Website note : The text below written by Duncan McLaren has been altered slightly so as to fit the style of this website, i.e. its full of links to relevant and less so info relating to the text and the artists, TV series, songs involved.
In many ways Duncan McLaren's text is as much an exploration of the work of Russell Hoban and his classic work of science fiction 'Riddley Walker', as the Builders project itself. Sadly the writer Russell Hoban died on the very day Duncan finished his essay. To read Duncan's original text, presented in a more literary style, visit Duncans website at http://www.duncanmclaren.co.uk
If you have hit on this page direct, then images of The Biulders project plus some video can be found here.
Duncan McLaren.
GOT TO GET OURSELVES BACK TO THE GARDEN

PART ONE

mail From: Duncan McLaren to Neal Beggs
Subject: The Builders
Date: 9 October 2011 19:30:38

Hi Neal,
I see what you mean about Joey and Camille. That's a lot of work on itsourplayground. They seem to want to investigate exactly what an artist can do. Certainly, the way they've invited you, the Morisons and Nick Evans to participate in 'The Builders' is enterprising. Whose playground? Our playground. I will see what I can add to the mix.
Looking at that list of materials and tools the Morisons are providing brings an extra ingredient to mind. I mean Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Perhaps that's because the Morisons' recent work, Mr Clevver, a travelling puppet show, is inspired by that novel. Riddley Walker takes place in the future after a nuclear holocaust has put paid to civilization. Knowledge and language have decayed so that oral myth is all. Mr Clevver is referred to in Punch and Judy-style shows. Effectively, Punch's mistreatment of Judy and their baby is magnified by Mr Clevver so that devastation comes to all. I'll be coming back to this.
Nick Evans has work in 'You, Me, Something Else' at GOMA just now, and is represented by Mary Mary, whose site also shows examples of his sculpture. Bulging plaster objects resting on exquisite walnut tables that are topped with abstract prints. I wonder if the Morisons took into account his work when they came up with their list of materials. Perhaps they did, after all plaster and wood have been provided. And I wonder whether you'll be taking Nick's sculpture into account when you make pieces that he will be curating into an exhibition. Are you going to use the set of chisels to knock out some mock-walnut tables? Well, if you can do so while remaining true to your own practise then I suppose you might.
I've also been looking at your site today. I like the main image of 'How the West Was Won' showing, now in Paris. What a fine array of bombs and bones, and all carved from wood fresh from the tree. I took advantage of the link you provide to the gallery's site and clicked to see the show at Benoit Le Carpentier in more detail. Scrolling across the images, I paused at the record player pieces. A turntable carved from the circular top of a three-feet high section of tree trunk. The words you've written on the side of the turntable intrigued me. Most of them disappear round the back of the cylinder but the first sentence: 'I came upon a child of God', was enough for Google to tell me that what you've written round that tree-trunk are the lyrics from 'Woodstock'. So I've gone ahead and done what you've done: I've used them in my work:
'I came upon a child of God,
 He was walking along the road.
 And I asked him where are you going,
 And this he told me:
"I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
 I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
 I'm going to camp out on the land
 I'm going to try an' get my soul free."'
I like to think that Joni Mitchell had fallen in with Riddley Walker. But she was walking to Yasgur's Farm in New York state, whereas Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker was in the vicinity of Good Mercy Farm on the North Downs in the south east of England, and Heather and Ivan Morison's Riddley Walker has been making his way through rural Tasmania in 2010/2011. In other words, I'm not sure how Joni and Riddley got it together. But let it stand.
'We are stardust,
 We are golden.
 And we've got to get ourselves
 Back to the garden.'
Riddley did most of his roading at night, protected by a pack of dogs. But who's to say the pack weren't with Riddley and Joni on the way to Yasgur's Farm. And who's to say they didn't act like a magnet to their fellow sentient beings:
'By the time we got to Woodstock
 We were half a million strong,
 And everywhere there was song and celebration.
 And I dreamed I saw the bombers,
 Riding shotgun in the sky,
 And they were turning into butterflies
 Above our nation.'
Bob Dylan lived close to the Woodstock site but he arranged to play at the Isle of Wight Music Festival at the end of August, 1969, so on August 15 Dylan set sail for England on the QE2. Apparently he'd been unhappy about the number of hippies piling up outside his house. Thank goodness Riddley was there (it now seems) to take Bob's place. Otherwise Joni might never have made it to Yasgur's Farm.
The lyrics to 'Woodstock' reminded me that the last time we worked together, when you made the 'Belgium is Not a Road' show for the gallery in Aalst, near Brussels. You placed the lyrics to a David Bowie song on the gallery wall. Not just any song but 'Memory of a Free Festival'. I can't remember now how much of the lyrics you used, but I have a feeling you used the refrain at the end of the song…
Well, I've just looked up the piece on your website and I haven't remembered it very well! You did use the whole lyric, but then you changed it from the first person to the third. So, for example, every time Bowie sang 'we' or 'our' you replaced the word with 'they' or 'their'. Your wall drawing entitled 'if we were they', reads:
'The children of the summer's end,
 Gathered in the dampened grass.
 They played their songs and felt the London sky
 Resting on their hands
 It was God's land.
 It was ragged and naive
 It was Heaven.'
'Touch, They touched the very soul,
 Of holding each and every life.
 They claimed the very source of joy ran through.
 It didn't, but it seemed that way.
 They kissed a lot of people that day.'
By changing the lyric to the third person, you've distanced the viewer from the event. Why have you done that? To signal that 2008, when you did the work, is no longer Good Time? (In Riddley Walker Good Time is the time before the Bad Time that the '1Big1' brought on.)
