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The Rob Ring Foundation

One day in 2010 Chris was trying to work out how to upload onto youtube; he eventually uploaded a video of himself standing on a piece of wood whilst sawing it in half. This was up for approximately a year when one day, out of the blue, Chris received an email from a Canadian artist called Rob Ring effectively accusing Chris of plagiarism. Chris had a look at Rob’s website, and yes, whilst the pieces were practically identical, Chris had never heard of Rob Ring before and had certainly not ripped Rob off. Chris was slightly perturbed at these accusations, so he did rip Rob off my re-making another of Robs pieces titled ‘Ultra Hustle Dance Party’. Chris then emailed Rob with a link to this video – ‘Dead Ringers’ – claiming that it won first prize at the fictitious Birmingham International Film Festival.

Rob took this in good spirits, but emailed back saying he wasn’t prepared to engage in a ‘video battle’. Chris was slightly disappointed at this, so he emailed Rob back asking him what direction he thought the work should go in now. Rob replied that he would be prepared to work in collaboration with Chris: they would send DVDs to one another of each others work, which they would then parody as each felt appropriate. Upon Rob’s DVD arriving from Canada, Keir entered the project properly as a co-collaborator (he had already appeared in ‘Dead Ringers’). After delivering a Rob Ring inspired lecture at Camberwell College of Art, chris+keir embarked on two Rob Ring inspired commissions: The Great Rob Ring (Flatpack Film Festival) and Robert Ringford: Gandhi of the Midlands (Longhouse). These appropriated Rob’s work into the 18th century black country mining community and 19th century Canadian Vaudeville respectively.

Robert Ringford – The Ghandhi of the Black Country

chris+keir received a bursary from Longhouse to undertake research into the ‘bread and butter riots’ that occurred in the Black Country during the 18th century. As the project progressed through a number of unsatisfactory permutations, it took an unexpected twist when we realised the wonderful possibilities it offered for The Rob Ring Foundation. Fact and fiction became increasingly obfuscated as we set out to appropriate and remake Rob Rings ‘ultra hustle dance party’ dressed as morris dancers in Henley in Arden. Here’s all the blurb:

The period between 1815 and 1822 was one of the most troubled in British economic and social history. The rapidly increasing price of staple foods and the scarcity of employment at this time prompted numerous episodes of civil unrest loosely labeled as ‘the bread and butter riots’. Increasingly intolerable distress faced by the colliers and iron workers of the Black Country finally caused their despair to spill over in mid-1816; groups of unemployed colliers decided to drag waggons containing Black Country coal to London in an effort to publicize their plight. Upon the colliers reaching Henley-in-Arden an extraordinary chain of events were set into motion. The colliers were confronted by a government employed mob who ordered them to call off their protest and turn back. After a tense stand off, the colliers began to turn around and prepared to drag their wagons back to their Bilston base. But then an incredible event occurred. Robert Ringford, one of the wagon dragging colliers, turned and faced the government force, and walking towards them he began to Morris dance. After several minutes, he was joined my several other colliers who joined him in his spontaneous dancing. Before long, there were 150 Morris dancing colliers standing facing the government mob. The Morris dancing colliers then began to slowly walk towards the mob with the other colliers dragging the wagons of coal behind them. The mob, unprepared for the collier’s protest, began to retreat. This situation continued for 10 miles from Henley in Arden to Stratford upon Avon; the mob retreating as the morris dancing colliers gradually advanced forward. At Stratford, the colliers were informed by police that they would be able to continue dragging their wagons of coal up to London as originally planned. Robert Ringford, through his morris dancing protest, almost single-handedly fought back the mob and in doing so made his own special contribution to the history of protest. chris+keir re-enacted this event as a tribute and epitaph to this extraordinary man.

The Great Rob Ring – Flatpack Festival

During the 1890’s Rob Ring was widely recognised as Canada’s premier Vaudeville star. Renowned for his dangerous and physical slapstick stage act, Rob Ring was the Vaudeville superstar par excellence. Unfortunately, ‘The Great Rob Ring’ failed to make the transition from Vaudeville to early motion pictures. Whilst many Vaudeville performers found that their stage acts simply didn’t hold up on the big screen, Rob Ring’s stage act would have undoubtedly proved perfect for an audience experiencing the thrill of cinema for the first time.

Tragically though, Rob Ring died on the set of the filming of his first motion picture. Trying to recreate his signature stage act – standing on top of a piece of wood whilst sawing it in half from a great height – he landed awkwardly and broke his neck. Whilst the film of this no longer exists, a few grainy stills remain in circulation amongst film scholars fueling the apocryphal legend that is ‘The Great Rob Ring’.

At the time it was suggested that Rob had the potential to be the cinema’s first great ‘Star’ (he was also affectionately known in vaudeville as ‘the dancer’ for his extravagant dance pieces that lasted for hours). Because of this and in tribute to what could have been, chris+keir re-created Rob Ring’s signature stage act within the theoretical framework of Tom Gunning’s notion of ‘The Cinema of Attractions’. Gunning’s influential essay ‘The Cinema of Attractions’ seeks to conceptualise early cinema as radically different from post-Griffith narrative hegemony. Gunning tries to undo previous primitive assumptions regarding early cinema history, arguing that early cinema shouldn’t be examined under the rubric of narrative. Early cinema is about the ‘attraction’ of cinema, where spectacle reigns supreme: it invites spectators to be amazed. Narrative is secondary to the amazing power of the cinematic, of films ability to show something spectacular’.

This re-creation of Rob Ring’s signature stage act is simply a tribute and epitaph to an extraordinary man who died so tragically young.