I met up with the director of Rumpus Productions, Santiago Genochio, ahead of partying at the Islington Metal Works on 1 December. I had dusted off my 1940s suit and hit the dance floor (sketching en route, much to the interest of revellers) with an energy that had seemingly been transferred from Santiago and the amazing events he and his team have been putting on for the past 8 years. His interview was a fascinating insight into the art of running successful interactive party events. Five of these have taken place at the Coronet and the 2014 event Frontiers was featured as part of The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle play and upcoming art exhibition at The Art Academy Gallery from 9-20 December 2017.
"I grew up on a farm in the middle of a jungle in Brazil. There wasn't much music or partying. I think I had a desperate desire to be surrounded by human beings and to socialise. Adventure and a desire to try something new brought me to England.
I got involved with the Burning Man community in Europe around the early 2000's and from that I started doing events that lead me to forming Rumpus. Rumpus is an indoor festival. We have between 7 and 11 rooms with a very wide range of content from poetry to live theatre, from bands to very unexpected little performances. At normal Rumpus nights we have 1000 people. When we perform at the Coronet we have 2,500. Another way of describing us is over the top, non-stop, tip-top animalistic carnival with magic, music and mayhem.
One of the things I did that helped Rumpus was not to sell cool or sexy. I chose to sell fun. People want to have fun. We have found a way that encourages and allows people to have fun, without self or social judgement. People really want that. They really need that space. One of the incredible things about my job is that in the last hour of the event, people are coming up to me and thanking me for the effect it has on their lives.
I had spent many years working other people's events at the Coronet and didn't dare dream that one day, I would run events at that level. It must be one of the crowning moments of my career. I have a very clear memory of Frontiers in 2014. The circus show was the biggest I had commissioned. We had fire lanterns and a cyr wheel on the stage. I had never booked a cyr wheel before. It's an incredible act with a metal hoop and people stand inside it and the tricks they do are amazing. It was a very proud moment because me and a couple of my crew realised that we had never worked on an event that was so complex and yet it was so straightforward and relaxed. As a producer that is the crowning glory. If you can make complexity simple.
I also remember standing on the balcony watching the circus act with my family who came down to see it. I was just beaming, beaming. And then I suddenly realised what time it was. There was utter panic as I was meant to be on stage myself. One of the crew who was running a room had this sacrificial theme. They had given me the role of being the priest cutting out the heart of a performer. I had to run through the crowd, pulling off bits of clothing as I went and I ran into the room. I leapt onto the stage with the knife and performed the sacrifice without any of the preliminaries. The crew, as well as being performers, were prosthetic artists who have worked on Hollywood films and they had made a very life-like human heart. It looked like it was beating.
This is how the entertainment business works and the model is simple. You put a DJ in front of a room full of people and eventually you have to get a more expensive, a more famous DJ to get more people in the room. But you just keep putting one DJ, one band in front of a load of people. That leads to a very spectator based model of culture. I pay my money. I'll stand in a crowd. I will watch an act. I will receive this. I will be part of a homogenous crowd. But it's places like the Coronet that allow you do something different. There are bigger venues, but they are only exhibition halls. At the Coronet where they have so many varied spaces, we could try out different types of content. That means we could take risks, We could say to a performer, what was that idea that you have never been able to do? Do it! It doesn't matter if it doesn't work, because people can go to another room. But it usually does work. It means we can start breaking this notion of entertainment and culture as something you pay in order to receive. It's sad that the experience of culture today is one of consumption, not one of participation or creation.
We've done really well at running a business in this industry and fulfilling my original goals of being both sustainable and artistically valid. But I don't see any opportunity to fulfil those goals while growing in size without venues like the Coronet. I think we are just back to consumeristic models of culture and I'm very loathe to be part of that process. I'd rather use what we learnt in terms of running a business and supporting small grass roots businesses to do what they do well. This will be a new aspect to the work we do.
The next Rumpus event is New Year's Eve, Plasticine Vs Pleistocene!
I've wanted to write about the past 6 months in my life, but realise I'm still not able to formulate coherent and dispassionate words. Therefore I'm going to attempt a visual and poetic experiment with parallel time lines. I sense this is a turning point where life, performance and art all co-exist and move forward as one.
Time line 1 – Grenfell Tower
I cannot believe the news that Grenfell tower is on fire. I immediately cycle down assuming everyone was out. All bystanders shocked, crying. I had made friends and art here in this building burning before my very eyes.
A resident tells me how the wind blows and resonates through the exposed windows. How it is like hearing a voice.
I am haunted by my last conversations with victims. Medhi, 8 years old, telling me about the drawing he had just completed: “I push the imagination button”. Denis Murphy: “When are you going to put that art work up?”
Then the world comes calling. Could I appear on TV or supply this photo! We want to recreate scenes from Grenfell and do the adjacent towers have the same layout? Are you the architect of the Tower?
The police visit me 4 times. They make copies of all my photos and films during my residency on the estate. I was commissioned to make a short positive film about the regeneration of Grenfell tower. Instead I listened to residents life stories and made The Forgotten Estate. I have withdraw this film until the community conjure it forth.
The art work commissioned for Grenfell tower was never hung up by the TMO. It has survived the fire. What will become of it?
On the Silent March for Grenfell, I meet and hug survivors. We walk the streets of North Kensington. A wave of compassion. I sketch en route.
