Monday, 22 June 2015

Facsimile - Museum in a Box

As a conclusion and dissemination of my covert residency at the V&A, I am making a downloadable PDF print, cut, fold and make museum box, which can be filled with cut-out printed objects.

It's a museum in a box, curated by the individual.

The V&A objects, now fabulous treasures, once in currency.

From recent EMF review of All of This Belongs to You at the V&A.

Part of the remit of such places nowadays is to re-examine their very meaning. A public gallery and museum isn't just a context for work, it is a whole set or multiplicity of contexts and agendas, which must constantly reflect upon itself.

What does it mean for an object that is part of the collection, how did it get to be there, where was it from, who valued and documented it, what judgements have been made about it over time, have those changed according to changing political or socio-economic shifts, and how do we read and respond to such objects and settings in our current climate. Those sorts of things, and many more - in what circumstance was the object made, was it made as a unique piece or one of many, why was it made, what does it signify, what forces were at play at the time, does it betray a vanished or outmoded attitude, was in made under duress or now unacceptable conditions. Was the object made from rare or everyday materials, was it made by artisan or obsolete methods, was it an object of comfort, or function, to repress, or to display wealth.

How does a museum display and care for the object, what information does it display about it, what objects does it show next to it by way of contrast, juxtaposition or harmony. Is the object ever going to be displayed or will it be stored, or disposed of. If broken, will it be repaired, restored, or perhaps copied for display. Will it be shown with historically accurate fellows, or to explain a development over time. Perhaps the object belonged to a particular person which gives it provenance, or it may be poignantly anonymous. I could go on. I really could.

Who owns the object, was it plundered, saved, bought, and if it now belongs to the nation, who may see it or access it, and if it truly belongs to everyone, what of those who never set foot in such a place as the V&A.


I had various ideas about making treasure boxes. There's such a feeling about all those beautiful and intricate boxes at the V&A, compartmentalised boxes for sewing kits or drawing materials, or personal care, or other secrets. I had the idea for the downloadable box pretty early on in the residency. What if all leaflets in museums and galleries could be thus transformed - it's so difficult to keep even lovely leaflets - postcards are better, 

The project needed to be - something to do / make / product / game / publication
Origami - more low-tech than 3D printing - 2D like 3D - 11/2 D.

Museum quality - the plethora of judgements.
Museum shop - the psychology of wanting.


Making was a delight. I love making stuff and coming up with practical solutions. I made it a theViewergallery project - my project site and persona which is low-tech / handmade / digital.

All my sites, projects and personae essentially overlap, but I find organising things like that productive and facilitating to all those multi-tasks.

I thought it would be better to just record the making video without a rehearsal, and I think it's ok - if I did it again it would just be different but probably not better. I was talking to an art student recently about trusting the moment, and believing in what you can produce at the time. You've got to trust yourself, and not have some vague plan to go back and draw better or make marks better - continuing to work on a thing and post processing is completely different, and also full of moments to trust. It's very like that with video footage - you do everything possible to get it right at the time, and that's what you're capturing, that time, as best as can be got, with a flavour of that moment. Somehow there has to be as much control and planning, technique and knowledge as can be mustered, and then the spontaneity of the moment. My work may not look much like it, but I think owes something to my musical training in that there is practising, and then there is the performance.

It's like recording a performance in one take, rather than splicing and mixing recordings together for a sort of manufactured perfection. I'd rather go for the concert performance with graininess, because then all the subliminal parts match. That how I take and use video footage.

Some intriguing boxes at the V&A 

Wider Context - the 21st Century Museum

Currently I happen to be working through an online course from Future Learn, which is an Open University company. It's from the University of Leicester, Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum:

I'm a big fan of such online courses - they are a great way to become familiar or upskilled in an area. Sometimes they are accredited, and they are usually free. I have filled out my various CVs with such courses, an invaluable resource for the self employed artist, but more on that another time and place.

It's quite unusual to find a course on any aspect of museum studies or curation, and this particular course is also being taken by an interesting group of people, some who are already museum professionals, and so the comments and discussions are great quality.

