Since the Easter holidays of our first year on the BA, a colleague and I have been working on putting together a show. We had had many interesting discussions about art and had even tried collaborating together which was a very interesting experience, before deciding to do this. Just before we embarked on this project, we cleaned up her garden and used it as a studio to paint there while our college spaces were closed for the Easter.
My friend worked as an intern at Saatchi and one of her colleagues there is an artist who was also into event managing and was on the committee for the gallery Artslav. This gallery rents out a space in Kennington which used to be an underground public lavatory, built in 1878. It’s still complete with toilet facilities, and the urinals are made of marble and stand just as they did 150 years ago. Here are some images of this unusual space.
We got talking with this artist and he told us that the rent for hire of the space was £100 a week. We found this to be relatively quite cheap for a gallery space, especially regarding its central location. We were at the Saatchi Pangea opening together and met interesting and diverse curators, collectors and artists. The more we talked to people, the certainty with which we mentioned our idea of organising an exhibition of our work increased! So much so that by the end of the night we had gathered emails and invited everyone we came into contact with to a show which we had not even agreed upon with certainty on having, between ourselves.
And that is how the decision was made. We emailed our new contacts and got responses from nearly all of them, which was reassuring. We then drew up a plan of action to create a week-long show at Artslav in early June, allowing ourselves plenty of time to make mistakes and learn, as neither of us literally had any clue about how to go about it.
We like each other’s work however, and although visually very different from one another, we find there’s a strange harmony and mutual respect between them. In fact, before I knew her as a person on the first day of school, I approached her and proposed that we hang our work side by side for the little exhibition designed to ‘baptize’ first-years into the Wimbledon community. After working beside her for a full academic year, I am still not sure how to pin down the correlation. I think there is an act of mythologising in both our practices. In most other senses our works our rather opposite; mine are small, her’s are large, mine are clean, her’s are messy, mine are monochrome, her’s are exploding with colour. But I find particularly in my colleague’s collages a play on meaning. She tends to arrange figures and shapes absurdly across dystopian landscapes in a manner which attributes meanings of almost a sacrilegious sort to each element. Herself she doesn’t seem to like the words ‘narrative’ or ‘story’. She doesn’t like to specify what the meanings are (nor do I myself think their particular meanings are relevant. But this is precisely what I like; capturing the notion of a myth or narrative without really telling it, but rather insinuating a whole history, generations, belief and evolution of culture that is in fact fictitious. I am also interested very much in the work of another fellow student, S, who shares similar interests. The false tales are based upon formulas picked up by these artists from real-world narratives. Then, the specifics of their tales are not particularly important – you needn’t place them in time nor order of significance – because they will nonetheless appear familiar, and tell us something about what we expect from narratives and how readily we are governed by them.
Anyway – T and I began to gain trust in each other as we saw increasingly throughout the year how efficiently we cooperate together, and how we naturally encourage each other to learn more. We have, like our work, quite opposite personalities and skills, and our work on this exhibition divided itself based on these. We were therefore very useful to one another; she for instance created networking opportunities for us and I took care of digital tasks. Both of us however, had a lot to learn. We saw an exhibition at the end of the year as a great opportunity to learn about other aspects of being an artist (up to then I was entirely absorbed in my work alone). I was inspired by Woody Allen’s cinematic stamina, and thought, “wouldn’t it be great to make such a rule, and have at least 1 exhibition a year, to just release what was accumulated artistically throughout the year?” – Regardless of whether it’s perfect or not, just get it out there. I most likely won’t follow through, but why not play with such ideas.
