I assemble bits. Bits and pieces. It’s what I do. Bits and pieces. Because when we step back and look at life, it’s what we live. Bits. Pieces. Jumble. So let’s call it life, my work.
It was after a night with Mike Osborne that I got the idea. His voice is unique. He makes music of himself. It’s Ornette Coleman. It’s John Coltrane. It’s Judy Garland. But it’s him. Harry Miller, bass. Louis Moholo, drums. They are along for the ride but are as often in the driving seat. And the alto sax, the supreme, silly, jagged, lyrical, tender, wandering, meandering, then stuck in a rut, going wild, screaming, breaking. A beauty of random lines. And then all three go for it, the bass line pulping the surface of silence, lashing the noise. Somewhere Over The Rainbow strikes up from nothing. A blast of colour for no reason other than it surrounds you. It jabs through the anarchy and shouts “Listen!” It’s a hopeless, lone cry. Moholo is thumping the tom-toms so hard his groundsheet is migrating across the floor. Thank God for earplugs. Osborne again. Does this man ever breathe? He’s gone up and down the alto six times and then finished with a top F, sustained, held like a dagger, stabbed. And then he breaks into “If I fall in love, it will be forever”.
There is no reason. No structure. Logic is anywhere, but not here. There is surely rehearsal, but nothing is ever repeated. Osborne does not rehearse his solos. He goes where the moment takes him. It’s jazz like life, controlled by no-one, played by anyone in particular.
And then they finished with that stupidly wonderful riff by Chris McGregor, that kwela signature with its hackneyed little phrase and clenched trills. It’s Jackson Pollock in sound and finishes by conjuring an empty Coke can out of a dustbin. Perfect. An antidote.
North London Poly’s functional space spews us out. We wander back towards Holloway Road, but the pub across the road looks rough. We turn right. There’s a public toilet in the wall under the bridge and there’s no light inside. Random noises, groans and grunts spill out onto the street along with the smell of piss as we pass. Turn right again along Jackson to cross Dunford and Annette to get us back to Hornsey Road. We walk up towards Tollington Road. We can carry on to Finsbury Park and get the W7 home. But there’s a pub. We decide on a drink. Lager and lime and bitter with lime. “You put lime in my bitter?” asks the barman. They always do. “That’s what I fucking asked for.” He doesn’t hear what I say because of the noise.
There’s a ceilidh band. Pubs are for grown-ups like us. The girl doing the ridiculous dancing is probably about twelve. She seems to have rubber legs and a wooden body. And here we are ten minutes off closing time. Disgusting. Then there’s a great cheer and bows, followed by the collection. “Up the IRA” it says handwritten on a card sellotaped to the outside of a baked bean tin that still has half its label. It’s a British imitation brand, not the one of fifty-seven real Wigan-made American thing. The bell rings for last orders and we have another round before the final peel ends the night. Apart from the drinking up time, and that’s needed here because there are blokes at the bar with full pints of Guinness waiting for the lock-in.
Jazz was without doubt Eileen McHugh’s masterpiece. It was the major work featured in her first-year final exhibition. We are lucky to have retained her studies courtesy of the sketchbooks in Marion’s personal effects so we can describe it in some detail.
She began work on the project at the start of the third term of her first year and devoted about eight weeks to it. Now, it’s true that she never kept a diary, but the closest she came to doing so was in those weeks when she planned and prepared Jazz. At the start of their course, these Fine Art students had been requested, even required to keep notes and sketches in order to justify everything they produced. Ideas may come from anywhere, the tutors had stressed, but their realisation, their expression, their form must be described, justified, argued, illustrated. And this process should be both evident and demonstrable in the sketchbooks and notebooks each student was duty-bound to maintain. For Jazz, Eileen did follow the regime and she produced work which her tutor of the time praised effusively. Eileen has recorded that the tutor, herself, was a part of the work’s inspiration. “Alice looks like a walking junk heap,” she wrote in a letter to Marion in March 1971, preserved in the mother’s box. “She’s like a living Jazz riff.”
