Repay £15,000? Nuts to you

July 18, 2003

Mark McGowan intends to pay his student loan in kind by rolling a peanut across London

On September 1, I will start pushing a monkey nut seven miles across London. With my nose.

I have just finished art college and now owe £15,000 for a student loan. I feel I'm being penalised for wanting to pursue my vocation at an academic level. So I have written to education secretary Charles Clarke and prime minister Tony Blair saying that if I complete this task, it will be payment in deed for my loan, because it is a very hard thing to do. Monkey nuts do not roll straight - Jthey roll off to the side. And it is amazing how uneven the pavements are.

I have a pedigree in this sort of performance art. One of my first efforts was to hang upside down from a tree in Peckham while dressed as a mummy.

And I once walked backwards for 11 miles with a lb turkey strapped to my head.

I have also crawled across London from Peckham to Camberwell on my hands and knees with cotton wool coming out of my ears and a stereo system on my back playing Frank Sinatra's My Way. That was all about ignoring advice and was called Doing Things the Hard Way. Kids in Peckham shouted, "Get up, you crackhead." Many people, however, cheered me on, saying "You can do it."

But this will be my biggest challenge yet. I was poor before I started college, and I'm even poorer now. I want to continue doing these public events - people seem to like them. But this is the stage when people drop out, when would-be artists give up to become traffic wardens and waitresses. And even then, it takes a long time to pay off the loan.

No other generation has been put in this position. All my tutors were supported through college by grants. We want creative people in society, but if we continue penalising them, there will be a big problem in the future.

So I'm trying to turn a negative into a positive by expressing myself. I could do a painting or a sculpture, but I don't like doing stuff in galleries. I want to look for new avenues, reach different people, get more people to see art.

I think it will take me two weeks. I'll put in six to eight-hour days, draw a line with chalk and then come back in the morning and start again.

I am a bit worried about my nose and my knees. I always get injured when I do this sort of thing. When I rolled on the ground from Elephant and Castle to Bethnal Green Road, it was raining and I got really sick. My Weetabix came up, and I got big sores on my back - but I kept rolling.

I have to let the police know what I'm doing - it could take a long time for me to roll the monkey nut across busy junctions, and the roads are not that good.

If officials send me letters asking me about repaying my loan, I'll send them a picture of my nose and a letter saying I've paid my debt. Hopefully, when they see how hard it was, they will agree. I bet most people couldn't do a street. I hope I'm not setting a precedent.

Mark McGowan has graduated from Camberwell College of arts with a BA in fine arts and will start an MA in the history of art at Goldsmiths College in the autumn. He is a contributor to Bloomberg's "New Contemporaries" exhibition, currently at the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

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