Sunday morning, 11am. A nondescript car park somewhere on the fringes of a nondescript hinterland. We’ve driven past building suppliers, a deserted Subway, several empty units and countless traffic lights to get here. The music is loud, washing over us in this tiny space; two in the front, two in the back. We smile, eyes closed, arms swaying blissfully as we dance from the waist up. The euphoric, almost conspirational connection between us might suggest a long night of hedonism stretched out into the dawn. Except it’s not. We’re well rested, showered and breakfasted, and have arrived at the designated time to collect our registration packs and assume position in our allotted parking spot, the FM dial of the car radio set to 87.7, from where we await further instruction.
“Please start Manoeuvre 1,” come said instructions. Luke Vibert’s ‘Lovely’ starts playing on the radio, Nowhere FM, in existence for this morning only. We turn it up. Then release handbreak, clutch, reverse. A second later, drive forward – back into our parking bay. Then reverse again. Then forward into our spot. Then reverse. Forward. Back. Forward. Back. Again again again. Through the windscreen, rows of other cars retreat then come closer, on repeat. Drivers laughing, passengers arm dancing or filming the strange spectacle on their phones, people around the edge sitting on bonnets, car roofs, to get the best view as the cars in the middle ‘dance’ on. A drone hovers overhead.
“I wasn’t really sleeping in the time leading up to it, because I was imagining everything that could go wrong – cars crashing into each other and so on,” says St Ives-based artist, Naomi Frears, who conceived this bold participatory art project, All Going Nowhere Together, in collaboration with musician and DJ, Luke Vibert (who also goes under the names of Wagon Christ, Plug and Kerrier District), as part of the Groundwork programme. “But the thing I hadn’t been able to see in all those terrible predictions, was what it would look like and what it would feel like.
“I was in the back of our car on the day,” she continues. “We had a young artist from London in the front seat, John my husband was driving, and I was in the back. The artist took a picture of me, and although I look hideous, I look deeply happy. You can tell. I’m so astonished that everyone’s there and everyone’s doing it, that I’m transported in some way. You can see it in my face. I was just delighted that everyone came in the right frame of mind, in the right spirit, and so up for doing it.”
(Film by Alban Roinard)
The one-off performance – which involved 50 participating cars and 168 passengers/ spectators – took place in a car park in Pool, Cornwall in September 2018. But it had been almost 20 years coming – with the first spark for the idea back in 1999, six weeks after the death of Naomi’s father. A collective of German artists came to Cornwall and asked a number of locally based artists if they could drive them to their favourite places, and choose a piece of music to soundtrack for the journey, while the whole thing was filmed through the car windscreens.
“Apparently everyone else chose little narrow lanes to beautiful coves,” says Frears. “Because my dad had just died, they said, ‘Look, you may not want to do it.’ But I said I did really want to do it. So they arrived in the car with the camera set up, I chose my track (which was ‘Lovely’ by Luke Vibert). And then I said, ‘Let’s go to the carpark at the top of town.’ They looked intrigued and baffled and amused. They said, ‘Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘Can you just keep parking?’
“They looked intrigued and baffled and amused. They said, ‘Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘Can you just keep parking?’”
It was an early morning in November. Grey, unremarkable. “It got kind of insane, because they were parking repeatedly and the music was quite loud in the car, and it got a bit hysterical,” Frears recalls. “I was the passenger, just saying ‘backwards, forwards’… It was really funny.
“I’d been feeling very weird after my dad’s death, which is completely normal. I think one of the things that happens when you have huge grief is that everything seems pointless; all the things that were fun before suddenly feel a bit pointless. But suddenly the point of things was revealed to me again,” she continues. “There was something that made me feel full up – in that great way that you feel when you’re really happy – about being in this confined space with really loud music and doing this very, very stupid thing; doing nothing, again and again. I can’t really explain any more than that, it was just deeply delightful in a very unpredictable way.”
Although the connection between this experience and what was to become All Going Nowhere Together may seem clear as day, Frears actually had no specific idea in mind when she first approached Vibert about collaborating in 2015. So how did it evolve and how the hell did they pull it off? We distil almost two decades’ worth of (unconscious) idea development into five points to ponder upon…
“Luke’s from a St Ives family. I know his dad a bit. I just thought, ‘I wonder if he would like to do something with me,’” Frears says of getting the collaboration going. “I don’t know why, it just popped into my head. He said yes. We had various meetings. We had a walk around Redruth together, which was great. He came to my studio… We met up and he said, ‘OK, I think I’m going to make you a track,’ which was brilliant.”
