26 June 2006

Waiting For Laptop

Today was the first day of the recording process. I found the whole experience bewildering and intensely stressful. I have described these feelings in more detail in The Recording Process entry (published below).

For a while it crossed my mind that the only way I could get through the day, would be to lie on my bed and do absolutely nothing, therefore not having to write anything down. Instead I decided to sit at my desk and spend several hours writing about my experience of Prime to date, how my ideas about 'work' have developed in the run up to finding a job. This text can be read in the earlier entries published below on this blog (which were all written during this period on Monday 26 June).

For five weeks running up to today, I had been without my laptop as it had been sent back to the manufacturers Evesham for repair. I had been told the previous week that the laptop would be returned this Monday. For five weeks I had worked on an old PC in the studio and I was greatly looking forward to getting my laptop back.

At 11:55 I called Evesham only to discover that my laptop was not scheduled to be delivered today, but would in fact arrive on Tuesday. This frustrated me a great deal as I had transferred all my files from the computer in the studio to my hard drive and was no longer able to use it in anticipation of the laptop's return.

Later that day I began to think carefully about exactly what information I should collect in my Log Book. When I started recording, I had not properly planned how much detail I would or should go into. I began to work on the first sketches on what the Timelines, I hoped to make with the information, might look like and slowly I began to rationalise just how much information it would physically be possible to convey on paper.

I worked out that even if the Timelines were each a meter long (totalling 28 meters), activities of one minute would be the smallest visible duration. It was then that I decided that activities of less than one minute would not be recorded. Moving from room to another within a building would not be recorded (unless the activity changed at the same time) and conversations with people would not be record unless they indicated a change of activity (from work to leisure for example) except for those taking place on the phone.

In the early evening I watched Italy beat Australia on a last minute penalty. This was an exciting moment in what had been a miserable day.

The Recording Process

Today I feel sick in the head, a defective person trapped in a prison. I put this mainly down to not having enough sleep. The lack of sleep came about as a result of the beginning of the monitoring process. Every time I woke up in the night, my activity changed from sleeping to being awake in bed, therefore I had to make a note in my Log Book of the time of change of activity.

However at the moment of becoming conscious I wasn't sure what I was meant to be doing, my mind was confused. I didn't know whether to record the activity I had been doing in my dream or to record the act of sleeping. After being awake for a little while I came to realise that if I stayed asleep I wouldn't have to write anything done. When this was clear, I could finally drift off again. This didn't prevent me, however, from waking up startled and confused on three further occasions.

Today I have major concerns as to whether I'll be able to keep this up. I've spoken to two people about my concerns about the project and have received conflicting advice.

The first was from my friend Verity, who had popped round unexpectedly and found me in a rather bad mood. She was concerned about me attempting to record everything I did. When I told her about Prime, she was excited about the project. She liked the prospect of getting a new job, saying that the best thing would be having the opportunity to meet lots of new and interesting people.

I agreed with her that yes this would be good, but at the same time I wasn't sure I would be able to do it. I wouldn't be able to act in a natural way whilst recording my every move. I knew that instead, I would end up trying to avoid people so that I wouldn't have to record so much information and could avoid having to explain what I was doing.

This made me question whether I was doing the right thing. Would I be ruining my experience of 'Part-time' by trying to document it? I wasn't going to enjoy the next four weeks. I would be constantly observing myself take part in the activity, rather than truly experiencing it. I worried that maybe I should just quit now (on the first day, before I'm in too deep) and start on something else more along the lines of my first idea.

The second piece of advice however, gave me more confidence and motivation about the idea. It was from Jon. He said that he always had admiration for projects with an incomprehensible amount of detail - when you are stunned at the amount of obsession and rigour that has gone into something. He said that this project had that same potential, just as long as I persisted.

Not one to be a quitter, I decided to persist. I needed to begin to rationalise the amount of data I was collecting, by creating categories for different types of activity for example Domestic Work or Job Seeking. I also needed to work out as quickly as possible, how I was going to visualise the information into colour coded timelines. As soon as I had this sorted I could begin to visualise each day as I went through the four week period. Therefore, I would be able to see the ongoing fruits of my labour and be motivated to continue.

Desperate Times

On Thursday 22 June I discovered a place not very far from where I live called Labour Ready . 'Work Today - Cash Today' was its slogan. I had walked past this place thousands of times over the last few years as it is on direct route between home and my studio or the station, but not once had I taken any notice. Now, under this self-imposed pressure to find work the words jumped out at me from the window display.

I went inside. The deal was that you had to register before you could get work. Registration took place between 5:30 - 8:30 and apparently, if you turned up at this time, you were highly likely to get sent to work that same day. Factory or 'order picking' work - it all sounded a little vague, but at least it was a possibility. 'Right' I thought, I'll go in first thing on Monday morning and find work!

