Tuesday 17 May 2016. To Vout-o-Reenee’s to take a photo. It’s for my entry to a Birkbeck competition, which is asking for photos on the theme of ‘London Relocated’. An idea occurred to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. I thought about the way the Vout’s club is effectively the spirit of bohemian Soho relocated, in this case a few miles east in Tower Hill. TonightÂ I get Sophie Parkin to pose at the bar for my hopeful little image, alongside her book on the deceased Soho club, the Colony Room. I also get my own membership card of the Colony into the shot, visible on the counter of the Vout’s bar.
Sophie tells me about the charity Little Paper Slipper, which is having a major event at Vout’s in June. This isÂ aÂ charity that organises therapeuticÂ artÂ workshops, for women affected by domestic abuse. The end result is a series of exhibitions of the eponymous slippers, each one personalised by the woman who made it. There’s about 150 of them now. Â The event at Vout’s is going to be a fundraising auction, featuring shoes specially made for the charity by a group of artists, includingÂ Gavin Turk, Molly Parkin, and John Claridge.
I’m happy to help publiciseÂ the event. There’s further details at FacebookÂ here.
There’s some fascinating photos of the workshop slippers at the charity website:Â www.littlepaperslipper.com/slippers.html
Wednesday 18 May 2016.Â Evening: my debut as a conceptual artist. I am given a sticker for my lapel which says: ‘Dickon Edwards – Artist’. So it must be true.
The venue is Birkbeck’s School of Arts, on the east side of Gordon Square, once home to Virginia Woolf. This week is Birkbeck’s annual Arts Week, a series of free talks and events that are open to the public. Over the cast iron railings at the main entrance are the words ‘ARTS WEEK’ rendered as huge, colourful knitted letters. I discover that this display is not, as I’d hoped, the product of an MA course in Comparative Knitting, but the handiwork of two knitting-loving administrators, Claire Adams and Catherine Catrix.
Given the building’s history, I wonder what would have happened ifÂ those fateful railings in Mrs Dalloway had been similarly wool-clad. Septimus Smith might have ended the novel in better shape. Another thought is The Muppets’ Mrs Dalloway. Starring Miss Piggy as Clarissa: ‘Moi will buy the flowers myself!’
Inside, Room 112 hosts The Contemporary: An Exhibition. This is a ‘pop-up’ show by four students of the MA Contemporary Literature and Culture course, andÂ addresses the question: what is ‘the contemporary’? The contributors are Kathryn Butterworth (in partnership with James Watkinson), Jassey Parmar, Dylan Williams, and myself. The event is the idea of the main course tutor, Grace Halden, who thought it would be good to have the MAÂ represented during Arts Week.
Kathryn and James’s display is a multimedia look at technology and literature: there’s large boards covered in texts, computer diagrams, a model of DNA code, and laptops playing audio and video content. Jassey’s exhibit is a series of photographs of London shop fronts, which blend different cultures and brands in unexpected ways. Twice during the evening, Dylan performs a selection of his own poetry. And I’ve contributed a social media installation titled Is It Just Me?
I had the idea some years ago. It was one of those ideas that don’t go away. So I thought I’d either put it in a story, or just keep it in reserve, in case someone asked me to contribute to an exhibition.
So one day someone did, and here I am. A debut artist.
At the event, I give outÂ an A4 handout to explainÂ my thinking behind the installation.Â I’ve uploaded it here as a PDF:
Is it Just Me – installation handout
I also leave out a sheet of my handwritten notes for the project. I like the juxtaposition of the shifting internet content on the screen, with the fixed artifact of my handwriting on paper. Private traces of the body, versus public traces of the mind.
The event turns out to be decently attended, with tutors stopping by to say kind things. It all seems to go okay, and there’s no technical hitches, thanks to the efficiency of Birkbeck’s staff. How wonderful it is to haveÂ an idea which involves cables and equipment, but not have to worry about the cables and equipment oneself.
Here’s some photos from the course’s Facebook page (most of them taken by Lee Smith, used with permission):
And here’s a link to the Facebook page for the MA in Contemporary Lit and Culture
Thursday 19th May 2016.Â Thinking more aboutÂ Prince, and about camp uses of the colour purple, I’m reminded of this anecdote from Gary McMahon’sÂ Camp in LiteratureÂ (2006, p. 144):
‘Brigid Brophy notes that [Ronald] Firbank often wrote his tales in purple ink on blue postcards, surface and colour being everything to camp. Brophy reveals that she too wrote her critical biography of the man [Prancing Novelist, 1973] in purple ink. My working copy of Brophy’s book is on loan from Manchester University’s library. At this purple confession on page 173, a university student […] has written this response in the margin:
“Are you [Brophy] really as besotted asÂ this? If so, we don’t want to know. At least maintain a pretence at objectivity, please.”
McMahon remarksÂ that this student represents a certainÂ academicÂ sensibility ‘thatÂ is always going to be exasperated and offended by camp’.
Returning to Prince, I think of a friend’s anecdote along the same lines. When this friend was growing up in the 80s, some blokish gentlemanÂ known to them – a friend or possibly a dad – tookÂ one look at a Prince record sleeve and remarked, quite out of the blue, ‘I don’t care what he sounds like. I’m not listening to anyone who dresses likeÂ that.’
Friday 20th May 2016. I receive the grade for my second essay on the MA. Despite my struggles with it, I am very pleased indeed to get a 76 (a mark over 70 is a Distinction, the MA equivalent of a First). The first essay got a 73. It’s a nice boost to my confidence when I needed it most, wracked as I was with Difficult Second Term Syndrome.
For the rest of the summer, I have to get on with postgraduate-y things under my own steam, such as attending open lectures and pursuing my own research. But as far as the big assessments go, the pressure is off until the autumn.
