The Back End of a Bus – or – The Public Service Vehicle As Artistic Medium


This is a major departure from what I originally conceived for the residency, but in the best way possible. It looks as though the final video will have a very different dynamic from the others I’ve made so far.

Although it may be unusual these days, I always consider the audience when I make work, and I try to apply production values from commercial media.

Here are some montages made from individual stills. This harks back to work I was making a few years ago that relied on the same-but-different effect of simultaneously recognizing the similarities and differences in groups of images.



There are more on Flickr here.

In 2003 – 2006 I made a series of computer-generated works under the name “HyperScape” which relied on the effect of recognizing patterns or similarities given certain cues. There is a playlist of videos about these works on YouTube here.

I love the ordered randomness of it all.

The videos are shot with Canon PowerShot A560’s, time-lapse enabled with the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK).


The Secret Life of the Artist


As always, this project I am currently undertaking for residency at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, UK, is not going in the direction I originally imagined for it. That’s not a problem. In fact, quite the opposite, and these days I’m experienced enough to know that I don’t know anything.

A major departure for me is to include a research element, but it is such a gift to have these extra elements despite the randomness of it all.

So, here is my list of research materials. It may or may not change.

The Secret Life of Buildings (1985) – Gavin Macrae-Gibson
A very dense, academic critique of contemporary architecture. At first glance it looks like it will be the most rewarding reference.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) – Walter Benjamin.
An essay on cultural theory, exploring ideas around the reproduction and distribution of art. I’ve tried to read this before and found it extremely tedious.

The Secret Lives of Buildings (2009) Edward Hollis. A rollicking good popular history romp, tying historical events to 13 discrete structures.

The Secret Life of Buildings (2011, Channel 4) presented by Tom Dyckhoff.
A very lightweight critique of buildings and the way they affect us in our homes, workplaces and leisure activities.

Where I part company with Dyckhoff is when he starts masturbating over well-funded and purpose-built workplaces that most never have the experience of working in. Most of us have to work in adapted and altered buildings often used for purposes other than they were designed for, and I find that far more interesting.
This is why I find the Channel 4 series so unsatisfying, it’s too lightweight for me and is only interested in considering a few high profile buildings that most never have the prospect or living or working in. It’s just more aspirational shopping television.

And this is the crux of it. I am far more interested in the chaotic and unplanned life of the building, not the heavily managed stasis of David Adjaye’s Lost House, or the mothballed museum piece that is the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht, Netherlands. The Lost House ignores its surroundings by looking inward and Schröder’s house ignores its surrounding by looking outwards. I like them both as objects, but they are irrelevant beyond the covers of a coffee table book.

The more perfect one aims to make something, the more apparent are its flaws.
I am not interested in preserving things for their own sake. I am more interested in observing them in decay and the act of being rebuilt or reused, or taking an interest in the overlapping evidence of previous iterations.

I have come to see myself as a traditionalist. I make work that is classically composed and decorative, but has meaning if you care to look for it. Also, I make work for a general audience, not just other artists.
Despite that, it seems my work is not exactly populist. I think I have to come to terms with the realization that my own work is an acquired taste, and a subtle pleasure at that.

Interestingly, the first in the series, although not called “The Secret Life of Buildings” at that time, as of 23rd August 2011, has had an equal number of likes and dislikes on YouTube, and examination of the statistics shows that a large number of views are as a result of it being wrongly being associated with a video of the Alan Parsons Project “Eye in the Sky”.

It is tempting to piggy back on Channel 4 to increase the number of views.

The work so far at Bank Street has been an attempt to relate the building to the street and the modernist building across the street.
Many years ago I studied Town Planning and one exercise was to design infill buildings that would acknowledge the scale and design of adjacent buildings. This was largely achieved by extending lines and matching scales.
In the shooting tests so far, I have composed the windows of BSA with the facia of the Job Centre across the road to make it look as purposeful as possible.

The result is a highly formalized appearance, although the two buildings do not appear to acknowledge each other, and there some moments that look like they were staged for the cameras.


Although I was correct in thinking that the windows at the front of Bank Street Arts would be interesting, what I had in mind has completely changed. Rather than making a fast moving time-lapse movie, it looks like the frozen, composited moments of people appearing multiple times will be most interesting aspect.

Noddy in Toyland – The Secret Life of Buildings

I had high hopes for “The Secret Life of Buildings” (Channel 4) but I’m afraid I can’t hide my disappointment. I think I expected too much, after all it is only popular television, and just because the producers came up with the same brilliant title that I did for my body of work (after Gavin Macrae-Gibson), that is no promise of brilliance.

