A LIFE IN THE DAY #8

By Edward Wilkinson Latham

BARRY THOMPSON, 35, is one of Britain’s most unique performance artists and his work has been witnessed throughout the south east of England, especially in and around the Wisbech, Downham Market and King’s Lynn area. Born in Cheadle, he attended Bury St. Edmunds Technical College and for his National BTEC diploma graduation project, he cleared the entire ticket hall of Wiggenhall train station with his highly charged political performance entitled, ‘I can a curl up anywhere me.’

“I tell people that just getting out of bed in the morning is a performance for an artist, so I can truly say that from the moment I get up, to the time I switch off the bedside light at night - I’m performing. The times I do not perform are when I’m laying on the couch with the curtains drawn eating Bombay Mix watching Trisha, or when I have to empty the cat’s litter box, or when my mum comes round. All other times are a performance. I try and record as much of ‘mon vie’ as possible with a number of video cameras around the flat, but really I need a full time crew to follow me and save these precious moments for posterity. If Joseph Beuys had had a camera on him 24/7, I think the art world would have more to talk about, but certainly if it wasn’t for his ‘Jeder Mensch ein Künstler — Auf dem Weg zur Freiheitsgestalt des sozialen Organismus’, (Everyone an artist — On the way to the libertarian form of the social organism), I don’t think I would be here now.

I try to be as focused and disciplined as much as possible and ensure I make a living everyday from my creative talents; my BTEC diploma, the City and Guilds in Photography and all the weekend workshops I have attended over the years. At the moment I’m working at The Pet Supply Warehouse, out on the North Runcton Industrial Estate, just off the A47. I get to perform from Monday to Friday, 8am till 5pm as a Temp Warehouse Assistant, which is a great working title and gives me a lot of scope to explore and be inventive with. My work is two pronged - sight and job specific. So for this morning for example I was carrying fifty-pound bags of puppy chow on my shoulder, pretending I was a Marseille dockhand in the 1950’s, at the height of the Algerian struggle for independence. I spoke in French for a whole forty-five minutes before Pam, the office manager threatened to knock my teeth out with a hammer- a very good illustration of oppression in action. This afternoon there’s a delivery from Mr.Ceasar coming in, so I think I’ll converse with the driver, using only quotes from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

‘There are no tricks in plain and simple faith;

But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,

Make gallant show and promise of their mettle;

But, when they should endure the bloody spur,

They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades

Sink in the trial.’

A few months ago I had the opportunity to complete a triptych of performances that I consider some of my best work to date. In July, I applied for the position of King’s Lynn Deputy Area Manager at Halfords on the Lock Road. Three days went by before I was fired and as I was being escorted from the premises by two security guards, I disrupted the display beside the cash register, scattering bicycle repair kits and Vauxhall colour range touch-up pens all over the polished concrete entrance way. My performance was extended because the security guards decided to chase me across the car park, over the Barrett Homes sponsored floral roundabout and on to lawn of Zipway Metals. I lost my jacket, glasses and a shoe when I ran through a hedge in a panic. They managed to catch up with me soon after that, but I fought them off with a sapling I pulled out from the loose soil, before I then ran screaming down a grass bank towards the motorway. Weary, I made my way along the hard shoulder of the northbound A10. I had to hike across some open waste ground to avoid a traffic jam and thats when I stumbled on a dead cat. I then decided to go and buy four cans of Kestrel larger and a bacon and cheese torte from the petrol station beside the Little Chef on the A17 outside Walpole St.Clement. I got drunk in a field for a while, watched a hawk, but on the bus home, I had to get off ten minutes before my stop because of an emergency, which I can say was no part of my performance. I think it must have been the torte, because I ended up having to find the nearest front garden and sacrifice my underwear for toilet paper.

After reviewing that project for a coupe of weeks, I secured another placement, this time in Swaffham Public Library, keeping the books in order and cleaning up puddles of tramp wee in the children’s area. It was a Thursday, Venus was in retrograde and our hours that day were 9:30am-3:30pm. Mrs. Braithwaite, the head librarian, approached me that morning saying that I had filed the DVDs in the wrong order again - genre rather than alphabetic. She became very angry and intense and she just bought out the performance in me I suppose. After an uninterrupted twelve minutes, I was arrested and charged with indecent exposure, psychological abuse, and urinating on a Norwich County Council computer. There was also a minor charge due to a by-law concerning the impersonation of a dog. The judge completely neglected to take in to account my obvious artistic reference to the lack of facilities in Swaffham Public Library for the blind and their four legged helpers. Fortunately a retired Commodore from Necton recorded my entire performance on a mobile phone and after it was released as police evidence, I managed to secure the rights of the material for my portfolio.

That led to an artist in residence spot at Gooderstone Heights, a converted old manor house, housing in my opinion some of the finest artists living in Britain today. There’s a man called Morris who paints copies of Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica with his own refuse. There’s Daphnia, a freestyle ballroom dancer, come animal impersonator and Hubert, a watercolourist who makes paint brushes from his own pubic hair. Morris uses them. The residency lasted three months and I helped out where I could with art therapy, group critique sessions and one on one, but I got treated like anyone else and that’s the role of an artist in residence, to blend in, observe and interpret.

Now that I’ve been at The Pet Supply Warehouse for two weeks I’ve absorbed the surroundings and major themes that come together to form this modern cultural meringue and I’ve distilled these ‘thèmes’, as the French Dadaists called it, and come up with a blueprint that I think will inspire artists who haven’t even been born yet. On Sunday night I’m going to smear my hands and face with mixed colour palette of Windsor & Newton’s Burnt Umber, Mars Grey and Chromium Oxide Green, numbers 076, 386 and 162 respectively, from their Finity Artist acrylic range. Then I’ll slip on by black mime body stocking, get on my bicycle and ride into the night to break into The Pet Supply Warehouse. I managed to get a copy of the key and the four-digit pass code from Reg, the overnight janitor. He asked me to perform for him last Sunday afternoon in Thetford Forest, and I agreed as long as he held the video camera. I really think this new performance will define my life’s work, or ‘Le travail de vie’ as the French say. It all depends on Pam being on time for work. She says being late is paramount to a beating, so the device I’ve planted in her locker will activate at precisely 8:57am. That will allow time for her to clock in, crack a joke with Giles the busty receptionist, grab a diet coke from the dispenser machine and hang up her coat in her locker. The two bags of fertilizer connected to the semtex will really up the wow factor I think. So once I’ve planted the device at the depot, I’m going to cycle back home, shower a shave and then I’ll jump in the car, take the A1065 to Mildenhall, third exit at the Snailwell roundabout to Bury St. Edmunds, and once I get round the one way system, it’s an open road down the A314 to Sudbury, where I catch a National Express Coach to Dover. I just hope that the media coverage will be substantial enough so I can get some good newspaper clippings and some footage off the television, although I’m not sure if they have the same video format in France. I’ll have to check that.”

EWL©2006