Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Postcards Have Sailed

Or rather, flown: I finally mailed the postcards collected from the Special Event, written by visitors to the gallery during October/November:

The next step will be to see, during the coming months, if any of the recipients will reply to the email address on the back of the card.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interview & article

From "The Columbia Chronicle". Click the image to display it at a more legible size.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Installing the exhibition

On view at Finestra Art Space, Chicago: October 2nd to October 30th, 2011. Hours: link here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Mount Pilatus Railway

from an imaginary Lucerne travel diary

We were halfway up the mountain, hanging almost vertically off its side in the old cog railway, when the person sitting next to me in the train said: “I’m going to be sick.”

I wasn’t feeling too well either. The ascent had been fun at first, with a great wide view of the town below the mountain gradually emerging through the clouds, as the carriage pulled up and away from the boarding station. The train inched upwards at a steep angle, but it was no worse than other funicular railways I had travelled on in other parts of the world. The chain car that takes you up to Pest, as in ‘Budapest’, is pretty steep, too, and that didn’t give me the vertigo that everyone had warned me about.  Like the other twenty or so people in the carriage, I was enjoying the sights, snapping the occasional picture, listening to the murmur of the engine and the ‘tock’ of the gears as they moved the car closer to the mountain top.

Then the angle changed, as if we were all sitting on a see-saw and the heavy kid had plopped himself down on the opposite end. Gradually it dawned on me that this is what people meant when they said: Oh you must take the railway to the top of Mount Pilatus. Instead of looking at a town that was definitely below me but sort of ‘over there’, I realized that my view of Lucerne was interrupted by my toes. Even though we were all secured in our seats, instinctively I grasped the arms of the seat tightly. Most people emitted gasps or mock shrieks of fear. Little children squealed. Their mothers made faces, their fathers told them to behave, that there was nothing to worry about. With all the noise, at first I didn’t hear the person next to me. Then I heard him again: “I’m going to be sick.”

I looked at him. He was a young man, with a narrow head, spiky hair, and an untidy ginger beard. He wore long khaki shorts and a purple cut-away t-shirt, revealing muscular arms that, like his face, were burned red from the sun. I guessed from the heavy walking boots and the small but efficient backpack squeezed between his calves that he was that ubiquitous person: the student backpacker, the roaming idealist, taking the modern version of the Grand Tour before immuring himself at university to study law or accounting. Not an unpleasant looking guy, though, by any means. His general air of outdoors ruggedness and his weather-beaten flesh made me surprised by his reaction to the funicular ride.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Yes,” he whispered, leaning forward and pressing a hand against his belly. His face was turning worryingly pale, the sunburned flush suddenly gone.

“Can you hold on? We’re nearly there,” I said.

“I don’t know.”

“Let me see if I have a — “

I tried to think of the German word for ‘paper bag’, but couldn’t. I rummaged around in my shoulder bag. Nothing there. I leaned across the aisle and gently tapped the arm rest next to a thin-faced man.

“This guy thinks he’s going to be sick. Do you have a — ?” I imitated opening a paper bag and being sick into it. The thin-faced man grimaced at me like I’d just done the deed myself, and he looked away in disgust.

“Thanks a lot,” I said. I turned back to the backpacker. “Look, you’ll just have to hold on — “

Before I even finished the sentence, the backpacker lurched forward, loudly retched, and released a torrent of vomit into the space between his knees .The stream was so copious that it splashed down the side of his backpack and pooled on the floor, where, due to the angle of the carriage, it trickled under the seat in front and started to snake quickly down the train. I pulled my knees up and to the right, not quickly enough to avoid getting some flecks of carroty puke on the sides of my shoes. The warm, moist, sweet odour of vomit reached my nostrils, and as my gorge rose, I covered my nose and mouth with my hand to stifle my gag reflex. Other people in the carriage were not so lucky. The second that the backpacker was sick, people started reacting like someone had let off a bomb in the train. They raised their feet to avoid the river of vomit snaking their way. Forgetting the angle of the train, some of them stood up to get out of the way and fell to the side onto their neighbours. Others, upon receiving the smell of the vomit, started retching too, and within a few minutes of the backpacker’s moment of misfortune, the carriage was filled with the sound of people being sick, people shouting, people slipping on the vomit and falling to the floor. One woman landed on her behind, put her hands on the floor to steady herself, realized that her left hand had gone straight into a puddle of sick, looked in horror at her hand, then vomited too, with a loud ‘quack!’, as violently and suddenly as if she’d been punched in the stomach. A small boy about three seats down from me let loose into the lap of the adult seated beside him. People at the front of the train, that is to say, above me, started to bang on the windows, trying to break the glass in a futile attempt to escape. Meanwhile, the backpacker sat slumped against the window, his head bowed, a skein of vomit hanging down over his bearded chin.

