Ash Wednesday 2017


2017-03-01 07.53.20
‘No nuclear weapons’ written in charcoal on the columns of the MOD

The Wednesday before last, early in the morning, I walked up the steps of the entrance portico of the Ministry of Defence, past the policeman on duty, into the entrance portico. I drew a stick of charcoal out of my pocket and drew a cross on column and then another. I walked in amongst the columns and then drew another and then another. The workers, their long coats hanging open, carrying their briefcases, were just arriving. One caught my eye and said, ‘What you as well?’ I wasn’t sure what he meant. It sounded like ‘Et tu, Brute?’ Men and women rushed past, as if they were late. It wasn’t even eight o’clock. Not that I was thinking about the time. I was trying not to be distracted by my surprise that no one was stopping me. I heard an iphone camera rattle. A woman was taking a picture. Was she going to write ‘This numpty…?’ Was she going to post it in MOD staff news, ‘This numpty thought she could tell us how dangerous nuclear weapons are.’ One woman tut tutted. And she’s the one tut tutting at me? It’s me who should be tutting. It’s me who should be kissing my teeth, as we say in Hackney.

The yoga teacher, a small neat man, with his neat beard and neat shorts who is as strong as a gymnast, well him, he said, ‘Examine which part of you feels made larger by your practice.’ That’s the way he talks this yoga teacher. On that occasion I would say it was my thighs.

After the action at the MOD, but also after Ash Wednesday in general, the part of me that felt larger was my heart. It seemed to have grown. St. Philip Neri had an enlarged heart.

Some of the participants in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, organised by Pax Christi, have been coming for over thirty years. They have been holding this problem, this sin, this collective, terrible transgression up to the light perhaps since the UK got nuclear weapons, or at least since the beginning of Polaris. At first I used to be a bit disappointed that not so many younger, or even middle aged people came, other than some school children brought by their RE teacher. But I’ve recently become a grandmother. So my perspective has changed. I know why it’s the older people who come.

Ash Wednesday is a good moment to think about these things. My whole day was devoted to Ash Wednesday. Having been told, ‘Well Done’ for the charcoal writing, by the policeman outside the MOD, I went home, and got marked with ashes myself in my parish church. ‘Remember you are dust’ says the priest. The smile on the familiar parishioners’ faces as they came out of church, the big damp gritty cross on their faces. It’s strange that being reminded I am dust is such a joyful occasion. All our wrinkled brows and wispy hair suddenly plastered with ash, brazenly showing our reality, that soon we’ll be ash. Or in the story of Nebuchadnezzar, when the three men walked out of the fire..

MOD remember you are dust. You have no rights just ‘bare existence’, when stripped down to it. Just a heap of Portland stone, carefully scrubbed of all the soot that you used to be covered with like all public buildings in London.

So as a peace activist, I thought it’s important to grow. As it’s about growing in love. It’s not so much about taking the moral high ground, saying something clever and devising a  campaign, or planning incredible jaw dropping nonviolent direct action, although that would be good. It’s that the next step is growing in love. This is why peace activists are old. They have grown in love, they have grown old on the job, they haven’t given up.

Strange to think that my Ash Wednesday would have made me think that. Yes I feel uncomfortable with the after effects of the action. It’s humiliating in a way. To make yourself momentarily vulnerable. To put yourself at the mercy of the police.

Fasting, weeping, mourning, sings the prophet. Gather the community, even the babes at the breast and the lovers in their bedrooms. No one can be let off . No one escapes. Love for babies, love for lovers, love for our community. This kind of love is bigger than all of it. This is the kind of love, the blessings that will come, you have to get better at as you get older. It takes a grandmother or an aunty to do this kind of loving.


Ash Wednesday 2017

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Text in art. This show cheered me up no end so I start chatting to the curator. The curator tells me it’s about giving up control/authorship and that the artists have been influenced by On Kawara. I say its about the participants visitors taking time to read the work, , I think the main thing is that it prompts a discussion. In Martijn in ‘t Veld ‘s Reading on Kawara there is a photocopy of the front page of a library book showing the date stamps. I only realised the next day why this was significant, once I had looked up On Kawara in an article by Adrian Searle.

