Penis Mightier than the Sword

If somebody had a look at my search history, they may conclude I’m a cock-obsessed fetishist. This is because for the past month I’ve been googling every iteration imaginable for penis: ‘Penis shaped bridge,’ ‘penis rainbow,’ ‘building that looks like a cock,’ ‘plants that look like a willy.’ It’s amazing what lurks deep inside the digital void. There’s something for everyone.

As it happens, my intentions are honourable. I’ve been researching for the third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre: Phallic Tenderness. This was submitted by Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark. Stephen is a writer who I greatly admire. He is provocative and playful. He is also a writer whose opinions I often disagree with.

Lawrence was a tad obsessed with his todger – but not in a puerile way (although in his younger days he did write a gushing poem about the magnificence of his erection). The phallus had symbolic meaning for him and represented a broad range of ideas that tapped into his life philosophy and belief in blood consciousness. If you want to know how, you’ll have to read Stephen’s pithy and provocative fragments.

There’s 12 of them in total – one for each hour – because I originally wanted to have a ‘Speaking Cock’. The clock would have a penis as an hour handle and visitors would press a button and it would spin round and land on an hour and one of Stephen’s essays would be read out. I even went as far as contacting one of my friends – a woman of Flemish descent – to see if she would like to read out some essays about willies. She never responded.

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett with an added flower border.

I decided against the Speaking Cock because it may lead our project to be perceived as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ – a series of oddities to be gawped at and amused by – rather than a thoughtfully curated moveseum that explores key themes in Lawrence’s writing via artefacts. It may also have made light of what is a key philosophical strand to Lawrence’s writing, thereby defeating the purpose of its inclusion.

So how do you represent something as abstract as ‘Phallic Tenderness’ without turning it into a Carry On movie? My solution was to create a hybrid of the phallus and the phoenix to emphasise the transformative potential of this symbol rather than reduce it to an innuendo. I then added a flower border (for nature and tenderness) – and added a fringe filter in Pixlr to distort the colours and reinforce the transformative element. I think it works well, but I would. If you disagree, please get in contact.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust

I was thinking Mount Rushmore when I put these stencils of Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust together. This was the holding image for an essay on falsifying phallic consciousness.

Likewise, I needed holding images for the 12 fragments. These had to be strong pictures that captured the essence of each article while luring readers in. Given Stephen explores the phallus in terms of consciousness, power, union, Christ and gynaecological deconstruction, it is little wonder my Google search history was so weird.

The two previous artefacts in the memory theatre comprised of four essays. As this one included twelve (because they were originally intended to form a clock) it would have looked like we’d gone willy mad if I’d populated it with twelve phallic images. Thus it took a long time to design appropriate images.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that I visited Stephen in Hackney in 2018 when I had the original idea for a speaking cock. His essays have sat patiently in my inbox for five years. Part of the reason for the delay has been Paul, my co-producer on the project, has been too busy to upload content to the website as he is involved in various projects while also running his business, Think Amigo. We have found a compromise and he has redesigned the website so that it has a WordPress interface. This means that I can now upload essays and help with the design. I can only compare this with being given control of the S.S. Enterprise and feel as if I have the entire galaxy at my fingertips.

Over the past five years I have learned so many new skills from video production (the above video took two days to research, write, edit, publish) to graphic design to HTML. This means I have less people to rely on while saving a fortune in costs as well as having more editorial control. Don’t get me wrong, I – and Paul – would love to have a bigger team supporting us but the reality is we don’t have the money at the moment, and don’t have the time to put in for a funding bid. Upskilling is not only a means of ensuring this project maintains momentum but it also provides the kind of stimulation and variety that a creative needs to get up early in the morning and head to bed late.

The 12 fragments will be published on the memory theatre in September to coincide with Lawrence and Millett’s birthdays.


