BLOG POST V
Tuesday 21st February, Evening
I’m behind the bar tonight. And it’s a good place to be. From here I can observe a small microcosm of the human universe. And from here time speeds up… In the second room Slab Balls an experimental music collective based in Newcastle are making a cacophony with anyone and everyone who chooses to join in… Occasionally the thundering, screeching noise becomes quieter, more contained and a discernible rhythm manifests whilst at other times it erupts into utter chaos as ten or more individuals hammer at whatever respective instruments/objects they can acquire and with as much ferocity as they can invoke.
At the bar friends mingle with friends and meet others for the first time... artists, teachers, robotics engineers, administrators, writers all sharing and occupying the same space. People tell stories, anecdotes and jokes whilst others laugh, argue and watch quietly. I overhear the robotics engineer telling someone that “if you took data into everything…everything would be fine. Politics just confuses everything!” just as Slab Balls meet a delicate balance of whispering cymbals and vaporous vocals. I wonder to myself whether there could be a way to capture all the ideas and fantastical stories created by this context? How does one harness the energy of the pub as a social force and channel it back into everyday life? Is it possible? Or even, for that matter, desirable? Is it something essential and innate about this context (away from the drudgery of work, lubricated by alcohol or fizzy drinks) which cannot be transposed elsewhere? Besides, some people become tyrants when they drink. Some people turn from polite and gentile to rude and lascivious, many others become nonsensical or else uncommonly honest. The loosening of social norms and undoing of the status quo in the pub can be both beneficial but also disastrous; I also watched as yolked couples held restrained arguments in corners, as people stormed out into the cold or else fled in response to some other distant beckoning.
Almost as quickly as it had begun the party, the dancing, the conversations ended and we were all dispersed into the night, with only breakfast tomorrow to look forward to…
BLOG POST IV
Tuesday 21st February, Afternoon
“There is a little bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good”
It must be said: I am not a natural dancer. So it takes me some time at the Lunchtime Disco to shake off my paralysing self consciousness and force my arms and legs to move in some gestures and formations, generally resembling (though not an entirely convincing rendition of) dancing. Doing that awkward shuffle, trying not to engage anyone’s eye contact for too long, thinking of all the writing I have to do elsewhere; the work I ought to be making on my residency, the tax demands I haven’t replied to, the friends I haven’t contacted, the emails I’ve seen but haven’t actually read yet, I try to defer my guilt for long enough that I can pull off a sequence of passable moves. But then something strange happens… somewhere between the hours of one and two in the afternoon as the February sun plunges behind the empty office blocks, as people in the surrounding streets hurry back to their desks from lunchtime shopping trips and the small crowd I’m amongst laugh, jump and turn around the faded rug, I loose myself. I slide out of time and I am four years old again, dancing like mad to my Mum’s Gypsy Kings cd or immersed in the intoxicating rhythms of a live African band. All there is is this moment, and this moment is illuminated.
The fervour and excitement of the morning is tempered somewhat when I return later; There’s an unmistakeably sombre silence upon entering the gallery space. Andrew Wilson tells me, with uncharacteristic gloominess, that a camera and phone have been stolen from two of the volunteers. I feel the vulnerability of our position and the cold, pessimistic breeze of reality enter this ambitious, utopian project. Whilst the group shrug and smile it feels as though we’ve been wounded, rendered immobile, until a neon police van bumps up the pavement outside and I can’t help but inwardly smile at the memory this jolts – of the ice cream van which used to rumble up to the end of our terrace every Sunday afternoon…
BLOG POST III
Tuesday 21st February, Morning
Peanut Butter, the great divider.
Strawberry Jam, the safe bet.
Yesterday’s newsless newspaper has been transformed overnight into an elegant six petalled flower that hangs behind the bar. The notice board, usually reserved for reminders, personal adverts and miscellaneous public notices, has become a site for a shared, collaborative drawing. Outside the bus stop audience – who yesterday stole tentative glimpses over their shoulders and from behind raised mobile phones or lowered ipads – today gaze in with open-eyed curiosity. Between conversation and extra helpings of toast, some of us beckon to the moving throng outside who wave hesitantly or else turn their eyes away. Some of the volunteers go to the gallery door and stand out in the cold, chatting to anyone who stops long enough. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I see faces peer in, heads shake, smiles. Even this open invitation of warmth, tea and toast, doesn’t seem enough to draw them out of their daily routines and familiar spaces. I’m reminded of the recent State of the Arts conference in Salford where, in an afternoon session called ‘Art and Audience’, the panel debated the value of putting the audience at the heart of the discussion and greater art project as opposed to the artist… I became increasin
gly incensed… Surely it’s wrong to talk in terms of such divisionism, of The Artist or The Audience? Everyone is an artist and everyone is an audience member. We all reflect, react, create. I think it is art itself which should be at the heart of our conversation – art as a locus, as a means for enabling cultural democracy, connections, cohesion and conversation. Right here, right now, The Praxis Bar is that locus. The question is, how does it become something a public with little or no experience of contemporary art can engage with, how can our ideals of inclusive hospitality, reciprocity and social dialogue envelop everyone irrespective of background or experience of art, not just those with the confidence to spend their lunch breaks disco dancing with strangers?
