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Thinking myself into a corner, then painting my way out of retirement

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Ian Martin gives BA Flight a right old painting

Monday. Prep notes for a lecture at the Institute of Plasmic Arts. It’s called ‘The Misery of Excellence’ and will convince everyone that I’m in the middle of writing a sarcastic masterpiece about how architecture has been sidelined into a zero-risk compliance culture, even though I’ve only actually written this sentence so far. ‘He who lives by the kitemark, dies by the kitemark.’ That sounds good, I might say that.

Tuesday. Lunch with my old friend BA Flight, the enfant grise of contemporary architecture and all-round smoking polymath. He’s just become the most enviable figure in the world of epic space by ‘retiring’ from it. The phrase ‘to spend more time painting’ is now forming in the envious minds of a thousand miserable, unfulfilled architects.

It’s all very well being a haughty iconoclast, I tell him, but this painting/retiring thing is another nail in the coffin of The Pub. Underemployed creative types will now be exploring the possibilities of New Abstract Expressionism instead of killing time at the boozer and ‘staying in touch with HQ via mobile web’.

BA’s impervious, guzzling wine and doodling authoritatively on the tablecloth in wasabi and soy sauce. He suddenly gets up, grabbing his fags. ‘Nipping out for a paint. Get another bottle in?’ Oh, I SEE. ‘Paint’ can mean anything. Now the last hour’s conversation makes sense. He’ll be doing some ‘painting’ for architectural clients. Got absolutely ‘painted’ at a charity dinner. Certain litigious public figures are ‘total fucking painters’.

I join him outside for a smoke. He’s on the phone, giving someone a right painting. Sod this recession, I’m telling people I’ve decided to retire from everything to spend more time on ‘my architecture’. As nobody has a clue what an architect does, I could be doing it in my head for all they know.

Wednesday. Having a specially thoughtful afternoon session of architecture when my friend Dusty Penhaligon the conservactionist rings.

He’s curating a real-time, full-scale exhibition of the 20th century. It will run simultaneously in a linked network of six chronologically dedicated spaces: Parallel Spacebar, an experimental arts hub in Norwich; Steamish Museum of Olden Tymes, situated in a spare part of County Durham; The Tosheroon, a Victorian pub rebuilt in Bristol by wild-eyed humourless enthusiasts; The ‘Story of History’ Story + Amazing Interactive Café + Gifts + Prizes LOL in Leeds; The mysterious 20-20-20 Project in Edinburgh, occupying a hermetically sealed milliner’s shop last used in 1897, hidden inside a Nando’s; and an imagineered interior/exterior living space at the London head offices of the Soot Institute.

On New Year’s Day 2010, these spaces will suddenly ‘be’ in 1910, moving through time and space like a ghostly analog continuum. It’s an ambitious undertaking, a century-long reconstruction. ‘Just think, yeah,’ says Dusty in a bossy sort of way. ‘In a decade, each of these spatial timepods will have its own like plangent take on the Great War, with captions and someone dressed in the clothes of the time…’

Yeah, sorry mate. I’ve got this architecture to get on with. ‘You know what’d be a good idea? Someone at each space keeps a sort of pre-internet diary for reflections on sanitation and social conditions and how things improve as we move inexorably towards World War Two… shit, you’re breaking up. I’m on the bakelite, and we’re just about to go into an Edwardian tunnel…’ Of course, none of this would be possible without the National Lottery. Or Dusty’s barmy army of heritage sillybollocks friends, with their Facebook groups and their roll-ups.

Thursday. Little ‘green shoots’ emoticons keep popping up everywhere. I ignore them, as I suspect they have something to do with the sinister new ‘virtual planning’ movement and are therefore illusory.

Friday. Curse celebrities and their designer fads. This month it’s beehives. I’ve been asked to design one for Amy Winehouse. This is awkward, as I’ve just designed a beehive for Stephen Fry in the shape of Amy Winehouse’s head. Decide to do Amy’s in the form of a London landmark. Something classy. Foster maybe. Gherkin? County Hall?

Saturday. Idle sketching produces a Gherkin with two County Halls. Bit seaside postcard, but pfff. She’ll never see it anyway.

Sunday. Retired and listless in the recliner. Think about painting. There’s no room in my head, alas, what with all the architecture sloshing about.


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