Beach Hut Blog by Sarah Carne
After my LOVE commission last year, which took the form of videos about moments of public communication as interventions in the information screens of the Royal Festival Hall, I spent time thinking about whether the resulting artwork, This is a Public Service Announcement, had had the effect I intended. Not in a grandiose artistic ambition kind of way, but in terms of actually prompting small moments of communication and connection which had been part of the initial proposal. They definitely happened in the conversations I had with the visitors and staff during the weeks I was there, but I’m not sure these translated through the work. The video screens themselves were easily ignored or overlooked and the performative moment was missing.
There is, therefore, something I still want to explore in this work, something that also relates to other projects I’m currently working on. I worry in the above work that on the surface it’s too reductive, I’m appearing to simplify it to no more than a literal request that strangers, colleagues, neighbours say good morning to each other, inoffensive in itself but without prompting consideration of the complications inherent in such an apparently straightforward action or exchange. It is the factors that impede it happening that I’m interested in, which is tied into my ongoing interest in status and how that is manifested in daily encounters. With this in mind I wanted time to think.
My first trip to Hut 136 was of necessity brief. I’m also interested in the mundanity of how income/childcare impact on an artist’s development and work life, briefly touched on here: I’m Looking for Barbara 5:17 – 6:42 . Though I’m aware professionally it’s advised not to talk about these things.
It started pertinently. On the slow train out of Victoria a businessman joined my table with a confident and smiling ‘Morning’ and left two stops later with a confident and smiling ‘Have a good day’. I’d spent the interim journey worrying he could read upside down my first note of the day “why is asking people to say ‘good morning’ a bit annoying?”. I think it lies somewhere in the human instinct to dislike being told what to do and a natural introversion. There will be some psychology book somewhere that explains it – I’m open to suggestions.
The hut, once found was itself perfect for thinking. It’s the first time I’ve realised I need a narrower view of the sea, the limits of the doorway served as a frame in which I could focus. I find too much expanse disconcerting.
The development of ideas is too early to share but a brief look back at my notes offers up: think about assumptions / the meaning of ‘greeting’ / what are manners? / thresholds (which always requires a nod to Mark Wallinger’s Threshold to the Kingdom 2000, also available in dodgy fashion on Youtube so I won’t link here but worth a sneaky peek) / hierarchies (admittedly comes up on every page of notes I ever make) / interruption / awkwardness / exchange / and familiarity. Amongst many others.
I then came home, slowly, tree on the line. Many strangers speaking to each other. And thank you to the kind woman who offered to pay for my fast train upgrade if the conductor had insisted upon it.
I returned to Hut 136 the following week, still on the supersaver but able to stay later. The ‘good morning’ problem needs mulling over and was too soon to revisit, so this time I came with some knotty questions I wanted to think about regarding a collaborative project I’m working on, though essentially all my work is interlinked so it didn’t feel too removed from the previous week’s endeavours.
I’ve started a collaboration with an artist who shares similar concerns in her practice but is in her late twenties. A curator this week described it as an intergenerational project but once again I seem to baulk at that phrase. Maybe I’ll stick with intersectional for the moment.
Again too soon to share the content but there was a glorious moment of epiphany, something happened, a catalyst to make me realise I’d missed an obvious next step. Now to implement it. Spaces such as Hut 136 are vitally important to artists to offer a shift in view.
I do much of my thinking whilst in motion – cycling, walking, driving when a car is available. All of these, however, require an alertness to surroundings and incur interruptions. What I gained from the hut was actually a space with very few interruptions, I confess I barely interacted with passers-by (though in my defence there were very few), and nor did I want to. Sometimes to think about communication requires a period of being incommunicado. Worth remembering when passing a colleague in a corridor occurs without acknowledgment, though how we rate the importance of our own internal thoughts is never irrelevant.
So I had time and space and a perfectly circumscribed view, and yes the most comfortable chair to sit in and a definite shift forwards. I will keep working on my ideas, but hope very much to return.
Sarah Carne August 2016