Ben Howard, Community Champion

It’s nice to have something positive to write about for once, and as it’s Friday, this should get the weekend off to a good start.

Some of you may have attended Colchester Free Festival this year and enjoyed a rather nice day out in Castle Park. If you want to show your appreciation to the people behind it, you now can, as Ben Howard of Keep Colchester Cool who was the inspiration behind it has been nominated for a Community Champion award, so go visit the site and vote for him to win!

Time The Pilot

Last week, I blogged about the Colchester Capsule and the poem by Martin Newell that’s going to be put within it. The poem has now been put up on the firstsite website (pdf file) with a story about it here, if you feel the need to see a picture of me and others with Martin after the reading.

Reading it is perhaps not quite as interesting as having Martin perform it for you, but it’s a very good poem about both the history of Colchester and the wider processes of history and memory:

Yet, history’s untidy
And leaves more things unsaid
Unwritten, un-recorded
It’s crowded by the dead
Who mostly take their memories
And mindsets to the grave
So all we find are trinkets
We vainly try to save.

The Colchester Capsule

Just a quick plug here for firstsite‘s latest project, The Colchester Capsule, as it finishes tomorrow and it’s a chance for anyone to get involved with a piece of art and a message to the future.

When it’s filled, the capsule will contain a variety of items that represent Colchester in 2010 and will then be buried as part of the landscaping work that’s about to begin around the firstsite building, where it will hopefully remain until 2100 when our 90-years-on descendants will get to see just what we put in there. Or, a 128-year-old me will be there reminiscing on how we in 2010 didn’t realise just how close we were to vastly expanding the human lifespan.

One of the things that will be going in the capsule is a specially commissioned poem from Martin Newell about the history of Colchester, which he read in public for the first time last night. Unfortunately, I don’t have perfect recall of it, so can’t quote it all here, but you shouldn’t have to wait 90 years to read it, as I’ve been promised it’ll turn up on firstsite’s website very soon.

Update: The deadline for the capsule has been extended to Saturday October 16th, so you can still contribute articles for it until then.

Andy Warhol times four

It seems I can’t go anywhere without causing a technical glitch of some sort – maybe technology is allergic to me? I had hoped to be able to link to my time on the Fourth Plinth by now, given the speed that everyone else’s had been put up on the website afterwards, but it seems something occurred that slowed that right down, and I’m still waiting now.

Which may, of course, be a benefit to looking back, as I’ll have to do it from memory and not influenced by looking at myself as an outsider, seeing what the internet was seeing between 5 and 6 last Saturday afternoon. Given how much I’m aware of myself talking while I was there, I’m not entirely sure I want to listen to my own externalised interior monologue/commentary when I get the opportunity.

The one thing I was struck by after the event was how much the construction of the One And Other infrastructure around the Plinth turns you into a performer. By itself, it’s a presentation stage of course, but the safety netting around it helps to frame you, and it’s very hard not to notice the cameras and lights directly on you, defining you as the latest act brought before the people. It’s interesting to ponder how much Antony Gormley’s initial idea for the project – of presenting a snapshot slice of the people of Britain on the plinth – has been compromised by the infrastructure that has had to go into place to make it happen. The distance between the person on the plinth and those watching is shortened by the presence of the camera.

One thing that is interesting is the ritual of getting up and down from the Plinth itself – when you stop and think about it, there’s no real reason why the Plinther and the crew member couldn’t get onto the platform when it’s parked at the bottom of the Plinth rather than having to be carried around from the office, but it adds to the sense of ritual around the event in that you’re transported into the arena from outside it – notice that the cranes aren’t visible from the Plinth itself – and then the means by which you get up and down from there are removed like the scaffolding from a statue.

In terms of what I chose to do up there, there wasn’t any grand over-riding plan behind it, just an effort to be myself. Not wanting to carry a mike and speaker up there – and something electrical may have been a mistake in the weather I experienced – or stand up and shout like a mad ranter, I decided to communicate by words on paper. Each of the pieces of paper I turned into a paper airplane while I was up there had something printed on it, and the idea was to throw these ideas out into the world for the people who found them to do whatever they wanted with them. Of course, the weather made it hard to make and throw the airplanes – soggy paper doesn’t fly too well, but I did make a few, and was quite happy to see someone waving one they’d collected at me as they walked from the square.

As for the jelly babies, that was just to appeal to the young Doctor Who fan who’s always been within me, and the chance to say ‘fancy a jelly baby?’ in a Tom Baker style was too much to resist. They also worked as an interesting bribe when I wanted to get the crown to sing Happy Birthday for my friend Julia – and yes, it was her birthday on Saturday, she was watching, and she did text and ask me to thank the crowd for it.

There’s a lot more I could say about the experience, but I think it’s best summed up by the fact that it is an exhilarating time – having seen the two guys before me when they came off, I was surprised at how buzzed they were but then totally understood it when I had finished – and it is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and probably will do again (though the inevitable attempts to copy it will no doubt be appearing soon). In short, though, I’d sum it up with one of the quotes from my airplanes. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

P Minus 395 minutes and counting

Yes, just a few hours until it’s my turn to ascend onto the Trafalgar Square plinth and be gawped at by random strangers and/or rained on with unusual ferocity for August.

So, I’m on between 5 and 6 this afternoon, so feel free to wander down to central London to see me, or you can catch the whole thing on the One And Other website. I’ll try and Twitter some updates while I’m there if I can too.