Moping Owl: On yer trike

… from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r The moping owl does to the moon complain Of such as, wandering near her secret bower, Molest her ancient solitary reign.


What joy it is to learn that the lucky folke of Folkestone have been given another Trike at last. Was it really three years ago since their last one was ridden over a cliff? Goodness how time flies. I expect their only regret is that the wait wasn’t a bit longer. So what’s on the menu this time? It’s been put together again by Andrea Schlieker, that Silvery Swan who not so long ago graced the Serpentine, but is now away with our chums the Gulls and Oyster Catchers. And what she promises is “one of the most ambitious public art projects ever to be presented in the UK”, and we all know what that means.

This time she has invited 19 international artists whom we’ve never heard of (well just one or two ring a faint bell) “to develop new works (groan) for Folkestone’s streets, squares, beaches and historic buildings (groan groan) to create a cutting-edge (groan groan groan) contemporary (do stop: I’m not feeling very well) art exhibition in the public domain.” Well, there you have it, and don’t say you weren’t told.

Don’t worry: I won’t go through the whole lot, but, if you can bear it, here are just a few of the treats in store. Someone called Tonico Lemos Auad (there, I told you so) is bringing along some figureheads “more usually found on riverboats in northeast Brazil”, and rather less usually, as one might say, scattered around Folkestone harbour. Tonic&Lemon is also showing “a silver ink covered wallpaper installation (installed on a wall no doubt) that acts as a giant scratch card. Visitors can draw their own messages (Oh I do hope they will) and reveal images of processions  (processions?!!) in Brazil and Folkestone (in Folkestone? Processions?)” I think I’d better have that G&Tonico after all, a large one.

Charles Avery will create a 20 foot long sea monster … a hybrid of horse, snake, fish and wallaby – yes, a wallaby. The huge creature will rest on the floor of a large room in Folkestone library.” The rest of us will rest on that nice sofa downstairs by the paper rack. But then there’s CAMP, and we can’t miss that. This Mumbai-based collective, no less, “has collaborated with the National Coastwatch over the year, inviting the volunteers to keep their eyes on the coast to collect data, contributing to CAMP’s research into the shipping trade, tourism and fishing for their D.Phil at Dogger Bank University.  This information will form the basis of, yes, you’ve guessed it, a film script, which will be acted out by those skinned-eyed volunteers.” Can’t wait.

Turner Prize-winning Martin Creed will create a something or other, which says it all, and quite enough. Hala Elkoussy “will create a ‘reading room’ filled with historical documents, photographs, maps, music as well as a specially made film (what else), all relating to Egypt’s colonial past (which was rather a long time ago, I must say) and highlighting the complex urban, political and historical entity that is Cairo.” How very kind of her to point all that out. I expect there’s a D.Phil in that too, from Goldsmith’s probably.

Cornelia Parker, for it is she, “will create (fancy that) a Folkestone version of Copenhagen’s ‘Little Mermaid’ by creating  (the c word again) a bronze life cast of lovely

local resident Georgina Baker (34.22.36).” And the bells, the bells: A K Dolven “will suspend (or hang) a 16th century tenor bell from two steel beams right on the edge of the sea. The bell can be rung by visitors using a rope (whatever next?), allowing it to contrast or interact (ie. clash) with the eight bell carillon of the nearby Parish Church.”

Oh yes, and there is the Spencer Finch, who has been doing much valuable research observing “the ever-changing tone and colour of the English Channel over a number of weeks (looks like rain again), and so creating a palette of colours that have been used to dye a hundred flags and create a special colour wheel. Each day an observer will choose a colour (greeny blue) which most closely reflects the colour of the sea (bluey green), and then hoist a flag at midday in the centre of the town (silvery grey), before sloping off to the Fox & Whippet for a bacon sandwich and a pint of beer.” The Folkestone trike is ridden

301 Moved Permanently

by something called The Creative Foundation, and, among other funders, receives financial support from the Arts Council.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.


create; develop cutting-edge historical documents; interact; create; colonial; create collective riverboats; complex urban; reflects;  colour wheel; highlighting; gin&tonic; relate; create.


I think I may have mentioned the Booby already, that innocent and friendly bird of the South Seas, whose trusting habit it was to land on any ship passing through those remote waters, only to be greeted by a sharp knock on the head and a quick plucking. The sailors, in short, saw it coming. Now the funny thing is that only the other day, out for an evening pass over Trafalgar Square and resting the old wings for a while on the roof of the National Portrait Gallery, I chanced to overhear Booby-in-Chief, dear old Sandy Nandy, being interviewed by an eager young chickabiddy whose name I didn’t quite catch, about its acquisition policy. And what he was going on about at quite some length was how pleased with himself he was to have acquired for the Collection a cast of that now not so Young British Duck or Diver, Marc Quinn’s Bloody Frozen Head, and at the knockdown, special-offer, don’t-miss-it price, mark you, of £300,000. Well done, I hear you gasp: quite a snip.

Well yes, up to a point I suppose you might think it is, and anyone’s life’s blood is of course beyond price. But what is it quite that’s been bought on our behalf at such a price, other than a bucketful of body fluid, a refrigerated cabinet from Peter Jones (which don’t come cheap, I know), and a strict warning not to pull the plug out? For the thing to bear in mind is that this is not a self-portrait, or indeed a work of art at all in any meaningful sense of being modelled from a lump of clay in front of the mirror. It is, rather, a mere common-or-garden life-cast of Quinquam’s summit, and as such a thing for the curiosity cupboard, but nothing more.