Some of the issues studied are about the history of museums and how they came to be the way they once were - hushed rows of display cabinets, and script of empirical knowledge. Now, of course, the contemporary museum has to respond to society, and be a cultural resource which can be used by all. In fact museums need a new definition, or term - they are more about being cultural hubs.

It's very convincing and enlightening, and a very useful study for me about contemporary exhibition ideas and interacting with viewers, etc, and yet, I still argue for a place of quiet and contemplation. No matter how wonderfully responsive to the now, I still crave the more old fashioned, cabinet-lined vaulted halls of old fashioned museums. Thinking arenas.


Of course it's terribly important who walks past the museum and who walks in. Museums are constructs of our culture for our culture. I address some of the questions in my Curious Curation Questions, but these are of course a beginning - it's an approach and a discipline. And then there are the incredibly important questions about the building itself, the feel and interior, and how objects and the stream of audience are managed. Many, many issues to consider. I have an interest in this, as a lover of museums and galleries, and a visitor. But I note how often as an artist a crossover is required into these questions, about the audience and the context where the work might be placed, and many other issues which may be placed outside the realm of the frame of the work, if you follow. The work may be a personal expression and an individual vision, but putting it out there involves a response to sets of contextual questions.

I really loved my couple of years as an artistic assessor for Arts Council England, where I was sent around the county to write a report on various galleries and museums. It really suited me to look at these with the eye of critique (rather than a critical eye), and basically see whether the exhibition and the presentation agreed with itself - did it do what it said on the tin, was it overblown, had they thought of the audience, and more detailed questions than this. Critique is so important, in this and in other media. I also review exhibitions and books, etc. Without critique, and that outside but informed eye evaluating and interpreting, all that is available about productions would be publicity and marketing copy.

Curious Curation Questions

What does it mean for an object that is in a museum, how did it get to be there, where was it from, who valued and documented it, what judgements have been made about it over time, have those changed according to changing political or socio-economic shifts, and how do we read and respond to such objects and settings in our current climate.

In what circumstance was the object made, was it made as a unique piece or one of many, why was it made, what does it signify, what forces were at play at the time, does it betray a vanished or outmoded attitude, was in made under duress or now unacceptable conditions. Was the object made from rare or everyday materials, was it made by artisan or obsolete methods, was it an object of comfort, or function, to repress, or to display wealth.

How does a museum display and care for the object, what information does it display about it, what objects does it show next to it by way of contrast, juxtaposition or harmony. Is the object ever going to be displayed or will it be stored, or disposed of. If broken, will it be repaired, restored, or perhaps copied for display. Will it be shown with historically accurate fellows, or to explain some development over time. Perhaps the object belonged to a particular person which gives it provenance, or it may be poignantly   anonymous.

Who owns the object, was it plundered, saved, bought, and if it now belongs to the nation, who may see it or access it, and if it truly belongs to everyone, what of those who never set foot in such a place as a museum.

Is there local significance to the object, and how might that resonate. Is it a relic of social history, and is that legacy still relevant in the area. Will the object spark special memories in the locality, does it represent a significant time, event or person, does it perhaps contribute to a sense of place or a specific shared memory. Is the object emotive, a sad remnant of a disaster or war, or the legacy of specific circumstances.  Is the object part of a special collection or specialisation of similar items. Is it a particularly fine example, a unique piece, or something that was once everyday but is now obsolete.

Who pays for the upkeep of the object, and for the carers and experts involved in its display. Who will write any text that accompanies the object. What are their qualifications, experience and skills. Can they respond to any sensitivities in the likely audience, and are there issues to be considered with items or substances that may now be banned or dangerous. Perhaps the object embodies political messages which are now deemed as outrageous or incendiary. Will the text be aimed at the general public, other experts, researchers or schoolchildren, and will the information be made available to those who may have special access needs.

What research is there behind this object. Is it proven that it is not a fake, and what verification is there to prove its authenticity. What is known about the maker or place of making, where the materials came from, and what else is known about any other objects which were made at the same time, at the same place or in different places. Is there supporting and additional material for those who may be interested, and how may they access that.

These and many other questions are areas for the curator to consider.                    