Alice Childe was, at face value, one of the more conventional of Eileen’s teachers. Had she stayed on in the college into Eileen’s second year, things may just have worked out differently, but that we will never know. Alice took early retirement at the end of that college year and left a profession to which she had devoted over thirty years of her life. Eileen was thus part of Alice Childe’s swansong, her last student group. That she had been a dedicated teacher over the years can be in no doubt. That she was simultaneously anathema to most of her younger colleagues is perhaps even more obvious.
She was in her late fifties by then and was dead some years before the end of the decade, her cancerous lungs testimony to the sixty fags she had smoked each day since her teens. Rothmans, always Rothmans in later years, but it had been Kingsway before that, with occasional and periodic forays towards Kensitas, though she did start, like most kids, on Woodbines and Weights.
Alice Childe - her married name after being a Smith in her youth - was divorced in the mid-fifties, the decade rather than her age. She was about to turn forty when it became inevitable. She was always unwilling to assign blame, noting regularly whenever the subject of relationships was raised, that she and he had started different and then simply drifted apart. By the end, the gulf between them was such that a formal separation was no more than an admission of a reality that included them by default.
She had met her husband in the early thirties when they were both art students. They both became teachers, but together and independently they retained a conviction that it would be a temporary choice, an option to provide a living while one’s true vocation was pursued, a daily grind that was dictated to them until their individual voices emerged. As the years passed, neither wife nor husband ever did realise the dream of achieving the status of professional artist. Though they both produced large volumes of work and did indeed achieve their part goals of mounting exhibitions, sales were at best weak and more usually non-existent. These were war years followed by austerity and rationing, of course, so there was an explanation available.
Ralph was a painter and Alice a sculptor. The family home in Stoke Newington, a cheap London location when they bought, off transport routes and retaining, at least as far as the residents believed, a sense of the village, had enough space to accommodate hers and his studios on a top floor that was only visited for purposes of self-expression. Ralph and Alice, along with their only child, Harold - yes, that is what they called him - occupied the other three floors - yes, three, since the house was one of those common London types from the nineteenth century that had a lower ground floor, with a separate entrance down a half flight to the right of the porticoed entrance. It was a potentially grand house and may even have been a wealthy abode eighty years earlier, when it was built, but it was shabby by the time the Childes assembled a giant mortgage for that time to enable their purchase. There had been a legacy, also, from Ralph’s side. The house was even shabbier when it eventually sold for a no more than modest price at the end of the seventies. The child, Harold, had moved out in the early fifties when he went to university - Oxford, Keble, Physics - and Ralph left into an estranged divorced exile in a flat in Wood Green just two years later. So Alice had the place to herself for over a decade before she became tutor to Eileen McHugh.
We would know nothing of her if it had not been for the vivid and affectionate recollections of her son, Harold Childe, whom I located and contacted via an online professional network. The site revealed him also teaching, but in a university in the north of England. I have to thank him for answering my emails in detail both promptly and conscientiously. His obvious delight in recalling a mother dead for almost forty years was both refreshing and humbling. He also sent a few photos of Alice taken around the time she taught Eileen McHugh. Given she left teaching that year, they are predominantly posed group affairs, but retain a certain feeling of the informality to which the age was trying to aspire. “That my mother had a reputation is beyond doubt,” was how Harold began his recollections.
Alice Childe was a small, compact woman. The pictures show her reaching only shoulder height to the average student. She invariably is shown in a dark two-piece suit with fitted skirt and jacket over a white blouse. The neat dress, Harold confirmed, was consistent with his memories. Alice Childe was a creature of small habit. The shoes will remain undescribed since these photographers generally did not like to include feet. One particular photo, undated and without comment, I can confirm is of that final student group, and Eileen McHugh herself is there, a face from row two poking over the shoulder of others who were clearly more intent on foreground presence than she.