Bowie was singing in praise of a festival he'd attended in Beckenham, south London, on August 16, 1969. Woodstock was on at exactly the same time, August 15 to 18, 1969. That's a month after the first Moon landings which themselves were 8 days after the airing of the first episode on British TV of Star Trek. (I Googled it when you told me that you were bringing an interest in Star Trek to the current project.) The episode was called: 'Where no man has gone before'. Summer 1969 - What a time to be alive and kicking, especially if you were a kid! 'The sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party.'
I'll be reading Riddley Walker on the train tomorrow to see if what the book's got to say might be of any further use to you. But let me say this now: Yellerboy (the Morisons) + charcoal (you) + crystals of pig shit (Nick Evans) = Boom Boom.
Hope you had a good building day and that you are only just thinking of winding down about now. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Duncan.
- - -
mail From: Neal Beggs to Duncan McLaren
Subject: Re: hi
Date: 9 October 2011 21:25:01
"See you in the morning starchild."
see the attached image.
n.
neal beggs woodstock

- - -
PART TWO
The train gets me into Glasgow's Queen Street station on time and from there it's a 10-minute walk to Duke Street. Only when I get there, the street sign says 'King Street'. So I consult my map and realize that Duke Street is a very long road that starts not a million miles from here and disappears into the east end of Glasgow. I get on a bus going in the right direction and soon I'm keeping an eye out for a gallery window that says:
The Builders:
Heather and Ivan Morison
Neal Beggs
Nick Evans
I get to the end of the road, without seeing what I'm looking for, so I do what I should have done in the first place. I get off the bus and walk step by step, giving due consideration to each building in this once deprived but now bustling area of Glasgow. And so I arrive at my destination, still slightly confused about where I am.
It's a glass-fronted space whose other three walls are made of what I take to be breezeblocks. Smooth grey floor; shiny grey 'corrugated steel' ceiling complete with striplight; and a single, functional grey pillar. Not what I would call an ideal studio; rather a grey cube. The sort of place that would give a popstar from the late Sixties a headache in five minutes flat.
The air is a bit dusty because Neal - together with Camille Le Houezec and Jocelyn Villemont, the curators of the project - are messing around with bags of cement and sand. Well, no, they're not messing around. Joey and Camille - as comfortable getting their hands dirty as they clearly are with mouse and keyboard - are putting measured amounts of aggregate and sand and cement into a purple plastic mixing bucket. I wonder how they find life in Glasgow, having relocated here from France three years ago. I guess they've experienced a massive shift in language, culture and weather. Clearly they're coping. I've seen from their site that they have been or will be working with the CCA in Glasgow and the Collective in Edinburgh, as well as getting on with their own independent curating. And right now? Right now Camille adds water to a bucket and steps back while Joey goes at the contents of the plastic bucket with a giant egg whisk. Well, again no, it's not an egg whisk, what it actually is should be on this list of materials that Heather and Ivan Morison have provided:
CEMENT MIXER
WHEEL BARROW
SHOVEL
TWO-PART CASTING POLYURETHANE
CHOPSAW
SKILLSAW
CARVERS CHISEL SET
2"5 WANYEDGE SLABS OF TIMBER
ROUGH SAWN 2" x 4"
COAL DUST
CEMENT
AGGREGATE
BUILDERS SAND
CEMENT DYE
HEAVY DUTY PROPANE BLOWTORCH
LARGE PROPANE CANNISTER
2x SLIDING BEVEL
CASTING PLASTER
FLEXIBLE RUBBER BUCKETS
WATER
CARPENTER'S PENCIL
2XLARFGE BAGS OF GREY CLAY
SCREWS
DRILLDRIVER
WOODGLUE
An ideal studio? I think it's what the astronauts of Apollo 11 left on the Moon after their mission was over, minus an American flag. The list starts with a cement mixer, so I ask Joey where that is. Well, it's missing. Apparently, the list of materials provided by H&IM blew the £800 budget wide apart. So instead of there being 50kg of expensive casting polyurethane, there is a newly bought bucket containing 5kg of the stuff. And instead of the cement mixer there is the whisk device that Neal is soldiering on with. Only a relatively small amount of concrete can be made each time, and already they have slopped it out into the wooden mould created, principally, by two long planks of wood (I see them on the list) which have been bound together, subdivided by shorter bits of wood (I think the 2" x 4" has already come in handy then). The three builder-artists, currently at work, made several lozenge shaped concrete bricks, or modules, yesterday. But these are not solid concrete, and Neal shows me how a sheet of polystyrene (not on the list of materials, so if you are from the School of Purist Curating, you might as well stop reading now) has been cut up and formed into rough cubes which form the inner sanctum, as it were, of each concrete unit.
I wonder why the Morisons blew the budget, given that they must know how important money is to any project. I guess they wanted to be supportive of this artist-led enterprise in a poor part of Glasgow. But at the same time they're busy with high-profile projects in various parts of the world. Most recently they have installed a substantial piece at the Southbank Centre in London. It's called Black Pig Lodge and looks as if it's made from about a million quid's worth of skillfully-worked materials, principally cut and polished coal. It has intriguing references to Twin Peaks, the outstanding TV series of the early Nineties, and next time I'm in London I'll be engaging with it, if it's still there. And if it's not? Well, Black Pig Lodge will be somewhere, surely, even if I have to look through old VHS tapes of Twin Peaks to root it out.
On one breeze-block wall Neal has taped a note to himself. Perhaps this is what he's bearing in mind as he gets on with the rough preliminary work that is a necessary preparation for any journey worth embarking on:
ALL THE YOUNG DUDES
Stardate: 191418
'All The Young Dudes', is another David Bowie song. Though Bowie wrote it originally for Mott the Hoople, who took it to the top of the charts in July 1972. Was July 1972, three years after the first Moon landing, still part of Good Time? Well, the last manned mission to land on the Moon was in December of 1972, so it's tempting to say, yes. On the other hand, one of the verses to the song goes:
'And my brother's back at home
With his Beatles and his Stones.
