Rubblewerk was a solo presentation by Tom Railton at PLAZAPLAZA as part of Art Lick Weekend 2016, featuring a series of works addressing occupation, legality and loitering via rudimentary manufacture and combined histories of access in situ, inspired by Section 164 of the Highways Act 1980 (Injurious toppings)
"Facets of bifrösted chevaux de frise simultaneously en/discourage free movement, while notions of traditional manufacture and craft are fractured to produce problematic, prismatic diffractions."
These guys are doing my head in.
Ever since we cleaned it up they've been coming, leaving their take away boxes, their butts, their bottles, general detritus you know.
I kind of like the idea that they come and hang out. I like the idea of a community thing. But they don't understand where I'm coming from, I don't think. They leave all of their shit.
I want them to know this street is like my garden. Although, I know it actually isn't. But sometimes I wanna tell them to fuck off. But I actually don't want them too.
Do you know what I mean?
"So I wanted to make a wall topped with rainbow glass for a long time, they were a strong memory of childhood, along with anti-vandal paint and hanging around in alleyways (‘entries’ in Coventry). There was a particular one near my house as a kid, opposite the off-licence and near the main shops, which I’m citing as the inspiration, though on a recent visit had few of the above features remaining; there’s always the possibility they were apocryphal. There was also one of those municipal bike ‘chicane’ barrier things, to stop motorbikes going down the alley, which acted as a tiered seating system (teen hierarchies) and access for the wall tops. V much about loitering, rather than getting into anywhere, however. Adolescent conversations, leaning, littering, lies about smoking, alcohol, sex; later, forays for some, into these.
It reminded me of this when you described County St being a cul-de-sac, and of being the former site of a few things - not least a gallery named as such, but also the bombings during the war, the church on the corner, the school next door and the perimeter wall made from rough chunks of the rubble. I looked into it a bit and it’s true, there was a church on the corner of New Kent Road, finally demolished in the sixties as part of the development of the site for the new school, designed by the same architects as the Barbican in classic 1960s brutalist/modernist style. The assembly hall’s got a hyperbolic paraboloid roof on it, like a pringle crisp with square sides.
You mentioned people often getting lost down there, looking at google maps blindly on their phones, and having to turn back around. And of people driving down for a joint, hangout, whatever, or just a u-turn, again, similar to the loiter.
And so to iphones. Again, I’ve wanted to make them for a while, and that ‘getting lost’ thing above, combined with the glass thing meant i thought it’d be nice to show both together. With the launch of the iphone7 around the corner, and it being the most coveted, expensive thing for the everyday person to buy (ie, not like a ferrari or yacht, but just out of reach, prosaic luxury?) it seemed a good time too. I’ve been looking into obsidian, polished glass, scrying mirrors, claude glasses (these are cool) vanity glasses, etc for a bit, so wanted to make a work that roughly resembled a phone screen with a polished surface.
Phone screens act in the same way as early mirrors (looking glasses) when turned off, but can be used for checking make-up, spots etc when using the selfie camera function - also the internet provides access to the things people in the past may have tried to foresee in pools or obsidian.
Haptic vs digital, ergonomic shape, size, weight in both cases.
Then I started thinking about broken phone screens and designed obsolescence, and remembered something about ‘early man’ deliberately sharpening obsidian (and flint) by ‘knapping’ the edges to thin and make cutting edges - the first tools - hand axes.
They’re often cited as the first example of when early hominids got as far as making something (a sharp rock) that would work fine, practically, but then went a stage further to make them prettier (acheulean bifaces, projectile points), and aesthetics develops in human appreciation of objects beyond the immediately practical. I went to go see a guy in Norfolk who taught me how and helped me knap the iphone/handaxe things, he’s a flint guy but likes the glass too apparently.
Back to the bricks - the primary concern was to make a colourful version of something sinister, but there’s something about stained glass from the bombed church in there too, maybe. The arches are a way of combining that municipal barrier thing I mentioned with a wall, on which to smear mortar and embed with broken, coloured glass. They act a little like bridges, and there’s a Norse myth I was thinking about whereby the bridge that goes from the mortal world to Asgard (called Bifröst) which is often described as being rainbow coloured. They’re shaped like an inverted version of the outer branches of the rune used for Bifröst too, Elhaz, and cross over each other like the chicane barriers. It provides access to somewhere, but is guarded, like the walls with glass on; denying/inviting at same time.
Finally, and this may or may not happen, but I mentioned yesterday about wanting to put something up high in the space, and that it might be these version of the ‘s’ symbol. I wanted to paint something using anti-vandal paint, as in all respects it’s like other oil paint, it just never dries, and is made solely for that purpose. It’s black and shiny, like the obsidian mirrors, and I find it funny because it’s used to stop people breaking into places but like the glass on walls, is actually illegal to do so without providing warning of its presence, and has to be installed over a certain height.
The ’s’ doesn’t seem to have an origin, but there are loads of apocryphal sources/stories out there; seems to be one of those spontaneously generated symbols of no ownership, often used in graffiti (alleyways again, school books, desks, bored youth, doodles,etc) and resembled the shape made when I was hand-lapping (grinding) the glass iphones. Repetitive action, easily reproduced. Also, it bears a resemblance to a mathematical curve, like the roof of the school next door, and makes whatever it touches untouchable."*
Thanks to John Lord, Livvy Fink, Kelly Allsopp, Liam Reeves and Stefan Stefanou.
Wienerberger Blue Perforated Wirecut Class B Engineering bricks, galvanised steel handrails and tube clamps, glass, mortar.
Thanks to Frances Drayson, Nick Lott, Steve Brennan.
Blackfriar Anti-Climb Paint, Black, H&M T Shirt.
Thanks to Andy Richardson, Damon Rostron, Robin Smart.
All works Tom Railton, 2016. Thanks to Glen and all at plazaplaza, and Art Licks Weekend.
Photo credits: Laura Dee Milnes and Artist's own.
*Email from TR to GP, adapted for Press Release, forward by GP.