Drawing V&A

I really surprised myself yesterday by feeling drawn to drawing. From life. Or actually objects.
True, I currently have a student I am tutoring who wants to learn "how to draw properly". So I have been thinking through some drawing exercises and principles with him. It's all about looking, isn't it? Really seeing those lines and angles, understanding and interpreting the changes in direction in a curved line, and obeying what is directly in front of you as if it is a flat series of points and distances as you map it all out. If you can really see and get a line or gap or curve, drawing it is a doddle, especially if you develop a sketchy style - it will always look true in you understand and deconstruct what you see, and if you are rigorous in critiquing your own work.

I have spent years and years drawing separately to looking live. I have concentrated on and loved more abstract drawing, and if I have made sketchy drawing of real things, I have preferred to work them out in my head first.

So I have done these exercises in drawing, and I still very much look at things with such accuracy when I am making work, but it's along time since I sat down and tried to represent a table and two chairs in front of me. Why would I? And yet yesterday I felt very moved to do so. It was a little problematic with not having my preferred choice of pens/pencils, etc, but no excuses. they're not too terrible - there are some accuracies - they look believable even though you don't have the objects in front of you to compare. I haven't really got my eye back in yet, but again I surprise myself by feeling that I will continue this. More to the point - I can understand where I go wrong, what I can't see.

I do that thing of changing scale throughout the drawing. Also, I know there are some things I just can't see - i just couldn't work out the table-top shape - it's got a wobbly wavy edge as well as that oval-top shape which often turns out a bit wrong. Once you can trace with your eyes along the line or shape or outline of each side or edge, the hand draws it easily. the eye stops interpreting objects as things and sees them as angles, distances, lines directions, in relationship to each other.

You can see they are tentative drawings.

Personal History at the V&A

When I first came to London in 1982 it was as a music student playing the viola at the Royal College of Music, round the corner from the V&A. Many years later, I discovered I was dyslexic, but at the time I didn't realise that there might be some reason that no matter what I did, no matter how much I could hear and understand, I could not progress in studying music theory.

I used to go then to the V&A, instead of the RCM, when I was supposed to be at a theory class. I didn't understand then about why I was enacting my resistance. I loved to find myself at the ceramics, seeking out the funny distorted ones - especially Venetian Renaissance and 18th century British. They cheered me up. They made me laugh. They still have that effect now.

I have a great great love of museums, and as soon as I get past the initial congestion of desks and shops and people, I am there, in a place in my mind I absolutely love to be.

I love the floors, the space, the height. I love the marble and the sound footsteps make along the corridors.

I love the solidity of these places, the reasons they were built. I love the context, no matter what they show in this fleeting generation.

The patterns in stone and wood underfoot to out of sight.

I still have the same desire that I did as a child, to still be there after closing time and have the place to myself in the moonlight, getting spooked by the shadows of suits of armour, running wildly along the corridors, having access to those doors marked "staff only" and discovering there storerooms and attics full of mysteries.

I've always imagined having a home there, a flat, perhaps in one of those mysterious towers, covered over with glass, the whole roof my garden.

Ah. Every time. I walk along staring at the floors, wondering at the people who have worn away the stairs.


From a previous project at the V&A, during my MA in 2011, I drew in the V&A with a UV pen and luminous paint - a sort of invisible intervention.

When I think of the V&A, the Kelvingrove in Glasgow which was the museum of my childhood, museums in Prague, Manchester, and so many over the years I have visited, I get such a sense of the very stone, the glass, the big way light streams in through high windows, and I feel a connection to streams of people in the past and the future, passing through these places, all concerned with the best of humanity. 

Jonathan recently started a thread in the forum, "Are museums our new churches?" Although that conversation has yet to take hold there, my simple answer to that is yes. They are to me. I have known this for some time. There is something so moving about multitudes of people devoting their life to art and craft and culture.

And so for the project a few ideas collided at once. My influences are museums, and the V&A in particular, and space/line. Tomorrow I am going down to the V&A to trace my lines of presence there. I will have in mind all those sensibilities about stone and museums and what they are to me. 

