable’ scale rather than the macro World Atlas maps I was previously working with. Now I have large scale ‘micro’ OS map images counterpoised with tiny ‘macro’ world map images.

The map and the female form have become one. They’ve synchronized and melded, each transforming the other. The figures have an exuberance in their ‘liberation’ from the map – just as a sculpture is ‘liberated’ from its stone. This seems a powerful statement: feminization of the map. Her territory. Occupied territory. It’s a strong image and I think I’ve found what I want to form the triptych on the billboard.

The map’s flesh tone urban sprawl become her. Defacement/reconfiguration. I’ve been morphing drawn images to incorporate the terrain of the map, seeking out existing lines of rivers, roads, railways and coast – ‘drawings’ that already exist. In so doing I’m imposing my own order on the world and creating new abstracted figures that have an immediacy and seem to spring out from the map with an energy. They’re striding across the face of the land and out of the enclosed confines of the map. I think of those ancient figures carved into physical landscapes. I’ve created whole new space and place with these map-figures. My creative vision starts spinning out – what if I could actually physically map these figures out on the land/cityscape? How would I go about doing that?

Justin Hopper, curator and writer sent me a great historical reference for map and female form – specifically Europe as Queen – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_regina

The maps are of: London and the Thames Estuary down to Southend-on-Sea. A ‘personal geography’ that incorporates where I’m based, where the project is launching from and the route it will travel up the river to London where it will tour. Beyond the personal narrative these locations have become intensely political. The Thames gateway is a hotly debated space with the impending new London ‘super-airport’ plans. Historically, it’s one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world. The East End of London is of course about to host the Olympic Games and has undergone radical transformation in the last 4 years.

The Olympic site has become a contentious one. Just the other evening I was being driven through London heading East back home to Southend when we noticed a massive glow in the sky which got brighter the further East we travelled. Suddenly we were upon the Olympic site which was drenched in the most powerful of flood lights as work continues round the clock to complete for next month. It was like Encounters of the Third Kind. Like a spaceship had landed in the grubby old East End. Shocking and exhilarating.