Alice had dark hair, permed, though not the frizz of the time, but set like mid-sixties suburbia, more Toni from a bottle than Woodstock or Afro. A large handbag is prominent throughout, black in these monochromes, but in fact mock crocodile, twin-pearl clasped, clearly stuffed and swinging on a rustic chain from the left forearm, held bent to horizontal across her midriff. And there are glasses, dark-framed, vaguely winged, clearly sometimes worn, otherwise suspended on a cord round her neck, a black strand hanging in noticeable loops on either side of her precisely featured face, lips pursed in a grudging smile. In every shot, however, it is the hands and forearms that are most memorable. She seems to have a ring on every finger and both thumbs, plus several bangles and bracelets on each arm. There are brooches on the jacket as well and dangling earrings, but no necklace. The bag exudes the air of an oft-used purse, often opened, equally often closed with a click one could imagine as determined. One can only imagine what things one might find inside. If the college archives still existed, one might surely expect to find one such photograph for each year of Alice’s service, with each batch of students heading into the past more resembling this teacher of sculpture who probably never changed. It was her only job. All those years in the same environment, teaching the same course in the same way. The students’ faces clearly changed, but one feels that Alice Childe did not. But then there appeared Eileen McHugh and one feels that something did change.
“Your student described my mother as a walking trash heap. I think that was rather exaggerated. The trash heap was at home! It is true, however, that she wore a lot of what we now call accessories and carried a potpourri around in that handbag. She would regularly wear twenty rings and ten bracelets, changing the assembly every day, spending absolutely ages each morning selecting and juxtaposing in front of a dressing mirror to create her special collection for the world to see. She had drawers, never mind boxes full of the stuff, and was forever on the lookout for something new. She called them her ‘bits and pieces’ - that really is what she used to call them, indicating, from your message, why there may have developed a special bond between my mother and the particular student you describe - and she bought nearly everything secondhand. Most of the new things came as presents from me or dad. She used to rummage through junk shops and nearly always found something to buy. And in those days, there weren’t strings of charity shops on every high street. The places were fewer in number, often concentrated in certain areas and more like junk shops than smelling of secondhand clothes and books. There were secondhand furniture shops, however, because so many people in London in those days were in flat shares or unfurnished bedsits. It is certainly possible that my mother went ‘bits and pieces’ hunting with the student you are researching.
“I was always in contact with my mother, and my father for that matter, but visited neither of them regularly. We were always on good terms, as were the two of them. The three of us were really quite different, incompatibles brought together by accidents of romance and biology. Now, from the detachment of decades, it’s even amusing to recall the lack of obvious tensions between us alongside the utter communication failure we shared.
“Both my parents were artists - teachers really, at least from eight in the morning until seven in the evening - but they claimed to be artists the rest of the time. Dad was a painter and mum did sculpture, or ‘bits and pieces’, as dad called them. They were fiercely competitive and appeared to have almost no time for each other’s work, about which there seemed to exist a permanent argument. When I was around, my parents transformed into artists as they went upstairs, only to re-emerge as parents when they came down. As parents, they cooperated without conflict to provide my daily support, three meals, a place to live, material privilege, copious stimulus, homework help and all the attention I demanded. They gave their time to me without question, though perhaps I was quite a self-contained little boy. But when it came to their artistic work, they argued rather than talked. Mum had no time for flat surfaces and dad described mum’s studio as a junk shop. They used to accuse one another of getting in the way, of diverting attention from essential work. We really were three very different people. I was always precise, exact. I planned everything I did. I even used to arrange my food on a plate into neat, separate entities before I would eat it. I never wanted things covered in sauces or gravy. I wanted to see things as discrete entities. And as I grew older, I remember distinctly telling the two of them how they could do things better, more efficiently, more effectively. I must have been insufferable.
