Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Dear Alex, Have you ‘found your practice’? What factors make this problematic? Are they external or internal? What is a ‘true practice’ any way..? Sarah Rowles from Q-Art London, a new forum for open discussion, is going to be the Choice blogs guest editor for August. In her selection copy she talks about, “…insecurity and the lack of time to 'find oneself' as an artist because of the constant pressure to define ones practice in order to gain grants, exhibitions, funding...”. This is a central issue for artists working today and in anticipation of Sarah’s choice hitting the homepage I am inviting you to contribute to this discussion by adding a specific post on your blog, which I can then link to from the homepage. Any contributions to this will be gratefully received. Please let me know by email when you have made your post. With kind regards, Andrew

Like my imaginary Vampire cowboy (previous post) I often feel slightly uncomfortable when defining my practice. Explaining what I do doesn't come easily to me and I don't like the words that we are asked to use. 'Practice' seems poncey, 'work' a bit desperate. If pushed, like many artists I do like to hide in the third person and try to come up with a Blairian soundbite, something vaguely descriptive but which doesn't commit me to too much. Some years ago now I produced the tag-line "Alex Pearl makes things and then films them before they fall apart", (not exactly catchy I know) I had to leave it behind when I started to do more things and some of them didn't fall apart. Then I went with something along the lines of "his work deals with chance and the things he doesn't do very well" I like not doing things very well, it seems to be the artist's prerogative and has allowed me to paint, dance, make sculpture, films, even write. I see that a bastardization of these phrases still head my writer description for this blog, though I have changed to a suggestion that things are beyond my control. Lack of control has become central to my practice (feel the quality of that phrase). Like an extremely unsexy Vicomte de Valmont I constantly excuse my actions by my inability or unwillingness to govern them. When I received Andrew's email asking me (and I assume many others) to respond to the questions: "Have you ‘found your practice’? What factors make this problematic? Are they external or internal? What is a ‘true practice’ any way..?" I began to think that my avoidance tactics were somehow born of the constant demands on artists to provide reasons for what they do.

Recent entertainments have included visit to the Electric Palace cinema, Southwold. One size below bijoux and full of a far better class of people than I am used to, it was nevertheless a fascinating evening although I felt unable to sing along to "The Sound of Music" or dress up as a Nazi. The Barker, before telling a few warm up jokes, asked if anyone was Jewish. In deference to my ancestors I put my hand up but it didn't stop him. During the intermission an organist rose from the floor and I noticed that behind us was an interesting selection of printed playbills. I was drawn to one unusually titled film "The Man Who Loved Redheads" which hinted at the protagonist's obvious lunacy. I pointed this out to my companion who had returned from the bar where the Barker had been repeatedly winking at her. The evening ended with the congregation standing to the national anthem.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I heard an interesting tale last night from an Australian doctor. She told me a story of a friend who came from Transylvania. One evening he explained that his grandmother had asked that her head be cut of after she had died (not before). He also told of how the vampire myth came about during the plague. Apparently many victims (in the interests of hygiene and the common good) were buried before they had quite died, and some dug themselves out to walk the earth again. The good doctor told of his convincing Transylvanian accent and theories that Vampires had colonised every film genre. I realised I was being obtuse so I didn't bring up my theory that a Vampire would make a very poor cowboy turning up at high noon only to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Dear Alex,
Yes I can remember quite a few things but I hope they're not too personal...I liked the Hammer writing (the titles) -it reminded me of the First Reich typography-I wonder if that was intentional considering the era the film was made-I wonder if the First world war still represented the horror of the second...twice it happened it must have felt like it was going to happen forever.

I thought Christopher Lee was Peter Cushing and I was having little fantasies about him swimming in the sea and imagining his fangs taking in the North Sea...and then Doctor Van Helsing arrived and I realised I had got it wrong. I couldn't imagine what Dracula's body was like anyway, so it solved a problem for me-I thought maybe...My mother had an Edwardian Schoolmaster doll. She had patched his face up with plaster and watercolour and he looked like those WWI Pachendale victims that had their faces patched up-to be left with half of their face with an unnatural sheen. I always wanted to see what the Schoolmaster’s body was like under his black gown and trousers-but his legs looked like matchsticks and didn't join up with his Edwardian spats. Maybe I am thinking of Mumra but that's what I thought Dracula's body might be like. I don't think he had need of a body did he? The women seemed delighted with his mouth. When did the acceptance of the clitoris as useful and important come about? I remember my aunt saying that for a woman to have sex on top of a man was seen as outrageously emasculating.

