Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Time I Totally Dominated Pseuds’ Corner in Private Eye

This interview with the late and wonderful artist Helen Chadwick resulted in quotes which filled the whole of one issue’s Pseuds’ Corner in Private Eye!!!

My dreams seep into an unprocessed soup: In Bed With Helen Chadwick

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 20 July 1994
Helen Chadwick is an artist who works with unusual materials. Her latest exhibition, ‘Effluvia’, which opens today at the Serpentine Gallery, London W2, includes a large fountain of melted chocolate.

I DIMLY recollect childhood dreams about tubs of excrement and the chocolate fountain is related to these. Chasing dreams, dredged up from the unconscious, is the starting point for creating something implausible. A work often begins as an impossible half-whim and you say: ‘I’m going to make that happen’.

If I’m working with certain materials the squeamishness that I have managed to suspend during the day will come out in my dreams. I stitched a lot of little lambs’ tongues together for one piece and the physical feeling of digging the needle through, trying not to tear the flesh, pervaded my sleep for a few nights afterwards. It was a rough roller-coaster ride and I would wake up exhausted.

Most of my ideas for works crystallise in that reverie between sleep and wakefulness, when you idle into neutral and follow funny little chains of thought that flow.

Sometimes they become so lucid that I jump out of bed to write them down. This is quite disturbing for David, my partner, who groans and complains, but I’m scared I’ll forget them.

I’ve resisted the temptation to record my dreams. As soon as you try to remember them you start embellishing. I just let them all seep, unprocessed, into the same soup that everything else is fed into. And that soup occasionally farts out an idea.

I don’t set much store by a psycho-analytical perspective on dreams. I try not to give them any superstitious significance, although my mother was famous in the East End of London for her ability to read dreams. She deliberately blighted that facility in herself when she correctly predicted some terrible tragedies. The only time I do worry is if I dream of a particular person – I have this ridiculous notion that someone in danger can send out a signal. I usually phone them the next day to see if they’re all right.

I like to sleep more than I like exploring the night and consequently have few other nocturnal activities. I like socialising but the problem is getting there – I tend to forget about invitations. I wind down by watching a bit of rubbish television from bed or reading. At the moment I’m reading The Foul and the Fragrant, about the cultural perception of smell in the 19th century – it’s fascinating.

I rarely have trouble going off but the quality of my sleep varies enormously. Because I’m under a lot of pressure preparing for the show I’m having very turbulent nights at the moment. Images of things I’m making are scrambled together with strange little fractional incidents that are generally things going wrong. I wake up frequently with a cloud of dreams around me into which I fall again.

A lot of my work relates to sex – something else I do at night. How to describe sexual pleasure in retrospect – and I want to – is an amazing problem. It would be farcical to try to express those states where the mind and senses are all scrambled up together – that you can also feel when eating or going to the loo – in spoken language. Art is one way to explore that synaesthesia of experience.

When David and I had been together for about a year we were living in different countries. There’s nothing like separation to sharpen up desire and out of that sense of urgency the concept of the ‘piss flowers’ was formed when we met again in Canada. We heaped up piles of snow and first I would piss into it and then he would piss around my mark. I made casts of the indentations which were eventually exhibited as bronze sculptures.

That was a unique form of love-making, a metaphysical conceit for the union of two people expressing themselves bodily. And we’ve been together ever since.

(Photograph omitted)

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A Very American End To the Affair

I’m loving this from an article by Hannah Betts in today’s Telegraph ruminating on the Hollande-Treirweiler affair:

‘A comrade whom I hold in the highest regard separated from an American spouse, with whom he had endured the conventional to-may-toe / to-mah-toe disputes.

As the ink dried on their decree nisi, she remarked that it was “the end of an era”. No less gravely, he corrected: “No, it is the end of an error”; a retort that gave him rather more satisfaction than the marriage.’

Tramp Wars 2

‘Course they’re Romanian, it’s in all the fucking papers.’

Tennish, a brisk day, the wind never ceases, blows Arfur’s long hair back off his face then into his eyes. He strokes a greasy paw, hooks back lank locks behind a waxy ear.

‘…taking all our fucking jobs…’

‘You ain’t got a job.’

‘So?’

‘Someone called me a tramp the other day, fucking school kid.’

‘We might be tramps but at least we’re fucking English!’ Assent and laughter. English Tramps.

An empty MacDonalds brown paper bag cartwheels across the pebbly beach. One of the two dogs which regularly inhabit the English Tramps’ bunker flings itself off the parapet and onto the stones where its legs buckle with the unanticipated impact.

The English Tramps laugh as the stocky staff picks itself up and gallops after the bag, past the Romanian bunker which is sparsely occupied this morning, and under the rotting pier where rusty iron drips, resists the centuries’ battering of waves, and carries decaying remains of the burnt out House of Fun, Ghost Train, Bingo and Ballroom on its hunched red back.

The dog is a dot on the distant pebbles. ‘Oy! Doreen! Fucking come back!’

Harry of the black teeth spits. ‘Doreen?! You can’t call a dog Doreen -‘

‘Why not?’

‘It’s ‘is mum’s name innit -‘  Sheila McGee puffs down the stone steps from the promenade with two blue carrier bags bursting with cans  from the only shop left in town that will sell them these lethal concoctions. Sheila was once a beauty blue eyes red hair before alcohol got her in its savage jaws.

The English Tramps surround the carrier bags, dying of thirst.

‘Giss some money,’ says Sheila, stubborn. ‘Pound a can’.

‘Ey Look its the fucking Romanians,’ Arfur pronounces the word with relish on the Rooo. Roooomaynians. From the easterly bunker and along the colonnade, two hard-eyed skinny characters approach with exaggerated bravado.