“Are you ok?” I said. He nodded, though clearly he wasn’t. I patted him on the shoulder. “We’re nearly there. We’ll get you some help soon.”

The train made its final upward push into the station at the top of the mountain, easing against the platform with a loud burst of air from the brakes. The doors opened, and a pre-recorded announcement came on telling us to mind our step. The train company employees in their neat uniforms couldn’t believe what they were seeing as the train disgorged its passengers, most of them stained with vomit in some way, some of them being physically supported by their companions, limping, dazed, like the survivors of a disaster. When it was our turn to leave, I helped the backpacker to his feet, and carried his rucksack to the platform, holding it out to one side to avoid getting any more regurgitated stomach contents onto my clothes. I guided him to a bench set against the wall of the ticket office. A couple of train company employees looked into the train through the doors, then started backwards, repelled by the smell. The line of people waiting behind a rope to board the train for the descent began to ask impatient questions of the uniformed personnel. I turned to the back-packer one last time.

“I need to clean up,” I said, waving at my shoes. “Can I get you a glass of water or something?”

He was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, breathing deeply. He shook his head, and said: “No. Thank you.”

Out on the mountainside, someone was welcoming the new batch of tourists by blasting away on an Alpine horn. I started walking towards the men’s room, slipping my hands into my pockets to protect them from the cold mountaintop air. I felt the little lion on a keychain that I had bought a day earlier, and rubbed it between the tips of my fingers, hoping that it would bring me better luck on the train journey back down to Lucerne.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 37

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Found internet images, paper-litho transfer prints,  four colours, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Monday, August 8, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 36

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Found internet images, paper-litho transfer prints, four colours, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 35

Click to display larger image

Found internet images, paper-litho transfer prints, four colours, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Friday, July 22, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 34

Click to display larger image
Found internet images, paper-litho transfer prints, two-colours, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 33

Click to display larger image.
Found internet images, paper litho transfer prints, two colours, on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 32

Click to display larger image.
Found internet images, paper-litho transfers, two-colours on BFK Rives printmaking paper.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 31

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Paper-litho transfer prints, found internet images, two-colours, on Arches printmaking paper.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


from an imaginary Lucerne travel diary

who are you staggering towards me in what looks like an astronaut’s suit the kind that you used to see on grainy black and tv images of the apollo mission in the nineteen seventies yet you can’t be an astronaut because there is a line of people standing behind you watching with grins on their faces like this is some sort of show and in the background the old wooden bridge with the round tower in the middle the upper parts of the buildings on the opposite bank of the river glistening in the bright air damp from a recent shower

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reading from The Lucerne Project

On Monday evening, I read some of the imaginary Lucerne travel diary and projected some of the prints at the Interlochen Writer's Retreat in northern Michigan:

I was in the company of two great writers, Anne-Marie Oomen and Patricia Ann McNair.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 30

Click to display larger image
Found internet images printed using paper-litho transfer technique on Rives paper, each page 4.5 inches x 6 inches.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

'The Lucerne Project': forthcoming exhibition

100 page accordion book using images of
Lucerne found on the internet

Last week, I formally accepted an offer to exhibit materials from The Lucerne Project at a gallery in Chicago, this coming October, 2011. Below is a short description of the exhibition:
Title: The Lucerne Project
Venue: Finestra Art Space (link), The Fine Arts Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago.
Brief description: Artist Philip Hartigan documents personal narratives about people he’s never met, in a place he’s never been, using artist’s books, written narrative, animation, and a blog.
Short artist’s statement: I make art based on personal narrative, using 'damaged photos' which I transform into prints, books, objects. Often the personal narrative is my own, based on memories of growing up in a mining town in the north of England. Sometimes I use the personal narratives of other people. The Lucerne Project is an extension of this. It starts from the fact that Chicago, USA, where I now live, and Lucerne, Switzerland, are sister cities. I asked myself the question: how would I make a personal narrative about people I've never met, in a city I've never been to?
Special event: For one evening during October (date to be announced), there will be an interactive event in which visitors to the gallery will be asked to select a pre-printed postcard, and send it to someone in Lucerne,Switzerland, using a list of publicly-available names and addresses. Some of the postcards will have images of Chicago on them; some will be blank for participants to draw their own picture. The reverse of the postcard will have space to write a greeting, and to write the address of the recipient in Lucerne.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Old Couple