So sometime in Easter both her and my artistic production drew to a halt and we sketched up a plan, half of which contained things we simply needed to learn. The first thing we did when we returned to college was meet up with all the tutors we knew and inform them about our plans and see if they thought it was a good idea or totally silly. All of them were supportive and gave useful and encouraging advice. When we had returned to college after Easter, we had already invested financially and emotionally in this exhibition, and then remembered (not without a palm to the forehead) that degree show was coming up, and that we could not borrow technical equipment around this time, in addition to having increasingly limited access to workshops and help. This added pressure to our plan but we decided to go ahead with it, assuming that even if we splashed out on some equipment ourselves, that this would prove handy after the exhibition for future use too. I’ll go through my own ideas for my part of the exhibition, and the steps I’ve taken to attempt to realise them.
One Man Cinema
The space is a small, underground public lavatory from the Victorian era. The main space is narrow and long, and on the left are three cubicles, on the right about ten marble urinals. I had the idea to turn a couple of the cubicles into video/sound installations, where the work could be experienced privately and intimately.
The toilets within are incredibly grotesque objects, the walls are chipped and Richter-like, like the walls in tube tunnels. I wanted to make this environment more cozy, and decided I would make comfy seats of sewn fabric and attach them to the toilets, with the film projected on the door in front when closed. I pictured the visitor sitting on this cozified toilet watching my performance screened on the uneven surface of the door and was very pleased with this idea, even though immediate problems cropped up:
- How would I control the film from leaking past the door and onto the work on the wall opposite as visitors opened and closed it?
- Do I even know how to make a seat?
- Where would I attach the projector? (there are only 2 sockets in the space rather far off, and not really a safe location for placing the projector)
As time went on and I explored my options, I had to give up on the idea of the projector as I could not borrow or afford one. PT suggested I play it on an iPad. I wasn’t immediately attracted to this idea, but it grew on me as an alternative. So I decided to play the film on an iPad and perhaps box it in so that only the screen was visible, making it less recognisable as an iPad, and more convenient for installing.
One of the great things about this project has been that I have been encouraged to venture into other departments at college to seek advice and learned skills along the way. For the seats, I went to the Costume department and explained the situation. The Costume department by the way, looks like a little paradise. The technician there told me I did not need to sew anything at all, and that I simply needed to make boards in the shape of the toilet, and staple my chosen fabric over them with wadding (a soft stuffing) between the board and fabric.
In the Wood workshop I also presented my design and used a traced drawing of the toilet to cut the shape into the board. I was introduced to new tools such as manual kind of band saw, which I used to cut the shape into board, and the rotor, a terrifying rotating blade which I could use to copy the shape I had just made onto other boards. I was quite surprised just how much joy I got out of handling these new tools and slowly getting more handy with them. I tried to work as independently as possible because the technicians were already beginning to get swamped with 3rd year students and I didn’t want to be a burden. I tried to learn every new skill after being shown once only, and with this in mind I became very focused – I enjoyed this feeling.
I filed the edges of the boards to make them curved and smooth, and a smaller toilet seat-shaped board was nailed to the bottom of each, designed to fit into the hole of the toilet and prevent the seat from sliding about. I had some fabric – silky curtains that I found in a charity shop when I lived in Norway – that I brought with me to England, and I stapled the wadding, and then the fabric, as neatly as possible on top, and this was the result.
I then drew up my design for the box that would encase the ipad playing my video. I was shown by technicians the best way of going about making my design, and while I was clueless about how to start, by the time I had made it I felt more able to imagine the process of creating things out of wood in my head. I also felt more comfortable with a variety of tools. The window at the front of the box exposes only the screen of the iPad, which is placed through the back, the panel of which is then screwed shut. Between the back of the box and the iPad is a thick sponge which keeps the iPad in place and pressed against the window. on the sides of the boxes there are a couple of holes to allow for power and headset cables. What I like about it is that it doesn’t occur to most people (to whom I show it) that there is an iPad inside. Instead it looks like a homemade TV. Here is what it looked like at my assessment exhibition. My mother made the marvellous observation that the black cable leading vertically at the back is reminiscent of an optic nerve. For assessment I played “Natalia Talks About the Village” from my Vernacular Spectacular series, throughout which only close-up sections of my face (mostly an eye) are filmed to maintain the character’s anonymity.
