In 2015 I created the Arthole Cockle Medal for Live Art Philanthropy. It was an attempt to see if it was possible to initiate a one-off award of £10,000 to an individual artist, with no pressure on outcomes, supported by private giving.
It worked. The first recipient of an Arthole Artist’s Award was Marcia Farquhar.
What I hadn’t quite prepared myself for was the enthusiasm, dedication, and prolongation, of the philanthropist of that first award: television executive Gary Carter. Not only did Gary agree to fund the award in its inaugural year, it was his suggestion that the scheme should continue, and that new donors, new ‘medals’, new philanthropist dinners, and new awardees should be found.
And so it was that I found myself in the Live Art Development Agency study room last November, pushing dental grade alginate up the nostrils of Alex Mahon, Chief Executive Officer of Channel 4 television.
Gary invited Alex to a mystery dinner. He told her that she would be invited to make a philanthropic bequest. He didn’t say anything more.
Artist Brian Lobel, who had appeared in (and won) Channel 4’s ‘Come Dine With Me’ was the chef for the evening, alongside his fellow reality television episode mate Naana Mora.
Alex arrived with Gary at the Live Art Development Agency offices in Bethnal Green. She was given a crash introduction to Live Art by Lois Keidan and CJ Mitchell and then I asked her if I could make a cast of her nose. I had expected her to have some questions about this, but she simply said, ‘Yes’.
I explained the process and asked her to lie down on the couch. Although I have made many many casts of noses, I have never before been so determined not to make a mistake. I had written down all the measurements of the various powders and liquids despite knowing them all off by heart from years of experience.
A more patient model could not be imagined. Alex reclined at the perfect angle and breathed through her mouth for the duration of the casting process. I nervously pealed it off her face and was relieved to see a near perfect mould.
Lois and CJ left. Alex, Gary and I sat down for dinner. Brian and Naana served food.
Salmon Chips, Kale Chips, Casava Chips with Dips
Prawn Consommé with Dumplings
Jollof Chicken with Rice
Chocolate Espresso Cake & Halwa Ice Cream
(The revelation for me in this menu were the salmon chips. These twice-fried slithers of fish were crispy, chewy, and melty all at once.)
Over dinner we discussed live art, the difficulty of getting funding that was not outcome driven, the concept of the Arthole award, and I showed some of my nose related works to Alex.
Gary and Alex were enjoying the oddness of sitting in a library full of images, books, and resources at the margins of culture and being the extra special guests at this private dinner. All of us were enjoying the cocktails and the free-flowing wine that Gary had brought. Although I was more or less on my best behaviour it was easy to be a little irreverent with these two.
After dinner Brian and Naana were invited to the table and we screened a clip from the episode of Come Dine With Me in which they were featured. Alex realised that she had somehow been part of an extension of one of the programmes in her own schedule. She was full of questions about their experience on the show.
And then Gary popped the question: would Alex like to endow Arthole 2, an open ended bursary to the value of £10,000, a self-determined year-long research and artistic development programme that will have a significant and lasting impact on their practice, and on wider contemporary culture in the UK. As donor she would receive a gold false nose of her own nose, produced from the cast we had made earlier in the evening. Alex thought about it for a few seconds, and turned to me. “Can I have the nose in a box?” she asked. “Absolutely,” I responded. “Then, yes,” she said. We all hurrahed.