Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Prophets of Confectionary

Walking through Birmingham New Street station at the end of last week I shuddered. Above the general station cacophony the ‘revolutionary cry’ was clearly audible. A small promotions team had a stand set up and were giving away Trident Gum as I knew they would.

I knew they would because back in January, as part of ‘the project of which we could not speak’, we played our part in an internals sales conference that explained to a large number of Cadbury employees how Trident would be launched; ‘give-aways’ at major railway stations were all part of the plan.

Hearing these slogans chanted by those other than our close band of conscripts felt peculiar, as if a personal secret had been shouted out in public. I felt complicit and yet distanced from this sales pitch. Seeing the ‘real life’ manifestation of what, for us, had been a script was oddly uncanny – for a week we were Prophets of Confectionary.



Saturday, February 24, 2007


St. Benedicts

Graeme, Helen, Chris and I have been in St.Benedicts School in Derby all week. Derby is right on the boundary of where it’s possible to get to from Birmingham by the start of school, given the limitation of dropping a child at nursery in Birmingham at 07.30. It’s been nail-biting for me, the others have wisely thrown themselves on the hospitality of Derby B&Bs.

This is the third of four projects we are involved in piloting models for project working with Year 7 pupils, a decisive break from rigid knowledge based teaching. We’ve met schools at different stages, with different scales of ambition approaching things in slightly different ways. Last year the Delicate Balance project in St. Albans saw a lot of resources thrown at a single class as part of a piece of early research. This academic year Castle Vale have started project working and we’ve been working with teachers offering elements of existing Stan’s Cafe projects as stimuli or foci for their themed projects. Next week we have a further meeting with Foxfields in Coventry where we see how our engagement there will develop.

St. Benedicts is the most ambitious, realistic and frontline form of engagement: 90 students, 3 teachers, a few teaching assistants and us, a full week off timetable, three small classrooms and a minimal amount of kit. The whole of Year 7 is part of a larger project, approaching the task from different angles. Our brief is to concentrate on building Competencies within the pupils, helping them assess their own learning styles, their resourcefulness, self-reliance and team skills.

As often happens with Year 7 work, my ambition radically outreaches the ability of the vast majority and the minority get swamped by the majority. Nevertheless, it has been rewarding in its own way, the dynamism that was generated grew quite frightening and the quality of presentations at the end, when the mayhem had subsided, was impressive. All credit goes to Alison, Andy and John, the teachers we collaborated with, they were amazingly game, resourceful and good humoured; we learnt a lot from them.


Sunday, February 18, 2007


Bad News Saturday

Yesterday I learnt that Alan Rivett, Director of Warwick Arts Centre and good friend of Stan’s Cafe has been taken ill and will be off work for an indeterminate time. He is a fun loving man in a high stress job: we all wish him very well.

With Dorothy Wilson, Director of MAC and former Chair of Stan’s Cafe also off work for an indeterminate time due to ill health, these are troubled times for Arts Centres in the Midlands. We all wish Dorothy well as well.

Yesterday also brought me the sad news that the sound artist Paul Burwell has died. Though not knowing him personally, I know he inspired a generation of sound artists, including a number of our friends and collaborators. He leaves the twin legacies, of spectacular memories and the future work of those who felt his influence We send our condolances to those who valued his company.

Let’s have a Good News Monday.



Thursday, February 15, 2007


MASS MoCA In The Snow

This is why we couldn't get in to work yesterday.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Winter Wonderland

We’ve got a day off today because of the snow – it’s like being back at school in 1982 (some of you kids will know what I mean, those that don’t will have to google “England the winter of 1982” or ask your parents). This is the first day they have ever closed because of snow since they opened in 1999. We’re in MASSMoCA anyway though because we have an interview for a Boston radio station. Heather and I did one on Monday which led to a group booking of 12 (hopefully they’re not planning to come today when we’re closed)
Jake and I did another on Tuesday – the host was in another city and it was a phone in so the only faces we could see were each other. We managed to develop quite an effective double act – Jake the fast talking funny one; me the slow talking boring one. We developed an elaborate sign language system so that we didn’t talk over each other and to indicate which question we wanted to answer – only once did neither of us gesture that we wanted to answer. People actually phoned in too which was great … we could have carried on all day but we only had half an hour.