What else do I remember...that the unpleasant action occurred downstairs in the cellar. The glacial waters that flowed outside Dracula's castle reminded me of Switzerland.....The deep flowing water of Geneva was very exciting for me...I remember looking over a bridge at the cormorants underwater and wondering if I would ever come back and see it and if I would be married by then. I fell asleep in the park after that, setting my alarm clock, and was woken up often by annoying men trying to 'help' me. The students had gone to the United Nations and I had fainted so I was allowed to wander around on my own.

I remember we watched the film naked and we were on a pallbearers duvet cover.

I had left my shoes under the bin bag that ended up being the marker of the photo's ripped up in the plastic bag you use for a bin. I felt very sorry for you that you would always have that burden and how can you possibly think life is fair and if you don't think life is fair isn't it hard to put effort into things...but maybe everyone has to operate on lots of different levels otherwise we would all just lie in bed and wait for death-which is a strategy I employed for a long time.

I had that dream after the film. The horrible repetitive dream where I am in the ground floor of our house in Liverpool and my sister is bloody and in the Victorian sit-up bath. My mother used to fill that bath with earth for potting and I remember zoetroping this image and that of my grandfather being bathed by the district nurse in it-together. I am behind the red velvet cleaning cupboard curtain, which I used to call the Father Christmas curtain. I wake up feeling helpless and guilty and see that we have been asleep like the couple on the Arundel tomb. I tap on your shoulder like a marmoset and you hug me in your warm hairy chest. Thank God.

We have croissants for breakfast and I think later about the bed of earth when we are in Boots and you suggest you protect my skin and carry me around in a UV tent-a miniature oxygen tent for babies-to block out the sun.

Lots of love
Annabel xxxxxxxxxxxx

Friday, 24 July 2009

Wednesday, 15 July, 2009, 5:37 PM

My dearest Annabel
I have made very little progress writing my blog and have not even gotten close to writing about watching Dracula with you last night. I was wondering if you would help me by emailing me your response to the film, the evening, and indeed anything else that strikes you as pertinent.
Yours forever Alex Pearl

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The return to my Ipswich lodgings was largely uneventful. My companion felt unwell probably due to too much excitement. As she slept for most of the journey back I was left with my own thoughts as I mulled over our trip. At least that is what I would have liked to have done. I have to admit that very little mulling was done; instead I played Risk on my phone. I’m addicted to it, constantly weighing up the distribution of my armies and the merits of capturing South America or Australia. I did also order Mr Cushing’s “Dracula” a Hammer Horror spectacular from 1958. We stopped for a meal not far from Ipswich station in a little restaurant with unpleasant waitresses. We sat outside but under the shelter of one of the large umbrellas as my companion can barely tolerate the sun.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


The next day was marked by a few fascinating discoveries. Jan and Gary (Jan’s partner) met us over breakfast and told us of a time when Gary had walked into “Awabi” to turn down the bed only to discover one of its occupants naked on the bed in the lotus position with her partner approaching (also naked) clutching a selection of oils and a very large candle. Gary had been unable to show himself at breakfast the next morning. I was slightly perplexed why Jan and Gary had felt it necessary to tell us this story. As we left to explore Whitstable with more purpose I noticed that “Old Saybrook” was located directly above Jan and Gary’s private quarters. The day was full of many delights and discoveries, but for the purpose of brevity I shall concentrate on those I deem most interesting.
The Museum
It appeared a TARDIS-like building with a tiny entrance leading to a number of architecturally mundane rooms containing a range of treasures both magical and prosaic. My companion was particularly taken by a collection of old packaging and beyond that a display of insects from large to miniscule each pinned to a piece of card. For me the chief interest lay in a small collection of miserable looking pearls collected in the town and a small model of a train passing over a tunnel about to be entered by a horse and cart. The Museum was also the site of our discovery of “The Peter Cushing Trail” a fascinating leaflet detailing the habits and hangouts of the late actor.

One of the places listed was Mr Cushing’s local shop an eccentric little place, which didn’t seem to sell much in the way of groceries but did provide a delicious freshly cooked pizza and a delightful and at that stage needed, cup of coffee. The Pizza was provided by a young chef with a bad limp. My companion informed me he had fallen the night before while drinking. The shop itself was full of interesting odds and ends, not as far as my companion and I could tell, for sale but rather for the enjoyment of Mr Keeler’s guests. One little boy was thoroughly enjoying an electronic pinball game. I am not convinced his pleasure was equalled by any of the other customers. While enjoying my coffee however I noticed, amongst the magazines and games, an interesting book with a brightly printed cover. The Complete Book of Magic written by the fortuitously named Peter Warlock (a member of the Inner Magic Circle) looked to be an informative volume introducing the novice to the workings of conjuring tricks. I immediately hunted it down on Amazon and had a copy sent to my flat in Ipswich.