The assessment exhibition was a good opportunity to test out my video installation. I replayed my video directly from youtube, using an app that allows you to loop Youtube videos on iPad. I noticed that the sound muffled considerably once screwed into the box with the sponge, but I planned to accompany the device with a headset at our Artslav show.
Our show opens in a week from now, and at this point I have still to determine exactly how to attach it to the door. There is an old metal tissue box dispenser (with decades old tissue still hanging from it!) attached to the door and on top of this is where I planned to place my screen, but I still have to secure it. Furthermore, there is no WiFi at Artslav, so I must find a way to play the video on repeat on the iPad using applications. I am sure this is possible but I have never done this and with only a week ahead and no video downloaded onto the iPad that has been tested on loop, it is a cause for concern.
Beside the first cubicle is the middle cubicle, in which there will be my sound installation. This will involve a selection of improvised fictitious radio interviews voiced by myself from Vernacular Spectacular. Using the experience with boxing in the iPad, I made three more boxes that would contain an MP3 player each (bought from eBay). I planned to attach the portrait image that accompanies each soundtrack onto the front of the box. I chose the dimensions based on the Polaroid picture format, although I excluded a white frame on my portrait prints. Similarly to the iPad case, I allowed a hole at the bottom for power and headset cables in each MP3 case, in addition to screwing the piece of wood on to allow me access to the device. The idea is once again for the visitor to be seated on the comfy toilet seat, in what will hopefully seem like a post apocalyptic, deserted radio room, with each voice looping from each box.
I have a rough idea of how I will attach these to the walls of the cubicle. The gallery insists that no nailing or adhesives that may damage the walls can be used, and that is why installation has been a consistent challenge for us. I will probably make a frame that cups around the walls between each cubicle (from wood) and hang my boxes from there, using strong sticky pads to stick the back of the box to the wall and prevent it from swinging.
My empathy drawings make up a large and new part of my practice and I eagerly want to show them in context with my apocalyptic story “The Railway Rocket Dog”. Both were inspired by conventions, both narrative and illustrative, in the world of comic books. In a room within Artslav, which used to be the paying booth where a person would sit and take the payment people would make to use the toilets, I plan to show these things.
I like the rusty walls and the way the cables correspond to the sci-fi theme of both the empathy drawings and the Railway Rocket Dog comic books that will be displayed nearby.
These drawings must be confronted with at a closer distance. I tried them at the end of the long narrow room in the main space but they are lost at a distance. Therefore this room suits me nicely.
A freestyle, gel version of the Empathy Drawings is my Untitled Colours series. This I will display in a toilet cubicle which is actually functioning:
Here is a drawing I was working on specifically to go into this space. Unfortunately it was damaged in transport, but I liked where it was going.
Something about the lines was different and very pleasant, they took a more “flying” character. While drawing this I was listening to an audiobook of the Bible, and found to my surprise that I very much enjoyed listening to it. The drawing is reminiscent to me of the old depictions of judgment day, with objects whizzing around at dramatic scales, between heaven and hell. It was damaged, so I tried again:
It was a fine drawing like the one above, though not quite as fine. And then I don’t know why I felt the need to do something drastically different (drastically changing tempo, and vision, and tools).
I have thus a space for myself in the gallery which I can use to show a drawing of this kind of dimension. As I write this I have 3 days left until the opening, so I guess I had better decide.
I remembered my series of umbrella photographs from Bergen, called Parapleure. And it occurred to me that they would work well in ArtsLav because of the urban connotation. As ArtsLav has a somewhat semi-outdoor space, I thought it appropriate to display the umbrellas here. So, at the entrance above the stairwell leading down to the old lavatory, our gallery-assistant-friend from Artslav KH suggested the umbrella photographs be tied and strung up. We tested the idea out roughly and decided we’d like it if I reprinted the photos to bleed to the edge of the frames, replaced the glass with perspex to reduce safety hazards, and chose a more elegant string.