21st May Northern France

Niort

I slept in this town where I arrived very late at night. It was larger and more obviously poor than the rural towns and villages of Saturday. It was however quite well kept and not especially dirty (at least compared to Madrid). The lines in the carpark were inspiring. There were not so many people around and the centre was modern and quiet early Sunday morning.

Thouars

An old town in which there was an interestingly paved round square in front of the church. The passers by were mainly joggers and school children from the boarding school next to the church. I felt it was ok to use 2 cloths at this point in order to capture the curved surface of the circular ‘square’. By now I was less aware or concerned about the public and pleased when there was variety. A large group of bikers passed as I was concluding.

 

Sablé sur Sarthes

After looking at the river I found a square in front of the church. Here I chose the observational drawing approach and looked at the lines on the small memorial stone in front of the church. I then used the lines of the varying pavement surfaces. In fact, although the lines of the small stone made a sensitive line this was not really easily translated by the scrubbing. Maybe it was too subtle for me to create at this point.

Bagnoles de l’Orne

This spa town was full of people (I suspect mainly tourists on a Sunday afternoon) and has a huge lake and so I chose the landing patch which had  an amazing surface. There were many people at the lake and there was also plenty of space to clean. The surface was really inspirational with worn slabs.

Caen

This is a large city with waterways and there were plenty of people on Sunday afternoon. I tried various places with the typical monuments but there was not enough space to clean. I then came across the banque de france which has yellow parking lines and an interesting curved line and combination of paving in front. Obviously the bank was closed but there were people around as it is in the centre of town. I used all the cloths that were left in order to take advantage of the curve. It was also the last stop – Caen is a port only 18kms from the open sea.

I realised, especially in Caen, that I tended to choose places in the centre which I found aesthetically pleasing. I searched for the town hall or the hotel de Ville (as well as la poste) and these buildings tended to be older and although on main squares I was not tempted by more modern shopping areas. Maybe for England I should consider shopping streets if possible. What I am pleased by is that in a country where I am not so confident with the language I was not scared of people and I chose areas with people who came and went. Some looked and others ignored me but no one seemed very surprised by my presence. I wondered if French people are more used to this kind of action.

Cleaning in Southern France 20th May

Having arrived in France on 19th I started in the south in the Basque country and worked my way up, aiming to cover half the country in the first day. I was better prepared than on my journey to the North of Spain but I still needed to get basic supplies such as stamps and a bucket for the journey. I also had a built in GPSin the car which helped me find the centre of town and ‘La Poste’ every time quickly.

The first stop was Hasparren (Hazparne in Basque). A relatively small town in beautiful countryside, after walking around I chose the church square which I then  realised was also a carpark but the largest space and there were a variety of people wandering around, some coming to the post box and a cash point machine as well as sitting on benches by the church.

haparen         hasparren

cloths hasparren

Post Madrid I wanted to continue to try different types of actions. I was also aiming at responding more to the place. That can include the nature of the dirt, the forms, textures and lines in the places. Here there was a strong dark dirt which allowed me to draw lines and to add textures.  There is the combination of drawing and printing. I also feel there is a process of collecting and responding to what I found their. In Hasparren I avoided observational drawing of the church and statue on the cloths and chose to focus on the floor of the square it’s texture and line found there.

Onesse et Laharie

This is another relatively small town which has a large green and carpark with what seems to be a thriving cultural life. There was a clowning festival last weekend. I did not see any clowns but there were quite a few people coming and going whilst I was there.  I  onesse et l         FullSizeRender 20 copia

had a great space which gradually got filled with cars. I followed very much the process as in Hasparren looking for lines and taking prints, again there was dark dirt but which was very different from the dirt in Madrid as in it was barely what would be described as dirt. It was more the earth and loose cement.

St Médard en Jalles.

Following the GPS to the centre of town I found the Town Hall had these amazing cracks and chose to clean the top of the steps. These lines are light mainly because the place was very clean. This I found overall in Western France that there was little real ‘dirt’. These places did not need cleaning, often cleaners have to clean the clean.

 

Pons

I arrived in Pons at nightfall and there were some beautiful agricultural tools and ironwork in places such as this old well in the centre. I spent relatively little time here in order to arrive in Niort that day. I collected quite a lot of dirt but I played less with the lines. I think I became worried about running out of cloths on a Sunday at this point which in the end was not a problem.