from an imaginary Lucerne diary
The weather turned cold today, the sort of cold with a bite in the air that you can feel on your skin the moment you step out of the hotel. I went out for a walk in the morning, encouraged by the bright blue sky. The small street cleaning machines were whirring through the gutters like blind mechanical insects. Above the square, pigeons fluttered towards the ledges of the upper storeys, were repelled by the coils of copper wire placed there to deter them, and fluttered away again over the trees that guarded the centre of the square. I picked up a newspaper from the kiosk on the corner, and a coffee from the bistro nearby, then headed down for the hundredth time towards the river.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who, when they spend some time in a different city, carves out their own set of places they go to regularly: the same café in the morning, the same restaurant in the evening, the same route they like to take. I was approaching my favourite place to read the newspaper—a wooden bench on the St. Karli Quai, with a name plate on the back dedicated to an old Jewish couple who died in World War II—but I saw, with a slightly petulant feeling, that it was already occupied. A very old man and his very old wife were huddled shoulder to shoulder on the bench. I assumed they were married, I don’t know why. Maybe because they wore the same dark brown overcoats, fluffy Russian hats, and expensive Italian shoes. When I came round towards the railing and glanced at them from the side, I could see that they were holding hands, pointing things out that they saw on the water, leaning in to tell each other things, and looking at each other and smiling in response. My annoyance at their taking my favourite bench gave way to a feeling of wonder at how sweet they appeared. To be so old, and possibly married for so long, and yet to still take pleasure in each other’s company. I envied them, and realized that they were making me feel rather lonely.
I opened my newspaper and pretended to read it for a while, waiting to see whether they would move on. But they stayed, occasionally falling silent, but still holding hands, the man squeezing the woman’s fingers, she reaching over and patting his upper arm. Finally, after maybe ten minutes, there was a quick gust of frozen air from out over the lake, and it began to snow. They stood up, clutching their fluffy Russian hats to their heads, and walked off towards the north. I walked the other way, back towards the bridge, wondering if I would be lucky enough to reach my seventies with the companionship of someone who loved me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The 100 page accordion book: assembled

Here is a collage of images of the 100 page accordion book of Lucerne project prints, including a custom made clam-shell box. Click on the image to display a much larger version:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 29

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Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 28

Click image to display larger version

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 27

Click on image to display larger version

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A different perspective

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

I was working in the back office, filing the paperwork from yesterday’s comings and goings at the hotel, when I heard the bell ring at the front desk. I finished what I was writing and dropped the pen down onto the ledger. The pen rolled into a small paper cup of water and knocked it over on the page. I grabbed some tissues from my handbag and frantically dabbed at the spreading puddle, but some of the water had already smudged the figures in the ‘Bills Paid’ column. The bell rang again. I knew I had to look welcoming to any visitor to the hotel, but I was feeling annoyed as I stepped through the door into the small reception area. I tried to smile, but I was aware that I was frowning as I said: “Can I help you?”

A man was standing in the narrow hallway in front of the counter. He was thin and bald, and wore black glasses with a thick frame, and black clothes. He seemed nervous, his eyes moving quickly from side to side, never quite meeting mine. He asked me is a certain guest was still staying at the hotel. I recognized the name: I had been processing his credit card payment only minutes earlier. For all I knew it was his name that was dissolving on the untended ledger. The thought of the ledger being spoiled, of having to do a morning’s work all over again, of explaining what I’d done to the hotel owner, who said that there was no such thing as an honest mistake, only a sackable offense—all this made my blood rise, and I felt myself blushing hotly.

It was clear to me that not only was this stranger not looking for a room, but that he didn’t know the person he was asking for. I decided to tell him nothing more, but to wait for him to leave. I noticed that he was glancing at my breasts, and I was suddenly conscious of how the t-shirts the hotel staff were made to wear were very tight. I shifted from one foot to another, and clasped my left elbow with my right hand.

“Can I help you with anything else?” I said. He mumbled something I didn’t catch, and backed towards the front door. When he’d gone, I took out my cellphone and started to type a text to my boyfriend about this creep who had asked weird questions and stared at my tits. But then I remembered the spilled water and the unfinished paperwork. “Scheisse,” I said, and went back through the swing door into the office.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 26

Click to display larger version

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 25

Click to display larger version

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 24

Click to display larger version

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Friday, April 29, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 23

