Solo show at Bank Street Arts, Sheffield | 29 March - 1 April 2017
More details here: http://bankstreetarts.com/exhibitions/bling/
'Bling TV' also exhibited as part of The London Group Open | 8 - 17 November. More details here: http://www.thelondongroup.com
"Only boring people are bored;" the refrain of my childhood, the parental clarion to get up from the sofa or to cease my plaintive scuttering and do something gainful. But what is gainful for a child? For my parents, it was anything that shushed my complaints and rendered me apparently occupied. For me it was cutting up magazines and sticking the pictures onto Croxley with chubby tubes of push-up glue. Sometimes I would draw with felt-tipped pens at a red plastic table. Later I would graduate to sloppily executed cross-stitch kits; well-meaning Christmas gifts whose fiddliness and prescription I resented, and diary writing; endless, obsessive diary writing.
(The thing is, I need to be busy, otherwise the black fishes swim in.)
These days I bling. I take tacky paste gemstones bought in self-seal baggies from internet wholesalers and arrange them on the surface of objects, cementing them in place with the kind of epoxy adhesive that comes with a health warning. I discovered the new handicraft on YouTube. Teenage girls in ill-lit pink bedrooms demonstrating how they had decorated their mobile phones, laptop covers and cosmetics cases with a brilliant crust of tiny fake diamonds and cabochons shaped in alloy or resin. They were unashamedly excessive and almost painfully handmade, impossible to mistake for the real stuff of luxury, but alive and compelling all the same. A new 'folk art' for the twenty-first century.
(There was a moment, if you can recall—before Brexit, before Trump—when bling was a Big Thing. Looking back, I think it was the last time we were innocent enough to embrace something so hopeful…)
There are two main things I love about 'hand-blinging'. First, you are taking something mundane and unembellished-like a Walkman or a hairbrush-and making it more extraordinary. Good or bad, you are effecting a transformation, from functional retainer to totemic fetish. Second, it is utterly compulsive, pleasantly absorbing. Like a live-action game of Tetris, you are thinking in terms of placement, orientation, fit.
(Sometimes after a long evening working on a piece, I dream fitfully of laying down the stones, and the bliss of finding the perfect arrangement…)
To date, I have blinged mostly domestic objects-a TV-VCR, a karaoke machine-and last year while waiting for the results of a hospital appointment, a pair of medical-grade speculums (for good luck). Recently I started work on a piece that I know will be the biggest and most challenging yet: a washing machine. Each completed object takes between one and six months of painstaking part-time effort. I bling between paid jobs, between social commitments. I bling while listening to the radio, and watching Ru Paul's Drag Race illegally on Putlocker. I sit on the sofa, or on the floor, or at a table, with a window propped open to disperse the fumes and slowly, one gemstone at a time, build a new skin for the non-human actors with whom I share my space.
Sometimes I imagine myself as a kind of outsider artist. I know I’m not of course (I’m well-versed in the problematics of the term). But still, there's something strangely fanatical about giving household items a glittering make-over, for little reason other than the pleasure of using a blinged-out kettle to boil your cup of tea, or a blinged-out toothbrush to brush your teeth. It gives the day that bit of extra glamour.
And anyway, it stops me getting bored. Because there is always more to do, always more spaces to fill.