Witches from the mountains have kidnapped a young child belonging to some tourists. In a message to the local paper they threaten that if a large ransom is not paid they will turn the child into a fox. Special forces locate and then storm the encampment of the witches who flee into the barren, inhospitable foothills, leaving the child behind, to be found – curled and hidden beneath a pile of sacks – in a cave . The parents are relieved and consider themselves lucky in the reunion with their son. Only when he hits puberty is the truth revealed with the first signs of strange red hair that begins to sprout across his back, the lost, dark and feral look in his eyes. A nightmare.
Following on from my Heroes & Heroines of Live Art (First 110) T-Shirts project for the Live Art Development Agency’s tenth anniversary ‘presents’ series, LADA and I just released a kind of follow on – the ‘bonus’ Heroes & Heroines of Live Art Poster which features all 110 artists’ names in their appropriate (and not so appropriate) typefaces (see above for example). The posters are 1 Edition of 110, A0, signed and editioned on the back.
I wrote a text about the two works which was read in my absence by the performance maker Rajni Shah, at a LADA event at the Rochelle School, last Saturday.
(Not-so-relevant footnote: Rajni is also one of the two main models for the pictures I made for Forced Entertainment’s Void Story).
He wrote me about a friend, a long way back.
Who as a kid had had a set of seven pairs of underpants each with a day of week printed on them, written for some reason in German
one pair for each day of the week
she liked them she said
except for the peculiar feeling produced from time to time by wearing
the wrong pants on the wrong day
a feeling of perverse pleasure,
as though living the whole day under the wrong sign
or the living the whole day under a lie,
living life under mischief, a mis-naming,
the wrong name
even now he tells me,
keen to point out the obvious
a question of one voice
in another mouth
For his own part, he said, for a long time he more or less refused to wear clothes with any kind of writing on them at all
not liking to live under any kind of sign, right or wrong
or fearing what would happen in that space ‘under writing’,
like another friend of a friend
who’d refused to read novels for fear of the way he got taken over by the characters in them.
sometime or other all that snapped
and he started to like wearing words on clothes
especially simple words that said the something so simple simply that they could easily make an endless confusion
KETCHUP it said one shirt, a red one
since the one word text seemed to vacilate endlessly between appearing to declare a love or support for Ketchup,
or instead to indicate that the wearer was in some way ketchup
or instead, since the shirt was red, it was possible to maintain that this word ketchup simply reffered to its colour.
None of these readings, not one of them, being certain in any case
He wrote me:
When it came to LADA and the Birthday I wanted to make tshirts
and the thought I had was about the pleasure in wearing another person
or wearing another person’s name
I was thinking about a white work tunic I’d bought second hand somewhere years back
a strange looking Muji style thing
largely cotton but with some faint taste of nylon in the mix
on the shoulder of which was a name tag, complete with a company logo, beneath which it said in bold and clear bright red letters
itallic, embroidered script the single word, anothers’ name
I found it odd to wear this shirt.
Perhaps to do with not liking to be Tony
but it made me (he wrote) know something about the power of the worn name
the strange double of one voice in another mouth
For the Live Art Development Agency (he wrote) I made one shirt for each person
each person a hero or heroine of live art
whatever that might mean
and I liked the idea (he wrote)
not of mass production
(how many t-shirts say Madonna, Bruce Lee or Bruce Springsteen?)
but instead a kind of modest one to one
one shirt per person of these Live Art Heroes & Heroines,
bestowing a kind of intimate fandom,
modest, human scale
or else (he wrote)
as with the ketchup,
perhaps these shirts convene a kind of masking or impersonation
the guy wearing the Alastair McLennan shirt (when it’s finally sold) might be *being him* for a moment,
I guess I don’t trust much or care about the top 100 anything
that whole MOMA Series of the top 100 performances they plan can rot in Hell
just like i don’t find it too hard to turn off the best 100 adverts or the top 100 screen kisses or whatever
I mean for me the Heroes & Heroines of Live Art (first 110) was more a less an absurdity, a mockery but with and despite all that
i do like names (he wrote)
and how they circulate
and the names that mean most to me
are those that contain what Greil Marcus once called a secret history
a secret knowledge
and i liked the chance, on these t-shirts, to whisper some of those names that have been important to me
out into the world again
passed from mouth to mouth, life to life,
live art to life art
to nod to some of the people that changed things for me
probably changed things for all of us here
people whose work I saw and which touched me
or those perhaps a way to nod to those whose stories or documents wound a strange route to me
in sheffield say
when glancing at a book or some internet picture
i got that spine-tingling feeling
as many people here did no doubt
get that spine-shaking feeling
of connection to an action that happened long time back, or short time back
in another room
far away in space
and with it always a story and a name
from this often secret history
today we launch the poster
Live Art Heroes & Heroines (First 110) – bearing all 110 names in my list, each name in its dedicated typeface
and T-shirts bearing fabulous legendary names are still on sale
just one of each
roll up roll up
happy birthday again LADA
keep up the good work
get em while they’re fresh
coming at you not exactly live and certainly indirect
Let us remind you that there is no life-guard around our swimming pool and that it is open without any time limitation. Its cleanliness is secured by means of a “robot creepy crawler”. You can take your moonlight swims without worries – we only beg you not to remove the robot – should it be taken out of the water it would cause irremediable damage.
