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.


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