What Will It Look Like When It's Finished?
So this is it.
It's the closing ceremony/party/auction/gameshow for Graham Hudson's residency at Chelsea Parade Ground.
Hudson, the leader of the revolution, is moving on (to LA and then Nairobi) but there's still time for all this: an auction of 30 pieces of his work and another outing for cult art gameshow Sculpture Wars...!
I arrive and register to bid. There's one piece that's totally worth buying. It's Lot 23, 'When It's Windy This Sculpture Falls Over'. For me, it is what this residency has been about and what Graham's work is about. I remember a version of it, in cardboard, on a very early visit here (why the heck didn't I just pick it up then, goddammit???). It's easily the key piece. So I shouldn't be surprised when both Dave Hoyland and Beth Greenacre say they have got their eye on it too. This is not good news. I have no idea what kind of prices are going to be coming in tonight -and I'm not sure anyone else has either. Are we talking a few pounds? Tens of pounds? Hundreds? Thousands??? Who knows?
The auction doesn't start for a bit so I hang out. Noah Sherwood is there, filming his sculpture which is tonight's bar. It looks fantastic. It's a reworking of the sculpture he had in Spitalfields. He's pleased how its turned out. 'Look,' he says, 'people are being served drinks by my sculpture. This is great. I've gone all relational aesthetics on my own work...'. He's having a laugh with this but it's a lovely observation. He continues filming.
Francesca Gavin is there too, though I hardly recognise her with her clothes on...(fnar, fnar). James Capper comes and has a chat. He's the student here at Chelsea who first came out and started building another house next to Graham's. He's always around. I talk to him for a bit, ask him what it's been like living out here, and what people have said about the place. He presents me with a key phrase. Commuters, walking thru this ground, day after day, over the months, have seen it transform and change and stand up and fall down. They ask: 'What will it look like when it's finished?' We both have a wry laugh at this.
What indeed would this all look like when it's finished? What would it look like before it's finished? Where is the end and the beginning with Hudson's work? When it's windy, it might all fall over.
And it does fall over from time to time. Hudson has been out here working for months. Part performance piece, part open studio. If he makes a mistake it's all out in the open for anyone to see. There's no working on a piece and then presenting it to the private view crowd. There is no private view, or, well, the private view is continual....
Everything teeters on the edge of being something else in Hudson's world. Everything is in a state of becoming. What is made is never really finished, and what is not made is never quite abandoned. Only death and money will finish anything he does. And tonight there are people here with money.
Me included. But it still feels odd to be thinking of buying one of Hudson's works. For someone who has spent the last months challenging all that stuff, it's ironic, slightly surprising, and unexpectedly exciting to be able to get hold of something more palpable than a memory. Hudson is a very shrewd guy. He rips up the rules on art, then calmly plays along with them like there's no contradiction. If he had made a cake he could have sold it as well as eating it at the same time.
So, I'm in the market for art and I'm fixed on this work I mentioned. I look thru the little catalogue that's been produced. Various works I recognise from previous visits here. And I'm flicking thru and then suddenly I see Lot 30 - which is the house. Hudson said before that he wasn't going to put this in. But there it is. Lot 30. The iconic house. Who knows what's going to happen here?
The house - that beautiful, lopsided sculpture with it's mad bay windows and secret sleeping compartment (the 'research hub' as he once referred to it as...) - is the major work of all this. The really central piece to the whole place. Bits of it have fallen off over the months and been replaced. Things have been added. The whole parade ground has shifted and changed and been rebuilt and been allowed to fall over.
But don't let's get too carried away with the falling apart bit. Hudson isn't slapdash or chaotic or disorganised. This is a carefully considered - if sometimes not articulated - rage against the machine. It's the revolution that wasn't televised. The only thing really missing from this whole venture was a red flag, with Hudson's face reversed out in black, fluttering over the roof. Students would have bought posters of it to put up in their rooms...
Whatever, it's been a hell of a first residence for the parade ground.
(Let's, for a moment, just consider some words written by Bedwyr Williams in his excellent book, Basta, of his residency in Venice:
'Artists in residence smell, they fill their spaces with special teas, comfy mules, Olbas Oil and other kick-knacks. They get ill, they misunderstand the heating system in their lodgings. They haven't really got enough clothes with them. They don't have a car and are usually damp. Also you must go out for a drink with them sometime. THEY NEVER REALLY DO WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD.')
The bidding starts.
