Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Art Academy reading group: The Most Difficult Thing Ever, Kevin Boniface

For last night''s Art Academy reading group we turned our attention towards a type of text we hadn't looked at before: the blog. The Most Difficult Thing Ever, which is written by Huddersfield writer, artist and postman Kevin Boniface, was suggested by Art Academy member Jared, as he has seen Boniface read from his blog at events and once put on an exhibition of his work at Cow Lane Studios in Salford. Jared also has copies of Boniface's books, Lost in the Post and The Most Difficult Thing Ever (which is based on the blog).

Boniface uses things he has seen, heard and observed whilst delivering the mail to record snapshots of everyday life and ordinary people in West Yorkshire. In some ways akin to the work of photographers such as Martin Parr and Tom Wood, who present a particular version of England and its people (often Northern), his vignettes elevate the minutiae of life in Huddersfield momentarily to the status of art. Written in a conversational tone, sometimes this appears in a style similar to short stories and sometimes simply as lists of objects and experiences. We remarked how the writing style is non-judgemental of the people and places it references (though it is sometimes possible to read a wry humour just below the surface), and does not seem to belong in any particular genre – although Sara said the style reminded her of Christopher Isherwood. Many of the posts are also accompanied by single-shot, one-viewpoint videos which add visual imagery to Boniface's observations. We talked about how delivering the post enables Boniface to fit both work and artistic production into his life, and how the two could feed into each other, mentioning another postman who found his day job to be rich source material for his writing, Charles Bukowski, as a literary precedent.

We also discussed the unique relationship between members of the public and people performing services such as delivering the post, and the fact that for a few seconds of every day these semi-strangers become part of your private domain. Although you may feel that you get to know someone such as a postman on some level because of the routine of seeing them at the same time every day, in reality it is a relationship that exists almost entirely on the surface, with interaction essentially limited to 'hello' or 'thank you'. We each added examples from our own experiences such as having a paper round, doing building work and having plumbers in the house. Sometimes these relationships can be rewarding – being able to walk up driveways and garden paths normally off-limits, seeing glimpses into other people's houses and how they live, getting Christmas boxes from old people – and sometimes awkward – not knowing how to act around other people who are present in the house for a long period of time, in whose expertise one has placed one's trust to provide a service. We wondered whether the members of the public Boniface mentions and makes small observations about are aware that he draws on his post round as inspiration – perhaps from publicity relating to Boniface's stature as a writer (he won a Blog North award in 2012 ) – and said this would make us feel self-conscious!

Jared suggested that Boniface's artwork, which partly takes the form of collages based from lines from his blog, might benefit from being shown in a venue other than a gallery, perhaps in a more everyday environment. Suggestions put forward were a post office or sorting depot, or the SHED gallery on an allotment in Levenshulme. Sara remembered seeing an Artangel exhibition in a former sorting office in London a few years ago, and recalled the sense of suspense and surprise created by the space, however Natalie and Lisa, who had visited the 2012 Liverpool Biennial venue on Copperas Hill, a former Royal Mail depot, felt that the atmosphere and characteristics of the building, although now disused, overshadowed some of the work.

We discussed the possibility of asking Boniface to join us as a guest at one of our crits, and making links with artists and other creative groups in the West Yorkshire area.