The blog which follows is now presented chronologically as an archived blog narrative.


Bargain Corner

The quest for a cabinet base unit, to extemporise from, became thrillingly geographical. Ikea in Edmonton is almost a neighbour to Forty Hall. Edmonton and Enfield adjoin, abut and share the same London Borough (of Enfield). So we imagine how a haberdasher might be drawn to Ikea, with its thrilling global reach and exotic product names like BENNO, BLANDA BLANK, NORDBY and DUKTIG. Would an intuitive visit — rather than a functional one — yield promising fruit?


Ikea Edmonton


And more enticing even was the Bargain Corner where damaged, soiled and former display items are huddled together in desultory unity, revealed in their humble materiality as stuff beyond purpose awaiting an impoverished customer or a vagrant haberdasher to nurture them towards a successful future:




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The workshop by the river

Items from the Bargain Corner including RANSBY, BENNO, EXPEDIT and various sundry items were loaded up along with fabric rolls from Classic Textiles and A to Z Fabrics of the Goldhawk Road in Shepherds Bush, then transported to the magnificent workshop of Richard Hicks, beside the river in Wargrave Berkshire. His motivation wavered at the thought of this volume of detritus arriving, but we got there in the end through allowing RANSBY and EXPEDIT to form the core interlocking element, including working drawers to signify the hint of haberdasher. Over the four days of construction the structure for Forty Hall gradually expanded and accommodated the fabric rolls now looking almost functional and workaday. And Tania approved.

In progress

In progress with stray ply supports and floorboard flooring support


Further along

Further along with purpose cut ply and large base


The longing for a starched tablecloth where those folds have previously been so flimsy and multitudinous. The recent failed attempts with noxious spray starch from the local pound shop. The desire had become almost an unattainable fantasy, mixed with nostalgia for wash days where knowledge was passed amongst the generations. But there it is online with free postage, as previously provided by Linda Theophilus and unsuccessfully sampled in the ’washing machine method’ (not recommended): Kershaws Traditional Laundry Starch. This time the recommended ‘by hand’ method. Measurements by the capful, stirring in the cold water then the boiling then cold again followed by the complete immersion in the creamy liquid of said items and ironing while still damp. Would it really work? Fabric has stiffened. Folds are different. The hang is altogether more sophisticated and reminiscent. Starching, starched.





The fabrics experience in the Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush, was repeated two weeks later once the structure, the cabinet, was completed. It was another early Saturday morning foray among silks, synthetics and cardboard rolls. The familiarity of the world of fabrics takes me back to the constant smell of upholstery and curtain fabrics in the family home. My mother was a home worker producing covers and cushions for chairs and sofas. Her family home was in Shepherds Bush, a few hundred yards from these shops. As a teenager and student I worked at her employers upholstery shop in Harrow in the role of ’trimmer’, ‘duplicator’ and curtain fixer. It was the job that paid the rent. So the reminiscences and remnants are intermingled amongst the rolls, the shears and the poor working conditions.


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House drape for movie

The Magpie’s evolving film needed something more adventurous than birds on the roof of the house and the opening and closing of doors and shutters. Once the fabric had found a core place within the cabinet and also to supply suitable lengths for making banners, based on the Chinese banner waving technique encountered in the Purple Bamboo Park in Beijing, another idea came to mind. Those same fabrics could pour from a top floor window of the house and this filmed sequence would become the final thematic link in the video. Days were running out if the film was to be included in the first version of the installation, so an overcast snowy morning held enough light to make this happen.

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The Duplicator

On the roll off the roll the texture the grain the smell the yard and the metre the sample the swatch the shears the weight of the shears and the disfigurement to the fingers from the shears cutting the sheen the colour the hang, cutting with the grain and the tearing method along the seam just a snip and there it goes, take an even grip with the fingers either side. Shears are not scissors but tools of the trade that need sharpening more often than not.

The notches I cut at eight inch intervals so the women who sewed the pieces together with piping cord, including my mother, would know how to reassemble the pieces, the wings, the seats, the cushions, the inside arm, the outside arm, the scroll, the back, the front, and the arm caps for that extra protection from wear and tear. Or as I unpinned and became the duplicator so I could match up the pieces then roll them into bundles with a customer name pinned on with scrap paper, Johnson or Marshall. The heavy upholstery fabrics, often from Sanderson and the vintage floral patterns filling my sensibility with repulsion and confusion: William Turner, one of the most eminent designers of the 20th Century, first produced ‘Roslyn’ as a wallpaper design in 1910. It was later manufactured as a printed fabric from the 1920s and is all flowers, all flowers. Originally known as, ‘The Cleves,’ it was part of the Sanderson range until 1974, making it one of the company’s most enduring designs, and one that I handled and smelt and cut, sliced, notched and folded. This latest version has been engraved directly from the original fabric to retain the distinctive textures and effects. The effects of floral conservatism and aspiration to the country house in the suburban street or perhaps that was all they were shown in the pattern books supplied by Bob, my employer, we recommend traditional Sanderson and William Morris designs.

