Category Archives: art

South Africa Train Video

The plan for South Africa was to follow up on With the Nomads with further patient observational documentaries. And I had some great subjects, with great access: Pentecostal church groups speaking in tongues on Melville Koppies, hospice patients both brave and frightened telling me what it was like to know they would die soon, with their tough-minded, dedicated and expert nurses giving their side of the story. I got some good footage, but nothing that I could make anything out of that you could call a documentary, in the end. I realised what a gift that desert landscape had been. Continue reading South Africa Train Video

In the Beckett archives

In 2005, having long loved Samuel Beckett’s writing and recently read the wonderful biography Damned to Fame, Lara characteristically found out how to get in touch with the author, James Knowlson, and wrote to him. At his suggestion we got the train to Reading and a  bus to the university to find, off a corridor in the upper floors of its musty 1970s library building, the place where all Beckett’s letters and books were being kept. The archivist, Julian Garforth, was one of the few people alive who could read Beckett’s handwriting. He was extraordinarily generous with his time and enthusiasm. I saw the funny little cartoons that Beckett drew in margins. I saw conkers from a tree in the garden of his house in a French village where he went to write.  It was the hundredth anniversary of his birth the next year, so I had an idea to make my name with some tie-in art. I took some photos on that first visit, and thanks to Julian Garforth I took more and made some video on another visit a few months later. 2006 came and went, but I still like these photos and the video. It’s all here.

The archive was soon moved to an environmentally controlled basement of the Museum of English Rural Life, where you can’t just visit and leaf through the pages, and Julian Garforth doesn’t work there any more.


I must have fallen asleep, for all of a sudden there was the moon, a huge moon framed in the window. Two bars divided it in three segments, of which the middle remained constant, while little by little the right gained what the left lost. For the moon was moving from left to right, or the room was moving from right to left, or both together perhaps, or both were moving from left to right, but the room not so fast as the moon, or from right to left, but the moon not so fast as the room. But can one speak of right and left in such circumstances? That movements of an extreme complexity were taking place seemed certain, and yet what a simple thing it seemed, that vast yellow light sailing slowly behind my bars and which little by little the dense wall devoured, and finally eclipsed. And now its tranquil course was written on the walls, a radiance scored with shadow, then a brief quivering of leaves, if they were leaves, then that too went out, leaving me in the dark. How difficult it is to speak of the moon and not lose one’s head, the witless moon. It must be her arse she shows us always. Yes, I once took an interest in astronomy, I don’t deny it.

from Molloy by Samuel Beckett

While I was at Central St Martins I played with bricks and paint, went back into my comfort zone of photography and video, started to get bored by my own work, had a bit of a crisis, doodled my way out of it, and worked my way up to this, my degree show piece. I was rather pleased with it. They weren’t.

Thanks to the great Sinéad Rushe for being in it.

Clearly, I Misunderstood

At first I was predictably dismissive of Tracey Emin and walked around her 1999 Turner Prize show thinking “self-indulgent”, “hype” etc  until I saw a video the Tate had made about her. Seeing and hearing her talk about the work made me realise two things: she meant it and it wasn’t easy. And made me reflect on how little I was personally at risk in what I did. So I thought about how I could be as frank and honest as her in my own way. The first fruit was a series of ten photographs – a roll of 6×7 – of myself, identically framed and posed. The rest, you’ll have to see for yourself, but I’m not putting them on the internet. Not now.

Not Dead Yet

Three photos that I had in a show called 14 x 14: 14 artists, each showing a few pieces 14 inches square. I added some pragmatic white space for the show, obviously. It was at the long-gone Mafuji Gallery, on the second floor of a Victorian workshop building on Shacklewell Lane, Dalston (possibly Shacklewell – not sure where the boundary runs, strictly). It ran from 17 November to 15 December 2001, back when Dalston was the throbbing pulse of the obscurely avant-garde, a club I was unqualified to join, despite living in a bedsit on Evering Road. It was fun to go to exhibitions in semi-derelict post-industrial spaces, though, and try to work out what was the art and what was the debris – a confusion that I think was deliberately fostered. It’s still a popular gambit today, as I saw at last year’s Liverpool Biennial in the old sorting office on Copperas Hill. Last night I saw that it’s trickled down to post-retro pub design for the thirtysomething middle classes in Walthamstow, if the updated Chequers on the High Street is anything to go by. Anyway, these pictures now seem to nicely sum up some of my persistent obsessions. The numbers came from a bag of spare cassette labels that I’d been keeping for about 20 years by that point, sure that they must come in useful some time. I was right.

The History of Photography

Thanks to the splendid Cinzia Cremona, in February 2005 I got to play with the cool kids for once. This was in a group show at Project 142, which was living quarters and studios for artists and musicians in a Victorian factory complex on the Lea Bridge Road in Hackney. Now, of course, redeveloped. I didn’t have much money or time, so I contributed one of my periodic attempts to get away from cameras – although this is the only work I’ve ever shown that was made without one. Without the machine itself, that is, though as you can see I could think of no topic more interesting. You can see more of it here.