“My big and oft-revisited issue with my mother was her smoking. Dad smoked as well, but my mother’s habit was constant. I was in my teens when I started calling them cancer sticks. I was a studious child and I had already read articles linking smoking with the disease, though at the time the causation was far from accepted. I suppose I was trying to protect her. But at the time my parents probably thought it was just another example of my trying to prove how intellectually superior I considered myself to be. She would often get short-tempered with me and tell me to shut up. And then, always after another fag, she would come back and say sorry, at which point the process would start over again. Families can be strange places. We carried on like that until I went to college. I met my wife there and we married as soon as we graduated. We saw my parents occasionally, but after I left home it was usually by telephone that we communicated. I tended to gravitate much more towards my wife’s family, which was much more conventional than my own. And when my parents split up, I immediately began to lose contact with my father, who seemed to withdraw into his own world, self-sufficient and dedicated to his painting. He did survive my mother by a couple of decades, but then he did smoke a lot less than her. I was right all along.
“Yes, she used to wear bangles and bracelets. There was always that particular charm bracelet. It had been my grandmother’s. She always wore it, while the rest was pretty variable, as far as I can remember. It’s not the sort of thing an academic young boy takes time to notice. But I do remember the early morning routine of getting ready to go out each day. She would be puffing away in front of her mirror for half an hour, self-reconstructing, adding a piece, taking it off, holding her arm out so she could assess the effect. I think she never slept well and was always up and about by six, but ready for work only by half past eight, when she would go out for the bus. I think she did not feel dressed without the charm bracelet, and perhaps, looking back, it was important to her that she wanted to hide it amongst the other things. I did try to ask whether the things that hung from it had any meaning. Little pewter animals, a cross or two, she was not a believer, a couple of miniature cottages in painted ceramic, the kind you buy in souvenir shops at the seaside, various single letters in both upper and lower case in a variety of metals and finishes - these were just some of the things I remember. She always said that none of the things had any significance or meaning. I did not believe her then and still don’t. It was always too important for her.
“Of equal status but not importance was that enormous handbag, stuffed with lord knows what. But always in there was her ashtray. That is one thing she would not be without. It was like a miniature jewel box, a copy, I think, of a Louis Quinze commode. It had a good strong clasp and would not open by accident, even if shaken around inside her bag. This was her ‘in transit ashtray’. I’m sure she meant ‘in transit’ in the sense of between ashtrays. She would never dash a cigarette onto the floor, or even a pavement for that matter. She would never stub one out against something else, but she would use the inside of that box. She travelled everywhere by bus, incidentally, never drove a car in her life. She would also rarely use the tube, only buses, because she could bound up the stairs, light up, unclasp her miniature commode and puff away all the considerable time she spent travelling. The jams in London in those days could be interminable. She did read, though, but almost invariably about art and sculpture. I don’t ever remember seeing a novel in her hands. She was genuinely serious about what she did, but always managed to convey an air of frivolity, of dismissing her own vision as worthless, which she herself certainly did not believe. In fact, I would say she had a rather high opinion of herself.
“You suggest she may have developed a special bond with a student called Eileen McHugh in that last year before she retired. I think it’s possible, though she never mentioned the name, as far as I can remember. She rarely referred to any student by name away from college. But from what you have described, this desire to assemble junk into things that have meaning would certainly have appealed to my mother. One source of argument in our house was her regularly toting things up the stairs to her studio, often things she had picked off skips or found in the gutter.
“On the other hand, my dad was the kind of painter who wanted each colour clearly separated on his palette. He was fastidiously neat and clean, at least in his work, and was never the type who would squeeze out a whole tube of paint just to dab it with his brush. In his studio, he wanted everything exact. His art, also, was the diametric opposite of my mother´s. He used to paint animals, especially pets, in minute detail, always working from photographs. He took commissions for pet portraits and did get quite a lot of work, but he never charged a fee that reflected the hours he worked. But in life he was a slob.