(The reality of the scene at the apartment-complex swimming pool late at night was regrettably somewhat less strange than that summoned above.)
“I could hear human activity outside and I hoped I could be part of it again some time but I knew I wasn’t ready…”
Michael Clark interview, at The Guardian.
Been listening to The Slits album Cut again after, er, something of a pause. I wasn’t doing the maths but it’s apparently 30 years since it was recorded. Sounds very fresh. Somehow came across a link to the bands 1978 Peel Sessions put up for download by someone.
Meanwhile, just so it’s not all old music around here I’m putting in a word for, DOOM’s most recent Born Like This, esp the tracks That’s That and Gazzillion Ear both of which I’ve been playing often since Berlin. Pure crazed delight in language, breathtaking, robust and playful, genius.
For my project at the Biennale a team of men will sell fake designer bags on the streets of Venice. Fifty performers will appear each night, dispatching in different directions through the city without discernible pattern or plan. The cast will comprise a group of African men – immigrants legal or otherwise, whose diverse stories of arrival, struggle and (dis)incorporation into the social, economic and political structures of Southern Europe sketch out an unspoken background for the work. Each of the performers will carry up to 30 bags looped on their arms as they walk, the luggage (bearing logos Gucci, YSL, Prada, Armani, Guess, Moschino etc) forming great harvest bundles of gold and black, sea blues and deep sea greens.
At agreed locations in the city each performer will place his collection of bags on the ground in front of him, arranging the combination of handbags, clutch bags, purses, shoulder bags, small luggage and holdalls into some temporary installation on the paving slabs, never shouting for business but simply standing once the bags are laid out and waiting calmly. Sometimes in particular places a few performers will congregate for a while; at the end of the Campo San Stefano for example or in the Campo San Angelo a small group will stand or sit together against a particular wall, not far from a drinking fountain, always keeping in sight the bags set out some distance in front of them.
In a process of pedestrian ebb and flow my work will explore the movements of this mass mobile sales-team, their trajectories in the streets of Venice and their animation of urban space, marking both the city's paths and at the same time evoking its shadow economy, whose replica goods shadow those of the daytime stores, a night-time mirror, echo or distortion of the Capitalist real. Later in the evening the performers will take different routes to disperse in the city again – standing still in new places for special solo scenes on its bridges or on its street-corners or else waiting in narrow crowded alleyways alone, with ten or so bags each, like strangely burdened statues, caught out of place in the press and pull of the night-time throngs.
The performers will project a sense of calm, still, self-composure which will mark them out from the restless tourist throng as much as the colour of their skin, so different from that of the mainly Caucasian visitors to the city. Looked at from any kind of remove the project's bag sellers will seem to have stepped in sideways from another reality or universe, which indeed, in many ways, they will have, both as immigrants and as artworks inhabiting the everyday.
At intervals through each night the performers will act as though they fear some invisible threat, most likely the imminent arrival of the police – looking around, gathering their bags and sometimes moving on, not hurriedly but shifting place in any case with a particular urgency and purpose, vanishing to the narrower side streets only to reappear some short while later, to stand with their goods again in new locations, like ghosts compelled always to return. Building on the above, a few times each night, the 50 performers will run together from one part of the island to another, forming a wave of human and knock-off designer goods that builds and ripples from square to to square, corner to corner; a stampede that gathers up new runners and their wares as it passes through street after street, building past the pace of a decent jog, getting faster and faster. The men will always run in silence, though, only the sound of their feet and their breathing impacting the ambience of the city as they move through it.
Somewhat retrospective, thanks to near-zero internet the last ten days.
