The full programme for the sites
of his Journey to the Surface of the Earth, Which Mark Boyle formulate
in 1970 quoted at the beginning of this book (pp. 11-14) has not yet been
realised at any of the sites he visited. He is still only able to present
parts of his programme from each of the World Series sites where he and
his family have been working. Thus, when he was invited to be the British
representative at the 1978 Venice Biennale, it seemed important to realise
and publish the complete 'multi-sensual presentation' of at least one
of the World Series sites.
The first ideas was to complete the programme for the site at Bergheim,
because that seemed to be the best documented one. However in the end
he decided to work on a new site and after various considerations he chose
from the locations marked on his world map the site in Sardinia. His plan
was to give the presentations of that site a central place in the Venice
This decision was taken under very difficult personal circumstances. As
usual he had given himself and his family a heavy task. In the circumstances
of that winter and spring it seemed an almost hopeless task. Once again
a full realisation of his programme turned out to be impossible. Yet he
came nearer to it than ever before and brought from Sardinia a lot of
splendid new works, which became the centre piece of his exhibition at
the British Pavilion in Venice.
This book ends with these presentations from the Sardinian site and with
what Mark Boyle wrote to me about their realisation shortly after the
opening of the Biennale.
'And, of course, I think maybe you don't realise the extent to which an
artist's work interacts with his life, even when he's not really concerned
with trying to produce art but just trying to be as truthful as possible.
Exhibitions don't just emerge from the walls. It's not like that old myth
about people going to the office and leaving their life behind. I don't
think anybody does that. Everybody's life and work are hopelessly intermingled.
And in our case it's more so because of the way we work together. Perhaps
I should do a piece about the setting up and making of one World Series
piece and about exhibiting it. Its not at all typical. But then nothing
is typical. And people will only begin to understand what is happening
to them when we all pool our untypical experiences. For example, as you
know, when we heard about the Venice Biennale, we'd only just been told
that Joan was extremely ill. And over the following weeks we gradually
realised that the message that was coming across with the kindness and
the optimism and the tactful silences was that Joan was going to die.
It was a couple of days after that Gerald Forty rang and said that we
had been selected to represent Britain at Venice. So, of course, our work
Everything in our lives was affected. Joan existed in the midst of a dangerous
calm. I was sick with grief and fear. I was frightened of the pain she
would have to suffer and my own inadequacy when it came to dishing out
comfort. And I was frightened of the loneliness after so many years of
being with this lady, loving, making love and being love. It was impossible
to make any plans or arrangements or even decisions for a long time it
was even impossible to discuss possible course of action. For instance,
there was the question of Venice. If we were going to do it we were going
to be involved in a lot of gruelling work. I couldn't even suggest it
under the circumstances. But equally, after years of working together,
sharing the labour and the research and the decisions, it was impossible
for me to run round and propose that I should go off and try to do the
work on my own, or with the children or with other people, immediately
it looked as though Joan might not make it.
Anyway, one morning last October, she suddenly said to me, "You know Venice?"
"Well", she said "We're going to do that Biennale, and I'm going to be
there". A flood of decisions followed. W more or less sorted out our lives,
past, present and future over a cup of tea. First of all, we decided that
we should stay with the children and that we should not be separated.
Secondly, we decided that in spite of Venice and the pressures to the
contrary, we should still do the show at Felicity's and the museum shows
at Oslo and Lucerne, as promised. Then we decided with one single exception,
to drop all our other interests and to spend the next ten months working
on new pieces. The single exception was that I had shortly before been
put on the Art Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and had immediately
started a campaign to get artists paid for Arts Council sponsored exhibitions
in Britain. We decided that I should go on trying to force this through.
The meetings of committees and sub-committee went on and on.
In the meantime, Joan, Georgie, Sebastian and I started to make plans.
The consuming passion of our lives has been the world Series. It's a huge
rambling project involving a thousand random locations all over the world.
When people ask me how I can possibly get it all done, I usually give
them the old yarn my father used to tell me about the 94 year old recidivist
being sentenced for larceny at Glasgow Sheriff Court, and the judge says,
"I am sick of having you come up in front of me. Always the same faces,
same offences. This has got to stop. I sentence you to 12 years preventive
detention". And the old man stands there shaking and weeping. "AW yer
'onour", he says. "
I'm 94, I'll never do it". "Never mind", says the judge, beaming kindly,
"Do as much of it as you can".
But the truth is that the question of whether it's possible to complete
a thousand sites or not, is not the important one for me. It seems to
me that if transport develops in the next thirty years at the same rate
it has in the last thirty, then it might well be possible given improvements
in the materials available to us, which is constant, and the ever shifting
political situation, some of the difficulties begin to fade. When we started
the project in 1968, the major difficulty people saw was getting into
Red China. Now even the President of the United States has been there.
But the real issue as far as I am concerned is whether I will be able
in my lifetime to deal with even one of these locations perfectly or even
adequately if that's not the same thing. I have never claimed to be an
artist. To make such a claim seems irrelevant. In any case the decision
about what is or is not art may become one of the few really democratic
decisions that are made, because it is not just the people of one generation
that make the decision, but generation after generation stretching into
the future. I suppose if I'd been to art school and passed my exams I
might have a diploma that would entitle me to claim that I was an artist,
but as it is, I can only say that it seems to me that an artist is a pretty
desirable thing to be. But there is one link that I can recognise between
us and the broad stream of artists I most admire over the centuries. I
believe that all of them were occupied with the same problem that I have,
I would like to make something that is perfect.
Maybe it would be easier to get what I mean by perfect, if I tell you
that when we were working on Cambers Sands on the Tidal Series, we became
conscious that when a crowd gathered around the square where we were working,
they caused the sand within the square to shift a little. Our work attracted
the crowd, therefore our working site was spoiling our work on the site.
Then we realised that even our own movements in the vicinity affected
the sand within the square, so we would move as gently as we could around
our piece. But as time went by, we worked night and day on the beach,
and as we worked we learnt to see the beach more and more, and we realised
what an incredible phenomenon this beach was. After each tide for a week,
the area within the square was different. Not just different, but entirely
different. And we realised that that was just fourteen tides in just one
week. There were fifty two weeks in a year and after every tide the beach
was entirely different and there were millions of years. After a very
short time, everywhere we went, on miles and miles of beach, we were all
putting our feet down as softly as possible. And it's in the light of
that veneration really, that we develop for a site, that we judge the
success or failure of our work. The original site is always perfect. And
that's the thing we're after. I have to admit that we also tend to be
very irreverent about each location, because otherwise it would be impossible
to have the nerve ever to get started. But at the end, after all the traumas
and disasters, the days of peaceful contented labour, the cursing and
driving and forcing and making it happen, there w are one day standing
in a line in the wreckage of fibreglass, wood, brushes, plastic buckets,
tools and polyester, and we're looking for the first time at the finished
piece. And there's a long silence. And then someone says, "Well, we got
that mossy bit anyway", and Joan says, "It was that damp patch with the
bird's footprints that I was worried about, and that's fine". And actually
we all know it looks terrific and everyone gets very excited and keeps
on discovering more and more things to exclaim about and saying, "Really,
it just couldn't be better". And someone suggests a cup of tea, and we
all stand there drinking our tea remembering the original site and looking
at the new piece and each one of us knows that it could be better.
The problem is always the same. I have to learn to see. Everything in
our society directs us to avoid seeing. From earliest childhood we build
up enormous complexes of filter systems that are designed to stop us seeing
anything as it is. Perhaps these accretions of scales before the eyes
are essential for our survival. Perhaps the world is really so brilliant
that with no filters we would be unable to work because we would walk
around in such wonder. Perhaps the sensations about us are so strong that
if our senses were not dulled, the experience of walking down the street
would be exquisite we couldn't bear it. Perhaps without the filters we
could really feel something gets hit by a drunken driver. Or people are
terrorised by huge vicious thugs who bully and terrorise their street,
or whatever. Perhaps if we could really feel something of what happens
we would have to act to stop it. Or perhaps we would just on and on screaming
and vomiting with the pain and horror of it such that we would be unable
to act in any other way.