“My mother could not have been more different, like a negative image of him. She dressed neatly, fastidiously, and was always polite, clean, neat and tidy in everything she did. But her work was often mucky, cut up, glued together, plastered with wet clay, broken, dirty, messy. She sometimes left things temporarily in the kitchen and he would go mad, but he would never lift a finger to clear things away. It’s distinctly possible this student’s ideas struck a chord with her.
“But it’s also possible that she was being inexcusably cynical. By the time she had reached the final year in her job, she had basically given up. She was ‘fed up to the back teeth,’ she would tell me over the phone and ‘couldn’t wait to get out.’ She was being marginalised by the younger staff. They criticised everything she did and dismissed her ideas to the extent she had stopped sharing them.”
Harold Childe suggested that his mother’s treatment of Eileen’s Jazz might just have been manipulative, her warped way of highlighting what she saw as the pretentiousness of her younger colleagues. I stress here that Harold never saw the work, probably never discussed it or anything related to the assessment of students with his mother and certainly never met Eileen McHugh. The scenario he describes, however, a professionally disgruntled employee, a long-standing teacher resentful of the upstarts whom she considered worthless, a worn out educator rushing towards an early retirement, is unfortunately consistent with the possibility that Alice used Eileen’s experimental work as a way of making her own statement. I admit it’s a thought I had not entertained until my contact with Harold. All I had was the end of term feedback, preserved in Marion’s box, that said, after “End of year assessment – Sculpture”, Eileen’s work has surpassed even her own ambitions. Jazz is an expressive work conceived and executed by a perspicacious, conscientious and talented artist. May there be more of the same. Result - Distinction, Alice Childe. The accompanying signature was a bare mark on the right of the page.
There exist no records of Eileen’s relationship with Alice. Neither Charlotte nor Linda recall anything memorable. Charlotte confirms they did share coffees in the college bar occasionally and that, perhaps several times, Eileen accompanied Alice on an afternoon of rummaging through the secondhand shops in Crouch End. Linda also recalls that Alice was always generous with her cigarettes, often offering them round a whole group of students sharing a coffee break, but according to Harold Childe that would have constituted quite normal behaviour, since she never liked to smoke alone and always carried a couple of new packs of Rothmans in her bag. Harold, indicating he has understandably always preferred to be called Harry, added that he had nothing more of substance to add, nothing that might relate to Eileen, at any rate.
Eileen’s notes for Alice included this reflection on her brief.
“I just want to put two gigs together in my mind. It will help me create a sense of what Jazz needs to express. The first was at the Albion in Holland Park. It’s quite an arty place run by the Jazz Centre Society, sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and happens in the lower ground front room of an immense house with white pillars framing a massive black door on the side of Holland Park in Kensington. Well, it’s more like Notting Hill really, but I bet the people who live upstairs call it Kensington. But we go in via the steps to the left. There’s a through room, front to back of the house, which from outside looks a lot bigger than it is. There’s a grand piano in the bay and rows of chairs running back to the French windows that let out into the back garden, which is the size of a postage stamp. My parents in Crofton have more outside space than this mansion. I worked out that ten of these houses along this long, curved row are worth about the same as all the property owned by the ten thousand people who now live in Crofton.
“Actually, it’s a bit of a dump. You go into a hall and pay your entry ticket. The gig happens on the right. But, straight on, there’s a small room, probably the kitchen for the lower ground floor, created when the place was converted into flats, a room stuck on the back of the terrace’s toast rack prongs. They have a keg of Worthington E set up there with a gas bottle and a tap, so we can get a pint of draught. The beer is the same price as in student bars. We always arrive early, buy a half and go straight into the main room so we can get the front middle seats. It’s a Friday night venue, which is sometimes a problem because Fridays is also Mike Osborne and Friends in Peanuts near Liverpool Street. But the reason we usually go to the Albion, even though it’s further, is the experiment. The particular Friday I want to capture in three dimensions featured a trio, piano, bass and alto, McGregor, Miller and Pukwana.
