Open House: Charles Quick on Interrupting Places

by Rachel Cook

What’s Open House and who’s Charles Quick?

Open House is a rather lovely series of events that we run here at Thompson. You can read more about Open House here.

Our first Open House saw us welcome Mr Charles Quick. He, of course, is an artist, writer, professor and all round clever chap, who’s been known to dress in high-vis and turn streetlights on and off with a pokey stick. So far, so interesting. Allow me to introduce him a little better and to sum up three of the key ideas he talked about. There are also pictures of nice cake and mugs to keep you interested.

  • Once upon a time in Somerset…

    Charles’ talk was mainly about the idea of Interrupting Places, a practice he began in 1977. He went to a beach in Somerset and set up a line of little wooden sculptures, all connected by string. He watched people try to work out what they meant and rather liked that. After its first siting on the beach, the sculptures were then moved, first down the middle of a dual carriageway and later to a patch of land in a slightly dodgy bit of Leeds. The sculptures changed each time they were moved, so that they would respond to and interrupt the environment that they sat in, and cause people to ask questions of them.

    He’s now been interrupting places for nearly 40 years, using many of the same approaches as he used in his first sandy foray: interrupting, changing work to suit its setting, playing with temporary, and often doing things without asking… I can also add that he’s very nice and rather tall, just so you’ve got a good picture.

    Now that your Charles Quick 101 is done with, I’ll sum up what I reckon are the three key ideas that he talked about that really got me thinking:

  • Three Big Ideas:

    1. Interrupting places (without asking first)

    Charles’ work usually involves him making work in public spaces. He’ll deliberately interrupt a place (quite often without permission) to get people thinking, questioning and sometimes interacting. The interruption means that the results are unpredictable. Sometimes it affects the entire structure of a place. Sometimes people question whether it’s even art at all.

    Do you remember I mentioned Charles’ pokey stick project? Commissioned by Artranspennine03, Mr Quick travelled around various suburban streets in the north, using said pokey stick and some plastic plant pots to cause the streetlights to go on at the wrong time. He always lit every lamp in the street, methodically and like he was supposed to be doing exactly that. As he commented,

    “If you want to appear invisible in a public place then wear a high vis vest and a hat”.

  • Residents approached him and asked questions as he worked his way down their street. And then he was gone, his interruption temporary but definite.

    2. It’s there and then it’s gone

    Speaking of temporary, that ‘there and gone-ness’ is important to Charles. He commented that it can be devalued, but that he feels that actually temporariness can bring much more. When you know that the thing you’re creating will soon be removed, it forces you to adopt a different approach. You’ve no choice but to think about things differently, from what kind of impact it will have, what time is right for it, and even just how you can be clever with materials and budgets.

    I just like the idea that actually, things can sometimes be better just because they’re not permanent. It’s a nice change from the smidgen of vanity that comes with creating something that must last forever. Might it also give permission to be just a little more frivolous, even? I wonder what we’d do if we didn’t know that every action could be immortalised in photographic form…

    3. Just trying it out

    While we were cleaning up and eating the last bits of cake, I overhead Charles make a little comment to Ian that might have been my favourite of the day. It came about when talking about how Charles’ ‘dared’ to just get on and do things. It could be perceived by some as a little bit risky. We’re all about the rigour, you see. We’re all for fun, of course, but we definitely feel the pressure to think things through (and through and through). However, whilst rigour is all well and good, with so much pressure to get it right first time it can often be hard to just get off the starting blocks. We definitely find that here and I sometimes can’t help but feel just a bit envious of people who just bloody get on and do it.

    Charles’ answer to getting started was to decide that you’re ‘just trying it out’. Whatever it is, if you give it a go and it doesn’t work out… Well, you were just practising to see how it went, no harm no foul. Now the pressure is gone and you’ve given yourself permission to get moving.


    For more information on Charles Quick and his work – pokey stick included – visit him online and be sure to say hello.

  • Up next at Open House: stories of flying fish and BBC Breakfast showing lady bits

    Inspiration comes in all forms, so in July we’re inviting some record-breaking athletes to tell us a story. Some nice ladies from the Yorkshire Rows will be coming in. They’re a team of four women who became the oldest women ever to cross any ocean. They rowed across the Atlantic in 67 days, covering 3,000 nautical miles and seeing all sorts of cool stuff. They even had their bits shown on BBC Breakfast. Crikey.

  • ——

    P.S. Will you come in and tell us a story?

    We’re always looking to hear from interesting people so if you’d be up for coming in to tell us a story, get in touch. We promise we’ll listen nicely. Oh and did we mention cake, beer and tea? There’ll be lots of that, too.

    To make sure you don’t miss out on our best ideas, news and insights, or if you’d like to receive invites to events that you really shouldn’t miss, you can subscribe to our mailing list here .

Hide comments >
comments powered by Disqus