On Saturday, just to throw another spanner in the works, my boss from Broadway Cinema called to say that he'd pencilled me in for some shifts in July and could I confirm whether I could definitely do them by Sunday. What should I do? My own 'low-wage' job wanted me to work and here I was desperately scrabbling around trying to find another one.

On Saturday night my head was completely swimming - the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on me. What exactly was the purpose of the next few weeks? I was looking for a job, because I was being paid by Prime to look for one. I was about to force myself to get up at 5:00 and enter the seedy world of Labour Ready, just to work that one day. This was a completely unnatural experience. False pressures were being applied from all directions. Prime was stipulating that I must work 20 hours each week and I was going to play the game and force myself to do just that.

I had a restless night's sleep on Saturday and a long succession of nightmares. I dreamt about queuing at Labour Ready amidst a vast number of people. Sometimes I was the only woman there, sometimes not. I was nervous and self-conscious that I would be found out as 'an artist' doing 'a project'. People looked at me suspiciously as I scribbled down my movements in my notebook. Is she a reporter? What is she doing here? No matter how long I queued for I never reached the front, I never got a job.

When I woke I went swimming to clear my head. The thought of starting two things at the same time (the new job and recording all my actions) was just too much for me, especially when there was so much uncertainty about how either would turn out. It was making me feel sick inside. I was nervous about each of these things in equal measure and the combination of the two beginning at the same time could send me over the edge. So I formulated a plan to help me stay sane:

At 0:00 Monday 26 June I would begin monitoring my activities, keeping an ongoing record of how I spent my time. This would allow me to get used to this process in a safe environment - get used to using my new Log Books and my new large screen digital watch (both of which I had bought on Saturday in preparation).

I would use the first week of the project as a warm up, getting myself used to the process. I would go to my meter reading interview on Wednesday and keep my fingers that I got the job, hopefully starting the following Monday. Plan B would be Labour Ready and I would go in first thing on Monday 3 July and work.

Looking For More

At the very beginning I had decided that I could only start 'Part-time' once I had finished teaching on 20 June. Once assessments were over, I had planned to start my new job on Monday 26 June. What I hadn't been prepared for was how difficult it would be to get this job - nobody had yet agreed to employ me.

Two-and-a-half weeks before the start I had begun filling in application forms, which Steven had sent to me. By this stage (dreams of becoming a traffic warden long-gone), I had just decided to go for anything that I thought would be mildly interesting or at least bearable. I applied for a role as Pharmacy worker in Sainsbury's, receptionist at the Britannia Hotel and electricity meter reader with E.ON.

I naively assumed that it would only be a matter of days before I heard something and was called up for an interview. The days ticked on and I found myself in the week before the start date with nothing lined up. In the four days before the 26 June mild panic set in. What was I going to do? My own rules stated that I had to begin on Monday and time was running out. At 0:00 on Monday I would begin recording my activities. But where was I going to work?

There was one glimmer of hope - on 23 June I received a letter in the post inviting me for an interview with E.ON for the meter reading job, but it wasn't until Wednesday 28 June, three days into the project.

I ran around town desperately looking for work. I took CVs to Woolworths, Argos, WH Smiths, and an independent clothes shop and tea rooms. They all had the same retort: 'nothing at the moment, but we'll let you know'.

Two Jobs Already

I then began to question what relevance 'the job' I got had to this particular mission. In actual fact I now would like the results to be as near as possible to documenting 'real life' and how I spend my time. The fact is that I already have two jobs:

- I am a lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University
- And for three years have been an usher at Broadway Cinema

No disrespect to lecturing, but being an usher is the best job that I have ever had. It's so good in fact, that I can't imagine ever leaving. Minimum wage aside, any job that pays you to watch films, read or even do other work (marking students project's for example) is just beyond belief.

Since I struck upon my plan to attempt to document everything that I did for four weeks, it seemed a shame that I couldn't do this whilst carrying out the part-time job that I already had. This way the situation would be completely truthful and realistic and the records would show my 'normal life'.

Documenting Time

Also around this time (early May) I became involved in a confrontation based around work, time and their relationships with money. As part of a group of six Nottingham based artists, I coordinated and ran an AN Magazine networking event called NAN-NANA (which took place on 28 - 30 April). The event was six months in the making. At the start of this period we had agreed that each member of the team would keep a record of the time that they spent working towards the event. Then at the end we would all be paid proportionately for our recorded hours.

After the event had taken place, we each submitted our hours and discovered that there were major discrepancies between the levels of detail to which people had documented their time.

Arguments broke out. A flurry of emails went to-and-fro where members of the team described in detail the methods they used to keep accurate records and how they differentiated between what was work towards the project and what was not. As if to justify that they had earned their payment fairly.

This whole episode made me question whether it would actually be possible to work out how long you spend on any particular project or activity. This, rolled into the idea that all activity is 'work' made me stumble across a new idea for the 'Part-time' project.

I had decided that I would attempt, over the course of the four week period, to take account of and document just how every minute of each day is spent - to produce and ongoing list as proof of exactly how I spend my time.