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

The party

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

Sometimes I return to my hotel long after midnight, when the streets are dark and most of the lights in the apartment buildings are out. On the last street before I make the turn towards my hotel, I pass this place that seems to be a bar, except the windows are covered by boards and the door is a solid wooden slab. I wouldn’t have known that it was a bar if not for the fact that tonight, as I was coming back after another long evening walk, the door opened just as I was passing the boarded-up windows. A brilliant rectangle of yellow light fell onto the pavement. Two men lurched out into the street, shouting loudly back through the door. They were both short, with small, pointed features, noticeably made up with thick mascara and dark eyeliner. They were wearing tight black clothes that resembled matador outfits. I walked around them and saw through the open door a roomful of people squeezed around table laden with bottles and glasses. In one corner was a man with frizzy black hair playing a Spanish guitar. Everyone around the table looked like they could have worked in a circus or a transvestite cabaret. At the head of the table was an individual in a tight fitting, sequined pink dress, the décolletage revealing thick tufts of black chest hair. A wig of white curls rose high on his head, with locks that framed a broad face from which long false eyelashes blinked out. In front of him/her was a birthday cake, and s/he was handing around slices of it on quartered paper plates. A woman sitting at the edge of the table nearest the door saw me, smiled faintly, and beckoned me to come in. The two matadors on the street started shouting: ‘Ja, ja, hereinkommen! Besetzen sie hier!’ (‘Yes, yes, come in, sit down here!’). I hesitated, thinking it might be fun to go in for a quick drink before sleep, but I chickened out. I shook my head, tapped my watch, and laid my head against my hands to indicate that I needed to sleep. There was a brief outbreak of falsetto laughter, and then the matadors went back in and the door slammed shut behind them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 21

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Monday, April 25, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 20

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 19

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 18

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The dream

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

Last night I had the flying dream again. Or a kind of flying dream. It starts with me entering a double-decker bus, and ascending the stairs to the upper deck. I take my seat and look at the window, but now the bus is hundreds of feet high, and I am staring down through space, down the elongated sides of the yellow bus, onto the rooftops of Lucerne far below. The towering bus starts to move, and I feel like an ant on the top of a moving column, flying through the narrow streets of the old town, dizzy at the height, the speed, the precariousness. The bus hurtles on, leaving Bahnhof Platz, crossing the Seebrucke, turning left on Kapelgasse. People on the streets scurry aside like beetles hit by hot water. On I go, past the Queen Camellia Tea House, the Fritschli restaurant, until we come to a halt in front of the Magic X Erotik Megastore. At that point the roof of the store opens like the petals on a blooming flower, and a giant dildo rises slowly into the air, like a ballistic missile emerging from a silo. It rises and rises until its shiny rounded nose, about thirty feet in circumference, is now parallel to me and my perch in the clouds. Store employees who were taken by surprise and were unable to let go in time are clinging to the top and screaming for me to help them. I am consumed by a feeling of panic, and I run to the stairs to try and descend, but the stairs now seem to spiral downward into infinity, and no matter how fast I go down, the bottom seems eternally out of reach. I look out of the window, and I feel sick to see the first people lose their grip on the dildo and fall, fast and straight, towards the red and brown tiles of the rooftops. I am dizzy now from turning on the endless spiral staircase, and I fight the urge to close my eyes, telling myself that if I fall asleep (even though I know that I am already asleep) I will never be able to escape. So I run and I run, and I try to ignore the crescendo-decrescendo of the voice of each Magic X Erotik Megastore employee swooshing past the window.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 17

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 16

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Friday, April 15, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 15

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18"

Monday, April 4, 2011

Progress on the 100 page accordion book

Half of the book is finished. Here are some photos of the pages being joined together:

Friday, March 4, 2011

The letter on the street

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

I found a letter in the street today. It was crumpled and slightly damp from the recent rain, but the handwriting was still clear enough that it caught my eye from where it lay next to one of the rubbish bins attached to a lamp-post. I walked up to it, and pretended to be waiting along with a couple of other people for the pedestrian signal at the corner to change. I hurriedly crouched down and scooped up the letter, and then I crossed the road when the sign of the walking man was illuminated, just one in a group of anonymous pedestrians on a wet March morning.

When I got to the opposite pavement, I took my find into the doorway of an insurance office and began to read. My guess that it looked like it was written in English turned out to be right. The words, written with pale blue ink in neat handwriting, said:

“Dear Jane,

“I don’t know when you will read this, but if it does somehow get to you then you will already probably know what’s happened.

“I’m looking out of the window at mountains covered with big clouds. It’s all grey and foggy, which seems an appropriate setting for what I am about to do.

“You may not care to hear this, but I just want you to know that even though you ruined my life, I still love and I always will.

“Please tell         “

After that, the letters quickly dissolved into rain-smeared streaks.

“Shit,” I said aloud. This was one of the more unusual things I’d seen on the streets of Lucerne, and now I would never know the full story. Then I started to wonder where it had come from. I looked back across the street, and saw that the building on the corner was indeed a hotel, one of those small places that used to be listed in guide books as two-star pensiones.

I hesitated for a while. Should I throw the letter away, and forget that I’d ever found it? Cross the road and go into the hotel? But if I did, what would I be looking for?

