News Truck
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Excerpts from 'Dispatches from an Unofficial War Artist'

   Recently, to reactivate my sense of direct involvement in the streets of London, I have built a cart – News Truck – which is parked here in my studio in London Fields.

   When I was a child, the rag-and-bone men used to come round every week pushing carts. They had ingenious mechanisms for holding unwieldy objects attached to them. The carts built by homeless people to push their belongings through the streets are similarly built with extraordinary ingenuity. They appear to be totally of the city, but are also an indictment of the city. From the inventions of the Russian constructivists making mobile agit-prop, through to Krzysztof Wodiczko with his homeless vehicles, the idea of the mobile street vehicle that can sustain a life as well as represent that life has been a constant strand in many artists’ work this century.

   When I was a little older, I used to see the newspaper seller who stood outside Maida Vale underground station every day on my way to school. Nearly 40 years later I have an absolutely clear picture of him. He had one wooden fruit box upright, with another lying horizontally on top containing the Star, Evening News and the Evening Standard folded inside. He shouted out what I guess was an amalgamation of those three papers’ names; it came out as ‘Sauceny’. He was a small man, very self-contained. I remember his shape, totally of a piece: head, shoulders, legs, all merging together under a large, threadbare coat tied up with a piece of cord, his squat frame topped off with a brown cap. Resting against the fruit box was the battered metal news-screen covered by a grille where he put the headline sheets that were delivered with his papers. He had an extraordinary presence. Only some of the images of the characters in Beckett’s later plays come near to my memory of his presence. I think the use of the news-screens in my work goes back to his image.

   News Truck has ten giant news-screens which are carried inside it, plus one on either side. It is a rapid response vehicle which I can wheel out to the financial heart of London whenever there is a shudder on the stock market.

   I push it from my studio in London Fields through Kingsland Road, down past Liverpool Street to the Stock Exchange. I then take out the screens and lean them against the Stock Exchange wall. Each image is of a financial page from one of the world’s newspapers, with a hand in front of it. The hand is grasping at the paper or turning around, as if grasping at air.

   I stand by the side of the screens, by the truck, and offer no leaflets or explanations. But I do talk to anyone passing by who wants to discuss the work. Some people think I must be selling something, advertising something. Others think I must be mad. But it leads to many intense discussions with passers-by on the uncontrolled power of the free market, some very supportive comments from city workers, and some hostile comments from passing stockbrokers. A couple of stockbrokers have actually thought it was art made especially for them. Stockbroker art!

   It’s a way to engage in debate, in the actual environment where the transactions are going on.