Putting your money where your mouth is, and putting your mouth on the side of a building.


Richard Bolam presenting James Wallbank of Access Space Network with a fat cheque.

Or, as we say in South Yorkshire, UK, “put up or shut up”, more internationally interpretable as “you talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?”. What this all means in common parlance is that if you want something to happen, then you need to make it happen.

You may or may not be aware of Access Space, Sheffield, UK which is a charity that operates a free, open-access media / arts lab, with a rapid commercial prototyping lab attached. They offer lots of free services, as well as paid-for consultancy and training.

I have been a “Spacer” on and off for 12 years and am a big fan of what they do there.

To cut to the chase, the charity is desperately short of money, partly due to the contraction of  arts funding, but also the general commercial malaise in the UK. They have three fundraising schemes in operation and I have subscribed to two of them. One is a “Friends” scheme where individuals can commit a few pounds a month to supporting the organisation. I have been paying £10 per month for some time, but a small contribution scheme like this needs lots of sponsors.


My mouth was so big they had to take the front door off to get it in.

Another is the just-launched “Sponsor-a-day” scheme where you can “buy” a day for the amount in pounds sterling equal to the day number of the year. What that means is that January 1st costs £1, January 2nd costs £2 and so on. As soon as the scheme was announced I bagged 24th April 2013, day 114 ( my 49th birthday) and I designated it as the official launch of the beginning of the countdown to my retrospective year 24th April 2014 to 23rd April 2015.

The third scheme, which I can’t afford but other people may be able, is  “100×100” where they are looking for 100 sponsors per year who can afford £100 each per month.


Myself and sound artist Sunshine Gray in my purpose-built branding booth.

For my purposes I used the space and the outside of the building as a publicity stunt and satire on branding and promotion. I invited people to come and talk to me about my upcoming Retrospective project, and also provided old-school snacks, drinks and competitions. It was a huge success with so many people I didn’t get a break all day.

So, I’ve done my bit, and now it’s your turn.


Build-Your-Own-Barcode Competition – Amazing Limited Edition Prizes!

Retrospective graphics.005

I worked with barcodes a lot back in the 1990’s. When I say a lot, I mean I worked with one barcode symbology, but a lot. In 2001 I started a series of memorabilia-based works called “BARCODE” where each one was a unique barcoded eight-digit number from a “limited edition of one hundred million”.

It was my little joke about limited editions sometimes not being very limited. All editions are limited in practice, but because each number in my work is never re-used, it’s also a contradiction.


BARCODE 00000019 – “Baseball cap”, 2001

I always find it ridiculous when manufacturers of soft drinks or chocolate bars issue mass-produced fodder in limited editions.

The “Limited Edition” Retrospective flyer is an embodiment of several contradictions. I am not limiting the edition, other than the eight digit number. Each folded A3 poster contains 70 barcodes, and they don’t repeat, so there is a limited edition of just under 1.5 million of this flyer. However, each flyer has one of four different designs so it could be nearer six million if I wanted. The printed flyer also includes a badge.



The flyer contains a competition which is a challenge to hand-draw a working barcode. It is possible and here are the rules.

1. The barcode MUST BE FREEHAND DRAWN. No rulers, no computers, no printers, no copiers.
2. It must be at least 3 characters long, not including the terminating asterisks.
3. It must be machine readable.

I have made it easier by including the initiating and terminating asterisks. Code 39 is very error-tolerant and you do not need to fill the entire barcode. It is ok to leave space before the final character.

You can get a printed “Limited Edition” flyer from me, or you can view it online here. Also, you can download the barcode layout as a PDF and print your own. Remember to print in colour so that the guidelines remain red and laser-transparent. It doesn’t seem possible but it’s not as hard as you would think.

Here’s one I prepared earlier. I’ll give you three guesses what it says.


All your barcode are belong to us.

I will be available to scan your barcode at the Bolam Retrospective launch event on 24th April at Access Space, Sheffield, UK 2pm – 7pm. There will be a prize for all readable barcodes of three characters or more. Anything particularly ambitious or inventive will win you something special, although I haven’t decided what that is yet.

Note: This is not a democracy and the judge’s decision is final.