Curiosity got the better of me. I went back across the road and up the steps leading into the hotel’s  reception area. It was just a narrow corridor, carpeted, lined with small tables set with little china vases containing flowers. The hotel office was a sort of concierge’s cubby hole, with a registration book and a brass bell sitting on a narrow wooden counter. No-one was around. I quickly looked down the list of names. None of them looked English. I glanced at the door that led out of the concierge’s box into the interior of the hotel, then lifted the top page of the registration book. Liebowitz, An Chung, Kasniewski … Chamberlain. Patrick Chamberlain. I knew that any one of those names could belong to a person born in England, but still.

The door opened, and a young woman entered the tiny booth. She had a wide face and long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wore the white t-shirt and black jeans that you see in bars, restaurants, and hotels the world over. The t-shirt fit very tightly over a notably large pair of breasts. She came forward and asked in English:

“Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for my friend Patrick Chamberlain.” I paused. “The English guy? He said he was staying here.”

I watched her face for any change in her expression, but it remained neutral.

“Yes. Mr. Chamberlain.”

“Is he still here?”

“He is gone.”

My eyes widened.

“You mean, he’s left, or …?”

“He is gone,” she said again, in the same flat tone.

Thoughts of death came into my mind. But then she breathed in deeply, and her ample breasts expanded distractingly beneath the white fabric of her t-shirt. I realized I was looking at them, and when I looked back at her face, her slightly annoyed expression showed that she realized it, too.

“Is he coming back?” I asked.

“No. He checked out yesterday. Do you want to book a room?”

“What? No. No thanks.”

I wanted to ask her if by “checked out” she meant “left the hotel” or “went out through the final door marked ‘Exit’.” But I had already questioned her beyond the point where it looked suspicious, so I left.

I immediately went back to my hotel, about a twenty minute walk back across the old town. I placed the letter on top of the leather-bound writing case provided by the hotel. I smoothed some of the creases out with the side of my hand, and placed a heavy Lutheran bible—also provided by the hotel—on top of the letter.

I picked up a tumbler, filled it with red wine from the bottle I had brought back the previous night, and drained it in one go.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 14

Click the image to display larger version.
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Monday, February 28, 2011

Father Jones

from an imaginary Lucerne diary

The blue-green colour of the hills surrounding the city seemed to be reflected in the stones of the old town today. There was something about the position of the sun emerging from below a few white clouds that made the walls of the church on the square shimmer in small lozenge shapes of aquatic tones, as if I were looking up at the world from the bottom of a deep swimming pool.

I stood there for a minute, tilting my face up so I could feel the warm air passing over my skin. A momentary flash of light in the stained glass window of the church caused me to squint. Once my eyes had adjusted, I noticed the design of the window for the first time since I got to Lucerne and rented a hotel room. The window showed Christ standing with his hands down, palms turned outwards to reveal bloody holes. A man was kneeling before him, leaning slightly back with his hands raised in an attitude of surprise. I guessed that it was the story of Doubting Thomas, but the stained glass artist had added a weird touch: a stream of blood was coursing out of the wound in Christ’s left hand and pouring onto the upturned face of Thomas, like the warm light falling on my face in the square.

The colour of the pieces of glass depicting the blood was a deep crimson, the colour of wine. It reminded me of the colour of the sacramental wine at communion, in the local catholic church that I was sent to, quite against my will, as a child. I would kneel down at the altar along with the other communicants, take the clammy unleavened host onto my tongue, and wash it down with a swig from the chalice, which was placed briefly against my lips by the old priest. Actually, I don’t know what colour the wine really was. I know now that it wasn’t a real wine but a weaker variety, designed for its symbolic purpose rather than to send every Catholic home shit-faced. But there were always the tales of the alcoholic priests, the ones who turned up at certain houses in their parish and drank everything they could get their hands on, the ones who went through cases of even the watered down stuff they doled out in the middle of every Mass.

I thought of how afraid I was, as a child, of our priest. He seemed immensely old to me, with his thin grey hair plastered to the scalp by Brylcreem, and the small square glasses with the thick lenses that gave him the appearance of a Soviet chess master, all intellect and introversion. I never saw him except at Mass, even though the school I went to was right beside the church, and our playground was separated from the grounds of the church only by a low wooden fence, with a gate that was always unlocked, but which none of us in the playground ever opened or passed through, not even if our football ended up sailing over the fence and onto the holy grass. When that happened, we just waited until the priest’s housekeeper came out and threw it back over at us. We all knew that if we went in to retrieve it, if we broke the invisible barrier separating a bunch of boys from a priest, we would be sent immediately to the headmaster, where we would be given six excruciating smacks of a birch cane across our outstretched palms.

