It’s complicated (part 3) – crossing thresholds and the scrapheap challenge – #BolamAt60 #BolamProspective

On the scapheap.

Here’s the game plan. This might sound coherently planned but that is not the way I work at all. I use the full-body immersion technique; I throw myself into whatever it is I think that I’m doing at the time and then thrash about in the murk for however long it takes me to work out what I am doing, allow myself to float up to the surface and skim off whatever scum has accumulated on the surface.

Sounds random but it works for me. Kinda.

I was talking to a friend / fellow artist recently and she described how she makes a plan of how she is going to edit a video. I have never done that, not once, I throw everything on the timeline and watch it (usually whilst listening to random music) until something happens. I’ve never been short of ideas but it never starts with much of a plan.

This is something I won’t miss. The only bit I’m tempted to keep is the foam spacer.

Anyway, after a rather extended period of utter confusion, I have decided what I am going to do next. I’m going to take Bolam TV to the next level.

I have always been a hoarder although I try to fight it, but a few things have happened recently that have pushed me over more than one threshold. On my 50th birthday, I started getting targeted advertising via Facebook for funeral services. No really, that very day. Once I passed the 55 year threshold I received, with no prior warning, an NHS appointment to have an anal endoscopy as part of their routine bowel cancer screening programme. Less than a week ago, when I was picking up my car from the repair garage, I had one of my first experiences of a smiley young woman talking to me as if I was some sort of imbecile, simply because my beard is grey (the text does not convey the pity in her voice):
“It’s in bay 3, on the left. Do you want me to walk you out there?”
“No, thank you.”

How quaint!

I’m not sure what is coming next but an impending major threshold will be when I’m 60 and I have no doubt it will be accompanied by a new raft of reminders of my diminishing responsibility, accelerating mortality and sutability for nothing more than the scrapheap. It’s a sobering experience to know that some people now view you as unnecessary simply due to your age. I am sure I have done it too, but smehow I never thought it would happen to me.

The only appropriate response is to say fuck that.

Despite my own grumpiness about the progressive failure embodied by the human condition, I have decided to board the party boat, celebrate and vapourise, and this is when I get back to the point.

Despite being a lifelong hoarder, the shared approaching mortality of the vintage Macs that I have been saving for years has precipitated a decision to get rid of them, and having crossed that bridge it seems I have opened a floodgate whilst simultaneously mixing metaphors. Lots more stuff is being dumped. When I say dumped, I mean donated to good causes or else responsibly recycled.

90 reams of A4 paper donated to a primary school.

A great pile of stuff. the biggest clearout I’ve had in years.

I have decided to partially clear my studio in order to make into a more functional television studio / impromptu discoteque. The Bolam TV broadcasts I made during Open Up Sheffield 2019 were a major success (as an experiment) despite being very clunky. I’m okay with the clunkiness and I like the reveal of being able to see exactly how everything is done, but at the same time I want to execute it as well as I can within the limits of my budget and ability.

Day two is in two parts because the laptop crapped out on me.

Day three is still not available because it was blocked due to a copyright violation. I played a couple of Madonna videos but they were the ones published by the record company so I effectively ripped them off when the broadcast was finished and published as an archive. I been trying to trim the offending material out and re-publish it but keep coming across a strange error that I have been unable to solve. There’s some good stuff on day three so stand by.

I will also be resurrecting a long-stalled project by the name of Flying Monkey TV which has changed shape a number of times but will resurface as a much more automated timelapse capture system in the studio.

After a rather long gestation, I am under way towards a regular Bolam TV broadcast – don’t expect anything immdiately but imagine a surreal version of Blue Peter for adults with elements of The Muppets Show, Max Headroom, Top of the Pops, After Dark and early Eurotrash, and sometimes not safe for work.

You will be witnesses.

It’s complicated (part 2) – everything must go #BolamAt60 #BolamProspective

Doorstop, anyone?