 

I was more confident about the performative aspect of the work and more focused on the response and the process after the Madrid experience, this was really liberating as in the North of Spain I had been very nervous and rushed the performances. In France I took longer, chose places more carefully and tried a variety of approached depending on the place. I would have liked longer in each place but I had a limited time there and needed to get back to the airport on Monday 22nd. However, I was pleased with the progress of the project compared with Northern Spain.

Combining Cleaning and Drawing – am I making cleaning more visible?

I have now uploaded most of the videos of 2nd May onto Vimeo. This allows me to reflect on where I am now with combining drawing and cleaning. As I look at the documentation I have and select what I will take to the civic for assessment. I am considering what I can do for the rest of the performances. I need to remain consistent with the project so far but feel I am allowed to improve and ‘tweek’ what I do. One of my main concerns about this is still to combine cleaning and drawing.

In Tirso de Molina on 2nd May a man asked me what I was doing and said my line looked like skid marks from a car breaking. He had a point, the brush marks on the yellow cleaning cloth are similar to tyre marks on the road. I was also cleaning a surface (in the public square) which is very similar to a road. This is more focused on drawing than cleaning. When I have been asked what I am doing, and I am surprised how few people do ask, I say I am drawing and cleaning or drawing through cleaning. I have been asked before whether I am cleaning too. The signs I am cleaning apart from my actions are the materials I am using. Perhaps the long 4m cleaning cloth shifted this into another type of action which could be considered drawing. I also had a camera on me in Madrid which changes the dynamic.

Some people walked over the 4m cloth in Tirso. They didn’t seem to notice we were there or there was something happening. Or maybe they just did not care and why should they? This is interesting as I have been so nervous about these performances and yet I am the one suggesting that I am having minimal impact. In Tirso I also had a camera on me and was not alone yet there are footmarks on the cloth.

On a more positive note I have been spraying the cleaning cloths from Spain with white glue solution in order to keep the dirt in them and ready to be used as documentation of the process in Barnsley (for the examiners). I have noticed that I am gradually getting into the drawing aspect of the project. I think this is partially due to nerves and the first examples are not so much drawings as what happened when I was nervously cleaning the street/ square. I have discovered that if I can get into the drawing aspect I am also less nervous or self conscious and I become more absorbed in the process. This has helped the drawing element a lot.

I am going to France next week and am hoping the nerve situation will not be exacerbated by the language situation. I am not going to change what I do dramatically but I would like this stronger focus on the drawing to grow or at least stay as strong as in the last few performances in and close to Madrid. I will not be aiming to interact more with the public as my French is a little basic. I can communicate but I do not have a wide vocabulary so I will leave any developments involving language until I get to the UK in early June. There I might consider handouts or leaflets welcoming debate. I will, however, reflect on the French experience first.

(written before leaving for France on 19th May.)

Documentation

Although the final decisions about which elements of documentation to show in the gallery will be made in the Civic in Barnsley, I am selecting what to send to Barnsley now. Of course, the nature of the project means I will not have all the documentation until I complete the cleaning actions in Barnsley just before the exhibition. That said it is relatively easy to plan making the line of dirt. I know that I will begin by trying putting dirt on the floor first underneath. I also know from the images of the Civic that the floor is darker than the floor which I have used for ‘mock up’ photos. If we look at the varying tones of the dirt the piles will not contrast in the same way as they did for the Corrala.

line  Tables 2

The lighting as always will make a huge difference here and if I put dirt on the floor the textural contrast will also be lost. The line of dirt might be quite invisible – a bit like the actions I am trying to make more visible.

line

The other elements I am aiming to display are the materials themselves and possibly some of the drawings. These immediately change the tone with the inclusion of bright yellow cloths and gloves. I think this will be the most difficult part of the process, knowing what to include and  what not to include is always so hard. The other strong feeling I have is to put everything on the floor rather than on a table, although I will probably use a table for the assessment process for showing my process portfolio.

The portfolio is what I am trying to put together now, I am currently considering the labelling of the drawings from all the places.

FullSizeRender 20

As will other aspects of the project I need to consider that the final pieces will be made in Barnsley and I will not have a sewing machine. Therefore I need to look  at hand sewing as well as using a sewing machine which I prefer. These pieces need to be presented alongside a map or maps, photographs, envelopes and photograms – which can not include the dirt from the places in Britain as there will be no dark room. I might therefore choose to leave them out. My aim for the next 2 days is to put together too much to send and then I will be able to edit as necessary there. Of course some of the items will arrive with me – the bucket, gloves and final cloth drawings.

