Archives for posts with tag: public art

‘The People Must Eat!’

I was invited to host a lunch at Edge Hill Station as part of the Liverpool Biennial – the theme this year being: ‘The Unexpected Guest’. Edge Hill’s the oldest working passenger station in the world and the venue actually sits between the two platforms, which kind of makes it invisible as people are unable to see that it’s inhabited  – so it’s a great vantage point for voyeuristic people-watching as they sit unnoticed on the platform…For this event a special train arrived from Liverpool Lime St at 12.01 with the passengers being accompanied by a specially commissioned John Cooper Clark poem on a mobile ‘busking machine’ to get them in the mood for some creative consumption…

I was asked to create a menu for up to 20 guests at a pop-up venue, Cafe Valise, which made some connection with my work.

I decided to use the Independent Free State newspaper as the starting point for the meal.

Initially, I considered handing over ingredients telling guests to ‘Make Your Own Damn Lunch!” in the spirit of DIY, and in particular Bob and Roberta Smith with his ripost to ‘Make Your Own Damn Art!’ – but decided that would be ‘ungenerous’ so instead decided to prepare a big colourful ‘help yourself’ vegetarian finger-buffet. I dispensed with table-settings and presented the table loaded with plates of open sandwich deli-style food that I hoped communicated a sense of abundance and celebration..all the food came from Lidl – ‘The People’s Supermarket’, the napkins were printed with the IFS logo and the table covered in the IFS newspaper (handily under the glass tabletops) – so we were eating directly off it…

The joy of making food, for me, is always the presentation, the ‘creative’ experimentation with combinations of tastes and flavours, colours and textures, so this was a smorgasbord of painterly taste-sensation foods, people were then free to ‘create their own plate’, to experiment with their own food combinations, to ‘play’ a little – to enjoy the sensuous, tactile experience…

The guests were also invited to make a visual response on the back page of their newspaper of their ‘Independent Free State’, to photograph and email to me for this blog – watch this space.

What I’ve realised of course, is that, even though my initial motivation for this project was as a kind of ‘personal riposte’ to the corporate world I’d recently ‘exited’ – in fact I’ve succeeded, unintentionally/intentionally to create a recognisable brand of the Independent Free State…right down to the rubber-stamped paper serviettes and even the map-printed dress I wore to host the to appear here later. The entire 2 hour event was filmed – there was a lot of focussed discussion around making work on-site, the importance of drawing as core skill..the corporate world and the artist..the all pervasive nature of mass-media..self-promotion..etc etc Finally, I asked my guests to make an expression of their ‘Independent Free State’ on the back of their newspaper, photograph it and email here to appear on the blog…watch this space


‘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.