Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ghost Village Project

Check out this short film, a gaggle of graff and street artists who travelled to a Scottish village allegedly built for oil platform construction workers that has been abandoned by all humanity and turned it into an art gallery.

Relatively unknown until recently, when it featured in the media with news of its forthcoming demolition and residential redevelopment, the village of Polphail was created during the 1970s to serve as accommodation for workers employed ont a concrete oil platform construction project to be based at Portavadie.

Despite millions of pounds of government money being poured into the development, both its concept and product were deeply flawed, having been rushed in order to cash in on the oil boom of the the time. The construction yard was never completed and never came close to production. The accommodation was never occupied and never saw a single resident. It did leave behind a hole, which we have seen referred to as the “biggest man-made hole in Europe” (but we haven’t been able to verify this one). The site was abandoned and has lain derelict ever since, and became the subject of a public enquiry.

Portavadie currently serves as the terminal for a CalMac ferry connecting with Tarbert, across Loch Fyne, and has seen a fish farm developed in the multi-million pound hole that was created where the concrete platform legs were supposed to be constructed. A marina opened in the mid-2000s, and a brand new facilities building opened there in May 2009, containing toilets, showers, bar and restaurant. Although there have been a number of proposals to develop time-shares on the Polphail site, none of these ever materialised, but a few holiday cottages have been built nearby.

However, progress was made in 2009, when a plan to create up to 270 home on the site was announced by the owner, and demolition of the original Polphail accommodation was scheduled to begin in following December.

Thanks to media coverage of the development, the site came to the attention of a group of artist known as The Agents of Change. Although they are graffiti artists, this in not a group kids running around with cans of spray paint vandalising the streets and tagging any clean surface, but are well-established artist, and in their forties. Having seen the derelict village in the news, they got in touch with the owner requesting permission to carry out a project in the village, and were pleased to receive a positive response to their enquiry, provided they were prepared to pay homage at hallowed altars such as Elfin Safety.

The arrival of the six artists involved was generally well met an appreciated by most of those who live near the village, who said the artwork made a welcome change from their usual view of the drab grey concrete of the decaying ruins which they have had to look at for some forty years.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Blackool & Beyond - Village Walks Art SpOt

An abbreviated version of my recent Solaris Centre exhibition is now on display at The Village Walks Art SpOt, Poulton le Fylde. Entrance between the Post Office and Ethel Austins.

Inspiration for my work is derived from many sources. I am attracted by the images created by the passage of time and the layers of history that form as a result. Recording vestiges of memories fading into uncertainty.

Blackpool is a town trapped between its history and its future. I have been recording the changing face of Blackpool for many years. I find beauty and inspiration in the fading infrastructure and once glitzy façade. My current work endeavours to capture the feeling of deterioration, dilapidation and decay that lies just behind the flashy frontage. Images so familiar that often we fail to notice them any more.

This work could be seen as a metaphor for the way we view the older members of our community. Something decrepit and insignificant to be ignored, rather than a valuable resource to be respected and cherished.

A reminder of how easy it is to pass-by aspects of our everyday surroundings without even seeing them. This work is intended to provoke thought and ask questions.
The work employs an intriguing mix of photography, digital interpretation and experimental fine art process which results in a unique work of art.

More art at

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Art History Archive

Came a cross this resource and thought you may be interested, Art History Archive. Lots of links to other archives.

Saatchi School of Art - What the Critic Thought

You may not always agree with the Times TV critic A A Gill, after all he does think he is Jeremy Clarkson with brains! But on this occasion his I found his view of the Saatchi X factor wanabee programme quite amusing. His comments about Duchamps Urinal was particularly apposite. I make no apology for reproducing it in full.

A.A. Gill, Sunday Times 29th November 2009:-
Right, that’s it. I am unilaterally and with prejudice proclaiming an anathema on
R Mutt’s bloody urinal. It’s wheeled out for every feeble-brained, finger-snapping, zeitgeisty art programme as a sort of shibboleth, a totem. I’ve been shown it three times in two weeks, and it was predictably used to explain contemporary art in last week’s School of Saatchi show.

Let’s get something straight about Marcel Duchamp and his pissoir fountain, the Rosetta Stone of all modern art. It was a joke; it wasn’t even shown in a gallery. Duchamp liked puns, funny names and bawdy humour. He is famous for his ready-made found objects, which he placed incongruously — a bicycle wheel on a stool, or a commercial pot-holder. The simple point of the joke is that a urinal in a lavatory is there to be peed in, but a urinal in an art gallery is there to be talked about and genuflected over for a century.

Duchamp was a bit half-hearted about art; it was a hobby, really. He got fed up after a bit and devoted most of his life to playing chess. He even carved his own set, except for the knight, which he had to get a craftsman to do. He did take 20 years to create one last secret piece. It has to be viewed through a peephole. It’s a headless woman with the full Hollywood pudenda, holding an oil lamp in a landscape. You can see it in Philadelphia. Now, no art smarties ever hold this up as an explanation for all of contemporary art, although it is far more disturbing and difficult than the unplumbed bog. Duchamp was rediscovered in the 1960s, when his found objects offered some post-hoc heritage for a lot of artists who were bored with the mechanics of making stuff.

I’ve given you this patronising pocket lecture because I’ve just been patronised for an hour by the judges on Saatchi’s art series. Yes, the young wannabe artists are made to perform like contestants in The X Factor. (They are all Jedward.) This format has already been inflicted, disastrously, on design, with that old singing teapot, Philippe Starck. The obvious difference between performing and making is that one belongs on television as its natural habitat, and the other doesn’t. Art is mostly solitary and a rather mad occupation. There is also a sadder, uncomfortable truth about artists in this programme: they are mostly very, very dim. In fact, being dim may well be a prerequisite for the calling. I say this as someone who has practised as one for most of his life; and I’ve worked in a gallery as an art critic and catalogue scribe. There is something in purely visual creation that works best when disengaged from intellect. The less you think, the more you look, the better. For every polymath Leonardo, there are dozens of thuggish Caravaggios.

The judges in this heightened reality show constantly asked the proto-artists what they thought they were making, and to explain why what they did was art. None of them could form a rational or even coherent sentence. This doesn’t make it a bad programme. Indeed, it’s rather a fascinating one, but for reasons the producers probably didn’t envisage. It is actually a vivid evocation of the reality of contemporary art. It has become all about the polemic: an artist needs to be explained by someone else who speaks the fluent, florid art-speak that is the technical jargon of galleries. This is because the market trusts explanations when it doesn’t trust a brick. Words, you can understand; art could be a lavatory. The answer to “What is art?” has always been: “That which is made by an artist.” To further beg the question, the definition of an artist is: “Someone who makes art.” Those definitions no longer pertain. An artist is someone who is validated by one of the three Cs — a critic, a curator or a collector. Any one of these contestants could be a successful artist, but they would have to be defined by successful judges. So the interesting bit of this programme is the competition between the panel of experts for authority and memorably pithy jargon.