The only time I ever passed through the cordon was when I was invited. I must have been about ten years old. I was summoned to the headmaster’s office, but instead of being caned (and even though I hadn’t done anything, that by no means excluded the possibility that I would be caned anyway), the headmaster said something about Father Jones – I remember now, the priest’s name was Father Jones – giving away a lot of his LPs, and the headmaster was too busy to collect them at that moment, so would I go over to the vestry and bring them back to the office.

My relief at not being caned was immediately supplanted by my terror at going into Father Jones’ house on my own. The playground seemed immense as I crossed it. When I got to the gate, I hesitated before putting my hand on the handle and pressing down the lever to open the door. My hand was shaking a little, and my heart was beating very fast. I still expected to hear the booming voice of the headmaster behind me, shouting: “What are you doing?”, as he dragged me back to his office for another beating. I peeked around the edge of the gate. There were no monsters. There was just a stretch of trimmed grass, and then the vestry. Through the window I saw the housekeeper, washing dishes. When she looked up and saw me, she quickly dried her hands on a towel and motioned for me to come in.

I crossed the yard with my head bowed, and walked slowly through the kitchen door. The housekeeper was dressed in a long pinafore decorated with dark blue and red flowers. I didn’t see her face, as I was too afraid of her to look up.

“What’s the matter with you?” she said to me. “You look like you’ll die of fright. Come on, come this way. Nothing to be afraid of.”

We passed through a door at the other end of the kitchen, into a narrow dark hallway that led to a solid oak door, paneled and embossed with carvings of mythical animals. The housekeeper knocked twice, leaning in to hear the reply. There was a muffled noise from the other side of the door. She nodded, opened the door slightly, looked back at me, and said: “In you go. And don’t touch anything. I just cleaned everything this morning.”

The dread in my body sucked at every corpuscle in my blood as I pushed the door open a little further and sidled into the room. It was so dark in that room, even though it was a day of bright sunshine outside. I looked to the window, partly so that I wouldn’t have to look at Father Jones, and I saw that the heavy curtains were drawn. My eyes passed back quickly around the room, but all I could make out were the vague outlines of large, heavy, mahogany furniture. In the middle of it all was a high-backed chair with scrollwork along the edges, and in it the sunken form of Father Jones.

He smiled and said, in a voice so soft and small that I could barely hear it: “What’s your name?”

“Ph-ph-philip,” I stuttered.

“Ah,” replied Father Jones. “Mr Garthwaite (he was the headmaster) tells me that you’re a very bright boy.”

My sense of humiliation was replaced by bewilderment. Garthwaite had really said that? The headmaster was a man who never uttered a word of praise to his students in class, so this information left me speechless.

Father Jones must have taken pity on my discomfort, because he lifted an old, slightly trembling hand, and pointed to a box containing about ten LPs that was perched near a very old fashioned carrying-case-style mono record player.

“There they are. Are you sure you can carry all those?”

“Yes sir – Father.” I blushed so hotly that it felt as if someone had splashed me with water from a kettle.

As I lifted the box, and stumbled out of the room, and got past the housekeeper, and walked back across the garden, and opened the gate, and crossed the concrete playground again, I will always remember the title of the album that was at the front of the stack. “The Ruins of Athens”, by Beethoven. Mr Garthwaite, the headmaster, was visibly delighted when I placed the box on his desk. He rubbed his palms together – yes, really – and exclaimed: “Ah, yes yes yes.”

I hadn’t thought of this in more than thirty years, until I was standing in that square in Lucerne. Then my glazed-over eyes resumed their focus when I noticed a priest, or at least the Protestant equivalent---anyway a man dressed in dark religious clothing crossing the square, and stopping to bend down and wipe something off the top of his shiny leather shoe with a white handkerchief that he took out from the pocket of his soutane, before entering the church through the vast wooden doorway.

I hated going to Mass as a child. I hated the nuns with their fanatical eyes, always looking out for an infraction to punish you for. I hated the monthly lecture about donating to the poor in Africa, which amounted to a shakedown to squeeze a few pennies out of the pocket money of a bunch of dirt-poor miners’ children. I hated the father, the son, and the holy pigeon, the whole rotten sin-and-forgiveness racket of it.

But I remembered the shy old priest, Father Jones, and I started to cry.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 13

Click on the image to display larger version
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Rives printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 12

Click on the image to display larger version
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The infinite parade of photographs

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

They stand at the edge of the path, against the railing that prevents them from falling into the water. They shuffle back and forth so that they can be framed satisfactorily against the Kapellbrucke behind them. They put an arm around their partner, and smile into the camera. Or they stand shoulder to shoulder. Or they half-turn towards the bridge, as if they have just paused because some anonymous photographer asked them to. A few raise their hands above their heads and try to spell out letters that will, one presumes, be understood by the people back home to whom they will show their pictures. Some of them look sheepish, a little bashful, as if they know that millions of people have stood in the same spot and had their photo taken in front of the old bridge. Some of them seem genuinely excited, as if they see this as their chance to perform something unrepeatable in their lives, even if it has been repeated as an event for countless people before them, and will be repeated by countless people after them. If you stand across the road, or loiter all morning at a café table, you will see an endless lines of people posing for the photograph of themselves in front of the Kapellbrucke. Some of them hold the camera up in front of their own faces. Some will ask a passer-by to take the shot. Most will pass the camera around within a group, so that they all take turns posing and snapping.

