Blog archive December 2013
this xkcd post resonates with me. btinternet.com/~smallritual operated quite happily for six or seven years in a 'forgotten' server space, which i only discovered when i ran out of room and couldn't find out how to get more through any official channel. i learned about the actual situation via a fuss in a bt support forum - people who had suffered outages found that the current generation of support staff didn't know that the server existed. unfortunately this alerted bt to the fact that they had a legacy to maintain that wasn't part of their current business plan, so they finally pulled the plug on 31st october 2012. smallritual.org jumped ship in october 2010 to a space generously donated by daniel miller, but even he had forgotten he had it by october 2013 ;)
i like the idea that things can exist for an indefinite time in peace outside of mainstream or commercial attention. maybe it's a reminder of the early internet where, as xkcd says, there were no video ads, or other intrusive monetarisation [because people paid for things].
as of now i'm on sabbatical until 31st march.
the last time i had as much as a month off [apart from being ill] was july 2004. the last few years in particular have been very hard work, long hours, big responsibilities, high pressure, complicated by said illness and then by a year of leg injuries. 2013 was meant to be a year of work-life balance and recovering my well-being, but then our workloads spiralled out of control in an unavoidable way. we just had to ride the tiger. again.
however, i could see that my projects had a clean end at the end of the year. this is very unusual in architecture, because once one project is under construction you are already working on the design phase of the next - which is why the pressure never lets up. seeing the clean end coming i knew i had the possibility of a month off, employer permitting. but when i spoke to my boss i said, actually i really need three months off - a month goes quite quickly [old age!] and three months is more the scale of the recovery needed. and he said, ok make a proposal, but the next time i saw him he said, i've already factored in that you won't be here from christmas until easter. so what could i do but take it? it will be ten years before i'm given another such chance.
in fact i'm not stretching to easter, because it's late in 2014 and my finances would be depleted more than i'm comfortable with.
i will still dip in and out of work a little, because ironically the year's hard work has born amazing and successful fruit, and i want to keep in touch with certain developments. for many years i have been trialling workplace-inspired ideas in a church setting, because employers or clients gave me no chance to do these things in a workplace. this year that changed. i have been able to be highly creative, albeit under crazy pressure, and work is more fun right now. the doors have opened. i was going to develop various workplace ideas anyway in this sabbatical, for myself and smallritual.org, but now i will be able to take them back to an interested audience.
if this sabbatical had happened a year ago, my chief wish would have been to close the door on work and forget all about it for the duration. now i see it as more of a chance to reposition and grow myself and what i do, outside of the day-to-day constraints of project running.
it will of course be great to wake up on 2nd january and know that i don't have to go to work :)
last night's grace may have been revolutionary. 'christmas by numbers' was a christmas-themed version of an old favourite 'communion by numbers'. in the original format the congregation sit in small groups around tables, and each table has nine big envelopes containing instructions/liturgy/stuff to do. when a bell rings, people open the next envelope and do whatever is in it. at a certain point this involves bread and wine.
this time we dispensed with the envelopes. the stuff was in a box, and all instructions and liturgy came via twitter to the devices of people at the tables, mostly without other announcements. because twitter is public, friends in other places could observe and join in, and all participants could tweet their comments, reactions, and photos in real time during the service, in effect as part of the rolling liturgy. see #XmasByNos on twitter. the playlist for each section was also being tweeted, jonny has published the whole thing here.
i'm not sure if this has been done before. we used sms for the confession and absolution of the original 'communion by numbers' in 2006 [at the very time that twitter was being invented], but this has taken the idea to an entirely different level. the first time we did the sms confession, there was a long delay in the reply and the absolution texts all arrived noisily in the silence before the eucharistic prayer. seven years later we can stream the whole thing live and global.
there is one boundary we haven't yet crossed. dean did the consecration by saying it. but we've been discussing the possibility of consecration by mobile phone since the 90s. it's time to tweet it.
last weekend began with late at tate britain: warp x tate - 'a free evening of performance and installations from warp records and jeremy deller, inspired by deller's work 'the history of the world' [also below].
