Art Party Conference – Scarborough

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Headed up to Scarborough at the weekend for the inaugural Art Party Conference organised by Bob and Roberta Smith and Crescent Arts.

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I’ve been to Labour Party Conference a few times and performed my satirical comedy show The Soapbox Cabaret on two occasions – but as soon as I stepped inside the Spa at Scarborough it was apparent that the Art Party Conference would be a world away from the murky world of block votes and corporate lobbying.

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The target was clear – Tory hateboy Michael Gove, the man with a mission to remove art from education, and erase the cultural memory of the nation. Where Thatcher was the ‘milk snatcher’ Gove is the ‘crayon grabber’.

Bob and Roberta Smith read out his impassioned letter to Michael Gove making the case for the importance of art in education.

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Artists had come from far and wide to rally to the cause, show their work and generally have a bit of a laugh in the bracing North Yorkshire air. I was there to present my documentary about Bob – Make Your Own Damn Art, a film that focuses on the humorous polemical campaigning heart of Bob’s work.

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Jessica Voorsanger as Salvador Dali

There was a great programme of films shown in the splendour of the Spa Theatre, a space more accustomed to vaudeville than artist film and video. Amongst the films there was Cornelia Parker’s Chomskian Abstract, Ian Bourn’s zen meditation on the cockney staple Black, Green and White – the way of the pie, and a John Smith programme that featured the world premiere of another of his hotel diary films, Demo Tape, as well as classics such as OM and Gargantuan.

Apparently Michael Gove was seen walking out into the sea the next day in his pants before disappearing beneath the waves.

 

 

Grow your own ideas

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The South Bank Centre at the weekend was engulfed in a festival of homespun politics and DIY culture. Grow Your Own Ideas being inspired by the work of artist Bob and Roberta Smith.

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The roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall sprouted this magnificent wild flower garden.

During the Second World War bombsites became impromptu parks and gardens – the site around St. Paul’s was particularly lush with tall stems of flowers and blossoming Buddliea.

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Large areas of post-industrial London could look like this again – such a shame to sell the Royal Docks to the Chinese government when it could be reclaimed by nature.

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I’d filmed Bob and Roberta Smith making then installing his Mobile Brownfield Site outside the Royal Festival Hall for Pestival in 2010. His old Volvo and its trailer festooned with weeds, nettles and moss.

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Later in the afternoon on Saturday my film about Bob, Make Your Own Damn Art, was screened in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

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Then the Ken Ardley Playboys punk-rocked out against a backdrop of old archive film demonstrating home crafts.

Holloway Old Fire Station

This was the venue for last night’s screening of Make Your Own Damn Art – the Old Fire Station in Mayton Street, Holloway, now the home of the brilliant Rowan Arts.

As I was sat at the front of the room during the Q&A I noticed a hatch at the top of the wall near the ceiling then cast my eyes across to a ladder running down the wall and realised that where we sat chatting about Bob’s art and my film was where firemen would have slid down a pole and raced off to battle blazes across Islington.

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Make Your Own Damn Film #5

Tomorrow sees the ‘world premiere’ in of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art – the world of Bob and Roberta Smith in the East End Film Festival. It’s 3 years almost to the day that I started filming – first at the Portman Gallery in Bethnal Green then damn the next morning as Bob created his mobile brownfield site to sit on the forecourt at the Royal Festival Hall.

The prospect of the post-screening Q&A has forced to me think again why I made the film in the first place. In truth, the possibly unexpected answer can be found on this blog – it came from my fascination with Leytonstone and wanting to learn about the place I had just moved to.

I’d seen a poster for the Leytonstone Centre of Contemporary Art and wanted to learn more about it and the artist who created it. The film in a way is the result of that curiosity. So although it’s about a unique voice in British art and the importance of art in society it is also as much about localism for me personally.
I wonder how that will go down at the Q&A tomorrow.

In the afternoon tomorrow I’ve got the huge honour of hosting the discussion and Q&A with Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair following the screening of their film Swandown.

I’ve been following this project – a psychogeographer’s dream ticket – ever since I first heard it mooted in 2007. So tonight I’ll be skimming back through my Iain Sinclair archive and re-watching Andrew Kotting’s short films in preparation – what a hardship.