'STILL BUSY' 2013
Voiceover and script for collaborative video.


At the invitation of L.I.E. The Library of Independent Exchange I wrote and recorded a voiceover to accompany footage they had filmed around the back streets of St Ives, Cornwall, UK.

The footage was based on a story retold by the art historian James Fox in the 2010 BBC documentary 'The Art Of Cornwall'. He describes how the artist Ben Nicholson could often be seen pacing about St Ives, and if anyone approached him he would hold his hand up to their face and shout "Busy! Busy!".

This odd little anecdote, characterising Nicholson as both inhabiting the town he became so closely associated with and repelling it, became the root of our video collaboration.

Given the task of providing the narration I wrote a script based around the year 1928, the year Nicholson arrived in St Ives, starting his now inseparable association with the town and it's place in art history, one it still holds onto today.

1928 was also coincidentally a year I had already been researching into. I had been interested in looking it as an arbitrary juncture in cultural history: as well as being the year such iconic products as sliced bread, chewing gum and magnetic tape were invented it was also the year Emeline Pankhurst and Charles Rennie Mackintosh died and the same year Stanley Kubrick, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, Nicolas Roeg, Burt Bacharach, Bob Monkhouse, Bo Diddley, Bruce Forsyth, Noam Chomsky, Ennio Morricone, Philip K Dick, Maya Angelou and Apollo commander Capt Jim Lovell were born, the same year women got the vote in England, the year Gill Sans & Futura fonts were designed and the first TV pictures were transmitted.

With Nicholson's arrival in St Ives seen as such a similarly pivotal occurence it seemed fitting to weave these many instances together to see what it might create.

So I strung some of these facts, alongside many others (see image folder above) into a scripted monologue, images of each item breaking into the footage shot by L.I.E at the moment I spoke them. Alongside an inquiry into circumstantial historical reference points I wanted to deal with Nicholson's belligerent desire for solitude evident in the above anecdote. So I retreated into my own loft, sat in the dark amongst the boxes, settled in then repeated into my dictaphone the mantra 'I am Ben Nicholson, I... am... Ben... Nicholson'. Now 'in character' I began singing to myself the show tune 'Wandrin' Star' from the musical 'Paint Your Wagon' (made famous by Lee Marvin) which I couldn't help thinking of in relation to Nicholson - "Do you know where Hell is? Hell is in hello. Heaven is in goodby forever, it's time for me to go".

This material was forwarded to L.I.E which they edited together into a sequence we had deesigned, presenting it on a monitor as an accompanyment to a display of their artist book archive at Hannah Barry Gallery for the exhibition 'L.I.E in London'. The display's were of lists of top-ten favourite artists books chosen by significant people in the field of artist books; Ed Ruscha, Katrina Brown, New Jerseyy, Olivia Plender, Charlotte Cheetham, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jem Southam, Jeff Eaton, Benjamin Sommerhalder, Lionel Bovier, James Jenkin, OMMU, Marco Kane Braunschweiler, Layla Tweedie-Cullen, Jeremy Millar, Alec Finlay, Fraser Muggeridge, Torpedo Press, An Endless Supply, Axel Wieder.

Above: Installation shots at Hannah Barry Gallery, London 'L.I.E in London' March 26-April 6 2013.
Images courtesy Damien Griffiths/L.I.E Archive

'STILL BUSY' 2013. Barry Sykes & The Library of Independant Exchange.