One observation on the project that is probably more acute than with other recent projects is how much the documentation has evolved. This might be owing to the fact I have not made a performative project in this way before. In other projects, such as the one here in La Corrala, I am aware that some pieces work better than others. However, in this piece, the making process is very new to me. This might not be a wise decision for a project which is supposed to be a culmination of the last 3 years, however, given the circumstances I think I would have felt disappointed if I had not forced myself to go in this direction. The documentation therefore is really a huge learning curve, as are the performances themselves. The difference between the first mailed dirt and that which I have just received from France for example is very different. I became more organised once I knew the pitfalls. I typed labels, added the name of the place I was sending from, put the dirt in bags inside. This is just one aspect of documenting the process but it illustrates how the whole thing has changed.

What I wanted to discuss in the Contextual Study (but didn’t have the words)

 

Artists Research

Writing the Contextual Study this year was particularly challenging as it needed to very directly refer to the final project and as this was a performative action rather than making art objects, however ephemeral, it was in many ways a new direction for me. This became problematic in so few words. One of the casualties was the work of Claire Weetman which I left out as a reference but have already mentioned here in this journal (see 4th March). I found watching the videos of her work really helpful in thinking about my own. I had also had many ideas at the beginning of the project especially about incorporating walking. In fact walking was what lead me into the project and, if I had been lucky enough not to have to work this year I could have made it much more a part of the process and project itself. Walking is however still very much a part of my life and practice.

Walking 

The other major casualty from my original proposal was the gaze in relation to walking in the city. As I was not integrating walking it became very problematic to include ideas about the flaneur being male, discussing the male gaze and trying to construct an argument for the female gaze based on the idea of the flaneuse and using the work of artists such as Sophie Calle in order to argue for this. I would like to come back to these ideas and develop this idea of female visibility and invisibility. It could relate to us disguising ourselves literally as Calle has done. It can also related to aging and the advantages that brings in invisibility.

We are all at at the stage where we spend long days working and trying to figure things out, by writing and by making. For this project many things only really became decided through going and cleaning and having the videos recorded for me so I could see what I was doing. However, walking has continued to be something that also helps me to work out problems with the work. I have written about this here before but, as I was unable to go into any depth about it in the study, it had to be kept out altogether.

Cultural Attitudes to Work

Another idea I was unable to explore in the study, and which I feel merited more research and attention, is that despite the countries in which my project takes place being very similar globally, there are some really interesting differences in attitude to work. In the CS I mention Weber’s theories about the ‘modern’ protestant work ethic and the reformation changing traditional attitudes to work. I agreed with Chamberlain’s analysis that this is dominating western attitudes to identity and, for the purposes of my essay, our relationship to money and class. Nevertheless in my own work, and life, I have noticed there are different attitudes to work in Southern and Northern Europe. My theory is that, although the overall attitude to those who clean for money is similar throughout Europe (and beyond). There are differences in how we see the value of this work. Whilst I believe professional cleaners are looked down upon by many in these societies I do think that the work done is valued more highly in Southern Europe and that here cleaning is viewed as more important and therefore more valued. The other difference which is less important to my study is I feel that in Northern Europe there is more focus on maintaining outdoor spaces clean whereas in Southern Europe the interior is more important. As I said previously, these differences are quite subtle and not academically researched.

In an interesting article by Amandas Ong published on 7th May by Aljazeera and focused on nighttime cleaners in London, one cleaner states: “When I worked in Spain,…..the pay was lower. But at least I felt respected. I felt like a real human being.” Although one person’s statement is not enough to draw conclusions it does suggest that it is worth investigating. The majority of cleaners in London seem to come from Latin America. I also hear in the media that in England there are many jobs the English will not consider doing which I admit I find shocking. Anecdotally I can say the cleaners I work with in the capital are all Spanish although this is obviously not true of all cleaners in Madrid. I am glad I left this out, although it is fascinating there is not enough research and it would have overtaken my essay. It makes me question the value differences between the more successful Northern economies and the ‘failing’ Southern European ones.

We know the dominant economic model is global and money is driving the world. This too I believe is important. Social status is very much linked to income and as Chamberlain points out identity and inclusion is society is largely defined through work. Here superficially this is true but my gut feeling here in Spain is that people’s work is less defining and maybe the traditional attitude as described by Weber, that work is a necessary evil, still lingers if only a little. I have not, as yet, researched this. It is a gut reaction and I am treating it as such. Spain still has high unemployment and I see perception of this problem as largely economic, although work is tied to identity I feel it is less so. To argue this properly I would need substantial research and I am already concerned that my CS might be imbalanced on work/art questions. As my work is about work this was a difficult balance.

