Being Arthur and Raphael Hefti

Being arthurThis weekend saw Paul Fillingham and I produce the first ever live 24 hour Twitter presentation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for a project called Being Arthur as part of the Being Human Festival at the University of Nottingham. We billed this as The Sillitoe Trail II as it developed themes and ideas from our Space commission a few years ago.

being arthur then and nowThe presentation was split into two parts: Then and Now. The script for ‘then’ was a combination of the novel, the screenplay, a few other Sillitoe novels and a bit of improvisation. ‘Now’ saw Seaton working his way through ‘nine hundred and fifty-bloody-four emails’, playing fishing on his wii because the canals have now dried up, and using dating App Tinder to meet lonely women because it’s cheaper and more immediate.

arthur pintsIt took a lot of research and time and was pretty much last minute due to other deadlines vying for attention. Paul created some beautiful visuals. I particularly liked the ‘drinking contest with the sailor’ as he visually created the slow, demolition of a pint. We created Twitter accounts for some of the other characters too, which was a right headache to properly synchronise so that it got tweeted in the right place.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the project was getting comments from people who weren’t aware of what we were doing. As I’d used my personal Twitter account (TheSpaceLathe) for the modern Arthur, a few friends got quite concerned about the content of my tweets and thought I’d had some kind of personality change. I haven’t explained to them yet that I am not having a string of affairs as I’m quite interested to see if any of them start gossiping to my partner or spreading rumours.

tinder arthurBut using my personal account did restrict some of the content and meant I was more cautious than I should have been. One person on Twitter (@monsterlander) commented that the real Arthur Seaton would have laid in to noisy neighbours who woke him up (this is how the ‘new’ story starts) but as far as I am aware, Seaton didn’t really go around lamping people. There was always the threat of violence but he didn’t really instigate it. When he gets caught out by the squaddies it’s them that catch him rather than the other way around. But I was able to respond to this later on in the schedule by sending Monsterlander a threat.

It was a pleasant coincidence that Raphael Hefti’s exhibition was running at the Nottingham Contemporary at the same time as Being Arthur. Hefti is fascinated by processes and experimenting with materials. For his current solo exhibition he visited industries in the East Midlands, such as Rolls Royce with the aim of learning about the composition and treatment of metals in different states.

Arthur Seaton is a factory worker at Raleigh who grafts all day at his lathe for “14, 3 and tuppence for 1,000 of these a day”. Raleigh, during the period in which the book was set, was one of the largest employers in Nottingham, alongside Players and Boots. Sillitoe worked at Raleigh too, describing the daily grind as “a thousand times a day I set the bar, spin back the turret, push in the chamfer, force the drill. Working two cutting blades till the brass hexagonal nut falls into my right hand and gets thrown into a tin.”

Photograph taken from Evening Post, Nov 6. Mark Patterson article

Hefti, if you like, has taken these offcuts, these pieces of industrial waste from the production process, and given them new meanings through his experimental art. Instead of nuts he has used aluminium, titanium, copper and steel poles and heated them up so that they produce ribbons of beautiful colour. The artwork is entitled ‘Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially altering their Determinacy, 2014’.

Both Seaton and Hefti’s artwork share quite a few similarities: Neither can be easily classified, they are both shaped by the industrial production process, and they equally strive to transcend their material existence. Seaton described his lathe as ‘my everlasting pal because it gets me thinking’. His imagination enabled him to temporary escape from monotonous, repetitious labour while defying anybody to try and grind him down. Hefti’s incredible artwork refuses to be pinned down and transforms industrial waste into something quite magical. But the similarities end there. Seaton would never be seen dead in some poncy art gallery, not even for a free cocktail on opening night.

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All day and all of the night…

You can forget that last lot of moaning in my previous blog because Sillitoe Day and Evening turned out to be a roaring success in the end. We had around 80-100 people turn up for the day event and the evening event was absolutely rammed.

Sillitoe Day kicked off half an hour late due to a problem at the Contemporary with the chairs not opening properly which meant we had to claw back time. I sacrificed my talk on the Trent to enable this, being the martyr that I am. Experience has taught me that sticking to times is really important as audiences can get restless and I could hardly ask one of our guests to drop out. And if I’m honest, I don’t particularly enjoy public events – unless I’m in the audience.

Our morning session combined a broad range of content which was the right balance to keep the audience stimulated. I split the morning session into two parts after Al Needham’s video as I knew people would be upbeat. The second half started with a 15 minute documentary of Raleigh which meant that the audience could drift in when they were ready without fear of disrupting anyone.

There were six sessions in the morning: five from the Sillitoe Trail and a half-an-hour introduction from Paul Fillingham and I about the project. We stayed up late the night before, ensuring that there were about twenty visuals for each segment which would rotate during each individual talk. The Contemporary has got a massive screen and so it was really important to take advantage of this.

The afternoon session was hosted by David Sillitoe which meant I could finally sit back and relax. My favourite piece was the heartfelt letter to Alan Sillitoe from Michael Eaton. It was beautiful, comparing their respective paths through Nottingham and how the city Michael has remained faithful to throughout the years has become this alien place. It reminded me, in sentiment, of Julian Barnes A Sense of an Ending.

Sillitoe Evening was presented by the immaculately dressed MulletProofpoet with a fine range of spoken word performers in MotaMouf, Sarah Shrugs and John Marriott. Music came from local favourites Gaffa and Sleaford Mods. Sleaford Mods lead singer Jason Williamson played our Arthur Seaton 2012 and so it was lovely to finally meet him in person. So how to describe Sleaford Mods? Visually, they’re like a demented, dystopian version of Pet Shop Boys. Andrew Fearn replaces the keyboard for a laptop and just stands in front of it, can in hand, nodding at the audience as if to say, who the hell are you lot? It’s like an anti-performance. He’s like Bez…but without the dancing. He does contempt with a smile and kitted out in his trackie he could have stepped right off the set of Shameless.

This of course is all part of the act, making Fearn the perfect foil to the enigmatic, raging Jason Williamson who is energy personified. So extreme are Williamson’s lyrics that Michael Eaton said to me, ‘I’ve been told to fuck off once too many times now so I’m off’. If you want to be insulted then you need to get to a Sleaford Mods gig. I’ve never seen expletives executed with such integrity. Every word that comes out of Williamson’s mouth turns solid the minute it’s flicked from his tongue. You literally have to dive for cover as he screams into the mic, less his words take your head off. What better way to celebrate the work of Sillitoe…

Creative Nottingham review by Susie O’Neill

Steve Oliver (Trent Sound) review

Notts Lit review

Evening Post review

BBC preview

BBC Inside Out Documentary on the Sillitoe Trail