Designed in 1957 by the Parisian studio, Pollet, ‘Eglantine’ is a charmingly romantic composition of rose branches and petals, illustrating a loose painterly style typical of French designs of the 1950s. A classic Morris design dating from 1875, ‘Larkspur’ is highly elaborate composition of winding vertical stems of fern leaves around small groups of flowers.

And the William Morris designs had some credibility to the art student but day after day, cut after cut the winding vertical stems began to appear sinister, lifeless and endless and it became about getting through the time of instant coffee drinking and radio tuning in as the long weekends of solitary cutting with the right hand when the left hand could never grip in the same way to make a clean cut drifted across minutes and hours until it was time to lock up shop.

So the haberdashery reversal for Forty Hall of embracing and selecting fabrics on my own terms as bolts and slashes of colour and extravagance is very fine.

Installation 1

There has been a build-up to these two days of installing, the Wednesday and the Thursday, the last two days of January 2013, with some potential to spill over into Friday morning. Lists have been drawn up, journeys planned and agreed. So my planned trip by train to Twyford to collect and travel with the disassembled Cabinet in Richard’s van early on Wednesday made no sense if he could arrange some help loading at his end. This meant that I could drive in the aging estate car to my studio at Chisenhale Art Place and collect the other elements for the installation, after loading up at home in Finsbury Park with the starched table cloths, fabric rolls and other necessaries. I would leave early enough to have free parking in Bow. Inevitably loading of the other necessaries took longer than expected and I arrived at Chisenhale Road in need of a parking meter only to find that none of the payment machines were functioning. The inevitable stress of double-parking led to rapid ascent and descent of the six flights to Studio 28 on the 3rd floor, not realising I was setting a trend for double-parking, or was even ahead of the curve, as many parents gradually joined me in a column of illicit parking as they dropped off their children at Chisenhale Road Primary School, which makes a surprise appearance in the World Buildings Directory thanks to its natty new wing.

Now fully loaded, the drive to Enfield and Forty Hall was a negotiation of the A406 passing en route the Edmonton Ikea, whose Bargain Corner had been so instrumental to the disassembled sculptural construction that would shortly be heading east on the M25 in the back of Richard’s powerful black Volkswagen Transporter as I now took the A10 going north in my faded but trusty Passat, a car so brutally parodied by Jeremy, as his silent psychotherapist’s imagined vehicle of choice, in a recent edition of Peep Show.

I had an hour of unloading before Richard arrived, long enough to request and negotiate the special opening by Gavin of the Courtyard’s main gates so the black Transporter can be parked in style and we can move the stuff in with more ease. I’m slightly concerned that he may be accompanied by Tulip, his uncontrollably effusive part Staffordshire bull, rescued from Battersea Dogs Home. I imagine Tulip unwittingly trampling the Cabinet’s finer pieces in the back of the van. I get a call saying he’s lost but he arrives a few minutes later, dog free. We look at the Inner Courtyard and discuss the positioning of the Cabinet. Gavin has already emptied the display case, also located in the Inner Courtyard. There are large orange gripping devices still attached to its glass. This will later contain a mini landscape of chopsticks and stands, which I imagine working on after Richard has left.

Gripping devices

Gripping devices

So the intention I had was to locate the Cabinet somewhere in the middle of the space and the display case alongside a wall. In the adjoining Long Gallery there would be an installation of round tables, with one large table, loaned from across the Courtyard thanks to Forty Hall Banqueting, as a centrepiece. This was the plan. This is the plan. Not fixed but dependant on actuality and site-specific judgement. So there could be a reversal, with the Cabinet moving to the Long Gallery.

We look at the heavy MDF base, elevated a couple of inches by its wooden frame, imagining the rest of the construction in place. I assume it should be set at an angle, perhaps because that’s what I usually do, perhaps from the conditioning of the Private Dancer structure always being set ‘on the huh’. Richard is unconvinced, citing the squaring of the floor tiling on which it sits as a visual conflict and the proximity of the walls. I can see what he means and eventually acquiesce. I also want to acknowledge the collaborative role he’s had in the design and making of this piece, so how it’s positioned here is an extension of this process. We start to assemble it, look again, move it, look again, move it again. And there it stays. Once in position the actual assembly is fast and fulfilling. It makes its mark when the fabric rolls are attached in garish abandon, as parallel slashes of colour. It has a functional appearance, but the right-angled rolls don’t add up. That was the plan.

