The (not so) subtle art of fucking it up. 6 stories of heroic failure

Working freelance and putting your neck out to produce and make art of any kind in the outside environment involves taking gigantic leaps into the unknown.

Its easier when your working in galleries, on internships or at university because you are in a safe space with a lot of support but can be terrifying when you start taking on public commissions and start getting work out there.

Most jobs involve a middle period where you have managers and work structures to stop you messing up too badly but this doesnt really occur in the arts. You’ll have yout stupid idea and somebody somewhere will get excited and ask you to actually do it.

Before you know it you are in a field by yourself at 3am crying into your podger as you try to piece together the thing that sounded so so great when you and your mates chatted about it in the pub.

The good thing is that EVERYONE has fucked up and I mean EVERYONE. There is much to learn when it comes to making great art of any kind and failure is inevitably part of the process.

It is incredibly stressful though. We live in a culture where nothing less than Instagrammed perfection is seen as defeat, and that lonely trudge to the production office to explain what happened is a killer.

Personally i believe that the important part is to accept, own up to and learn from the inevitable fuck ups, that way you pick up knowledge very quickly and you never make the same mistakes twice (hopefully). The other upshot of being frank about your failures is that people are more likely to give you a second chance - plus all your mates get to enjoy a big laugh, so its not all bad right?

Myself and some excellent and brave friends of mine have volunteered their favourite fuck up stories - and yes they are all still working and thriving in the arts!

Enjoy:

Fish Boat - Ruby Soho (Still a working artist and maker)

Now this was about 6 years ago before I could weld and was really particularly capable. I got obsessed with wanting to ride a giant fish round the lake at secret garden party so I built the construction above out of a row boat, some barrels a load of bender poles, chicken wire and an exciting mix of paper mache and fibreglass. Now to give me my due I constructed it months before and it floated merrily behind my boat ......well actually it sank and I had to get the bath rugby team who were out jogging to come and pull it out.. .... but the paper mache/fibreglass didn't fall off so I figured it was fine. I also figured towing down the m25 like the photo below was fine. ..... it was exciting and we made it but I had to readjust the frame when we got there because we'd taken some bits off it but it seemed fine. ......so I'm strutting round the festival being like 'look at me I'm an artist' then the time comes to launch it and it seems fine....then I try to climb on top and it sinks!.......spectacularly!! Not just sinks but rolls and does a full titanic impression. As it goes down the fibreglass/paper mache mix finally gives up the ghost and I end up scooping out armfuls of fish skin out of the lake. I remember seeing the head glaring balefully at me from under the water. I got fibreglass rash over my entire body…..like proper pustules.....and it took a week to go down. My mate Gemma had to tow the rest of my boat out of the water with her rubbish lorry. I thought I’d never live it down.

Some people were lovely. I did.

Nevile Sparkles - (From H a stewarding and Events Manager)

I was asked to step in and help out with the artists and guest accreditation system at Sunrise some years back. Long story shortened, the headliner was Neville Staples. I fucked up and typed his name as Neville Sparkles. His PA and colleagues/guests arrived before he did and were refused entry at the gate.....till Di had the sense to radio me and we found my mistake. Thank god Neville himself wasn’t there yet!!

Man on Fire - (From S a well known performer and maker)

Many moons ago I blagged my way into Shambala with a fire sculpture and fire show. The sculpture looked ace but it was pretty small and I'm not exactly the world's best fire performer, so as it got closer to the festival the nerves kicked in. In a last minute attempt to jazz it up I bought £50 worth of fireworks to stick on it. That was my first mistake. You don't usually get much bang for that kind of money so I didn't want to waste any testing them (second mistake), and they weren't much bigger than pencils anyway, so I figured they'd just be decorative and I could attach them with gaffer tape (third, final and fucking huge no no). Imagine my surprise as the tiny decorations transformed into violent, fire spewing death candles, blasting themselves off the sculpture and shooting balls of flame at point blank range into the audience. What had been a happy family gathering devolved into a scene straight out of Apocalypse Now, with hysterical children being carried bodily on people's shoulders as they raced for the trees to escape the carnage. Somehow nobody lost any limbs, eyes or offspring but it was purely by blind chance. I can still hear the screams some nights.

Foam Party (From C - A succesful tech and designer)

So my dumbest fuck up which thankfully only affected me, would have been at Glastonbury during my first large scale foray into set building. I was using expanding foam as my chosen medium to create intestines. I used my bare hands to shape and mould this most fantastic and versatile of substances. Then I realized that it had kind of burnt into my skin and wasn't coming off for shit. I tried every cleaning substance known to man but nothing would remove it. I basically had to wait for my skin to fall off and my nails to grow out. Moral of the story... don't stick you hands in expanding foam and squish it all around. I met someone else who this has happened to also which made me feel somewhat better

Leisure Time (From R - Production Manager of a top uk festival)

Ok. I once employed a local 'rigging' company to put some points into a roof for an aerial show... had a few quotes and went for the super cheap one. The venue was a pour-formed concrete dome type, like you find in leisure centres. Anyway, the install lads turned up with breakers and hammer hilti-drills and put the points into the roof... the noise resonated through the building as they did... it being one huge solid piece of curved concrete... anyway, the time came for the points to be signed off by the structural engineer... who told us that using a hammer / breaker action drill had rendered the whole building unusable... the cracks would have spread out through the concrete... as he was saying this the 6.5 tonne scissor lift that was being taken down the back access road slipped / the road gave way and the whole machine fell about 3m landing sideways on the base of the building... we could feel the shudder as it smashed into the building... The building was shut indefinitely the next day… (after our event went ahead)

Jazz horror (By C)

My first fuck up was when I got my first job as a sound engineer. I decided that running various rave sound systems qualified me for this job and managed to blag a position at a nightclub as a house engineer. First night of babysitting DJs and electronic artists with four channels went brilliantly. The second night I was presented with a Jazz band. How hard can it be was my thought until I saw the drum mic kit and totally panicked. I called my friend and mentor who actually was a sound engineer and asked him how the hell do you mic up a drum kit. He gave me a clue that the biggest mic goes with the biggest drum and somehow I pulled it off. The gaps in my knowledge had not gone unnoticed by the club owner however but instead of sacking me he offered me a job as apprentice engineer. I went on to become the head engineer and worked there for seven years, learning a great deal and making a foundation for a career. So happy ending!

#arts #fuckups

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