Not everything. Not nearly everything, actually, but I am having a major clear out.

After many years of largely fruitless hoarding, I have decided to get rid of some things and abandon some projects. Life is short and every day it gets a little shorter and I have to be realistic about what I can achieve with whatever life the good Lord has left for me.

After several years of soul-searching, I have decided to abandon the old Macintosh computers. I have written a bit more about this here.

Mac SE running System 6.0.8 – starts up in a few seconds.

512k of memory.


I can’t deny a certain degree of nostalgia (which I try to resist) for the old Macs, but they are starting to compare very badly with newer, faster and more energy efficient technologies. What’s more, they take up loads of room and a lot of them are starting to fail.

I will be keeping a few, more for reference than anything else, and I have had a few expressions of interest in using the enclosures for non-Mac projects but I will be moving them all on soon, either to other artists or other recycling destinations.

I also have 90+ reams of A4 paper from my Casualty 14-18 installation in 2014 and a load of school poster paint from Rick’s Fast Art Takeaway, which I am going to donate to a local school. Also, I have crates full of electronics components that I was planning to use for various things but these can be donated to an educational charity. Realistically, I don’t have enough years left on this planet to get everything done that I wanted and so I’m going to let some of it go and concentrate on a smaller number of skills and projects.

It’s complicated (part 1) – the end of start of the beginning of #BolamProspective #BolamAt60

There’s nothing like the impending end of the world to focus one’s attention.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and I don’t really know where to start, so please bear with me. For complicated reasons, I decided to take a bit of time out after the hyperactive excess of Retrospective: Richard Bolam at 50 in 2014/15. I’m sure I’ve written some of this before but I can’t be bothered to read through my previous blog posts.

Don’t worry, I’ll be brief.

That’s just not true, this is going to take some time. I’ll come back to the reasons why I took a break from making art stuff later and in the meantime, I’ll try to summarise what’s coming up for my 60th year 24th April 2024 – 23rd April 2025.

After I climbed out of the crushing anti-climax at the end of #BolamAt50, I decided to do the whole thing again when I’m 60. After all, it was a total invention the first time around and there were many things that I would have like to have achieved more fully, so why not do the whole thing again at another artificial deadline?

The last three years have been a time when I have examined what it is that I am doing, who I am trying to reach and how I might achieve that. Several years ago, I had pretty much decided never again to apply for any official arts funding, but in 2017 a friend drew my attention to local funding for a residency in Orchard Square, a retail precinct in the centre of Sheffield. Having done a lot of work concerned with the aesthetics of retail, the psychology of branding and the ethics of commodification, I decided to apply.

I was one of four artists who were selected for the residency but my experience was much less than satisfactory. You can read about Rick’s Fast Art Takeaway here, and after that experience, I promised myself that I would really, really, never, ever, cross my heart and hope to die, apply for arts funding ever again.

So, where next, Columbus?

These days, most of my paid work is in corporate events as an audio-visual technician. If you don’t know what that means, I’m the guy in the branded shirt that puts up the projection screen and makes sure your PowerPoint appears on that screen and that your microphone comes on when you start talking. I’m quite good at this kind of work but I didn’t choose it, I drifted into it like all the other jobs I’ve drifted into. Earlier this year, after a couple of events this year that I really didn’t enjoy working on, I considered retiring from this kind of work. But again, for complicated reasons which I might go into later, I decided to turn this around and, instead of getting out of it, I decided to attack the cause of my own dissatisfaction by taking a more pro-active role in the production of these events.

As a result, I have started to accumulate my own back-up conference tech set-up, not to compete with my employers but to be able to fill some of the easily-identified gaps in the technical production of these events.

And this is where I get back to the point.

