Friday, November 30, 2007



Jonathan Richman provides the soundtrack as block after block of palm-trees and stores slip by in the sun: all is good. We make the turn off Ventura onto Sepulveda, Jake at the wheel leans forward and turns the clock forward an hour.

“What are you doing!”
“I’m adjusting the clock”
“It was right”
“It was right”
“What time is it?”
“Half Eight”
“You’re joking!”
“What are we doing!”
“Well, we said we wanted an early start”
“I know but…”
“We said last night we’d finish there and start early today”
“Well I don’t mind”
“I thought we were all ready to go”
“If you didn’t want to come this early you should have said”
“I didn’t know what time it was!”
“This is ridiculous, why don’t we talk to each other more!”
“I’m quite happy, I’m glad we’re early”
“I’m fine”
“so am I”
“Maybe we should just drive around for a bit”

We arrive at Skirball earlier than some had expected and take the opportunity of a coffee in the venue’s beautifully sculptured gardens. Graeme scribbles in his notebook. We strategise rice and the morning.

First up all missing labels are printed, guillotined and stuck down. We tidy away mess, sweep up dust and stray grains, replace plastic with metal, digital with balance, lose random chairs, tables and empty rice sacks, pallets and pallet jacks vanish. Key missing stats plug gaps of logic and layout. Then we tour the rooms together, sharing reasoning and context, clarifying sources and ratios, tweaking positioning, questioning wording and correcting spelling. We discuss how the themes and connections work, where they could be taken and how far they could be pushed. We propose test cases and through our intuitive responses to these cases we shape provisional rules of what can and can’t go where.

With half an hour to go we set off in search of costumes. Karen has had an ironing frenzy, rows of shirts, trousers and dustcoats hang immaculate, ready for action in our improvised dressing room. The Skirball Catering team have gone berserk, a huge table is set out with white linen, a rank of thermoses, cheeses, biscuits, fruits and cookies, lemon wedges, ice and all kinds of drinks in ice. This is magnificent, I take photos, from now on this is on the rider!

At twelve the show opens. After fifteen minutes the first visitors start percolating through from the top room. The first guy up comes straight out with it “I saw it last year and I loved it. I don’t know why but it isn’t as powerful this time”. Great! After that things pick up.

In typical Stan fashion no one is prepared to be the first to go to lunch; everyone is fixated on their current statistical project. Showing my renowned leadership skills I announce I am going to go to lunch if no one else will. Karen’s cracked the system, we have pre-ordered, got a staff discount and as much delicious salad as anyone could hope to eat in a single sitting.

I call home, then spend an extended period with a newspaper journalist. She’s intelligent and interested, which always makes things easy. Eventually conversation drifts to Birmingham, Simon Rattle and the conductors of symphony orchestras (are they getting younger these days or are we just getting older?). We realise it’s time to call a halt, this is now just chatting. Susan in the Skirball bookshop has been putting together an elegant display of books thematically related to the show. I take up a copy of the catalogue, we agree a price and a split and it is added to the display.

Time to iron my suit, scribble some words of thanks and present myself at the opening function. Jordan says nice things about first seeing the show. Uri says nice things about counting and being counted, biblical references and a shared values between Skirball and the show. Apparently he trained to be a rabbi, you can tell, it’s great. Jordan says further nice things, it’s my introduction so they’re about me. I say my scribbled thing – I wish I’d scribbled it earlier and learnt it. Jordan says a final nice thing. Everyone claps intermittently throughout, usually in the gaps between people saying nice things.

Food at the reception is all rice based. I’m developing a healthy respect for this catering department. I talk too much to eat much but nothing will keep me from the miniature rice puddings with cinnamon and Californian raisins. I wander slowly back through the galleries listening, talking and mulling over the wonder of how this thing touches people.

The team look tired. It’s been busy. The clock ticks down. The Getty Gallery empties. We call time. Back in the dressing room the Skirball Catering team elevate themselves to cult status by, in our absence, laying out a delicious chicken and rice dinner.

Car. House. Bed. Sleep. Jet-lag. Wake. Blog.


Thursday, November 29, 2007


Freshwater Eel Declared The Winner

Progress is always slow on the first day. We try not to rush those big decisions which shape the course of the whole installation. Here part of that calculation was how to sensibly organise the piece to spread over three gallery spaces. Then we start by placing out the BIG rice piles, the landmarks round which everything else is based, this too is slow work.

Day Two is always more dramatic, the medium size piles go out and small piles start to appear. Each step down in scale speeds up the placement, until the annoying territory around the 200 grain mark where numbers are too small to be confident about weighing out and time consuming to count.