I will take a UV pen and some luminous paint, and trace my journey, my thoughts, within the building. I will touch with my fingers, leaving a practically invisible trail, that will exist only in a certain visual spectrum, usually unavailable to humans in normal light and unaided. Already when I think of the V&A in this context I imagine it flipping in and out of perspectives as if I can see it made of glass or see its architectural blueprint or matrix.

I know this raises other issues - it is an invisible intervention, like being an even more elusive Banksy. It could be seen as some political statement, or comment. There are issues of vandalism, but even if I had the Louvre to myself, invisible ink and impunity, I'm sure I wouldn't scribble an invisible moustache on the Mona Lisa.

Okay, it is a wee bit subversive, but invisibly so. I have my own internal rules of what is permissible and acceptable. There are things I do not approve of in public art - manipulating people and ruining things. I appreciate the projected images because they completely change the context of the object. My idea is also ephemeral, admittedly invisible, but has the potential to add a layer of context. 
Perhaps I will touch what I would normally touch, handrails and so on. Perhaps I will lay my hand on plinths and available bits of statues - there are some touchable there. Perhaps I will leave ghostly disembodied handprints, shining in negative. Or more likely I will trace my substance along the edges, cabinets, highlighting line and tracing out the skeleton of the building, leaving my signature to fade into the molecules of the stone as much as my presence or that of the streams of people past and present.

I don't know what will happen there exactly, what I will feel moved to do or what turns out to be possible there. My intent is to consider line and space, and what they mean, and have a different experience of this fond museum - we are all part of places we frequent and participate in, for a while at least - places are comprised of many elements, including their inhabitants.

Who are my audience? Perhaps no one. Perhaps when they turn off the lights at night a security guard will look twice at a corner, thinking he sees an apparition. Perhaps it will be obvious, and the place will be filled with glowing crisscrossed scribbles, leading them to replay the CCTV, and to me, and to prosecution.

I am used to being surreptitious with a camera. I will, and have, waited for hours for the right reflection or shadow to pass by rather than interfere with or manipulate people. A past tutor used to accuse me of sleight of hand, because I found myself unwilling to reveal. I am not deliberately secretive, it's just that I concentrate better alone. The onlooker. 

To see all the traces between people, the invisible streams and pulls of connection, of repulsion and attraction. The psychological lines drawn between us.

I believe in the invisible aspects of art, the subliminal.

I am interested in the way insects see things, on a totally different visual spectrum. I like the idea of the security beams you spray on to see. I am also thinking of those projects which map what the eye actually looks at in faces and paintings. Perhaps if could we all construct our individual V&A through our sightline, we would create fantastic structures in different planes and dimensions. I am tracing my own psychological or art trail.


please do not touch

I am halfway through my V&A venture - drawing the museum, mapping my presence. Devoting a day to a particular quest enhances certain aspects of everything - the journey, people I pass, what I notice. This is all about the journey really, because it is about the intent. Behind the scenes. Art is very much about behind the scenes, the process, although for me the process is not the work. I do love these days when I go out as an artist, my artist hat firmly on, my artist eye in. I can let other thoughts and considerations go and fully allow the artist to take the lead.


Walking here, on the tube, arriving, the imaginary visual flipping effect is full on, as if one can see the architectural drawings, the blueprint, the scan, the computer model. Usually I enjoy imagining a thing rendered differently - it's like a reminder of what a thing is to see it or imagine it sketched, photographed, painted in oils, smudged in watercolour, style upon style. That's probably one of my favourite pastimes. However today it went quite far and was a little disconcerting, like having scifi or terminator-like computer glasses that won't switch off.



I have been tracing and smudging my way along edges of the V&A, luminous paint and ultraviolet ink on my fingertips. I thought it may push me out of my comfort zone, but it hasn't really - it feels much like I tend to anyway when I am looking at things and photographing - hoping the group of students or whoever will pass on so that I can have the place more to myself. I am very conscious not to ruin things, even invisibly, and am keeping to the edges of things mostly.



It is making me more aware of the barrier of glass between me and the precious object. I can place my hand in a certain way and photograph it as if I am touching the gold. Ownership.

A woman beside me in the cafe has spent some time dragging extra chairs to her table. She is still by herself. It is as if she is waiting for invisible friends.


