I spent one night in Southend. The hotel restaurant overlooked the pier, and its decor was dominated by a large representation of it. Eating breakfast and scanning these sunny views, I felt as if I was on holiday in an archetypal world of ‘holiday’.
As I left, I saw what looked like a stand of postcards but which turned out to be an artwork – Mark Langley‘s photographs of memorial benches. This was part of the Artside festival – I found a programme on a nearby table, realising why I had seen unexpected art incursions the previous day. A substantial programme of public art had just started – I had even missed interesting stuff on the pier itself, like Helen Stratford‘s ‘Please Wait Here: Instructions for performing a queue for a pleasure pier train’. I decided to stick around to try and see some more.
Outside, I walked along the promenade again. A gleaming tide emerged from a bar:
I tried to find a Kiss Me Quick hat, but the only ones I saw had the text laserprinted on a piece of paper and merely stapled on to a plastic hat. Whilst I wasn’t expecting to find one hand-embroidered in silk thread by the last of the Pierrots, I judged that too little effort had been made and passed up the opportunity. Then I revisited the underside of the pier:
After that I reclimbed Pier Hill to find Madelaine Murphy‘s dovecote, a structure made from architectural and nautical salvage. This works as an interactive piece as the audience attach origami birds and other objects to lines radiating from the sculpture. I was a bit early but Amy McKenny, one of the Artside curators was there and we chatted for a while. Amy told me some of the history of the Park Inn hotel where I had stayed – how it had been filled with the homeless, the windows festooned with bags of food, hung to cool outside the fridgeless rooms. I wondered afterwards where those residents went to, and what traces they leave on this place. I wandered off to ring Jennie, then came back to meet Madelaine Murphy and collaborators, including Denise W. Dye whose work I had seen on the pier train yesterday.
I was the first to hang something on one of the lines – a small feather and some words from a newspaper I had found whilst fossicking beneath the pier.
I got the train back into London. I decided to ignore the Tube and walked along the Thames path for a couple of miles to get the Hayward Gallery. I paid my money and went in to see Tracey Emin’s big retrospective show Love is What You Want. There I saw my second wooden art-structure of the day, Knowing My Enemy, a full-size recreation of a collapsing pier. I suppose it is a jetty rather than a pleasure pier and thus technically outside the scope of this blog, but really a pier of whatever kind made by Margate’s most famous artist had to be visited. Back in Southend, people were attaching fragments of their own journeys to the Dovecote – here, the art was exalted and untouchable, Emin’s (apparently) deeply personal stuff held hovering for special viewing.
From the Hayward I walked further along the Thames Embankment, to The Beaconsfield, for a memorial event for artist Ian Hinchliffe. I first met Ian when I was still at school, and over the decades experienced many of his unpredictable, uncontainable, absurdly dangerous and disturbingly funny performances. There was a shelf with a book of Ian’s paintings, and assorted objects brought by some of the friends, artists, musicians, carnies, curators, fishermen, drinkers and mad cronies who had come along. Ian himself had assembled and made many objects as props for one-off (unrepeatable) performances over the decades, but very little of that was physically present – I guess it’s all stashed in his home, to be archived one day, or lost forever, who knows.
So that was my day by the river: art in the street, art in a gallery, art absent but actively remembered; Murphy lowering a line for a memory to be strung in the bright grey air, Emin scrawling a message in permanent neon, Hinchliffe eating a glass while being dragged off stage (recreated).