, birkbeck arts week
, brigid brophy
, colony room
, little paper slipper
, ronald firbank
, sophie parkin
I have finally conceded that daily diary updates are beyond me. So starting with this entry I’m going to compile a weekly thousand-word diary instead. I hope to publish a new one every Friday morning, as that makes it feel like something to look forward to. Sunday night will have to suffice for this one.
* * *
Monday 9th December 2013. The final set texts of the term are Olive Schreiner’s Story of An African Farm, Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled, and the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon.Â Schreiner’s novel Â isÂ a perfect example of a book I’d never pick up were it not for taking a course in literature. When I do, itÂ moves me to tears.
* * *
Rachel Stevenson has been reviewing all the songs in John Peel’s 1991 Festive Fifty. This was the Year of Noisy Americans. I remember being in student haunts of Bristol at that time and seeing the ‘baggy’ fashions of long sleeved tops and flares give way to checked lumberjack shirts:
In the evening I walk past the Kentish Town Forum. Despite the changing ways of consuming music, the sight of touts outside large venues still endures. It’s the same aggressive shouting at pedestrians. Only the band names being shouted come and go. Tonight it’s ‘Buy or sell tickets for Haim.’
* * *
Good to see critics agreeing with one of my favourite films of 2013: Frances Ha. In one scene, two characters discuss how to spend the evening:
‘We should go to the movies.’
‘But the movies are so expensive!’
‘Yeah, but you’re at the movies.’
* * *
Thursday 12th December 2013. On the day of my last classes for the term I receive my highest essay mark yet. It’s an 80. This is defined in the classification guidelines as a High First Class, for work that ‘may display characteristics more usually found at postgraduate level or that demonstrate the potential for publication.’Â I’m rather stunned. I’m still uncertain about which direction to take this skill in order to earn a living, but at least it is proof that I can do this sort of thing well, and can do it on time, and should probably develop it further between now and the grave. The essay was on ‘technotext’ theories of materiality, with reference to Chris Ware’s comic strip story for the iPad, Touch Sensitive.
The same day sees a grading of my former work as a songwriter. The quarterly PRS statement arrives and pays me a total of £1.41. Orlando’s album Passive Soul has sold 7 copies on iTunes, while the Fosca song ‘Confused and Proud’ has been played 139 times on streaming services like Spotify and Last FM. Well, I’m pleased if the songs are being listened to at all.
* * *
Meanwhile my work as a diarist in the anthology A London Year has managed to receive some attention. Here’s a positive review, which quotes from my diary:
This further review calls me ‘as well-read as Samuel Johnson and Johnny Rotten but polished to a dandyish sheen’. I also have ‘a certain essential Londonness’:
A few weeks ago, Kensington & Chelsea Today reviewed the book and called me ‘Dickson’ Edwards, which suggests I have some distance to go in the notability stakes. Still, it also called me ‘the youngest’ diarist in the book, which is the best possible thing you can say to anyone over, oh, 24. Here’s a pdf of the review:
The other 2013 book I’m in, I Am Dandy, appeared as a prop in a colour supplement article (name forgotten, possibly the Sunday Times). It was, of all things, a piece on the comedian Frank Skinner. Mr Skinner was photographed reading I Am Dandy in his underwear.
* * *
I am sent a photograph of a sign on a building. They saw it and thought of me. It says ‘Centre For Useless Splendour’.
A little Googling reveals this to be part of the Contemporary Art Research Centre at Kingston University. The artist responsible is Elizabeth Price, the Turner Prize winner who once sang in a couple of my favourite bands, Talulah Gosh and The Carousel.
* * *
Saturday 14th December 2013.Â Mum comes up to London for a well-earned day trip, while the hospice looks after Dad. We have mulled wine and mince pies in the Somerset House Ice Rink café, something of a pre-Christmas tradition.
Another Christmas tradition that seems to be bigger every year: adults in Santa costumes wandering noisily en masse through the streets, swigging bottles of alcohol. An expected late night activity, perhaps, but today they’re on the Strand at noon. These are often organised group events (an inflated version of pub crawls), though not quite organised enough for some of us. What irks is the implication that it’s fine to extend an office party across a whole series of public spaces.
Mum and I have lunch at St Martin’s Café in the Crypt, and on the way out I point out a couple of sights in Trafalgar Square which mark this moment: Katharina Fritsch’s blue sculpture of a cockerel on the Fourth Plinth, and the pool of floral tributes to Mandela outside South Africa House. The queue to sign the embassy’s condolence book is now small enough to fit into the lobby, but it’s still going.
We visit the Tate Britain’s newly revamped permanentÂ collection. Mum is pleased to see the inclusion of works by Josef Herman, Edward Middleditch and Nigel Henderson, all of whom she and Dad knew in the 60s and 70s. Henderson taught Dad photography. Josef Herman, meanwhile, lent my parents a car around the time I was born. ‘A beaten up Mini’ says Mum. ‘Full of sweet wrappers.’
* * *
Saturday evening: I watch the whole series of Adam Buxton’s Bug, his TV show about music videos. By far my favourite is one he shows from 2010. It’s for the song ’70 Million’ by the French indiepop band Hold Your Horses. They dress up as recreations of paintings: Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, Delacroix’sÂ Liberty Leading the People, and so on. I love how this concept is channelled through the ragged charm of the song and the band’s visible enjoyment, playing irreverently with the paintings’ gender roles and depictions of nudity:
Video: 70 Million by Hold Your Horses
The Bug website interviews the ’70 Million’ directors, and lists all the paintings:
Tags: 70 million
, a london year
, chris ware
, frances ha
, i am dandy
, Rachel Stevenson
, somerset house
, tate britain