In fact, none of the contestants will become famous artists, because they are the found object. The art is the format; they are urinals. Charles Saatchi is a Duchamp of collectors, a creator who doesn’t create, a performer who never appears. He’s probably at home playing chess. Actually, he’s much more likely to be at home watching back-to-back reruns of CSI: Miami.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Creating an Artists Statement

As every artist knows or should know, you will not get any where in the art world without an Artist Statement. The problem for most artists is that the flowery, pretentious, obfuscated, prose demanded by the opinion makers in the world of art does not come naturally. Although clearly if my previous post is anything to go by some artists are truly gifted in this department.

Not to be out done I have sweated blood and shed many a tear to produce my own Artist Statement, read on:-

Work of Post-Art in the Age of Generative Reproduction

The mind creates, the body reproduces. In the material space, art objects are reproductions of the creations of the mind -- a mind that uses the body as a Zeitgeist to de-construct ideas, patterns, and emotions. With the evolution of the electronic environment, the mind is conceiving a point where it will be free from the body to share immersions into the parameters of the Delphic space. Work of Post-Art in the Age of Generative Reproduction contains 10 minimal quick-time engines (also refered to as "memes") that enable the user to make innovation audio/visual compositions.

measuring chains, constructing realities
putting into place forms
a matrix of illusion and disillusion
a strange attracting force
so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it

Alistair Parker's work investigates the nuances of modulations through the use of slow motion and close-ups which emphasize the Generative nature of digital media. The artist explores abstract and deteriorate scenery as motifs to describe the idea of imaginary space. Using layered loops, non-linear narratives, and allegorical images as patterns, Parker creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of space...

You too can churn out such eloquent bilge courtesy of the The Market-O-Matic Crapometer to be found here.

Seriously if you need help in this department you may find some here, and here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where is Modern Art Now? - Blackpool Art Fair!

This week has seen a veritable cornucopia of art programmes on TV. Art on Your Wall, BBC2 Mon; Where is Modern Art Now?, BBC4 Wed; Ugly Beauty, BBC2 Sat and on our own doorstep, The Blackpool Art Fair at the Grundy Art Gallery till January. It was after my visit to the Grundy that the question posed by the BBC2 programme, "Where is Modern Art Now", struck me. If I had thought the BBC programme clouded by obfuscation and pseudo-ism, it had not prepared me for the Blackpool Art Fair. We expect obfuscation and pseudo-ism from art experts such as Dr Augustus Casey-Hayford and Waldemar Januszcack but not from Stuart Tullock.

I arrived at the Grundy on Saturday morning as a privileged preview ticket holder, I had a piece in the exhibition. I was looking forward to an exhibition of the work of Blackpool's artistic best. My reaction, confused and rather disappointed. What did we have here. I walked in the first gallery space to find Blackpool Art Society exhibition sparsely spread over the relatively large wall area. But where was the open exhibition? In the large gallery maybe. No, this space was filled with a strange mishmash of installations based on Blackpool Model Train Society, Blackpool Model Boat Club, Cake Decorating, Knitting, Dog Decorating and a cutting edge avant-garde conceptual art installation by Supercollider (I will come back to that in a moment). Where the hell was the open exhibition? Ah, here they are stuffed into the two small side galleries!

Why? I had trouble finding my A1 size piece of work amongst the mishmash that confronted me. The hanging was 2 to 3 works high, titled with small postal labels typed in 12 point text. Just not good enough for a Gallery of the Grundy's stature. Half an hour later with a crick in my neck and rapidly deteriorating eye sight I still had not found two pieces of work I knew should be in there. As a contributing artist I feel affronted that my hard work should be crammed into a shoe box. Particularly when the rest of the gallery is given over to work which can hardly be considered suitable for an "Art Fair"! What was the rational behind extravagantly hanging the work of Blackpool Art Soc in a huge space at the expense of the Open exhibition?

Back to the beginning, had I missed the point? Was the "Blackpool Art Fair" really one big Post-Post-Modern conceptual nay, avant-garde "Modern" art installation? Was the analist art of the hobbyist (leisure) artist, the hobby sculptors (modellers) the conceptual "true" art (Supercollider Embassy) where modern art is now! Oh, and the work of those pretentious professional and unattached arty types will make up the numbers and help fill the rest of the space!

You have to question what sort of relationship the Grundy Art Gallery is trying to foster with the local art community and the public at large. Why have they chosen to place the polarised art of Blackpool Art Soc and Supercollider at the centre of miss titled "Art Fair". Is this an effort to be even handed? I don't think so, there has to be another agenda. Questions need to be answered! Maybe a clue to the answer lies in one of the handouts I picked up at the "Art Fair" (As I have no wish to embarrass the author)

------------------------------ ---------------------- committed to the dissemination of contemporary arts practice in the town by presenting a diverse and dynamic programme of temporary contemporary art projects. ----------------------------------------------------- is well positioned to provide the community with a forum for intellectual engagement, debate, participation and appreciation. ------------------------------------dedicated to delivering a programme of exhibitions and events which reflects the diverse and dynamic nature of contemporary arts practice, embracing artists at all stages of their careers working with a wide range of contemporary issues and concerns, ----------------------------------will also act as a point of exchange between the audience and contemporary arts practice, providing a dedicated forum for engagement. ---------------------------------- aims to develop reciprocal relationships with other institutions, groups and initiatives. --------------------------------------non-profit, artist led organisation, run by unpaid volunteers motivated by an intense passion for the arts and the cultural development and regeneration of Blackpool. Through the programme of exhibitions, projects and events ------------------------ aims to make an effective and meaningful contribution to the re-development and regeneration of culture of Blackpool.
Obfuscation or what? I clearly need to update my personal statement! Why was there was no reference to Post-Post-Modernism in the BBC2 programme "Where is Modern Art Now" is Blackpool ahead of the game?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bombin 1987

This documentary was created sometime around 1987 and aired on channel 4. It is a follow up of sorts to the 1984 BBC documentary 'Beat This' which served as an outsiders view of Hip Hop as a new New York sub-cultural phenomenon. Here Director Dick Fontaine returns to focus on the UK adoption of this Hip Hop culture and some of the conflicts created therein. To achieve this, the production chose to focus on Graffiti Art, no doubt because this element had the biggest conflict and issues to explore with its high presence, intrusion and illegality.

In those days Break dancing took centre stage in the UK but wouldn't have provided nearly as interesting debates to explore. After providing such a strong argumentative presence in 'Beat This', Brim Fuentes (TAT) is brought over to the UK as a sort of cultural ambassador of New York graffiti in a string of workshops and informal seminars. He is also put squarely in front of international main stream media's scrutiny. To which they responded in a manner of ways that at best was condescending and at worst was a down right personal attack for being a catalyst to the vandalising of Britain's culture and heritage. From here the documentary alludes to the social implications of ethnicity and poverty, and their relationship with the Hip Hop subculture.

