TITLE: ACCOUNT OF THE PROCESS OF CREATING ”SURFACE_MAINTENANCE
AND DEPTH EXPLORATION”
I had had a 4-pack of “Festivity” kitchen towels on my studio floor for months. I didn’t know what to do with it, I just kept moving it around the floor waiting for something to happen. I made drawings of it, but the actual object was too perfect, it would always be better than any drawing.
I had previously bought “Festivity” kitchen towels on several occasions, wowed by the implications of such a brand name on such a product. The design then was relatively modest, “FESTIVITY” in a peculiar 60s script emblazoned within a central diamond, and outside of that just some simple star-forms in white on purple. Recently however I wandered into a shop and caught my eyes on a new improved and upgraded “Festivity” packaging.
The design now has really gone crazy, much busier, in full colour, and with an image of a plump bunch of juicy grapes – symbol of Bacchus! They can only mean that their kitchen towels are intended for the clearing up of spills caused in the wild course of Bacchic revelries! I think that’s wonderful. It brings together, in this one object of modest status, two contradictory human desires: the desire to celebrate and to spill, and the desire to clear the mess up and make everything all nice again. The two conflicting desires are brought into fantastic proximity, at one moment an intense abandon and desire for absolute disorder, and then immediately a change of heart and the diligent work of putting everything straight, cleaning things up and returning all into good order. The genius of this packet of “Festivity” kitchen towels is that it achieves an absolute simultaneity for these two desires, absolutely diametrically opposed but yet co-existing implacably in human hearts.
So I wanted to find a way of presenting this perfect object, which I could not possibly improve on or match the original power of in a drawing of it, in the context of some sort of sculpture, or in a performance. And so I just moved it round and round on my studio floor and came up with nothing.
In the Summer I went to Brookland, on Romney Marsh, for a four-day residency. I was making books, a book each day, but on the last day one of the other artists there, Maggie Rose, suggested that we ought to make performances there, in the dyke (the dyke was very nice, running along the edge of a cornfield and filled with a glorious black silt). Maggie gave me a ball of string and told me to make a plumb line with which to gauge the depth of the dyke. I tied the string around a nice stone and tossed it into the dyke, and when I pulled it out the stone was draped with the most marvelous thick green straggling slimy weeks. I made drawings of the plumb line in this state before abandoning it in the grass. Just as we were leaving Brookland however, I decided to go back and retrieve it – I thought that perhaps I could use it in a future performance. I took it back to my studio, and after a few days of living with it I decided to just keep it as it was, as a sculpture.
As I continued moving the “Festivity” kitchen towels around the floor, I tried once or twice to combine the kitchen towels with the plumb line, but nothing worked. Into the Autumn, however, I went to Sudbury, Gainsborough country, and made another plumb line there; and I collected more positively-branded packs of kitchen towel: “PLENTY”, “FREEDOM”... Eventually all of these objects on the floor seemed to arrange themselves into something that made sense and I thought, okay, they do belong together after all.
Both sets of objects, the kitchen towels and the plumb lines, encapsulate within themselves a conflict of contradictory urges (and hint at broader dramas of the human adventure whereby our perfectly legitimate, increasingly diverse appetites pull us in multifarious, ever more irreconcilable directions). The kitchen towels encapsulate an urge towards over-spilling (of liberty, of celebration, of material abundance), and the other urge to clean up and contain the spill. The plumb lines encapsulate the urge to measure and to know, and the urge to drag up a lot of formless, immeasurable matter.
When the two sets of objects are brought into dialogue, further oppositions come into play. One half of the sculpture could be waiting to clean up after the other half, the kitchen towel ready to wipe the soiled stones clean. On the other hand, the heavy stones with their strings could be tethering the towels, holding the puffy flyaway clouds in place.
Then again, the light and puffy-looking packages of kitchen towel, grouped in bulk, begin to resemble a turreted castle – they turn to stone... And then the strings looped over them start to look like ropes thrown up in a storming attempt...
The stones also look to me, when they are placed upon the packages of kitchen towel, like things placed upon a recumbent human body, for medical or other reasons...
I hope that this account of the process by which “Surface Maintenance And Depth Exploration” came into being provides some useful information in support of the sculpture’s claim to the status of an experimental artwork and consequent eligibility for exhibition in the present context, even if it is not possible within the remit of such a narrowly-focused testimony to forward any more substantial argument than that my sculpture must be experimental since, when I was making it, I didn’t know what I was doing.