Cabinet in position, Inner Courtyard

Cabinet in position, Inner Courtyard

We have lunch in the Courtyard Café and Richard decides to head back west, having abandoned Tulip to a neighbour. I’m left to contemplate the decisions we’ve made, the finishing touches to the drawers of the Cabinet and the impending unnamed mini-installation in the display case. This will be the fourth in a line of miniaturised pieces, dating back to the Window Wall for Cornerstone in Didcot and Fine Food for the Gooden Gallery. I’d used a specialised display case similar to this one at the Lynn Museum a year ago for Re-Home and liked what I found. ‘Display’ has its own attributes when it happens within a state-of- the-art, museum-styled unit. Even the visually intrusive internal strip light has its attributes as it distinctly marks out the lit from the shaded. Is display equivalent to assemblage, design, layout, composition and installation? Am I elevating the commonplace Chinese brush and chopstick stands to a precious, untouchable status? I see it as a dialogue of east and west, of scale, the everyday and the universal, the architectural and the detail, of chopstick, fork and brush, bamboo, stone and steel, blue, white and silver. Bamboo is a very fine material, carved, split, sliced, shaved, sanded and cut, intimately imbued in the east, so inextricably linked with eating that the Chinese word for chopsticks kuai-zi literally translates as quick bamboo.

My research had begun with the chopstick rest and moved on to the brush rest, the first examples acquired at a store in Hangzhou, so they really did exist, I later found them in London’s Chinatown. And the visual link between the two rests became the thematic slanting of the installation, resting objects at a slight angle to protect hygiene and paint slippage, and here, with the keen focus of the inner light, the slanting shadows, the angle of incidence, the rows of usefulness and ambiguity.

Angles of incidence

Angles of incidence

Installation 2

Before the Inner Courtyard installation was complete I’d already started making forays into the Long Gallery, erecting the large borrowed round table and ten of the twelve tables from The Manifestation, to have a sense of how the two spaces will interact work. This would be the first time an installation had appeared in this space. My own anxiety about its proximity to the ‘front of house’ desk and gift shop forced me to question the applicability of the table as a visual reference here. Would visitors think they were walking into the café, which was actually located through the back door at the far end? Yet wasn’t this potential link and confusion something I’d always intended? Forty Hall is a heritage building with a long winding guided journey through the various rooms. The visitor’s journey ideally concludes at the Inner Courtyard, the Long Gallery, the Gift Shop and the Courtyard Café, so my two installations will be encountered en route. But this is why I’m here – as a first contemporary art commission – and why The Magpie has become, from my perspective, a residency, where the static works can change and develop over the twelve weeks of the show, and other rooms can be occupied. Likewise, the film is also in transition. The film. Yes. What is its status and how will it be incorporated?

Forty film

In the rush to incorporate the fabric flowing footage there is now a narrative in which I become the emerging ‘resident’ who lets fly from top floor windows and makes a brief appearance in Beijing’s Purple Bamboo Park. As a resident, I have permission to behave with the freedom and desire that occupation brings. The term ‘legal squatter’ has a flavour of this, but there is more mischief here. I live here when I am here in a way that I’ve not experienced before. My rights are as strong as the birds on the roof. This is my patch, free to open doors, windows and shutters slowly and repeatedly, free to experience and live in this building with a heightened perception and a unique sense of ownership that transcends assets and cash. The ‘wealthy haberdasher’ who financed this home has morphed into the maverick haberdasher/magpie/squatter. I am of the people for the people. Come in and make yourself at home like I have. Join me. It’s an investment opportunity. Let me show you around.

The film’s rough first edit suggests this narrative, framed by the birds as roof occupants. I think about projector or monitor to show it and envisage a monitor in the Long Gallery, perhaps in the corner to the right as you enter, slightly detached from the tables. If indeed they are still tables, now that their functionality is even more questionable as the starched tablecloths are moving into three-dimensional elevated clusters of whiteness. These ten tables are now mere supports and dwarfed by the large central table, reassuringly flat and functional, with its complex table settings and flying cutlery, referencing the miniature world in the display case next door. Unable to loan a white cover, the blue one provided by Banqueting will substitute for now, but needs a starched white tablecloth as a surface. it looks designed for purpose once the straight creases have been ironed out of it. This steam ironing session takes place as a separate project on the Friday. I travel in with iron and ironing board, set up in the Long Gallery and spend an hour flattening this one and sharpening the creases on the others. Wrestling and manipulating these cotton fabrics sits so well within the realm of haberdashery and I wonder why this comes as a surprise. Have I been resisting this full immersion, despite my time as a duplicator?

Forty adjusted 1




Return to the Fold

The starched folds are fixing over time, semi-rigid, lit, lifting and shaded: