Curator’s big rant

OR DISCRIMINATORY BUREAUCRACY AT THE UK POST OFFICE

A couple of months ago I have been preparing an exhibition at one of the central contemporary gallery spaces in Bath. The show was a group show with participating artists from all around the world. Which meant many artworks had to arrive by post by the pre-determined time, so they could be featured in the exhibition. I put big faith into artists’ hands for them to send the packages on time, as well as the town post office, to reliably deliver said packages. Everything seemed to be running smoothly when artists started to show me the official ‘parcel sent’ receipts and I was eagerly waiting to receive the artworks. Many parcels were sent by Hermes and other couriers and they were delivered successfully.

Because the last week before the exhibition, when the last artworks were due to arrive, no one was in the gallery at all times and I was at my place of work most of the days, the gallery received a few ‘red cards’, as the packages had to be signed for. The cards sent me to the new post office in WHSmiths, where I picked them up immediately and without any problems. I carried them back to the gallery and it felt like Christmas; opening up ‘presents’ in the form of an artwork and seeing what is hidden inside, is one of the most rewarding experiences in exhibition making.

When I opened the door of the gallery, I noticed another red card on the floor. Oh no, I just missed the mail carrier for 2 minutes! I quickly looked outside and all around, if I can maybe still spot him/her somewhere and run after him/her. Unfortunately nowhere in sight. I decided to walk to the post office, where the red card was sending me (Local Delivery Office at Railway Place), however, I forgot it was Saturday and the office was closed early. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I have been occupied by work that pays the bills, so my time to go to pick up the package again was Wednesday (we all know you and only you can pick up the package addressed to you). I woke up early in the morning, so I would definitely be at the post office soon enough, giving me enough time to finish setting up the exhibition, due to open the next day. I was prepared for every form of bureaucracy imaginable that they could throw at me. I had my official ID and an official letter from the customs (used for one of the other artworks) addressed to me personally with the gallery’s name and address. Bulletproof!

As I was very early, there was still no customers in the office, as well as no employees. I had to ring the little old school bell (dreams come true) for the woman to show up. I told her I am picking up the package, gave her the red card, my ID and the letter. She looked at me and my forms of identification and left for a few minutes. She came back with a package that had another name on, stating that I can’t pick up this package. Well, yes, I know that, this is not my package. I definitely know that the package I am expecting is a big tube with paintings from another EU country and the one she was giving me was a small box from somewhere in UK. She kept telling me that she can’t give me that package with me intensely responding that I don’t want that package and that there must be another one. We were at it for approximately 10 minutes and I could see the disapproving faces in the line of customers behind evil eyeing me, as in this is all my fault. The employee finally gets the manager and together they find my real package. Finally, I sighed with relief.

And you would think the story ended here, right? Oh, what wishful thinking. The woman took my ID again and the letter and informed me that she can’t give me the package, because the name on the package is not the same as my name. To clarify, the package was addressed to the gallery directly, that is why I had the official letter stating that I am a part of the gallery. She said that no, that is not enough and that she can’t give me the package because my name on the ID is not the same as the name of the gallery.

Excuse me, say what?? Another 10 minutes passed with me trying to explain to her that no one’s personal name is the same as the name of the gallery. And to add insult to injury, the gallery’s name consists of numbers (44AD)…. All my attempts of clarification falling on stony ground.

By that time, I was completely exhausted and still in shock, when she suggested something. The only thing that could be done was that she sends out the package again for the redelivery. Ok, this kind of sounds promising. I asked her when that would be. She said that one order of deliveries just went out, so my package would go out with the next one. Seeing as I couldn’t do anything else, I agreed on that, but only if the redelivery is going to be an urgent one, as I really really need the paintings, because the opening of the exhibition is the next day. Yes, yes, don’t worry ma’am, the package will be with you in the gallery ASAP. Ok, let’s go with that.

On my walk back to the gallery, I call the gallery director and tell her the whole story. She immediately finds her ID and proof that she is an official part of the gallery (if she couldn’t pick up the package, then who could??) and runs to the post office. The same woman greets her at the window and tells her that (of course) the package just went out for redelivery. The director demands to know why she wouldn’t give the package to me. Apparently because I didn’t show her my ID. Ummm, excuse me?? Oh, maybe I forgot to mention I was not born in UK, but have resided here for many years; however, my ID is still from the country where I have my official residency. Not only the employee didn’t give me the package addressed to me, because my name is not the same as the name of the gallery, but I also got discriminated by a public official for not being British! That for me was the last straw and she can only be happy I did not go back to the post office and demand to speak to her boss, considering her inappropriate behaviour. I still might do, because this is simply outrageous. But at that time I couldn’t as I was chained to the gallery, waiting for the urgent redelivery of the package. Heaven forbid I miss it again..

The hours upon hours passed and I was still waiting for the courier, very upset, as I was supposed to have this day to manage all the things around town I had to do before the opening of the exhibition. But making hay while the sun shines, I conducted various tasks in the gallery that did not have to be done at that time, but hey, what else could I do, just waiting and looking at the ceiling. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I was already very restless, without any food, as I didn’t plan to be in the gallery for that long and couldn’t go to the shop, because that would potentially mean missing the delivery. I called the post office to politely ask (yes, even I can’t imagine I was still very polite at that point) where my delivery is. They said it should arrive soon, no later than 6. Oh, ok. So that means two more hours in the cold gallery, all by myself. Yes, I have to do it, I need the artworks, I have to hang them on the wall today!

6 o’clock passed, the courier did not come yet. I call the post office again. They say: ma’am, today we are opened until 8, so it will come by then. Ummmmmm, are you kidding me?! Ok, I really don’t have any choice but to wait for the package. And then the time was 8.15 in the evening. The urgent package redelivery didn’t show up. I literally just wasted the whole day, waiting for the courier, who didn’t bother to show up! You can imagine how pissed I was!! Called the post office, no one was answering, of course, they were all away already at their warm homes, with full bellies. I locked the gallery door and went home. What else could I do, maybe wait just for a bit longer, to see if the courier got lost and is coming now?

The next morning I didn’t see any red cards, so it was safe to assume the courier did not get lost on the way to me, but just didn’t deliver my package. The director went to the post office again that morning and, served by another lady, finally got the package. You should’ve seen my tears of joy when I was finally holding it in my hands. The paintings went on the wall immediately and the gallery could open.

Not only I suffered immense stress because of the package not being delivered on time and the artist experiencing great anxiety thinking her artwork is lost, the incompetence of (some) employees of the post office and open discrimination of their customers should not be allowed and should be investigated thoroughly. I do not have any faith in the post office system here anymore and will never again be using it as means of sending the packages. Not to mention the ridiculous prices we as customers have to pay for them to NOT deliver our packages. Not only the price of money, but also the price of our health.

 

LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS:

  1. featured image: https://news.sky.com/story/hundreds-of-sub-postmasters-win-landmark-case-against-post-office-over-horizon-it-fiasco-11666249 ⌈downloaded: 4 October 2019⌋.

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