I remember having to hide the papers from Joan if there was a story of
as house being burnt down or anything painful happening anywhere to children,
because she would just break down and weep uncontrollably. If people found
themselves unable to work at their jobs because they'd read about a disaster
in the morning paper, we'd say they were pretty disturbed. But how can
a normal sensitive human being read about a child being caught in the
cross fire between Government thugs and anti-Government thugs, or maimed
by a drunken motorist or something?? How can they just take all that on
board and then just go about their everyday affairs, saying "Nice day!",
to the ticket collector and joking with the switchboard operator?
My guess is filters have to be. I am trying to be one person who tries
to learn to see without them, at least for some of the time. This is another
link I like to see between myself and other artists whom I admire today,
and stretching away back into the past. The difficulty is that as you
learn to see more, you find that there's more and more to see. The problem
increases with a geometric progression, so that in fact the more you teach
yourself to see, the more you learn you are unable to see. This is really
at the centre of our journey to the surface of the earth. It would be
marvellous to do as much of it as we can, but it would be magic even just
once, to get something absolutely right.
In a sense the World Series was a real shock to us. We had no idea on
it what it would entail. At the simplest level we found our techniques
completely inadequate. For example, when we arrived in Den Haag in Holland
to make the first of our world pieces, we discovered our techniques for
making vertical sections was pathetic. We made the piece, but when we
got back to London, we decided to teach ourselves to make vertical sections
property. So we set ourselves a project which involved the most difficult
vertical sections: to make a series of studies of vertical cuts at regular
intervals through a ten year old refuse fire site, in our own back yard.
And the ash and everything was so fragile, but you could see where leaves
had been burned because there was a black strata line. So we reckoned
that each black line represented an Autumn and the spaces in between the
lines represented encapsulated years and you could see the charred bits
and pieces that had been thrown out. There were ten black strata lines
and the guy who lived below us reckoned that the rubbish had been burnt
on that site for ten years.
In the same way gradually, over the years we taught ourselves how to make
pieces involving sand, rock, mud, snow, ice, cliffs, ash, scarps, walls,
trees, moss, chemicals, insects, social organisms, and our own bodies.
There are still two areas of almost total failure. Our technique still
kills off almost all plant life on a site, and we have not yet succeeded
in casting water in movement. But we're still beginners. We had several
times to transform our techniques complete for making the earth pieces
on transform our techniques completely for making the earth pieces on
fibreglass, to meet different conditions and to make them less ponderous.
When techniques are too heavy or too difficult they become in themselves
a hindrance to work, and a constant temptation towards distortion. I wanted
to develop a technique that was so fluent and simple that there would
be no barrier between thought and execution. In this we have so far failed.
We still sweat and our fingers bleed on each piece. We found ourselves
using photography, 16 mm film, microphotography, electron-microphotograph,
density photography, electroencephalograms, cytograms, and gradually we
have developed the ability to cope with most of our programme.
And then, on this question of communication and so on, I would like to
state, as categorically as a man in a condition of adamant doubt can,
that, in our work together wince the earliest times, we have not been
interested in communicating anything to anyone. Most particularly, we
believe that except in an emergency, a deliberate attempt by us to change
people's perception would be an arrogant intrusion. Propaganda is no part
of our function. All we are trying to do is to teach ourselves to see.
We are still at a very early stage in our development. Occasionally, to
survive, we make some part of our work public. But we feel that we have
only just got ourselves property started, we haven't even worked out the
implications of our proposals yet, and certainly, we are in no position
to preach to anyone else.
All this time we had had no time to think about anything very coherently.
Joan was going for endless tests at the Hospital, and we were all driving
ahead with the preparations for the show at Felicity's. At the opening
everyone seemed to have heard about our selection for Venice, and we were
besieged with congratulations. We had told Sebastian and Georgia about
Joan's illness that day. Once again we were in this curious state of having
to perform joy and gladness whilst feeling absolutely desolate inside.
At one point I went over to Joan and asked how she was. She said, "I'm
feeling fine but my cheeks are sore with smiling so much". We had a little
hug in the corner of the gallery.
Then there was a meeting of the Art Panel at which my plan to get artists
paid for exhibitions in publicly sponsored galleries came under quite
strong attack. It was clear to me that most people saw the justice of
it, but were worried about the practicality. They were looking for a precedent.
I said that the thing that made Britain a marvellous country to live in
was that until very recently people had not been afraid of setting precedents;
but that there seemed to have been some kind of massive loss of confidence
among the people running things, and I suggested to them that they had
to make up their minds about what was right, and then to do it....
We were going to Venice to look at the space in the British Pavilion.
Before we went I called to see Gerald Forty and told him about Joan's
illness. He was deeply sympathetic. I said that she had decided whatever
happened were to go ahead with the show and that she wanted to work with
me all the way on the new pieces. We agreed that we would plan a show
of existing works to fill the pavilion, in case everything became impossible;
but Joan, Sebastian and Georgia and I would try to make part of our world
Series project in time for the Biennale.
The entire Po Valley was filled with cloud as we flew into Venice. We
have never become blase world weary travellers and always fall delightedly
into every tourist trap that's waiting. Even so, I got a bit angry, under
the circumstances, when the taxi drivers, to a man, refused to take us
to the hotel. I didn't understand Italian and was infuriated by the way
they kept laughing at me. Then suddenly I understood. They couldn't take
us. Of course you have to everywhere by boat.... there are no motor cars.
And then of course that trip down the Grand Canal with these ancient palaces
appearing one after the other out of the thick white fog.
Julian and Barbel Andrews arrived at the hotel. They energetically look
after the British Council's affairs in Northern Italy. We all set off
for the Biennale Gardens. The pavilions, mostly stone, deep in fog and
fallen leaves, each one inscribed with the name of its country, came into
view out of the gloom, closed and shuttered in their setting of bare trees.
Hungary, Israel, Rumania, Germany, The United States, Holland, Norway,
Switzerland, France, in that dank setting of decay, it was like a parable
of the end of the world. Peeling paint, broken masonry. Finally, up a
long flight of shattered stone steps to the British Pavilion. It was beautiful,
the light was sort of ethereal, it was a marvellous space and it was totally
daunting. We came away excited but appalled. After a marvellous supper,
Julian said they found that on their first visit to Venice people usually
like to be left alone together. We could not have known how right he was.
There weren't many visitors around, and those that were all seemed to
be lovers. We kept coming across them huddled in pairs around the stoves
and pizza ovens of hundreds of cafes and restaurants. And I suppose they
kept coming across us. We returned several times to the Biennale Gardens
to think again and measure up. Mostly we just walked down the alleys,
over the bridges and alongside the canals of that magic city.
The buildings and people were isolated by water and fog so that everything
seemed to take place against a white background. It was like living in
a Japanese water colour. And we wandered swathed in fog and one another's
arms throughout those days and evenings, talking about our marvellous
children, and the past and our luck in having met, and about Venice and
our work and Joan's death and what we would have to do. We reviewed our
lives and we discussed our work, we worked out what we should do about
the children and our parents. We were very close together, never far away
from tears and we loved one another very deeply. And Joan told me how
she wanted to die. She said, "I'm going to go to Den Haag, rent a room,
leave a letter for Hans Locher asking him to cremate me and die there
alone". When I said to her, "You cant' do that to people who love you",
she said it was her death. I felt I had no right to interfered but I was
shocked that I begged her to stay with us, and she said, "Look, I don't
want to die. I don't want to leave you all now. But as I have to, I want
to slip out of your lives my way. I want you to remember me as a person
who is alive and happy, not as a corpse." Mentally I was numb and bleeding.
I could see exactly what she was saying, but inside my head I was saying
to myself, "When you die, lady, come what may, I'm going to be there and
I'm going to be holding you very tight".