We never got it off on that revolution stuff:
What a drag, too many snags.'
Which suggests that the singer of the song is post-Good Time. Perhaps summer of '69 was the climax of something special. The culmination of what the Beatles and the Stones and Bob Dylan and David Bowie and Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys – that whole inspired musical generation – had started earlier in the decade.
As for Stardate: 191418, well, that's how Star Trek's Captain Kirk, or First Lieutenant Spock, would refer to the First World War. Or at least it's an ironic reference to such. I sit down in a corner of the gallery with Riddley Walker. There's some date stuff in the book that I must try and get my head round. OK, here it is on page 120 of my Picador. Riddley is shown a piece of writing that comes from Canterbury Cathedral ('The Ardship of Cambry', derived from the Archbishop of Canterbury, comes up a lot in the novel). It tells Riddley – in what we would think of as standard English - that the Legend of St. Eustace dates from the year A.D. 120 and that the wall painting depicting episodes of his life dates from the XVth Century, probably 1480.
Riddley's pal, Goodparley, says he can explain most of that and proceeds to do so: 'St is short for sent. Meaning this bloak Eustace he dint jus tern up he wer sent. A.D. 120 that's the year count they use to have it gone from Year 1 right the way to Bad Time. A.D. means All Done. 120 years all done they're saying that's when they begun this picter in 120 nor they got it finsisht til 1480 is what it says here well you know there aint no picter could take 1360 years to do these here year numbers is about something else maybe wewl never know what'.
Riddley asks, 'What year is it now by that count?'
Goodparley: 'We don't know jus how far that count ever got becaws Bad Time put an end to it. Theres a stoan in the Power Ring stannings has the year number 1997 cut into it nor we aint never seen no year number farther on nor that. After Bad Time dint no one write down no year count for a long time we don't know how long til the Mincery begun agen. Since we startit counting its come to 2347 o.c. which means Our Count.'
Of course Russell Hoban is just hypothesizing when he comes up with the year 1997, just as George Orwell was when in 1948 he came up with 1984 as the doom and gloom year. It was 1974 when Russell Hoban visited Canterbury Cathedral, saw the legend of Saint Eustace and began to think of a book set in a world that had suffered nuclear wipeout. It was 1980 when Riddley Walker was first published. So lets just accept that it was about 30 years from the western world's Good Time to its Bad Time, as predicted in the pages of Riddley Walker.
Riddley says, 'Dyou mean to tel me them befor us by the time they done 1997 years they had boats in the air and all them things and here we are done 2347 years and mor and stil slogging in the mud?'
Riddley needn't feel so bad on the part of his people. Cos while 1997 has come and gone without catastrophe, it's 2011 AD and there is Neal pouring out another bucket of slop with Camille trying to control where exactly it slops down into. Neal tells me that yesterday they ran out of cement and had to make a special trip to get another bag of the vital ingredient. That reminds me of the scene in Riddley Walker when Riddley, together with Goodparley, roll up at Granser's place. Granser is the one who has been singing 'When the yellerboy comes home'. He's got the crystals of pigshit and the hart of the wood and when he hears that Riddley's got a bag of yellerboy then he wastes no time in putting the three together with aview to achieving the '1Little1'. Let me find the precise bit:
'Granser said: "Now comes the las of the mixing which Ive got to say the words."
Riddley: "Wel go on and say them then."
Granser: "O no I aint saying them words wylst youre lissening thems the fissional seakerts of the act aint they. You bes go off a little way."'
Riddley leaves him to it. Next thing there is an almighty bang. Granser's head ends up on a pole while the pounder he was using to reduce the ingredients to powder ends up embedded in Goodparley's forehead. And so Riddley is back to roading on his own.
I look around the grey cube. My eyes flit between the chopsaw, the heavy duty propane burner, the large propane canister and the drilldriver. I really hope these guys know what they're doing. But a second later I'm reminding myself that they do know what they're doing: on many levels. Jocelyn Villemont's head may ends up on top of a pole, but only on the relevant page of itsourplayground.com. A heavy object may embed itself in Camille Le Houezec's forehead, but that will be a virtual happening only.
Cheered by this knowledge, if unsettled by the imagery, I sling my bundle and off I slide.


- - -
PART THREE
When I get home I sit down in front of my computer and renew my acquaintance with itsourplayground. The home page changes over time, but right now it's showing 'Behind the Curtain'. This is a virtual exhibition consisting of works of art that in some way represent curtains. I can use my computer's mouse to pull back the 'curtain' to reveal a second work of art that has some relation to the first. Behind a Nineteenth Century painting of a female form glimpsed behind a sheet hanging from a line, is a video (sourced from YouTube) of a veiled Lady Gaga. In other words, some of the same sophisticated game playing that underpins 'The Builders' is also apparent here.
Exploring the website further I come across another online exhibition called 'The Survivors, the Explorers, the Builders'. A manifesto, presumably written by Jocelyn Villemont and Camille Le Houezec, tells me that there is no money any more and that culture has to deal with this new reality: 'The situation is grave but artists have been preparing for the crisis. This project investigates the various means to survive, to build, to develop a practise by investigating diverse economic, historical, mythologic, folkloric, ideological and ethnographic aspects of survival.' Sounds good. And, of course, the main tool that artists have got at their disposal is the one implied by the whole set-up: the internet. But it's not the only tool in a contemporary artist's kitbag. The statement goes on to claim that 'the selected artists are well used to building huts, digging trenches and to surviving in a hostile environment, to exploring unknown land. Most of those artists are less gallery artists than field-walkers, climbers…'
Heather and Ivan Morison are highlighted as 'builders'. Whereby the builder's construction is defined by the nature of the land he's in. 'The builders will have to construct something new, built on the basis of what the survivors and the explorers did. The construction, material or not, will be the beginning of a new era.' Neal is highlighted in the 'survivors' section of the webpage, which states: 'The survivors will navigate between what's left and what's possible.' That all sounds very Riddley Walker-esque. Which is fine by me.