There's a scaffolding tower on top of which are perched Hugh Edmeades of Christies and Beth Greenacre. They are wheeled around the parade ground on this contraption as the pieces are sold. Hugh, perfectly turned out in an expensive suit and tie is, I have to say, the consummate professional. He is on top a scaffolding tower, with a hammer wrapped in hazard tape, getting people to bid on bits of scrap metal, wood and plastic. He is fantastic.
So, first up: Lot number 1 - Untitled (Bollards and Table). Bidding starts around £20.00. Then suddenly it's up to sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, a hundred...it goes for £130.00. Dave Hoyland gets it. This is the first piece. A good one, but blimey, I need to check my wallet on this. This means the piece I want is really going to go. On lot 8, Untitled (Arch and Trolley) we reach about £1300.00. Things are not looking good here for my piece. Also, I don't want to blow money before Lot 23 in case I need everything I've got. So I hold off bidding on a couple of really, really nice pieces. Brian Reed is there and strikes a fantastic deal of £30.00 on Lot 19. I'm kicking myself. Then suddenly, abruptly, we are on Lot 23. There's me, Dave and someone else. Dave pulls out but I keep going. Another hundred, another hundred, and another hundred. I see that I'm up against Ed Greenacre. Shit, I think, I might as well be up against the Bank of England. He's got more money that I can muster on this. It's his. He knows. I know. And so I stop bidding. I pull out. The piece goes to Ed for over a grand.
So I'm gutted - but also now frantic about making sure I get a good piece. Other than the house, which is going to go big time (as well as having to be transported and stored) there's two pieces I think that are still worth it:
Lot 25 and Lot 27.
And I get Lot 25. Good Old British Sex Comedy After Sarah Lucas.
Two hundred quid plus VAT.
I get it. I'm really, really happy to have this piece. It's an old wonky metal trolley with an office chair and a paint covered easel having sex on top of it.
It's mine. It's absolutely wonderful.
And it also makes me part of some secret club. As soon as I buy it a guy sidles up to me, out of the darkness. 'Nice piece,' he says, 'Very shrewd. That'll be worth a thousand in 18 months.' 'Less,' I say. He disappears. A woman comes up. 'You got yourself a bargain there,' she coos gently in my ear.
I'm expecting someome to come up and give me a funny handshake and a wink at this point, but it doesn't happen.
What does happen though is that the house, lot 30, goes for something like £6000. I speak to Ed later and he says he bought it. 'I had to - I had to keep it from being destroyed. It is the residency.'
Later I speak to Graham who tells me that two other people have bought it. I also speak to Dave Hoyland who says he bought it....
Somehow, loads of people bought the house. And, really, I don't actually care who bought it, I'm just glad someone did. It is beautiful and iconic. It's when Duchamp met John Bock (as a TV channel in a parallel art world might fashion a cheesy programme about it).
Then it's gameshow time: Sculpture Wars. Graham and Dave Hoyland are presenting, wearing identical light brown suits, and bawling the rules into mics - which I don't quite follow. There are three contestants a round, each charged with building the tallest, free standing sculpture, from a whole pile of offcuts and tools, which will ultimately be judged on a combination of height and weight. It's like some bizarre Generation Game for the artworld. And each round is accompanied by big war movie themes.
Dave and Graham run round like seasoned gameshow hosts, encouraging the contestants, proffering some commentary here and there, keeping the whole thing going.
I stand a little back from all this, stand near my new purchase, which suddenly seems very vulnerable to all sorts of nasty things now that I have just agreed to pay 200 quid for it. Will it be safe here till I can get it on Sunday? What if it rains? What if someone nicks it?
All thoughts I never had before I agreed to buy it.
How fickle I really am....
'I was in an early version of Sculpture Wars. In Leipzig.' says Brian Reed. 'I got in to the final,' he continues, wistfully.
He introduces me to Cecilia Wee. We both look at each other, registering some faint recognition but from some unknown time. Then I recall: she came into the ICA shop once, looking for a certain subject area and I ran round the shelves trying to find stuff for her. She has written about Grahams's work here. She is very clever and writes really well and you can find out more about her here.
Sculpture Wars finishes. I don't remember who won. But then we are being ushered out of the ground - on account of the neighbours. It's gone ten, after all.
I make my way home thinking about my Good Old British Sex Comedy...
A couple of days later I go down to the parade ground and pick up the work, transporting the whole piece back in a black cab - which seems only fitting.
I get it home and rebuild it in my garden.
I stand back.
I think back to James Capper and that line he said: What will it look like when it's finished?
Well, now I can tell you:
It looks like two things. It looks like an old wonky metal trolley with an office chair and a paint covered easel having sex on top of it.
And it also looks, incontrovertibly, finally, and without any doubt, like a genuine Graham Hudson.