In 1974, when I was twenty-three, I became so spellbound by a ball of sheep’s dung, I picked it up and treasured it with care. I remember using it in combination with other similar balls of stone and iron in my lectures and I have often displayed it to best effect on my shelf. Now, thirty-six years later, I am still looking after it and I hold in higher esteem than ever.
In my performance/installation, BIG DRUID IN HIS CUBICLE (2009), I use numerous instruments, gauges and processes of measuring. There are scales for determining the mass of objects, compasses for finding direction and thermometers. Amongst my calibrated rulers I have some that measure the size of one’s feet and others that can gauge the thickness of a hair. I have big and small ampules and boxes to measure quantities of medicine and snuff. However, instead of measuring length, weight and direction as I am supposed to do, I use my devices metaphorically and preternaturally to divine and appraise complex issues such as authenticity, veracity, importance, substance and state of mind. As a druid, I must attempt, for example, to know if the heart and resolve might be big enough to endure a task or if a degree of anguish might be too severe to suffer, where to venture and where not to. Do we have what it takes, or don’t we? BIG DRUID IN HIS CUBICLE has slowly developed over many years, but was set up for the first time at the 2009 Basel Art Fair. In it I function as a druid and diviner and my aim is to weigh up the state of affairs and to make philosophical assertions and even mischief with my findings. My instruments and methods make up an important section of my dictionary WHAT EVERY DRUID SHOULD KNOW (work in progress) and the balances are there to liberate my own thoughts so that I may see through things and so that I may know how to react. Do I criticise, confirm, commiserate or mock? In this manner the scales and rulers become aids of thought management and conceptualisation.
In 2004 I made a large conceptual work entirely out of the dung of sheep and chickens. The work is literally a ‘document’ written in ‘shit’ entitled CACOETHES SCRIBENDI and it lists all the so-called good things in this life I have a big problem with – things like human rights, faith, patriotism and purity. Cacoethes scribendi is an insanable, compulsive itch to write something bad, usually in places where casual writing is taboo, like in toilets and on school desks. In a one-year artwork, 470-DAY PROJECT (1983), I set myself a series of daily tasks to test my own resolve and willingness to be intuitive and creative. One of the tasks, initiated as a sacrifice, was to put my hand down the toilet and squelch around, to assess the condition of ordure. My conclusion was that the activity was life-affirming, sobering and not really a sacrifice at all.
In TIPPING THE SCALE, I weigh up my trusted ball of sheep’s dung against two polished nuggets of fool’s gold.We surround our lives with superficially attractive elements. In contradistinction to this, the so-called ‘unseemly’ things that speak of our transient, weak and fragile nature are avoided and feared. What weighs heaviest, shit or gold? Is the standard of world economy essentially a fiction based on folly and presumption? Is the essence of our existence a preoccupation with glamour and glitz or a realisation of our finite, vulnerable disposition? “Mene mene tekel upharsin”(from the book of Daniel: “You have been weighed and found wanting.”).
In order to make artworks, I usually undertake extensive, encyclopaedic research into my themes and preoccupations. I include an article on Eye For An Eye by William Ian Miller to show the kind of research that might go into a work like TIPPING THE SCALE.
TIPPING THE SCALE brings homage to the ancient Roman god Sterculius, god of dung and excrement. The early Romans were an agrarian civilization and, functionally, most of their original pantheon of gods were of a rural nature with figures such as Pomona, Ceres, Flora, Dea and, of course, Sterculius, who supervises the manuring of the fields. More importantly, Sterculius is also the custodian of our own excrement, representing our dependency on what we eat to determine who and what we are. TIPPING THE SCALE extends to the practice of scatomancy where I examine the ordure of animals and people to see beyond the superficial level of existence and subsistence.
The images attached to the folder were all taken by me and are in most cases artworks or part of artworks themselves.