The show opens at Noon on Thursday and that looks viable. Craig has got the first gallery to an opening state with its Birth Of A Nation theme. I am lagging a bit behind in the second gallery working on a Jewish theme. Graeme spent the entire day working on three of the four massive runs of A4 sheets that will create an isle up the centre of the large Getty Gallery, linking the Population of Brazil with the Population of the USA and somehow he has kept his sanity. Jake, aided in varying measure by Jo, Charlotte and Robin was prolific knocking out medium size piles in the main gallery. As ever Karen discreetly prodded and prompted venue staff to sort out sound and power and internet access and tables and so on, whist simultaneously label printing the dozens of labels everyone except I required.

I was slow on the label front not least because the show’s publicity push continued with a trip to KPFK ( I was gate-crashing Yatrika Shah-Rais’ Global Village programme, interrupting her seductive flow of World Music tunes to plug the rice. Yatrika had met our Chair, Alan James at a World Music Conference, had seen the show at Skirball last year and programmes music at the venue too, so it was friendly territory. Normally doing radio interviews I’m overwhelmed by the question Who’s Listening? which mutates into the question Is Anyone Listening? So when Yatrika played a Youssou N’Dour track, plugged his forthcoming gig at UCLA and offered four free CDs to the first four listeners to call in, it was gratifying to see the green call waiting buttons on the studio phone light up and in a steady sequence – one to ten. People were listening, the crucial question is of course then the third classic radio interview question: Will Anyone Have Any Interest In What I’m Saying? At the close of the interview Yatrika mentions Free Tickets To The Show and all eyes turn to the phone, there’s an awful pause and then yes, one, two, pause, three, four, five, pause yes Full House ten flashing buttons Mr. N’Dour can rightly claim to beat us for speed of response and we may have only had ten calls total but we lit the lights and punched the air.

We stayed on till a bit gone seven just adding this pile, just adding that pile. Back at base Jo, Charlotte and Robin were watching The Simpsons on a Television the size of a pool table. With various strategies being adopted for dinner Graeme and I walked to a local All You Can Eat – Sushi restaurant. We didn’t eat all we could, but we ate all we wanted, which allowed us to conduct a fairly comprehensive tasting of all that the menu had to offer. Freshwater Eel was declared the winner.

The day spiked between homesickness and joy and laughter and pride and rounded off rather wonderfully with a blog entry from the anonymous donor who made this whole fantastic return trip possible (follow the link).



Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Guidance from Above

Approximately 200 people work at the Skirball Cultural Centre and they are all friendly. We parked up and before we’d left the car park we were being hailed from an information desk “I know what you’re here for, it’s great to have the rice back!” and so it continued.

The Centre is a stunning collection of buildings, designed by Moshi Safdie, full of air and light and peace, beautifully set into the hillside. We are putting the show into three gallery spaces, including the large Getty Gallery. It has taken some thinking about and the first day has proved quite slow as we mulled things over, taking time to make the big formative decisions.

Early on I was ushered upstairs to meet Uri Hersher, the centre’s director in his wonderfully habitable top floor office. I found myself immediately warming to Mr. Hersher. He listens well and speaks well, with seriousness and humanity. We talked about Stan’s Cafe and the show before moving on to how the show addresses the Palestine – Israel conflict. Last time the show was here this topic had proved so loaded and so controversial that the team had rightly retreated from the issue a bit. Now, with more rice and a month of performance ahead of us it seemed sensible to seek some advice from the boss. Mr. Hersher was very relaxed and very encouraging; he sees the show as about education and emphasises that nothing is off limits so long as it is factually accurate and balanced. Craig, who bore the brunt of the fallout last time, says that in his experience one person’s balance can be another person’s bias. The good thing now is that we have the explicit endorsement of the boss.

By 18.30 jetlag started kicking in we retreated, back along Ventura Blvd to our place on Sunshine Terrace, where Charlotte and Jo had cooked up a delicious pasta concoction including ‘Holiday Sausage’ which we took to be salami by another name.



Tuesday, November 27, 2007


To Los Angeles

A long steady flight: Heathrow to LAX. Soporific hang time.
Spanish Inquisition research intercut with headrest cartoons.
DVT film time. Diversions you’d never leave the house for.
Blades of Glory wins the Stan vote.

We scramble to the windows, miss The Hoover Dam but spot Las Vagas, stripped of its neon, just another rock formation in the Navada Desert. Immigration non-plused by the theatre notion, customs too weary to bother with our blue crates. Shannon waits with her cardboard sign. Crates are thrown in the pick-up and nd we’re off to Studio City.