This is where Goldie (of later Drum n Bass fame) as one of the UK premier graffiti artists makes a strong presence in his most notable early television appearance. It's his relationship and 'parallels' with Brim that really play out the rest of the documentary as the two exchange visits to each others home environments in Wolverhampton and the Bronx respectively. The film incidentally captures some of the earliest footage of significant UK protagonists such as Goldie and a pre Massive Attack 3D (not his finest hour here), as well as a noticeably limited Mode 2 and the Chrome Angels appearance at the Birmingham wall commission. However it is debatable that the producers pushed their own inclinations towards ethnicity and Graffiti here, with their focus on Goldie and Brim. It makes for interesting viewing but considering the well documented fact that the culture transcended ethnic barriers in New York and beyond, it can be held up as a particular flaw.

You decide.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Exhibition - Kiln House Gallery

Wreck #15

I have an exhibition of photography "Rot and Rust" at the Kiln House Gallery, Thornton Cleveleys, FY5 4JZ, from 7th November to 1st January.

The Kiln House Gallery is a unique gallery space, connected to Thornton's Marsh Mill Windmill.

Open Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Opening times:
Winter 11am-3pm
Summer 10.30am-4.30pm

The exhibition has been curated by Sue Godsiff. Sue is a second year student on the Fine Art and Professional Practice BA (Hons) degree course at Blackpool Art School.

"I have been photographing the numerous wrecks and rotting hulks that littered the banks of the River Wyre Estuary for over 4 years, remnants of a once thriving fishing industry. During this time, many of these historic remnants have been vandalised or plundered for their scrap content and some have disappeared forever. By recording these remains of the past I hope to at least preserve a memory of them.

If you have any knowledge of the history of any of these remains please post a comment."

You can see this and other work at

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Exhibition - Blackpool and Beyond

Solaris Centre, New South Promenade, Blackpool, FY4 1BB
8.30 - 5.00 weekdays, 10.00 - 5.00 weekends
2nd to 27th November, Entrance Free

Blackpool is a town trapped between its history and its future, decay and regeneration. Familiar memories, fading signs, torn posters, peeling paint, cracked walls and crumbling façades. Happy memories fading into uncertainty.

The work is intended to provoke thought and ask questions about our history. A reminder of how easy it is to pass-by aspects of our everyday surroundings without even seeing them. The work could be seen as a metaphor for the way we view the older members of our community. Something decrepit and insignificant to be ignored and taken for granted. Rather than something valuable, to be respected, cherished and enjoyed.

I have been recording the changing face of Blackpool for many years. I find beauty and inspiration in the fading infrastructure and glitzy façade. My current work endeavours to capture the feeling of deterioration, dilapidation and decay that lays just behind the flashy frontage.

The work employs an intriguing mix of photography, digital interpretation and experimental fine art process.

You can view my work here

Map & Directions

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tips For Artists Who Want To Sell

A quote from Time Out magazine 15th October......
  • Generally speaking paintings with light colours sell more quickly thay paintings with dark colours.
  • Subjects that sell well - Maddona and Child, Landscapes, Flower Paintings, Still Life (No morbid props like dead birds), Nudes, Marine scenes, abstract and Surrealism.
  • Subject matter is important, it has been said that paintings with cows and hens in them collect dust. ....While the same paintings with Bulls and Roosters sell.
Interestingly one of the most common motifs at the Affordable Art Fair was cows ........

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Affordable Art Fair

Suckers Tram

According to the Guardian the 2009 Affordable Art Fair proves to be a recession buster, sales exceed £100 million. Not sure how much of that is coming my way but Wills Art Warehouse managed to shift at least 4 of my pieces of work by mid-day Sunday, and the fair does not close till 6pm, so fingers crossed. The work proving most popuar was my Blackpool stuff, "Suckers Tram" was the first sale. You can see the work on sale at

Now it is off to Amsterdam for the next Affordable Art Fair, next week, more fingers crossed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Frieze Art Fair 2009

My first visit to the London Frieze Art Fair was interesting and inspiring. Here is a video clip courtesy of Art Review which shows a few of the bits you may have missed, well I did.

Find more videos like this on

By the way you can subscribe to Art Review and read the whole magazine online saving you a small fortune in subscription costs.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

BIG DRAW EVENT- Blackpool Art College

To ALL FE and HE students in ALL Departments
You are invited to take part in the BIG DRAW - MAKE A MARK event

Starts 10am Wednesday 7th October and will continue untill 15th October
Palatine Road Building

Draw, Scribble, Write, Doodle - Make a Mark

Drawing areas will be divided in to Male and Female
Alistair Parker is organising this event as part of a Feminist Studies assignment
This is an equal opportunities event

See images from the Make A Mark mural on Flickr

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Exhibition - Accidental Art

Accidental Art - Layers of History: An unusual exhibition of mixed media pieces. Inspired by fading signs, torn posters and decaying buildings found in the local area. The work is mainly large format and uses recycled materials such as corrugated cardboard from cartons, newspaper, household paints. The project was triggered by my interest in the ephemeral impermanence of Street Art and draws a parallel with our inclination to ignore the elderly and their contribution to our life and history.

For many years I have photographed fading signs, torn posters, cracked walls and peeling paint. These images have now been incorporated into my artwork. I am fascinated by the layers of history represented by the urban landscape. The changing architecture, peeling paint, typography, fading and peeling layers of paint, torn posters all serving to portraying the passage of time, reflecting a history of which many of us know little.

Ever since man made his marks on the walls of a cave he has left evidence of history all around us. The work in this exhibition is based on the remaking of mans marks on the urban landscape. Using an experimental printing process which echoes the feeling of deterioration, dilapidation and decay. Likewise use of recycled corrugated packing cases as the ground for artwork adds further to the feeling of impermanence.

The work is intended to provoke thought and ask questions about our history, reminding us how easy it is to pass by aspects of our everyday surroundings without even seeing them. The work could be seen as a metaphor for the way many of us view the older members of our community. Something decrepit and insignificant to be ignored and taken for granted. When we should be considering them as a valuable members of the community and a reflection of our history.

The exhibition will be at the Village Walks, Art SpOt, off Teanlowe Centre Car Park, Poulton-le-Fylde, from 22nd September to 31st October, Monday to Saturday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, entrance free.

If you are interested in exhibiting at Art SpOts send a CV and proposal to Alistair Parker.

Van Project

As part of the Professional Practice module for the second year of my BA Fine Art course I will be using this van to promote the Art SpOt at Village Walks Poulton and hopefully my "Art in Empty Shops" project.

The van is shown decorated with a piece of street art by B.Toy one of my favourite street artists. This will shortly be replaced with my own work.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Samsung NC10 Sound Problem

I have a Samsung NC10 netbook and it is brilliant. The sound however has driven me mad. The speakers are tinny but worst of all the sound was horribly distorted even with earphones. After much fiddling I eventually found the solution. I opened the Realtek Sound Effect Manager in Control Panel. Under the Sound Effect tab there is a Karaoke icon, make sure that there is no X showing in the circle. If there is click to turn off. Make sure all the equalizer sliders are on Max and the environment is set to or Padded Cell. Success sound back to normal!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Freaky Photographs

An exhibition of photographs of Victorian Fairground Freaks and other photographs from the archives of Liverpool Photographer and Tattooist William Turner together with work by local artist Alistair Parker. At the Village Walks Art Spot, off Teanlowe Centre Car Park, Poulton le Fylde, from 4th to 29th August, Monday to Saturday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, entrance free.

