A Single Hurt Colour, reading, Litcrawl, November 2014


In 2012 I was picked up from the Dunedin airport by a driver holding a sign: Megan Dunn and Jim and Mary Carr. I thought the sign was pretty funny. I had never met Jim or Mary but I knew they were Barrs not Carrs.

We were all doing talks at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery the following day. Jim and Mary were talking about a group show called Elsewhere that contained several works from their collection. I was talking about Yvonne Todd’s Wall of Man series.

When we arrived in Dunedin, Jim got my bag out of the car. I felt embarrassed that it was not a bag on wheels with an extendable black handle. Instead, it was a backpack. Adults are not meant to travel with backpacks. At first the driver took us to the wrong hotel. But because we were in Dunedin we were able to relocate the right hotel. It was just around the corner and we got there on foot.

Jim and Mary might have offered their credit card to secure my room in case I took something from the mini bar or trashed the room. I don’t have a credit card. This is not usually a problem except for when I stay in hotels. Adults are meant to have credit cards. Anyway, I can’t remember because adults can be quite forgetful – there’s so much more of life to remember – but if it did happen I think Jim and Mary deserve credit for their generosity.

I said goodbye to them in the foyer and promised to attend their talk the next day.

Now, this is the point of the story: I did go and see Jim and Mary’s talk the next day. The part I remember best is when Jim stood next to a lampshade that was an artwork by Martin Creed. The lampshade was on (if I remember correctly.) Jim wore a leather jacket (if I remember correctly.) Jim’s hair is white and short and he is thin. If he was a lampshade he’d be on.

Jim and Mary spoke about other works by Creed that they owned including a piece of A4 paper crumpled into a ball.

Now, this is my favourite part of the story: Jim then told the audience about how their son used to replace the Creed sheet of A4 paper with his own crumpled piece of paper. An imposter work of art! I assumed that their son must have been piqued by the apparent meaninglessness of work – and he wouldn’t be the only one to question Creed’s integrity. I imagined their son in a bright white apartment (I have never been to Jim and Mary’s home) sneaking up on the Creed piece of paper like a ninja. He makes the swap. Days pass. Nights. The lights go on and then off. The fridge opens, closes. No one notices the difference. Is there a difference?

Think of all the sheets of crumpled A4 paper you have known. They were similar to Creed’s work, but were they equal?

One day Jim or perhaps Mary assesses the piece of paper. It does look different. It is crumpled in other places to the original. Their son smirks. Reveals his trick.

I thought this anecdote about the Barr’s son would make a great story.

I imagined writing it. The story would be called: Nothing.

When I got home I told Dad about the Barrs talk.

“Only the rich can afford to buy nothing,” I said, boldly.

It was an easy comment for me to make because I can only afford to buy a piece of A4 paper as part of a refill.

Dad said: “It’s not about that. It’s about how value is attributed.”

That’s when the story moved elsewhere.

image: Martin Creed, Work No. 88, 1995.