It's teasing that the current project exists as a separate page on the website. This time, Heather and Ivan Morison have been joined by Neal Beggs and Nick Evans as, simply, 'The Builders'. Does it make sense to have Neal flitting between builder, survivor and - by extension - explorer? I think it does. But in order to consolidate my understanding of this I install his DVD, From Our House to the summit of Europe. And I'll be 'watching' it as I carry on typing, which I like to think of as exploring and building and surviving in my own small way. Oh, yes we're all at it.
Soon I've got things set up neatly. The A4 page I'm writing is on the left of my screen, with the video I'm watching to the right of that. The video itself has a right and a left side. Let me explain exactly what I see there, because it's a rhythm that is maintained throughout Neal's walk.
OK, the right screen is full of picture, the camera is looking straight ahead along the road that Neal is walking. As he pans to his right, the picture on the right channel is getting narrower, black encroaches from above, which it continues to do as the camera returns to looking straight ahead again, then, without pausing, it begins to look down. By the time the camera is looking straight down at Neal's feet, the picture on the right is very narrow, at the bottom of the screen. But no matter, because coming down from the top of the left side of the screen, eating into the black rectangle, is a new picture cycle. The camera is slowly raised again and soon it is looking straight ahead with picture size full (on the left screen, the right screen is now black). The camera pans left, then returns to looking straight in front, then returns to looking at Neal's feet. By which time the picture on the left is rapidly being overtaken by descending black. But never mind, because the picture is opening up on the right again, the picture makes inroads into the black from above, as the camera looks up towards the horizon, pauses, then pans right…
Left… right…left… right… The video emphasizes that this is a walk. Left… right… left…right… The structure never lets us forget that feet and eyes are continually used in this project. If Neal can manage the technical hurdles, which I'm sure he can, I'll suggest he puts a link to the ten-minute preview of the walk that exists on his website here. How many links to other websites does this text contain so far? Possibly several, though I keep changing my mind about whether this would interrupt the flow of this piece. However, I'm holding back from linking to itsourplayground until the time is right. As ever in art, the flow of information has to be boldly controlled.
There's always landscape to look at. There are always glimpses of the walker, especially when the sun is out and Neal's shadow is cast on the road or pavement. What a green land. How flat France is. The land will rise, seemingly exponentially, but not until Neal gets almost to the end of his 760 kilometre walk. There he goes: left, right, left, right… Looking, walking… surviving, exploring, building…
Left…a field with straw bales, each of which is covered in plastic, a white plastic rather than the black I'm familiar with from the Perthshire landscape. Right… A hedge with thin trees rising above it; sunshine penetrates the fine branches. Yes, that makes sense. Neal is walking from Nantes, in the west of France, to Mont Blanc just to the east of France. So when looking right, he's looking south and - in the middle of the day - towards the sun.
OK I can leave Neal making solid progress in an easterly direction and catch up with Riddley Walker. Riddley was moving through the south east of England in a way that constantly bore in mind the movement of the Ardship of Cambry, which was determined by a mythical rhyme. If you plot those nine walks on a present day map, they make a big spiral from Herne Bay in the north to Canterbury. Riddley's actual walk was very different, dotting about from place to place in the same area, often retracing his progress, but sometimes he did let the rhyme influence his movements. For a while Riddley even walked with the existing Ardship of Cambry (another 12-year-old boy) but when walking together they were going straight towards Cambry from Fork Stoan, if I remember rightly. And the Ardship dismissed Riddley once he felt he'd got his measure. For unselfish reasons this made Riddley feel uncomfortable and even guilty. In a short time he'd bonded with the blind, genetically mutated Ardship, who'd been bred to be sacrificed by the superstitious powers-that-be in 2347o.c. And for a while Riddley was haunted by the rhyme:
Never did the good luck brother
Turn around to help the other.
OK where has Neal got to… The view is opening up on the left… No, its not. The lane is in darkness. I think it's still daylight but there is a tall hedge to the left. And on the right? I'll have to wait a few seconds to see. Ah, I think there's been a bit of editing there, done when the camera was pointing at the feet, because now the lane that emerges is in sunshine. To the right is blue sky and green fields, an idyllic landscape. 'There has been no nuclear holocaust here,' suggests the view to the right. And the view to the left states equally sure of itself: 'There will be no apocalypse today'. Holocaust might come out as Helluva Cost in Riddley speak. And apocalypse might come out as Apox Alapse. But that's just word play. Still it's my playground (a small but integral part of our playground), so why not?
The DVD comes in a box that tells me that Neal's walk was also made in nine stages. It began in February 2010 with a three-day walk that took him from his home at Chevrue as far as Montreuil, a road walk of 97km. Most of the nine walks were for three days, then Neal would take a train back home. A month or so later, he would get the train as far east as he'd walked the last time, and get three more days of walking under his belt and into the camera's memory disc. Stage six, for example, taking him in mid-June from Dompierre Sur Besbre to a town called Macon. And it was August 12, 2010, before Neal stood on top of Mont Blanc and finally put down his camera. Why the coming and going? Because Neal has commitments that he can't escape so easily. The artist has a family that he wants and needs to be with on a regular basis. Yes, he can afford to be away for three days at a time, every few weeks. No, he can't just set off for Mont Blanc as if it was August 1969, and he'd been inspired by watching the first episode of Star Trek and/or Apollo 11's Moon landing. Above all, Neal has a wife and child, and nothing could be further from the truth than:
Never did the good luck brother
Turn around and help the other.
