It’s Valentines and I have a new love – she’s small and beautifully curved and her name is Esmerelda, and she’s sitting right outside my house. Esmerelda is a 1969 Ace Globetrotter caravan, she arrived from Tadcaster a week ago in great shape, thanks to the attentions of her previous owner. And so it begins… this project; brewing for two years in my head, scrawled on numerous notebooks and sketchily referred to on several online platforms, now has an actual physical form for a creative vision to be shaped and squeezed into, because at less than 13ft long she is pretty small as arts venues go.
I recently read a collection of essays for a lecture called, ‘Everyday eBay; culture, collecting and desire’ – there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in this book, but one particular sentiment that resonated was the idea that hidden in the quest for a vintage object is the desire to possess a trace of the person who owned the item before, and even a trace of a moment in time. With Esmerelda, her time was long summers of love, the Apollo landings and the other hazy, iconic mythologised events of the late ’60s. She has absorbed these into her bloodstream, to mix with whatever else is there. Her vintage-ness made me wonder what was original in her interior, and it turns out quite a bit. However, the fact she’s been reworked, added to and improved each time she’s been owned for me actually adds to her authenticity – if we’re taking this to mean the fact she has lived a life, rather than being preserved like a dead object.
And that life comes through the walls. Human relations are intrinsic to the fabric of this space. Kids have more than likely grown up within the confines of this small world, adults have certainly laughed, argued, cooked and drank here, and probably played cards and sung a few songs as well. There will be conflicts, gender wars and inequality in between the cracks too, but this is what makes it all the more human. Numerous artists have tried to evoke human relations in their work, sharing meals with their audience or replicating their own bed in the gallery; as the site of birth, death, sex and dreams, here is an object so laden with psychological meaning and symbolism you can see why. In the caravan we have the actual, not the imagined site of these behaviours and rituals and they will all be there, layers of history and humanity underneath this latest chapter in her story.
The journey from seeing the ad on eBay to her sitting outside my front door has been an interesting one, and already there are stories emerging at every turn. The warm exchange between myself and the previous owner has felt like a genuine connection, as we’ve bonded over being a novice with a caravan and starting a new business (her aromatherapy candles, me an arts venue). Crucially she’s generously imparted so many valuable learnt lessons to help me in this next stage, like handing over the baton. A 10 minute conversation with the man in the Caravan Club revealed a whole new world; I discovered there are caravan owners who call to check in everyday, that when he escapes the office he illustrates sci-fi novels, and that the CC once insured a band who used a caravan as their studio – I’m hoping I’ll bump into these guys on my travels.
Caravans do funny things to people; we name them, give them a gender and treat them with affection. They are more than objects; we occupy them and they in turn affect our behaviour and our attitudes. They don’t mean the same to everyone and they reveal class structures in every incarnation, from the luxury brands kitted out with all mod cons, to the nose-turning-up at the traveller sites on the edges of cities and towns. They are things brimming with meanings, values and diverse histories, and it’s my task to tease these out through the projects I do; to add to them, give a voice to them, challenge them and celebrate them, and importantly use them to imagine new presents and futures, in collaboration with many others along the way…
First stop is the Telegraph Hill Festival, South East London from 25 March – 9 April.
Occupying three different sites over the course of the festival, CARAVAN ARTS will offer a micro programme of installations, film screenings and live performance; exploring the idea of ‘a home from home’ and the cult of the open road, through the complex and conflicting notions of comfort and freedom, displacement and refuge.