Almost random notes - one artist’s response to the world

Posted by Diana Henebury

An occasional communique from the frontline of the Hackney/Hoxton border.

Time has collapsed. What was history is now… War is back(it never really went away) A frisson of fear and desire, nausea and anxiety invades.The divine Kallinich (Dubravka) and I are in the studio and for some reason she puts on Neil Young and it’s psychedelic time again. I’m back in the east village in New York. Vietnam is raging and the summer of love (the very last one) is dying.An aggressive amphetamine rage invades St. Marks Square. Throw away flowers and love beads now. In Thompkins Square, stoned , watch a crazed pederast use a knife to whittle wood from bushes, his white face, partially obscured, gazing with dangerous desire at young boys playing. Toke more dope. In war things break down.

Now feels the same. Even the Kallinich understands and she wasn’t even around then. There’s a riff in the air. An emotional cord that war gives off. It’s confused. Are we brave soldiers or bullies? Do we laugh or do we vomit. If the war is legal is it moral?

I go back to my Ninth Street performance where I became an hysterical queen, almost naked, sashaying my way through the jungles of Vietnam … IT just happened … How else do artists respond? And for a long time my work has been concerned with war and it’s aftermath.

I grew up in it’s shadow. The debris of war was my playground. Bomb sites and air raid shelters were gang headquarters. The skeleton of the building on Upper Parliament Street displaying structure, decoration, function, the ruined church at the bottom of Hardman Street; And all artists play war games. Why, I even had my own private spitfire which I drew out daily in chalk in the Liverpool streets. On hot summer days I waited in my cockpit for a plane to appear and I would wave, shout ‘chocks away, old buddy, old boy’ and at night I was Pierre, a young hero in the French resistance, rushing through the sewers of Paris doing brave deeds. Now, here, if I had the same dream would I transform my gender? And under the bedclothes I’d open the Worral of the WAAF.

At present I’m working on a series of small drawings of battle strategy in Vietnam (thank you General Westmoreland) and my other work is full of explosions, bombs, planes, covert details from Stalingrad, hanging Franco’s war commentary, my dead family in Russia, the usual…

My dead friend and I sat in a run-down bar in New York. He was on leave from Vietnam and his clothes smelled of fusty wardrobe. That is the smell of war …

Back to happy Hackney/Hoxton. It’s so achingly trendy, guaranteed to provide a frisson of excitement. In reality it is now divided between gated bourgeoisie developments and the poor. For a few minutes, before you swipe card your way into your residence you feel a tiny wave of fear and you are so brave living on the front line. And there are so many artists in Hackney. Many of them have names like Max and Luke or Camilla and Arabella or Emily. What does this mean? At night we spill out of our studios like cockroaches. We will last as long as cockroaches too. Naturally, once artists have colonised and made an area desirable the developers will then eradicate them, as if exterminating an infestation, but artists will survive.

My building in Cremer Street houses the Century Gallery run by two beautiful gentlemen, Haruo and Peter. There is also a team of artists-curators and it is a place run by artists for artists. Usually young and unknown but talented… There’s a new show every couple of weeks. Opening nights are usually Wednesdays and are worth it and People are making their way from all over the world. And finally 8modern who saved me from isolationism. After all, one artist may not know too much but put eight of us together and you get quite a lot. Yes we nag and cajole and procrastinate. We drink and smoke too much and decisions are difficult to make and some of us (me anyway) are lazy bastards but when we put on a show yo can bet it is ace.

Like our last show, Access Random Memory, superbly created by Caroline Fisher and very well received. No, you can’t see the amazingly claustrophobic stuffed wardrobe or the collection of collectively chewed gum. Nor can you gaze at Snoopy and white rabbit in their odd white coffin. You can only dream of the miniature transparent buildings housed in wardrobe drawers or the lovely drawings accompanying the exhibition. And Raof’s magic lighted trap door in the wardrobe base could have led you to all sorts of imagining. But it’s been dismantled. (Part of it’s point). We will be in action as a group in June. A park bench will feature. (It’s all part of the Southwark Project). The details will come later if you wish to see us in action.

On my way to the studio and walking through Regent’s Park It is a stunning early spring day and everyone is out on the grass. I walk through croci and budding daffodils. Every step I take has it’s equivalent dead body in Iraq.

March 25th, 2003 | Residents, General, Reading Room, Diana Henebury

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