When we got back to London we plunged immediately into work. Joan was
having tests at the Hospital almost every day now, and our hope and despair
came in and out like flotsam and jetsam on the tide. A change of tone
in the doctors' voices or a fleeting expression on their faces would cause
the enormous fluctuations in our attitudes. There were a number of meetings
about the payments to artists. It was now more or less agreed, but there
was argument about the amount and the correct basis. We had been working
for 6 or 7 years on a method for recording photomechanically the pattern
and density of the movement of people in various social situations over
a period of time. We wanted to get there this time. We'd been working
mostly with three or four images made in 1970 and we'd made attacks on
them whenever we had a new possibility of success, as often as we could,
ever since. Over the years we had spent a fortune on the technique; we
had used vast quantities of specialised film, we had even built two huge
ponderous cameras. This time we were absolutely committed to success.
The difficulty was the resolution of the image into its various parts.
In particular we were working with an image made over 10 mins or so at
Shepherds Bush Tube Station in 1971. There had been a news stand right
outside the station and we knew that the image should resolve as a plume,
like smoke, showing the main pattern of movement of people quite distinctly
but with a more complicated pattern where some had hovered around the
news stand or had had to move out of one anothers way. We had to get the
technique right this time, because we were going to need to us it on the
location of the World Series the piece we planned to present for the first
time in Venice.
We had not yet decided which site it was going to be. We had a fierce
urge to make one of the two World sites in Scotland. It's strange that
in spite of all your efforts to be a cynical emigre you can't ever get
away from the pull of your own country. I mean I have tried with enormous
commitment (it's really fundamental to our whole approach to the world)
to be as objective as possible and to prise open the grip of the prejudices
and preferences induced by my hereditary and upbringing. In spite of it
all, Scotland still seems to be my ideal of how a country should be. It's
the right kind of size, the people have the right kind of conceit of themselves.
They actually enjoy one another's company fiercely. Race doesn't enter
into it. I've know Scottish people who were Jewish, West Indian, Italian
and Pakistani. They all seem to take on with amazing speed and aver to
lose the condition of being Scots. Glasgow seems to me to the archetypal
City. Its streets are dark gorges with seething currents. It's a green
and grey and black city. But my memories of it are all in the most lurid
technicolour. A million vivid memories from the Barrowland Ballroom to
the Barracuda Bar. I'm away from it all now like millions of others and
all I have left is a deep longing. But I can't think of a Scot I've ever
met that I wouldn't trust with my life to. It's as though in that city
people feel that they se the weal and the woe of the world, they try everything
from cynicism to despair and decide in the end, that the only answer is
a kind of fierce joy. I mention this to show the hold that prejudice still
has on me. But I imagine that this is a prejudice that almost everyone
shares and indeed, I feel myself increasingly having a similar passion
for London and Londoners, and so I believe that the vast majority of people
everywhere are marvellous to know, if you're prepared to take the trouble
to get to know them.
Perhaps it's because we're addictive itinerants, and we know that we're
only going to get a few days with these people, followed by a life time
of wondering. Or perhaps it's because people are sometimes able to bear
their soul to strangers, or because outside of the narrow, trivial, status
conscious, blinkered society of the art world, people don't need a diet
of trivia and malice to survive. I don't know why it is, but wherever
we go, even in the most unlikely places, we find ourselves talking with
people, even when we only share a few words of common language and a thesaurus
of gestures, about life, death, fear, despair, pain, oppression, children,
the land, their hopes, their joys, their ecstasies. Perhaps they all talk
to one another like this. Perhaps we recognise one another as natural
victims. Maybe it's just that they know we won't gossip about their confidences.
Perhaps it's just that they realise in some way that we will not scorn
the fact that they tell us how it has been for them. I believe that all
the guarded, ritualised conversations, the "How are you today", "What
kind of day have you had dear", "Have you heard from Albert, are they
all well down there?", all those type of conversations, those questions
whose answers no one ever hears, I believe they isolate people. While
they reply to one another, "Yes, dear", "No thank you dear", "No I didn't
see the weather forecast" and so on, I think that inside they're screaming
with boredom and a longing to get out. I may be quite wrong. There is
no way you can tell how people are inside. Perhaps as I grow in wisdom
I will discover that that style of talks is relaxing and comfortable and
leaves you free to think your own thoughts. But at this time, it seems
to me that in an emergency, or at a time of crisis in their lives people
will share experiences and depths of feeling that give them a completely
different view of themselves, often enabling them to cope with situations
that are most of the time too painful to think about. You also get told
some marvellous stories too. There was the captain of this freight ship,
when we were the only passengers, who tells us about getting home from
being at sea and finding his wife making the bed and how his wife is a
bit fastidious about the children hearing, but they make love. And then
he says, "I didn't shake the bed too much did I" and she says, "Shake
the bed" You didn't even shake me!"
And you have to learn to be sensitive to other people's customs. In the
Vesteralen Island in the Arctic part of Norway towards the end of the
Winter of 1971 we were invited to watch TV by a fisherman. When we arrive
all the people from some distance around have crowded into their living
room. We go in and say, "Hi" in Norwegian but they all ignore us totally,
talking to one another very politely. We go and find a seat near the host
and after a little while exchanging our 3 or 4 common words, Joan gets
out this letter from Ole Henrik Moe at the Neies Onstad in Oslo explaining
in Norwegian what we're on about and she points to my name on the letter
and then to me and says, "This is Mark Boyle and I am Joan Hills" and
then one after the other everybody in the room stands up and says their
name and their job and gives a little bow and evidently we should have
done the same when we came in and they hadn't been ignoring us but pretending
not to notice wheat was to them our bad manners. And a few nights later
they all cram into the back of our huge old touring ambulance and we go
to a dance on the other side of the island and I try to buy everyone a
drink and find they only serve coffee, so I take the coffees back to our
party and apologetically, "Nein whisky, nein gin, nein beer. How come
everybody gets pissed out of their skulls" with a gesture to include the
whole shrieking hall. Suddenly everybody looks very sly and then the ladies
take out flasks out of their handbags and pout it into the coffee, and
it's Norwegian potheen or moonshine and after a long marvellous night,
with Joan assailed by lovely men whose rigid ballroom dancing postures
are only spoiled by the way, as the night wears on, their hands keeps
slipping down from the small of her back. And then rolling along, driving
back the 40 miles in the half light at 4 a.m. with a cliff on one side
and precipice on the other and the whole vehicle rocking and reeling from
the high jinks in the back, and constantly having to stop to let the men
and the women alternatively out to piss, screaming with laughter, over
the cliff edge into the sea.
In the end we decided not to do one of the Scottish site for Venice. We
thought it should really be somewhere foreign or people might be confused.
So we thought of doing one of the more exotic sites; and then we thought
of trying to do one of the really impossible sites, like China or Russia
or Chad or the Himalayas just to make the whole thing, for obvious reasons,
a very perfect experience of our lives together. But then we thought we
shouldn't really choose somewhere outlandish, as our concern was with
the ordinary, and so we decided that as the show was in Venice, we should
choose a site in Italy which might be exotic to us but would surely seem
ordinary to them.
Marina Vaizey had been asked to organise an Arts Council sub-committee
on the question of payments to artists; and was now, with enormous expenditure
of enthusiasm and nervous energy, driving it towards conclusions. Throughout
these meetings I have listened with great interest to the very sincere
and brilliantly articulated argument that because it was impossible to
establish a general principle, there should be no fixed rate and that
galleries and museums should be free to negotiate the payment with the
artist concerned. The economic base for this argument is that artists
who are in demand should be able to obtain a larger fee. If you spread
the available resources too thin, then you don't make enough of a difference
to anyone. I have a fair degree of sympathy with this argument, because
it's in the interests of the community to have a strong body of professional
artists, who earn a living from their work, who don't have to teach if
they don't want to, and who are not obliged, as the only real alternative
to teaching to put in periodic applications for grants, which are based
on a desperate calculation of what some unknown committee is going to
And the difficulty with such committees, and I've been on them, is that
their skill in eliminating the very bad is only equalled by their skill
in eliminating the very good. The main objection to both the grant systems
and the teaching system is that they favour the plausible artist; and
therefore a new kind of academicism. Although many examples flicker out
of the past to the contrary it is nevertheless true that the most plausible
artists are not necessarily the best ones. And so, the argument goes,
in the effort to escape from the dull, grey mediocrity encouraged by committees
and academicism and flat rate payments, we should let the artist with
the most muscle get more and let the museums discriminate in favour of
the better artist. The problem is that under this policy at the end of
the 19th Century, far enough away so that we can begin to be a little
more objective, Vincent Van Gogh would have received nothing (no muscle
and not at all in demand)_ and the museums would have discriminated in
favour of Anton Mauve, for instance, as by far the better artists.