There is a second DVD in the box. If the A-side of the work is this relentless left/right business, that goes on for over three hours, the B-side is the same, plus it includes times when Neal turns the camera on himself and talks directly to it. At one point, in the rain, he tells the viewer about Werner Herzog's walk from Munich to Paris. Herzog was rained on the whole time, and had a consistently uncomfortable experience, which reminds me that Riddley Walker does most of his walking in the rain, often at night. I can picture Werner Herzog, Neal Beggs and Riddley Walker roading through the rain, comfortable or not. I can see Hamish Fulton and Richard Long too.
Actually, thanks to the endless possibilities of my computer's browser, what I see is Mr Clevver, Heather and Ivan Morison's traveling sculptural artwork in the form of a puppet theatre, on its unhurried tour of the less-traveled side roads and small rural settlements of western and north-western Tasmania. 'Moving slowly through the landscape, Mr Clevver uses the spectacle of an un-fashioned 1960s truck drawing a hand-built humpy and the "bush telegraph" to attract locals to their shows.' Word of mouth will signal the company's arrival at rural settlements, where Heather and Ivan, or their puppeteers, will make camp and spread the word that a performance shall take place the next day. How exciting is that!
Artists roading in all weathers… Roading round the planet… Surviving, exploring, building.
Hang on a minute. Incoming mail alert on the bush telegraph. Let's pick that up straight away as it might be from a survivor, a builder or a hand-built humpy:
mail From: Neal Beggs to Duncan McLaren
Subject: Re: The Dudes All Young
Date: 15 October 2011 00:44:27 GMT+01:00
To: Duncan McLaren
Hi Duncan,
Sorry for the lack of contact, its been bissy and tiring trying to tie the work together, but I seem to have come up with a few things that work ok for me. I hope you will find it interesting. The Young Dudes have made it through to the end, plus the numbers 14, and 18. Startrek is there in spirit but not in body and there is a mad looking "style' that I would normally have painted red, but there is not red in the I&HM vision of life and so I have ended up covering it with a skim of grey concrete, which I am none too happy with! but may look alright when I see it in the morning. My option was to leave it a clean wood, which I didn't want to do, burn it as I am sure the morisons would have wanted me to do, which I for sure did not want to do, just because I know they would do it, or cover it in concrete in a Mick Peter fashion. I felt stuck and opted for the mick peter solution. We will see if its ok or not tomorrow.
Looking forward to see you then.
N
Why doesn't Neal just say 'See you in the morning, Starchild,' and attach a photo of whatever he means by the 'style'. Is he losing it in that concrete bunker, or what? Ah well, all will be revealed when the sun rises.


PART FOUR

I've timed it quite well. Neal's talk starts in ten minutes giving me a chance to take in the space as it now is.
First there is a wall, consisting of four rows of concrete bricks or modules. Five in the bottom row, then four in the next one up, then three, then two along the top. One of the bricks has the number 14 deeply etched into it, while there is an 18 similarly etched into another brick elsewhere in the room. Not sure how Neal has achieved this etching effect (not with one of the fine set of wood chisels surely!). But I'll have to find out, cos elsewhere in the room there are some larger concrete modules (actually they're the same shape as WW1 tanks; perhaps the technical word is rhomboids). 'THE', is stacked on 'YOUNG', which is stacked on 'DUDES'. Another brick with 'ALL' etched into it sits on the floor nearby.
In the middle of the room is the stile. That is, a wooden structure for getting over a fence or wall from either side of said fence/wall. Its presence reminds me of the slick show on in Paris at the moment. Which features a red stile surrounded by bones and bombs, all made of wood. Here, covered in grey concrete, the stile is read a little differently. In this 1914-18 context one can't help sensing soldiers using the stile to get out of their respective trenches. In such a scenario, they meet up on the platform atop the structure. And then what? Die in each other's arms, basically. ALL THE YOUNG TRENCH FODDER is what this grey cube conjures up.
A Bowie song that really does reference the First World War is 'Aladdin Sane', which on the album of the same name's sleeve has in brackets after the song title '(1913, 1938, 197?)'. So one thing you can't say against David Bowie is that he didn't cast an eye back on those less fortunate than himself: the dead of two world wars. Though come to think of it, Bowie did have a half-brother called Terry. And didn't Terry end up rotting in an asylum? So let's say it anyway, acknowledging the complexity of any human being's situation:
Never did the good luck brother Turn around to help the other.
Back when Aladdin Sane came out, it annoyed me that I didn't spot that the title was really saying 'A Lad Insane'. I must have sung often enough the lines: 'Battle cries and champagne. Who… who'll love Aladdin Sane,' and never made the little linguistic leap that would have delivered to me the secret of the insane lad. Thank-you NME for making me feel a proper tit on that score. Ever since then I've been on the lookout for anagrams in popular culture. Perhaps 'All the Young Dudes' should be rendered as 'Huge Dead Lust Only'. I'd better try more of the possibilities inherent in that, just as I imagine Neal tried his 'YOUNG', 'ALL', 'DUDES' and 'THE' bricks in various formats:
DEAD LUST ONLY HUGE LUST ONLY HUGE DEAD ONLY HUGE DEAD LUST
That's enough: the picture's clear. Though there seems to be a word missing. And that word is POWER. But let's leave it at that. (Damn it, I can't: 'HUGE DEAL ONLY DUST; ONLY HUGE DUST DEAL…'.) In fact, I will leave it there and take a seat, because Neal's ready to start. There are about twenty folk in the audience this Saturday. Some are contacts of Camille Le Houezec and Jocelyn Villemont, who have done what they can to attract an art crowd to this unfashionable part of Glasgow's east end. (I bet its easier for them to get people to make it along to their website.) I recognize Colin Mcfarlane a long time director of the Glasgow Project Room, the designer Mark Beever and Jim Lambert who has been teaching the MFA longer than anyone , three members of Glasgow's art community who Neal got to know a decade ago when he studied for an MA in Fine Art at the art college here. And then there's Dan Norton who Neal has known from even longer ago, from when they both practiced the art of climbing as relatively young dudes in the Bristol area.
