Videos, drawings and found objects

Failures is a set of works I made in 2004, which were never exhibited. The set consists of videos and textual objects that represent attempts to reconcile aspects of everyday life with art making, both in terms of how art emerges out of everyday life and how art itself becomes part of the everyday. Each of the works contains either an anecdote that has been converted into a visual form (though the two elements are not always connected), or a visual form that has generated an anecdote.

Each work speaks of a moment of anxiety, humiliation or weakness. Taken individually, the incidents they point to are fairly inconsequential; so much so that the other people mentioned in the stories would be unlikely to have remembered them weeks, or even days, later. Although there are only seven in the set, they are representative of a longer string of incidents through which I viewed my efforts to become an artist. Together, they form a small constellation of points at which aspects of art making become public, are experienced publicly, or are publicly articulated – whether through exhibitions, published interviews, formal or informal meetings between artists and/or curators – and how these points are experienced privately.

Glenn Brown

Framed drawing, bubblewrap, brown paper.

The drawing is hung on the wall and beneath it is the packaging within which it is transported. Written on the packaging is the following story:

“During a particularly difficult period, I made a drawing of Glenn Brown’s ‘The Day the World Turned Auerbach’. I was aware that as an idea it was a weak one-liner, but I didn’t think it would take very long and I wanted to work off my artist’s block rather than sit around worrying. Because I hadn’t done any drawing for ages it took 18 months to complete and although the quality of the finished product was beyond my expectations, I was still far too embarrassed about the idea to tell anyone I had made it (never mind the time and effort spent on it). So I hid it away in a drawer at home.

“Over the next 6 months or so, I was locked in a battle with myself over the drawing, made worse by the fact I hadn’t succeeded in working off my mental block. Occasionally someone would ask me what I had been up to but I would mumble away about my technician job to avoid discussing the drawing. I knew if I could show it to people they might understand, but by now I had become over-precious and was terrified of taking it out of the drawer in case it got damaged.

“I was eventually forced to play my hand when I was invited to an artist’s house to take part in an informal group crit. I didn’t know all the people there, but I knew of them because they were all respected, nationally known artists, curators and writers. I reluctantly took my drawing because it was all I had.

“The standard of work and conversation was extremely high, and I was becoming increasingly anxious as my turn approached. The artist before me (who was also the host) had laid out these beautiful digital prints all over the table and had barely finished talking, let alone put his work away, when adrenaline got the better of me and I whipped out my drawing and placed it where everyone could see. Before I could say a word there was a collective intake of breath followed by muttering from the group. My heart leapt. The host pointed at one of his prints – there was blood on it! We all looked at our hands and I felt a wave of sickness as I realised it had come from me. I looked down at my picture and there was blood on that too – it must have cut me as I was removing it from its folder. Both the drawing and I were finished.”

Fear and Panic

Video (1 minute and 1 second)

This video is displayed on the camcorder on which it was shot. The sound is experienced one person at a time through headphones. It was shot in the hallway and the bedroom of my home. The script is as follows:

“Today I’ve been worrying about not having enough time to do the things which are important to me. I don’t have enough time to make stuff, or to read the books that I think will help me. It all came to a head when I was reading an article in an art magazine about a painter called Steve Hurd. There was this one paragraph about people not having much of an attention span these days. It wasn’t complicated but for some reason I had to read it three or four time to take it in. I couldn’t enjoy the simple irony of this scenario because I was so consumed by fear and panic.”

Vito Acconci

Inland Revenue envelope, payslip envelope, two found ‘paintings’, graphite

The anecdote for this work is written across the two envelopes and the wall. Inserted into the envelopes are two small framed prints from a charity shop that can only be partially seen through the windows of the envelope. Through the Inland Revenue window, one can see a small group of people looking at a large windmill. Through the payslip window, one can see a small boy lying face down in the grass. The text reads as follows:

“I went to the opening of a friend’s exhibition in a small town that has only one art gallery. The line-up of artists was really good though, and to my surprise a particular curator was there whose work I really admire. At the after show dinner the table was effectively split in two, one half occupied by a video artist and his commercial gallery entourage, the other half by my friend and his socially engaged artist colleagues. This curator was sitting in the middle and was the link between the two worlds. I was in awe and, I am ashamed to say, unable to contribute to the conversation.

“I got another chance a few weeks later when the same curator came to Manchester to talk about his work. I didn’t want to mess up twice so I went to the pub with everyone afterwards to try again. This time I fared better, making at least two sharp and witty comments. Just before he had to leave to get his train I was chatting to him about Vito Acconci. When he was quoting something Acconci once said to him he put on this ridiculous gravely voice. I said that everyone who quotes Vito Acconci always does that voice and he laughed and agreed. A friend at the same table said that I do a good Vito Acconci impression – a monologue that I had lifted from that This Is Modern Art programme. As I was about to do it I realised that everyone present was listening and I was completely thrown. In an instant I had forgotten the monologue, why it was funny, what it’s point was, everything; but to my ultimate regret I attempted it anyway. The curator was speechless and embarrassed, the rest of the table stared at me in pity.