Now another serious, though rather incoherent opposition to paying artists
for their exhibitions, was beginning to emerge. At the first encounter
I was just puzzled because it didn't seem to make sense. Everybody on
the committee had the same puzzled expression, while at the other end
of the table someone was going on about how paying artists would mean
closing down various galleries and organisations that were going to find
it impossible to pay. And when it was pointed out that in fact the grant
that these institutions got from the Arts Council would be increased to
cover the extra expenditure, that wouldn't make any difference, because
if there was any extra money it should be spent on providing more and
more galleries and administrators. And it didn't matter how well each
objection was answered, because without a pause for thought, and without
a change of tone, ignoring both their earlier objections and the answer,
this person would immediately develop other objections, to me, equally
At first I thought it was just a nut, but as the weeks went by I hear
more and more half articulated objections and then the Arts Council produced
a proposed scheme to pay artists £250 for a one man show and sent it out
to various bodies for comment. And I began to realise that a very large
number of people just thought it was wrong to pay artists. They thought
it was right to pay museum directors to direct exhibitions, administrators
to administer exhibitions and caretakers to take care of exhibition. Obviously
you had to pay handlers and drivers and designers. Someone has to pay
critics and Ministers for the arts and the people who sell paint and canvas
and frames and palette knives and all that stuff. It's very clear that
a large number of people within this expanding art industry of ours believe
that artists, alive or dead, owe them a living. In the other arts it is
obvious that actors and musicians and ballet dancers and opera singers
and writers and film makers and scene shifters and programme sellers and
tea ladies and door keepers have to be paid. There is only one exception
to this principle in the arts in this country and that is the visual artist.
I remember from childhood until quite recently misinterpreting the Bible
quote and thinking that "those who preach the gospel should live by the
gospel" was a plea for a fair wage for preachers. Perhaps that explains
why I am convinced that if the state is going to be the major patron of
the arts in Britain then there should be some channel by which at least
some artists are able to live by making their art. And the decisions about
which artists should benefit should be taken by as wide a spread of people
as possible. Then I began to wonder whether these objectors might not
be the spokesmen for some force of the collective unconscious. Perhaps
society has an unspoken (not to say unspeakable) need to believe in the
starving artist. Perhaps people underneath really think an artist needs
to be hungry to be really sensitive and that you mustn't give him money
because he'll only go and spend it on food. Somehow these people never
seem to raise the same objection to the system of giving our grants and
bursaries. I believe it's much better to pay people for work they have
done, whether it's in the form of buying their work or paying them for
exhibitions; and when you offer them the money, they can then decide whether
their art is better served by feeding their children and paying their
rent and buying new materials or whether they should refuse the payment
and get down to filling in another grant application and months of waiting
in the hope of the possibility of another state grant. Someone once said
at an Arts Council meeting about the Arts Council collection, "Are we
buying an Arts Council type of picture?". I said, "The time to worry is
when painters start to paint an Arts Council type of picture". I believe
in organisations-like the Arts Council. I think it does a good job and
I think its potential for the future is colossal. But as with so many
other organisations, the better it does its job, the more its inherent
contradictions will appear.
And the we were sitting in this white waiting room, all these people had
spaced themselves silently around the walls. Somehow they all looked very
defenceless in just their institutional white dressing gowns and their
shoes and socks. And time went by. The big lady next to me told me she
was a traffic warden. Most of the time Joan and I just talked quietly.
Occasionally a nurse would come through. The big lady was called and vanished
through the screens into one of the consulting rooms. A very calm white
haired lady was telling Joan about the lump she'd found in herself. She'd
decided not to have an operation. "I'm 69 year's old" she said, "I came
to this country during the war. I've had a good life here. I'm still teaching
every day. I only came today because it's got so much bigger lately. I
hope they'll give me something in the end, so that it won't be too bad".
We had been told it might be a long wait and no one seemed to mind. Eventually
Joan was called and I sat there for ages, very self-conscious because
I was in my ordinary clothes, and then guilty because I was bothered by
my self-consciousness at such a time. I made myself think about what I
would have to do if they decided to keep her in right there and then.
But I thought it was unlikely they'ld keep her in just like that, and
I thought, you never know, maybe something wonderful has happened. There
was some desultory conversation going on in the waiting room. A few hospital
orderlies came with a trolley and silently wheeled an old man away from
one of the consulting room. I remember his highly polished shoes sticking
out of the blankets and the look of surprise on his face. Suddenly Joan
was at my side gathering her things together and saying cheerio to the
old lady. "Come on", she said "we can go now". We walked up the corridor
in silence and as we turned the corner I asked was there still no news.
"Yes" she said "I'm O.K.". I stopped and stared at her, "What do you mean?"
I said. She said "I'm O.K. I've just got to take some pills". I said "But
how . . ." "I don't know", she said "I didn't ask them. I don't care.
I'm completely in the clear, In the end, they found there's nothing wrong
with me. I couldn't tell you in here. Not in front of all the others".
I was kissing her all over her face. We ran down the steps of the hospital
and went home.
I was round in Henry Lydiates office. It seemed that I'd missed one of
the meetings of the committee on payments for exhibitions. Apparently
the replies from the museums and so on were now in. I was a bit upset
that the vast majority of organisation whose opinion had been asked were
museums and the like. Only 2 or 3 artists' organisations had been asked.
Even from such a loaded sample, the results were gratifying. Twenty-one
welcomed our proposals, five were non-committal and seven were against.
All had suggestions and reservations. Then Henry showed me photocopies
of letters of those who had been against. It was pathetic. I'm used to
opposition to my proposals, but they had to have better arguments than
We were talking about a proposal which would in time transform he situation
of artists in this country, and here were people, supposed to be interested
in art, who were upset by breaches of bureaucratic protocol, concerning
the way their opinion was asked. One thought it was foolhardy because
it was a new principle. Another took the opportunity to sneer at the desperation
of the artists in his area. To a man the opposition threatened to cut
back immediately on exhibitions of contemporary art. Some thought it might
cause resentment among private and public owners. Others thought it would
be better to spend any extra funds on opening more galleries (and therefore
giving the money to more administrators, secretaries, accountants). One
guy protested because he had not been invited to advise in his capacity
as Vice President of something or other, although he had been asked to
advise in his capacity as a museum Director. In the event he did reply
as Vice President of whatever it was but incorporated that reply in his
reply as Director of the museum. He wanted us to know that the view of
his Council "was to thoroughly disapprove" of our proposals. He thought
it was better to encourage practices current in Holland like buying artists
work. (Well sure, it's been a habit with the Dutch for hundred of years,
but did no one tell him when he was over in Holland that another practice
current in Holland for the last 10 years is that it is illegal to exhibit
an artist's work in a public museum without paying him.) Above all, although
the vast majority, in principle, welcomed the proposal to pay living artists
for their exhibitions, they nevertheless felt that at £250 per one man
show it was going to be too expensive. My scheme, to pay living artists,
for the run of their one man shows, a sum equivalent to the pay of the
lowest paid worker in the museum, had also been rejected. The annual cost
of this would have been the same as taking one extra cleaner on to the
staff. And yet between them, these same museums find it essential to hand
out millions of pounds of public funds each year to dealers and private
collectors in exchange for grossly inflated pictures by dead artists.
Then I read that in the light of these objections, the committee had decided
to modify its proposal and that the artists would only get paid £ 100
per show. I was completely amazed. I raged around Henry's office. Poor
Henry, he must have thought I was blaming him for the sell out. He had
been one of our staunchest supports. But I knew how it had been done.
The discreet phone calls, the careful calculations, the whole thing sweetly
organised to that the artists would think they had scored a success, but
it would be possible to turn to the objectors with their threats and their
concern for protocol, and point out to them with a world weary smile,
that nothing had changed. I said to Henry this has set us back 15 years.
