Dressing up Bars occurs at the completion of my six month residency as part of the Continuum programme here at Husk. In May last year I began to write a novel which also has the title Dressing up Bars. The novel is loosely science fiction or speculative fiction, and I discovered quickly that it will probably take me a lot longer to finish than I initially thought. Although I began the project in May, many parts of the story can be traced back much earlier to various sculptures, pieces of writing or lectures that I have made over the past five or six years, as well as to environments or situations that I have dreamt about. With hindsight it seems that attempting to write a novel is the natural conclusion to a body of research that has been taking place for some time.
In this show I am presenting a set of nine sculptures. During my residency at Husk I have been using art practice as a research method to learn more about the nine principal characters in my story. It was unexpected that my writing should lead me so quickly back to my sculptural praxis, however it has proved to be a tremendously fun and refreshing way to work. This set of nine sculptures could be considered to be sketches, psychological maps or divinations for each of these characters.
Much of this work is influenced by the chaotic text The White Goddess by Robert Graves. Borrowing my father’s copy of this many years ago helped me to make contact with a poetic logic I had not previously considered, and it has stayed with me since. In The White Goddess Graves talks a great deal about the Ogham, an early medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language. Each of the letters in the Ogham alphabet is named after a type of tree or after another phenomena such as the sea.
Early on I made the decision that the nine principal characters in my story should be connected to nine of the Ogham letters. Seven of them to each of the seven sacred trees that Graves claims make up a traditional Irish grove: ‘birch, willow, holly, hazel, oak, apple and alder’. For these seven sculptures I have used wood from each of these trees gathered from Herefordshire as a starting point. The remaining two characters, Kai and Emily respectively, are connected to two of the final letters in the Ogham script, often interpreted as ‘grove’ and ‘the sea’.
I first began to explore the characters of Emily and Kai, and also the Captain, in early 2015 in an ongoing nine part serial I write for Living in the Future Magazine entitled ‘Hinterland Shift’. Fundamentally the setting for the serial and also for the novel is the play of Emily's own mind. Experientially, for Emily, various environments arise and are momentarily solid but not lasting.
Finally, Dressing up Bars is the title for all of this because parts of the story are about a youth culture that meets at the Dressing up Bars.
If it’s possible I would request that you could keep noise to a minimum in the exhibition space itself. This is an attempt to avoid the ancient trend that art openings are firstly an opportunity to catch up with friends and secondly a chance to take a look at the work itself. However it is also extremely important to catch up with friends! To this end I have set up nine clusters of chairs around the bar where we can talk to our hearts content.
I would like to thank James Hedges and Rebecca Bligh at Living in the Future Magazine for their ongoing support of the Hinterland Shift series.
I would also like to thank Shanon Sinn, a Canadian writer whose excellent Living Library blog has saved me a great deal of time with my own research about the Ogham alphabet and the associated trees.
I wish also to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to Wayne Holloway-Smith and Kirsty Kerr who founded the Continuum Arts programme. I am extremely grateful to them and to the rest of the Husk team for their tremendous kindness and generosity to me during my time here.
Husk Gallery and Creative Space, 649 – 651 Commercial Road, London, E14 7LW