I would document the start time and end time of every activity carried out and explore the boundaries and crossovers between the different types of activity. Once I had decided to attempt this feat (at around the end of May), a whole new set of questions appeared about practicalities.

- Would it be possible?
- How could it be carried out?
- Would the results by swayed by the fact that I was aware of the recording process?

How We Spend Our Time

On Saturday 14 May I took part in a Group Crit at Stand Assembly studios, where myself and five other artists presented and spoke about our work. This was post Day-to-Day Data and I presented the premise that having been out of university for a full five years - I had reached a point where I felt I needed to review and reflect on all the 'work' I had since produced. Simultaneously I challenged myself and the others to evaluate just how-on-earth five years could have disappeared so quickly.

Niki Russell presented his work to the group and a discussion arose about what compels us to make 'work' and what motivates us. What tactics we use and what rules we set to force ourselves to be productive. And also how in an ideal world we would want to spend our time. We may think that in this ideal world we would choose to do nothing, to sit on a beach or lie in bed all day. But this may turn out to be a nightmare, which is why we 'work' instead. We discussed:

- The idea that the artist is always working, that they have no time off, no rest bite and they experience constant guilt through times of lack of production. Artists do not have 'spare time'.

- This lead into the idea of a 'life-long project', work that can sustain the artist until they die.

These ideas appal and attract me in the same measure. I am a self-confessed work-a-holic that hates working.

Life Is Work

In the run-up to the Prime commission I began to consider in more detail the notion of 'work'. There were a number of incidents that made me question the concept of 'work' and how we spend our time.

On Saturday 6 May, whilst enjoying an Indian meal at The Chand on Mansfield Road I entered into a discussion about the notion of 'spare time' with my fellow diners: Niki Russell, Stuart and Anna (AAS), Lucy Gibson, and Kathy Fawcett (Leicester City Art Gallery).

The discussion was brought about because Niki Russell's current performance / installation at Moot Gallery was based on the premise that he only performs in his 'spare time'.

I questioned whether there was any such thing as 'spare time' for artists. This question was in no doubt triggered by the particular type of practice that I have undertaken for the last five years, in which I collected vast amounts of data about my everyday routines. But as I asked it, I had a sudden realisation that I actually considered everything that I did in my life as 'work'.

I did not differentiate between: paid employment, reading, writing emails, shopping, washing, going to the cinema or viewing art. It was all work, they were all ways of spending time, distractions, they were all simply means to an ends.

Work is work, leisure is work, life is work.

Traffic Warden Dreams

From the month of February onwards I began to develop a completely idealistic vision of what taking part in 'Part-time' might entail. I had many conversations with Steven about the sort of jobs I'd like to take on. I first thought about becoming a Traffic Warden - I liked the idea of being outside, in an independent role, having a uniform, gadgets on a utility belt, patrolling the town and performing vindictive acts against as many car owners I could find. It would be heaven.

I imagined that, should I be able to work in this role for four weeks, I would happily create an artwork in relation to my experience. I had in mind a subtle 'street sculpture' that would change each day dependant on the number of cars that I caught and gave tickets to. I imagined for example, using a set of street railings as a makeshift bar chart. Positioning a polystyrene cup (or whatever litter I could find) over the top of the railing representing (on the x axis) the number of cars caught.

The street sculpture could then be photographed on a daily basis from the same position and animated. Either on the pages of the publication (like a flick book) or digitally on the web. I liked the idea that this 'street sculpture' would show the fluctuating levels of success of the work of the Traffic Warden to those who knew the secret code, but to passers-by would go completely unnoticed.

I still like this idea very much, but several things have happened over the course of the last few months which now make seem unrealistic and also less relevant.

The first of these was a result of Steven's investigations into the hiring of Traffic Wardens in Nottingham City. Unfortunately it appeared that Traffic Wardens in Nottingham do not work part-time. The brief from Prime was to spend 20 hours a week in employment and to use the rest of the time to produce artwork in relation to the work. Therefore the 30-odd hours a week required by the Traffic Warden work would be too much.

Pre Prime Enthusiasm

When I was first approached by Steven Renshaw to take part in 'Part-time' I jumped at the chance. The idea of having a reason to get a 'normal job' and becoming a 'normal person' really appealed to me. At that time (February 2006), I was approaching the end of what had then been a two year project called Day-to-Day Data.

At several points during the process of curating Day-to-Day Data, editing the publication and making work for the show I had become very angry and disillusioned with the 'art world', I fantasised about the idea of 'giving up art' and joining the real world with a nine-to-five job.

So Prime first appealed to me as the pure escapism - the perfect antidote to two years' worth of Day-to-Day Data.

I was teaching at Nottingham Trent University up until the end of June. So from the very beginning I planned to undertake my work for Prime for four weeks directly following the end of term. This would be 26 June - 23 July. I had to find a job before that, so that I could start work on the very first day of the project.