I find myself wondering what it would look like if you could gather all of the photos that were ever taken on this spot? How many would they be? Millions, probably. Enough, even if you reproduced every one of them at, say, six inches by four inches, to cover every square inch of railing, path, and the beams of the wooden bridge, and most of the buildings within sight on either side of the water, in a giant smothering collage of infinite banality.
I haven’t taken a single photo while I’ve been here in Lucerne. I gave up taking pictures of my travels years ago, in fact. I got sick of the feeling of being obliged to make an endless record of pictures that I might never look at again. I grew bored with having to haul a camera around on those hot days when I’d been walking for hours in the sun, dragging myself from monument to gallery to museum, while sensible locals stayed indoors or took three hours lunches in air-conditioned restaurants. I came to mistrust the idea that taking a picture of what I was looking at, wherever I was, would in any way be a more reliable or faithful memory of my visit than the actual memory itself. For what does it mean if we look at something, and then immediately interpose a machine between our eyes and the object? What am I recording when I look at the bridge? What am I taking away, other than a few photons of light? What am I thinking when I merely look at the bridge? Whatever I was thinking, whatever I remember of the bridge, of my standing in front of it or not standing in front of it, will not necessarily be retrieved by looking at a photo of my grinning face.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 11

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Saturday, February 12, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 10

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 9

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Monday, January 24, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 8

Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Friday, January 21, 2011

The tourists on the quayside (part 2)

from an imaginary Lucerne diary.

But on that warm Sunday morning, instead of playing in the street with the other children, I was with my grandfather at the lake, helping him to shove the boat off the cart and into the water. The rods, lines and plastic buckets to hold the fish were already in it. When we climbed in, we had to sit almost with our knees touching in order to fit into the narrow space. My grandfather grasped the oars with his thick calloused hands and slowly rowed us out into the middle of the lake.

“Don’t fidget,” he said to me. “You don’t want to tip us over.”

From the other side of the lake, we heard an outboard motor starting up. Other people liked boating here, too, and nearly all of them had boats which, though small, had been purchased with engine attached from a boat shop in town. My grandfather was the only member of the community who sailed out over the lake in his tiny hand-built, hand-powered dinghy. I realized when I was older that the other boat owners thought my grandfather was a comical figure, huddled in his boat with his cloth cap stuck to his head in all weather, staring at the water and trying to ignore the other boat owners while they puttered past him their hands on their tillers and a patronizing smile on their faces.

With every upstroke of the oars, my grandfather’s hands reached forward until they were a few inches from my chest. I had to resist the urge to back away each time. I tried instead to concentrate on the blade of the oar as it cleaved the water, dragged a seal-like wave up, and rose again in a rain of droplets. We were in the middle of the lake in a few minutes. I watched the columns of white smoke billowing from the tall chimneys of the power station while my grandfather got the rods ready. He put one in my hands and said: “Swing it back like a bat, then flick it so the line travels out. And don’t hit me with it.”

He demonstrated by going first. The line went out about twenty-five feet and the hook dropped into the water with a faint ‘plosh.’ It took me a few goes until I got it right. I got the hook away from the boat on the ppposite side from his line. And then the waiting began.

I don’t know how long it was before the first fish bit. It seemed like a long time to me, unused as I was to prolonged periods of enforced inactivity. A man on the shorelines had shouted to us. My grandfather recognized him, and they exchanged a few sentences full of coarse language and laughter before the man on the shore disappeared into the trees. I didn’t even notice the movement in my line until my grandfather shouted: “You’ve got one!”

I started, and let go of the rod. It slipped from my hands, and my grandfather caught it just before it fell overboard.

“Careful. Here. Reel it in.”

I took hold of the rod again, clumsily, and began turning the lever on the reel. I turned it the wrong way at first, which caused my grandfather to shout impatiently at me. Finally the line started to spool backwards. The hook jerked in and out of the water as it returned to the boat. I knew that there were only minnows in the lake, not any big fish, but my heart still pounded as if I expected to see a pike or a perch loom out of the waves.

I hauled the rod up, and there was a skinny black fish, wriggling in the air. I felt a white hot thrill in my entire body, and the strange sensation of wanting to cry at the same time.