The track, called ‘Cornish’ – Vibert’s first made using exclusively sounds from Cornwall – was created in 2018, specifically for the …Nowhere project. “It was lovely and kind of spacy and odd and empty,” says Frears. But she still didn’t know exactly what she was going to do with it. “I was just telling him little tiny things like, ‘It looks like now, it’s going to be this…’ It didn’t go clunk, this is going to be in a car park and I’m going to bring people together – that didn’t click until quite far on in the conversation.
“At first I thought it was going to be a walk through Redruth (where Luke lived when he was tiny), that people could access and listen to,” Frears continues. “Then somebody gave me an image which stuck with me, and made me think, ‘I’m definitely not doing that.’ They were at the Edinburgh Festival and saw some people on, like, a version of a silent disco, but on a tour, where they were all looking at something and listening to something that no one else could hear, and laughing as a group… and someone said it looked so annoying, so twatty… I felt that, in Redruth a group of art types walking around looking like tossers, I just couldn’t do it.”
(Photograph by Alice Mahoney)
According to Groundwork’s programme notes, Frears has “a soft spot for the uninspiring appearance of a car park”. Why? Is there something around a place that’s so prosaic and transactional being the setting for something unexpected and memorable?
“I find car parks neutral in an interesting way,” she explains. “A lot of the landscape in this area of the world is highly charged in various ways because everyone wants it and talks about it, and there’s a lot of art made about it. I feel like car parks are car parks, almost wherever you are. Nobody claims them and nobody wants them; nobody admits to the amount of time we spend in them. I think it’s nice to have the chance to make something hopefully interesting and hopefully fun, happen in a car park where normally people feel frustration, boredom, a longing to be somewhere else… To make that the focus, rather than the space in between.”
And after a lot of time thinking and wondering what form her collaboration with Vibert might take, the answer was right under her nose. “Quite often the most obvious thing is right there, under the cushion next to you. All I had to do was lift the cushion up and go, ‘Oh, of course, this is what I should be doing.’ That’s when it went clunk. I talked it through with friends and other people, and I was getting good noises back. Then I had to go and do a scary talk about it, around a year ago, and say, ‘This is what I’m thinking.’ I did a practice film in a car park, with just my car, and everyone in the room loved it. So I finally thought, ‘OK, I think this could work.’ And that was that.”
“We scoped out 15 car parks in Pool, Redruth and Truro before we chose this one,” says Frears. So what was so good about this one? And why weren’t the others up to the job? “There were various things that I was looking for,” she explains. “One was clear parking bays; some were ruled out because there was too much gravel. There needed to be enough room for enough cars to come, for it to feel like something, and for people to be able to watch if they wanted to. When we arrived in this one, me and the producer, Vicki Fear, just said, ‘Yep. This is it.’ It had a row of pylons on one side, a phone mast, a very unattractive 1990s accounting building, plenty of space, no beauty to speak of – just a couple of trees. It was exactly what we were looking for.”
“It had a row of pylons on one side, a phone mast, a very unattractive 1990s accounting building, plenty of space, no beauty to speak of – just a couple of trees. It was exactly what we were looking for.”
The choreography of the cars’ movements on the day was evidently carefully planned; each participating car was given a card detailing the specifics of Manoeuvre 1 and Manoeuvre 2 – diagrams and all – including the instructions, in bold, “Please drive carefully and slowly.” The running order included a rehearsal of Manoeuvre 1 before the actual performance. But as it got underway, the thing took on a life of its own. Some people moved differently, starting Manoeuvre 2 when we were still supposed to be doing Manoeuvre 1. I resisted the urge to wind down my window and shout out corrections – and that was just me, a casual participant. So after so long working on this project, how did Frears feel about relegating control, just letting it roll?
“I heard that someone was ringing one of the cars that wasn’t doing it right,” she laughs. “But I really, really didn’t mind. What was funny was that they were getting phonecalls from other people in the carpark saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ But it had to be so simple, so people could just turn up and do it without worrying. Of course people would do the wrong one, so it had to be designed that even if they did it wrong, they wouldn’t crash into someone else. On the aerial footage, it’s quite close – there were a couple of people going very close to the spectators’ cars. And there was a strong smell of clutch in one corner. As someone was leaving, they said, ‘I think I might have broken my car but I had so such a good time I don’t care!’”
(Film by George Mackay)
“There’s something about being together with other people who you don’t know, and all doing something together, just for a bit, which human beings seem to like,” Frears reflects. “It’s a funny thing. It’s like there’s something about everybody singing together – not necessarily knowing or being connected to the other people, but doing something together for a limited amount of time, that makes people feel good. These are not things that I thought about before; I hadn’t made those connections when I was planning the piece, but I think that’s one of the reasons it worked. People like having a small challenge, to carry out something with other people, when none of you have done it before. And then to have success, to complete it, and then have a nice cup of tea.”
Find out more on the Groundwork website
naomifrears.co.uk / @naomifrears
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