I have been working on a performance lecture on the art of driving and auto-recovery which I delivered at Manchester Metropolitan University in October and York St. John University in November. This month I attended INTIMACY Across Visceral and Digital Performance at Goldsmiths University of London. I was invited to speak about The Long and Winding Road in relation to notions of intimacy and risk. I took my rear view mirror and offered members of the audience a travel sweet before showing films of the journey to Liverpool on 17 May 2004 and the one-to-one performance. This is what I said:
The Long and Winding Road began on 17 May 2004 when I embarked on a journey in a graffiti covered car from Nottingham to Liverpool. The car was packed with 300 items wrapped in brown paper and string. The journey lasts until 17 May 2008 when I drive the car into the River Mersey.
This is my car. This is my car history. This is the film of the journey I made on 17 May 2004 and those were the first words from a one-to-one performance in the car. Passengers are invited to fasten their seat belts and join me for a travel sweet as I share the reason for the journey and the story of the journey so far via the rear view mirror. This is my car. This is my car history. This is my rear view mirror. And this is the reason for the journey. The mementoes in the car are items that belonged to my brother who died in Liverpool on 17 May 1998. The reason for the journey is best explained in the one-to-one performance in the car, parked in the direction of Liverpool, looking in the rear view mirror, wearing a seat belt, sucking a travel sweet, surrounded by mementoes on The Long and Winding Road.
This year, I was commissioned by Fierce! Festival in Birmingham to create the one-to-one performance. It is an invitation to remember and an act of repair. The narrative of the performance is the journey of auto-recovery as the car is painted, dented and damaged, and towed from galleries to garages. The car has made pitstops at the Ikon Gallery and the Mac in Birmingham, the ICA in London, X-Trax Festival and the inaugural Art Car Parade in Manchester. I have become fascinated with the notion of intimacy exchanged by sharing a car with someone and the transaction that takes place via the rear view mirror. For Intimacy, I ask Where does the intimacy reside - in the mind or in the mirror?
It feels the most appropriate method to share material of an intimate nature. To reflect the raw emotion of a description of death. I don’t describe feelings only the details of the day my brother died. The blu tac left behind on his walls when we took down his posters. The wall chart that has nothing on it after the 17 May 1998. The mirror manages to issue an invitation to be intimate, to make eye contact, to engage, to receive, to relive, to help me to remember. The mirror doubles the distance between driver and passenger, performer and audience to make the experience both intimate and detached. I am always conscious of how the passenger is sitting and adjust how I sit accordingly. One passenger spat out their travel sweet and I performed an emergency stop. Others stay to talk. The mirror is our driving instructor. These are the politics of intimacy on The Long and Winding Road – to look in the mirror before every manoeuvre. To be aware of the passenger and how they feel. Sometimes I follow the two second rule – inviting passengers to ask me questions by leaving pauses in the text. Creating a space for interaction via the mirror. To frame the past in the present. To be aware of the baggage I carry and how I share it. This is my car. This is my car history. At this crossroads, I will misquote Marshall McLuhan;
We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We drive backwards into the future.
This is the Mirror in Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre, I always look into it before I set off. I am documenting The Long and Winding Road using a blog (acarhistory.blogspot.com) This is an online space for mirror-signal-manoeuvre style reflections and creative sliproads. A space where the road behind you constantly foregrounds the road ahead and the past is always present in the future. A space that both the driver and passengers can visit in between pit stops to reflect on the journey. A space which asks when does the documentation become the artwork and does it matter. A space which asks How does the one-to-one performance replace or repair? The passenger seat could be a space for my brother. Two of us driving nowhere. Spending someone’s hard earned pay. Mementoes create a physical and emotional trace of him. Representing him in his absence. And as we crane our necks beneath his belongings we are conscious of his presence. I often reflect on how different performances have different tones, different energies, depending on the mood or the moment. I have performed as hail has rained down on the roof and had to shout as if I was screaming at the heavens. I have a steering committee guiding me on the journey who act as an outside eye ensuring I stay on the straight and narrow of The Long and Winding Road, making the project for others as well as myself. There is a road sign in New Zealand when two roads approach a junction where both have right of way. It reads ‘Merge like a zip’. The project attempts to ‘merge like a zip’ the experience of driver and passenger via the mirror, past and present, subjective and objective, research and practice, cultural theory and popular culture. From Marshall MacLuhan to Meatloaf.
Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are
This is the main risk on The Long and Winding Road – intimate work brings with it its own baggage. What is the risk of sharing a personal loss? Am I too close to the material? And how much do I tell people? I didn’t mention the reason in the abstract because it feels like over-sharing. You are artists and academics who don’t need to know about my loss. I remember sitting there as someone was talking about work that paid tribute to a loved one or reading about work that became lost in its own grief and I know how awkward it can feel. The interflora school of art. But art history is littered with examples. William Blake was inspired by the loss of his brother. The hooded figures in Magritte’s paintings recall seeing his mother being fished from a river, drowned, with her nightgown over her head. The installations of Felix Gonzales-Torres commemorated his lover. I think also of Ron Mueck’s Dead Dad. Popular music commemorates loss all the time. Julia and Let it Be. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s odes to lost mothers. The Beatles The Long and Winding Road speaks to me when I am driving about my brother’s loss.
Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried. In many ways you’ll never know how many times I’ve tried. But still they lead me back. To the long and winding road. You left me standing here. A long long time ago. Don’t leave me waiting here. Lead me to your door.
The project began when I started to realise that a song I had always listened to from my point of view could be listened to from his. It was an attempt to turn the subjective experience into an objective experience. This film ends with me walking up to the door of the house where my brother died and posting the keys to the car through the letterbox.
This is the signal. A signal of my intent. The mileometer went to zero at the Cavern Club and that was a signal too. A sign. I am keen to give passengers in the car the right signals through how the experience is framed, in what context and with what interpretation. I don’t want to invite people into the car without them knowing about the content of the performance. This isn’t therapy. If anything it’s a sort of anti-therapy. Immunising myself to loss through repetition. Making a mantra of a moment in my life where the landscape changed irrevocably. I resist calling the project cathartic. Catharsis means a release of emotions and an evacuation of the bowels. At the same time, I am on a journey of auto-recovery and I use the car as a metaphor for my experience of loss – and the language of driving to describe it. I am a driver not a performer. The audience is a passenger. The Long and Winding Road is a journey not a performance with breakdowns, slip roads and pit stops. There is an electrical car component designed to kick in after an accident called the ‘Keep Alive Memory’ and that is what I am doing on The Long and Winding Road. This is my car. This is my car history. To quote David Savlan, in Breaking the Rules;
It performs the inability of historical discourse to comprehend and describe the feelings aroused during several hours of unfamiliar experience. It performs the fact that history, like theatre, is always a dance of absence and substitution, a dance of death.
I now want to show you the film of the one-to-one-performance in the car. It was difficult to film a moment of intimacy so I decided that I was secondary to the experience. The car is the focal point. Filmed by a camera that doesn’t know. Each performance lasts five minutes and each is different as every audience member meets me to different degrees in the mirror. This is the manoeuvre. This is my car. This is my car history. Thank you for joining me on The Long and Winding Road.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Sunday, 14 October 2007
Everywhere we go I buy an A-Z of that city. So the car can have 'the knowledge' of where we are like a London taxi driver. Derby. Leicester. Birmingham. Nottingham. Manchester. London. Liverpool. The Liverpool A-Z is waiting. The Derby A-Z opens up like a Ordnance Survey map. Spread across the bonnet. The London A-Z is from the 1950s. Streets have disappeared. The Nottingham A-Z is missing a cover because it's been used so much to find places, to move houses, to point relatives in the right direction. The Leicester A-Z has not touched since I left. The Manchester A-Z is brand new. I mark pages where the car has been parked. From the ICA to the Ikon Gallery. The River Trent to the River Mersey. Albert Square to Albert Docks.
We arrived half an hour early but we weren't sure where we were. Sat Nav wasn't sure either. Chris - the Auto-Recovery driver - pulled over to check so I could phone my Art Car contact. When we knew where to go we pulled out and a lady in a jeep drove straight into the side of us. She was tired. She was frantic. She didn't see us pulling out in front of her. She damaged her jeep. There was no trace of a crash on the Auto-Recovery vehicle. Scuffed tyres. Brushed off. She was heading home from work. She stood in the middle of the road next to her dented jeep parked at an angle. Frozen mid-crash. Shouting. Smoking. Arms folded. I thought she was going to cry or shout. Or sue. The police arrived. They pushed her jeep out of the middle of the road. They made her hand over her insurance details which she'd refused to do before they came. I'd stopped filming the moment we made contact. We should have taken pictures of the jeep to prove there was no more damage than there was. Chris says it's surprising how much damage is sometimes done after the accident. Chris says she is still making a claim.
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Monday, 10 September 2007
A new phenomenon is set to sweep the motorways, highways and streets across the UK as Arts organisation Walk the Plank, in partnership with Manchester City Council, create the UK's first Art Car Parades in Manchester on the 8th September.