‘Oy!’

They ignore the English Tramps and continue purposefully past their bunker.

‘Oy you! I’m talkin’ to you -‘

The Romanians walk past swiftly as their audience swivels to follow their retreating backs. Arfur drains his can and throws it after them. Doreen immediately sets off in pursuit, barking and growling, claws skittering and sliding over the concrete.

The Romanians look back alarmed, see bared teeth, bravado challenged, defeated, break into a run.

The English Tramps all roar with laughter.

‘Gis another one, sweet Sheila McGee.’

‘Where they goin anyway?’

‘Public bogs. Even they ain’t gonna take a shit in public in broad daylight.’

The Romanians, having taken a shit and noted the provision of public showers, have returned to their bunker via the upper level, the promenade. The Romanian bunker has filled up and a dozen pairs of vengeful eyes are turned on the English Tramps as the returnees deliver a resentful account of their adventure.

A triumphant high possesses the English Tramps for they have routed the intruders; in pairs, in threes, or alone, they swirl and lift their knees and punch the air in a merry victory dance, miming ‘cheers’ to the Rooomaynians.

Morning has shuddered into a grey afternoon and the later hours bring their own problems. Sheila McGee’s blue carrier bags are full of empties now, hanging limply from the edge of the bench where Sheila herself is unconscious, sitting slumped like a rag doll with her feet sticking outwards, splayed, her head lolling to one side.

‘It’s your shout Arfur. The Post Office is still open.’

‘I ain’t got no fuckin money’

‘You gotta have a tenner left you ain’t been all week.’

A vague threat of violence enters the space. Arfur sits down next to Sheila whose battered plastic handbag is abandoned beside her. His comrades look out to sea or become engaged in conversation, their eyes looking any direction but his.

Very very quietly, Arfur unzips the top of Sheila’s handbag and sneaks his hand inside, removing a small purse, like a little girl’s plaything, pink with a golden snap top. This, he also violates, shaking out a collection of change and thrusting it into his pocket before replacing the purse and re-zipping the bag.

Now, our hero looks along the colonnade considering his route to the shop.

Once, in another life, Arfur was walking in the East Sussex hills, his face upturned to the clouds and blue sky, following the path of a crimson air balloon drifting southwards above him, the hum of bees and the afternoon’s drowsy stillness punctuated by the hiss release of flames, shwuuuuu… suddenly, from nowhere, came a galloping of hooves through the thistles and a herd of bullocks rushed him from a small copse at the top of the field…

The Romanians, grouped together, hands thrust deep in pockets, hoods up against the wind, for some reason reminded him of that dislocating afternoon.

Arfur decides to take the steps, and stumbling slightly, passes from the concrete underworld into the light.

Tramp Wars 1

When you get to the south coast of England you realize there is nowhere left to go; it’s the end of the road. A suitable metaphorical environment for the elderly who contemplate the sea’s silver horizon; disastrous for the drinkers, the hordes of the hopeless who somehow discover themselves hungover, washed up, and stranded on these pebbly shores.

London boroughs have been shipping their problem families down to cheaper accommodation and a more forgiving social environment for years, but now it seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Fighting, brawling, spitting, vomiting, drinking, peeing, shouting, swearing, what you looking at. London Road, St Leonards on Sea, Hieronymus Bosch on a weekday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mr Margolys takes a refreshing walk along the promenade, having left his sea front home and double locked the door. White waves graze the pebbles, then withdraw. A soothing repetition like a heartbeat. A blue sky. Deep breath, seagulls soar. Ah this is the life. Expiring, inhaling, all regular and fine. ‘Hi how are you? Yes fine thanks.’

Beneath the promenade, a walkway, invisible to those above. A concrete colonnade, never dry, and reeks of piss. A sense of danger, hidden from view, promenade walkers’ eyes ahead and don’t look down over the edge, beneath the railings, inhabited as it is by English tramps and drinkers and their dogs.

Two round fortresses, once romantic viewpoints for seated lovers, jut out onto the pebbles perhaps a hundred yards apart. As the afternoon progresses, these are thronging with drinkers. From the westerly fortress, English voices rise and are audible to Mr Margolys, Julia, pushing her newborn baby in a pram and Madge and Sol who just moved down from London, marveling at the enormous house they got for the price of their pokey one-bed flat in Hackney.’You fucking what?’.

Cans of industrial strength lager flash in the sunlight on the way to eager, if slightly uncontrollable, lips. Guzzle guzzle belch, wipe mouth. Chuck empty  onto beach. Dog races onto stones, retrieves can. Nah you fucking idiot. Boot. Yelp. Chuck it back, restrain hound. Laughter, dog snaps and struggles. Haha.

In the easterly fortress, strangers. Narrow-eyed newcomers, stubbly, furtive, dark hoodies and old-fashioned jeans. Sharing rations, cans of booze, smoking, picking up fag ends, rolling. Spitting, shoulders hunch against solid gusts of southwesterly wind. Nothing to do. Intermittent radio-tuning snippets of another language heard on the prom by Julia, pushing her baby home now, turning her collar up, thinking of dinner. Romanian. New arrivals with nowhere to go, homeless now the channel has been breached. Fierce and defensive. Gathering.

As the sun begins to set this thin mid-winter afternoon, all eyes turn westwards, mesmerized by the routine of the universe. Madge and Sol lean on the railings, Sol stamps out a cigarette, the butt falls over the edge and into the damp colonnade where it is swiftly gathered by an unseen hand.

All eyes are on the sunset but those of the English Tramps who have suddenly become aware of their easterly neighbours. ‘Who the fuck?’ ‘What the fuck’ ‘Fucking Hell’. A low growling as the sun slides over the end of the planet and dark clouds roll in.