Younh-Hae Chang- Heavy Industries ‘SUBJECT: HELLO version Z’ Here is one of those spam emails you get projected as a film, phrase by phrase, being read out as well with background music. As you take the time to read you feel yourself  getting sucked into the emotional blackmail of the email, which normally you would avoid and feel yourself being ‘swindled’ but laughing at the same time. Zinger has given over its website to showing another of these films.

Dan Rees ‘The Postman’s Decision is Final’ two sided postcard sent back and forth between two addresses for a year. I don’t even know if I’m right about this but it kept me thinking all afternoon. In the end postman decides whether it reaches the gallery or not or somewhere else.

The show included an essay by Freek Lomme,

‘As stated, art in itself proposes to radically bring forth meaningful matter via methods. This total sum may be produced by one, the artist, or more. The physical place and the author are irrelevant. They mainly have to fit to the method implied. The major vulnerability of the artistic objective might just lie within the receiver: does he even want to engage at all?’

Do I even want to read this work, find out what it is or do I want to rush on, finish my lunch hour. ˚

I also went to see:

White Cube G&G the rest ruder than the first St. James’ bit, took some pictures with my mobile phone. I love the footballer turned into something pornographic, the oil can advert one at the end at first off putting, looks like a Castrol advert.

Flowers East Hollowsphere-Jennifer Taylor horrible giant dusty balloons that reminded me of childrens’ parties and carved out wax spheres with tiny mincing machines inside.

Melinda Gibson Lamenting a Loss This was Polaroid photographs that have been smudged before the picture has set. You’re supposed to stare at them trying to see the image that’s been lost which is what happens, I guess. The titles are names of people which goes back to the text art idea.

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The Plinth, the Mall and Mason’s Yard

For today’s trip to the exhibitions I had a companion, my husband, but the bus was so slow we got off early and walked through Trafalgar square to have a look at Anthony Gormley’s One and Other which has caused a lot of chat. Unfortunately today the Modern Jesus Army had caused a lot of noise which took away from the spectacle of the fourth plinth. It was a man doing an oil painting of Trafalgar square. For some reason he looked better from the back, underneath, posed in front of his easel.

To the ICA, which happened to be near and slipped nicely into see Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. I thoroughly recommend you click on this link which is all about text in art, the concrete poets and Ian Hamilton Finlay who’s work is in the first room. A scale drawing of a fishing boat with notes of all the letters and numbers written on the side of the boat. We really enjoyed the typewriter art ‘Shooting the script’ by Carl Andre who did the bricks ..remember?  I suppose some people do still have typewriters in order to do the work. To get your own typewriter and try something similar would feel like copying but I’d like to try.

Husband was over the moon about FAINTGIRL and IGGY FATUSE, two posters from Janice Kerbel. The interesting thing about text art like this is you have to take time to read the text. You can’t take down the text and read it at home or buy a copy to read later, although sometime you feel as if you want to. No one reads it aloud to you either except maybe Bruce Nauman but he wasn’t included this exhibition. Text slows you down, the concentration is different somehow. People interacted with each other as they finished reading, saying ‘Wow if I’d typed like that I would have got the sack.’ If the page has a recognisable genre like the Faintgirl poster it’s easier to understand. If the text turns out not to say much it makes you feel let down. I felt a bit let down by well  …Frances Stark, I must explain, specify, rationalize, classify..   

Well which is it? Next we went to the White Cube to see Gilbert & George. The streets are so crowded in summer. Is London the centre of the world? Even the Mall had crowds of people walking either side and that’s a broad street. Once safely inside the hush of Mason’s Yard, we thought we just want to see the gallery. My partner had never been there, but I really love Gilbert & George. They are almost my neighbours since they eat every evening in the restaurant at the end of my road. Then they wait at the bus stop for the 67.

The work this time is composed of things that are so familiar and precious , the streets around Spitalfields, medals, branches of plane trees and their own bodies. Text appears in these pictures too: the titles like ‘Street Party’ that tell of a contemporary wry wit are part of the work. The artists wear suits covered in writing, some Bengali, some bits of the A-Z, some graffiti. The work shows compassion towards the communities that live around them, the way a small range of experiences can reflect our own nature.

The Plinth, the Mall and Mason’s Yard