I brought with me a little UV torch to see if the pen would show up - it doesn't in this light, but as I tried, I noticed how it lit and altered the objects inside the cabinets. Thoughts stir of benign ways to alter the objects - contribute to them.



I was also very struck today by very ornate enamelled miniature portraits, encrusted with jewels, once a treasure and lover's keepsake. Unknown man, unknown woman, over and over. Unknown. It seemed the saddest word in the world.


All day I have been thinking about how art, when it is shown and disseminated, must matter to people. It must refer to more than itself. It must matter to people in the way that a novel or symphony or a film does, contributing something to the understanding or experience of life, directly or indirectly, deliberately, or deliberately by default.


Art can do this. I am currently surrounded by art that speaks on many levels. Some objects are now rendered precious and given new significance by weight of their age and their provenance. The context of museum, of gallery, frames and adds layers of meaning to a thing once produced for a completely different reason. Much in the V&A is domestic, religious, industrial. Nothing is made specifically to go into a museum. Yet as soon as our fingers leave making a piece it already ceases to be contemporary, and joins the flow of the context of time.

please touch


Drawing the V&A, using its edges as my template, my exploration of line did not develop much further than the initial imaginary blueprint I had started with - seeing through the bulk of my surroundings as if they are made of glass, or as if I can visualise its matrix. 

I was much more drawn in through layers which overlay and overlap the surroundings and objects. Layers of context film the surface of the museum, visible and invisible, obvious and implied. I am interested in the layers of glass, the reflections, the relationships between the viewer and the object - the layers of time and context, and how time recontexualises items. I felt rich in ideas in how to subtly add more layers of context and meaning to objects by lighting and shadows, projection and juxtaposition.
At the V&A I ended my visit in the shop. Ah, the politics of stuff, the desire. Suddenly accessible, sumptuous exhibits are now available to have in one's own museum, to wear, to own. I resisted temptation, but temptation it is. I am interested in the entire gallery and museum experience, including the facilities, the shop, the merchandise, as consumer and artist. 

Subtle and partly visible, or drawing on a subliminal level.

Everyday things that are now treasures.

The museum, as a building and as a confluence of people and ideas. Years worth of tracings from people passing, all in the pursuit of culture and an internal experience.

My own presence as an artist, participating, drawing, looking, privately, secretly, but in full view.


In 2012 I attended a seminar at the V&A about their residency programme. Looking back now at what I wrote then, I realise I have felt like an artist in residence there for some time - now covert - then I said ghost residency.

I listened to all this rather amazed, with the growing feeling that I am already doing some sort of ghost residency there, and have been for some years. I actually have quite a long connection with the V&A, from when I first came to London as a music student in 1982, at the Royal College of Music, which is just around the corner. I passed the V&A on the way there every day, and often went in for a wander. In fact, I remember going there instead of some music theory classes when things got difficult. I would hope to get lost there and come upon sections by serendipity. Of course that always happens. Cabinets of enormous keys, suits of armour, dusty statues. I remember especially enjoying the large ceramic bowls and platters from Venice and Florence of the 14th and 15th century. At the time I was diversifying into Renaissance music, learning the Viol, playing in consorts, and learning about that culture.

It was so fascinating to see these grand objects, which would have been in use and on display, familiar to the characters I was reading about and whose music I was recreating. I found it comfortingly hilarious to see how occasionally the firing techniques distorted the faces.

On and off over the years I have visited often, sometimes with the same intent to wonder, sometimes for an exhibition or purpose, or to spend time with people. I took my children when they were still young enough for me to drag to such places. And as an art student I took photographs there, spent time thinking and writing - something I also did within the MA, as I have written about before.

V&A Diary

Project about 8 weeks, about one day a week.

May, June, July 2015

30th April

I have come to think.

Everything I look at reminds me of other things, other ideas, connections and memories.

It's a rich cultural tapestry.

Letting thoughts happen. A place to think.

14th May

I realised that I have been a covert artist in residence at the V&A for some time, or at least, when I got the idea, it was not such a leap in the progression of this train of thought which has been leading me here all along.

When I come to the V&A, I feel a craving to find a quiet private spot, to sit and think in that echoing silence. I have not yet found that place, but background noise and occasional proximity is okay.

