Artist Open Day – ALL 2016

On the heels of being selected, ALL 2016 artists congregated at Anglia Ruskin to explore and scout potential installation locations. The ALL-curatorial committee welcomed fifteen artists and led them through the corners and cavernous spaces available at the University. The group eventually ventured beyond the borders of ARU to tour alternative locations in the 800-year old market town. With his heart set on installing an alternative location, Artist, Nicholas Houghton, imparts his impressions from the day.

“April in Cambridge

A familiar, bitter, Fenland wind competes with a warming sun. The former is winning and I’m glad to go inside, into the main Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) building. I’m there because it’s Artists’ Day for Art Language Location and around twenty of us are mingling at the entrance. Some have clearly done this before, while others, like me, are participating for the first time.

I’m feeling excited about the exhibition, tinged with a touch of trepidation, because I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to put my work in the space I’m after. Art and artists had a fruitful and complex relationship with text until High Modernism. For modern artists use of language was anathema and in their eyes artistic expression began precisely when words ran out. Likewise, the relationship between art and location is often underestimated. Once commissions stopped being the main way artists earned a living, their default position was to produce works that could be exhibited in any number of spaces. A simple white space became the favourite.

We’re now some fifty years on from when the orthodoxies of Modernism were being comprehensively challenged. All the same, ideas from Modernism linger like chewing gum stuck to a shoe and an exhibition bringing together art language and location presents a rare opportunity. I’m hoping my contribution will turn out as I want.

The Artists’ Day gave us a great chance to meet other participants, as well as committee members. But most of all, it allowed us to investigate potential locations for our work. We were shown possible sites within ARU, but some of us are planning to put our work elsewhere. In my case, this is to be not far from the main ARU building, in a pub called The Tram Depot. I’ve seen pictures of it online, but what will it look like in real life? And will they turn down my proposal to exhibit there?

As soon as I’m able, I am anxious to cross the road and go in the Tram Depot to inspect it. Then, concerned it would not be as I hoped I delay the encounter. Like somebody receiving a letter with the result of an interview, as long as I delay there will be hope. So instead I go with some other artists who are having lunch and drink a welcome cup of coffee.

I know I shouldn’t wait any longer and wander along to the pub. Inside, I look long and hard at all the walls, even those in the gents’ toilets. I half expect somebody to challenge me and ask what I’m doing. The more I look, the less likely it seems that I’ll ever get permission to put up my work here. The walls are covered with an abundance of typical pub decoration, all of which is securely screwed to the wall. It would be a big ask to put my work up, as it would mean taking down what’s already up on the walls. Somehow, I’d always imagined there would be a spare bit of wall I could use. Now that I’m there, I can’t see any. I leave the pub. Perhaps when I return, I’ll see it with a different eye and have some sort of idea.

On the programme, the day is supposed to end at the Tram Depot. I don’t flatter myself this has anything to do with me: it would be because it’s the nearest hostelry to ARU. When I arrive, I’m able to reacquaint myself with some of the other participants and committee members, including Robert Good.  He asks me how I’ve got on and I tell him that I haven’t asked yet, but I’m not at all optimistic. He replies that in his experience of leading this exhibition for five years, sometimes you find you obtain permission when you least expect to and vice versa. There’s nothing to lose.

I know there’s nothing to lose, but nor do I want to blow my chance and be turned down almost before I’ve finished asking. The approach has to be made very carefully. I wander around the pub again and two walls near the entrance are looking at least possible. I approach ALL’s Kieran Priest, since he’s the person with the technical knowledge who could advise me about hanging on either of these walls. He’s very helpful and explains why one would be feasible and the other not.

However, he now proves even more helpful than I could possibly have imagined. ‘Why not go and put it to the publican?’ he suggests.

‘Is he here?’ I ask.

‘Yes, come on.’ We wander over to the bar. I introduce myself and when I put the idea to him, the publican immediately says yes, without the slightest hesitation. He’ll be delighted. We shake hands. It has been so easy, I’m almost shocked. Robert was right. You never know. And now I’m looking forward to putting Tramlines in the Tram Depot in October.

As I cycled to the station, the wind was still cold. But bitter? Not one bit of it.”

"Tramlines" by Nicholas Houghton
“Tramlines” by Nicholas Houghton

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