Neal looks a tad tired, as one might expect after working flat out in this environment for a week, producing in seven days what might normally be expected in twice that time. He told me on Tuesday that he felt under some pressure to deliver. All those bright young things that had attended the opening presentation of the Morisons 'dream studio' may well have fancied their hand at coming up with something special, given the opportunity. So Neal, who had been given the opportunity, knew he had to come up with the goods. Besides, Nick Evans would be counting on the production of credible works around which to build his final show. As far as I'm concerned Neal has delivered, so I hope he can get through this talk, then take a well-earned rest.
He starts off by taking a well-earned rest. In other words, via his laptop, he projects onto the wall an extract from an episode of Star Trek. Captain Kirk and a landing crew come across a weird structure on a previously unknown planet. Doctor McKoy gives it the once over with an electronic gizmo but, as usual, he doesn't know what to make of the object. 'It's Public Art, Jim. But not as we know it.' As far as Neal is concerned it was a war memorial that the crew of the Starship Enterprise had stumbled across. Neal kept coming across war memorials in his walk across France and he is going to make a piece about them. Well, surely he is sitting amidst it now. All the Young Dudes. Stardate 191418. Then I remind myself that this is not a show but a collection of works that Nick is going to make into a show over the next week.
Neal talks for a bit, though not directly about what he's been doing. Then he shows another video clip, this time from 'SBP', a collaboration with Dan Shipsides, entitled 'The Alphabet Climb'. The pair had arrived at a particular site with a view to Neal filming Dan climbing up some recesed concrete letters not disimilar to the etched letters in Neals conrete blocks, only this time the letters spell 'SELF-SURVICE RESTAURANT CAFETERIA'. But before they got going they came across a young man who was looking for his brother… There is a bit of self-consciousness on the part of the searcher on account of Neal's camera, but eventually he gets over this to the extent of explaining his search direct to the camera. Apparently the brother has gone AWOL before and that he has a strange relationship with religion. The brother will be hanging out with a cult somewhere, the first brother thinks. Why is Neal showing us this? Perhaps because for Neal the working relationship he is entering with Nick Evans may echo the one he's already forged with Dan Shipsides. But also, surely, because the clip foregrounds one young dude looking out for another.
That gets me thinking of the chapter in Riddley Walker where Riddley first comes across the Ardship of Cambry. The Ardship's been locked up in a hole in the ground. Riddley is taken there by the black leader of the Bernt Arse pack. What he takes to be a kid's voice comes up from the dungeon asking if Riddley is going to just stand there, breathing, or if he going to say something. Riddley asks what the kid wants him to say. The Ardship tells him that he doesn't have to say anything, he just has to get him out of the hole. Riddley lifts up a trap door, walks down concrete ('conkreat') steps then comes to another door with two bars in it. Riddley complains about the stink emerging from the room. The Ardship explains that this is not his fault. He hadn't been given a shovel to bury his dirt with. Tentatively, Riddley deals with the bars and when he opens the door he sees a white shadow of a figure on the old concrete wall. He describes it as being like when you put fire against a stone and get black all round except where the flame has burned clean.
Perhaps this detail from the book has come to mind because Neal is now showing a video of how he burnt out the letters in the bricks to spell out 'ALL', 'THE', 'YOUNG' and 'DUDES'. I realize that the trick to that was the polystyrene letters that Neal stuck to the inside of the wooden batons that acted as the mould. The concrete couldn't flow into the space where the polystyene was, neither into the centre of the brick stuffed with a polystyrene cube, nor into the spaces occupied by the letters. So once the concrete was set, all Neal had to do was set about the visible polystyrene with the propane burner and – WHOOSH! - the polystyrene went up in flames, leaving what I keep calling 'etched' letters in the concrete. The technique gives a satisfying finish as photos will no doubt show.
But I suspect that the prisoner-in-his-cell scene in the book has come to mind because Neal is not as his best today. He's been Riddley all week and now he's Ardship for the day. Not a bad ratio, though I suspect Neal won't be best pleased by the timing.
Of course, Neal is in nothing like as bad a state as the Ardship was. In part because Heather and Ivan Morison did provide him with a shovel as part of their ideal studio. But still what he needs now is to get out of these trenches, this warzone. So that's what we - Joey, Camille and a few old pals do – we get out of there and into the nearest pub. True, the pub in question is a Dennistoun pub on a match day Saturday afternoon. Out of the firing line into the fire one might say. But the change of scene – and the pint of Guinness - works wonders.
Half way through his drink, Neal comes up with a perspective: 'There was a victory won in that shitty breeze block box of a black pig lodge on Duke Street.'
Well said your Ardship! But one can win battles and still lose the war. There remains plenty at stake here.


PART FIVE

A week later. Nick Evans, who attended Neal's talk, has put together a show.
It's good that Nick's found time to do this. He's the recipient of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's Artist Fellowship which has given him access to the collection in Edinburgh. I've read that his interest is partly in how Western culture has been influenced by more 'primitive' cultures. I've read also that he will have a room of his own in the gallery's forthcoming Sculpture Show and so he is bound to be working towards that right now. Could 'The Builders' have anything to say about the encounter between the West and exoticism? Not sure yet.