Not having a studio, this is my studio, where I come to think studio thoughts.

A studio without portfolio.

Artist without portfolio

Itinerant artist studio

Peripatetic artist

Museums. Galleries. Off peak. Off season.The long hallways, past the metalwork. To the least frequented galleries and rooms, until, at last, perhaps I get the place to myself. I hear my thoughts. I can be overwhelmed by objects, eras, treasures. I can glance a lifetime's pursuit - a civilisation in a moment, in a cup, in a painting, I can defocus my eyes and listen.

15th May

I think I may have found my place to sit at the V&A. I'm not saying where it is because I want to keep it for myself! But it's fairly remote, and a sturdy desk with just one chair, so it doesn't invite company. Also, there is less traffic here.

There are some things you just know do you some good and that you need. It's no surprise to me how much I need this space and time devoted to thinking and to being an artist. It's like a certain gear can really take over, that precious lens at the core gets to be the one lens. That's really it.

I remember the feeling of having an actual studio when I was preparing for my exhibition in 2007 and had hired what is still to my mind a just about ideal space. That feeling of closing the door, and being in my own space where all I could do was invent and resolve solutions. I still find it moving and yearning to think of that utter freedom. I take it with me on a piece of paper.

The space, the air, the smells.
Layers of atmosphere.

I remember and think a lot about a friend telling me about a residency she had recently returned from. The space and freedom to create. The developing conversations with unlikely characters. The space and time to breathe as an artist, to paint, paint, paint. Coming home, she found a strange depression overcome her as family and domestic commitments reasserted themselves. She described it as having let the genie out of the bottle, she had to cram it back in again.

My children have practically grown up now, but I well remember all those many years as a mother of young children, and the precious time to be yourself, be creative, scheduled into the day, and how very difficult it was to have to change gear suddenly, or to have to curtail or miss that time. There is such a giant artist genie inside that just must find a way out and to take over once in a while.

The inner artist is a genie, a creative genius that knows exactly what it wants and is really beyond expression. And yet it must be expressed, and it takes many years of learning, effort, some frustration and some satisfaction in order to near expressing the voice and form of that genie.

26th May

So many thoughts.

So many crowds of thoughts.

All these objects as I walk through are thoughts leading me into my own thoughts.

I follow. I lead. I choose.

I try a little drawing but my mind goes elsewhere.

My great grandmother got married in the church I can see through this window.
The Brompton Oratory. Louisa Priest.

Fifteen minutes of obscurity.

Long story short ..... the end.

22nd June

This is the first part of this project that I have not written on site at the V&A. I am at home, at my laptop, having spent the day creating this blog. I am aiming to finish up and complete the covert residency. I have all the ideas for the moving image piece and the downloadable PDF museum box, and I think all the images. I really must conclude, even though there is practically infinite material for me to work with at the V&A, in every way.

I've also, unusually for me, stuck all my scribbles and doodles in a sketchbook. It's been a little like doing a school project - actually I totally adored those and somewhat excelled at them. I still have ones from primary school - Sweden, Oil. I've often thought how seminal that way of working was in my life, my thinking and my creative practice. I may as well go back to that, and do what works.

More than that, I have recently been retrospectively organising all the writing and images made at the V&A. While I was there, I was at liberty to create a format and sequence, as out of order as I liked - that was partly the point, to see what emerged. However, I also knew I would be creating a pattern or matrix which I will undoubtedly follow in subsequent covert residencies. That's just how I work. There will be variations, but I have ordered some sort of narrative or diary, some writing about the project itself, some photographs, drawings. And a project - in this case capturing the feel of want, of objects, of treasure, in a paper print construction. And most definitely a piece of moving image, which I am constructing now.

During this project I received three rejections for proposals I had sent for artist residencies. These were different funded projects. I thought I had made pretty good proposals. Feedback is rarely a possibility. I just don't know. These rejections are added to the list of other proposals for exhibitions, awards, jobs and various other opportunities I have applied to since I completed my MA about seven months ago. Nothing. Absolutely nothing so far.

