A Real Pony Race For A Bridle
I was interested in the fact that the gallery had been set up with this Victorian philanthropic agenda and wanted to make a piece of work about that legacy in the publicly funded art world today. So I decided to try and organise a gymkhana.
There was a group show at the South London Gallery and the curators asked the artists to look at the collection there and make a piece of work in response. I found a nineteenth century poster advertising a pony race in a local park. I organised a gymkhana and there was a potato race and a doughnut race and a sack race and a competition for the best turned out pony and rosettes and a judge from the pony club, a commentator and loads of people from that world got involved.
One of the reasons I did this project was that there were stables in the backyard where I was living at the time, in a warehouse in Limehouse, and I had met and got to know the people who had ponies there. They were all young people, 15 year old boys with stallion ponies that they would ride around the streets, or just take out for walks. And as I was doing research and finding out how to organise the event and who might come to it I then discovered this whole network of ‘underground’ stables in east and southeast London.
I think about 13 ponies and riders came, from Dulwich, Peckham and Limehouse. It was in the middle of Burgess Park and the whole thing was pegged out at dawn and over and gone by the end of the day. There was also a battle of ice-cream vans. I got one to come along especially, one that was endorsed by the council, and then another cowboy van came along and tried to nick their pitch. This obviously sparked an interest in turf wars. Someone who I had been in contact with from Southwark Council decided to come along on the day with a bouncy castle and blew it up. There was the whole thing about setting this up and then it taking on a life of its own because other people had got involved.
It was a typical mixture of weather, there was a storm and everyone ran for cover and then it cleared and the sun came out again.
I had been working with a group of Camberwell students who helped me film and photograph the event, and we tried to film in the same way they film proper horse racing. The curators, also students, were the stewards on the racecourse. Some of the people who came from the pony world asked if I was going to do this again next year because it was good for their kids and I said to them, “No, but you can,” and tried to pass on information to them, such as who to contact at Southwark Council.
I invited the art audience to the pony race and then the pony audience to the gallery, so there was a cross-over. What was interesting was that quite a few people from the art audience didn’t come to the pony race because they didn’t realise it was an art event. I remember someone else describing it as a pseudo-community event. I felt that wasn’t what it was at all. It was a pony race for only those reasons, and I was thinking about it in the same way as a ready-made, as a piece of conceptual art. I followed what you do to organise a pony race, I used my capacity as an organiser and put together the ingredients of a pony race into the formal structure of the event. I was not thinking about how to include young people for example.
The project included a video and a photo album and the installation had a table where you could order photos , so people from the pony world could look through and see which photos they wanted to order. In the end the whole work was bought by the South London Gallery and it’s now in their collection.
venue and location
Summer Collection ’97, South London Gallery, London
Burgess Park Rangers
Camberwell College of Art
David Cuffe Vetinary Surgeon
Jimmy’s Community & Activity Centre
Kingston Riding Club
London Borough of Southwark Park Services
Mudchute Riding School
Mary and Isabel
Mission Place Stables
South London Gallery
South London Pony Club
St John’s Ambulance
Vauxhall City Farm
Wimbledon Pony Club
- Video loop wide shot of Burgess Park
- Video of pony race (25 min)
- Scans of pages from photo album
- Scans of working notes
- C/u photos of pinboards
- Text by Anna Harding for Out Of Here