Michael Trainor, Curator of Art Cars 2007 explains... "An Art Car is a drivable installation - any vehicle which has been re-imagined, re-styled, re modelled, or completely metamorphosed by an artist. Vehicles can be decorated, sculpted, adorned, illuminated or bejewelled to create "transports of delight" in the shape of cars, trucks, bikes and trikes, mobility scooters or even pedal or solar-powered contraptions!"
The Art Car Parade is a totally new concept in the UK: designed to challenge the glorification and dominance of the car in a creative, playful and inventive way, which also encourages people to think about using their cars less, to reduce congestion and pollution.
The original concept to bring an Art Car Parade to the UK was conceived by Liz Pugh and John Wassell from Walk the Plank, one of the UK's leading Arts organisations specialising in outdoor performance. Art Car Parades are a huge phenomenon in the USA, with the first, and by far the largest, in Houston with 250 Art Cars on show, attracting over 200,000 spectators annually. John saw that Parade in 1990 when working in Texas, and Liz saw some of the Art Cars at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada a few years later.
Artists from all over the UK have been commissioned to create weird and wonderful vehicles to take part in the Parade some of these include:
Tiki Love Mobile - A mosaic/ceramic adorned and illuminated automobile, created by Baroness von Reichardt and her partner Mr Spunky, which is driven by two hula girls.
Team Minnie have created a bespoke fabric outfit made from customised and recycled materials, beautifully tailored to fit the curves of their Mini. Minnie is created by a team of female artists from Manchester.
Carbon Miles - A Trabant famous for being horribly polluting converted to pedal power, in its 50th anniversary year, created by artist Jamie McCartney.
Liz Pugh, from Walk the Plank comments...
"As well as inviting established artists we want members of the public to get involved and create Art Cars of their own. We're encouraging participation from people from all over the country to get creative and join the fun by producing their own transport of delight... possibly with matching outfits! Walk The Plank has already received interest from community groups, mechanics, youth groups, musicians and individuals, and are looking forward to receiving more creative ideas"
1. self; same; of or by the same one: autobiography
2. self-caused: auto-hypnosis
2. self-propelling: automobile
a German Motorway
an account of a person's life written or otherwise recorded by that person
1. the act or process of recovering, esp. from sickness, a shock or a setback
2. restoration to a former or better condition
3. the regaining of something lost
4. the extraction of useful substances from waste
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
This is Chris. He owns CP Auto Recovery the company that tows the car from garages to galleries. One of the highlights of The Long and Winding Road is working with Chris. He is an artist of logistics. He takes pride in his work.The way he lowers the tilting top of the tow truck. The way he ties the tyres to the platform. The way he drives. I love the conversations we have on the open road. So far we have touched upon the dangers of Satellite Navigation, the perils of the congestion charge, accountancy for the self-employed and the way his job is like a funeral director for cars. He gets called out to a lot of accidents. And a lot of the cars involved in those accidents aren't going to drive back home. They will be written off. Chris is the man who does the writing off. He has seen some things in his time. I value his support and advice. He was the only Auto Recovery company I called who sounded interested in the project. He checked this website. He has been great at providing quotes for different pit stops on The Long and Winding Road. He drove the car back to Nottingham from the ICA at 2am in the morning in the pouring rain with a fake Ferrari Testarossa on the back of the truck at the same time. I don't know if I could do that. He keeps the car at his yard until I'm back in town. When we roll it up the slope into my lock up he says things like 'It's been on it's little adventure' or 'Let's put it back to bed.' He is recommending ways of crushing the car and winching it into the River Mersey next year. Chris is a member of the Steering Committee. It's good to have him on board. I don't think I could follow The Long and Winding Road without him.
Friday, 3 August 2007
... BRAKING NEWS ...
Clunk Click. The Long and Winding Road has been invited to make a guest pit stop at Manchester's inaugural art car parade in September. Artists from all over the country have been specially commissioned by Walk the Plank to transform vehicles into mobile artworks, and create an exciting new kind of festival never before seen in the UK. The UK’s first Art Car Parade will take place in Manchester on Saturday 8th September 2007. Followed by the UK’s first Illuminated Art Car Parade in Blackpool for the Festival of Light, part of the Illuminations on Sunday 21st October. Vehicles will be decorated, sculpted, adorned, illuminated or bejewelled to create “Transports of Delight” in the shape of cars, trucks, bikes and pedal-powered contraptions. For more information go to www.artcarparade.co.uk.