I'm so glad I came up with this idea of covert artist in residence, and I will complete these forever. However, the idea is born from deep frustration and disappointment, and an enormous need to be involved, to work as an artist, to be an artist. It's hard to fit in and to find a place in the art world, somewhere where work is sustainable in that one thing actually does lead to the next. It has never been my aim to work in a vacuum, even though I am a private kind of artist when it comes to working - I need some privacy to work and think.

24th June

I have come to the V&A for what I am planning to be the last time in this current covert residency. I had a plan to take some video footage for the moving image piece I had in mind. It went really perfectly. Standing still while streams of people pass by, all the while concentrated on the statue. By great chance, an artist was sketching it, so I have several minutes of her also, which will make a great shadowy figure and a balance of movement for the piece.

I really should have worn different clackity shoes to get the right sound I have in mind - really that echoey sound which captures the sense of space and stone here. I'll have to wander around, seeking it out.

As to the rest of the project, now I have the conclusions in mind, it's work at home, following through.

This project has given me hope, and proof, that no matter what, no matter the stream of rejections to applications and proposals, I can bloody well get on anyway, and work as I need to work.


These are sketches of a sketch of a statue at the V&A - I am in the middle of multiple processing of layers with video for the moving image piece as the culmination of this covert residency.

I actually forget in which order I made these drawings now. I have also mislaid and can't find online what this statue actually is, and who made it. No matter. I have the idea and type material, and details can be added retrospectively. I have already spent a few days and many intense hours working on these images and all the versions.

It's not really possible to keep a running commentary of my working process - I'd like to, but making is so absorbing, and everything gets held and balanced in my mind so that it's only explainable in patches, or in retrospect.

I edit and process my video footage over and over, refining, trimming, matching up, clarifying, so that I have hundreds of units, all ready to use. While I do this I have a format in mind that I trial with small samples to get the technique right. I edit away all little errors and distractions, so that only what I want is left in the frame.

I know I will be wanting many different versions of images ready to use - faded, vivid, b&w negative, etc. That can't be done in batches, and I could never delegate it, as it involves all the minute aesthetic editing choices, and because of the material and subject, there is always something new, something different, or some previously reliable technique that may not work as well or will work differently this time. I keep track and label all versions, as I know from early experience how quickly processing can become chaotic, and efforts can be repeated or lost. This can be a strangely exhilarating time for me - I get totally absorbed and obsessed, which is just as well as it takes many hours over many days. I can always visualise what is going to happen - predict it, and that prediction goes way back to when I first took the picture, or looked for the picture. Eg- imagining an image in negative, or in colour negative, or vivid, or washed out, and so on. And imagining a dark shadow inverted as a streak of light. And there are other things that I know how to do - all in my palette or repertoire, which I add to each time.

I imagine or visualise it, but it's still a surprise and a pleasure to see an image transform, and sometimes to break my own rules if that works better. I really think it's like painting - you make a mark, so that has to be developed and resolved within the framed area, and the next marks have to be balanced and resolved with the first, and the whole, and so on, until everything is an intricate matrix of meanings and relationships, which can also be summed up in a defining image or communicable, coherent idea. It's the same process, and the same tussle and deep relationship with materials and media.

All those versions of images - they must exist for me, even in a passing subliminal frame. In order to get through to an image - a painting or a piece of moving image, there has to be a lot of layers, some of which may end up practically invisible, but which are all essential.


I make the piece until it is what I imagine and hope for, until I love it and every part of my mind can accept that I have left no stone unturned.

I listen to the music over and over. It does not haunt me less the more I listen to it. I decide that I will not tell exactly how I made this or what I used, as I want people to hear it as it is, and not to listen for what it was before. The sound recording on the video footage is perfectly adequate, and by that I mean completely right. I try all sorts of things to enhance it and make it echoey, but it works best just as it is, balanced with the singing voice.

The way people walked past me, almost through me, you can see it on video, as if I had done something surreptitious. But I am just standing there, and hardly anyone looks at me or the camera. In fact, some people bump into me with no regard - I leave the shudder in the film.


Visiting the V&A again, I made sure to note the name and artist of my statue used for the moving image. The Bather 1915 by Albert Toft (1862 - 1949).

