Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I'm back at college now so I thought I'd better get this last project posted before I get buried under heaps of work. 'Collecting' was basically doing just that, starting from scratch until you had enough of something that would constitute being, well, a collection. Playing cards are by no means an unusual choice but I was attracted to them by their global and historical allure. I'm intrigued by the highs and lows that these secondhand little rectangles might have elicited, either in a casino or illegal gambling den where some poor soul had gone bankrupt over a card game while his opponent quite literally came up trumps.

Then there's the aesthetic appeal. Not only the graphics of the four suits, but the backs with their variety of different patterns, images and colours. These cheap and throwaway mass market products became the perfect promotional tool in the early century when advertising from cigarettes to soap could be had. Not to mention the gorgeous vintage illustrated pin-ups that i'm still coveting!

Playing cards go back centuries so it's not known exactly where they originated, but what really interested me in my initial research was the meaning behind the four suits. The belief commonly held that they represented the four classes; spades for nobility, hearts for the clergy, diamonds for merchants and clubs as peasants, floated around in my mind while I carried on collecting.

After I'd garnered enough playing cards to make a house of cards big enough to live in, I had to find two ways of displaying them. A card house might not have been a bad idea but with the run-up to the general election in full swing, it was easy to draw parallels between the jokers knocking about in my collection and the party leaders scrapping it out for a place in government under the glare of the media spotlight.

I decided the jesters, fools and clowns should be removed from the social classes that the four suits historically represented to be displayed in a parody of government, and created three more jokers; Cameron, Brown and Clegg, to join them. These I organised according to their backs in an arrangement which is pleasing to the eye, and hung them within a specially crafted wooden frame. This left the jokers in disarray, and coinciding with the currant events in the news I aptly named the piece 'A Hung Parliament'.

For my second piece I set out to explore the concept of gambling by allowing fate, chance and luck to determine the display of all remaining playing cards. I considered the idea of throwing the lot in the air and leaving it at that a risky one which could either result in success or failure, but as that was the point I took a gamble and went for it while the class was gathered for the group crit. The performance was also inspired by 'Happenings' and 'Fluxus' which I'd been reading about at the time, a movement started in the sixties which utilised such random strategies.

The performance began with me dribbling glue onto a large canvas on the floor with as much Pollockian gestural gusto as I could muster and concluded with the unexpecting audience watching in bewilderment as I threw all my cards down from the floor above in an act of finality. Those that landed on the canvas remained as those selected by chance to be displayed. Afterwards, the canvas was hung up and named 'Showdown', a term used when poker players show their final hand.

Project sketchbook.