A few days later Marty Ackerman was having a party. It was a huge, beautiful
house in Chelsea, overlooking the River Thames. The house was full of
art and art people from all over the world. Disgracefully I bore down
on Marine Vaizey who had also supported the artists with great conviction.
I had cooled down a lot since I had found out about the changes in the
Arts Council plan, but I suppose I still came on a bit strong. She said
I should regard it as the thin edge of a wedge. I pointed out that with
pay increases limited by the Government to 10%, it was going to take us
nearly 15 years to get it back up to £ 250.
Sebastian had disappeared. We had finally decided to make the World piece
at our site in southern Sardinia. We had already been loading since 4
a.m. Everything was double checked on loadings list. Each item was ticked
off on one list as it was taken out the door and ticked off on a second
list as it was put in the Landrover. The difficulty always is that you
never discover the piece of equipment that was left behind until it's
absolutely crucial. Until then, you say "Well it's in there somewhere"
and you make do with something else. It's only at the point where nothing
else will do that you take the whole vehicle apart in the search, and
at that point you're usually hundreds of miles away from another one.
Our view in all such matters is that you have to do the best you possibly
can to get there with everything you need and when you find as you undoubtedly
will, that something has been forgotten, then you begin to improvise.
We had just finished loading when Sebastian appeared. He had set off in
the early hours to walk to Fleet Street with his friends. There was a
strike among the distributors of the Sunday Times and almost inevitably
it coincided with a very nice issue of their colour supplement in which
our work was featured. Sebastian dished out copies to everyone. There
was to be a Sunday Times lunch party at Ron Hall's house that morning
for all the people who were featured in that issue. We had decided to
call in there on our way to the coast. It was a marvellous party in a
marvellous house. I met a lot of old friends I hadn't seen for years,
but suddenly after half an hour the whole thing was ruined for us, as
I suddenly realised I'd forgotten the tickets for the Ferry. Everybody
jeered at me, supposed to be such an experienced traveller, for making
such an elementary mistake. But that's the trouble with beck lists, if
something ain't on them it doesn't get taken along. We went home. Bob
(Joan's dad) had just got used to the idea that he was laird of all he
surveyed, when we all poured in again. With a great cheer, we finally
launched out on our adventure. Joan, Georgia, Cameron, Sebastian (Sabo),
Cameron was driving. We called in at Asha's to say cheerio and finally
we were crossing the Thames and away. As we slipped through the last vestiges
of South London I was looking about for some final item, some incident
or scene that would characterise our departure, something to remember
London by while we were away. And then I realised what it was. I said,
"Can you stop for a minute". Cameron pulled up. Is aid "This is going
to be a very embarrassing, but did anyone happen to pick up a big packet
with lots and lots of money in it?". There was a long silence. Then without
another word Cameron turned round and rove back. This time we parked around
the corner. I tiptoed in, trying not to disturb Bob, and collected the
money. This time there were no cheers. We just melted away to Dover.
Scudding across France and down a rather drizzly Rhone Valley, my mind
is full of the fear of failure. I am an extremely, often dangerously,
optimistic person, but it's an optimism of the mind, not of the spirit.
In my head I know perfectly well that we can do anything in fact the more
impossible it seems, the more likely we are to succeed; but in my guts
I know that everything is going to go wrong. It's a habit I think I inherit
from my city, Glasgow. It was so different from other places that I knew.
I love being with Glasgow people. All those words like effervescent and
mercurial and so on describe them. Nothing was going to keep them down.
And yet to a man they knew that everything they touched would come to
nothing. I think that people don't realise that this is what is meant
by a depressed area. It's not just economic depression. The atmosphere
that corroded the streets of that city as I grew up, was a mixture of
desperation and despair.
Glasgow has changed now, and everything that was there is different, except
me. I made my exit just before the transformation scene. So I go on battering
with my head and my feet and my fists against fate and oppression and
lies and my equipment and my friends and the whole world and above all
against my own relentless, bungling incompetence. And now, almost for
the first time we are going to be without the full team. Cameron is only
able to drive us to Cagliari and then wants to get back to Blanche. We
had been hoping that Blanche would be able to come as well, but she was
booked to go on a course and we were all disappointed she couldn't cancel
it. Sabo was due to take his O level exams and could only stay a few days.
Without their laugher and banter and technical knowledge and skill an
strength the Project was going to be that much more difficult.
At Dijon we are told that the boat leaves Toulon at 10 p.m. Cameron drives
hard and fast all the way. We enter Toulon at three minutes to ten. We
flit through those empty gleaming streets and reach the port of ten. Encouraged
by the friendly people in the ticket office we drive on board, into the
last tiny space, just before they raise the drawbridge. We are all giving
cowboy whoops and congratulating Cameron on the drive, when we hear a
great commotion behind us. They can't raise the drawbridge. They move
us forward until we are touching the truck in front, but the foreman loader
comes to us, waggling his finger in front of my nose. "you must take off
the spare wheel at the back" he says.
We're on. And next morning we land in Corsica and after a drive across
the island and a long conversation about booze and travel and Tahiti and
football and women with a French Foreign Legionary from Liverpool who
happens to be on port duty at Bonifacio, we get the ferry to Sardinia.
For the hundred odd miles from Sassari to Cagliari the motorway is empty
except for occasional herds of goats and a few ox carts. We could see
a short way off some enormous mountain shepherd villages. To the eyes
of strangers they look shuttered and sullen and prohibitive. Backed up
by statistics from 1930 in the Meteorological Office's World Tables of
Precipitation and Sunshine I keep saying, that when we get to the true
South, the rain will stop and the sun will come out with unbearable heat.
But the time we get to Cagliari, the rain is torrential. I have to pick
up some letters of introduction and so on from the British Consulate.
I get drenched in crossing the street. The door is opened by a distinguished
looking white haired lady. She looks a little bit like Jenny Lee. I mumble,
"You probably haven't heard about my project, my name is Mark Boyle".
"Do come in" she says. She's the British Vice Consul, responsible for
the British interest in Sardinia and she is very interested in art and
literature and what we're doing. And a lot of her friends are artists.
And will I have some coffee. And people in England have no conception
of the sheer size of Sardinia, not to mention the opportunities. And what
exactly can she do to help us. And while I call her Nadine. "I suppose
your thinking of camping" she says, nodding towards the rain lashed street,
"well people think that it doesn't rain in Sardinia and of course they're
wrong, and when it rains it can rain very hard. So you're going to need
a house. And I'd better start off my getting you that house. Where do
you want to be. Near Teulada? Very well, I shall ring the mayor of Teulada".
Within a very few moments we had been offered the mayor's Summer house
in the mountains on the south coast near Teulada. And for the first time
in my life, I begin to understand a little about how the British Empire
came into being and how it had persisted so long. " I want you to remember
that if there's anything else I can do to help, I shall be only to pleased,
not in my official capacity but as a friend of yours. Here's my home number.
Ring me any time. I think you'll like it her. I was supposed to leave
20 years ago to go back to Paris, but I really love these people, so I
decided to stay on. I don't think I will every leave now. My only regret
is that I have never managed to make British business men realise what
incredible opportunities there are here. So I have to watch the Japanese
and German and American salesmen all over the island, while the British
won't even get their brochure printed in Italian!".
Feeling that there was no problem that could not be resolved, I returned
to our Landrover, or the "Limmo" as Georgia and Sabo called it. We drove
to the hotel Nadine had booked us into, talked to Monsieur Orlando on
reception, into whose care she had placed us, ("he's going blind, poor
man, tragic case, but he'll look after you and he speaks French. Remind
him that I sent you if there's ever any problem"). He was a lovely old
guy, who gave us fantastic rooms and insisted that he was only there to
be of service. We went out and had a great celebration dinner, went to
bed early and every one of us fell into a deep sleep.
