We all wish the magic of Christmas could start earlier. And now it does. #bolamat50 #SheffZineFest

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Brand loyalty: Dan Sumption, one of my most regular customers.

To quote this advert for Disneyland Paris from the end of last year, “We all wish the magic of Christmas could start earlier”.

I am sure many parents would disagree, but Disney are not really talking about magic any more than Marks and Spencer are talking about magic and sparkle. Or any more than Sainsbury’s are talking about sharing or any more than John Lewis are talking about real love.

What they really mean is that they wish the income stream of Christmas could start earlier.

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High Street X. The same stuff I normally sell, but with added Christmas “magic”.

Anyway, I say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and here are a few photos of me, starting the magic of Christmas earlier at the Sheffield Zine Fest on 14th March. I was accompanied by my sister, Catherine, as a Christmas fairy (or Merchandising Operative) and my wife, Stella, as an Elf (or Fulfilment Centre Manager).

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Fulfilment Centre Manager and Merchandising Operative.

Some people were clearly non-plussed by the costumes and would not even make eye contact. However, I did get some customers who took it to the next level by revisiting their traumatised childhoods at the hands of shopping-centre Santas.

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Stuart Faulkner and the crew from Footprints Co-Operative Print getting favours from Santa.

Big thanks go to Chella Quint and Bettie Walker for organising the Sheffield Zine Fest.
https://sheffieldzinefest.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/sheffzinefest

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100 reams of A4 paper needed for an artwork commemorating the 16 million dead of the First World War #Casualty1418 #WW1 #EndlessWar

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Photo: Sage Ross (Creative Commons).

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke (1729 – 1726).

Casualty 14-18” is an artwork that commemorates the 16 million people of all nationalities killed in the First World War. It is an unfunded project and currently only exists online.
http://casualty1418.net

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Each day, from 28th June 2014 to 11th November 2018, a series of 30 A4-sized images are published online, representing the average number of 10,200 deaths per day for the duration of the war. Each sheet is unique and represents 340 humanoid figures, created by a generative computer program.

Access Space, Sheffield, UK has sponsored the work in-kind by hosting a physical installation from 17th April to 14th May 2015 (dates tbc). For this version of the work, I need 100 reams of A4 paper to create a temporary monument:- 94 for the 16 million of the First World War and the remaining six for the approximately one million killed in the recent “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries as a symbol of the principal of Endless War.

“Casualty 14-18” is an unapologetically anti-political, anti-war work of art. I thought it up in 2001 and in 2014 I decided to make it happen because of the 100-year anniversary of the First World War, regardless of funding. However, a physical installation involves at least some cost. The paper does not need to be unused, it can be recycled or unused printed matter, but it does need to be A4 in size and uncreased.

If you know of a printer, office or any other organization that has 50,000 sheets of uncreased A4 paper surplus to requirements, either free or at a small cost, please get in touch.

What becomes of the broken-hearted? – or – The Ballad of Richard Bolam – Valentine’s Day 2015

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What becomes of the broken-hearted? They go shopping, get drunk and have unprotected, meaningless sex. I have done all of those things at one time or another, and many other acts of lust, self-loathing and despair. But, like, whatever.

I believe it to be a common thing that bitterness, loneliness and hate are far more effective motivators of artistic expression than contentment, love and tolerance. Perverse but true.

Years ago I went with a friend to see a theatrical performance which was little more than a ball of fluff. Afterwards my friend said “Well, that was not written by an unhappy man” and I know what she meant. We met the cast afterwards and one of their friends immediately said to us “Wasn’t that just the loveliest thing, ever?”.

Although I was polite, I declined to agree, and he took me to task on what I thought was wrong with it. There was nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I just do not find smug, self-satisfaction to be a moving artistic experience in the least. I talked to the director later and he looked down his nose at me, in both senses, and I recognized that quality in him that Willard observes about Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now” (1979 Francis Ford Coppola).

“He was just one of those guys with that weird light around him. He just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here.”

