YOU GO DOWN THE LADDER, I’LL SHINE THE TORCH

The most successful relationships are those where all parties are clear about expectations. With this in mind I am giving advance warning that for three weeks there will be no blogs jammed full of nights partying under the stars, or discovering that a security guard at the airport is one of the best bird photographers in Bim. It’s not that I am physically incapacitated. And no, I have not joined the local sect, Closed Brethren, who lead cloistered lives attempting to avoid contact with evil, TV-watching, non-Brethren types. I won’t be doing much socializing because my days and nights are now dedicated to putting up my forthcoming show at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. I have spent several months there as an artist in residence with a brief to make artwork based on research into the archives of Museum’s collections.

Delving into these archives has resulted in several artworks. There is a suite of twenty-nine etchings. Forget for a moment that they mimic the journeys of bookworms through various old documents. The etchings are gorgeous, beautifully framed, and may I say, a sophisticated addition to any interior-designed living space. Our lovely accountant, a kindly, older gent, nestled in the highlands of Scotland, says the rest of the artworks I described brought tears to his eyes. They are expensive to produce but resist the idea of art as a commodity. His plea is for some art as a definite commodity before the close of the financial year.

But I’m so steeped in the project that, like Macbeth, it feels “that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”. Just to give you a taster, there will be sculpture, photography and sound works. Oh, and jars of dust collected from the Museum. I wasn’t kidding when I said it would be hard to shift this stuff. There is a rationale behind the dust but I suspect no amount of text will convince visitors to the show. The response will probably be something like this:
She tink we chupid? Man, eff dis is art den next time de madam sweep de house, I go tell she to keep de dust yuh hear. Put it in any ol’ jam bottle an it go be art jus like dem have in de highfulutin museum
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But what’s done is done. If the criticisms don’t kill, they will put hairs on my chest and what are a few more hairs …

The first hurdle on this week’s “to do” list is to settle on a name for the show. The contenders include Archives Alive! (media savvy suggestion courtesy of The Husband). A poetic possibility favoured by the Director of said Museum is Echoes in the Archives. But if I had my way the show would definitely be titled, You Go Down The Ladder, I’ll Shine The Torch. You never know, I might still be able to convince the powers that be that a title like this will not bring the seventy five year old institution into disrepute.

But whatever it is called, the show will open in three weeks and be down three weeks after that, and I will have to move on to another gig. To test the temperature I went to see the final year show of the Barbados Community College fine art students. It was very professionally presented. At one end there was a painter clearly way ahead of the others in terms of skill and confidence but still not expressing a unique voice. The weakest of the lot looked decorative and lazy so really just a typical undergrad show.

The College’s external art examiner this year was the renowned Jamaican painter, Cecil Cooper. I went to his lecture after seeing the show. It was the usual slide after slide showing how he went from unknown, naturally talented, country boy to his celebrated international status today. But what was really interesting about him was a throw away remark he made about the influence of music in his work. I was intrigued and asked him to explain. Many fine artists envy musicians because deep down we are aware of the limitations of any attempt to represent the sublime. But music – ah, now that is an unmediated experience. It might, like with Bach’s music, allow a glimpse of the sublime – what Kant described as an “outrage on the imagination”.

Cooper revealed that he came from a family of musicians and had a trained voice. And before you could say “Haile Selassie” we had moved from Kant to karaoke. Truth be told the man can sing. But none of us were quite prepared for him to belt out Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up in the auditorium of the Community College, at 9pm on a Friday night, when most of us wanted to hurry home before the start of CSI. Then, without a moment to recover from the shock of the first song, he launched into Love Changes Everything. This changed everything. I glanced around. The faces were a mixture of shock and awe mixed with a tiny bit of terror that we might be trapped here for several more songs. Well this was a bit of an “outrage on the imagination” for sure. Thankfully Lloyd Weber’s ditty marked the end of the evening and we all rushed out before the applause was misinterpreted as demanding an encore.

If you make it to my show, I promise not to sing.

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