The next day Nadine drove out with us to meet the mayor and to inspect
the house. To our surprise he was a young guy. His name was Benito Sanna
and he and his wife Luisanna were absolutely charming people. The spoke
French and they refused even to consider accepting any rent. The house
was sensational. You had to drive up what looked and felt like a 45¡ slope
for a few miles from the main road, and at the top of this mountain there
was this new house. And he was proposing to lend it to us for 3 months.
I said to him, "I don't know how you can bear to do it". He said, "There
are a lot of people round here who would do anything for Senorina Nadine".
At the bottom of the mountain he told some shepherds to look after us
and then we waved goodbye to them all, because we wanted to go and look
at our main location. We were never to see Benito and Luisanna again.
We hard from Nadine that he didn't want to act like a landlord coming
round all the time. One day there was a little more beginning "Tres gentile
famille Boyle". But that was all, in three months. We had decided that
we were going to give him a picture at the end but he didn't even know
that, because we thought he might refuse it if it was offered in the context
of our borrowing his house. So we decided we'ld wait until we could send
it as a gift from friends. It was late in the afternoon when we first
saw our world site. A little to our disappointment the random selection
had fallen away from the sea and we were some distance back in the interior
among the mountains. The road was a bit tortuous to get there and the
mountains were very high all around. We came to a mountain village and
soon after we had to leave the "Limmo" and walk along a river bed. Eventually
we could see up the hill side where the site lay. It was very steep and
to our astonishment it had been ploughed. Vertically. As we soon discovered
it was so steep that it was hard work to climb it. But these people had
ploughed it, straight up and down. We found our way to the actual location
and selected a random square. We wee a little nonplussed because it looked
as though it would be very similar to the Danish World series piece which
was going to be in the show at Venice. Someone suggested that we should
go and make one of the other Italian pieces. Admittedly it would look
funny if the major new piece we made for the Venice Biennale was almost
identical to a piece that we had made eight years before. In the end we
decided that that was the kind of thing that the World Series was about,
that probably a huge percentage of the land surface of Europe was under
the plough at that moment, so there was nothing remarkable in it. As to
the similarity, with a random square on a ploughed field there are 3 possibilities.
You can have the furrows diagonally. You can have them parallel to one
of the sides or you can have them somewhere in between. In practice, it's
always going to be somewhere in between the diagonal and say the horizontal.
it was getting dark now, so we quickly gathered a few insects, spiders,
ants and so on and went back to Cagliari. We had decided to make the social
pieces in Cagliari, and the vicinity of the hotel. We had already taken
the bodily fluid samples on our previous reconnaissance and had decided
just for the fun of it to select five hairs from various parts of my anatomy
to see how they would come up in the electron microsocpe.
For the next few days we concentrated on making the exposures for the
social pieces. A lot of the time we made them out of the hotel window.
So we got the plume of people coming out of the station at rush hour,
people walking in the park, men working in the street, school children
on their way to school, people in the Torino cafe, the nightly parade
of young men and girls along the Via Roma and so on, trying to describe
the place a little bit according to its social systems. We made the exposure
of varying lengths to get a complete movement in, if possible. First of
all Cameron went and then Sabo, taking all the bits back that had to be
processed in London. Joan and Georgia and I were a bit depressed now.
We went back to the restaurant we had been to on our first night in Cagliari,
but it wasn't the same. The next day I was trying to get permits for something
or other. I was sitting in this office, the Department of Strangers, or
something and this funny, precise and slightly cross man with half glasses
was talking on the phone. Through the window I could see across the bay
thirty miles away the mountains round out site. The man was getting a
bit angry. I tried to ingratiate myself by smiling sympathetically as
though to say, "People can be a nuisance". But, of course, I couldn't
understand a word of what he was saying. Suddenly he started to pound
the desk with his fist and began to scream, literally scream, down the
phone. Then he slammed the phone down. I hoped they weren't taking about
our permits. A moment later the door opened and a small man rushed in
gesticulating and explaining and fawning and exonerating himself all at
the same time. The boss had by now become very suave and oily and sarcastic,
pretending to ignore the little man's pleas while he looked through other
papers on his desk, only returning to the issue when the little man's
desperation and distress caused him to plead with me to intercede with
his boss and assure him of his absolute non liability. At this stage I
didn't speak a word of Italian, but I was getting the whole message because
the tow of them performed an entire ballet of gesture and mine. Other
people were waiting in the corridor to see the great man, but every time
the little man's voice died away to a whimper, the boss would once again
indicate the papers with a scornful finger, causing another avalanche
of pleas in mitigation and justification, demanding forgiveness and absolution.
In the middle of all this a simply appalling smell suddenly filled the
room. The little man did not pause in his stream of exculpation. The boss
persisted with his suave, sardonic smile. I wondered if either of them
thought it had been me. Then the little man rushed from the room close
to tears and his boss signed the permits and told me I could go.
I'm not going to say much about making the pieces in Sardinia. As you
know, Hans, I don't much like talking about the methods and techniques
we use. That afternoon we moved into the house in the mountains and began
the most gruelling work we have ever done. The bad weather persisted for
most of the time we were there. This was bad for us, but the Sardinians
were completely shocked. They had never experienced anything like it.
There were storms and rain for weeks on end. We spent the wet days driving
around the mountain tracks, a little bit apprehensive of banditti. But
we had to make a reconnaissance for the elemental part of the project.
This part is meant to present the major elemental feature in the vicinity
of the random location. It can show the effects of the earth, or the wind,
or water or the sun. In this case we had decided that rock was the major
elemental feature and we scoured the mountains around for scarps (rock
faces) that exposed the major types of rock and earth. One wet day as
we ploughed up a yellow mud track we were stopped by a man with a rifle.
He indicated that we should get out. I remembered the guide book that
said if we were stopped by armed men in the mountains we should do exactly
what they told us to do. We got out. Then other men with guns appeared.
They told us to go with them towards some ruined houses. When we got there
we were told to sit on plank against the wall, opposite a wood fire. Then
they fetched a table and some wine. Then one of them produced a platter
with literally hundreds of small baked fishes and they all sat down and
we ate together. They were hunts-men and after we'd finished the fishes,
Joan went to the "Limmo" and got a huge loaf of Sardo bread and a whole
pecorino sheeps cheese as our contribution to the feast. Everyone cut
off hunks of the cheese and toasted them at the fire. Georgia and Joan
and I became separated, each one surrounded by a small group of hunts-men,
and all of us having to be very inventive with gestures and shrugs and
the very few words we had in common. They had seen us coming up the mountain
track and had decided to have guests for lunch. Afterwards they wouldn't
let us help clear up and, rather regretfully, we drove off, waving goodbye
to our good friends, Franco, Mericus, Paulo, Paolini and the others.
D don't know whether it was because of the wine, but in the rain and fog
and wind that afternoon we lost our way in the mountains. Eventually we
came to a place where eight men were loading entire tree trunks on to
a truck. We realised it was going to be a long time before we got through,
so we settled down to wait, listening to Bob Dylan and Vivaldi alternately
on the cassette player. I had a sudden memory of my first introduction
to that particular delight. It had been 15 years earlier with Edith and
Jimmy Thorne in their flat at the Edinburgh Festival, during an afternoon
of vodka and trumpets and magic with a wailing mouth organ. The older
man, the gaffer, kept coming over to have a wee chat with us and once
he realised we didn't mind waiting in this catastrophic downpour, we all
became friendly. How they worked in such weather I don't know. Eventually
they had their huge swaying load on board and we all set off down the
twisting track. A few miles further they put us on the right road, but
as we set off, the old man tooted from his jeep. I jumped out and went
back to him in the teeming rain. He smiled a toothless smile. "Look",
he said indicating the other seven. "these are all my sons". I shook his
hand in congratulation. They were all leaning out of their windows, smiling
the same smile, as we slithered away down the mud. In the end we made
four elemental pieces, each one a 6 foot square of rock face. A red scarp,
a brown scarp, a yellow scarp and a white scarp. We could have done a
grey scarp as well but it looked to us, not being geologist, that the
rock was a bit similar to the rock in the brown and yellow scarps. The
work on the ploughed field was going well, except for the usual difficulty
that our process killed off the few small plants on the site. We couldn't
make a vertical section on the site, because the hillside was so steep
and we might have caused some earth movement. So we made a section of
the furrows and then we made a proper vertical section at the bottom of
the hill on he bank of the river. We made a study of animal footprints
nearby. The weather continued bad. We'ld have a couple of dry days, but
it was nothing like the scorched earth inferno that they were apparently
used to round there. I mean we were nearer to Africa than to mainland
I flew back briefly to London to work on the second stage of the social
pieces with Sabo and Cameron. We don't usually to in for much in the way
of midday meals in our family, but I managed to extract Sabo from school
for an hour and we had a really delightful lunch. He was staying with
Blanche and Cameron while he took his exams and I flew back to Sardinia
that night, wishing I could take the three of them with me.
