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Exhibitionism and ephemera

Friday 15/04/2016

Debby Faulkner-Stevens

Back to the quiet of the studio today after a day in London and a trip to the Saatchi gallery to see ‘Exhibitionism’, the blockbuster show covering the long career of the Rolling Stones. The trip was a birthday treat for an old school friend, who has seen the Stones live three times and myself who has not, much to my great regret. I have however, seen David Bowie live three times and she hasn’t, so perhaps that makes us even? Anyway, we headed off to the Kings Road, sensible shoes on and buoyed up by coffee and cake at the V and A.

This particular friend and I are veteran exhibition goers. We’ve oohed and ah’d at, amongst others, The Cheapside Hoard, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Wedding Dresses and David Bowie Is, which was a wonderful memorable experience so we were rather surprised and, to be honest, intimidated, by the posse of large, besuited gentlemen with heavy Eastern European ( or were they Russian? ) accents who were marshalling visitors at the entrance to the gallery, and  hovering in a menacing way in the many corridors and passageways that wound their way through the sprawling exhibition. We fleetingly thought we had stumbled upon a KGB convention amongst the hundreds of Stones items but the thundering music, cases of guitars, costumes, photographs, posters, set designs, mixing decks, album artwork and video walls were so mesmerising we soon forgot our fears. The recreation of Mick and Keith’s squalid flat in Edith Grove must have been huge fun to construct with peeling wallpaper, mould, dust, filthy plates, dozens of dog ends ( who had the job of smoking all those fags? ) grey and stained beds piled with equally grey and stained clothing, even a few chips that had fallen at the side of the cooker – and the smell – how did they do that?
The one thing that struck us was the sheer amount of diary keeping, letter writing, sketching and note taking that had gone on, and the fact that so much of it had survived. We speculated that, in this age of Skype, email, Twitter and text, modern bands, should they stand the test of time, would never be able to mount an exhibition such as this. My friend and I have boxes of letters carefully kept since our days at school in the late 60’s, from college days and first jobs. They make for fascinating and, of course, occasionally embarrassing reading all these years later and are peppered with sketches of clothes we had bought, people we had seen and hair styles that had not necessarily turned out the way we had expected. A good friend of mine at the time was a postman and he used to add little notes on the back of envelopes from my friends, and they, in turn, would write a quick note to him on the back of letters addressed to me. There are comments about chart records, had we seen x y or z last night, are you free for a trip to Northampton, don’t forget to get that book and so on.
I still keep a diary that I write, by hand, in a series of notebooks. I have kept birthday and other cards from special friends, often with wonderfully witty hand written poems, I have tickets from exhibitions and as mentioned before, many drawings by the grandchildren. I have recently transcribed three books of diaries from the 1990’s. They covered a very difficult and painful time in our lives but I am glad I kept a comprehensive record of all that went on. I had forgotten so much, blocked out probably, but it all sprang from the page as fresh and raw as it had been at the time of writing and many lessons were relearned.
So, what will survive in the future? I suppose there will still be people who write letters, keep diaries and hoard bits of paper, but if everyone corresponds via text, phone and social media, how difficult will it be for biographers without the diaries and letters that make for such fascinating reading. Do any of todays music stars scribble out lyrics or ideas for stage sets and costumes on the back of envelopes and in notebooks, and, if they do, do they keep them. I don’t flatter myself that anyone will ever write a biography of me, but I do like the idea that, a hundred years on, my great grandchildren will open a box of dusty letters and will spend an afternoon reading about buying an eye shadow in Biba, bumping into so and so in Woolworths, does that boy like me – he looked at me the other day, the boredom of revising English Lit and what did Dickens mean about all that fog. Nothing to set the world on fire, but an interesting time capsule all the same and, with that in mind, I’m off to pick up my pen and commit an account of Exhibitionism to paper ...
for posterity.


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