I’ve met people like that before and since: young, good-looking, talented people who just know they are going to succeed. But why? Because they always have done. They make comfortable middle-class art that is enjoyed by comfortable, middle-class people and, most importantly, selected for funding by other comfortable, middle-class people.

But I’m not bitter.

In 2003, after being in a relationship for 15 years, 10 of which were mostly happy, one thing led to another, and I betrayed my partner with another woman. At first emotionally, and then sexually. Those are the facts, but it took several years to pass before I realised that I had been the unfaithful one. It felt like the relationship was over years before, and so it took almost no effort for me to cross what seemed to be an inevitable bridge. And so I guess it wasn’t my fault?

The next few years were very chaotic, emotionally, and I went out with more women in two years than I had in the previous twenty. However, despite all the problems, there is only one woman that I got involved with that I wish I had never met, although several of those liaisons were unhappy and inevitably doomed.

But what I have come to realise is that some people do not invest what people like me invest in a relationship, because for them it’s just a transaction, or maybe they have that weird light around them.

I remember that time as very productive, creatively, if not emotionally.

Anyway (getting back to the misery and self-loathing), I had one of my “brilliant” ideas; I would collect the poetry I have written into a small volume and call it “That bitch broke my heart (and other stories)” and self-publish it. I know I have a small collection of poems about relationships that were written at a very particular time in my life (the that bitch bit) and, although it is not going to amount to a collected works, it might make a slim volume worth publishing, along with the other stories.

However, when I came to look at what I have from that period (the stuff that is worth publishing), there is nowhere near as much good material as I thought.

It turns out I’m not really a poet, but I did have a few moments.

The upshot of all this navel-gazing is that the emotional upheaval was highly motivational, creatively, and I miss it in that sense. However, I do not miss the loneliness, frustration and years of low self-esteem. I met my wife in 2008 and I haven’t written a poem since.

I will be publishing “That bitch broke my heart (and other stories)” in some form. Online initially, with a low production value printed version available soon after.

Via Black Daffodil Press.

Less is more, but more is better – The Eye and the Sky (Retrospective Redux) on #BolamTV #bolamat50 #timelapse #video

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Who needs Minions when you have Bolams?

Here is a body of work from 2008 that I made with one of my very rare commissions. It was funded by the (now defunct) Seagate Creative Fund which was a funding scheme aimed at digital media producers that use Seagate products as a promotional activity for the company.
http://seagate.com

I was and am one of those and I proposed to make a single two-minute, timelapse video of multiple shots of the sun moving through a space. However, the process was very stimulating and I ended up making six experimental videos from the material I captured.

I would be the first to admit that they are all quite subtle pleasures and, if you are prepared to watch them all, they require a degree of patience in order to get the pay-off. But I was, and still am, pleased with the results.

The first one, which was the subject of the commission, is “The Eye and the Sky” and was an attempt at capturing three synchronised views of a space with the sun moving through it. At the time, the first floor of the HUBS (Hallam Union Building of Sheffield) was called “The Eye” and I had noticed the striking shadow created by the skylight.
http://www.hallamstudentsunion.com/

The equipment used included some obsolete Macintosh blue-and-white G3s, donated by Lovebytes digital arts organization.
http://lovebytes.org.uk/

The other five videos were experiments that I made using some of the same a material that was leftover from the main shoot. They are all appealing in a minimalist way, and we all know that less is more, but why do less when more is better?

BolamTV XmsX Midwinter Special 2013+1 Director’s Cut & Special Making of Feature #BolamTV #BolamOD #XmsX

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Still from BolamTV XmsX Midwinter Special 2013+1 Director’s Cut (video at the end of this post)

As is traditional at this time of year, BolamTV is featuring a little bit of comfort viewing, comprising some familiar family programming and a few festive extras.

Seeing as it was so popular last year, here is a special “Director’s Cut” of the BolamTV XmsX Midwinter Special 2013, a shorter version with a little extra seasonal branding.

This blog post is the equivalent of the DVD extras or a “Making of” documentary.