The playhouse
Egged on, badgered even I found myself sneaking downstairs from the box office into the bowels of the Playhouse. Actually it turned out to be a bar filled with quite a variety of people, old and older chatting away. My obvious discomfiture soon attracted attention and we were approached by one of these denizens. A tall grey haired man introduced himself as the director and asked us if he could be of assistance. I would have been happy to have said my hello’s and goodbyes at this point but I soon found myself on a little guided tour both historical and physical. We soon found ourselves facing the stage and looking round the plushly appointed auditorium with some pleasure. I commented that perhaps I should put my companion on the stage for her forwardness knows no bounds.

The Oxford Bingo Hall
We entered the bingo hall a little more nervously than even the playhouse (well I did) The lobby was empty except for the large blue sign proclaiming its welcome over the double doors before us. Pushing through the doors, we were met by an enormous room whose décor combined faded cinematic glory with 80s Sci-Fi set design. There were rows of tables each equipped with flashing lights, switches and coloured markers. These descended in ranks towards ‘the stage’ a mixture of game show scoreboard and fast food outlet, to the left of which stood a sort of understated (relatively) pulpit. Four Ladies seated near us bade us to join them as they were waiting for the next game, which started in an hour and a quarter. Interested as we were in attempting this pursuit, we were directed forward to talk to a tall man dressed in black. As he explained the house rules I noticed he had a strange accent, which I couldn’t quite place. Unfortunately we had realised our train departed within the hour and so we made our excuses and left.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Deciding to use the following day to work we went in search of a quiet bar to discuss things further and eventually ended up in a small restaurant. As we had not booked we settled, rather happily, for a table in the window. Seated side by side we found ourselves facing what appeared to be Whitstable’s main off-licence. A theatrical event unfolded before us. Groups of young men and women formed and reformed as plans were made, some danced, others sang. We wondered if the house opposite was some sort of opium den, until a woman emerged adjusting her nurse’s uniform and we adjusted our thoughts. A man rode his motorised sleigh up to the off-licence and got out leaving his dog seated in the foot well. A woman in a bright azure shift dress and high heels attracted the attention of the craning young men. On the top floor of the tenement a girl was leaning out of her attic window smoking. After a while a large man with pink hair walked past somehow, I’m still not sure why, he seemed out of place. On the way back it rained the light but persistent rain of summer. My companion and I were soaked by the time we reached the comfort of our bed.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Minutes later, clutching the map, we snuck out of the front door noting a display of liqueur bottles with a sign imploring us to take a night cap upon our return. We headed for the Sea front, not an altogether simple task especially with my sore knee. On the way in my companion noted a whole roof covered with Magpies, being especially superstitious, this proved to be of no little interest. After a few wrong turns but nothing too alarming we reached the sea front. I’m not sure what I was expecting, perhaps something a little grander but instead we came across a stretch of shingle divided into booths by large wooden groynes. These booths were each in turn occupied by couples, a couple to each booth. We passed five before finding one to ourselves and spent some time watching the sea and discussing my plans for the trip. The purpose had been two fold, inspiration and location, i.e. the hope that I would find a place to show the results of the commission. We tried to see the Sea Forts but soon found, on our phones, that they were nine miles out to sea and would require boat trip to reach them.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Arrival at the Pearl Fisher

Some weeks earlier, after much to-ing and fro-ing, I had managed to secure a booking
At “The Pearl Fisher” a bed and breakfast I had chosen entirely for its name, and perhaps hoping for a discount. We arrived to find a semidetached house divided into a number of themed rooms. Judging the “Awabi Suite” a little too exotic for my tastes I had opted for “Old Saybrook”, named after Katherine Hepburn’s home town. The door was opened by Jan, a cheery, tall and powerful looking woman with a gravelly voice who guided us to our room. It was decorated in the ‘New England’ style that seemed to consist of lighthouses and doyleys. After a brief tour of the facilities, she disappeared leaving us standing awkwardly among the knickknacks but soon returned holding a hand made map of Whitstable. She handed it to me urging that we visit one or more of the local restaurants that night. With our earnest promises ringing in her ears she left us to unpack.