“If I meet him again I may just tell him that I like his work.”

Denture Repairs While-U-Wait

Video (49 seconds)

This video is displayed as a small projection, and the sound experienced one person at a time through headphones. It was shot in a toilet cubicle at an art museum. The script is as follows:

“The other day I was waiting in traffic at the Piccadilly end of Newton Street. I glanced right and noticed a little boy come out of the Denture Repairs While-U-Wait shop with his mum. He looked really pale, and had to stop for a moment to retch. As I watched him shuffle away down the street, I thought, ‘it’s a shame you don’t see adults reacting like that on their way out of art galleries.’”


Six junk-mail envelopes and their contents

The anecdote for this work was assembled using the contents of six junk-mail shots delivered to my home from companies with whom I had no relationship. The documents were cut up, and the words formed in the window sections of the envelopes. The envelopes were then placed such that the story could be easily read by one person at a time. It reads as follows:

“Today I decided to go to Liverpool because I didn’t have to start work until 5.30. I visited the Mike Kelley show at the Tate. It was called The Uncanny and was a load of work by other artists mixed with curiosities borrowed from museums.

I was making my way around the exhibition and was heading over to a couple of photos which had caught my attention when I happened to glance at a sculpture of a baby on a low plinth. Stood next to it was a girl, perhaps in her early 20s, who beckoned me over.

‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘before you read the title of this piece, I was wondering if you could tell me what you think it is about?’
Well, I could feel my stress levels rising and my thoughts turning to shit. She was obviously trying to catch me out or look clever or something so I had to be careful. I took a deep breath and looked at the baby. It was on its knees with its feet crossed. Its forehead was touching the floor, as were its arms from the elbows to its hands (which

were palm down). I resisted the temptation to say it was praying as this was surely the obvious answer and would certainly result in my looking as stupid as I was beginning to feel. I was becoming dizzy with panic.
‘I reckon it looks dead!’ I spluttered. What the hell am I saying? I tried again. ‘No, it’s like, trying to learn to walk or something but it can’t – it keeps dropping back to a crawl. And it’s really fucked off and just put its head down for a minute. The sculptor has captured it in this permanent

state of narked resignation!’
‘Oh right,’ she said, ‘I thought it looked like it was praying.’
‘I can see that I guess,’ I said, my cheeks burning, ‘so what’s it called?’
‘Mohammed’ she said.”


Video (1 minute and 42 seconds)

This video is displayed on a preview monitor. The sound is experienced one person at a time through headphones. It was shot in front of the TV on my living room couch. The script is as follows:

“I woke up a few days ago and it dawned on me that my bedroom was an absolute shit-hole. The thought of tidying up really depressed me, so I decided that in order to get through it I should be more creative in my approach.

“I booked some time off work and began cataloguing the exact position of every object in the room. I took just over 200 photographs and filled 3 notebooks. I labelled everything, boxed it all up and removed it from the room. I did the same with the furniture but only after noting every wardrobe door angle and the distance each drawer was out. Eventually, only the carpet was left. I then replaced everything, bit by bit, until the room looked identical to when I awoke that morning.

“It looks pretty amazing, so good in fact that I don’t dare disturb it. I am now sleeping on the couch in the living room until I know how best to deal with it.”

Your Route to Business Growth

Envelopes, frames from a pound shop, holiday brochure, leaflet, biro

This work was actually made for, and displayed in, an exhibition at Cornerhouse in Manchester. It was a selling show, and – needless to say – nobody bought it. The text reads as follows:

“It was difficult to decide what to put in the show. I wanted to do something, even though I knew that making the kind of thing required does not come naturally to me. At first I thought I might do a new drawing or even a few, but then thought that since I wouldn’t have done them without having been invited to do this show they would look insincere. I have done that kind of thing before and felt really annoyed at myself afterwards. I saw some other artists in the pub and asked them what they were going to do to see if I could get an idea of what the show might look like. They either had stuff already or worked in a way that meant they could do what they do anyway. One person was struggling though, which made me feel a bit better. I was still no closer though. I thought of my text pieces that haven’t been shown yet but the context is wrong. Next, I thought about buying some cheap frames and doing a watercolour of the bit of paper that comes with the frame that has the dimensions and the name of frame’s design on it and then reframing it. But that’s an idea that most people have had at some point, a bit like doing a drawing of cracked glass and then framing it behind glass (though I did entertain that idea for a while). I made some greetings cards a while ago – not the kind you might buy in the shop here at Cornerhouse – well, you could I guess, but they only have text on them and they say horrible things. And anyway, even if I did want to submit them, they don’t meet the criteria of the show, what with things being attached solidly to the wall or whatever. In fact, the only things I have

which match the criteria are my paintings, but the context is wrong again so that’s no good. I was at a loss, and could feel the panic rising. My girlfriend, who is also an artist, kept asking me questions to get my brain going. She asked them in this sympathetic voice whilst simultaneously running off one beautiful drawing after another for her entry. She’ll probably sell them all. But at least I beat her at backgammon before. Several times in fact.”