I return back to the estate to a location that I have invested with a mythic and poetic quality. If you excavated the ground here you might discover the remains of Leo The Last. It is the community garden between Testerton and Barandon Walkways. It loomed large in the film I made for the V&A Museum, Vision of Paradise. Here I met the gardener Stewart Wallace. He was a guide who navigated me through the housing states of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Now his sculptural garden is contaminated by cladding. Steward had a stroke recently. But he is now back at work in his garden. This garden will be subject of my third film about Lancaster West Estate.
Time line 2 – Family, friends and personal well being
I had recently applied for my dad’s WW2 records. I discover he was entitled to a British war medal, but within the archive documents there was a shocking and sad story. It was something my patriotic Dad could never speak about. I was gobsmacked. Poland truly has a tragic history! I have started making drawings about this and filming at Wormwood Scrubs dressed in my old 1940s suit. I don't want to cause pain to the family, but this is very much about how the diaspora shaped my identity.
Mum has developed severe spinal problems. From complete independence to requiring intensive support in a matter of weeks. Hospital appointments. Disjointed hours. She becomes suicidal. The life of a carer beckons. Readjusting time and space.
I visit Jo Poole at Wellington Hospital and tell her about the Melodramatic Elephant. Our lovely Dress Doctor from Silchester Estate cannot speak or communicate but I wish she could advise me about my recent dress code and how we might use fabrics in the Melodramatic Elephant project. I cannot speak to her about Grenfell. I sing her a variation of the Beatles song – Hey Jo!
I meet up with an old friend who is now working for the NHS and providing mental health services for the victims Of Grenfell. He asks me how has the fire affected me? I think my confidence has been knocked as I bottle up feelings. The only way I have to communicate is through my art and this inward turn makes it more difficult. Most people don’t notice, thankfully.
Silchester Estate has asked me to become an artist in residence from Dec 2017- June 2018. I am honoured to be working with residents as part of their recovery after Grenfell. It will probably do me a power of good.
Time line 3 – The Melodramatic Elephant
I can barely focus on a new project called The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle. I had been developing this for the past 5 years and now it has Arts Council Funding.
There was an incredibly poignant story to tell here about a melodramatic actress once associated with the Coronet theatre. While developing the core ideas, little did I realise the significance that fire and destruction would have in my own life.
The original Elephant and Castle Theatre burnt down in 1878 and Marie Henderson, the actress and manageress of the theatre, was reported as having gone made after losing all her costumes in the fire.
I sit alone in the Coronet and sketch. The manager talks about a ghostly presence that makes her hair stand on end. I don’t feel this. I just absorb the lonely and soon to be demolished space.
A newly composed score by my Godson DJ Lysergide has an emotional impact on me. It is the Bedlam Dance scene aka Marie Henderson’s tune. The opening chords has the crackle of flames. This haunts me for months. I hum it in my sleep.
For the poster art work, I set fire to clothes. I nearly burn myself
I attend an emotional Lowkey Concert in tribute to Grenfell at the Coronet.
Each time I hear the lines from the play, Fire! Fire! Fire! or watch the actors rehearse a complicated fire scene, with ladders and water buckets, my mind drifts off.
Intense collaboration takes me out of myself.
I found a great friend in John Whelan, theatre director. We laugh uncontrollably about the fetishism in our life. And he leads a lovely group of actors, the People’s Company. They devote months to bringing our visionary ideas to life. Namely, a building psychically linked to an actress. Together we found new ways of combining art and performance. And it is a fitting end for the 147 year old Coronet.
THE MELODRAMATIC ELEPHANT IN THE HAUNTED CASTLE - ART EXHIBITION
9-20 December at The Art Academy Gallery
155 Walworth Road, London SE17 1RS.
Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday 12.00-17.0O Monday to Friday 15.00-19.00
Atmos (Marie Henderson theme)
From the Bedlam dance scene in The Melodramatic Elephant stage play
Composed by DJ Lysergide
Photo by Irena Hlinkova
In A Lonely Place: once, twice, three times.
Acrylics, 16x20 inch, 2000
The Lusty Men (1952)
Directed by Nicholas Ray. Starring: Susan Hayward, Robert Mitchum, Arthur Kennedy.
Warning - plot spoilers!
The extensive cuts made to The Lusty Men indicate that RKO studio was dissatisfied with the film. When premiered in England it was seen as a very American subject matter and because it didn’t do well in the U.S. there was a possibility for further cuts. The film is also not firmly anchored to any storyline. It is more wandering and discursive in tone. The sections that include the character Booker Davis, played by Arthur Hunnicutt, were cut for the British audience; these scenes are there for the ideology of the rodeo world being portrayed and as an exploration of character and not for the plot. The film is almost anthropological in terms of locale and character with no real narrative. Only one film critic, Manny Farber, registered any of its qualities. The Lusty Men has subsequently emerged as one of the highest in Nicholas Ray’s oeuvre. It is a modest film that looks ordinary at first glance but has more unusual qualities in many respects.
The Lusty Men was made under ordinary circumstances but is not a streamlined, efficient production. It was the producer’s idea to film the rodeo and to ensure the availability of film star, Susan Hayward who gets the top billing. It was conceived of as a Susan Hayward movie who was only available for twelve weeks of filming and this was not during the rodeo season.
The film went into production with no script and this was a common feature for Ray’s films. The whole film was made in the studio with the rodeo shots filmed by second unit associates. The film script was improvised after the opening setting. At a late stage of filming, it was decided that the film should end on Robert Mitchum’s death. Everything in the film prepares you for the bust up between Robert Mitchum (playing Jeff McCloud) and Arthur Kennedy (Wes Merritt) and the resultant death and “happy ending”. This fits into the norm for Hollywood films but because Mitchum's character is almost suicidal the resolution is not a problem. Ray reckoned the decision to kill off Mitch lost the film a couple of million at the box office.