William Turner (1869 - 1937) was a Tattooist and Photographer (above) in Liverpool at the turn of the century (1900) he was also my grandfather. He had a studio at 44A Lime Street in the heart of Liverpool. His clients were many and varied, from bare knuckle boxers to circus freaks. And he was tattooed from his neck to ankle.

This exhibition has been created from the remnants of his archives. A mixture of original glass negatives and photographs from my mothers photograph albums.

The exhibition is in three parts. A selection of Carté Visité, photographic visiting cards, which would have been given to him by his wide and varied clientele, in this case fairground "freaks".

A selection of personal studio photographs from the original half-plate glass negatives (plates). You will note that long before Photoshop was thought of he was experimenting with the ghostly effects of multiple exposures.

The three larger pictures are part of a project I am undertaking for my Fine Art degree using experimental printing processes. These images have been created from photocopies transferred using an experimental acrylic transfer process.

The original material, which was not in very good condition was digitally scanned. Retouching has been kept to a minimum as I feel the marks of time contribute to a unique history.

View the exhibition on Flickr

Photo Tampering Throughout History

An interesting article for the photographers by Hany Farid, Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA.

  • Photography lost its innocence many years ago. In as early as the 1860s, photographs were already being manipulated, only a few decades after Niepce created the first photograph in 1814. With the advent of high-resolution digital cameras, powerful personal computers and sophisticated photo-editing software, the manipulation of digital images is becoming more common. Here, I have collected some examples of tampering throughout history.
  • Just days after Sarah Palin’s selection last August as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, a photo of a bikini-clad, gun-toting Palin blitzed across the Internet. Almost as quickly, it was revealed as a hoax — a crude bit of Photoshop manipulation created by splicing an image of the Alaska governor’s head onto someone else’s body. From start to finish, the doctoring probably took no more than 15 minutes. We review the impact of digital photo manipulation, and recent advances in digital image forensics to detect such manipulations. more........

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bring Street Art to Blackpool

As we are about to demolish most of Blackpool, in fact the demolition is well under way in the Northern Gateway area around Talbot Road bus station and the Station. May be we could take a leaf out of what has happened in other parts of the world and make use of some of the buildings before they bite the dust to host a major Urban Art Fest. I suggest Talbot Road Bus Terminus for a start, what do you think?

One particular example of such a Fest is at 11 Spring Street in New York, a building popular with Graffiti and Street artists was used to host a major event before it was renovated by the famous Wooster Collective.

Check out the video below and the Wooster Collection website here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vhills- Scratching the Surface Exhibition - Lazarides

I visited Lazarides Gallery in Soho last week to see an exhibition by Street Artist Vhils - Portuguese-born Alexandre Farto, age 21.In the context of current offering from the art work this is some of the most exciting and stimulating work I have seen in the past few years of hammering around galleries of all sizes and persuasion. As a fine art student I find Vhils experimental use of materials and media very exciting.

Of late he’s taken to creating works purely from in situ materials. Advertising hoardings are torn to make fresh images, and plaster drilled and chiselled away until the remaining relief forms the work. He is experimenting with ink and household bleach, rusting steel, stencils and industrial resins. His use of found material like old painted doors is particularly interesting. A far cry from graffiti and mindless tagging.

This is just a small sample of the work on display and I am afraid the photography does no justice to the original works which are both large and tactile. You really need to visit the exhibition, 3rd July to 1st August, so get a wriggle on.

Find more work here, this is also one of the best Flicker sites for Street Art.

Scratching the Surface by Vhils - Video

Even if you are not into the Street Art of Vhils this is a cracking example of the video makers art and well worth a watch.

Music - Gustavo Santaolalla Work by Vhils

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Books On-Line

As a student books become a way of life as a result I have strained tendons in my left wrist from hauling weighty tomes around. So the idea of being able to access my books on line is a very attractive one. I have been researching possible sources. Here is a list of initial contenders which I have yet to research fully.
This a site I have used and works well. Also known as Google Book Search, there is a wide range of free book and magazine content, much of it downloadable. Occasionally they allow partial download of copyright restricted books. I found it good for contextual studies literature.
Out-of-copyright classics, most are free.
A source of downloadable textbooks, saved as PDFs, meaning that unlike most electronic book formats, the diagrams and illustrations are preserved. Most take less than 60 seconds to download over broadband.
Find items in libraries near you, lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. Results link directly into citation software such as Zotero.

World Digital Library
Libraries and archives from around the world have come together in a project to share their collections of rare books, maps, films, manuscripts and recordings on-line for free.

Project Gutenberg
The first and largest single collection of free electronic books. From Karma Sutra to David Copperfield.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Eureka moment - Figure/Ground

Interesting how Eureka moments pop up quite unexpectedly! I was browsing Robert Motherwells work "Premonition Open, with Flesh over Gray" in the Bernard Jacobsons Gallery, Cork Street, London the other day.

I am vaguly familiar with Motherwell from an essay I wrote about Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. I have to confess I had dismissed his work as boringly repetitive. When you have seen three black lines in a variety of configurations painted on a coloured background the tenth version becomes repetitive if not boring! However I had only ever seen his work in books and on the internet and a bit like recorded music it is no substitute for the live performance.

Casually if not disinterestedly perusing Motherwells large canvases on the walls of said gallery I was suddenly aware of the subtly of these black painted lines. I could hear the monaural Yorkshire tones of Norman Travis ringing in my ears, preaching the theory of the figure ground relationship. There it was in graphic reality, Motherwells subtle smudges of background colour across the ubiquitous black lines immediately presents the dilemma, which came first the blackline or the smudge of orange? Which was figure, which was ground?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mall Galleries Exhibition - Update

Visited the Private View at the Mall Galleries, London on Monday 6th July to receive presentation of my runner up prize in the Daler Rowney " Make Your Mark" art competition.

The works were hung in conjunction with the RBA 7th National Students Art Exhibition. An interesting feature of the exhibition is that the work was displayed alongside work by members of the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA). My work was hung alongside a Peter Blake! How cool is that.

Update: Robin Dukes was kind enough to give me a mention in his column in the Blackpool Evening Gazette this evening.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fine Art Exhibition - 1st Year BA

Fine Art Exhibition by the 1st Year BA students from Blackpool Art School. At the Village Walks Art Spot, entrance off Queensway or from the entrance alongside the Post Office at the rear of Teanlowe Centre, Poulton le Fylde. The exhibition will run from 29th June to 31st July, Monday to Saturday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, entrance free.

A wide range of work from the end of year show. Artists exhibiting include Alistair Parker, Sue McAuley, Ann Charlesworth, Sue Godsiff, Claire Heaton, Anton Byrne-Carter and Rebecca Armitage.

Channel 4 Life Class: Today's Nude

For centuries, artists have taken inspiration from the naked body. From Leonardo da Vinci to Lucian Freud, life drawing has always been a way to understand the human form and ourselves.

Bringing life drawing to the masses Channel 4 is running a series of 5 programmes "Life Class: Todays Nude" starting 12.30pm, 6th July and for the next 4 days.

