Joy takes a seat and joins in all the fun
Writing with a twist: Benedict Phillips shows his view
“Div” alongside his tree of knowledge
Listening: the NE Contemporary Group of the RPS
Spectacular whistlestop tour of artist’s many different projects Laurence Hislam was a founding member of the committee of 100 (the radical arm of CND). “My grandfather believed in brotherly love, sustainability and organic food before there was even a term for them! He campaigned on many issues that today would seem understandable with hindsight, but seemed bizarre and radical in his time.” So when we arrived at a village hall near York to listen to a talk by Benedict, I wondered what stories we might hear.
Report: STEWART AND SHONA WALL Photos: STEWART WALL StewartWall@icloud.com
e was billed as an artist, writer and curator whose work investigates and reacts to environments, with a range of approaches to people and place.
When you look at his website, Benedict Phillips has an interesting story. His residency, “Following Footsteps” centred around discovering the truth about his grandfather, Laurence A Hislam, a man referred to as a vegetarian activist.
While basing himself in his grandfather’s hometown of Cheltenham and undertaking research at the town’s Meantime Art Space, Benedict collected newspaper clippings and researched family stories. While there, he talked to a man who had walked to Rome with Benedict’s grandfather in 1966. Many years earlier in August 1939, Laurence
B “Extra windows”: Five light boxes at a block of flats in Leeds where Benedict Phillips was artist in residence delivered a suitcase of fake bombs to Downing Street. This resulted in the public pursuing and then assaulting him. The police rescued him from the mob then arrested him. It was only after this that it became understood the bombs were not real, but part of a peace protest.
This direct action led to Laurence’s first imprisonment, totalling four weeks’ hard labour and a 7 shillings and 6 pence fine. By the time he was released the Second World War had begun. In 1999 - 60 years later Benedict produced an artistic
Fascinating ideas: Benedict explains how he likes to “put stuff into the world and see what happens”. re-enactment “Laurence meet Laurence”, where he delivered a glass-sided suitcase to No.10 Downing Street, this time filled
with the breath of prayers held in glass vessels. “Just because you cannot see a prayer does not mean it is not there”.
enedict did not mention any of the above but the stories he shared with the North East Contemporary Group of the Royal Photographic Society were equally fascinating. Effectively, his talk was an engaging whistlestop tour of his artistic endeavours, delivered at breakneck speed and generating sparks of interest, fizzing and effervescent like a firework and seemingly taking off in many directions all at once. Benedict started by telling the group about his first commercial work when he was 15, shooting scenes in London on a
borrowed camera, using public transport to get about, and spending a weekend making up a business presentation using Letraset. A year later, he got his first camera, a Canon A1, which he still has in his attic. “My relationship with photography has been a strange
but we have our greatest ideas through making things. “For the last few years, my ideas have come through sculpture, photography and performance, but I don’t think of these things in traditional terms. My talk today is a performance, with the photographs I make I use all
“Projects like these change the way people think about and see their environment” journey,” said Benedict. “There is something very perculiar about the way people talk and think about photography in Britain. In the 1980s, photography was in the darkroom and it was purely about technology. There is this history in this country that photography is connected to a machine and is pretty much a type of engineering. “We think there are people who think and that is creative and there are people who make things and they are engineers,
three but sometimes the performance leads and the sculpture supports the performance and sometimes it supports the photography. I am always shifting the relationship between them.” In the year 2000 – the Year of the Artist – Benedict was artist in residence of a tower block in Leeds, supported by Arts Council funding. “By its very nature, a tower block doesn’t have a gallery Continued on Page 2
How Benedict encourages others From Page 1 but I turned a flat into a white walled space and leafleted the building. I started this conversation to get to know the people and the place,” he said. “Sometimes you have to make something big and loud to draw people out. People living there felt invisible.” With that in mind, Benedict made 4ft x 3ft light boxes and had them mounted high up on the side of the block. During the day, they looked like windows. Benedict put images in the light boxes which reflected the environment of the tower block – the huge green, the “industrial sized” flower beds, huge skies, and rumours about an underground lake at the site. At dusk, the light boxes would begin to glow more vividly, and by night, they were prominent. The light boxes stayed up for four or five months. “There were a whole load of questions asked in the community when they went up and when they came down again,” said Benedict. “All these people appeared, saying things like, “I am a photographer. I live around here” and they started to have a conversation about photography. As the light boxes were coming down they were talking about what they wanted to do. Projects like these change the way people think about and see their environment.” Another project involved reinterpreting museum collections at Cartwright Hall in Bradford. He took photographs of paintings of “forgotten important men”, all shot at a slight angle, with the eyes sharp. “Make sure he doesn’t use the one which has been ripped,” a museum worker was told. But Benedict not only used it, he placed it prominently near the centre of his display. He also encouraged staff to hang hundreds of stuffed birds from the ceiling. “Those ideas are always about other people’s creativity,” said Benedict. “I am interested in this idea of working together
Enjoying the talk: photographer Chris Harland
Absorbed: photographer Peter Bartlett
Smiles: from left, Douglas Hay, Janet Cook and Elaine Gosal-Tooby
Beautifully produced: some of Benedict’s work
Children Imagine themselves in flight for a project
and making things up as we go along. I like to put stuff into the world and watch what happens.” A similar project saw him noticing how hard it was to access the River Humber in Hull. He negotiated window space in the main shopping centre and gave people free tickets and throwaway cameras to share and document a journey along the river in a boat. Benedict chose
Vi-jon (DIV) where Benedict dresses as a character, sometimes all in white, sometimes all in red, with a cone on his head. According to his website, he has set his audiences written tests - such as interpreting messages written backwards and during this challenge, he climbs stepladders to fly pre-made Origami planes over people’s heads. Sadly the audience at the NE
to document the end of each journey. Benedict also talked of his extra special skill as a dyslexic. He runs talks on the subject and has produced a book and online interactive dyslexia Dictionary from “Lecksick to Dislecksick” where “everyone can be Dislecksick- you just need to try harder! A character has formed, the Dislecksick Intelligent
Contemporary Group was unusually small, just 17 people, and no paper planes were flown. But those 17 people connected with Benedict. They liked the stories he told, hearing of the experiences he has created. They admired his beautifully prepared books and prints. Talks like this are designed to inspire and the target was easily met.
Benedict Phillips shows Shona and Jessica Wall one of his projects exploring dyslexia
Published on May 13, 2014
Benedict Phillips talking to The Royal Photographic Society North East Contemporary Group at Strensall, York, England