I was soon wishing they had come for quite a different reason. The work
had reached a particularly a gruesome stage and we had to drive ourselves
every hour of daylight. The whining and screaming of the persistent gales
around the house meant that we were getting very little sleep now, and
we had to be up before sunrise every day and work through, until it became
too dark to see. We all had severely blistered hands. It was also fairly
dangerous not to life but to limb, working on these slipper disintegrating
rock faces. One day the beam that we had fixed up to stand on, while we
worked on one scarp, crashed away from under my feet, leaving me clinging
to the surface of the picture with my fingernails and elbows. A new difficulty
was now emerging. Although the weather was improving it was in no way
reliable. But we had planned to make all the pieces in the sunshine, in
the open air, and we needed, for certain parts of the work, to know that
it would be dry for days at a time. So we had to fix ourselves up with
some kind of studio.
One Sunday Nadine came down and took us to her friends for the afternoon.
Her friend was called Emilia Palome and she had a house by the sea. You
came up some stairs out of the garden and the whole house seemed to grow
organically around you. You came to an enclosed terrace and then you were
in this huge room that wandered on and on and on decorated with her exquisite
pottery and littered with her elegant friends. She said yes of course
they had a place we could use for a studio. The very next day we ran into
a man in Pula who spoke English. His name was Paola Bianco. He was very
much the entrepreneur of Pula. He was building a restaurant annexe for
his guest house and simultaneously a block with a large flat for his brother
over shops and offices. He said we could have his brother's unfinished
flat as a studio.
We moved our gear into these places and fell into the last stages of the
work. We could all see now that e might not finish in time. I phoned John
and Isobel and asked them to get Sabo and my mother to Venice.
Nadine had been in touch with Julian Andrews in Milan co-ordinating the
transport. She new that it was going to be a very close run thing. At
a crucial stage we got a puncture on the road up the mountain and the
jack broke. Shepherds took us the 15 miles or so to the telephone. We
had no sooner got back to the "Limmo" ourselves, than the mechanics arrived.
It was Rodolfo Cherchi and his son. They fixed the tyre and refused to
be paid for their work and even gave us a sturdy old jack for nothing.
Later we met Mrs. Cherchi and their exuberant daughter Franca, who was
Georgia's age. They were radiant people. And that means a lot, even though
we were in a part of the world where everyone, in their different way,
seemed radiant. It was the day before the transport came to collect the
work. We now knew that we were not going to get finished in time. The
question now was, could we get it all to a point where we could actually
move it safely. By nightfall we knew it was going to be all right. Georgia's
fingernails were bleeding but her determination had driven us all on.
We were now in a state of total exhaustion. We drove back in the dark
for the last time along the coast and up the mountain. In the morning
we got up before dawn and began to clean and load. We moved everything
of ours out of the house and dumped it outside. Then Georgia and I loaded
the van while Joan cleaned the house. We arrived at the Rustico Bar in
Pula at exactly 8 a. m., to find this enormous truck dominating the whole
street. I bought a bottle of Scotch to give to Emilia's caretaker Pietro
in the hope it might help him to forget us and the damage the truck did
to his lawns and all that. But he took our hands in his and said how sad
he was that we were leaving and insisted on working as hard as anyone
to get everything loaded. Then we went back to Paola's place and while
the removal men packed and loaded the pictures we loaded our gear and
what was left of our materials. Next I sorted out Mario, the driver, who
was actually taking the stuff up to Venice. When the last picture was
loaded, we drove through the winding streets to Paola's Pensione to leave
the key and say "goodbye". He wasn't there. Joan left a note and the key
and somehow got herself shut in the office. She had to climb out the window
a little to my indignation and to her enormous amusement. Finally we were
away on the road to Cagliari. Georgia put on some music, it was the Hallelujah
Chorus from the Messiah. We felt a bit like that scene in the film The
Italian Job when they finally get away from Turin with all the loot. I
had to drive like the hammers of hell because we were out of cash and
Tom Slater and John Snuggs at my bank had agreed to send cash out to Sardinia
for us. I knew it had arrived a few hours after I had telephoned for it,
but there were all sorts of complications about collecting it. Nadine
had sorted it out and provided we got there before 1.15 p. m. we would
get it. We got there at 1.10. We collected the money and then we all wriggled
out of our working clothes and into our best clothes in the "Limmo" and
we met Nadine for Lunch in the first restaurant we had gone to in Cagliari.
We had promised ourselves this meeting because we were anxious to hear
the story of the O. E. C. D. project that originally brought Nadine to
Sardinia and whether it had been a success or a failure. It was an extraordinary
story. She had been sent out there to co-ordinate the project and wound
up running it, and when it came to an end, their recommendations became
lost in the political mire, but she had fallen in love with Sardinia and
stayed. "Now I'm just a regular sardine" she said. And when it came to
the question of success or failure, she said, "Well, of course, everything
is a failure if you judge it by what it might have achieved. Certainly
we could have achieved more. But I don't think that is how it should be
judged. It should be judged by what it did achieve and in those terms
it was a success". We then went off to get the boat and while we were
waiting she told us about going to see this specialist in London about
an ear infection that was making her dizzy. The specialist annoyed her
by refusing to speak to her and addressing all his remarks to her doctor.
Finally she said, "Well can you at least tell me which ear I have this
infection in". Once more he turned to her doctor and said he wouldn't
like to comment on that at that moment. "Very well", said Nadine, "All
I need now is a ticket to Paris, where I shall find a specialist who will
treat me like a human being. The next time I need a vet I shall know where
to come." When the time came to get on board, this irrepressible lady
put a full nelson on the officer in charge, when he said he was overloaded
and would have to leave us behind. Then she saw us on to the boat, next
to Mario with the truck full of our pictures, kissed us all goodbye, said
she couldn't stand farewells, climbed into her battered Triumph and went
away, leaving us all a bit emotional.
The next day when we landed at Civitavecchia, Mario told us to tuck in
behind him and he'ld show us the way. It was exactly what I wanted to
do. I thought, having come this far I was not going to let this truck
out of my sight. Joan was utterly exhausted and at the first coffee break
climbed into the bed at the back of Mario's cab. She slept all the way
to Venice and I had the exclusive company of one of the most delightful
people in the world, my daughter Georgia. We arrived in Venice at sunset.
It was a different city from the one we'd left in November. It was gold
and pink and white and orange. We found our way to the pensione they had
reserved for us. It was on the water front of the Lagoon. Our rooms looked
over the bustling quayside. We parked our kitbags and wondered what chance
we would have of finding the British council people. I remembered a restaurant
Julian had taken us to the last time in the fog. I thought, I bet they're
there. And there they were, sitting outside. Julian and David and Victor.
And we fell to, eating and drinking and telling them all our adventures.
And then we were in bed. The next thing the room was full of light. I
thought what is this and sat up indignantly. But it was sunlight. The
room was full of sunlight. My first reaction was guilt and I was desperately
looking round for the clock. Then I remembered. We didn't have to get
up so early. It was just after 8. Georgia came into our room. "You know
lying in in the morning", she said, "well I think it's really good". We
had breakfast and then we went round and gathered the others and set off
for the Biennale Gardens. Everything was transformed. All the pavilions
were spruce and clean. Our pictures from Britain were standing all round
the pavilion, the Sardinian pieces were coming in as we arrived. Everything
was perfect. I laid a bigger bundle on old Mario than I ever should have,
because he was a great guy and he'd got it all there. And then we began
with the business of hanging the show. Hanging shows is always a bit traumatic.