the event was almost wrecked by the thousands that attempted to get in, in what i suspect to be a cascade effect of social media. it appeared that every hipster in town [or at least in shoreditch] had got word that this was the place to be that evening, probably encouraged by the words 'free', 'warp records', and the way that it wasn't entirely clear from the publicity whether certain artists would be personally performing, when in fact they had created sound art installations and were not present themselves, or at least were anonymous.
i was the only one of my friends to get in, because i arrived early. the queue was already two blocks long, but moved suprisingly swiftly. i then had text conversations with disappointed friends who arrived 15 or 20 minutes later to find thousands outside the gallery and no more admitted. inside, the gallery was uncomfortably crowded, full of people roaming around in search of the party that wasn't quite there.
i didn't see everything due to queues, crowds and sore legs. rustie had filled the turner galleries with rustie-ish ambient sounds booming at high volume - ok but no connection with the art at all. 'summers of love' by hudson mohawke was much more fun - reimagining the chapman brothers' 'chapman family collection' as an acid house party. the people laughed at the art, and the art laughed at the people.
somehow i stayed until 9pm to catch what turned out to be the highlight of the evening: the fairey brass band playing jeremy deller's 'acid brass'. deller had challenged a brass band to perform classic acid house tracks, and the transcription from one form of music to a very different one is a triumph of the arranger's art. as the audience warmed up, the event showed signs of being the rave/party that it perhaps should have been all along.
i have filled my limit on vimeo until monday: still to come, one more brass band clip and the room called 303/808 which presented said synthesisers on plinths and making their characteristic noises. most disturbing artwork of the evening: a movie of middle aged men dressed as ravers and performing a morris dance.
it struck me as curious that most of the people there were only just being born at the time of acid house in the late 80s. i can't imagine an event celebrating the music of my own birth year  drawing roadblock crowds of my contemporaries - because it's less epochal, but mostly because we have our own musical culture from much later. during the late 20th century music was constantly swept aside by newer music. in 1988 we didn't gather to celebrate 1963. in 1977 we buried 1952 [god save the queen!]. but the cultural revolution that remakes society again and again in its own image is no longer in music, but in technology.
at 9am saturday morning i was onsite at canary wharf to help direct the professional photoshoot in my just-completed project. in fact there are still a few things to be done, and the inhabitants are moving in with crates and possessions, so there was a lot of tidying and shifting to get the shots as nick hufton wanted to see them through his lens. am looking forward to the results, after seeing their shots of the last major project i saw through to completion.
so, blogging last weekend in reverse chronological order:
3pm-8pm saturday: with some Grace friends in the church, taping out a new labyrinth cloth for feltham young offenders institution. they kept the original installation kit from st. pauls cathedral after the cathedral tour finished in 2003, and have been running it several times a year for the inmates ever since. we have heard humbling stories of its impact on the young men there, who are in a very low place in their lives - the labyrinth offers a space and time to reflect on their lives and direction in a gentle and beautiful way, and it's sometimes the first chance they have had to do this. it's a great honour to have had a part in that ministry, by however strange a route.
at the start of this year they asked us if we could help replace some of the kit, which of course we were glad to do. this will be the third cloth, but they were still using the original cd players from 2000 - antiques! i'm amazed they lasted that long. now they will have ipod shuffles. and also new LED tvs to replace the CRT ones which were second hand even back then. the VHS video tapes have been replaced by DVDs, and the low res space movie for the planet station has been upgraded to current ISS footage, which gives new life to the original meditation: "you are out in space...", and some people always are, nowadays.
feltham have one of the few spaces capable of taking the original cloth, which was sized to fit the south transept of st pauls cathedral. this is around twice the size of the nave of st mary's ealing, so we could only make half of the labyrinth at once. this of course added an hour or two to the whole arduous process.
i haven't taped a labyrinth for ten years and already had very sore legs after the morning's photoshoot at canary wharf, the previous night at tate britain and several weeks of constant walking around a construction site. after we had finished we went across the road for a much needed curry. i could barely move the next day. today i heaved the folded cloth to work and sent it by courier to the jail.
thanks to richard baker for the 'historic' photos ;) whole set here