Albert Toft

Image result for The Bather 1915 by Albert Toft (1862 - 1949)

Facsimile at the V&A London 2015

I have been Covert Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, during May, June and July 2015.

A covert artist residency is uninvited, unfunded and self directed, so undercover, if you will. What is an artist residency anyway? They seems to vary as much as the places they happen, but basically, an arrangement is made for an artist to be in residence for a set time, ranging between a few days to around a year, depending on the programme. The artist may be given a space to work, access to resources and facilities, including some not normally available to the public, such as archive materials. There is usually a specific goal in mind, such as an exhibition, display or event as culmination of the residency. In addition, the artist may be expected to open up parts of their practice to the public, perhaps through talks, studio visits or workshops.

The  artist will normally have written a proposal to the residency institution outlining why their practice or process is a good fit for the collection or ethos of the institution, and perhaps how they will engage with the material and the public. Residencies my be part of a programme with specific remits and artists may be selected on those basis, often through a competitive process of application. Institutions like artists residencies because it is part of their remit to reinterpret their collections in new ways, to find new avenues for public engagement, and because they tend to be curious, creative and academic professionals who are interested in artists and innovative ways of understanding their cultural capital. Artists like residencies because it is a chance to work in an environment with different resources and challenges, because they can work through projects to completion, because they can present work and their process to the public and other professionals, and because they can find new aspects to their practice by engaging with interesting materials or circumstances, and make new professional connections.

Residencies may vary considerable outside of these circumstances, may be specific or open, funded or charged, supported or not, prestigious, organised, worthwhile or not.

Residencies may be just that, and involve artists living and working in different places, perhaps internationally, for several weeks of months. clearly this makes residencies impractical for artists who have families, jobs, commitments, and all the normal continuum of life that people are subject to. So residencies for some artists represent an ideal and remote holiday, a breaking of ties, rent or mortgages, and an enormous commitment. Nearer to home residencies may be a negotiation of time commitments and logistics. Clearly, the artist must consider the balance of all these pros and cons.

I recently read a call for artists in residence which provided basic living accommodation and a space to work for two weeks on a fairly remote Scottish peninsula of a Scottish island. The proposal was that the artist would spend two weeks there, engaging with the environment and the local community, give some kind of talk or event for the locals, and at the end, donate a piece of work. There is no funding for travel and upkeep, and no payment, not even the minimum wage. It may be a marvellous opportunity to go to a beautiful, interesting and rugged part of the world, but as a working holiday it ends up fairly expensive. I imagine the organisers consider that they are offering the artist something rare and marvellous, but not many people can work unpaid for two weeks and in fact fund their own expenses and in the end give away the fruits of their labour.

What is to stop an artist organising their own residency within suitable and available parameters? What is to stop me?

I do not have a studio. My studio is spread out on available and temporary spaces at home, getting in the way of living space. My studio is piles of stacked boxes in my bedroom, frustratingly and awkwardly inaccessible. My studio is this piece of paper I am writing on, my laptop where I work. My studio is my state of mind. My studio is the V&A museum, where I am undertaking my first covert artist residency.

It doesn't actually have to be such a marvellous place as the V&A to undertake a covert artist residency. Anywhere will really do, and I am planning to complete others in all sorts of places: libraries, which I have a particular affinity to and a habit of joining, shopping centres... I could easily do this in a field and plan to. And why not a residency at home. That is so logical.

I will carry out a series of residencies in places I am drawn to and places I am not, in places rich with material and places seemingly empty.

There are rules, oh, there are rules. Flexible boundaries which I negotiate with myself each time, basically following and tending towards this set of criteria:
  • I set a time-limit for the residency
  • I go there regularly during the residency
  • I create a project / piece of artwork
  • I find a way to share my conclusion
  • I am free to bend the rules.
I start my series of covert artist residencies at the V&A because of my long personal history here.



I have completed my first covert artist in residence position, at the V&A. Everything is organised, processed, stuck in a book, printed out and placed in folder and boxes. No matter what happens, I have made a model of working for myself that I deeply love and find fruitful and productive. I always find it hard to fulfil briefs that I cannot reinterpret myself - how often do I misunderstand the question! This is it for me, and already it is time to plan the next covert artist residency.