All the Fun of the Circus Show
How many nail salons are there in Newham? Answer: Less than you think. I can’t give you the correct figure as this would give you an unfair advantage if you were to play Richard Dedomenici’s latest art game: The Nail Salon Play Your Cards Right Game. We are playing this game on Friday night at Danielle Arnaud as part of the opening night for Day to Day Data, curated by Ellie Harrison. Have you ever been to Danielle Arnaud? It’s only been open 10 years and this is the first time I’ve ever actually been down there (south of the river, you see…). What a beautiful house. (And, private view lovers, it has TWO toilets, ladies and gents, WITH WASH BASINS!). And tonight we are drinking a glass of kir. Lovely. Anyway, there was some art there too. A lot of data (or ‘darda’, as Richard’s girlfriend, Luci, insisted on calling it and adopting, for no discernible reason that I could fathom, an American accent. I say potato you say data. Whatever…). So, there’s a lot of data there. And I mean, a lot of data. Far too much to take in at a private view, so I say some hellos and take some photos and think, I have to come back. I can’t stay long tonight as I have another date to make. I give my apologies to Danielle, who is simply charming, and take her photo with Ellie. I show it to them for approval – ‘I do not know,’ squeaks Danielle, ‘I cannot see a thing without my glasses!’ I think she looks pretty good.
I have to get a move on so grab a cab to take me up to Three Colts and Circus Show, where I reckon pretty much most of London will be. (Let’s quickly do the math on this: there are about 800 artists in the show, each maybe bringing 150 people, multiply those figures together and….hmmm…that makes nearly a million people for the private view…) Anyway, I get there to find that my maths is right, the place is completely heaving. Mark McGowan is just outside the entrance, dressed as a traffic warden and getting people to hit him with some lengths of foam piping. And people REALLY do hit him. It looks painful. Momentarily between his floggings I get to say hello and pass on a greeting from Dedomenici back at Danielle Arnaud’s. ‘Oh, yeah,’ says Mark, sweating in his bright yellow uniform, ‘’e’s really cool, isn’t ‘e, Richard?’ Then suddenly he’s talking about being on Richard and Judy this morning. This whole traffic warden gig has ticked a lot of boxes for the media and he’s had a lot of coverage. (On the way here I told the cabbie where I was going. He laughed. ‘That’s the bloke dressed up as a traffic warden, innit? It was on the radio earlier. Give him a hit from me.’) ‘Richard and Judy – go and have a look at it’. He points into the crowd, then sees my camera and is immediately back on the job, asking punters to hit him. ‘Hard as you can, go on, hit me, go on, hard as you can.’ He bends forward and a geezer hits him really hard across the back. Again and again. I start to wonder if I can actually stand to watch much more of this. It’s brutal. I dive into the crowd and head for the bar. There are people pouring into the gallery which is already packed full of colour and noise just from the exhibits. Including, of course, the sound of a sad old clown called Frankie, who is urging people: ‘Pie me! Pie me! Pie me!’ It’s Calum F Kerr, dressed as a clown, sitting in the corner of the gallery making up pies of cream and pastry and getting people to throw them at his face. If you hit his face, he sings. He’s already covered in cream and all sorts of stuff from multiple previous pies. I take a paper plate of cream and get him on the chin. He starts singing, a sort of dour, bass drone. It sounds deeply sad. Then he ends and starts again with ‘Pie me! Pie me! Pie me!’ I begin to feel like I have stepped back 150 years, when you paid a small price to go prod the freaks and the mentally ill. I think about Richard and Judy and about reality TV and about celebrity and art and then my head hurts and then I see Mark Pawson. I take his photo. He gives me that face that says, oh, not again. Although it turns out that, surprisingly, he has spent the day being photographed. Dressed as a baker. With flour being added to his face, for that real baker look. There was some background to this story, obviously, but I didn’t quite get the details. I see Jonathan Allen and tell him how much I liked his Tommy Angel photo portraits at David Risley. He is busy hiding his exhibit for the show behind the door, worried that it’s going to get trashed by the crowd here. It’s a newspaper headline on a freestanding board which says MAGICIAN HAS ACCIDENT. ‘It’s an original, from the 60s’ he says. It is lovely. Then we somehow talk about meetings and interviews and stuff and he tells me about going to an art school interview where all the interviewers sat holding newspapers in front of their faces. It was something to contend with. Jonathan took a lighter out and put it at the base of one of the newspapers and set it alight. They didn’t even ask to see the portfolio after that trick, he was in. I think he is a very interesting man.
More people pour through the doors of the gallery. I see Sarah Doyle. There’s a lot of drumming or something coming from over the other side of the gallery. It gets difficult to breathe. Then I bump into Rosie and Harriet from Tatty Devine. They are both looking great in their cute little circus outfits (above), stopping off here before heading up to more circus antics at Bethnal Green Working Mens Club. I first met them about two years ago and really love what they do. A few months back I had lunch with them and talked about trying to find a way to talk about the cultural landscape that we are living in. I really don’t know if I made any sense then, but when I ask to take their photo and they ask, ‘sure, why?’ I’m suddenly talking about all this stuff again, but now I can say that I run this blog and that it’s about the cultural landscape and I can talk about the themes of identity, place and history that run through all my work and tell them that the blog IS the work. Then I take their photo. They look great.
It’s been a big night. Everyone was here. Maybe something happened here tonight, I can’t decide. Something shifted, slightly on that cultural landscape. And it won’t be quite the same again.
I think back to a story I once heard about a girl who went to the original Woodstock festival. She came back and when her friends asked her what it was like, she’s like, it was shit. It was muddy and horrible. Then, days later, when everyone started pointing and saying, hey, look, back there, that was a huge piece of history, she was like, yeah, it was amazing, man, it was the best time of my life. I was there, y’ know.
So, there are some things you just can’t know.
Like how many nail salons there are in Newham…