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Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Story of Sturgess Cafe - Pt1

Shutters open, slowly. Dust explosion. Start of a new day.

Sturgess Cafe opposite the intersection with Coolridge Road and Kenton Street, is open for business. That is, it's open, but not for cafe business. Let me explain.

Although the cafe is set for a breakfast serving - knives and forks set out, polished vinyl on plywood tables buffed by the light of the early morning sun, menu and tomato shaped ketchup pot, next to a tall, cylindrical 'brown sauce' bottle – the front door remains locked.

A builder puts his hand over his eyes to peer into the glass window. He walks away shaking his head.

Nyman Chaw-Derek, artist, 31, sicks his head out from behind a faded curtain. Nearly spotted. He spends some of the late evening repositioning tables and chairs, moving menus, placing stains on the lino. Smearing areas of the cafe with grease. Telling the story of the life of a cafe. Without ever opening the doors. He runs the cafe – the project. It was his idea.

A cafe that never opens. But still lives. Part of the street, part of the life of local people, but not really existing.

Here's what Nyman's successful Arts Council funding application said (an extract):

“...this piece of art - Sturgess Cafe, the cafe that never opens - is a comment on the life of ephemera. When is a familiar object an artefact? An artwork? Is it possible to 'corrupt' the street scene - the heart of a local community, the High Street – with an artistic intervention? What question will people ask as they pass by? What questions will the cafe pose and ask of us? Will it impact on our identities, or purpose as human beings? How much of our environment do we really notice?”

“I suppose £50,000 will keep us in wine,” said Nyman's partner, Seeke.

“£50,000 [that's the grant he received per year for the 3 year cafe project, plus an additional £10k from the local council, to “enhance the regeneration of the urban cultural offer.”] is the tip of the iceburg.” said Nyman. “Seeke, if this goes national, I could be the new Damien Hurst, Tracey Emin and Banksy all rolled into one!”

“But why can't we just open the cafe, normally? Throw a big party, sell organic, locally sourced food...” said Seeke, before being interrupted by an uber-patronising Nyman.

“You're missing the point, love,” he said, “I'm a new urban knight, a creator of perceptions, a magician – a modern Merlin.”

“No you're not,” said Seeke, dialling the local bakers for a bacon butty delivery, “you're an ok painter with a creative block. Want brown or red with yours?”

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