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Experimenting with filigree effects for my Christmas cards – from left to right:
metallic pigment mixed with tempera medium and poured on (out of focus); pigment scattered, tempera medium and water poured on, then spread with palette knife; pigment scattered onto tempera medium (?) then poured. The effect works best when water is squirted onto the pigment and the whole lot is then moved around.


Today is my last day to work on this piece at Bury Art Museum. Will I manage to add
To Witness
To Not Get CynicalTo Ask Good Questions
To Do What Needs To Be Done
To Be Willing to Start Again
Potentially Infinite

At 12 we have a closing crit/artists’ talk, followed by cake and cordials at 3.

A whistlestop tour of the blogposts I would have written if I was on top of all that social media stuff:

Manifesto #2 – installed at AirSpace Gallery in Stoke for their Yardenfest, the closing event of the excellent and provocative Pigdog and Monkeyfestos exhibition, a cornucopia (or should I say stomach purge) of artist’s manifestoes, including a concrete marrowfesto from Sarah Lucas and some great work by Dom from Luton and someone whose name I can’t remember but whose love letter to General Gordon made me laugh a lot.

C PAGES artist exchange with CG Associates and Extra Special People, hosted by TOAST in Manchester and Stryx in Birmingham.

Marina Abramovic at the Serpentine – stillness and safety in the city, or a disquieting demonstration of our will to obedience, and desire to put our trust in a charismatic authority figure.

British Folk Art at the Tate – amazing work, but why so much more male than female production? Why a whole room of figureheads?

BAA – exhibition at Bury Art Gallery – a physical manifestation of the BAA manifesto; my piece, about the responsibility of the artist – a golden (boom boom) opportunity to gild a mushroom (but the mushroom inclusions were inspired to pick up the airdrying clay by the Island Universes exhibition at Piccadilly Place, a fitting swansong for that free art space).

Soon it is time to look at my footage; there’s no reason why the timelapse film won’t have worked – I did lots of test footage – but inevitably I feel quite anxious about what it will look like. There’s no time to reshoot if it hasn’t worked… The mushrooms have been beautiful and have spread spores further than ever before, giving some beautiful tidemarks.

And I’ve been ploughing through Capitalism and Freedom…so much of it reduces down to price and profit: monopolies are bad because they mean prices are higher for consumers (and for no other reason), the only possible social responsibility of corporations is “to make as much money for their stockholders as possible.” Maximisation of money is the prime good, within “the rules of the game”; which should be set up so that “an individual pursuing his own interest is, to quote Adam Smith again, “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”” So, as long as we don’t actively harm other people (and he is pretty casual about the possibility of indirect impacts), and act always to maximise our income, everything will be just fine. He ignores the evidence of how people actually act – for example, in accumulating wealth and resources (see this NASA study for how the interplay of inequality and resource over-exploitation plays out) and has a very sunny view of the consequences of profit-seeking (no worries at all about pollution, poor working conditions, the influence of corruption on civic society, although he does caution against the rise of a corporate state.)

I’m making a timelapse film of the detoxification by oyster mushrooms of Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom. The mycelium is well established on the book and I shocked it on Wednesday 16th April – this is where you expose the mycelium to cold and light. I estimate that the process from now, through to mushrooms, and then the mushrooms giving off spores and drying out, will take about 40 days. So I have set myself the task of reading the book over the same time, five pages at a time. It makes for interesting reading, and I am surprised and slightly disturbed to find some common ground. Maybe I will be a convert by the end…

There are three prefaces – one written at the time of original publication, in 1962, when the climate was still dominated by Keynesian thinking and generally hostile to the ideas in the book; one in 1982, after the election of Thatcher and Reagan; and one from 2002, after the neoliberal trinity – deregulation,  privatisation and weakening the power of trade unions – had become the new orthodoxy. He puts this shift down to the failure of Keynesian policies,§ such as support for welfare, and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.

Friedman states, in his 2002 preface, that “increases in economic freedom have gone hand in hand with increases in political freedom and have led to increased prosperity; competitive capitalism and freedom have been inseparable.” A partial view, and a limited idea of freedom, when set against the ‘race to the bottom” that has taken place regarding working conditions in developing countries, but nevertheless this is the key promise of neoliberalism: “it will make people freer and more prosperous.”

What is interesting, in his Introduction, is to consider how much there is to agree with. Taking issue with Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” Friedman says “To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them.” As a refutation of blind patriotism, this makes sense; as a Thatcherite justification along the lines of “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”, it is more problematic. Much of what he says about freedom – and bear in mind he was writing only a decade or so after the end of the Second World War marked the defeat of one totalitarian state and the victory of another – is attractive, although he fails to define freedom itself. It’s an idea that seems self-evidently good, like motherhood and apple pie, but does he mean the freedom for any individual to do what s/he wants, or the freedom to act as long as no one else is harmed, or the freedom to make as much money as you can regardless of the consequences, or mental freedom…?