This week-long series gives viewers an opportunity to learn to draw through five half-hour nude life drawing classes, one a day, with access to a renowned artist tutor in each, Maggi Hambling, Humphry Ocean, Garry Hume, Judy Purbreck and John Berger.

The audience is invited to pick up a pencil and use the class to develop their skill or interest in drawing at any level.

Drop-in life-drawing classes are being organised in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Manchester and Southampton...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Mall Gallery Exhibition

I entered the Daler Rowney international art competition - Make Your Mark Competition way back in in October 08 and much to my amazement was placed as runner up! At long last I am about to receive the fruits of my endeavours. My work will be shown at The Mall Galleries, The Mall (You know where the Queen lives) London SW1 from Monday next 6th July till the 11th July and I am off the private view on Monday evening. My 1st Private view, so I am a little bit excited. You can find more information in the original post here.

The exhibition is being held in conjunction with the RBA 7th National Students Art Exhibition, so there should be some work woth a look.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

The film is shot over a period of 3 years following him as he leaves California, his home for the last 25 years, to return to his native Yorkshire to paint a very English countryside.

The film captures an extraordinary moment in Hockney's life and work as he approaches the age of 70 and captures his transcendence from a period of anti-photography in his work to post-photographic where he rediscovers what photography can lend to his work. Using interviews with Hockney and his sister Margaret, the film explores the more personal motives for his return and his homecoming coincides with a desire to re-invent his whole approach to oil painting, after a six-year break. He paints en plein air for the first time, out in the landscape, through the seasons and in all weathers.

IMAGINE David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, is on BBC1 30 June 10.35PM, a Coluga Pictures production. For more information go to and interesting video clips.

Daily Telegraph review.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fine Art Exhibition

Fine Art Exhibition by the 1st Year BA students from Blackpool Art School. At the Village Walks Art Spot, entrance off Queensway or from the entrance alongside the Post Office at the rear of Teanlowe Centre, Poulton le Fylde. The exhibition will run from 29th June to 31st July, Monday to Saturday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, entrance free.

A wide range of work from the end of year show. Artists exhibiting include Alistair Parker, Sue McAuley, Ann Charlesworth, Sue Godsiff, Claire Heaton, Anton Byrne-Carter and Rebecca Armitage.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Picasso Painting with Light

Looks like Picasso did light painting experiments in photography. Here's a gallery over at of his various light painting pictures.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Blackpool Art School Exhibition

'Variety'09', End of Year Exhibition at The Blackpool School of Art & Design, Palatine Road Campus Blackpool Lancashire FY1 4DW.

My work can be found in Year 1 Fine Art and Professional Practice Studio is on 1st Floor, top of stairs turn left. There will also be lots of really good stuff to see, Photography, Graphic Design etc etc. Foundation work can be seen at the Park Road site.

Private view 17th June 6-9pm General Public 10-4pm from the 18th-24th June

We hope to see you there!

Layers of History - Mixed Media

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Client From Hell

If you are thinking of setting up your own business you should watch this first!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Channel 4 programme - Faking It - Graffiti

A nostalgia trip. Remember the Channel 4 programme, "Faking It". Below is one about the impossible task of converting a country "Toff" into a Hip Hoppy "Graffer"! An interesting insight into the "Graffers" world.


Street Art Influences - Matt Small

Artists draw their inspiration from a wide range of influences and sources. I am finding myself drawn more and more to the vibrant dynamic Street and Urban Art scene, not to be confused with Graffiti, although they share the same platform and there is a considerable crossover of cultures.

Typically these influences include increasingly familiar names such as Dale Grimshaw, Guy Denning, Connor Harrington, artists whose' art now commands exciting prices.

In the course of one of my Street Art photographic forays, I came across Matt Small, he likes to call himself an artist and although he is unquestionably in the Urban/Street camp. For anyone who likes to experiment with their art, media and materials this guy is an exciting inspiration.

Matthew Small

Updated 15.05.17

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photoshop - Warping Text on a Circle

I am working on a digital imaging assignment at the moment which involves creating a design for a Windsock to be used as part of a public art installation on Blackpool south promenade.

One of the problems I have come across is creating text wrapped (warped) around a circle with a word at the top and another at the bottom of the circle. The word at the bottom the read left to right. I searched my Photoshop books and the Internet for a method, took me best part of a day. Part of the problem is the Warp Text tools in Photoshop don't quite do what you would expect them to do. I was about to give up when I came across a tutorial on YouTube by Chris Rose.

It is so easy when you know how and a picture (video) is worth a thousand words. Thanks Chris.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saatchi On-Line Showdown Submission

I have entered Red Umbrella in the Saatchi On-Line competition "Showdown". I need your help to vote for the work should you consider it worthy of your consideration. You can see the work and VOTE here. The work will be displayed between 9.3.09 and 16.3.09. Thanks in advance.

This is a piece from my Foundation panel. The work is created using a process I developed as part of my graduation project. Starting as a digitally manipulated photograph which is rendered as a series of inkjet prints which are tiled and transferred onto a gesso primed MDF board ground using an acrylic medium process. The process results in an individual image with a uniquely distressed appearance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Reality of Childhood

Following from the CS lecture of 16th February 09 about Reality and Representation, I relate an incident which happened to me that brought home some aspects of that lecture.

On Saturday morning my 3 year old grandson he asked me if I knew where his “pooma” was. What is a “pooma” I asked, my wife informed me that is was a snorkel and an AA battery which when used as an offensive weapon was accompanied by the onamatapia “poom” when fired, hence a to Joe a snorkel and a battery represents a "pooma".

So what has this to do with CS? I felt this incident brought together the whole subject of visual communication as defined by Shannon and Weaver, Pierce, Saussure and Barthes.

Here we appear to have practical example of Semiotics and Linguistics at work . The information being received by me and my grandson about these objects is clearly quite different. From the visual information, he sees something that looks rather like a weapon based on signifiers picked up from watching Power Rangers and playing with his friends and cousins. I of course know this to be a snorkel and a battery.

But to Joe a tube with a "handle", signifies a weapon (gun) and a small cylindrical object that will fit down the tube, signifies a “bullet/missile”.

Is this in Pierces terms a convention? The conventional use of these items is one, to aid breathing under water, two, a source of power. But to Joe his connotation of a tube loaded with an AA battery is quite an effective weapon, a "pooma"!

In the words of Bathes, Joe’s connotation of these items is quite different to mine. Not only that but he has developed his own code, I had no idea what a "poom" or a "pooma" were but I am sure his friends and cousins do. And my wife of course who is an expert in juvenile linguistics!

POOM ...........................ya dead!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Semiotics - Toilet Signage

Whilst researching images for an article on the Semiotics of symbol based signs I was looking for an image of a toilet sign. Little did I know what a can of worms I was opening. As a compulsive photographer of just about anything and everything. I have an unhealthy collection of toilet signs of which this is just one, from Marks and Spencer, Manchester. I want to know why little boys seem to be excluded!