Craig, Charlotte, Karen and Robin circle the airport three times before displaying fine local knowledge with a flawless drive in. Graeme, Jake and Jo fare better out of the airport before inadvertently detouring through Compton – “looks a bit rough”. I’m with Shannon and the pickup; hooked on another new city unfolding. Low and flat, freeways and palm trees and the light straight off the cover of Hotel California.

Our accommodation is beautiful, a proper L.A. pad on a hill overlooking ‘the valley’, endless sofas and arches, a spiral staircase, stunning views, a patio, a walk-in fridge waiting to be filled. A place in which no-ones can pretend to be some-ones until the advance runs out.


Monday, November 19, 2007



On Thursday I met up with Olga Skochova and Tereza Dudilova, two artists from Prague visiting the West Midlands to see what’s going on here. It is re-inspiring to meet such people, earnest and committed to the improvement of art and improved communication around art.

It is difficult to picture quite what their context is or what the work is like that they are talking about. They describe a scene in the Czech Republic in which a continuity exists between arts graduates and the institution from which they emerge, a link is retained that this pair are seeking to strengthen for everyone’s mutual benefit. What they seemed most interested in when visiting us was how education work coexists with the rest of our activities, something they suggested they are keen to encourage back home.

The presence of Olga and Tereza reminded how I wish I personally and Stan’s Cafe generally had a greater capacity to contribute to grassroots local efforts to enrich the cultural scene for everyone, artists and audiences alike. Foremost amongst many initiatives pressing on my mind and adding to my burden of guilt is Pilot, the work in progress / showcase series initiated by Simon Day and taken on by others. It would be great to have time to attend and support this event more fully, even to sketch something especially for it. Added to the list of admirable organisations fostering exciting projects must be Laundry, whose Pamala Wells introduced us to Olga and Tereza, including a few erstwhile members of THE pUBLIC, including HoHoHo WebBoffin Paul Lacey, it must be worth further investigation.



Friday, November 16, 2007



Hypocrisy is a legitimate charge. An early Stan Blog entry rails against Awards and now we are thrusting ourselves in front of every Awards Panel out there. Our excuse? We have none. We are hypocrites who tragically feel the need for semi-public endorsement.

On Thursday I got what was coming to me and, in an unfortunate case of collateral damage, Sarah too got what was coming to me. The location was Town Hall, Birmingham, which, like Bullring, appears to have lost a definite article in its multi-million pound revamp. The date was last Thursday.

Still intoxicated with Midland World Trade Forum Runners Up – Exporter Of The Year bubbly I’d chucked my hat into the ring for a Not For Profit leadership award run by a well known institute. Dazzled by sheen on our Creative City Export trophy I’d lost sight of the fact that my only prior perception of this organisation has been as a right wing lobby group.

The Not for Profit Award turned out to be a very lowly cousin of the three For Profit Awards and was won by someone working for a not for profit organisation principally devoted to helping For Profit organisations make those profits.

We were fish out of water, not least because that water came in at £6 per bottle (I’ve drunk cheaper wine). We felt a natural affinity for Sam’s Carpets but their nominee in the Small Business class lost out to someone who flogs investment properties in Dubai. When the boss from a security firm stood up to collect the Large Business award two tables full of muscular guys jumped up with him, so obviously we enjoyed that moment. Generally however we spent most of the evening being reminded why we’re happy doing what we do.

Sarah, who had been a beautiful and elegant model of decorum throughout, finally redeemed herself at the announcement that the Chairman’s Special Award was going to the Headteacher of a Private School. Her “For f***’s sake!” was clearly lip-read by one of the Judges. And with that I think she spoke for all of us.

Still, there’s a bottle of Verve Cliquot in the Stan fridge as a reward for being short-listed and we’re certainly not going to pour that down the drain – hypocrites.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


US Visa 3

A painless trip to the US Visa Office today. Bernadette, true to form, arrived commendably/absurdly early and pitched us a place right at the front of the queue. Also true to form my visa photograph had degraded in my company to a slightly dog-eared state, leading to the “when was this taken?” question. Never spontaneous with a lie I confessed it was January and, vaguely insulted that I’m deemed to have aged that much, was sent off to have a more contemporary shot taken.

Beyond that everything went smoothly and we were cleared for entry, as it seemed was Ricky Hatton. I tried to tipping them off that he was just traveling to start a fight but no one seemed bothered – so much for tight vetting procedures!


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