CONFESSIONS OF A FENIAN SUSPECT
My ideal project was an activity that was not solely directed to an identifiable area of syllabus and curriculum (did this ever exist?) but crossed the division between departments. Nigel Henderson set the entire School to perform the First World War and record their narratives, as infantry, airmen, nurses, and civilians.
HENDERSON at Thorpe Le Soken
in Marine attire
My concealed war against the Capitalist Tendancies of Graphic Design was generally known to the students. Digital technology was challenging the old skills and attitudes, not that the technicians were prepared for a life beyond kerning and Letraset. How often have I heard the claim in British Art Academies that a poverty of computers reflected not a lack of investment but an indication that " we are an ideas based Art School" . Yet the choice of project largely harked back to an earlier day, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on research and a limp assertion of individual latent creativity.
My excuse came with the gradual awareness among students of the possibilites of Multi-Media design which gloriously permitted designing the multiple choice interface and offered possibilities in Sound Design.
I had acquired for my own course our own video camera, defying the rule that all equipment be pooled in a suite of dedicated rooms staffed with responsible technicians and held in-house. In the inter-regnum beween Course Leaders in Graphics I was required to provide some project work to keep the student morale up, and stop them sloping off. I devised projects (more party games I thought) concentrating the mind on sound and its role in the new Graphics. In the marketplace where the multimedia location/puzzle game MYST had been such a success, it was conceivable not only that second year students would be required to take on animations of the image (no matter how primitive in 1992) and consider how space and time can be enhanced by designed sound. I supported the use of DIRECTOR as a way of combining sound and image. I had a great time, easing my anxiety that I had no place among artists.
The new Course Leader belonged to the Traditional Skills and it was suggested I return to marking essays which I hadn't done for twenty years. When he found out I could use DIRECTOR and could write in Hyper Text Markup Language for websites, attempts were made to bring me back. HTML code was akin to proof reading a legal document in my youth, where a comma in the wrong place could lead to failure.
A SCREEN FROM THE ART OF LIGHT MULTIMEDIA PACKAGE
with Paul Gammon and Jackie Batey
My earliest experimental projects were with the Vocational designers, really smart kids with a heavy layering of Bike Boys belonging to the British National Party. Two elderly tutors tussled over whether their charges were to master Calligraphy or devote themslves to the Luscher Colour Test. It was intended I injected short bursts of what is called Design History, but the Nigel Henderson approach to project work was fun for all. I was most pleased with a self portrait in pairs using shaving foam to distort expression and physiognomy.
A performance piece in the main lecture hall had a cross legged couple inventing a conversation during which when the speaker changed, the other leg was crossed, and emphasising the regimentation of debate by loosely tethering one crossed leg to the other with a band of cloth.
One morning a dozen students and I occupied the public car park on the top of the mound of Norwich Castle Museum, filming shrouded figures lowering themselves from behind the railings into a sort of oblivion. Had I been more aware, I would have found out in advance that beneath the mound, and with a clear view of denim arses bobbing up and down, were the Magistrates Courts. The dramatic gyrations of the performers were preventing any serious scrutiny of questions of law.
Two policemen appeared on the mound and asked for proof of my identity requesting that we respect the need for sobriety and decorum.Two of the student group coincidentally were from Northern ireland and had sold Sinn Fein newspapers in the local marketplace. Having heard the name "Mullen" the Policemen dismissed the students who returned to the studios, and I was held in their squad car while a check was run, confusing me initially with a suspected active Fenian. They even seemed to know I had bought newspapers from the two Ulster lads. A reassuring call from the Principal achieved my release. I suspect that he would have preferred me to stick to the Bauhaus.
One great advantage of being a Doctor of Philosophy is that you could do what you liked at an Art School, and it would take a most enraged or vindictive colleague to demean your efforts. When in doubt, give me the benefit of the doubt, and shake your head at my wasted talents.
NORWICH CASTLE MOUND , lithograph, Hodgson c1825