Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Maps and mapping: Layla Curtis
I have a bit of a thing about maps; mainly it's that I don't trust them. At all. I don't just mean the footnote at the bottom left hand corner that says "NOT TO SCALE" that you only notice when you've been walking for hours towards a place that looked like it was just around the corner; or the sponsored tourist maps that show all nine Barcelona branches of El Corte Ingles out of all proportion with the surrounding area. No, these are easy deceits to unravel and little more than an inconvenience. The big lies are contained in those maps that purport to reveal truths, to be complete and unasailable in their authority; maps made for war and for capital. All maps lie - not because they want to but because they are our agents and we seek to lie through them.

At the same time, maps are a comfort to us; they show us where we are, where we might be and our relationship to others. They challenge us to explore making the opportunities for exploration seem available and accessible.

Layla Curtis has been working with maps for years. Her work challenges us to ask more of the maps that we think we know and to question the organisation of the information they contain. Her map piece United Kingdom, 1999 hangs in Tate Britain. Her more recent work has made use of global positioning technology during a visit to Antarctica and can be viewed at
Image credits: Layla Curtis, Hard Cash 2003 (detail 1)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The following is a short story based on The Monkey's Paw by WW Jacobs.
With apologies to Kate, Nigel and especially Simon.
The art of wishing
Through the flimsy plastic pocket, the words Three Wishes Brand in gold letters glinted in the afternoon sunlight. I’d left my pencil tin at home and rummaging through my bag had come across the tiny art set that had leapt from a Christmas cracker the previous December. The set contained five pencils: one blue, one red and three graphite sticks marked with the words light, dark and draw.

As I set myself up for class in the life drawing room I tried to reflect on the feedback I’d received on last semester’s work. I’d been told that my work, though improving, left the model floating on the page; he needed, apparently, to be somehow rooted, to indicate gravity, depth and very possibly something else that I had already forgotten. Well, I would try…

Paper arranged for the first pose, I shook the pencils from their pocket and as I wondered where to begin the pencil marked draw caught my eye. It seemed so simple but every time I went to put pencil to paper I seemed to lose my confidence. Each measurement, when repeated, was different from the last time and each patch of light and dark seemed to shift as though we sat beneath fast moving cloud on a sunny day.

Nigel, our teacher, had blessed the session with one of his specially compiled soundtracks, this time it was Pink Floyd and the repeated ker-ching of Money seemed to mark off the minutes as they passed, beating out my sense of panic and desperation.

More as a distraction than for any purpose I rearranged my pencils, gilded text uppermost. Three Wishes Brand. Three wishes, that’s what I should do: wish.

“I want…” I faltered, what did I want? For this class to be over? To be a great artist? No, even lucky pencils must have their limits; no, “I want my drawings to be rooted!” I exclaimed, silently.

And so I began, hesitantly at first, to draw. Beginning at the model’s head I lightly sketched his position in the room. He was sitting on a set of steps, half turned towards the window. From the far end of the room where I sat, the strong afternoon sunlight made his feet seem immersed in shadow. I tried to transfer this impression to my paper and surprisingly enough it seemed to make sense.

As Nigel called the last five minutes of the pose he began his ritual pacing around the room offering the occasional cryptic nod or point. As he peered over the top of my sketch pad he paused, frowned and pointing at the bottom of the page said simply “better”. Oh good.

At the end of the 30 minute pose a model break was called and the group dispersed. Simon the model, who usually reached for his trousers at this point stayed where he was and called over to Nigel. A short, quiet and rather anxious conversation ensued. For the rest of the break Simon stayed put and as the class resumed Nigel announced that the remainder of the poses for the day would be sitting poses.

As I began to draw again the shadows over Simon’s feet seemed to climb up to his knees, as though he were sitting in a puddle of dry ice. The shadows deepened, my drawing became faster and more confident, as though the eye and hand had been connected directly, without any of the usual sluggish interference from my brain. Perhaps my wishing pencils had worked.