I started this blog pre the Boston interview, now I’ve just finished it, if you can picture that passage of time. It was really enjoyable, I talked to the host for over an hour about the show as we walked around, weighed out some statistics for him, described the history and processes behind it. It made me realise I probably have one of the best jobs in the world.

Posted by Craig

Monday, February 12, 2007


The Red Eye

Boston to Heathrow was smooth – The Red Eye. A holding pattern until curfew brakes at six, then down. Shave in the ‘restroom’. Big Blighty fry-up in a Greek Cafe, Southampton Row. Talk for Scenography students at Central St.Martins. It’s great to see Pete Brooks again, catch up on news and opinion, he’s ill but on form.

Bus to Aldwych – freedom of the Oyster. Office calls. Hook up with Nick. Dim sum in Soho, strategy sketch. Good news on Rice for the world show, Tilda at the tipping point. Spring Gardens. Star Trek security measures and in to speak with the Latin Americans. Second slideshow of the day. They’re friendly and engaged. Take it easy for the translators. A chance to formulate thoughts concisely in International English. It seems to go down well, business cards rain in on us – we’ll talk.

Virgin extortion for a standard single. Home is worth a King’s ransom.


Sunday, February 11, 2007


Stan’s Cafe and the Arts Professionals.

Yesterday was Day 1 proper and a great start. Within the first hour 50 people had come in. By the end of the day it was 286, well up on expectations and Jake and Ali, who had born the brunt of ceaseless animated questioning, looked shell-shocked.

At seven the second shift started. We had been asked if the show could be opened to the delegates of a conference being held at the venue: the audience were to comprise of ‘about 150 Arts Professionals’. It sounded good. We opened the doors. They came in. They gave it a stern look around. They seemed to warm to it. They seemed to like it. We started talking to people. We saw Kristy Edmunds was there from Melbourne. Kristy introduced me to Paul. Paul I recognised as DJ Spooky. DJ Spooky pointed out a Director of the Guggenheim. The Director looked intense. DJ Spooky said it's a heavyweight room. Representatives from MOMA, The Met and all sorts were there. I thought "'Arts Professionals’ doesn’t really cover it".

Joe, the boss, says a few kind words and generously elicits the show’s first ever round of applause. He hands over to me. I say some ‘thank yous’, recognise less is more and get off the mic. Then its off to dinner.

Eating a smart, sit down dinner in an art gallery is a great experience. It feels both subversive and totally decadent. Handfuls of rice are scattered amongst candles at the centre of the tables, a well judged touch. Following coffee everyone was guided round a vast installation that is half way to completion. Then we were left to wander MASSMoCA’s remaining big galleries. Later, in The Mowhawk, we mulled over what we had seen and who we had met.

From Budapest there is rumour of political rallies, incendiary rice stats and armed guards on the doors. A big day for us all.


Saturday, February 10, 2007


Twin Openings

The opening last night was busy, between 50 and 100 people were in the room at any one time. They were voluble, engaged and avoided trampling on the installation, which is always a bonus.

We were feeling quite smug about our venue until we got this from Budapest.

You can’t compete with that kind of architecture. Well done out there. Clink on the link to see Jon's photos giving a taste of things here.

It turns out I am losing my grip on things. Graeme’s out there not Sarah. I thought he was driving the maze back with Andy. Fortunately Charlotte knows what’s going on.



MASSMoCA Get In Day 3

Craig arrived last night looking remarkably human for a man with only a hazy recall of what sleep means. It was good to have him augmenting the crew today.

Today started with the whole MASSMoCA staff visiting for a sneak look. I got a chance to say ‘Thanks for having us and being so helpful’. Good venues always have this good cohesive rapport and collective focus on what they are delivering. Everyone here has been great.

After this today has been mostly tidying up and tweaking, filling in the gaps; Heather producing a batch of souvenir bags with our new, heavier duty plastic; Jon pacing quietly around noting cryptic symbols on a note-pad before disappearing to hush this and raise that. In a back room Karen smoothly irons the tablecloth and coats. We all weed out clumsy wording, rogue spelling and curled paper. Lighting gets balanced, open white with blue from one side to define shape.