However my searches revealed that I am not the only sad soul in the world there are others much sadder than I. In the interest of researching the fascinating subject of Semiotics here is a selection of the toilet sign sites signs I found............

Gender signs
Semiotics-Toilet signs
Toilet signs
Coolest toilet signs around the world

If you know of any others leave me a comment

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Marxists Internet Archive

From Barthes to Zola and much more the Marxists Internet Archive is a cornucopia of information on all Marx related subjects. A essential bookmark.

I discovered the site whilst searching for information about Roland Barthes, I found an interesting essay, "Elements of Semiology".

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Daler Rowney - Make Your Mark Competition

They say if you don't buy a ticket you can't win the raffle. In a moment of madness I entered the Daler Rowney - Make Your Mark Competition way back in in October 08, I received an email in January to say I had been short listed. I could not even remember entering, let alone what work I had entered! Apparently there were over 1400 entries.

Just discovered I was a runner up in the Education Section with a piece from my Foundation panel "The Three Faces of Blackpool".

The winner was a Turkish artist Engin Dogan with his painting "Mongol" (Obviously being PC isn't an issue in Turkey). My congratulations, it was a very accomplished portrait with a very distinctive contemporary style.

What did the winner get? Two nights in London and a day with acclaimed artist Annie Kevans. Plus a year's subscription of the Artist magazine. And work displayed in the Mall Gallery!

What did I win? Well I thought it was Zilch, but I have, since my initial posting, discovered that I will have my work displayed in the Mall Gallery in London, the home of the Federation of British Artists, for 7 days, from 5th to 11th July 2009. This will be accompanied by a national press launch, so I am well chuffed.

The Chairman of the judges was the internationally acclaimed artist Romeo di Girolamo, President Royal Society British Artists. The other three judges were Annie Kevans, Patrick Giraud CEO of Daler Rowney and Stephen Doherty, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines.

Romero di Girolamo said “This new competition demonstrates that art is thriving all over the world. The standard of entries was exceptionally high and to have entries from five continents means the competition is truly international. It was particularly pleasing to see so many entries from young people showing that art has a great future and is in safe hands. We hope the competition will inspire more people to paint and make their mark".

The Three Faces of Blackpool - Acrylic Transfer on Board



An article in Tuesdays Guardian (10.2.09) included, in the G2 supplement an item about the use of LEGO as a means of communication. In view of the CS lecture on Monday I thought this provides an interesting twist on the subject of "Symbol-based writing system".

The author, Christopher Niemann, an American born Illustrator and Photographer, currently based in Berlin, claims he came up with the idea for his LEGO symbols whilst trying to entertain his sons through the long winter evenings.

This is the link to the Guardian article and this is the link to Christopher Niemanns blog, Abstract City in the New York Times, the origin of the piece. This is just one of many LEGO symbols he has designed. There is now a huge following of fellow contributors to the symbol gallery.

Deconstructing and Advert

This full page advert for Standard Life SIPP Pensions appeared in the Sunday Times 1st Feb 09.

The text in the advertisement reads
"why should your money"
"Whether you dedicate your life to adventure, or just pack as much as possible into every single day, ............."

I have to confess that although I assumed the person in the advert was probably famous I did not recognise them immediately. They are obviously an outdoor type, with lean rugged features, stubbly beard, light coloured piercing eyes, wearing an anorak, age, from the look of the eyebrows (grey and wiry), about 55 to 60, probably the age group of the target customer. I later realised the subject was Ranaulph Fiennes.

The advert is one of three in the campaign. This one appeared on successive right hand pages with an almost identical advert which included an image (which I again did not recognise immediately) of Mariella Fostrop. The only difference between the adverts was a variation in the wording of the first sentence in the boiler plate copy:-

"Whether you dedicate your life to art and culture, or just make the most of every waking moment, ............."

The third personality is Marco Pierre White.


To me the message in this advert is confused. The strap line poses a statement which is ambiguous.

Will the message be diminished if you don't recognise the person in the advert? Will it be enhanced if you do?

Why don't they name the celebrity?

Is the male character intended to appeal to males or females and vica versa?

Will investing your money with Standard Life be an adventure? In the current economic climate, probably!

Why choose three celebrities? Why choose these particular celebrities?

The Standard Life website suggests the target audience is over 44! The age of the celebrities are; Fiennes 65, Foster 50. White 50!

Not sure why this image is duplicated!


Following on from my post of the 18/01/09 Post-Post-Modernism I was drawn to the title of the Tate Britain Triennial exhibition Alter-Modern which has just started. The exhibition claims Post-Modernism is dead! Does this mean we will not have to study it any more? Unfortunately they do not seem to be sure what has replaced it! The curator Nicholas Bourriard described as a French cultural theorist, coined the name "Alter-Modern" (see below) apparently it is written as Altermodern but I think it looks much more important with a hyphen! The curator an admirer of Baudrillard and Foucault defines the new "ism as follows:-

  • "Altermodernism can be defined as that moment when it became possible for us to produce something that made sense starting from an assumed heterochrony (Def: a developmental change in the timing of events), that is, from a vision of human history as constituted of multiple temporalities, disdaining the nostalgia for the avant-garde and indeed for any kind of era - a positive vision of chaos and complexity".
The exhibition includes work by 28 artists and is HUGE. Exhibits range from reading a copy of the Times at a desk to watching a Soft Porn video!

The Curator suggests that Post-Modernism endeavoured to answer the question "Where am I from?" "Altermodernism, thanks to the Internet, means we need no longer define ourselves within traditional boundaries. The artist is a wanderer, drifting about in space and time, drawing from a vast, fluid fund of collective ideas. And his or her work is far less about a single finished object than about continuing processes of development and connection in which one thing always seems to be leading to the next.

Nicholas Bourriard claims he invented the term Alter-Modern, I think not!
Alter-Modernism is a neologism (new word) attributed to Croatian writer Filip Erceg. It is apparently an analogy to the term Alterglobalism (a social movement that supports global cooperation and interaction) and is supposed to be an alternative to Post-Modernist nihilism (nothingness).

The critics appear to be unconvinced that this is the replacement for Post-Modernism. The Times are not even sure were the exhibition is being held, Tate Modern or Tate Britain, it is the later, from 3 Feb 09 to 26 April 09.

If the critics are not in favour that probably means it is worth seeing!

Semiotics !

Semiotics - Seen in my hotel bathroom!

Academic Language #2 - Ownership

In one of my earlier posts I remarked about my difficulty, as a member of the proletariat, coming to terms with academic language. Since then I have experienced significant exposure to this elitist form of communication during the researches for my essay.

One thing that now concerns me is, how do I know when this new found academic vocabulary becomes mine? I seem to recall someone in a CS lecture warning us not to use our own language in our essay. Because we did not know enough! I have to say I find myself constantly concerned that my writing simply paraphrases the words of others!

Academic Language

Critical Studies Essay December 08 - Reflections

Critical Studies Essay December 08
A belated reflection on the essay. At the time of writing I have not had my marks for the essay. I will have to reflect further on this post when I have.