Let me remind myself what's happening here. Heather and Ivan Morison's materials, transformed by Neal Beggs into works, have been turned into an exhibition by Nick Evans. An exhibition that I didn't see on the ground but which has been photographed by Camille Le Houezec and Jocelyn Villemont and uploaded onto itsourplay-ground.com
'The Builders' has taken an unusual approach to the making of contemporary art, with a blurring of name, function, medium and signature. Does it work? Well, it's been working for me so far, but let's consider the endgame. I imagine anyone reading this text will be doing so on a computer and so will also have the images to hand. What I mean is, this is the time to go to itsourplayground.com What does one find? A wide, deep space that is full of images taken of various phases of the project. Call it a playground.
The first impression I get from the photos taken at the opening of the exhibition per se, is that Nick Evans has turned the grey cube into something other. One particular strategy seems to have brought that about, and I'll come back to that in a second. But first let me take in the fact that the concrete modules are displayed in zig-zag towers of four or five. There is one word ('YOUNG', for example) per tower, and a TV monitor on top of three of them. I guess the monitors are showing the burning out of the letters. But I think what Nick must have done is edit Neal's video, zooming in on the flame, and putting that on a loop, because all the monitors are aflame. In other words fire (and colour!) is brought to the space. 'THE 14 DUDES ALL BURNT' … 'THE YOUNG DUDES BURNING, ALL 18'. The scene almost has religious connotations, lit by an eternal flame.
The wooden/concrete stile is nowhere to be seen in the suite of photographs. It seems to have been dispensed with. Perhaps it was too dominant an object. By getting rid of it, Nick has made space for the burning youth of yesteryear and… a simulated wood effect.
Let me have another go at describing the principle aspect of the gallery's transformation. I did notice on the day of the talk that Neal had produced several casting moulds from the silicon, each the size of a paving slab, and left them leaning against the back wall. They all featured a knotted bark effect – similar to the wood effect on the 'FIRE WOOD STOCK' attachment Neal sent me. These moulds have been used to print the bark and (eye-like) knot pattern on a curtain that now covers the whole of the back wall. For a moment, recalling 'Behind the Curtain', I feel I should be peeling it back to reveal another artwork, a wall-to-wall video of Lady Gaga, perhaps. But no, the curtain doesn't want drawing back, it's there to allow Nick to take advantage of his interest in printmaking. If Neal to some extent set Nick up for this with the provision of a multi-purpose silicon mould and some printable fabric brought over from France (against playground rules), Heather and Ivan Morison seem to have said: 'You can have any colour of dye, Nick, as long as it's black and intended for concrete.' So there's a kind of tension there, which the red flames on the monitors help resolve nicely.
The print has also been used, not on the room's single pillar itself - that might not have worked on a technical level - but on a two-dimensional arch built around a horizontal concrete beam that goes across the ceiling. The verticals of this arch echo the concrete pillar. The arch is backlit, throwing light on the curtain and some of the stacks (THE… 18… YOUNG) The installation excites me. It has me looking round for my copy of you-know-what.
There's a remarkable scene in Russell Hoban's book where Riddley stumbles on an underground space. Not the stinking hole that the Ardship of Cambry was confined in, but what I understand to be the crypt of the long-gone Canterbury Cathedral. But let's set the scene in Riddley's own inimitable words:
'The place unner the groun where I wer it wer a wood of stoan it wer stoan trees growing unner the groun. Stoan branches unner a stoan sky. A stoan wood unner the groun the hart of the wood in the hart of the stoan in the woom of her what has her woom in Cambry.'
In the crypt there were obviously many pillars. In the Glasgow gallery there is only one. But the printed arch multiplies them and the wooden print transcends the concrete.
'I fell down on to my knees then I cudnt stan up I cudnt lif up my head. The I Big 1 the Master Chaynjis it wer all roun me. Wood in the stoan and stoan in the wood. Now it showit 1 was now the other. The stoan stans. The stoan moves. In the stanning and the moving is the tree. Pick the appel off it. Hang the man on it.'
Turning again to the photos on itsmyplayground – which I'm able to drag this way and that at will - I'm forced to ask: which comes first the wooden tree or the stone pillar?
'I opent my mouf and mummering only dint have no words to mummer. Jus only letting my froat make a soun. Becaws it come to me what it were wed los. It come to me what it wer as made them people timeback way back bettern us. It wer knowing how to put ther selfs with the Power of the wood to be come stoan. The wood in the stoan and the stoan in the wood. The idea in the hart of every thing.'
OK, Riddley, I'm with you. Neal and Nick are with you. Itsourplayground is on side too. I like to think that anyone who is reading this piece of mixed-media is tuned in:
'If you cud even jus only put your self right with 1 stoan. That's what kep saying itself in my head. If you cud jus only put your self right with 1 stoan youwd be moving with the girt dants of the every thing the 1 Big 1 the Master Chaynjis. Then you might hav the res of it or not. The boats in the air or what ever. What ever you done wud be right.'
He's talking about the summer of 1969. When we had boats higher in the air than ever before. Apollo 11, The Starship Enterprise, Woodstock. But Riddley works out that pride comes before the fall.
'May be all there ever ben wer jus only 1 minim when any thing ever cud be right and that minim all ways gone befor you seen it. May be soons that 1st stoan tree stood up the wrongness hung there in the branches of it the wrongness ben the 1st frute of the tree.'