The story used in the film is a standard success story. This is a regular formulae in film and television and also in stories about sports and entertainment. A young man of talent is trained by an old timer. The young man goes on to achieve success but loses his roots and becomes arrogant. This arrogance leads to humiliation. The resolution involves him undergoing a change of behaviour. But the Lusty Men does not tell this story. Instead of having the rising star as the central figure, Ray focuses on the has-been side kick (Mitchum) and his emotions. The rags to riches story yields another story. It is about Mitch watching another guy have the success he once enjoyed. It has an elegiac quality.
Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas make for interesting comparisons. They invariably play characters who are going to be defeated. Douglas has a spectacular downfall while Mitchum’s characters usually register dejection and are mournful. Mitchum is often the fall guy in film noir. In The Lusty Men, his Jeff McCloud character is a wistful country boy of limited intelligence. The role is not a huge departure. But what is unusual is one element in the plot; the story of the hero who consciously wishes the destruction of his best friend’s marriage. This is never seen in 1940’s films where a strict Hays Code and respect for marriage is observed. (Ray said to V.F. Perkins that it was just so natural and normal in the film, how could the censors object. You can get away with things by sheer modesty.)
The originality of the film lies in the presentation of the character of Louise (Susan Hayward). This is one of the most interesting portrayals of a woman in Ray’s films and is unusual. The romanticism and the sentimentality in the film is attached to the macho world of the male characters. The film is acute about the pain of a macho rodeo life to both men and women. Hayward as Louise Merritt is a calculating woman. She is clear sighted whereas the men are romantically deluded. She is realistic about what to get out of life and with whom. Louise is not prepared to give up her life in the face of the male vanity being displayed in the rodeo world. She is a woman controlling her emotions to get material aims. A female character who displays this in a Hollywood film is usually presented as a schemer or villain; one thinks of Barbara Stanwyck. These are not objectives that are stereotypically ‘womanly.” She never talks about children or family. She doesn’t want to work in the “tamale joint.” This is a fresh interpretation of a female character.
Another major aspect of the film is showing codes of masculinity which are presented almost as a theatrical show. The wildest show on earth is not the rodeo but masculinity. The film is successful in making rodeo work not as a lifestyle but as a resonant metaphor which harmonises the presentation of character. The rodeo is about capture and asserting yourself on the past. There is a constant repetition of imagery in the film. At the very ending, after Mitch’s death, a new man enters the rodeo world and there is uplifting music as the film ends for the umpteenth time. The characters are looking for “something they thought lost.” This is not conveyed in the reality of farming where arthritis and the hard labour of tractors are the norm. These have nothing to do with bronc or bull riding. As Wes McCloud becomes more involved in the rodeo, it is not jeans, but the leather rhinestone image that appeals to him. More and more, it is the Roy Rodgers cowboy singing image and not someone dressed for work. The song on the flag. “Old Glory”, and Mitch’s return to rodeo is an attempt to show his past glory. It is an ironic, repetitive, dehumanised rodeo. Ray expressed aggravation that the cruelty involved to get animals wild could not be shown in the film.
Within the structure of the film, there is a dividedness which is common to Ray’s films. Here it is between the nomadic lifestyle and one of stability. In They Live By Life (Ray’s 1948 directorial debut) this is evidenced in the lovers on the run and Bowie wanting money to hire a lawyer to prove he is innocent of murder. In The Lusty Men it is about initially wanting to get money to buy a ranch. But Wes is seduced by the glamour and success and instead he buys a caravan which is the perfect 1950s symbol of nomadic lifestyle. In one sequence, Louise is shown sleeping and the camera tracks back to reveal her seated in a car. This is an image of her floating down a street. This theme is strongly registered in the character of Jeff (Mitchum). He is the centre point of this divided world, caught between the nomadic and settling down. This is best illustrated when he first returns to his old home ranch and rediscovers an illusionary security.
The Lusty Men is one of the best triangle movies. It is all done modestly and treats this theme sensitively. The film refuses to makes its denouement tragic. The pain it is about is too ordinary for tragedy. The frustrated lives the characters lead are ordinary and we are never tempted to believe that Louise has spontaneous love for Jeff that is going to blossom. She is aware that what Jeff offers as a rival to her husband - stability, security and an unspectacular life - is never going to materialise. The relationship between Jeff, Louise and Wes is unstable. Both Jeff and Louise stand in a parental role vis-a-vis Wes. Louise is a mother figure as well as a wife: taking his boots off; the way Wes sits on the draining board wiping up the dishes. “He ain’t two years old and I ain’t his mother.” Jeff enters as a paternal role training the younger Wes. But when Wes is drunk in one scene, he comes up and pushes himself on Jeff, who then punches him down. They are almost forced into the role of a couple because of Wes’s character traits. Then Jeff has to live with Wes as an adolescent. When Wes discards his advice, Jeff is left alone. One character always feels outside this triangular set up that is reshifting in terms of dramatic relationships.
There are a range of other characters who offer models for what the rodeo way of life offers. For Louise it is Grace: “Rodeo will make you an old woman before your time.” For Wes, it is Jeff and Buster Burgess, the latter offering gambling and drinking. Also Booker who is senile, almost mentally incapable of keeping up with the costs and demands of life. None however offer a model of success. Jeff has had success and learnt things. But the movie is consonant with other Ray movies in showing Jeff as simultaneously wise and informed about the ways of the rodeo, with a homespun philosophy where you “eat a little dirt if you have to,” while also substituting guts for good judgement. When it comes to the crunch, he is incapable of good judgement. What he needs and most feels, puts him on the path to catastrophe. Is it logical that his comeback is both a success and a death accident? But this goes with the modesty and unspectacular themes of the film. Jeff (Mitchum) is not a has-been and a wreck. He is not old enough to be a wreck.