Interestingly, all the publicity shots for the programme are of the presenter Tom Dyckhoff himself, clearly a personality-led series. What is so striking about Dyckhoff is the way he looks, or at least the way he dresses. If you did not know his occupation you could probably work it out. The buttoned-up shirt, cartoon spectacles and too-small schoolboy jacket all scream “I”M A COOL INTELLECTUAL!”, but with a whisper of (wanker). Coincidentally, I too have cropped hair, a stubble beard and glasses, but you would never mistake me for an architecture critic. Possible more a geography teacher or real ale enthusiast. Dyckhoff has that earnest reassurance of a children’s television presenter, and the dress sense of Tin Tin.

Whilst I do not think that starting with an extreme example to introduce a concept is a bad thing, such as David Adjaye’s Lost House to introduce a discussion on light exposure, the programme is largely composed of house-porn, where he flits from one unattainable ideal to another, boyishly harping “why can’t we all live like this?”.

As far as the Lost House is concerned, can you imagine the trauma for the owner when she has guests? I could probably push her into an OCD-induced coma within 5 minutes. Have you ever been to a party with me? I’d be spilling Chilean Cabernet-Sauvignon on her polished floors and leaving hand prints on her black walls quicker than she could say ‘Laszlo Moholy-Nagy”.

Dyckhoff touches on interesting concepts such as the effects of light exposure and physical enclosure, but the science is extremely dodgy. It’s neither one thing nor another. He talks about psychology and physiology but does not deliver any hardcore science. He talks about finance and land prices but has no grasp of the real costs. Then he masturbates over some artists’ show-home that has no more place in the real world than a fish-cycle.

However, he does throw a sop to the proles amongst us and interviews some residents from “a 1960’s housing estate in north London”. It’s a shame he didn’t cover Park Hill, Sheffield, UK. I was present at an extremely enlightening talk by Mark Latham of Urban Splash who went into great detail about how the flats had been redesigned to combat the notorious problems of the failed “streets-in-the-sky”. It was far more informative and authoritative than Dyckhoff’s house-porn shopping.

Dyckhoff introduces a self-build scheme in Almere, Amsterdam where house prices (including land) are estimated at around £145,000 “all in”. “It really proves that affordable self-building is possible” he claims. It proves nothing. He fails to investigate the real cost. The land is government-owned and the whole scheme appears to be some sort of subsidised experiment. Then he moans that in the UK land prices are “supposedly” regulated by the free market but end up being dominated by the “big money”. That’s the market forces you were talking about, mate, were you not listening to your own argument?

More importantly, the results in Almere are hideous. They all look like they belong in a Fuzzy-Felt Home-Builder edition. “I think independent, affordable self-build is the way forward”. But for whom? Sorry, mate I’m too busy working for a living, I can’t afford it and do not want to live in Legoland.

Rant over, but expect more soon.

The Secret Life of Buildings – a disambiguation

I am currently artist-in-residence at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, UK. Officially I was due to start on 1st July, but due to one small hiatus after another I have done nothing so far and aim to start properly on Monday August 1st. I will be creating new video work to be part of my ongoing body of work, ”The Secret Life of Buildings”.

Coincidentally, on the same day, Channel 4 is to start broadcasting a series of television programmes about the effects of architecture on our lives entitled “The Secret Life of Buildings”.

I gave this title to a body of my work in 2009, and immediately felt aggrieved that someone had “stolen” my title. Not so, and within 5 minutes of seeing the trailer I had discovered the following links:

The Secret Life of Buildings – An American Mythology for Modern Architecture
Gavin Macrae-Gibson (1988)

The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories
Edward Hollis (2009)

The Secret Life of Buildings
A blog at The Department of Architecture, UC Berkeley, US.

The Secret Life of Buildings (2011, Channel 4)
Presented by architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff.

It seems my precious title has already been used many other times by other people both before and after my use.

However, after only a cursory glance at these other references online, it became clear that none of them threaten to make my own efforts redundant. They all have very different purposes, identified together only by a common phrase. Although I coined the title before the tv series, it may be that I had read or heard about Gavin Macrae-Gibson’s book and may have recalled it subconsciously.

I only discovered these additional references and the imminent Channel 4 series on 30th July so I have not been able to read the books or watch the tv programmes yet, but I have decided to accompany my own work by looking at these other strands of architectural appreciation alongside my own.

Just to clarify, my body of work was not named after any of these other works and it is entirely coincidental. Also, it is not related to the tv-series. At least, not yet…