Podcast: Mansfield is a Town in North Nottinghamshire

Arriving at Cologne

Arriving at Cologne. Photo: Iryna Kushnir 

In April, I took a group of students to Europe on an enquiry-based learning challenge exploring two themes: Levelling up and Graduate Retention. My role was as their academic mentor which meant two things: Making sure they didn’t miss trains and ensuring they produced a list of suggestions which they would pitch on their return to the Mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abrahams, and Ashfield Independent, Councillor Matthew Relf. They were seeking advice on how to invest in their communities after receiving funding as part of the governments levelling up agenda.

In 2021, the government ranked areas from 1-3 using three categories: the most need for economic recovery and growth, the need for improved transport and connectivity, and the need for regeneration. Mansfield was ranked as the highest priority for support.

101 towns were offered funding as part of the government’s Town Fund proposals. Of this, Mansfield was awarded the lowest at £12.3 million whereas Ashfield received the highest with £62.6 million. Therefore, our trip was an opportunity to have a say in how some of that money might be spent.

My area of expertise is the creative industries and so I was interested in how the arts may help regenerate cities. I was accompanied by Iryna Kushnir who specialises in educational policy and whose focus was graduate retention. Iryna is originally from Ukraine. Just before we were about to head off, Russia invaded her home country.

Our route was created in collaboration with the students with the aim of visiting post-industrial cities who may face similar economic issues as Mansfield and Ashfield. However, we stuck to Northern Europe in anticipation of a refugee exodus into Central Europe. Our route was: Lille, Lens, Cologne, Arnhem, Utrecht, Rotterdam with a quick stop off in Brussels for a Belgium waffle.

In Cologne we visited a cooperative who supported each other through a skill share scheme and whose non-hierarchical structure was similar in principle to the Sumac Centre in Nottingham. From the visit, the students developed a Cycle Cinema idea whereby you could peddle out to remote areas and beam films onto derelict buildings. This had numerous benefits: It kept people fit, was carbon neutral, and helped bring culture to people who may not be able to leave home due to health (elderly) or due to costs (unemployed, refugees).

We visited Utrecht to hear about plans for ‘vertical forests’. Architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri, has created innovative designs to bring some greenery back to concrete jungles. This is not only visually appealing but helps improve air quality. In the evenings, Utrecht transforms into a ‘Lumen Walk’ whereby buildings are lit up to highlight important historical places or hidden art works. The students loved this and argued that if it could be replicated back home it would create a sense of pride and may encourage repeat visits to the town centre.

In Rotterdam we visited Piet Blom’s ‘Cube Houses’ which are quirky designed homes that optimise space. These are next to Markthal, a sustainable building offering an alternative to the traditional market square, providing homes, office space, and a vibrant indoor market. This clustering of amenities mean you head straight to the market for lunch after visiting the Cube homes. They loved this and said if student accommodation or starter flats looked this impressive, they would have more pride in where they live and be more likely to invite people to visit.

Arnhem also provided lots of inspiration and ideas. At one point, this had lots of problems with anti-social behaviour and so required a radical rethink. One innovation was to create homes above shops so that artisans lived together and built community rather than leaving at 5pm. One immediate impact was they got to know the people causing the anti-social behaviour. They provided support, such as a fashion designer repairing clothes for homeless people and another who sowed stories and quotes from refugees into her clothing to visualise and validate their lives. Crime dropped, people talked to each other, and the area has now become a thriving fashion district.

On our return to the UK, I was contacted by Robert Shore, who had previously commissioned me to produce a programme about Alan Sillitoe for BBC Radio 3 series The Essay. Robert is originally from Mansfield but left for London many years ago to become creative director at Elephant and as deputy editor of Art Review magazine. He had recently started a podcast called Mansfield Is A Town In North Nottinghamshire about the past, present and possible futures of Mansfield and wondered if I had anything I might like to contribute. ‘Funny you should say that,’ I said…

You can listen to the podcast here which I co presented with two of the students from the trip, Tiffany Mayfield and Yianni Chrisodoulou.

Episode 8: Regreening Mansfield

The European Future Towns Challenge was funded by the Erasmus Scheme and organised by NTU Global.