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I’m intrigued with the culture of talking at the moment.

This draws partly from the fact that I am paid much better as a professional talker about art (seminars, symposia, conferences etc.) than a maker of it. I just had this thought while listening to Tony Cascarino speaking on the radio about football; now there’s an interesting career choice, making money by talking and playing poker.

I’ve done a few of these professional talks lately, and it’s given me cause for reflection. Sometimes it’s quite invigorating (something to do with an ego trip I suppose) and other times it’s completely exhausting. I’ve decided to take a hiatus from public talking after the last one. I feel I don’t have that much left to talk about (I felt like a limp dishcloth) and it worries me slightly that by doing these talks I’m presenting myself as a person with answers. Or maybe that I’m a has-been before my time.

I wonder how we arrived at this point, if we will ever get tired of talking, and what it might be a substute for. I wonder has Umberto Eco written a brilliant essay about it?


  1. Chapman brothers offer to draw on any form of currency with the Queen’s head on it for free.
  2. Collectors, critics and show-offs hand over crisp ne’er before used £20 note.
  3. Artists hand over a £10 one.
  4. and students £5
  5. Chapman’s draw 100 (-ish) of these a day over 4 days.
  6. £4,800 (at a £12 average) is removed from circulation and effectively spent on an artwork which no one has paid for.



There are plans in Milwaukee to build a public sculpture of the Fonz, the character from hit TV show Happy Days based in the city.

Visit Milwaukee, a non-profit group that promotes the city as a tourism and convention destination, is leading an effort to raise $85,000 to commission the statue. So far, Visit Milwaukee has raised $45,000, and the group is confident it will meet its timetable of unveiling a bronze Fonz in 2008, said Dave Fantle, the agency’s vice president of public relations. The agency already has contacted four artists and hopes to choose a sculptor by the end of October, he said. Visit Milwaukee got the idea of a Fonzie statue from TV Land, a cable network that broadcasts reruns of vintage shows. TV Land has donated six sculptures commemorating memorable TV events or characters to various cities, such as Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore). All six sculptures are from shows mainly popular in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, in keeping with TV Land’s focus on its baby boomer audience.

So this potential statue seems to represent a doubling of nostalgia, the twinning of the desire for a past located in fiction: the Happy Days sitcom was produced in the 70s and 80s, in a setting two decades earlier.   

See here for a vox pop of opinions from Milwaukee residents.


Hewitt & Jordan and Dave Beech: The function of public art for regeneration is to sex up the control of the under-classes

It’s got it all: a council, an artist and a packet of regeneration money.


The day after the public art seminar, I am still feeling a little exhausted. And a bit dirty. I’ve been a bit promiscuous in my talking at these things, I’m going to have to go quiet for a little while soon.

Lots of questions asked, few answered as is to be expected. The discourse on this topic pings between words such as ‘temporary’, ‘community’, ‘intervention’, ‘engaged’, ‘collaborative’, ‘public’, ‘participatory’, all in different contexts and in for different consituencies. While this can make the conversation difficult to locate I think the for-better-or-worse fluidity of the terminology does clearly illustrate that the actual form of artists’ practice is changing significantly.

In a public art context, this raises a number of issues, particularly in relation to what Ed termed the ‘proxies’ – the institutions, organisations and authorities that commission work and delegate funding. Given the analogy I mentioned in the previous post – the community as the new social ‘site’ for ill-considered ‘plop art’ to replace the blank public square/ roundabout/ roadside – what are the responsibilties of maintenance and upkeep?

Traditionally these were problems for this kind of permanent public sculpture: it would often not be written into contracts who would be responsible for tasks such as cleaning and repairs, what could be understood as the maintenance of the work. Personally it seems pretty clearcut unfair to expect the artist to keep looking after the work once they are no longer being paid to do so, but anyway, that’s getting off the point slightly.

Art practices based on intervention, participation etc [insert term of choice here] are often questioned and challenged in relation to their longevity or sustained commitment to their place. How could an artist be resourced to continue this support after the event, and should they be? Surely there is a commitment necessary on the behalf of the proxy to ‘maintain’ (sustain?) the artwork once it has been exectuted by the artist?

There is a danger that temporary public work can be appropriated, assimilated and recuperated by institutions and proxies for their own benefit. Temporary public art can represent a very celebratory, shiny happy feelgood kind of practice, that is ultimately pretty easy to clean up if anything goes awry – or so it can be made to appear. The noticeable absence in these discussions is to do with the quality of the artwork that is ultimately made. I know it’s a bit of a dirty word but everyone is thinking it anyway. Aren’t they?