After some deliberation, and further to my decision to never again apply for any official arts funding (not that I’ve ever been particularly successful anyway), I decided that Richard Bolam at 60 will not involve any traditional, physical exhibitions but will be in the form of online and ephemeral media. That will include new paper publications, a string of Bolam TV programmes and a few live, one-day events during the year 2024/25, and the production aesthetic will be informed by web-based media, corporate conferencing events and digital signage. The equipment I will need will be bought out of the money I make as an AV technician over the intervening period, and this way I can get corporate businesses to fund my art, without having to ask anyone’s permission. Simples!

Just to clarify: the current phase is Prospective: Richard Bolam until 60 and then on 24th April 2024 will begin Metaspective: Richard Bolam at 60 which will be a kind of repeat of Retrospective: Richard Bolam at 50 but an all-singing, all-dancing version of the same thing, but different. I hope that’s clear.

I feel like saying more, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Abstractagraph – a blast from the past and a peak into the future #BolamProspective #BolamAt60 #RichardBolam

Back in the 1980s, I had access to a ZX Spectrum home computer. It’s difficult to communicate the excitement we felt at the time, especially given the limited nature of home computer hardware back then, but the exhilaration of its potential was palpable.

I kind of discovered algorithmic / generative / computational art for myself because my main interest was in using computers for creating on-screen graphics, starting with the obvious string patterns, but moving on to other algorithmically created graphics. I still have that same ZX Spectrum but I haven’t tried to boot it up for years, never mind try to run the programs I wrote, loaded from (yes, really) cassette tapes.

There are many technologies that I will not miss and magnetic tape is one of them.

I had an idea to create a program that would create on-screen graphics using a number of algorithmic routines and would assemble and combine created images into new images, all of which would be informed by the rules of classical composition. Here is a program that was published in a magazine entitled “Your Spectrum” in 1985 that I actually typed in, line by line, and this is the kind of thing that I found interesting in those days. It was written by Colin Barnsley and called “The Squirler” and you can actually run this program under emulation here:

I came up with the name Abstractagraph, although these days I would have come up with something much cleverer. What’s more, it’s not really abstraction but whatever, for historical / conceptual reasons I am going to stick with that name. My intention for Abstractagraph is somewhat less formal than what The Squirler produced, although it might include some of this kind of geometry.

As I remember it, everything was a struggle, and that went on for me until the 1990s when I was writing commercial software for Macs and PCs and, after the crushing depression of my own software business failing in 1998, followed by a very brief stint in corporate IT, I was enormously relieved to get out of software development all together, at that time.
The rest of the story is very complicated and not particularly interesting but, suffice to say, the world of computing has completely transformed in the last 20 years. Throughout the 2000s, I accumulated various Macs as they started to become obsolete and businesses upgraded. I made some installation works and screen-based generative works using this obsolete-but-still-functioning technology, including HyperScape (2004).

The world turns and many years pass.

With hindsight, I think I wasted a lot of time thinking about which software tool to use to achieve this and other projects. However, I never lost interest in Abstractagraph and thought about how to achieve it many times. These days, SOHO computers are amazingly cheap and reliable and the choice of software (much of it free and open-source) is quite overwhelming. Back in the 80s, there were other languages that you could load and use, but mostly you were limited to whatever was built in to the computer you chose to use. In the 1990s and 2000s, I got really interesting in the very-high-level programming environments such as HyperCard and SuperCard, both on the Macintosh platform and it seemed to me for a long while that these highly-accessible, application development environments would solve all our software development problems. But they didn’t.

I also wasted a lot of time on AppleScript and Automator, both of which promised much but delivered pretty much fuck all. I loved HyperCard but Apple abandoned it decades ago. I loved SuperCard (HyperCard on steroids) but Adobe bought it and abandoned that too. SuperCard has been rescued, although I think it’s too late for me and to my thinking it is still not nearly complete and mature enough, and this is where I get to the point.

Despite being loyal to the MacOS platform for many years, because of the way the world has changed and not least the planned obsolescence of Apple Computer Inc, I have decided to move away from Mac and towards Linux. Although I still have many working Macs, and still use a great number of packages of favoured, platform-specific software, many of the older computers are starting to fail, and this left with a dilemma when I was testing them before Sheffield’s Open Up open studios event in May 2018. The video shows a close up of HyperScape 1 running on a rather battered SE/30.

