For a while now I’ve felt like I have a vacuum in my head where my creative thinking used to be. Ideas emerge and disappear with barely any presence never mind permanence. The light is on in my dark room and development for the time being seems impossible.

When Minty and Neil and Nick originally mentioned Garage Vivant two years ago the idea I started playing with in my head was to do with dancing. Cram the garage full of people dancing like they would at a club – freeze-framed. I have quite a pragmatic imagination so I was thinking about casting a large group of people – rehearsing with them – videoing the dance – finding the best frame to freeze on – rehearsing with the group again to sustain the action image with no movement.

The idea didn’t have hooks – it settled in my brain for a short while – and then it just slipped out. It often happens to me with ideas. The ideas that I tend to keep hold of and make materialise in real life are the ones I find myself wrestling with in my imagination – the jagged ones that won’t slip easily away.

I try and maintain a mental list of potential projects. For instance there are gaps in a series of projects I’ve made that are rooted in French texts – Balzac, Duras and Koltes could sort of fill these in and they’re often bugging me for a place on the list.
David Hockney has been off and on the list – I’ve often been a fan of his work since he rocked my world in the public library as a gay teenager in East Kilbride in the 70s. Funnily enough the library was above the disco and if I went to change my books on a Saturday afternoon the floor was thumping with the music from the under 18 disco happening underneath.

I started to think of Hockney’s painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) as a Garage Vivant image. My pragmatic imagination was focused on how to freeze frame a swimming figure – and maybe the theatre effect known as Pepper’s Ghost would help sustain this illusion. But in the early stages of lockdown last year there was a lot of activity staging iconic paintings as photo opportunities in living rooms and my Hockney idea didn’t survive that – it evaporated.

Despite the lockdown art re-enactment craze I found myself thinking about another painting – Lunch on the Grass by Èdouard Manet. Working as a theatre director reinventing classic plays in a modern context feels like a normal thing to do and I thought I could do something similar with these four characters at a picnic. Could I subvert the CMNF* dynamic of the 19th century original and switch the gender roles?
The people in the original are all white - what would it mean to involve Black performers or performers of colour? The clothed people would now be Black women? And the naked person a white man? The questions for me as a director are about who has the power in the image.

None of the other people in the painting are looking at the naked person. But the naked person is breaking the fourth wall – they are looking directly out at the viewer - so there is an additional and invisible character involved – and in the process of re-making the image that would be me – a 59 year old white man. Who has the power here? What do these changes and exchanges of the gaze mean?

*Clothed Male Naked Female



Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Édouard Manet 1863
Stewart Laing
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