Ref:

Weber, M in Chamberlain, J, – Academia.edu. 2017. Undoing Work, Rethinking Community (forthcoming in Fall 2017 from Cornell University Press) | James Chamberlain – Academia.edu. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/30791113/Undoing_Work_Rethinking_Community_forthcoming_in_Fall_2017_from_Cornell_University_Press_. [Accessed 06 May 2017].

Ong, A, 2017. The women and men who clean London at night | Arts & Culture | Al Jazeera. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/women-men-clean-london-night-170327132156350.html? [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Documentation: Photograms and envelopes

Two completely different ways of documenting dirt collection are using the dirt to make photograms and mailing the dirt back to myself. The first was far more successful than the second. This will be blamed on the privatisation of the postal system in Spain but it could also be the depopulation of rural areas meaning that many villages have a post box but no local office so they are stamped at another place. Up in the North of Navarra in Urrecelqui there was not even a post box.  I therefore returned back down the road in a Southerly direction and stopped at the next village – Yalba – this did not have a mail box either. Both these villages had very few inhabitants and almost felt like I was invading private space. The envelopes all made it back to Madrid but some didn’t even have postmarks. The ones with postmarks say Carretera de Zaragoza (The Zaragoza Road) on 2 of them and another 2 are on the road to Madrid. This is a bit disappointing and I am not sure whether to continue to post the dirt back from France and England.

mail art

4 of the 8 envelopes sent in Spain: I also regret hand writing the envelopes but the main problem is I didn’t add the address from which they were sent and there are no postmarks.

On the other hand the photograms work in a strange way. They show the dirt in a really strange way. This dirt is from Ólvega the place I chose not to include on the route as it was too close to other places. The shell becomes transparent when exposed to light for less than 8 seconds. The powdered dust becomes a solid light block. If I were to use this as a documentation technique I would need to think about how to compose the images. Would it be pure chance. Is that a realistic possibility? I had expected the photograms to have more of a scientific feel but they are actually rather more poetic. The dirt has been changed into something weightless and floating. There is an unearthly feel to them.

I cannot produce photograms for the whole project until after Barnsley as I will not be able to go into a darkroom in England, and there would not be time to in any case. There is however something very appealing about them. They could make a book documenting the journey. I am not sure they would belong in the Barnsley exhibition other than as an experiment as they do not connect to the performance or the materials of cleaning. I will go back into the darkroom at some point to experiment with lines as well.

Regrets

In writing my Contextual Study I have been revisiting some of the ideas I have been exploring over the past academic year. Although some of the decisions I have taken, especially those which have lead me in new directions at the end of the MA, might feel a little risky, I am relatively content with the decisions I have made. There is also a healthy sense of fear pervading the whole project which occasionally threatens to overwhelm me. That is not really a good reason for not doing it but I am a little concerned about how I force myself into these uncomfortable situations when I am no longer a student.

More importantly I wanted to examine a decision I made which I do regret now. At the beginning of the project I wanted to walk from Madrid to Barnsley, literally tracing the line with my body. I realised immediately that this could not happen as I did not have the time, and could not give up earning money in order to make the time to do this. However, I did originally consider inventing the journey. I was discouraged by Lucy Day in a tutorial and I think she did this because I did not explain the idea well. I described it as ‘faking it’ which on reflection does not really do it justice. I totally understand why she would hear alarm bells with that terminology. However the idea was not simply about faking it so I was not being clear about my intentions. As she was so categorical about it I doubted the validity of doing it. What I regret is not stating with the idea and testing it a little more before discarding it. I could also have thought more deeply about how I presented it and whether that was really the idea. The most worrying aspect of this is that I was so easily persuaded.

Today whilst writing about Hayley Newman’s work in which she uses performance art conventions of documentation in order to unpick the photographic documentation process of performances which are not what they seem. This questioning of the authenticity of the work made me think again of my decision not to build a project around walking as I originally planned. Given the practicalities and timescale it was probably a good decision but whilst writing about Newman’s faking of the performance documentation I felt this twinge of regret which suggests to me that there was something there I should maybe hang on to. I can of course go back to this type of project again. However, I could also build on it and make a real walk and connect the walking to the drawing in the way I originally planned. The scope of the project as it is has become quite enough for the timescale and the other parameters in play for we are connected.

written 1/5/17