July marks the halfway point of my six month Royal Pavilion & Museums residency, so I’ve been vaguely taking stock of everything so far… what I’ve learnt and got familiar with since I started wandering these unusual buildings.
The most obvious point to make first is: I’ve barely scratched the surface of what goes on here – and I’m hyper-aware there are enormous, daunting piles of fascinating stuff still to fit in and encounter and share. The clock ticks and the essential “to do” list gets longer each day. When I started, I honestly imagined that after a few weeks I’d know everyone and be familiar with all the spaces. I believed there’d be a semblance of routine and, even as I tentatively explored the multiple sites and the phenomenal range and scope of separate projects became clear, I still thought it’d quickly shape into a kind of broad overview.
That was nuts. There’s almost no routine and no repetition. While there may be surface familiarity and comfort in the gorgeous surroundings, the intertwined movement of people and objects here is of infinite, chaotic variety.
If this doesn’t sound positive, don’t be fooled: the steep curve and the dizziness of having no idea what comes next is fantastic. Three months in, I still sit in meetings; or interview people; or look at objects; or most of all hear new stories, that set off whole trains of thought, sending out threads in unimagined directions.
So I’m very glad we set in place that one regular date; sitting with my laptop in Brighton Museum café on (usually) Thursday afternoon, because it has became a single focused point of clarity and calm. If all these stories and projects can be briefly held somewhere, frozen just for a few minutes by the observer as a bunch of notes on a computer, or a few paragraphs in a blog entry, it is best that happens here, gazing out over the museum on a cool, quiet afternoon.
It’s a bit like watching 1000 people fly kites.
The effect of the changing season was profound too – that lurching shift from frozen endless winter (where the hell did normal Spring go?) into Mediterranean heatwave. Museums become wholly different places, with a fundamentally changed atmosphere, when it’s nice out. The Pavilion Gardens became – overnight it seemed – a stunning, busy, lush hub for the whole city.
Life rolls on of course; this is a part-time role and I’m meant to be doing other work as well. I finished an album, got the release planned (October, probably), I wrote some other nonsense and travelled a bit and played piano on someone else’s album. I’m booking tour dates. I’m planning “afterwards”. Yet I don’t really stop thinking about things I’ve seen and people I’ve met here, to the extent that “afterwards” becomes a jolt of discomfort. Which is funny because – however fascinating the additional dimensions of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff can be – a large chunk of the things I’ve done here, can be done by anyone, anyway; this can continue easily beyond the confines of a formal arts residency. It’s not like I couldn’t have been sitting in Brighton Museum café, writing, once a week for the last decade, regardless. It’s not like you can’t walk around Hove or Booth Museums, or sit in the Gardens, whenever you’ve got a spare few hours, they’re free spaces for anyone to wander.
Putting it out of my mind. Far too much left to uncover.
When we don’t have routine, time concertinas and stretches in the best possible way: what happened last week feels like months ago and months ago feels like yesterday, because so much is happening day-to-day. It’s the very definition of richness in life – and you can get that simply by walking into a museum or art gallery and looking at just one exhibit, for 10 seconds, that makes you think about the world in a new way. Or makes a connection with something else you’ve seen, or thought about, before. And that connection sparks another new train of thought. And now you’re rolling; you’ve killed the routine of the day, found a new angle, dry kindling and a match, in 10 minutes of your lunchbreak. And that’s just the beginning.
Chris T-T, Blogger in Residence