In the old days I used to get angry and upset with the way it goes. I
changed one day in Oslo. We were to do a show at the Henie Onstad and
we were going on to a German museum. The Germans had wanted the Tidal
Series in addition to the exhibition from Oslo. We had the whole thing
on our van. When they saw the Tidal Series, the Norwegians wanted to show
that as well. "But there isn't room", I said. "We have another room",
Ole Henrik Moe assured me. They had to redecorate the room and change
the lighting. By the time they had done all that and hung the show it
was nearly time for us to leave for Germany. In fact, the show ended on
a Sunday night, and on the Saturday afternoon Per Hovdenak came to me
and said, "We have the room with the Tidal Series ready now". I said,
"great", and went down to look at it, and was very polite and congratulated
them; but on my way up the stairs my old, atavistic, Glasgow inner self
surged up and leapt out of my mouth, as I turned and snarled at him, "But
can you tell me something please? What the hell is the point in going
to all that trouble for one day?" Per Hovdenak looked at me with eyes
like a gentle reindeer that has survived countless, long, terrible winters.
Then he said, "We get a lot of real, nice people come here on Sundays".
That changed me. So the hanging of the show went ahead steadily and methodically
with no attempt by me to achieve a hanging by catharsis. The electron
microphotos of the insects and the hairs were quite incredible. The hairs
were 18 feet high. The roots of two of them extended 9 feet up the wall.
A day came when it was all done. Gerald Forty and Julian and Barbel arrived
to put the finishing touches to it. And then we heard that Peter and Luciana
were on their way without passes, so we all got very excited and rushed
over to square the guy on the gate. Then Joan and Georgia and I were in
a speed boat across the lagoon to the airport to meet Sebastian and my
mother. Suddenly everyone began to get happy. The next day was the first
of three days of press views. My jaw got sore with talking so much. There
were fifteen TV interviews. You know the way your mouth goes all dry when
you've talked too much and you're sure your breath is horrible. And then
there were all these parties. Georgia and Sebastian seemed to be the social
whizzes of the Biennale. They were invited everywhere and went. Each nation
had a party. We had a three day party on the terrace of the British Pavilion.
Whenever we could leave our own party we went to everyone elses. And all
these men were standing about on the terrace and when they found out who
we were, they started pumping our hands and slapping us on the back and
they explained that they were the artists from the Accademia of Venice
and I felt the blush start at the bottom of my neck and spread up across
my face, and it was a blush of pleasure and I kept saying, "Thank you,
thank you", but the blush wouldn't stop. And suddenly Caroline Tisdall
appeared out of the exhibition and I threw my arms around her and gave
her a big kiss and George turned up and Bill Feaver and Marina Vaisey
and Paul Ovary and Bill Packer and Felicity and Antoinette and Sarah.
And apparently, our scheme to get artists paid had succeeded. And suddenly
it was a great party and Paul Maenz came over with Conrad Fisher from
the German Pavilion and then RŸckriem, pissed out of his skull and Kadishman
from the Israeli's and Linda and Betty and Peter from the American Pavilion
and our friends John, Ken, Bob and Daniel and Bernard from the Australian
Pavilion, Martin Kunz came to discuss the transfer of the show to the
Lucerne Museum and the piece that we were to make in Switzerland for that
show, and Philip Woog and Clara, and then you arrived, Hans, to discuss
this book that you were writing about us and then we all set off to go
to party after party after party. And at some point Georgia took my hand
and said, "You know all this. Well it's very nice. But it's quite different
from when we were in Sardinia, isn't it?" And we all went off and had
a quiet meal.
Nothing had prepared us for the public opening. Someone estimated that
15,000 people came round our show that day. They have a free day for the
opening and nobody has to pay and it was as though the whole city had
decided to come.
It was my mother's last evening and we decided to do the whole tourist
bit and we had a great time. The gondolas, the tenors, the spaghetti al
fresco, the Punt E Mes and the Bridge of Sighs. We sat outside Florian's
in St. Mark's Square having coffees and ice cream off silver trays and
then we went to the one round the corner where they have the wild clarinettist
and then back to Florian's and they're playing some spanish music and
my mother asks for a request and suddenly the whole square is clapping
and stamping and some of them are even dancing to Valencia and this really
is the whole tourist number and it's marvellous. The sky is velvet and
everybody is sitting outside in the warm air, and there's these wee orchestras
playing away like crazy, and everybody's smiling. And all around us the
wheeler-dealers of the art world are doing their deals and wheels. And
good luck to them. I have every intention of doing a few myself. And it's
impossible not to be totally delighted. This simply must be the most sensuous
city in the world. And the relief keeps washing over me in wave after
wave. We so very nearly didn't make it. I look across at Joan and I'm
just so happy. And at Sabo who's so good to be with. And at my heroic
mother. And at Georgia who is enchanting and very determined, and I realise
it's all going to get far too mushy if I even attempt to say what I was
feeling. The next day my mother goes back to Scotland, and afterwards
we pack up and load the "Limmo" and slip quietly away to Switzerland where
we have to start work on a new piece close to the Lichtenstein border.'
1 Kenneth Clark, Ruskin Today, London 1964, pp. 142/143 (John Ruskin,
The Stones of Venice, 1853, vol. III).
2 Kenneth Clark, Ruskin Today, London 1964, p. 148 (John Ruskin, Modern
Painters, 1856, vol. III).
3 Journey to the Surface of the Earth, Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual,
published as part of an exhibition at the Haags Gemeentemuseum, edition
hansjšrg mayer, London 1970, pp. 15-17.
4 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, pp. 13/14.
5 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, p. 13, note 2.
6 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, p. 9 note 2.
7 Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific 1768 to 1850, Oxford
1960, p. 257.
8 Kurt Badt, John Constable's Clouds, London 1950, p. 60.
9 Kurt Badt, John Constable's Clouds, London 1950, p. 6.
10. Kurt Badt, John Constable's Clouds, London 1950, p. 30.
11 A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, New York 1960 (1st ed. 1936),
12 J. A. Castagnary, Salons 1857-1879, Paris 1892.
13 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, p. 14.
14 Jack Lindsay, Death of the Hero, French Painting from David to Delacroix,
London 1960, p. 145.
15 A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, New York 1960, p. 306.
16 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 4.
17 Linda Nochlin, Realism, Penguin Books 1971, p. 20.
18 John Rewald, Paul CŽzanne, Spring Books London, p. 117.
19 Kurt Badt, John Constable's Clouds, London 1950, p. 80.
20 Georges Charbonnier, Entretiens avec Claude LŽvi-Strauss, Paris 1959,
21 Claude LŽvi-Strauss, La PensŽe Sauvage, Paris 1962, p. 34.
22 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 2, note 3.
23 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, p. 13.
24 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 4, note 3.
25 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, pp. 9-14
26 Letter, October 1977.
27 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 6.
28 Letter, October 1977.
29 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 8.
30 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 8, note 1.
31 Letter, October 1977.
32 Letter, October 1977.
33 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 9.
34 Letter, October 1977.
35 Letter, October 1977.
36 Letter, October 1977.
37 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 9, note 2.
38 Letter, October 1977.
39 Letter, October 1977.
40 Letter, October 1977.
41 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 13.
42 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 13.
43 Letter, January 1978.
44 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 20.
45 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, p. 9, note 1.
46 Letter, May 1978.
47 Letter, October 1977.
48 Letter, October 1977.
49 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 17.
50 Letter, October 1977.
51 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 16, note 2.
52 Letter, October 1977.
53 Letter, October 1977.
54 Letter, October 1977.
55 Letter, October 1977.
56 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 1 a.
57 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 1 a, note 2.
58 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 1 b.
59 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 1 b, note 2.
60 Letter, October 1977.
61 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 10.
62 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 2.
63 Mark Boyle's Atlas and Manual, appendix 5.
64 Letter, May 1978.
65 Letter, June 1978.
66 This caption and all the following captions, from Letter, January 1978.