“Chris McGregor is a pianist. He plays the piano. Pianists do. But Chris McGregor playing the piano can sound more like percussion, so you might not even need a drummer. Like that night. There was no Louis Moholo whirring. Chris McGregor says his piano is his drum. Play piano, hear drum. He uses his hands, of course, but not just the fingers. The palms slap down, crawl sideways across the keys. He uses elbows and forearms. Once I saw him sit on the keyboard during a solo. I think he might have been taking the piss that night. He’s Monk. He’s Taylor. Sometimes, he’s Tyner. But above all else, he’s himself, hard, uncompromising, funny, ironic, often so sophisticated he’s minimal. He’s white. He’s also African.
“Harry Miller is coloured. He is not green. Neither is he purple. Certainly not puce. He’s coloured because that’s what the racist South Africans call him, print on his papers, stamp on his permits. He is not white, not European, but perhaps no-one else calling themselves South African is European either. They are all African. Proud of it, I think. But they are therefore not white, because they are Africans. They might be honorary whites, like the Japanese. I wonder how many people in Japan are aware of such a status. Miller’s playing is forceful, but always sympathetic. He listens as well as drives. He takes up ideas and persuades others to join. He looks like the man behind the counter in the Post Office, small, round-faced, bald-headed, often in a suit. Can this be the same man who plays the bass like his life depends on the sound?
“Dudu Pukwana is black, so we all know who he is. His country does not even regard him a true citizen. Perhaps he is seen as part of a tribe, not a nation, destined for corral into some fenced scrubland to eat stones along with the rest of his kind, despite being born and brought up in urban Port Elizabeth. He probably doesn’t merit documents. He also plays alto. He’s raucous, often outrageous, over the top, sometimes blowing through the horn, biting the reed, as well as sometimes sounding like Johnny Hodges using a chainsaw.
“This South African trio, white, coloured, black, stays free, at least musically. They start with a note or two, a rhythmic phrase repeated, one of McGregor’s township kwela riffs. The others follow and immediately McGregor breaks it up, stretches it, destroys it. Night Poem is always on offer. It can last an hour. Trills can go on quite a long time if you hold them. The alto barks like a dog, the bass squeaks through a string of harmonics. McGregor starts to manhandle his piano. And finally, that stupid little jingle to finish. It’s funny, sardonic, aggressive, mocking and laughable all at the same time. It lasts only about two minutes. We stayed for a drink afterwards and spoke to the musicians. I asked about the last piece and Chris McGregor called it Union Special after the Union of South Africa. It’s meant to be surreal, perverse, inane, laughable and strangely dangerous, because it might be catching, just like the country.
“And then to Saturday, when I heard the second gig I want to put into my Jazz. We emerged from Regent’s Park tube station to leg it into the Inner Circle, where Bedford College has its homely-feeling home. There’s a bloke with a pork-pie hat and a waistcoat who runs a jazz club in the students’ union and tonight he is offering the coup of a Brotherhood of Breath gig.