The death of Jeff is the film’s final form of disaster. Masculinity means you have to find out if you can still do it. You only find this out when you die. This is what the film says about competitive virility. The image of Jeff and his fate as an action image is one of eloquence, poetry. The film puzzles around images of mastery and control. The pride he feels is offered at the beginning of the film. Jeff is standing above the bull in the pen and the shot is composed as a stable frame. Thirty seconds later, the sequence of shots are wild and subjective. The hand-held camera is almost indecipherable. The stability and claim to control is undermined by Jeff’s fall. As an action image this is morally and philosophically pertinent to the themes of the film.
Lecture delivered by V. F. Perkins, University of Warwick,
Film and Literature, Movies and Methods : Forms of Analysis
It was a great pleasure to make contact with Andrew Haig who shared memories and experiences as a designer. Working with the influential firm Kinneir, Calvert and Tuhilll, he produced the signage for Lancaster West and World's End estates in the 1970s.
As artist in residence on Lancaster West in 2015, I had an opportunity to use art to connect residents with the history of their estates; this is a poignant issue as many estates are now under threat from redevelopment schemes as evidenced with Silchester Estate in the same neighbourhood. This blog completes my set of interviews with former architects and current residents of Lancaster West estate.
At grammar school in England, my academic career was uneventful. I did well at art and athletics (I still compete today). Politically I was a little right-wing shit and a sergeant major myself in the cadets. At the end of sixth form I applied to join Sandhurst for Officer Training but, influenced by my art master who had been to Reading University, I was persuaded to apply to the only two institutions where you could get a degree in art in those days – Reading and Newcastle. Fortunately I failed the eyesight test at Sandhurst and got accepted at Reading despite my indifferent A level grades (including art!). You needed three A levels for university.
The four year Honours course with it's academic underpinning suited me fine. The first year was study for the 'First University Exam' in my case in Art, Geography and Ancient History. We then spent time with the main Art sections: Painting, Sculpture and Typography with a view to specialising in the second term of the second year. I realised that much as I enjoyed painting I had no special talent for it and would need, eventually, to make a living. I chose Typography. Good decision.
I should say that as soon as I started at Reading I dropped all the right-wing militaristic crap and retreated into a somewhat nihilistic shell. (subsequently I became a community-minded leftie. More of that later).
The graphic design profession was only just getting going at that time and despite the dusty academic slant of the course, a bona fide graphic designer was a once-a-week visitor and very influential too. My painting heroes had been Michael Andrews, Richard Diebenkorn and RB Kitaj. Now I started to take an interest in the burgeoning Graphic Design scene in London, particularly the work of those that were serious and analytical.
At the very beginning of the fourth year we had to submit an undergraduate dissertation as part of our finals. Mine addressed the ongoing application of a corporate identity for British Rail with a particular look at the signing systems and the emergence generally of lower case sans serif lettering as the standard (yup – pretty nerdy I know but you can see where this is going!). For my research I interviewed several of the key people at British Rail, Design Research Unit and Kinneir Calvert. Jock Kinneir was informative and patient with me when I went to see him at the Royal College of Art where he was head of course.
On leaving Reading I interviewed with Kinneir Calvert (Tuhill came several years later) and from my dissertation they could see that I fitted well with their set up and I was offered the job of junior designer.
Their office was in Knightsbridge so I started in August 1967 in the heart of 'swinging London'. Bliss!
KINNEIR CALVERT (TUHILL)
Initially I assisted senior designer David Jones who was working on the signing for the miner's new town in the North East, Silksworth. I helped with the visuals for presentation. Soon I was assisting Margaret Calvert with her airport signing system as well as other more general graphic commissions. I must say that Margaret it is who taught me all there was to know about typography, layout and systematic thinking as well as the thrill of finding the right metonymic image; in graphics a well chosen image or symbol speaks volumes! She was very much a mentor for me.
Once a signing scheme was accepted, there was much detail work to be undertaken and I was involved with drawing symbols, doing technical drawing for sign manufacturers and writing and laying out pages of instruction manuals.
Meanwhile, I was accepted as a capable typographer and either worked as an assistant in that capacity or otherwise entrusted with the odd annual report or piece of publicity. In those days we still worked largely with hot metal so layouts were traced with precision on typography paper, the compositors instructed and the resultant proofs pasted up as 'artwork'. I loved every moment of it.
In those days it was considered a matter of status for a young designer to take a day part-time teaching somewhere. In 1970 I started at the London College of Printing on The Diploma in Typographic Design course where I remained for a decade. Jock and Margaret were happy to indulge me. After I went freelance I picked up a second day at Camberwell school of Art 1971-1973. From 1980 to 1986 I taught for two days a week at Middlesex Polytechnic. In each case my speciality was in the basic principles of typography and layout. An underpinning if you like of the work of many a creative student.
I turned freelance in July 1971. This was a moment when Jock demonstrated his inherent generosity. I had learned all the essential procedures for devising a signing system and he tasked me with the job of undertaking such a system for the new London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea estates at World's End Chelsea and Lancaster West in Kensington.
