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EDITORIAL

EPIFANIO RECOMMENDS

MY LIBRARY
Sakura Iso

HARRY PYE’s POSTCARD FROM LONDON
NIGHT ON EARTH
Harry Pye

ENCOUNTERS WITH POWER
Vilen Künnapu

ROBERT COLESCOTT
Udo Kultermann

MY VIDEO COLLECTION
Marco Casagrande

SEDIMENTS OF SPACES AND STORIES
Christian Edlinger

SPACE
Elizabeth Haarala

INTERVIEW WITH ANDRES EHIN

ASTAKHAN
Toivo Tammik

TEAM

Harry Pye’s Postcard from London
Night on Earth

In November 2005 I put on an art show at the Oh Art Gallery in The Oxford House of Bethnal Green, East London. The show was called “Night on Earth” – the title comes from a film by American director Jim Jarmusch. But the inspiration for my “Night on Earth” project came from watching another film: “It’s a Wonderful Life”. There is a key scene in that movie where James Stewart’s character spends all the money he’s saved for a world tour by helping out friends with their financial problems. Although he doesn’t get to see all the foreign places he wanted to travel to on his honeymoon, his wife tries to compensate by filling their house with posters of scenes from exotic, foreign lands and playing records that capture the mood of other countries. She then gives him a guided tour of all the places they would have seen. I liked this idea and I also liked a show I’d seen at the Tate Gallery many years ago called “The Grand Tour”, which was about rich British people in the 18th century who went in search of antique and modern culture.

What I like most about Jim Jarmusch films is the way he can capture the magic of chance encounters between strangers who wouldn’t normally give each other the time of day.

Jamie Dyson. A Night in Australia, 2005.

   

Sarah Doyle. A Night in Canada, 2005.

Often in his films two people who may not even speak the same language are thrown together and are forced to share a taxi cab or a prison cell and usually, after some cigarettes and coffee, discover that against the odds they can make a little connection. I thought it would be nice to try and get a book together where I got friends and people I admired to write about unusual evenings they had spent far away from home. I was interested to see if they had ever had a Jim Jarmusch moment. I figured that if I got 80 people to write about a night in a different city then I could say reading the book would be like going round the world in 80 anecdotes. I thought it would be a nice touch if all the stories were illustrated by different artists, this would mean that I could have fun putting unlikely couples together. But more importantly, having all the stories and drawings on the wall would mean I’d be compensated for not having been abroad in more than five years.

When Pippa Bailey, the artistic director of the Oh Art Gallery invited me to put on a show I was delighted but I was slightly worried that unless visitors to the show were either mad or autistic, no one would actually read many of the stories. So, with “The Grand Tour” show I’d seen at the Tate in mind, I spent a few months finding English artists willing to lend me paintings and photography that had been inspired by their travels abroad. And then I asked all my artist friends who lived in London but were born overseas if they had any work inspired by their feelings of homesickness for their original place of birth.

Heather Sparks. A Night in Washington, 2005.

The Oxford House, which is in the East End of London, seemed the ideal venue to stage this show. The artists Gilbert & George live within walking distance of the venue. Many years ago George once told me that if you live in East London you never need to take holidays. He joked that every morning he could look out of his window and see some pigeons, outside an Indian off licence, eating the sick that a Scotsman had thrown up the night before after eating a Chinese take away and too much Belgian lager. “Why bother going on holiday?” he’d ask. “I’ve got the whole world on my doorstep.”

The East End has always been an area where people of different races and religions have been thrown together. It’s worth remembering that within living memory, Oswald Moseley once hired the Oxford House to enlist the support for his vile Black Shirt movement. And it’s interesting to note that plays such as “The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter were inspired by life in the East End. Pinter has said that if you were black, brown or (as in his case) a Jew and living in East London after the Second World War, you never knew when someone might come knocking at your door to remind you that you were not welcome and that you didn’t belong. One of the people who wrote a travel story for my project is the comedian and writer Stewart Lee. He once said that the best thing about living in London is how rarely you meet someone who comes from London. I like this comment very much.

   
Putting up the show was more than a little stressful although I was really lucky to get help from my friends. It had taken several days to get all the work up, there was not quite enough room for everything to go up and we were not allowed to drill into some of the walls. To make matters worse, half an hour before the private view started, the lights fused and the downstairs section of the gallery was left quite dark. Luckily the staff at the Oxford House all rallied round to save the day. I’d asked a few friends to do a little performance on the night of the private view. Jasper Joffe made a marker pen drawing based around his childhood adventures in Africa. The building filled to the brim with visitors and I admired the way friends like Jasper could make work with so many people squeezing past them.