At 4 o’clock Nigel proposed an early end to the day, urging us to make the most of the sunshine. As we packed away our boards and easels Simon the model stayed where he had sat for the whole afternoon. He looked tired and worried and strangely still. Nigel, who had left the room as soon as he’d called an end to the class returned with one of the premises people and another man I hadn’t seen before who carried a first aid kit.

Back in our studio, putting away my drawings, I realised that I’d left my coat in the drawing room. As I picked up my coat from the back of my chair by the doorway I could see Simon surrounded by a crowd, all apparently looking at his feet.

Back in the studio the following week I was flicking through the drawings from the previous session when Kate arrived. “Did I miss much last week?” I showed her the drawings and told her about the strange business with Simon and the sitting down poses. “Hmm, he does look a bit tired” she offered as I packed up my stuff and prepared to head up to the class.

When we arrived in the life drawing room Simon was already in position in a chair in the middle of the room. Naked from the waist up, his legs were covered by a sheet as he sat talking to Nigel and looking worriedly around the room. Arriving early we made our way to the far side of the room and set up boards and pads ready for the session. As I took out what I had come to think of as my lucky pencils Kate pointed and sniggered “Did they come out of a cracker?” she asked. “Actually yes” I replied and showing her the Three Wishes legend told her about last week’s wish for more rooted drawings. “Well, it looks like you should be careful what you wish for” she said, nodding towards Simon. From where we sat his left heel and calf were visible behind the sheet; stringy tendrils fell from his ankles and the calf looked deeply crazed, like, well, like bark. Bark. The significance of the word hit me at once and Kate and I looked at each other, appalled and fascinated at the same time.

As the room began to fill Simon pulled the sheet tighter around his legs, covering them entirely. He and Nigel were still deep in conversation, both looking anxious, their low tones revealing only the occasional snippet of “contracts” and “hours”.

“Perhaps” offered Kate “you should think about using another of your wishes?” I wasn’t so sure. If the state of Simon’s legs was down to my wish for better drawings then I shuddered to think what another wish might bring. “Look, I’ll do it” she said, picking up the packet of pencils from the board in front of me “I wish that Simon’s legs would go back to how they were before; as good as new.”

We began the session predictably enough with another sitting pose, Simon still covered from the waist down by the sheet. Nigel noted that we should aim to capture the folds of the sheet; a virtue wrung from necessity if ever there was one. The pose was a long one, 30 minutes in total and unusually, as the time wore on, Simon became increasingly restless; shifting in his seat and drawing muttered complaints from the class.

At the break we left the room to go for a coffee. Returning 15 minutes later we found the door to the room closed and a group of people waiting outside. Nobody seemed to know what was going on until a man and a woman in paramedic jumpsuits pushed through the crowd. A few minutes later one the paramedics left the room again returning quickly with a stretcher trolley.

A little later the door to the drawing room opened and Nigel emerged “Simon is unwell so we’ll finish the class for today. Please clear the corridor as quickly as you can.” Protests followed about belongings left behind in the drawing room. “Okay,” he faltered take another break and come back in 20 minutes.” As he turned to go back into the room we could just see the stretcher trolley surrounded by paramedics and others. As someone moved a pair of legs was visible; baby’s legs, kicking away in frustration.

When we finally returned to the room to collect our things Nigel was still there, staring out of the window. “Is Simon okay?” I asked. He walked over towards us and picking up one of my pencils that had fallen to the floor said “I wish I knew.”

photo: Amy Podmore, Root Feet, 1999

Monday, March 05, 2007


I've been thinking a lot recently about home and what it means (connotes/denotes, even). This line of inquiry was sparked off by a show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art: HEARTH
Anyway, one of the meanderings I've been enjoying is looking at temporary accommodation and adapted accommodation. These days every C4 viewer and her dog is converting a something into a something else and calling it home and surprisingly this was allowed to happen in the past without the intervention of Kevin McCloud.

The Quonset Hut is a particularly splendid example of adaptive accommodation; developed from the UK Nissen Hut, the Quonset became the home of much of the US military in WWII and has become everything from stable to chapel since then.

Decker and Chiei's documents a roaming exhibition celebrating both the history of the Quonset hut and the people who live and work in them.
Their website, the source of these snaps and may others can be found at