Initially this involved pouring over architect's maps and, indeed, talking to them when necessary. I also met them frequently on site and determined the routes through the development and each point of decision. The job involved not just the signing but given the complexity of horizontal and vertical streets intersecting, working out the most efficient addressing system for the benefit of the postmen as much as residents. An analysis of this hugely complex task was written by me. It was accompanied by display boards which Jock and I presented to a huge planning committee at Kensington and Chelsea.
Using Margaret's slab serif update of her Rail alphabet, the job involved tracing each and every sign onto sheets to be supplied to the sign manufacturers in dyeline form. Margaret's alphabet eventually became formalised as the typeface called Calvert and to this day is used for the signs of the Newcastle underground system. The dyelines would have been backed up with precise technical specifications. The lettering would always have been accurate courtesy of Margaret's tiling system where artwork was pasted up from lettering printed on paper with each letter on a 'tile' to distance it accurately from its neighbour.
I have located some reference photography (1976) of a few of the signs in situ. The blue signs at Lancaster West and the brown ones at World's End, including the large 3D floor numbers that Margaret designed; not sure why she thinks the scheme was not implemented, these shots seem to prove otherwise. (3d signs were only installed at World's End estate, but now not in evidence - Constantine's comment)
Note that our signs took due note of horizontal and vertical brick intervals and used those as sign size determinants. One decision we made and justified at the time was my idea to, instead of using arrows, use words (left, right, upstairs etc). Forty five years later it seems just plain wrong. Not everyone reads English or reads it well. What's wrong with good old arrows?
I continued with teaching and freelance work specialising in non-commercial clients such as charities and public bodies. For several years in the eighties I shared studio space in Islington just down the road from the GLC Learning Materials Service for whom I did a considerable amount of work.
In the mid seventies I had bought a house in Graham Road Hackney (I had to take a full time job for a year as studio manager with Tauber-Fandora Colour Printers – impossible to get a mortgage as a free lancer in those days!). It became obvious that the GLC were planning to formalise our street as an HGV route through from the Blackwall Tunnel to Archway. Along with some neighbours I formed the Graham Road Neighbourhood Group which became a really influential force in the area. I was its first chairman. We did a considerable amount of lobbying and even direct action. We used to do 'zebra walks' back and forth across the road – 70 or so residents, old and young, at 7 o'clock in the morning. This is where I start to connect with your residents!
In 1993 I moved to Brighton where I set up a freelance design "collective" working still for the non-commercial sector. In 2009 I retired and still now am involved with my community but otherwise enjoying getting back to my own creativity. I paint and write short stories and poetry which I self-publish. I am also a heavily involved with a local running club for whom I compete frequently – now in the 70 category!
This is an arts project about the history of the Coronet Theatre from 1872-2017.
The ghostly presence of a Victorian actress, Marie Henderson, will be our guiding muse.
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle will be both a performance piece and an exhibition.
The play will be staged at the Coronet on the 7 November 2017.
The exhibition will take place at Artworks Gallery from 11-23 November 2017
Our project is a collaboration between a visual artist, theatre director, actors and residents of Southwark.
The work will be made available to future audiences by being deposited at Southwark Archives.
The Melodramatic Elephant in the Haunted Castle is the culmination of several years of research into the history of the Coronet. It has a deep-focus on the actress, Marie Henderson, who has hitherto been consigned to the margins of academia. Our challenge is to creatively bring her to life: the pleasures and pains, the life-pangs of a Victorian actress; one who transfixed her audiences with performances that put the oomph of drama into "melos." She will be ghost skating through our artistic timeline, materialising at pivotal moments in the history of the Coronet. This might include the WW2 Blitz and a coda section when Marie trips the light fantastic with raving clubbers. She will transport us from the age of corsets and crinoline to silicon implants, from Bedlam to Brexit and beyond.
I will be using drawings as a medium to explore ideas and emotions, akin to a visual storyboard. The aim is to produce a narrative body of expressionistic imagery that responds to the architectural spaces of the Coronet and poignantly documents its final heart beat. Because our project is fundamentally sociable and public, there is the challenge of inspiring others to participate in the process of making and thinking. I look forward to sketching out the memories and experiences of people who once visited the Coronet as a cinema and those who still club today and sent into a trance with the musical beat. The icing on the cake would be discovering a senior resident, one who is over 100 years of age, who has a story to tell about the Coronet when it was a theatre.
Collaborating with John Whelan and the People's Theatre Company is top of my creative agenda. John has worked on history-based community arts projects in Southwark, but probably none on this scale and ambition. The durational nature of this project will allow John and the actors to become more involved in the development of a poetic play about the history of the Coronet and even get to source their own period clothing in more nuanced detail.
John and I will be exploring ideas and themes of mutual interest. For example, the origins of theatre and how this fused with music to create the melodramatic play and its link to cinematic forms of expression; my educational background was in film studies. We want to show how performance and melodrama are still relevant in contemporary society.
Double bill film poster for The Crimes of Stephen Hawke and the House of Mortal Sin
Melodrama meets horror, Tod Slaughter slices Pete Walker, 1930s resonates with 1970s
Oil pastel, 40x64 inches, 2013
Sketching the spirits that inhabit a staircase at the Coronet, 2017
Shop till the zombie drops
Cultural memories of the railway arches and the shopping centre at the Elephant and Castle seem ripe for melodrama and horror.
Faith, Hope and Charity
The life of Marie Henderson and the melodramatic play she starred in called Faith, Hope and Charity which introduced ghostly special effects on to the Victorian stage. The play is a domestic drama, with three murders, one suicide, two conflagrations, four robberies, one virtuous lawyer, 23 angels, and a ghost.