At 18.30 the doors open to a preview audience of 200. It’s a proud thought that over 4,000 miles away Graeme, Jack, Louise, and Nick are opening a smaller version of the same show in Budapest. I hope it is going as smoothly there as it is here.


Thursday, February 08, 2007


MASSMoCA Get In Day 2

Things are really starting to take shape. Heather’s mugged up on her U.S. history, Ali’s got heavily involved in the U.S. penal system. Jake has been big in Boston. Howard has finished his masterwork – a map of the U.S. states indicating their population density. A swarm of interns and volunteers have moved things on apace, principally tidying things up.

Lighting is being fixed to kick in once daylight fades from the huge windows that flank one side of this big space.

We were front page of The Berkshire Eagle today, with an unflattering photograph of me on page 4. Tomorrow we have a big splash in The Independent (serving the Hudson-Berkshire Corridor). A reporter from the New York Times came today and photographed the show from all angles, so we should get something in there later in the week. Apparently there are Billboards promoting the show. The MASSMoCA marketing department are clearly in full effect.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


MASSMoCA Get In Day 1

Jake wrangling the beef of a half dozen MASSMoCA technicians has made short work of about ten tons of rice. Heather and Ali have dealt with Prisoners and Residents of Gated communities. Volunteers have done lots of tedious counting. Howard, our US legal/historical/economics expert has been nudging us in useful directions. Jon’s latest revision of SignalNet contains melodic elements, which a powerful development. Karen has been orchestrating printing and oiling the wheels. It is shaping up well here at the Hunter Centre.

Elsewhere there’s rumour that Andy’s been arrested by Hungarian police following a minor traffic incident with The Black Maze (apparently he’s now free and there probably won’t be any follow up). Craig’s flight to Boston tomorrow has been cancelled and, worryingly Nick has been asking to be reminded just how much space we need to do the world version. Which either means the London venue is starting to wobble or someone else has enquired about staging it – both worrying prospects.

Tomorrow we put the hammer down on medium size and small stats, we look at the lighting in here and I may deign to lift the occasional bag of rice myself. Tonight we set off in search of vegetables.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007


North Adams

A major day’s travelling brought us to North Adams, Massachusetts. With time zone nonsense we’d been up 22 hours before flaking out, at a respectable 10pm, in our all wood New England home. The town’s in a river valley surrounded by pine covered hills, temperatures are stuck around -11ºC. So far all is quiet. The venue MASSMoCA is massive, a former industrial facility reminiscent of Kampnagel in Hamburg, within it The Hunter Centre, our space, is a very substantial empty studio space.

Today is supposed to be a rest day but with 16 tonnes of rice to lay out before Friday my mind won’t rest. I’m here, pacing around looking at the rice, looking at the space sketching, plotting, fretting.

Over in Budapest The Black Maze should be up and running. Hopefully for Andy and Graeme street temperatures are better there than here.


Sunday, February 04, 2007


London Hauling

Tuesday was a big day. A daytrip to the Hayward Gallery with our pet tonne of rice. Arts Council England where launching a policy initiative with us as the floor show and a string quartet as the band. Setting off at 08.00 we hauled into the South Bank at 11.00 and everything was up and ready by 17.30. You could tell these were crack touring troops and the prep was good. The show looked slick. Each delegate, even the late additions, got a bag with their name on the label and a grain of rice inside. It stands to reason that if the Arts Council reckon these folk are important enough to be invited they've got to be worth impressing.

Openings are always a bit tricky with the rice, people are keen on it but soon start chatting to each other, eating canapés, swigging free wine and striding through rice mounds representing the poor and undernourished. You expect casualties but it’s still distressing when it happens.

We got a couple of name checks in the speeches, hung around until the room was clear, then raced the techies and catering staff to see who would be first out. We lost out to both but were still home by 01.00.

The gig paid a fee but the true value may only become clear when efforts to finance a World Version in London crank up later this year.


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