For it is made by a purely mechanical process, the principles of which can be mastered in half an hour: i.e. 1. Put a bit of cling-film over the hair to avoid an involuntary tonsure later on; 2. Liberally apply Vaseline to the face and other fleshy bits; 3. Generously slap on the plaster-of-Paris, having made sure all essential orifices remain open; 4. Wait a bit; 5. Call the fire brigade; 6. Pull off the hardened plaster, portion by portion, along with the odd eyelash and pimple; 8. Grease the inside of the mould and reassemble; 9. Pour in the required medium – plaster, blood, ice-cream, whatever; 10. Off comes the mould again, to be laid aside for later use. And Bob’s your Uncle, or your Aunt as the case may be in these dissolute times. There’s your cast.

Nothing to it, as I say. The Victorians did it all the time, by which to remember the Dear Departed, or their latest baby’s feet and fingers. Blake’s death mask is somewhere, I seem to remember, and Cromwell’s somewhere else. OooM’Gormless does it to himself repeatedly, with a distant look in his eyes, but we won’t go into that. And an art master of my acquaintance once showed his Sixth Formers how to do it, who promptly turned it into a profitable if short-lived lunch hour cottage industry, at a quid a time.

So what makes Quidsin’s life-cast head so special, other than 301 Moved Permanently the fact that it is cast in his own blood? It could just as well have been cast in cream cheese, or sherry trifle, which would at least have made it a shade more appetising. But it’s the thought that counts these days, I suppose, and a bloody expensive thought it is, is all I can say.

It is not of course the original cast – we can’t have everything – nor even the second or third, but something like the 5th or 6th, I think Sandy Pandy said. He didn’t mention VAT. It seems young Quickscam does one every five years or so, so I suppose he’ll go on until the blood runs dry, and at 300,000 smackeroons a throw who can blame him. I only hope he doesn’t charge the Blood Transfusion lot quite as much. And like the sailors of old, he clearly knew a Booby when he saw one coming.


Air-tight Glass Box – (P.Jones): £1,200

Refrigeration unit – (Homebase): £500

Electricity p/yr (estimate): £50

Nurse Trixie – 5hrs @ £200 p/hr (private):  £1,000

Materials – bucket; mop etc. (Lidl’s) £38.68

8 pints of blood – (DIY): £297,321.32

sum-total: £300,000.00

VAT @ 17.5% £52,000.00

Total: £352,000.00



I don’t seem to get down to the City as much as I used to, what with cranes everywhere, and those vast shiny glass walls to fly into if you’re not careful. And they’re so tall: too tall for my old wings to manage. My ancient tow’r is quite high enough at my age. Good job it’s listed, though, or it would have been pulled down long ago. I’m quite glad I didn’t after all – how shall I put it? – get rid of those rare dormice that had moved in under the floorboards, though I must say I was sorely tempted. They came in quite handy in winning the planning appeal.

Where was I? Oh yes: the City: getting down to it not so often – and I must say that some things make me quite glad I don’t. Now you may not have heard of it, but there is, I should warn you, something called The Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, every syllable and missing capital letter of which should put you on your guard. And what is more, this very summer, it brought to Exchange Square something called ‘Walk the Line’, a vibrant site-specific public art-work (see what I mean) that it promised would be “one of the most thrilling summer events in London.”

Oh dear: I’m afraid I missed it. But, if you are sitting comfortably – and do keep quiet at the back, there – I’ll try to tell you just what it was I missed. It seems an American bird, a  ‘summer occasional or vagrant’ as any self-respecting twitcher would say, called Kate Gilmore, had flown in with a scheme, or project as we like to say, under one wing, and a grant application tucked under the other. She proposed the setting-up of a structure in the middle of said Square, the size of which – and do follow carefully here – was to be “in keeping with the measurements of typical office cubicles and corridors in the neighbouring modern office blocks where  (and here comes the important bit) countless  ‘perhaps’) without, poor dears, ever having noticed or reflected upon the effect their daily activities have upon their body and stamina.”

Well yes, I suppose they don’t notice or reflect all that much, but then does anyone? I always thought the whole point of daily activities was to have some sort of an effect upon said b and s, so that we’d all then go home, put our feet up for a while with a restorative bottle of something or other, have a bite to eat, a slice of dormouse pie perhaps, and then get a good night’s sleep.

Anyway, the lovely Gilly Moorhen clearly saw it as her chief aim in life, to make those fragrant City toilers sit up and jolly well take notice. So the scene was set for what came next, to wit (or to whoo if you like) a live performance in which, for five whole June days, “working teams of eight women in two shifts walked continuously on top of that bright red wooden structure for nine hours a day; from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Members of the public were able to walk both around the structure (goodness me) in order to experience the work visually (ie, look up at the birds above) and through the passageway beneath the platform to get a sensory experience of the women walking above (ie. tramp, tramp, plod, plod)… as they adamantly (?!) negotiate their personal space, weaving around each other.” And so the long day wore on.

“With this art work”, we were told, “Kate Gillymot comments on the meaning of labour and life in everyday conditions, and skilfully (of course) turns a mundane phenomenon into a dramatic visual spectacle.” Hmmm: there’s not much more one can say really, though it would be mildly interesting to learn quite what those comments actually were. Much more to the point would be to hear what comments her little band of lovelies made as they trooped up and down and round and round: “oooh these heels ain’t ’arf killin’ me:  surely time for a smoke by now: I do believe that nice young man is looking up my skirt: oh I do feel dizzy: coo, what a waste of time.”

The happy news is that this dramatically mundane phenomenon was ‘generously funded’ by The Arts Council. My own comment is, perhaps, best left unspoken.

The Jackdaw Jul-Aug 2011