Edward Ward.
Gallon Drunk jamming with Terry Edwards &
The Scapegoats, 2005.

One of my favourite stories in the show was about a night in Lisbon, contributed by a Danish playwright friend called Tine Frellesen. She arrived with Derek Lawson who had contributed a poetic piece about his time in Copenhagen. I asked my friend Humphrey Ocean who is a successful portrait painter if he would read a few of the stories. Humphrey connected with the Copenhagen piece and loaned me a lovely drawing of a car driving through the snow that related to a line in Derek’s story.

At the end of the month, to coincide with the end of the show’s run, I hired the Oxford House theatre for two variety nights in aid of the charity War Child. I knew I would never raise a gigantic amount of money but it seemed like a nice way of spreading the word about the wonderful things the charity does. The first evening was headlined by Chris Difford of Squeeze, a band I’ve been a fan of for as long as I can remember. Like me, Chris was born and raised in South London. He’s written lyrics for many great singers. Those who’ve recorded his songs include Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson and Elton John. Often Chris’s lyrics are amusing and slightly cheeky, they often mention places in South London. For example, the song he opened with was called “Up The Junction” and it begins with the line, “I never thought it would happen with me a girl from Clapham”. However, despite the Englishness of his songs – or maybe because of the Englishness of his songs – in the 1980’s Chris’s band Squeeze became very successful in America. The story Chris contributed to the “Night on Earth” show was about an evening in New York when the band were at the height of their fame, selling out the kind of venues the Beatles played in the 60s.

Guy Allott. Landscape Spaceship 5, 2005.

One of the band’s best songs, “Tempted”, is about the singer packing his bags, getting ready to go on tour and thinking about whether he’ll be unfaithful to his lover back home when he gets abroad. One of the lines is, “I packed a toothbrush” and Chris’s story is about everyone in the venue throwing a toothbrush at him when he sings the song and the stage being filled with 1,000’s of toothbrushes. No one threw anything at him during his performance at the Oxford House but he seemed to go down pretty well. The Kray brothers are two of the most famous Eastenders of all time. Although Ronnie Kray was imprisoned for murdering someone in the Blind Beggar pub (just down the road from the Oxford House) – in their day, the twins were known for other things such as charity work, smart suits and their closeness to their mother. There was a funny moment during Chris Difford’s set where I saw my mum singing along and I thought this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to being a Kray.

Rowland Smith, 2005.

Whilst the first night ran pretty smoothly, the second evening was a bit rougher round the edges. The evening began with some very funny poetry from a wonderfully morose poet from Liverpool called Paul Birtill. Paul had contributed a story about having his heart broken and his head kicked in whilst in Glasgow. And pretty much all of his work is about illness, death and misery. Somehow watching him do his stuff is quite uplifting and he probably got as many laughs as the comedians Trevor Lock and Paul Foot. In the second half there was an amazingly energetic and exciting set by the North London band, Gallon Drunk. The talents of their front man are often being sought by others (he’s currently in Nick Cave’s band, The Bad Seeds) which meant the group hadn’t played in a while. They seemed delighted to be up on stage, growling through old classics like “You Ought to Be Ashamed” and throwing their guitars around. The final act of the evening, Terry Edwards & The Scapegoats was also brilliant. Terry was always a favourite of the late, great John Peel who loved the way Edwards would reinterpret hits by indie acts like The Fall in a wild Jazz style. Backed by bassist Jim Moore and drummer Simon Pearson Terry put on a fine show but the best bit was when James and the rest of Gallon Drunk joined them onstage for an encore. This was one of those rare moments when bands really are as exciting as you want them to be and they really get your heart pumping.

Lots of interesting people contributed a travel story for the project.

Comedy writer, David Nobbs wrote a lovely tale about having a meal in a surreal hotel in Peru. Australian Gay Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell wrote about getting a hug and an apology from Iron Mike Tyson in Memphis. And cockney singers Chas’n’Dave wrote a funny little story about getting lost in Poland. There are a few great ones and the illustrations from artists like Edward Ward were pretty good too. Whenever anyone puts a lot of time and energy into a project there’s inevitably always going to be a high followed by a low. It’s very easy to only see your mistakes and beat yourself up over the things you could have done better. For some reason, although the project is far from over, I think I’ll look back on last November fondly. It is a wonderful life!

Udo KultermannHarry Pye

Harry Pye is a writer, curator and artist who lives and works in London. See also his stories about the art scenery of East London (Epifanio 1/2005) and South London (Epifanio 2/2005).