My current practice explores autonomous ongoing projects which focus on my interest in the cultural representation, position and attitude towards those outside of the heteronormative mass with an interest in the implications of citizenship and its influence on navigation and memory of the urban environment I augment and re-contextualise various sites and objects by allocating them with new meaning or significance often through drawing, photography and intervention. This interest includes The Pansy Project an ongoing process that involves the planting of pansies at various sites of homophobic abuse. A pansy is planted at the site of a homophobic attack; each location is named after the abuse then posted on my website with further reflection posted on The Pansy Project Blog. Occasional large scale interventions, photographic documentation sculptural assemblage and drawing act as components of exhibition which have been included in various festivals and projects world-wide. Existing for five years the project continues to develop and explore the notion of memory, urban experience and violence from an autobiographical viewpoint. Another experimental stream of my practice is the personification of Coco LaVerne a fictional 'female' incarnation who writes a satirical blog, this 'performative' writing takes inspiration from mainstream media and is intended to critique and observe the representation of society within popular culture. Originated as light relief from the occasionally harrowing Pansy Project the blog has garnered a world-wide following, Coco LaVerne has been described as “An Acid Tongued Glamazon” and as a “Controversial Blogger!” and was nominated for 'Best New Blog' at the Manchester Blog Awards. The imagery and personae of Coco LaVerne is promoted through on-line social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. I have been involved with various curatorial projects including Apartment which was an artist led space ran from my one bedroom council flat in central Manchester a space directed with Hilary Jack which showed various international artists over a period of five years.
When the above memorial was revealed at Bletchley Park there was some controversy focusing on the lack of information regarding Alan Turing’s homosexuality with calls from various activists to augment the text accompanying the memorial to properly place Turing in ‘gay history’.
Whilst browsing the various posts on Turing it is interesting to note that the level of detail regarding his sexuality varies greatly. Some say “he was believed to be homosexual” others refrain from commenting on the nature of Turing’s personal life and death at all. Do these omissions represent a version of homophobia?
It’s tempting to believe that the reason for this partial cultural invisibility is in part due to Turing’s sexuality; a heteronormative society promotes and celebrates a particular version of masculinity. A brilliant scientist and thoughtful gay mans contribution to the war effort doesn’t tally with the traditional viewing of a macho war hero.
Though I believe there is a responsibility to celebrate the great in all fields irrespective of sexuality. It is interesting to note that a recent poll of gay men and their heroes neglected to mention Alan Turing at all, instead the majority of ‘heroes’ focused on popular culture ‘icons’, for more read here. This perhaps reveals as much about gay culture as it does a wider societal disinterest in politics and history. My research continues.
Post ‘Ruinous Recollections’ preview at Upper Space Gallery I have been reflecting on the way the work outlined below functioned within an exhibition context. During the opening I found myself introducing the work, each piece became an illustrative tool to illuminate the story of Alan Turing and the symbolism of the apple. Many but not all of the people attending the exhibition had heard of Alan Turing, so I found myself as storyteller, explaining the legacy of Turing and his importance to history. One fascinating aspect of the proceedings was the level at which Turing features in local urban legend. Many were aware of the statue in Sackville Gardens but were vague about the specificities of its meaning, I attempted to reveal as much about what I've learned of Turing as possible to as many people as possible and throughout this process I found myself repeating the same phrases and seeing similar expressions on the faces of the audience. Most where fascinated by the association with the Apple-Mac logo and its link with Alan Turings suicide, as I was. Most like me appeared to be intrigued by the symbolism of the apple throughout history. It occurs to that there is an association between the symbolism of the apple in this case and the propensity for urban legend in oral histories.
So as with The Pansy Project which explores the symbolism of the pansy and its ability to instigate discussion on homophobia, I seem to be adopting similar strategies with the apple and the Alan Turing narrative. This strategy is accompanied by an oral contribution, where the symbolism is used to illustrate and explain. This performative element within my work is apparently an intrinsic component. This ‘work in progress’ show has clarified for me the need to place the apples over the statue of Alan Turing, and the necessity for me to be on hand to explain the project to the passerby.
Perhaps most profoundly for me, I seem drawn to acting as ambassador for Alan Turing, as I do for the experience of homophobia with The Pansy Project. I tended to correct some of the misconceptions about his story. I was keen to emphasis his openness about his sexuality despite the illegality of this at the time. I referenced some of the humour in his letters included in Andrew Hodges book. Apparently my main drive was to depict the man as a complex and positive figure in history despite the tragedy of his story. On this point I am reminded of Richard Dyer’s book ‘The Culture of Queers’, in the chapter ‘Coming Out as Going in’ – The Image of the Homosexual as Sad Young Man’ Dyer explores the propensity for culture to present gay men as tragic figures, from fifties film stars such as Dirk Bogarde (top) and Montgomery Clift to the 19th Century Romantic Poets. On this I am inclined to focus on Alan Turing as tragic figure verses scientific genius and the link this has with the ideology of the struggling artist and the many contemporary versions of gayness. My research continues.
The main focus of my interest is the memorial to Alan Turing placed in
I recently passed the statue and was interested to note the intervention/vandalism that had occurred on the Turing memorial. The above image shows that some park visitors had placed a Manchester United hat on the head of the memorial, and stuffed a Manchester Evening News under its arm. There were also condoms placed at various points on the monument, they had been blown up and filled with a white fluid; unlikely it seems to be the fluid they were designed to contain. The next day the statue was back to its old self; so no permanent ‘damage’. It seems unlikely that the people responsible were intending to make a comment with the assemblage though it is interesting to note the perhaps unwitting significance of their choice of object. It could be said that the use of
I have also chosen to focus on the symbolism of the apple and the ambiguity surrounding Turing’s death widely believed to be with a cyanide laced apple. This dramatic story seems to have over shadowed the man so I wanted to explore a way of reinvigorating the monument by perhaps focusing on the apple and its apparent ability to dominate the story of Alan Turing. I have attempted to explore and subvert the apples contribution to Alan Turings biography and hope to use it to promote further interest in this significant Manchester Figure. My research continues….
‘please take one’ is a collage illustrating a proposed intervention that will completely cover the Alan Turing memorial with apples. The apples placed over the statue will create a temporary intervention, the apples used will then be given away to passers by, as they walk on they will carry these symbols of Turing throughout the locality walking the streets that Turing once did. When the apples are removed the memorial will be re-seen reviving the statue, throughout the process discussion will surround the location of the memorial. (Sackville Gardens was selected due to its position in-between The Gay Village and UMIST (as was) which continue to be locations still connected with those most associated by Turings legacy). The apple, initially seeming to mask the story of the man, conceals then reveals the memorial.
‘Poisoned Apples’ the two bowls of apples present a possible solution to the reading of the installation placed in the gardens. I intend to create some form of accompaniment to the apples being given out. My initial feeling was that I would enjoy handing out apples to passers-by to eat whilst they hear or read about Turing and his suicide with a poisoned apple. Though I struggled with an efficient way of attaching this symbolism or meaning to the apple which would not visually detract from the installation, I settled on the skull and cross bone ‘sticker’ as a symbol of poison or toxicity, it is an instantly recognisable marker that without words communicates fatal danger. This simple augmentation then transforms the apple from humble fruit to possible danger and sums up the story of Turing’s suicide I especially enjoy the juxtaposition of these two recognisable motifs and note there appropriateness and resonances with the ‘Forbidden Fruit’ and ‘Snow White’ mythologies. My research continues…