Last year I wanted to do something that was not exactly anti-Christmas but un-Christmas, something that acknowledged what the celebration at this time of year was originally about, and something that was a satire without being an attack on the Christian festival. Whilst I am not a Christian (because I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was divine) I am more than happy to take part in a celebration that has become a time to see family and friends.

Feel free to correct me if you know better, but I believe that the birth of Christ is celebrated at this time to coincide with the pagan ritual of celebrating Midwinter on the shortest day of the year. I do not know just how consciously planned it was, but several of the pre-Christian festivals have been subsumed in this way. Easter was a celebration of fertility, hence the bunnies and eggs.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_Paganism

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XmsX logo evolution.

I love and hate branding in equal measures. I love satirising it and making pastiches, but I despise the insane world that I have grown up in. I wonder what the world must look like to people 20 years younger than me who do not remember a time without dickheads walking down the street with “Bench” across their arses or “YSL” printed on cheap t-shirts. I remember a time before ubiquitous branding and, although I don’t object to a discreet logo on my clothing, it still appalls me when I see how people are willing to be walking advertising billboards for companies that have just ripped them off.

Anyway, if you can’t beat them, join them. Here is the incarnation of Stalky Ringbits I imagined for XmsX.

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The final logo design.

It’s a memento mori (natch) who is a bit worse for wear. The ‘x” is a kiss on the right cheek and the hole in the head is symbolic of damage that can be about self-destructive “self-medication” or the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The eye-patch is an occlusion over the left eye and the right eye has a red glint. In tradition, the left is the passive side and in palmistry symbolises what you are born with, and the right side is the active and what you make of your life. The red symbolises passion, blood and sex, and the left eye is hidden as a contradictory symbol of either loss or introversion. The two bones are there to reference piracy and they are different lengths and informally arranged, again to reference the randomness of life. The halo is a provocative symbol of universal divinity and the lettering is red and green to symbolise the active (red) and the hopeful (green) and double up as bit of Christmassy garnish. The nose and mouth are just a bit lopsided due to possibly a few too many mulled wines at a crashed office party. The contraction of “XmsX” is a subtle dig at Marks and Spencer and the other traditional cost centres for middle-class people at Christmas. The bracketing “X” is both as in “ex” and the indeterminate value x and, of course, a play on the word “xmas”.

It is intended to be mildly provocative and tick boxes in the pagan, Christian and secular worlds.

I might deconstruct this a bit more later, but the video uses a single shot in a derelict building, now gone, and it was actually snowing through the roof onto the tree that was growing there. I wanted to do something that was possibly religious and possibly not. The music used is three different versions of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, all sourced from archive.org and used (as far as I can tell) within the terms of their licenses.

The video was shot in a hurry at 720p and was actually out-of-focus. It’s a great shot, or should have been, and I still wanted to use it so I decided to move the emphasis away from the image by giving it designed sound rather than just music.

Once I had sourced the music, the idea for the sound design was from a distantly recalled track by Mark Stewart and the Mafia of a version of the traditional hymn “Jerusalem”. Before I recalled it as an influence, I had only heard it once before, sometime in the 1980s, on the John Peel radio show.

I would be the first to agree that my own work is a rather subtle pleasure, and watching it a year later it felt too long so I’ve attenuated it a bit. If you can bear to watch it, please make sure you watch the credits. It’s only a small thing but I am quite pleased with the animation.

Whether you’re a believer or not, Emmanuel may still come, o come. FYI Emmanuel is the name used in the Old Testament of The Bible of the prophesied messiah that turned out to be Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian faith. He is prophesied to return, and just because he hasn’t turned up yet doesn’t mean he (or she) never will.

My own view on religion and divinity is a little more complex, nuanced and contradictory than the all-or-nothing atheistic sledgehammer, but I think I might leave that to another post. Or maybe a PhD. Or maybe my own church. Now there’s an idea…

In the meantime, I will leave you to pick the bones out of BolamTV XmsX Midwinter Special 2013+1 Director’s Cut.
http://bolam.tv

I say dystopia, you say utopia, let’s call the whole thing a prestigious conference venue #mysdystopia #yoursytopia #ourdystopia #namethatdystopia

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M1 Stargate.