“The same three from last night are there, of course, and we exchange a nod of recognition while they are setting up. We have planted ourselves on the front row again. But the big band is something different, even though some of the material is the same. If you have sixteen or seventeen pieces, the sound and dynamics change. That goes without saying. But the other dynamics change, there are more possibilities, more combinations. Everything multiplies. We had wind of a presence before the concert. Word had gone round that Surman was going to turn up, and, for once, he did. There was Osborne, Skidmore, Mongezi Feza, Beckett, Griffiths. There was Louis Moholo on drums and a cameo from Dave Holland as a second bass, fresh from his outings with Miles Davis. Quite a star…
“The band is never quite in control of where it is heading, despite the fact that they read a lot, because McGregor’s arrangements are often extensively scored. It’s a managed mayhem. But when they form that semicircle of horns and blow, that’s when things get wild and interesting. It was their standard gig, but there was one moment of tension. Surman did come, but he spent most of his time fiddling with a synthesiser. He played one short solo on soprano and then finally took up the baritone. He was standing next to Mike Osborne when the tempo dropped, and the sound froze. Moholo was, uncharacteristically, almost silent, scraping a sizzle cymbal with the end of his stick. McGregor was doing a cross between Monk and Ellington, playing percussive riffs, but spaced out with more silence than sound. Miller was bowing harmonics again, now beyond the finger board, reaching almost as far as the bridge. It was a real lull that lasted almost a minute. You could see the expressions on the musicians’ faces. Will he, won´t he? And then Surman made it clear that this was his solo. He played a long low note at the bottom of the baritone, very quietly. It was like this brotherhood was holding its collective breath. Will he, won’t he? And then he was into a fast, chromatic scale, finishing right up top, loud, way up in the baritone´s stratospheric harmonics. Osborne’s eyes were closed. He smiled a little and muttered, “Yeah,” before walking away to take a break. The rest of the horns followed. Surman then played solo for ten minutes that went at least to Belgium, where he lives, and back. And then they all came back on stage to finish with Union Special again. So, I have my elements - surprise, unpredictability, individual expression, catchy tunes, recognisable rhythms, trivial nonsense, political statement, joke. And so here is Jazz.”
There followed numerous sketches, specifications, different ideas for realising these goals, plans for viewer participation. Here we must concentrate on what she actually exhibited, since the rest was process, which remained incomplete. Yes, she based her ideas on those two gigs, the Friday trio and the Saturday big band, but she also returned to her memory of the Mike Osborne trio in North London Polytechnic, or at least its aftermath.
Of course, we do not know what Jazz looked like. We have no photographs and no contemporary written descriptions, only Eileen’s notes. And they are rather scant. Whatever she exhibited, the concept on which it was based went considerably further and it was a combination of space and lack of resources that limited the scale of the work.
She specifies several hundred empty baked bean tins, not all the same brand, and not necessarily the same size. Each tin was to retain its own label, but each one was also supposed to be fitted with a sticky second label of random size, sometimes small, sometimes obscuring most of what lay below, depending on the slogan to be featured. On these labels would be written various political slogans. Up the IRA was a the starting point, but other ideas were listed, such as Free South Africa, Rebel Smith, Malcolm X For King, Support the VC, Free Love, Dope For All, while Lee Harvey Oswald for Sainthood probably would not have legibly fit on the label.
The tins, of course, were empty. Some had their open ends removed, while others had the lids bent at different angles. Each tin had a hole in its base, through which a string passed to be secured at one end by a knot inside the can.
The cans were to be left in a pile on the floor, so the effect from afar was of a heap of discarded junk, but the long strings were to be gathered together and fed through the ring of a chandelier, deliberately ornate and decorative to provide a reminder of a ruling class, which would hang above the installation. These strings would then be fanned out into a circle extending to a rail that would form the work’s boundary. The strings would be tied to the rail. Eileen’s idea was that viewers would select a string and pull it, thus raising the can and revealing the slogan on its label and making a noise by hitting other cans on the way up. The viewers would then retie the string so that the can remained suspended at whatever height they chose. Equally, a different viewer could decide to change a can’s height or return it to the pile. She also wanted to provide felt-tip pens so people could write their own slogans onto any blank labels that were revealed, if they could reach the can, of course. Thus, she had created a dump of consumer trash that made political statements, a work that could be constantly and randomly changed by its viewers, but whose underlying concept remained intact.
Harold Childe, at the end of his generous reply to my questions relating to his mother’s work in the college, notes that there was no photograph of Alice’s formal send-off into retirement at the end of that academic year. Charlie Mankiewicz, Eileen´s tutor in that fateful second year, however, did refer to there having been a gathering to say goodbye to her, but that it had been a low-key affair, attended by a handful of college staff, mainly administrative. There had been a couple of speeches, apparently, but he could offer no more than that since he did not attend.