“Bring it over here,” said my grandfather. He grabbed the line, deftly took the fish from the hook, and threw it into the bucket. I watched, slightly sickened, as it flapped feebly against the plastic walls.

“Aren’t you going to kill it?” I asked.

“It’ll die soon enough,” he said.

I grasped the edges of the boat with my bony little hands, and then I looked away.

Suddenly the water started moving below the boat, lifting us, gently at first, rocking us from side to side. The little motor boat was cruising past us, not close, but close enough to send waves a few inches high pulsing towards us. My grandfather grabbed the oars to prevent them slipping into the water. He looked towards the other boat with a dark look in his face. The man in the other boat, who was wearing a white captain’s cap with a gold anchor insignia, raised a hand and waved at us. He was already turning his boat away from us, so he didn’t see one of the waves splash over the edge of our boat and knock over the bucket with the fish in it. Swearing loudly, my grandfather grabbed the bucket and tried to catch the fish in the other hand, but it easily evaded him and was back in the water within seconds.

He rowed us back without saying a word. The water felt cold and oily around my feet, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Something else was on his mind. I kept expecting him to say something, about the other boat, about me, about the fish. But he wasn’t a great talker at the best of times, and he remained silent as we got to the shore, tipped the water out of the boat, and dragged the boat onto its travelling cart.

I never went fishing again, not with my grandfather nor anyone else. The fish I caught and lost that day was the first and last that I ever caught anything.

For some reason, this all came back to me today on the quayside at Lucerne.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 7

Click to display larger version of the image.
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Monday, January 17, 2011

From a 100-page accordion book: 6

Click to display large version of the image.
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Friday, January 14, 2011

From a 100 page accordion book: 5

Click on the image to see bigger version.
Medium: found images, paper-litho transfer on Arches printmaking paper, 4.5" x 18".

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The tourists on the quayside

from an imaginary Lucerne diary

Today was a bright sunny day. The mountains around Lucerne are so high that they seem to cover up most of the sky. But in the valleys between them you can see more clearly to the high horizon, and today there were only a few elongated clouds stretched low across a blue sky.

I left my hotel and walked down to have breakfast at a café on the quayside—the same café that I’ve eaten at every day that I’ve been here. I find that when I’m staying somewhere for more than a couple of days, and I find a place on the first day that I like, I will return to eat there for most meals. The same place for breakfast every day, the same place for lunch, usually the same place for dinner. As I was eating my pastry and bowl of strong coffee, I decided to count how many people would stop to have their photo taken leaning against the railing, framing themselves against the elegant backdrop of Renaissance and medieval buildings on the other side of the water. It turned out to be about thirty per cent of all the people who passed by.

The first two were Asian. My guess would be Japanese, judging by the sound of their language. They seemed typical of young female Japanese tourists, sort of excited and chattering, but slightly hesitant and shy at the same time. They smiled a lot and dropped their heads when they stopped someone and asked if he would take their photo.

The next ones were a group of German kids. I say kids just because they were much younger than me—early twenties, maybe. There were six of them, and they lined up girl-boy-girl-boy-girl-boy against the shiny black railing. Again, a passerby was stopped and asked to snap a photo. It was only when the camera was handed back to one of the young Germans and the shooter had moved on that I realized they were all wearing black t-shirts, each with a single word on the front that together spelled out, in English, the phrase: “I-SHIT-ON-YOUR-GRAVES-BITCHES.”

Pretty funny, I thought. And pretty strange.

There was a bit of a lull after that. As I was waiting for my bill to be brought to my table, an older couple dressed in Tour de France-style cycling clothes positioned themselves against the railing. The man held a camera at arm’s length, above their heads and pointing back towards the grinning faces of him and his wife. But before he could take the snap, a tourist boat shuddered by, raising a wave that crested the quayside and washed over their feet, causing them to jump and nearly drop their camera. The water scooted across the road towards where I was sitting, so that everyone who was having breakfast at the outside tables was forced to lift their feet.

It reminded me of the time that I was in a boat with my grandfather. He had taken me fishing on a small lake next to the local power station. No-body knew or cared about the fact that the lake acted as faucet and sewer for the power station. Most men in the area were like my grandfather, who was a miner living far from the sea, to whom the lake was the only place he could go to float around with a rod and a line, listening to the lap-lap of the water against the side of the boat and the forsaken cries of the curlews overhead. The boat was a primitive coracle, about six feet long, that he had made himself from bits and pieces of wood that he had found lying around at the mine. It took him six months to collect the wood, seal all the gaps, and sail in it for the first time. Now he took it every Sunday morning to the lake, hauling it along behind his bicycle on another wheeled contraption that he had also constructed. I had never gone with him before that day.

(to be continued)