Friday, 17 July 2009

My companion and I passed the rest of our train journey discussing Mr Cushing’s various film roles. I learned that his boots had been so uncomfortable in his part as Grand Moff Tarkin that he had delivered most of his lines wearing slippers. My foremost memory of him had been as Sherlock Holmes in the “Hound of the Baskervilles” he had played a character not far removed from that of Van Helsing. As a boy I had also loved him in a feature length Dr Who film where he had played a character not unlike Sherlock Holmes. I must say my companion’s knowledge of biographical detail is beyond equal I have only to mention a name and she is instantly able to produce an anecdote both pertinent and interesting.

Although it was a very slow train, the delightful conversation, Wasabi peas and the beauty of the scene as we travelled along, made the journey pass quickly. Before us lay a green sloping land full of fields and woods, with here and there farmhouses and new housing estates. Eventually we caught sight of the sea between gaily painted buildings and Whitstable grew close.

Having had some time at my disposal I had made a brief search about Whitstable on the internet. Its history as an Oyster fishery and film set for Dr Who was most prominent on line. I had also discussed the matter of the upcoming Biennale with some of my colleagues and gleaned some interesting information from them. One of them had stated, with some certainty, that Whitstable was the site of Dracula’s first landing in the British Isles. This fact had caused me some excitement as I have long held an interest in the tradition of the Vampire film. I had always been drawn to the certainties in its format: the mysterious aristocrat, the woman in danger, the dangerous woman (often the same woman), the persistent sunset anxiety and the final battle. Unfortunately in soon transpired that the Count had in fact alighted in Whitby a completely different kettle of fish.

I had written to Sue regarding the Whitstable – Whitby confusion and had jokingly suggested I go to Whitby instead; her reply tactfully ignored this suggestion.

Email from Sue Jones, 23rd June 2009

I’m not around on the 26th, or I’d suggest coming over to Whitstable to meet you. But you probably want to get to know Whitstable on your own anyway.

Yes, unfortunately Whitstable is not where Dracula landed, but fortunately it is where Peter Cushing lived who played Dracula’s arch-enemy Dr Van Helsing. Clearly Whitby and Whitstable are some weird mirror image of each other.....

I was extremely excited that Whitstable had this, albeit tenuous, Dracula connection and looked forward to finding more evidence of Van Helsing.

27 June. Whitstable.

We left Ipswich just after 10 am on 26th June. I had tried to book in advance but had been unable to find cheaper tickets, so we bought ours from a machine at the station. As usual we saw little of London except that which could be glimpsed through the train windows. We noted the Olympic stadia under construction and the flats where my companion’s sister had once lived. The journey to London was enlivened by a discussion with a professor of art history who regaled us with tales of Walter Benjamin and “The Night of the Long Knives”. The connection should have been simple using the tube to transfer us across London from Liverpool Street to Victoria station. And it was, until we arrived. With only minutes to go we were hunting frantically for the slow train to Whitstable. Its imminent departure was not advertised on any of the many signal boards. My innate shyness was not helping as I consistently avoided asking for assistance. Luckily my companion does not suffer my inhibitions and she soon discovered that Victoria is split into two parts each having its own departure boards, platforms and destinations. On board the train we had a simple meal of noodles and wasabi peas an interesting dish which was simultaneously tasty, unpleasant and strangely addictive. The onward journey was indeed slow as we stopped at very regular intervals at stations with vaguely familiar names. Our approach was marred only by an embarrassing incident with the automatic toilet and my panic when it was announced that the train, like its mother station, would split in two and should we sit in the wrong seat we would end up in Dover rather than Whitstable.


In June I received an email from Sue Jones suggesting that we meet in a café in London to discuss my possible involvement in next year’s Whitstable biennale. I was very excited at the prospect and immediately agreed to meet her in a few weeks time.

As is usual I arrived far too early for our meeting, but not early enough to go somewhere else or do anything useful. Luckily the Pensammon is a delightful Italian run establishment, so undeterred, I filled my time drinking coffee and checking my emails until I realised that most London cafés don't seem to have toilets. After that I moved on to tea. I had texted Sue and, although we had met before, I thought it best to use the blind date technique of telling her I would be wearing a red jumper. The cafe we had arranged our rendezvous was blisteringly hot and by the time she arrived I was sheeting sweat and attracting worried glances from the waiters. I was now suffering from imminent bladder failure coupled with severe dehydration but I don't believe she noticed. My biggest fear (apart from an embarrassing accident) was that Sue would ask me to develop some sort of performance for Whitstable happily she didn't. Our meeting went well and beyond writing an account of my experiences she had no preconceived ideas of what I should do.

Later in the new Whitechapel café I saw Sue again talking to two friends. Feeling embarrassed and not wanting to create a social faux pas, I sidled around the tables pretending not to see her.