Singing and sketching in the rain
At the Walworth street festival on 22 July 2017, children sketch images for a scale model of the Coronet and adults talk about their memories of going to the venue when it was an ABC cinema.
History and legacy of Melodrama
Professor Jim Davis and Dr Janice Norwood provide a fascinating overview of melodrama's rich diversity and defining characteristics. We discover that melodrama was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the 19th century. Although it was often dismissed as a cultural product, there is a growing awareness of its importance and how it influenced both film and TV.
Melodrama Workshop - Introduction
We had great fun with it, as it allowed our imaginations to run riot. The only rule we followed was that each beat of the scene had to heighten dramatic tension - preferably through the means of some jaw-dropping revelation.
Carolyn Cronin from the People's Company - Masks!
I realised how masks conceal the wearer: you’d expect to see their eyes and mouths behind them, but you can’t – the mask itself is the focus.
Interview with Sam Porter, manager at the Coronet
I’ve walked around this building on my own, at night, in pitch black, with just the little fire lights on and not felt uncomfortable at all. Apart from one space.
Culture and Capital at the Elephant and Castle
What makes the E&C Theatre important was that melodrama was established and maintained here when other theatres either adapted to contemporary dramatic fashions or succumbed to the cinema; it even achieved a brilliant burst of fame in 1927.
82 x 56 inches. Oil pastel, pencil. 2017.
Poem to a drawing
Are we walking down a corridor in the National Portrait gallery?
Walls lined with the great and good who have killed and conquered.
This is all rather tiring and I am looking for somewhere to sit.
Commotion in a room ahead, left or right?
A gust of wind blows us into the Euro wing.
We see a mother and child with candle and umbrella.
A man checks his flies are zipped.
Above his head, a tricolour ink roller in suspended animation.
On the ground, footprints of Prussian blue.
Centre stage, chaise lounge.
What is going on? Can we sit here?
Maybe in the next room, next to a woman and her copy of J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition.
In front of a painting of the British Prime Minister getting fruity with the American President.
Is that Robert Rauschenberg trapped in twine from a plumb bob?
He appears to be pointing backwards and forward, one hand to 1974, the other, 2019.
Can we trust an artist to TELL US EVERYTHING about this space within space
That has spilled out from a box labelled Highland Shortbread?
Where can I sit?
My legs are killing me.
Notes to myself
This was sketched immediately after visiting the excellent Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern and during the United Kingdom government's formal notification of withdrawal from the European Union. This was also the week when The Daily Mail newspaper on March 28th featured a photo of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon with the trivialising head line: “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”. On the same day, a new 12-sided £1 coin became legal tender across the UK.
Pondering all these matters, I started to sketch a scene using Robert Rauschenberg as an enigmatic muse. His free and easy approach to materials, for example, building an umbrella or fan into a painted surface, had me thinking about how to use everyday objects as part of my art practice. I turned to a biscuit tin in my studio. I don't know why I started to collect objects in a biscuit tin or how long they have accumulated (more than a decade now), but this box with random objects ranging from coins, fuses, tea coaster, plumb bob, pencil emblazoned with "Tell me everything," was raided for inspiration and incorporated into the drawing. This was my equivalent to Rauschenberg's "combine" although I have made no concession to three dimensionality. There is added irony in that the box has a culinary connection with Scotland; a nation destined to have a falling out with the English over the issue of falling out of Europe. All these objects and related ideas came tumbling out of the box and into the composition.
Some other allusions for the cultural critic to register:
As we march towards the spring Equinox
Clouds blink and then cry outside my West London skyline.
Faint rays of light bend through the veiled window of my studio.
In a mere ten minutes, a dull tone of grey pastel takes a walk
With confident, improvised strokes.
As I step back and view, Lautreamont comes to mind:
"As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine
And an umbrella on an operating table."
I step forward and substitute that sewing machine for a tattoo machine.
There is also no need for an umbrella as the clouds have dissolved in real time.
On the picture plane, we have a domestic interior looking out across suburbia.
A machine vibrates and draws blood.
This is a cottage industry of body art.
Bobbins your uncle!
Bobbin's your uncle!
A New World Order
Pastel drawing, 60x81", 2016
The Grand Christmas Comic Pantomine
At the mythic Elephant and Castle Theatre
Boxing Day, December 26th, 1876
Trump and Farage;
And the Knight that fought and gained the day
Donnie Trump ------- performed by Miss Marie Henderson
A powerful and scheming knight in love with Nigella and himself
Nigella Farage ------- performed by Mr Walter Grisdale
Mistress from Ing - Land who whip lashes her Euro body politic
Hilaricious Clinton ------- performed by Miss Clara Griffith
Deposed Queen trapped in the world wide web
Theresa Maypole ------ performed by Mr Watty Bruton
The titular head of state who is forever Brexiting, stage right.
A production on a grand scale with thrilling scenes:
Donnie and Nigella riding the headless horse of the apocalypse;
Hilaricious hanging onto the tale of the headless horse;
And Theresa, trying to exit stage right, but being trampled under horse hoof.
All told, a magical transformation.
This new world order has to be seen to be believed!
Trump and Farage has been expressly sketched for this theatre by Constance Graf.
1. Pantomine is a type of musical comedy performed in the United Kingdom, generally during the Christmas festive period. It has gender-bending roles and a story loosely based on a fairy or folk tale.
2. Henderson, Griffith, Grisdale and Bruton formed the cast of the Elephant and Castle Theatre company in London between 1875-1880. Marie Henderson was also the directress of the company.