It’s that time of year again. For several years now, I have been employed to work a series of events in various venues in the North of England and Midlands. I am not going to mention the client or the venues, not because it’s a secret, but because I don’t want to be in any way critical of them. It’s a steady and reliable job that I get every year because I (and my colleagues who do the other venues) do it well and the client appreciates what we do.

However, in an ideal world I would not work conferences for a living. It’s better than a lot of people’s jobs, and I am not complaining, but if I never worked another conference, I would not miss it.

Only the money.

I am purely mercenary about it, and here is the crux. I don’t mind the work but I don’t love it either. However, I have a big brain and it needs stimulating during long and often boring events. Over the years, I have developed a number of strategies of keeping myself occupied and I have found a way of getting more than a day’s pay from my work and that is by using it as creative and conceptual material for my art.

Easily said.

I can’t remember when I did the first of these events but this year, and the last two, I have captured timelapse video of the journeys to and from the venue, and because of the time of year, the event length and the distances travelled, much of it is in the dark, dawn or dusk. Consequently, I have captured a substantial amount of material in interesting and challenging lighting conditions, but of some of the most mediocre landscapes in the British Isles.

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Somewhere at sometime.

What’s more, many of the venues, in spite of how good they are, are located in places that you would not normally go to, unless you want a convenient destination for people travelling for the purpose of meeting for a conference. Consequently, many of them are close to motorways and located in those out-of-town non-spaces that are like Stepford new towns but solely occupied by brands. It’s the world of McDonald’s drive-thrus, KFCs, Brewer’s Fayre gastro pubs and “express” hotels. The land that culture forgot.

I also have a little side project entitled “Name That Dystopia”, although I am not sure just how serious I think that is, but I post occasional, particularly dystopian scenes.
http://namethatdystopia.wordpress.com/

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Leicester Forest East Services. “Relax” (2014)

These places exist for a reason, and that reason is the motor car. I remember holidays in the 1970s with my family when we used to sit in a layby next to the A1 (before they added the “M”) with the lorries hurtling past as we ate our sandwiches.

These days we have the relief of motorways and service stations, which are both a qualified blessing, and I can’t deny a certain cynical entertainment at the sheer dystopian splendour of the M1 motorway and Leicester Forest East services.

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In-car still capture at Leicester Forest East Services on the M1.

Anyway, here is a selection of stills from a timelapse camera mounted on the passenger side of the car. I used a Canon Powershot A560, hacked with the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK).
http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

The camera is shooting as fast as it is able, but is only a consumer-level compact and cannot capture fast enough to produce a stable image in such low-light conditions. However, the resulting smeariness is extremely pleasing and blurs all the locations into a satisfyingly bland, dystopian continuity whilst also being quite beautiful.

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A draft layout for one section of “In the Pipe”.

I am developing this into a gallery show entitled “In the Pipe”, which will be composed of photographic layouts, video and audio.

You will be witnesses.

Armistice Day 2014 – Casualty 14-18 #casualty1418 #WW1 #ArmisticeDay

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I have ambivalent feelings about wearing a poppy at this time of year. It’s not that I do not want to remember the dead, quite the opposite, and my work Casualty 14-18 is all about remembering the dead, but not just the British and Commonwealth dead and not in a way that might be associated with an establishment that still refuses to condemn war as political or commercial prudence.

I know some people wear a white poppy, although I also have mixed feelings about that.

However, ambiguity, ambivalence, conflict and contradiction are all potent effects in art, and the lack of resolution can be what keeps a work interesting, unlike much of the punchline-art that we see today.

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Today is Armistice Day 2014 and my project has four more years to run. Each day it publishes 30 generatively created pages of 340 figures, one figure for each of the estimated 16 million dead – men, women and children – of all nationalities killed during the First World War. That is an average of 10,200 casualties per day for the duration of the war.

This is day 107 of 1,568.

http://casualty1418.net