The stone tree led to the cathedral led to the Apollo mission. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden. Let's be clear about that. And I turn to a bit in the same double-page of Riddley Walker, a passage that plunges me back into the installation in Market Gallery on Duke Street. I can only use my eyes though. Itsourplayground can't help me here. I need to rely on Riddley Walker for the all-important sense of touch. Go on Riddley, feel me into the show. Let me know what Neal, Camille, Jocelyn and Nick have done on the ground. No need to be too literal, you can come and go a bit if it suits:
'I put my han on a stoan tree trunk. Fealing the carving unner my hans it wer like shaller runnels cut in the stan. The runnels come down strait and parrel 1 to the other. Then they ziggit then they zaggit then gone strait agen. Running my han over the strait and over the zig-zag. Fealing how other hans done the same thing time back way back. Some 1 carvit that stoan with a chiswell and mowlit then they run ther han over it. That carving wudve took some time too. 1st that stoan trunk ben shapit roun then the runnels ben cut into it. Then there wudve ben the fitting to do the measuring and the cutting and the pegging and the hoaling and the joyning when they fittit them curving branches on to the trunks. They wudve had to prop them branches on to the trunks. They wudve had to prop them branches with shapers wunt they. All of that to make that wood of stoan. All them hans digging and cutting and hoysting and joyning and carving. All of that to put the Power of the wood to gether with the Power of the stoan in that wood of stoan trees.'
Before Riddley leaves the crypt he comes up with a philosophical perspective. I just have to turn a paper page and it's there for me too:
'I cud feal some thing growing in me it wer like a green sea surging in me it wer saying, LOSE IT. Saying, LET GO. Saying, THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER.'
Riddley's right. I too have been getting carried away. How can I put that right? By following Neal's example and thinking harder about what happened in the summer of 1969 using the vocabulary that's to hand. First came July with the 'Where no man has gone before' episode of Star Trek and the landing of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Then, in juxtaposition, there was August, and Joni Mitchell singing that we've got to get back to the garden, and Bowie singing about someone passing some bliss among the crowd. July or August 1969? Which leads to a surer future? Star Trek or starchild? Well, we all know what 'going boldly where no man has gone before' means. It means killing alien dudes. And we all know what getting back to the garden means. It means being at one with billion-year-old carbon. I think Neal puts it well in 'How the West was Won'. Bombs or bones, what's it to be? And if bones, then living or dead?
Later, Riddley has second thoughts about the perspective he ended up with in the crypt. What were those third thoughts again? I'm turning a few more pages this time. But that's OK. I just hope I'm not spoon-feeding myself or my readers in a way that Russell Hoban was too subtle a political writer to do:
'Membering when that thot come to me: THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER. Wel now I sust that wernt qwite it. It aint that its no Power. It's the not sturgling for Power that's where the Power is. Its in jus letting your self be where it is. Its tuning in to the worl its leaving your self behynt and letting your self be in tu the hart of the stoan hart uv the dans. Evre thing blippin & bleapin & movin in the shiftin uv thay Nos. Sum tyms bytin sum tyms bit.'
I suppose that's how the novel ends. On another level, it ends with Riddley and a pal roading out into the dark having put on a Punch and Judy show for an audience. Something that Heather and Ivan Morison are doing on the other side of the planet right now. Riddley's show includes Punch, Judy, their juicy baby, a frying pan and a policeman. And all human nature is jostling about in there. 'No show without Punch', means no show without his appetites, his carnal wit, his Clevver-ness, his 'Putcha, putcha, putcha'. Riddley's roading pal asks Riddley's glove puppet what his name is.
Punch: 'Putcha self closer and I wl tel you what it rimes wit.'
Erny comes closer and is given a whack with the big stick Punch's so proud of. Erny assumes Punch's name is Jack.
Punch: 'No stupid my names Punch.'
Erny points out that whack doesn't rhyme with Punch.
Punch: 'That's becaws you jumpt a way too soon. Putcha self close agen.'
Erny's glove puppet comes close and Punch quickly gives him a real pummeling. Punch says, 'Now Ive give you a bunch hows that for riming.'
The charisma, the intelligence, the self-serving violence. How far from Punch knocking shit out of his neighbors to the First World War and on to nuclear damnation?
I think that Neal Beggs and Riddley Walker could quite happily road together. I suspect Nick Evans and the Morisons could too, even though they were born in the Seventies and so didn't live through Good Time. Camille Le Houezec and Jocelyn Villemont were born in the Eighties, and are part of a generation that believes, on balance, that the Moon landing was all a White House cum Hollywood stunt, yet I see them roading with Riddley all right. Either on the wet grey streets of Glasgow or through the anti-authoritarian space of itsourplague-round.
I've been told that the final work of The Builders is going to be credited to both Beggs and Evans. Having had no chance to discuss the issue beforehand, Neal raised the matter in a mail to Nick a few days after the show, suggesting the work be credited 'Evans and Beggs, 2011'. Nick quickly agreed to this, suggesting instead that the credit be 'Beggs and Evans, 2011'. This brings to mind the end of Riddley Walker when Riddley and Erny Orfing are discussing what to call themselves and their travelling show:
'Les jus call it Walker and Orfing,' says Erny, who was previously half of Goodparley and Orfing.
Riddley responds with: 'Why not Orfing and Walker?' To which Erny gives an insightful and modest reply, concluding: 'So Walker and Orfings what itwl have to be.'
In the case of The Builders, I think Nick is going to continue with 'Beggs and Evans, 2011' while Neal is going to stick with 'Evans and Beggs, 2011', echoing the wording of his Shipsides and Beggs partnership.
Evans and Beggs (and vice versa), Heather and Ivan Morison (and vice versa), It's Our Playground (ours or theirs or yours?). All these artists have the necessarily relentless questioning attitude to life. Everything blipping and bleaping and moving in the shifting of the numbers. Sometimes biting, sometimes bit.
My own vision is slightly different. And I can imagine Neal asking me about it.
Neal: 'What is that different vision of yours then, Duncan?'
Me: 'Good Time.'
Neal: 'Duncan, did I hear you say Good Time with a guvner G and a guvner T?'
Me: 'That's what I said and thats how I said it.'
Neal: 'Say it another way.'
Me: 'Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party.'