3. If you want to sample a pantomime, here is a link to Valentine and Orson. This text was written in 1877 by Charles Merion and is his third adaption of the medieval romance tale about twin brothers abandoned at birth, one raised in the royal court and the other in the woods. Another version was the first play performed at the Elephant and Castle Theatre when that was opened for business in 1872. The theatre building is now the Coronet Club and this is due for demolition in early 2018 as part of the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle area.
What would you do?
Imagine your neighbour Heinrich Boll had left you a spare key and instruction to water the house plants while he boarded an aeroplane to collect a Nobel prize. Would you steal inspiration from the draft in his typewriter? Or Max Opuls had entrusted you, his dear friend, to retrieve a roll of film from his house; the one the censors didn't see in La Ronde. Would you leer at the said negative being held up to a bright light source? Kathe Kollwitz had to nip out to buy some milk and bread. Mischievous thought of adding a smiley face of ink to the desolate image in the printing press?
The aforesaid fantasies were inspired after listening to an interview Holgar Czukay gave in the early 1990s on the Radio 3 programme, Mixing It. He recounted how as a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1968, he sweet talked the secretary and gained access to Herr Aladdin's electronic cave. Holgar was able to record his debut album, Canaxis 5, with the studios impressive tape recorders looping together his interest in Musique Concrete and ethnographic folk recordings.
Not all studios live up to their profession. In point of fact, given the relative poverty of artists, they invariably have to beg a shed, borrow a broom cupboard or steal a loft. I have only had one bonafide studio. This was once a 1960s council flat (bedroom, living room and a kitchen) and came with the responsibility to practice community art. An author might build a studio around the typewriter on an heir loomed desk or a poet might dream on a hammock in the garden. Maybe virtual studios will one day be the norm for web based artists. The creation of an avatar, perhaps even adopting the identity of the Germanic artists I have already listed.
Expanding on this chain of thought -what about that elusive key to the artist's mind?
Script for This-That by Jacob Barua. Printed on continuous feed paper, Warwick University science block.
I am navigating back to 1989 and the University of Warwick. My fellow Film and Literature student, Jacob Barua, has handed me a film script and declared emphatically: you are the only person in the universe who can play this! I hesitated. Had never acted before. And then there was the troubled central character in the drama who seemed all too recognisable; forever on the edge of everything, nothing, relationships, art, politics. This begged the following question: Jacob are you taking the piss out of me or yourself? For a short period of time we seemed to swap identities. Jacob’s intense cinematic vision became one with my suited and booted persona.
Jacob was going to use this short film to catapult him into the prestigious Lodz film school. But it was no plain sailing. No film production on this dramatic scale had been undertaken at the university where theory ruled the day. It meant sniffing out equipment and resources. After two weeks of filming, a mere two days were spend in the edit suite, using equipment for the very first time. I recall a few expletives. We had set the date of screening, one day after the final day of editing. A key animation sequence shot on 8 mm film only arrived on the day of the screening and had to be added post-haste, post end-credits. Thankfully this has now been re-edited into its proper place in the dreaming body of the film.
We finally have the keys to the digital edit suite.
It's only now after 26 years and working together again on restoring the fading VHS tapes, that we’ve got a new grasp on the importance of this film for us. Let me leave the final words to Jacob Baura who was recently interviewed about his Warwick experience. What on heaven or hell was he thinking about when he made This-That?
"The reason I wanted to become a filmmaker, did not have that much to do with film per se. I had always been enthralled by Art itself in all it's aspects. I had been a poet, a musician, a painter, photographer, amateur actor, but probably loved literature most of all. Somewhat like a brat with his hand in a jar full of goodies, I did not want to let go of any of the Arts and decided that there was was only one vessel that encompassed all of them. The only way, in which I did not have to discard any, but instead fuse them, was through the glowing medium of film.
I arrived in Warwick...by mistake. One of my obsessions when it comes to the written word is History. Right until today I often wonder whether I am a self made historian expressing myself and researching through film. Warwick conjured in my mind the mystery and glory of medieval times. I was convinced that the University of Warwick was located somewhere within the town of Warwick. In those pre-internet days, a major source of information were brochures. And the university's were filled with images of Warwick Castle and the old cobble stone streets. That was enough for me to decide, given that it was simultaneously the only university offering such a broad course encompassing foremost literature and then film. I got off the train in the quaint railway station only to be horrifyingly informed that the university was far away in some fields between Coventry, Leamington Spa and Kenilworth!
I found the course at the university to be exhilirating in it's scope - exactly tailored to my needs. Great lecturers and given the small size of our department, an opportunity to bond with colleagues. The university also happened to probably have the largest independent Art Centre outside London, at the time. There was everything ranging from a philharmonic orchestra to to a cinema with plush seats and a sterling screen, to one of the best equipped professional theaters anywhere in England. Here I was active as a member of the Warwick Drama Society, taking on delicious roles for the duration of my studies. Besides, the university was a beehive of political activity, of all manner of shades. Of course I was aghast that the most prominent ones were for naive fellow travellers of all manner of totalitarian off shots. However the jewel of this mini-city was a massive library, with a salivating wealth of books that was beyond belief.
