Sex and violence. What do you mean?”
“Well you asked what you thought your exhibition needed. Well it hasn’t got enough sex and violence. If you want it to connect with people. If you want people to come to the exhibition and not just the people that would come to a ‘Bill Drummond’ exhibition anyway, it will need more sex and violence.”
“But that would be compromising myself, patronising the people and bowing to the market…”
The above is an imaginary conversation I am having with myself on the Chiltern Line from London Marylebone into Moor Street Station. Outside our green and pleasant land is on the very brink of bursting into spring.
But back to sex and violence, last Wednesday I gave the second of the 10 performance lectures I’m to be giving in my three-month Birmingham residency.
The title of it was Life Versus Death it was part of the Art & Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. In it I laid bare some of the life and death turning points in my own life. We all have them, they are the links in the chain of each and everyone’s journey.
There was this story that I told about when I was nine or 10 and had got my brand new air pistol and I was out looking for something to kill.
I recounted how I found a blackbird’s nest with seven baby chicks in it and I shot them all and how now I have seven children of my own, I wonder if these things are connected in some way.
But while I was having the imaginary conversation above, I remembered there was something that I forgot to bring into my performance lecture. This is it: In 1974 at the age of 21, I was an apprentice trawlerman.
The trawler I was on worked out of Aberdeen. We were a crew of seven and we would be at sea for between 10 and 14 days.
On one particular September day when the sky was big and blue, the catch bountiful, the porpoise leaping and gannets diving, the full net had just been emptied on deck, we, the crew were standing knee deep in fish, all still flapping but soon to be gasping their last and off to the great ocean in the sky.
We were slashing their bellies open with our knives, cleaning out their guts and tossing them into the ice hold. Although cod and haddock were the main stay of the catch, there were all sorts of other fish. Included in this catch was a large skate. The other trawlermen started to chuckle. Something was afoot.
A couple of them lifted this large skate and nailed it to the door of the fo’castle.
The pale underside facing out. To my surprise the mouth of the skate looked like the caricature of the lips of a voluptuous woman. And about two feet below the lips was the fish’s one orifice.
The crucified fish was still very much alive. I had no idea what the fun was all about. Then skipper told me, that if I wanted to become a true trawlerman I would have to ‘ride’ the ‘lady’. There was no escape. Nothing but sea on all sides.
They let me get away with just kissing the fish’s lips, before a knife was stuck in her belly, and she was gutted and tossed in the hold with the rest. Three days later we were back in Aberdeen. That was my last voyage. I was not made of the right stuff to be a trawlerman.
Over the next month or so I’m going to film 25 of my Sixty Second Talks.
These films will be on a loop on a screen as part of the exhibition. The plan is that I will be writing the scripts for these talks/films. When I get to Eastside Projects today I will be filming the first four of them.
The first will deal with the incident of the air pistol and the seven blackbird chicks. The second could be about my date with a skate on the high seas.
And then maybe there should be one on when I was working as a ward orderly in a large mental hospital and how I felt while having to lay out the body of an attractive young woman who had just died.
The train is now pulling into Moor Street. I love the Centenary Lounge there. I know it is all faux but it’s better than getting your daily latte at a Starbucks.
I guess this lot should up the sex and violence quota for the exhibition. Come down to Eastside Projects watch the four films and let me know if you need more.
While you are reading this I will probably be in the processing of baking 40 cakes.
I will then be delivering them to un-expecting individuals and families who so happen to live on the Birmingham Cake Circle.
- Artist Bill Drummond is writing a weekly column for The Birmingham Post as part of his three month residency at Eastside Projects, Digbeth.