The essay proved to be a marathon. Mainly due to my lack of initial planning. I quickly realised that in my panic to grab as much reference material as possible I became overloaded with information. Much of which I did not reference sufficiently well that I could go back to the source. Result was I lost focus, could not see the wood for the trees. I pulled myself together by reaffirming that although this was a research based essay, it was essentially a technical exercise and it was probably more important at this stage to get the structure and presentation right as come up with an earth shattering academic work. I am sure that is what Steve said!

I made the notes that in future I should stay more focussed, produce my thesis statement at an early stage, make sure my notes were clear and well referenced, make sure reading is relevant. Avoid being side tracked. Start the bibliography and reference collection from day one. I discovered a brilliant Word plug-in for collating citations, called Zotero.

As for the essay, I think my technical structure is OK but I am not so sure about the actual essay structure. I feel my conclusion may prove to be a major weakness, too short! Time will tell.

Just need to wait and see if my thoughts prove to be correct. Grade ? C+?????

Jackson Pollock at work

Jackson Pollock at work - the main focus of my essay

13 photographs that changed the world

"Omaha Beach, Normandy, France" Robert Capa, 1944

This post may be a little late for some. I would assume that many of these images could have been the subject of the last essay assignment, for the photographers anyway.

The photographs are aggregated and commented on on Neatorama's blog.

Possibly the most interesting part of the post are the comments suggesting other images which could have been included.

How many more could you add to the list?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stretcher Bars

If you are going to be stretching your own canvases there are a number of options, from the local wood yard to the College MDF strtechers. Personally I find MDF too heavy for large canvases and not only that it is not as stable as you my think. MDF will bend if your canvas is a bit tight.

One of the cheapest places I have found for stretchers is They have a wide range of sizes and qualities at very reasonable prices. Certainly cheaper than going to the local wood yard.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sketchbooks Part 1

This semester we are looking at sketchbook compilation and construction. In this Video Norman Travers explains to the group three different styles of exemplar sketchbooks from past foundation students. The emphasis here is on drawing.

Here are some shots of pages from the scrap books to give you an clearer idea of the content. Click on the image to enlarge.

In the two pages above, this idea of breaking an image down into small sections and then redrawing, painting, recreating them was used as one of the exercises in the 2nd Drawing assignment. In this sketchbook the author used the work of artist Marlene Dumas as inspiration.

I acknowledge the copyright of the authors of the work shown, Norman Long, Catherine Mortimer and Ian Rothwell.

How To Deconstruct Almost Anything

I came across this article last year when searching for info on Post-Modernism. A rediscovered it yesterday when searching for stuff on "De-construction". It is such a great piece of writing that I make no apologies for ripping it in its entirety for this blog. Partly to ensure its posterity, the Internet being what it is, the original article has already disappeared into Cyberspace once apparently. With respect to Chip Morningstar (What a great name)!

How To Deconstruct Almost Anything

My Postmodern Adventure

by Chip Morningstar
June 1993

"Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right."
-- Donald Norman

This is the story of one computer professional's explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway, here is my tale.

It started when my colleague Randy Farmer and I presented a paper at the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 1991. Like the first conference, at which we also presented a paper, it was an aggressively interdisciplinary gathering, drawing from fields as diverse as computer science, literary criticism, engineering, history, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and political science. About the only relevant field that seemed to lack strong representation was economics (an important gap but one which we don't have room to get into here). It was in turn stimulating, aggravating, fascinating and infuriating, a breathtaking intellectual roller coaster ride unlike anything else I've recently encountered in my professional life. My last serious brush with the humanities in an academic context had been in college, ten years earlier. The humanities appear to have experienced a considerable amount of evolution (or perhaps more accurately, genetic drift) since then.

Randy and I were scheduled to speak on the second day of the conference. This was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to recalibrate our presentation based on the first day's proceedings, during which we discovered that we had grossly mischaracterized the audience by assuming that it would be like the crowd from the first conference. I spent most of that first day furiously scribbling notes. People kept saying the most remarkable things using the most remarkable language, which I found I needed to put down in writing because the words would disappear from my brain within seconds if I didn't. Are you familiar with the experience of having memories of your dreams fade within a few minutes of waking? It was like that, and I think for much the same reason. Dreams have a logic and structure all their own, falling apart into unmemorable pieces that make no sense when subjected to the scrutiny of the conscious mind. So it was with many of the academics who got up to speak. The things they said were largely incomprehensible. There was much talk about deconstruction and signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not "narrative". There was much quotation from Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Saussure, and the like, every single word of which was impenetrable. I'd never before had the experience of being quite this baffled by things other people were saying. I've attended lectures on quantum physics, group theory, cardiology, and contract law, all fields about which I know nothing and all of which have their own specialized jargon and notational conventions. None of those lectures were as opaque as anything these academics said. But I captured on my notepad an astonishing collection of phrases and a sense of the overall tone of the event.

We retreated back to Palo Alto that evening for a quick rewrite. The first order of business was to excise various little bits of phraseology that we now realized were likely to be perceived as Politically Incorrect. Mind you, the fundamental thesis of our presentation was Politically Incorrect, but we wanted people to get upset about the actual content rather than the form in which it was presented. Then we set about attempting to add something that would be an adequate response to the postmodern lit crit-speak we had been inundated with that day. Since we had no idea what any of it meant (or even if it actually meant anything at all), I simply cut-and-pasted from my notes. The next day I stood up in front of the room and opened our presentation with the following:

The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.

This bit of nonsense was constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so which are a pastiche of Danny Kaye's "flagon with the dragon" bit from The Court Jester, contributed by our co-worker Gayle Pergamit, who took great glee in the entire enterprise. Observing the audience reaction was instructive. At first, various people started nodding their heads in nods of profound understanding, though you could see that their brain cells were beginning to strain a little. Then some of the techies in the back of the room began to giggle. By the time I finished, unable to get through the last line with a straight face, the entire room was on the floor in hysterics, as by then even the most obtuse English professor had caught on to the joke. With the postmodernist lit crit shit thus defused, we went on with our actual presentation.

Contrary to the report given in the "Hype List" column of issue #1 of Wired ("Po-Mo Gets Tek-No", page 87), we did not shout down the postmodernists. We made fun of them.

Afterward, however, I was left with a sense that I should try to actually understand what these people were saying, really. I figured that one of three cases must apply. It could be that there was truly some content there of value, once you learned the lingo. If this was the case, then I wanted to know what it was. On the other hand, perhaps there was actually content there but it was bogus (my working hypothesis), in which case I wanted to be able to respond to it credibly. On the third hand, maybe there was no content there after all, in which case I wanted to be able to write these clowns off without feeling guilty that I hadn't given them due consideration.

The subject that I kept hearing about over and over again at the conference was deconstruction. I figured I'd start there. I asked my friend Michael Benedikt for a pointer to some sources. I had gotten to know Michael when he organized the First International Conference on Cyberspace. I knew him to be a person with a foot in the lit crit camp but also a person of clear intellectual integrity who was not a fool. He suggested a book called On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler. I got the book and read it. It was a stretch, but I found I could work my way through it, although I did end up with the most heavily marked up book in my library by the time I was done. The Culler book lead me to some other things, which I also read. And I started subscribing to alt.postmodern and now actually find it interesting, much of the time. I can't claim to be an expert, but I feel I've reached the level of a competent amateur. I think I can explain it. It turns out that there's nothing to be afraid of.

We engineers are frequently accused of speaking an alien language, of wrapping what we do in jargon and obscurity in order to preserve the technological priesthood. There is, I think, a grain of truth in this accusation. Defenders frequently counter with arguments about how what we do really is technical and really does require precise language in order to talk about it clearly. There is, I think, a substantial bit of truth in this as well, though it is hard to use these grounds to defend the use of the term "grep" to describe digging through a backpack to find a lost item, as a friend of mine sometimes does. However, I think it's human nature for members of any group to use the ideas they have in common as metaphors for everything else in life, so I'm willing to forgive him.

The really telling factor that neither side of the debate seems to cotton to, however, is this: technical people like me work in a commercial environment. Every day I have to explain what I do to people who are different from me -- marketing people, technical writers, my boss, my investors, my customers -- none of whom belong to my profession or share my technical background or knowledge. As a consequence, I'm constantly forced to describe what I know in terms that other people can at least begin to understand. My success in my job depends to a large degree on my success in so communicating. At the very least, in order to remain employed I have to convince somebody else that what I'm doing is worth having them pay for it.

Contrast this situation with that of academia. Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don't really count. Graduate students are studying to be professors themselves and so are already part of the in-crowd. Undergraduate students rarely get a chance to close the feedback loop, especially at the so called "better schools" (I once spoke with a Harvard professor who told me that it is quite easy to get a Harvard undergraduate degree without ever once encountering a tenured member of the faculty inside a classroom; I don't know if this is actually true but it's a delightful piece of slander regardless). They publish in peer reviewed journals, which are not only edited by their peers but published for and mainly read by their peers (if they are read at all). Decisions about their career advancement, tenure, promotion, and so on are made by committees of their fellows. They are supervised by deans and other academic officials who themselves used to be professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They rarely have any reason to talk to anybody but themselves -- occasionally a Professor of Literature will collaborate with a Professor of History, but in academic circles this sort of interdisciplinary work is still considered sufficiently daring and risqué as to be newsworthy.

What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected. What's more, it's not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right, clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in for flavoring from time to time.

Thus it is not surprising that it takes a bit of detective work to puzzle out what is going on. But I've been on the case for a while now and I think I've identified most of the guilty suspects. I hope I can spare some of my own peers the inconvenience and wasted time of actually doing the legwork themselves (though if you have an inclination in that direction I recommend it as a mind stretching departure from debugging C code).

The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all. The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories. "Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gödel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.

Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:

Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This is called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text. In fact, this can be a very useful thing to do, since it leaves the critic with broad discretion to define what it means to "read" it and thus a great deal of flexibility in interpretation. It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature. However, the choice of text is actually one of the less important decisions you will need to make, since points are awarded on the basis of style and wit rather than substance, although more challenging works are valued for their greater potential for exercising cleverness. Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence. For example, let's deconstruct the phrase, "John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual."

Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want, although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This is called "reading". I will read our example phrase as saying that John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual.

Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort. This can be either something which is described or referred to by the text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla, etc. In the case of our example, the obvious duality to pick is homosexual/heterosexual, though a really clever person might be able to find something else.

Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it. Programmers and computer scientists may find the concept of a hierarchy consisting of only two elements to be a bit odd, but this appears to be an established tradition in literary criticism. Continuing our example, we can claim homophobia on the part of the society in which this sentence was uttered and therefor assert that it presumes superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality.

Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which amounts to the same thing). This is really the tricky part and is the key to the whole exercise. Pulling this off successfully may require a variety of techniques, though you get more style points for some techniques than for others. Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from puns, and a variety of other word games. You are allowed to use the word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).

You get maximum style points for being French. Since most of us aren't French, we don't qualify for this one, but we can still score almost as much by writing in French or citing French sources. However, it is difficult for even the most intense and unprincipled American academician writing in French to match the zen obliqueness of a native French literary critic. Least credit is given for a clear, rational argument which makes its case directly, though of course that is what I will do with our example since, being gainfully employed, I don't have to worry about graduation or tenure. And besides, I'm actually trying to communicate here. Here is a possible argument to go with our example:

It is not generally claimed that John F. Kennedy was a homosexual. Since it is not an issue, why would anyone choose to explicitly declare that he was not a homosexual unless they wanted to make it an issue? Clearly, the reader is left with a question, a lingering doubt which had not previously been there. If the text had instead simply asked, "Was John F. Kennedy a homosexual?", the reader would simply answer, "No." and forget the matter. If it had simply declared, "John F. Kennedy was a homosexual.", it would have left the reader begging for further justification or argument to support the proposition. Phrasing it as a negative declaration, however, introduces the question in the reader's mind, exploiting society's homophobia to attack the reputation of the fallen President. What's more, the form makes it appear as if there is ongoing debate, further legitimizing the reader's entertainment of the question. Thus the text can be read as questioning the very assertion that it is making.

Of course, no real deconstruction would be like this. I only used a single paragraph and avoided literary jargon. All of the words will be found in a typical abridged dictionary and were used with their conventional meanings. I also wrote entirely in English and did not cite anyone. Thus in an English literature course I would probably get a D for this, but I already have my degree so I don't care.

Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.

That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice. This is mainly due to the genetic drift phenomenon I mentioned earlier, resulting in the intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers, although I suspect that the need for enough material to fill up a degree program plays a part as well. The best way to learn, of course, is to try to do it yourself. First you need to read some real lit crit to get a feel for the style and the jargon. One or two volumes is all it takes, since it's all pretty much the same (I advise starting with the Culler book the way I did). Here are some ideas for texts you might try to deconstruct, once you are ready to attempt it yourself, graded by approximate level of difficulty:


Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
this article
James Cameron's The Terminator
issue #1 of Wired
anything by Marx


Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
the Book of Genesis
Francois Truffaut's Day For Night
The United States Constitution
Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock
anything by Foucault


Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene
the Great Pyramid of Giza
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
the Macintosh user interface
Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco
anything by Derrida

Tour de Force:

James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
the San Jose, California telephone directory
IRS Form 1040
the Intel i486DX Programmer's Reference Manual
the Mississippi River
anything by Baudrillard

So, what are we to make of all this? I earlier stated that my quest was to learn if there was any content to this stuff and if it was or was not bogus. Well, my assessment is that there is indeed some content, much of it interesting. The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks. The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.

Looking at the field of contemporary literary criticism as a whole also yields some valuable insights. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred. The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality. Deconstruction is an idea that would make a worthy topic for some bright graduate student's Ph.D. dissertation but has instead spawned an entire subfield. Ideas that would merit a good solid evening or afternoon of argument and debate and perhaps a paper or two instead become the focus of entire careers.

Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity. The constraints of the physical world and the actual needs and wants of the actual population have provided a grounding that is difficult to dodge. However, in academia the pressures for isolation are enormous. It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and don't let them intimidate you.