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Artists don't cry

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

Ring Out - Hull City of Culture 2017 Photo: Lee Price

I cried with relief. I say I cried, actually I stopped myself from crying because I was in a crowded public square and a thousand people has just seen the premiere of my new outdoor arts spectacle Ring Out.

Is it because ‘boys don’t cry’? Instead I had to go for a walk around the block, concentrating on my breathing, trying to find another way of letting this extraordinary build up of pressure and tension find away to find release.

Ring Out was a monumentally difficult and monumentally big project for me. Funded by a prestigious award from the Performing Rights Society Foundation for New Music and with money from the Arts Council, Oxford Contemporary Music and Oxford Brookes University it had taken well over a year to make, had involved the mobilisation of huge numbers of helpers and the dedicated and ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ help from Martin West, who designed the towers and structural mechanics and who, with others from 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Centre, built the structures. My overall design and concept, my composition and my project. My reputation was riding on this project being a success.

What do I or did I mean by a ‘success’? In simple terms a success for Ring Out involved it not breaking, on the composition doing something ‘interesting’, which in turn equals ‘did I think it was any good?’

After a year of stress leading up to several weeks of frantic, at times back breaking work, we had just performed the work in Newbury Market Square, to a large expectant audience who had come out especially to see and hear it. Ring Out is, if I say it myself, an amazing thing. These huge bell-like speakers hurtling through the air, cascading down towards the audience and swinging round and up, balancing precariously, before plunging back down and round like a huge fairground machine. The strange and ominous bell sounds, distorted, reversed, at times harmonious at times clashing and discordant create a dark, threatening atmosphere that somehow ends up being transcendent and uplifting.

The work ended. The audience applauded. I tried not to cry. To weep from the extraordinary sense of relief I felt, from the astonishment that we had pulled it off, made it happen. I couldn’t speak to anyone, I left immediately it ended and walked away, down a small side passage and concentrated on my breathing.

Why is it so difficult for men to be seen crying? The images we see in the media of men crying are usually at times of extreme emotion: at the loss of a loved one or through a tragedy, on winning a medal or losing a cup final, either as participant or spectator. For a man to cry at the successful premiere of an art work? How weak, how pathetic, it seemed to me as I walked away and felt the need to make sure no one saw me, no one spoke to me afterwards, because I knew I would break down and sob, and the repressed male in me couldn’t let that happen. A sense of self-consciousness and a feeling that being seen crying in such a circumstance would not be understood. Men don’t cry when their artworks are shown to the public! How self-important, how self-aggrandising! Was it because I worried that ‘people’ would see it as a sign of my weakness or of my self-importance?

So I didn’t cry. I walked around the block. Then I drank a pint of beer, because that’s what men do, when the going gets tough in the (art) world…..


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