Scattered amongst the breakfast debris and throughout the bar (propped against teapots, pinned to cardig
ans and stuck to shelves) a flutter of dayglo pink screen printed postcards have appeared, declaring (in the star burst of a comic book) “WOW”… “WOW” like a smooth stone in your mouth. “WOW” the same open-mouthed expression which we once made as children and which we make now when faced with the the beautiful or exquisite, with the ineffable or incomprehensible. “WOW” is the sound we make in the moment when words aren’t adequate to describe the thing, the effect, our response. It’s just… “WOW”. Perhaps it’s my morning state of mind (where everything is still soft round the edges, not quite defined, where the potency of dreams is still warm and corporeal) but once I start to think in a state of “WOW” then everything becomes WOWing… I’m bowled over by the sight of new faces, by the Juke Box and its wonderful array of known and unknown tracks. I’m bewitched by the buttery
spots which dapple this corner of the bar and then by the miraculous tidy-up that has happens when I’m looking elsewhere. I’m wowed by the improbability of this moment – of all the instances and chance encounters which have collided to mean that this is here right now and so am I. I’m overwhelmed by the atmosphere of energy and by this effervescent group of individuals who have come together with the unified purpose of making something happen…
As preparations for the lunchtime disco begin the pace steps up and an orange space hopper is transformed (by the canny use of tinfoil and recycled cardboard) into a giant, DIY disco ball, the clean, white gallery space becomes animated with an assortment of rotating, flickering and oscillating coloured lights and scenes from Saturday Night Fever leap onto the far wall. I feel like it might be about time for some serious fun…
BLOG POST II
Monday 20th February, Afternoon
Upon an opulent rug of faded tendrils and Rose blooms sits a miniature house of glowing white. It’s like a pared-down dolls house made of white muslin (more like a symbol for a house, a dream-like motif for a home). It’s size is evocative of those tiny, imaginary worlds of our childhood where play and fantastical drama were projected and played out. On the back wall of the house (the wall facing into the room) a strange, mysterious sequence of images and incomprehensible actions are unfolding. A circle, like a giant peep hole or the pupil of a giant’s eye, has dilated and through it we see domestic scenes; a close up of a tiger lilly in a vase, a child’s toy assembled and dismantled, a woman sat at a round kitchen table punching the air above her frantically. This last scene lingers and we are drawn to notice that there are two vases of flowers on the table and a bowl of oranges which she meticulously arranges and re-arranges. In one of these compositions the oranges and flowers are laid out along the table’s edge and the woman begins to rotate the table round and round. These strange, jarring rituals all take place within a constantly evolving drawing. This is Sabina Sallis’s video work which she tells me “is just in process” but which she wanted to bring to the show because of what she regards as the importance of “talking about work, having a discussion and getting feedback” and “not just working on your own”.
The conversation with Sabina has magically and astutely cast the fortune for the rest of the afternoon in the gallery. The state of ‘work in progress’, the essential, living activity of raw, unfinished creation and collaboration comes to the fore as a group work on a collaborative, performative drawing using electri
cal tape and D.I.Y Workshops spontaneously erupt through the energy of the day; Liam Jedaburg Witter guides a small group of diligent and focused individuals on how to make your own rucksack out of hose pipe, wire, electrical tape and bubble wrap. They follow his instructions carefully but mutably, occasionally glancing at his illustrated instructions, more often being carried away by the creative potential of all these materials put together… They all leave with their own full transparent, but fully waterproof D.I.Y rucksack/party bag. Meanwhile Charlie Snow (a third year Fine Art student at Northumbria University) invites people to delve into an impossible rainbow of coloured felt and dreaming; tapping in to the traditional, communal activity of quilt making she asks participants to transcribe their untold dreams into a patchwork of cut, stitched and appliquéd panels. Each of these – along with other panels she is making in collaboration with friends, colleagues and ladies knitting circles – will be integrated into the whole piece; a giant, collaborative quilt of imagination and dreaming.
Iris Aspinall Priest
The strangeness of this moment (which has, until now, been eclipsed by the warmth and loveliness) suddenly swells. Stood at a bar, drinking tea, eating toast, chatting, thinking. It’s 8.05am, I’m not usually standing at a bar at this time. I’m not usually talking, functioning or even, really, thinking. Pub. Public House. What’s the etymology of that most familiar of establishments
1859, slang shortening of public house, which originally meant”any building open to the public” (1574), then “inn that provides food and is licensed to sell ale, wine, and spirits” (1669),and finally “tavern” (1768). Pub crawl first attested 1910 in British slang.
(from the Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)
I’m reminded, as my brain whirls and oscillates unevenly into motion, of how the various intellectual revolutions have been fuelled by communal activity… and by caffeine. Social evolution happened from the individual survival of the caveman, to the collective action of the pack (groups and families, hunting larger animals together), eventually evolving into the mutually beneficial community (developing those connections into infrastructures and sustainable systems of support).
A woman in a red coat strides past the gallery window, Costa coffee cup in hand. She blanches slightly as she passes but keeps her eyes fixed on the crowd of smiling faces inside. The atomism of the capitalist coffee experience… “Time is Money” Henry Ford said, that’s why we created the drive by, the take away coffee cup and all those dirty skies caressed by amber street lights, exciting “feverish sleeplesness” (Marinetti). Talk of polaroids, potassium, bread streams, blood streams, Berlin. Bananas in pyjamas are solicited by a fruit thief. Then just as quickly as it appeared, it disperses. The mugs are washed, the crowd disperses, off to work, to university, to wander, to find (or to make) meaning.