Photograph by Gareth Kennedy






There is a lot of discussion currently happening in Ireland about new public art policies. There is a rash of symposia, seminars and conferences, which I believe to be very valuable but can be a source of fatigue as well as creative sustenance. Sometimes too I am suspicious of these talk shows and what they really hope to achieve. I have however participated in a number of them as I believe it’s important to try to make a contribution to a public discourse, and I can’t deny that for a day’s work I definitely get paid better to talk about art than to make it.  

I think it’s generally accepted at this point in Ireland that many mistakes have been made with the public art commissioned in the past. The image that frequently comes to mind with this is the image of a semi-abstract or semi-figurative piece of sculpture that is generally uncomfortably sited, sometimes disowned or vandalised. Moving from the rubric of site-specificity, in the eighties in the States this occurrence was known as the ‘turd on the plaza’ or ‘plop art’. The question of why these artworks failed however has arguable not really been tackled. Is it the fault of the artist, the artwork, the site? Even the commissioner?

It worries me that in the moves towards making public art more temporary and ‘community’-oriented that nothing or little in the approach towards the commissioning of the work will really change, that the problems of the past will remain unexamined and fundamentally unsolved. There is no quick fix. It also worries me that the language of this discourse has grown up very quickly and terms get used interchangeably by different communities of interest. Some problems I have: 

  1. This seminar asks the question Is this type of activity sufficient as an arts occurrence in itself, or as an opportunity to interact with the public? I really believe that this is a very difficult and unhelpful idea of how this kind of practice operates. We have to move towards an understanding that works towards ‘both’ rather than ‘either/or’. The relationship of the ‘public’, ‘audience’ or ‘community’ is fundamental to this work. Somewhere between the artist and the audience lies the work, the practice, and this is what we need to be talking about. The public commission should neither be weighted in favour of ‘the artist’ nor ‘the public’ – it should privilege the work itself.
  2. The ongoing problem of ‘plop art’. If no discussion happens about the quality of practice – whether this is to with the quality of engagement between artist and physical or social site in the reception or creation of the work – there is a risk that the ‘community’ becomes the new site for plop art rather than the public square. Just because the artwork is temporary doesn’t mean that the criteria for engagement, or the sense of responsibility, should be more lax. The openness of commissioners and local authorities to different forms of temporary works should be welcomed and applauded, but cautiously.
  3. Something unusual is happening currently in art practice where there is some possibility of shared space between mainstream art practice (gallery based, socially engaged practice) and community art practice. Recent texts and projects by writers and curators such as Grant Kester and Mary Jane Jacob seem to offer the possibility of convergence in the discourse between these two divergent spheres. This possibility is intriguing, beguiling, and deeply challenging. Are the points of reference, the values in the work, moving from the same space?
  4. Another relatively new trend is the development of ‘public art’ as a kind of specialisation. It remains to be deeply examined what is meant by ‘public art’ – is it solely a question of public money? Is Arts Council–funded work that is sited in a publicly-funded gallery somehow inherently less ‘public’? And what are the implications of working as a state-funded ‘public artist’?




Once this nostalgia buzz gets going it is very hard to stop. Plans for future posts involve etch-a-sketch, spirograph, holga cameras, super 8, rubik’s cubes, connect 4…. in the meantime here is a great photo from 1968. (This is clearly the dangerous type of nostalgia, possibly in its original contagious sense)

Photo ©  Ed Van der Elsken, Belgie 1968 Twins – Courtesy Hasted Hunt


Gerhard Richter has replaced one of the stained-glass windows in the Cologne cathedral with a design of his own:

[He made] the 65-foot-tall work to replace the original, destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a starting point, he used his own 1974 painting 4096 Colors. To create that piece — a 64-by-64 grid of squares — Richter devised a mathematical formula to systematically mix permutations of the three primary colors and gray. Funny coincidence: 4,096 is also the number of “Web-smart” colors that display consistently on older computer screens, a limitation some Web designers still take into account…

The Cologne window is made of 11,500 four-inch ” pixels” cut from original antique glass in a total of 72 colors. Why not 4,096? Turns out there are stained glass-smart colors, too. Some hues in Richter’s initial design were either historically inaccurate or too pale — they would have outshone the squares around them. So the artist modified his palette to include only colors with a suitably archaic cast.  (Carolyn Rausch, Wired)

The new window is a replication of one of his own paintings, done in “pixels” of antique glass. Interesting meeting of science/ reason and religion/ the divine. I’m also curious about how this blog and some of the work I’m doing seems to be developing a fascination with grid patterning systems…. Very unexpected.   

October 2007