This-That was the result of a deep inner need to encompass my entire experience as a student who had lived in different countries, cultural and political systems. At the same time I set to creating a time capsule to be sent into the future. All Myths were after all created by somebody, even if that was thousands of years back - so why not make one too, there and then, to be flung into an unfathomable distance? My inspiration for the main character was essential to creating a core, and this was based, at least in terms of the visuals on a readily available 'blueprint'. For I used Warwick's most enigmatic and unique real life student - Constantine Gras. He did not fit into any preconception - as he neither had the persona of a typical student, nor even one from any 'civilian' from our contemporary milieu. Here was Someone who seemed to have been historically misplaced, from a 'wrong' age. Like a potter I used him as my clay, to impose onto him a narrative, which I knew would jar when combined with his persona. So here was a man creating himself i.e. Constantine, whom in turn I was creating further. Layers of creation.
One of the overarching themes is the struggle that each human has to undertake to find a space of comfort, to be able to be oneself, while struggling against the dominant societal forces. By comfort I do not at all refer to a personal one, but that of the Other. For the most crucial single question ever spoken for me, which forever thunders across all ages is; "Am I my brother's keeper?" We live in a world circumscribed by political correctness. The moment you challenge the narrative of the day, you are deemed fit for condemnation and rejection. In the case of the film, the character not only isn't ascribing to Modernity and the race to keep up with fashions both external and internal, but occupies a realm that defies the obligatory 'standards'. He is still both a reflection of the Ancient, Romantic and Future ages. Whether we like it or not from the beginnings of History, politics impinge on almost everything in life. That is why the culmination of the film is congealed within the incongruous figure of a young pyjama clad student who dares to take on the Rulers of the World. The selfish manipulators - the Daeduluses vs the selfless dreamers - the Icuruses. If I were to try to draw a circle; Sleep - Pyjama - Dream - the Impossible - Courage - Death - Eternity - Sleep.
The reception of the film, I will admit, was heart breaking. An outright regurgitating by the audience. Particularly so - when not even our lecturers or collegues could grasp or extract any meaning out of it. But this should have been expected, as it was intentionally put together in such a way as to defy conventional modes of film-making. And again, it was indeed a film made for Another age. But which one? Time will still tell.
I have no regrets about the film as it was then, and in it's curent slightly re-edited form. It turned out prescient. You are Alone among people. To be fulfilled you have to metaphorically fly, even if demise is the price to be paid. There is no escaping Newton's and other more serious Laws.
But just like there was no relevant message in the film for the audience at the time, there similarly isn't any for those today. There are plenty of other better sources, dear audience member, if you are in need of a message. This is not a cerebral feast but mainly a sensory experience.
Once I got there, one of the most satisfying experiences at the Lodz Film School was when all students were herded into a cinema, and made to watch the film by Piotr Wojciechowski; he was a Filmmaker, Scriptwriter, Catholic Philosopher but most of all a living legend as a novel writer ("Skull within a skull", "Is it worth to have a Soul" and others). He immediately took to the film. In his laudatory lecture after the film, he said he felt it had the feel of T.S. Elliot's " The Waste Land". He was the first ever viewer to fully comprehend the ambitions of this film. At the Lodz Film School I carried on with the 'tradition' of making This-Thatian films. With no pretence at all. Poland's greatest ever fimmaker, and it's Chancellor Wojciech Has, would always chide other lecturers for being baffled by my films - telling them that they were wrong to search for conventional meanings in my short films. For him they were "Intricate riddles"
I don't really have any wise tips for aspiring filmmakers. Rather warnings, in that it is going to be a lonely, cruel, and ungrateful journey, except for the very, very lucky few. Well, take heart - at least there's going to be one worthwhile viewer of your creation - Yourself.
Having been trained on 35mm makes a filmmaker by far more disciplined and honed to the workings of a film. The Digital Age has its own advantages. But the downsides are greater. More self indulgence and turning an important medium of Art into a toy.
I have been a gardener for a long time now. There's at least one massive film within me waiting to happen. Then I intend to go back to my gardening.
It's this and that, after all."
If you want to experience This-That, the film is screening on:
10th September 2016 around 7.30pm
Muse Gallery, 269 Portobello Road, W11, London
Portobello Film Festival
Full venue and programme details.
It is with great sadness that I have just received news of the recent passing away of Victor F Perkins. He co-founded the film department at Warwick in 1978 and made a decisive contribution to the acceptance of film as an art form worthy of deep study. I have fond memories of him hunched over the Steenbeck undertaking a close textual analysis of In A Lonely Place with 2-3 students; a more kinetic Victor was found over at the Student Union playing his favourite pinball machine; delivering those impassioned lectures where he poured his intelligence into the vessel of a film; seeing so much nuance in terms of decor and edit, so much so, that I seem to recall, at the end of one lecture, Jacob asked: is it really possible that the film maker meant all this?
Victor bough a copy of This-That in 1989 for the university archive. It was always a pleasure to meet up with him over the decades since I graduated. Alas he missed the screening of the remastered film at the university in March 2016, but I was touched when he specially came in to see me and we had a good chin wag about life: how he was adjusting after a recent stroke, his desire to learn the German language, his concern about the corporate development of education and his cluttered honorary office in the department which he really should tidy up. I told him that we had dedicated the film to our old lecturers who had inspired the young to fly. Victor had a rueful smile.
I came over to Ukraine with my family for a trip. Unfortunately we got mugged by gunmen. All our cash, credit card and phones were stolen from us. Thank God our passport is save here with us. We have been to the police but they are not willing to help at the moment.
Our return flight leaves in some hours time but we are having financial problems sorting all out bills and the hotel management will not let us leave until we sort the bills. We need your help with a loan of £2,450 or any amount you can spare now. I promise to refund you back the money. Please let me know what you can do to help. Thanks.
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Pastor Rebecca Lawson
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