In June 2011 I was asked to deliver a Pecha Kucha talk at the new Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield organised by Art House.
The deal with Pecha Kucha is you have to present 20 slides with 20 seconds per slide.
This is my presentation.
‘My painfully short career as a fire sculptor ‘- or ‘How a giant sheep put me off’
disclaimer – All of the work you are about to see was undertaken before I became employed by Faceless and in no way would they condone such reckless and irresponsible behaviour….enjoy….because I didn’t.
1 – These images were all taken between 1988 and 1993 when I was working as a freelance artists and therefore did as I was told. Some of the images are in a poor condition as I had hoped never to see them again. None of these pieces are solo efforts so thanks and blame in equal measures to the other artists involved including Paul Higson and Mike Ball.
2 – The first sculpture commission that tried to kill me was for Wakefield Waterways Festival in 1988. 8 City landmarks were made out of scrap timber, old sheds and the remains of Christmas trees.
3 – As the sculpture grew so did people’s interest. Local school children made a Barbara Hepworth inspired lantern as you can see.
4 – This was in the pre-health and safety days and we had no scaffolding. That’s me at the top of the ‘cathedral’. I did have a rope tied around my foot….mind you, it wasn’t tied to anything else.
4 weeks was spent living at Fall Ings lock, just over the road from where the Hepworth Gallery is now, in tents and then in the buildings themselves making for somewhat grander surroundings.
5 – This a close up of the cathedral. We had difficulty with the ridings in the background so we just stuck a car on top and hoped for the best.
6 – We added Chantry Bridge and a cooling tower when we realised that the works ultimate end might harm a local tree. In the evening of the final day of the festival the sculpture was lit with fireworks and lights. It’s ultimate fate was this;
7 – There you can see the pit wheel and I think resting against it was the frontage of a pizza parlour that we weren’t quite sure what to do with. So with little regard for current planning regulations we nailed it to what ever was nearest.
8 – As you can see it got quite hot. The figure on top of the Court House was a model of the statue of Justice, but instead of scales it had 2 pizza trays in it’s hands. 8000 gathered to see this fiery finale which lead to further interesting work….oh…and the tree survived.
9 – This next piece was a commission by Opera North 1991. This had a rather unwelcome addition…having to shin up telegraph pole legs. So we now have the luxury of scaffolding. As you can tell by this picture I am quite pleased with this Health & Safety development. Can you tell what it is yet?
10 – It’s a Trojan Horse. This is in Thornes Park, Wakefield. A surprisingly busy place at 3 in the morning. Unusually heavy snow fall added to the experience of the three weeks camping on site necessary to guard the work in progress. That’s my green tent in the background.
11 – We also had the added difficulty of making it in black and white.
12 – The fiery mane was created by filling pop bottles with diesel and stringing them along the neck. About 3000 people came to see this, less than the 8000 that came to see Wakefield being destroyed. I guess we’ve got the measure of what local people would like to see burn.
13 – Upping the anti was English National Opera who decided to add the risk of drowning to proceedings with this firebird commission. Although I don’t hate opera I was beginning to think that, perhaps, opera hates me. This is in Shadwell Basin just off the Thames.
14 – That’s me looking like I’m stuffing as giant turkey. One of the interesting elements was figuring out how to get off the image once, inevitably, we lit it. The obvious solution was given to us by ENO.
15 – That’s right. A dragon row boat would row up once the fire was lit and take me to safety. Rehearsals were good, sadly a strong headwind on the night meant that the rowers were not of Olympic standards, still better late than never.
16 – That near slip almost put me off taking on such work, but a call from a distinguished theatre director lead to another commission. After all what could go wrong with a giant sheep build onto a mini cooper chased by JCBs?
17 – Meet Baaarbrah. This was for a theatre performance on a building site in the centre of Birmingham mixing theatre, pyrotechnics and a JCB ballet. I have no photos of the actual performance so these blurred images from the afternoon’s rehearsal will have to do. As you can see the weather was lovely, turning a dry solid surface into muddy soup in a few hours.
18 – I was persuaded to ‘perform’ in the final. This meant hiding, with another performer, inside the sheep as it was chased by some JBCs. Eventually the sheep came to a stop, legs were lowered and the mini cooper shot off leaving the sheep, and me, stranded. Pelting after the mini in an improvised comedy chase that would have given the Keystone Cops nightmares, all the while chased by JCB’s, we caught up with the mini.
19 – That’s me just about to fall off the mini whilst the JCB’s formed an inappropriate triumphant arch. To the right you can see the snapping jaws of the chasing jcb. These jaws featured in the finale where 8 JCB’s performed a Mexican wave. I had to leap inside on of the buckets to be hoisted,’ comically’, into the air. Every other bucket had a pyrotechnic charge in it on a remote detonator.
20 – Every other bucket? A phrase I repeated after the show at length to the chief pyro technician. Every other bucket…would have been nice. And there is me legging it, proving that you don’t have to outrun a JCB you just have to outrun the other performer. I’m also legging it into a future with out fire sculptures.