He refers to the concentration of power as being the great threat to freedom. Yup, can’t argue with you there Milton. To benefit from having a government while avoiding the threat to freedom, he says that the scope of government must be limited and power must be dispersed. It’s interesting to consider how this compares to anarchist thought – the basic principles are similar, although within anarchism you would not have a government (although you might have an administration).

Friedman states that the major function of government mus be to “protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow-citizens; to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets.” In other words, in large part to make things safe for business to be transacted. He concede that government can also be used to “accomplish jointly what we would find it more difficult or expensive to accomplish severally,” but requires there to be a clear and large balance of advantages before government is used in this way. He goes on to say that government stifles innovation; that the great cultural advances have not come via government action, and that government replaces progress with stagnation and mediocrity. But the main emphasis of the book is the role of competitive capitalism – “the organisation of the bulk of economic activity through private enterprise operating in a free market – as a system of economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom”, and I suspect this is where I will find the most to take issue with.



I found a great quote on Martin Hamblen’s Artists Talking blog:

“There are many ways that you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place – in doing these things, they are professionalising their art. The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it but you are only going to become professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. That emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.”

(An email invite from Incertainplaces to become a “critical friend”.)

Pretty much sums up my experience of today – forcing myself to tackle the Kevin Anderson painting, which, now that I am actually painting, has moved from the realm of “a great idea that will be loads of fun to do” to “a kind of torture that will most likely result in a terrible painting.” I know this is a process I go through every time I do anything…which makes it slightly easier to stick with it, but no less painful. Would be easier probably if I just refined stuff I already know I can do, and didn’t set myself such high (unrealistic?) standards. Oh well. Anyway I am painting Manchester as a Renaissance city-state, not sure to what extent this helps or hinders the idea behind the painting…



I’ve just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer (available at all good bookshops) and it got me thinking about home. One of the characters, Lusa, inherits her husband’s family farm after his death barely a year into their marriage. Part of the book deals with her coming to terms with what it means to inherit another family’s farm, their “homeplace“; can she, as an incomer, take possession of their family’s history?

It made me wonder where is home to me. The place I still think of most as “home” is the house where I lived as a child, on the side of a hill in South London, in a 60s estate full of teachers and solicitors and their young families. Because the hill was so steep it wasn’t completely covered in houses, so there was space to run about outside, build dens, and a wood full of ruins to explore. And I think the sense of “home” came from having outside space, land that felt ours, trees that were friends – a place beyond the four walls of the house.

One thing that strikes me when people refer to the environment as a fringe subject only of interest to self-righteous fun police yoghurt weavers is that the environment is nothing less than our collective home; when we damage it, we destroy the home and systems that we all depend on. And yet most people still seem to see a disconnection between “us” and “the environment” – if not in their thinking, then in their behaviour. Maybe this is partly because humans have evolved to respond quickly to immediate threats, and not yet learned to respond to threats at a distance. The effects of chucking out a few tons of carbon by flying somewhere are not right in front of our face; even with the recent increase in extreme weather events, the media consistently fails to mention the link with human-caused global warming, and business continues pretty much as usual.

Manchester City Council gets to grips with climate change?
A year ago, Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in Manchester addressed a full meeting of Manchester City Council on the likely impacts of climate change in the years to come. You can see his presentation here and a report on the event here. The councillors appeared suitably moved and alarmed, but so far this has not translated into significant action, either to reduce local emissions or to prepare for changes in the future, and the council still clings to Manchester Airport as the driver of the all-important economic growth.

Anderson-underdrawing   Anderson-underdrawing-3

As part of my attempt to imagine different ways of social organisation, I have started a painting of Professor Anderson in that meeting – treating as if it were a starting point for radical change in Manchester which then spreads outwards, in the way that the changes brought about during the Industrial Revolution did. It’s my first non-small painting, and I’m constructing it in the old way, with gridding out and underdrawing. As ever, once started, it takes on a life of its own, presenting visual possibilities that may undermine my conceptual and political intentions. If it ends up in pastel shades of pink and turquoise, will this distract from the possibilities I’m trying to suggest? Where does my responsibility lie – with the idea, or with the will of the paint? In any case, it’s starting to become interesting…

Diagram of climate and human history and apples

Diagram of climate and human history and apples

I had a great first week in the space and a less great second one, feeling a bit like I was repeating myself – more failed attempts at a perfect gild, more blobs of paint. But the mushrooms peeped out just at the right time, and Annie had the perfect table to display them in – we just needed some screenwipes to de-smear it – where are the boy scouts when you need them?