I have shelves full of old Mac hardware, mostly obtained free, but a lot of it is starting to fail and I have the choice of spending a significant amount of time repairing and refurbishing these machines, or not.

In the meantime, LED TVs have got very big and very good, and single board computers like the Raspberry Pis have got very small and very fast, and they consume a fraction of the energy. Other factors include the maturing of open-source software and the establishment of new standards, and so I have decided to get rid of all the old Macs and standardise the development of the many conceived-but-unimplemented projects that I have in mind, with rock solid linux-based Raspberry Pis and big, beautiful, flat, lightweight non-CRT screens that are are sold on the high street and can be lifted with one hand.

The cathode ray tube is another technology that I will not miss.

So far, I have only dabbled to varying degrees, but I will be developing any technology-based projects using a mixture of Python, Bash, Processing, HTML, CSS & Javascript, none of which have that friendly Mac look-and-feel that I used to be so enamoured of, but which actually deliver the goods. I am not exactly sure how this is going to work out, but I think the Abstractagraph project will diverge into a number of smaller projects, each with a more refined and individual visual vocabulary. At least some of the iterations of Abstractagraph will be written in HTML, CSS & Javascript and delivered purely client-side, in a browser, but some might use image manipulation available in ImageMagick & Bash, server-side, and broadcast to web pages. “Scribble” (above) will be one of the first functions I want to implement.

HyperScape X at Access Space, Sheffield in 2014:

I have no timescale or deadline for this project, well, other than between 24th April 2024 and 23rd April 2025, the duration of my major retrospective Richard Bolam at 60, but seeing as I had the original idea in the 1980s, it’s already late, so whatever. Updates will be posted on its own blog site:

Sheffield Zine Fest 2019 Saturday 18th May at the Workstation @sheffzinefest #sheffzinefest

Please come and see me, along with many others, at Sheffield Zine Fest 2019. As well as past publications, I will be attempting to crowd-source material for an improvised metazine. I know that doesn’t real mean anything, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Bolam TV – “It’s all about me!” – Open Up Sheffield at Replicast Studios 4, 5, 6 May 2019 #OpenUpSheffield #RichardBolam #OpenStudios

After the world-changing success of Retrospective: Richard Bolam at 50, I have decided to do it all again when I’m 60.

But why?

Why not? The idea for having my own major retrospective came after seeing the Paolozzi at 80 exhibition in Edinburgh in 2004 and I decided to celebrate my own retrospective at what seemed like a significant year. The satirical nature of the project was in no way a criticism of Paolozzi (quite the opposite) or the curation of the show, but I was kind of scandalised by the gift shop. Every last thing that could have been stamped with Paolozzi at 80 was present in the shop; notebooks, pencil erasers, plastic rulers – you name it. But the one thing I wanted was not there – the fat coffee table book that is always produced for such comprehensive retrospectives.

That is what gave me the idea to produce all the memorabilia for my own more modest review. I have never been short of ideas and I produced a lot of stuff but, with hindsight, I allowed myself to get distracted with making new things, even though they were made out of old things, and I took my eye off the ball somewhat. What I should have concentrated on is my own version of that coffee table book. In my case it’s a multi-part magazine produced in the style of the old Exchange & Mart small ads magazine that I used to pore over in the 1970s.

I called mine “Catalogue” and planned to produce 12 issues as a part-work magazine for each month of my year at 50 (with an extra one for some reason I can’t remember at the moment). I only finished the one issue and was very satisfied with the look and feel of it. Afterwards, I realised that was the most important element of the work and should have taken priority over all the other stuff. In what I consider to be a very satisfying symmetry, I failed to produce the one thing that really needed to have been finished.

