Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A little bit of lately

At the time of writing I’m en route to Kassel, Germany to see Documenta 13 – globetrotting art dilettante that I am – but even with a dedicated couple of hours to give here I’m slightly overwhelmed as to where to start on what is effectively a “Life Lately” catch up. Or really, a life lately, and life not so lately catch up.

The last nearly two months have been frantic. I do remember the last time I was this overwhelmed with exhaustion and adrenaline and it was pretty ugly then but that feels like a warm up compared to this recent marathon of sleep-deprived madness. 

So if I didn’t articulate it earlier, The Book – the National Portrait Gallery publication that was my career egos only salvation throughout 2010 - has come back to life. Apparently interested co-publishers made themselves known and back in May I was approached to see if I was interested in seeing through what I had started. Obvious answer being - yes.

Things didn’t really get moving until mid-July, with faffing and politics and project management all being negotiated but my job was to go back over the 40-odd thousand words I wrote in 2010 and update them. All. Re-researching all the artists, adding new works, updating biographies, writing about seven completely new artists at the behest of the gallery’s director and then also writing the chapter introductions. All by mid-August. Four weeks, nearly 200 hours of work, an additional 16,000 words and not a lot of sleep. I forgot to mention that all this was done AROUND my OTHER, full-time-let’s-not-forget job.

The office away from the office
The SLG were amazing – incredibly supportive, flexible and patient. They deserve a medal. Lovely Boy deserves a pool room full of trophies. I don’t think I got more than about four hours sleep on any one night and there were a couple of hairy moments in there when I thought I’d lost my mind completely. It’s a telling sign of my broken mind, body, spirit and intellect that the very last piece of writing – a mere 350-word chapter introduction  - took me nearly 14 hours to write.

It was like running with broken ankles before being dragged unceremoniously across the finishing line.
Anyway – finish I did, or rather finish I have. For the moment. It’s all with the designers now so there’s still another round of edits and feedback to come but I’m excited about that. The space of a few weeks has helped – and I think it will start to feel real when I see it mocked up on the page. And knowing that my name will be on the title page is just surreal.

Justifying a manicure with some multi-tasking
So yep, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Real life has carried on around me in a bit of a daze, like, oh yeah, the Olympics. Huh. I caught glimpses on the television but that was about it. I saw the torch relay go past the gallery on an unusually sunny, cheerful day and that was delightful – but that’s honestly been the extent of my Olympic non-fervour.

The Olympic torch making its way down Peckham Rd
What else? Oh yeah, work. Work has been nuts. Which is just what you don’t need when you’re spending every other waking non-work minute re-writing a 50,000-word book on 21st century portraiture. But actually, it’s been a good distraction and the busyness has been exciting.

The work plan above my desk...
A couple of weeks ago we ran our annual Summer Academy, this year exploring public art, a favourite subject of mine. We had 50 participants working across four sites across London with four different artists creating four works of temporary public art. Elmgreen & Dragset were the official mascots (patrons?..) for the week and they gave a brilliant, wholly inspiring talk on the Monday but other moments too were fantastic – a trip to Frieze Projects East at Poplar Baths, a talk from the woman who helped produce Antony Gormley’s One and Other in 2009 and a beautifully strange afternoon in a field with an ice cream van.

At Frieze Projects East, Poplar Baths

Did I mention the Routemaster public art bus
tour of the four Academy works?
In amongst that I got to interview the woman who helped commission the public art for the Olympic Park and have been getting my geek on overseeing the next phase of developments for the website. It’s quite startling the list of things I’m continuing to learn in this job and the people I get to meet.  

Some of the graffiti out near the Olympic Park...
And then there’s been the occasional outing in amongst it all – for the sake of sanity and fresh air. A couple of weeks ago we went to Dalston Rooftop for an evening of gourmet barbeques and inspired talks with Nina, Steve and Katie. I’d never been there before but it’s a fabulous spot and the whole occasion made me wistful for more balmy summer nights with good friends and fruity alcoholic drinks.

Lovely Boy and I have also had a couple of outings. One afternoon during the Olympics – while I was working from home and he was working shifts to keep the beeb’s coverage up and running – I forced us both to leave the house for an amble along the river in the sunshine and to sit and have a drink and a conversation. Sounds ridiculous but given that our goodnights during those weeks were not “good night” but “I miss you” – an enforced date with enforced conversation was a much needed reality check, for both us I think.
Celebrating The End
And post-deadline, we had a non-enforced margaritas-and-movie date, which was just so refreshingly normal. Made all the more refreshing by the incredibly generous gift from my Mum of a massage and facial that I also enjoyed that day #heaven.

It’s only been in the last three days that I’ve actually managed to sleep through the night so screwed is my body clock but it’s a welcome sign that things are returning to normal. Which is good. Because there is lots coming up in the next few months to look forward to, not least a girls weekend away in Cornwall with Tori and four days in Istanbul with my Lovely Boy.

Life could be worse right now.

Next stop: Documenta. 

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