The end of the year a bit of an anticlimax, and I regretted not finishing the Catalogue. That didn’t last long, and I decided just to do the whole thing again when I’m 60.
A friend asked me what comes after the retrospective and I said obviously the prospective. That is the period we are in now – Prospective: Richard Bolam until 60 and then the next stage will be Metaspective: Richard Bolam at 60 and the countdown begins on my 55th birthday, 24 April 2019. I started preparing for Bolam at 50 a little under two years before and that was nowhere near enough time, so for Bolam at 60, I’m starting five years before.

I will be taking part in Open Up Sheffield 2019 on 4, 5, 6 May at Replicast Art Studios, 5 East Bank Road S2 2RL (opposite the Texaco garage). I am one of a very diverse group of artists in the building, so please come along and say hello. More details to follow.

I will be starting my own live broadcast, internet tv channel, Bolam TV, and the Open Up weekend will be a testbed for my dubious television hosting skills. There might be a few test broadcasts before then, so stay tuned.

High-Visibility Capitalism – say no and keep saying no #GiletsJaunes

I made these a few years ago; my “LOSER” hi-viz vests, and here is the spiel that I used to sell them.

“These are made in China by children. I buy them online at £1.75 each and “add value” with my unique branding and sell them for £25. I got the idea from Premier League football.”

It is many years ago, so I might not remember the exact details, but I heard a radio interview with the parent of (I think) two young boys who was not angry, just frustrated, and he said (of whichever Premier League football club that it was) “Do they really have to issue a third away-strip?”. That weary father knew exactly how he was being played but his manner indicated that he knew that he knew he had no choice. I chose the price of £25 for my own mass-produced tat because that was the price of replica football shirts at the time of the interview. The machine-printed nylon shirts, made in sweatshops in the far east are nearer £80 now.

Rapacious capitalists are very aware of the potent pester-power that is at the disposal of children (I’ve moaned about this before), and this football club knew very well that their fans would have to buy yet another replica strip for their little tykes to compete with each other, and so this is my attempt at satirising their high-visibility capitalism.

In June 2013 I took a stall at a craft fair where I sold various items from my catalogue of satirical anti-commercial products, including the “LOSER” vests. It was just a stunt, and I never expected to actually sell any, but one man found the idea so entertaining that he actually coughed up £25 for a badly stencilled hi-viz vest with “LOSER” written on the back.

I didn’t see that coming.

I am a sometime-performer and professionals more experienced than me will tell you that the way to deal with the unexpected is to expect it. Try to imagine what might go wrong, how you might be interrupted or what technical failures might occur, and you are much better prepared to deal with it. I have a variable history of success in the matter, but when I succeeded most is when I had expected the unexpected.

Momentarily, I was tempted to refuse his money, but he called my bluff and I felt honour-bound to complete the transaction. True to my socialist principles, I redistributed the unearned wealth immediately afterwards in the Rutland Arms public house.

It might have taken four years for the idea to catch on but maybe that is where France’s Gilets Jaune got the idea, a different kind of personal protective equipment, a highly visible attempted protection from wealth extraction and disaster capitalism.

I also planned some children’s sizes but never made them.


I threw in with Gandhi some time ago and I do not advocate rioting, violence or the destruction of property, but I do advocate non-violent civil disobedience.

Don’t believe what you hear on BBC News or Channel 4 News about the Gilets Jaune, it is more than just a protest about a rise in fuel tax, and the very same things apply here in the UK. I hesitate to wish for revolution, but something revolutionary will happen, either by design or accident. With corrupt politicians, post-competent institutions and an economic system that rewards the destruction of our own environment, collapse is inevitable.  We are being screwed by high-visibility corruption in government, commerce and the media, but here in the UK, we’re so inured to corruption that we don’t even notice it any more.

In the meantime, I have plenty of “LOSER” vests left so please get in touch if you would like to be exploited by my particular brand of high-visibility capitalism.

Vive la révolution de la haute visibilité!