There are two theories about Venice. One is that the people you see on the gondolas are the dead, transported though the narrow streets on the dark green waters to take a last glimpse of life on earth. Lain back in each others arms they are gazing up at the buildings from their mobile sarcophogi, hoping to catch a last glimpse of some loved one on a sunlit bridge or to see some relative or friend disappearing down a shadowed alley. All day their boats are heading this way and that on this kind of idle farewell tour, steered in an out of the sun and circulated by those cheery but absent-eyed stripy-topped guys, angels of death, all day until the time is come and the gondolas head out en masse, out of the maze of the city and towards the islands of the dead, where they’ll give up their passengers to the darkness. Yesterday, as the sun began to sink I saw two gondolas full of dead Japanese guys, heading out of the canals towards the open water, in a strangely excited state, mutually photographing each other in all directions, cameras pointing from one boat to the other with much gesticulation, shouts, laughter and calls for attention, then turns and more gesticulations to photograph the inhabitants of their own boats, as if each, photographing the photographers whilst themselves being photographed, were somehow determined to catch the final moment of their departure.
The other theory is that those of us walking on the islands of Venice are the dead, and that the people in the gondolas are living, tourists in fact, come here for daytrips to see what our echo of a life is like. Up here on the land we are going about our business (which is not much), walking here and there, eating in the cafes, sweating, laughing, talking, going through what we might think of as an echo of our former lives, staged here in this this endless ruined filmset, with its endlessly interrupted and incomplete tangle of streets. All day the tourists gawp at us, staring up to see again and again how lifelike, and yet how strange we dead are. All day they drift past on the gondolas, going through the dark passages of the canals, taking photographs as best they can of the liminal space we inhabit, capturing at 8 or 9 or even 12 megapixels our glorious decay and that of our dead city, and at night they retreat, heading off to safer places, the mainland, home.
My copy of Nabakov meanwhile, used these days as much as a weapon as it as a reading book, accumulates mosquito blood.
In X’s apartment I develop a new way of killing the mosquitos that lurk each night on the ceiling, a method that involves launching the book, face upwards, in sudden vertical movement all the way to the ceiling. It’s a joy like lift off at Houston to see the book thundering directly upwards to smash into an insect on the white plaster high above with a satisfying thump. The upstairs neighbors must love this too, esp when I am dancing around in glee at my (too rare) latenight success. I imagine this would be a strange death though. Sensing nothing perhaps, or only feeling the terminal updraft, or else glimpsing a dark rectangle, ominous, mysterious, headed at high speed, perhaps turning mosquito head slightly to make out the looming words of the title Speak, Memory before sudden oblivion.
I have often noticed that after I bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently it became more closely identified with my novel than with my former self, where it seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist. Houses have crumbled in my memory as soundlessly as they did in the mute films of yore, and the portrait of my old French governess, whom I once lent to a boy in one of my books, is fading fast, now that it is engulfed in the description of a childhood entirely unrelated to my own.
[Nabakov, in Speak, Memory]
‘Dr Paine of the Space Center in Houston says: “This flight was a triumph for the squares of this world who aren’t ashamed to say a prayer now and then.” Is this the great adventure of space? Are these men going to take the step into regions literally unthinkable in verbal terms? To travel in space you must leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, country talk, mother talk, love talk, party talk. You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to live alone in silence. Anyone who prays in space is not there.’
[From: Word Virus. The Williams Burroughs Reader. Eds J Grauerholz & I Silverberg. London: Flamingo]
My work City Changes will be presented as part of Göteborg Biennial which runs from September 5 – November 15 2009. Titled What A Wonderful World, the show is curated by Celia Prado and Johan Pousette. As preparation my friend the curator Ben Borthwick and I had a conversation about the work, focused on City Changes and the process of making it, the 7,500 words of which have been artfully excerpted (or chopped) to what’s below, to feature in the Biennal catalogue. If I get time (which may take some time) I’ll post the full version here later on. In the meantime thanks to Ben for the great conversation, and to Hester for the transcription.
BB: With City Changes what strikes me is that it takes a kind of Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis model but instead of synthesis being an end point, you imagine that it could go on reversing itself forever. Can you talk about how you structured the piece and how you thought about the movement from one text to the next?
TE: I was interested to create a text work that allowed me to archaeologise the process that had gone into it. We understand that speech is provisional; that speaking is a temporary, sketching process, but there’s always a temptation to present written textual artefacts as somehow solid or permanent. I’ve always been tuned to the fact that a text is somehow just a layering of the different choices that are made in its writing.
One influence for City Changes was the ‘track changes’ function in word processing software which I’d come across working on multi-authored admin documents. Rewritten by several persons these documents become colourful, slightly schizophrenic, endlessly commented on, cut and expanded. I began to think about these ‘layered documents’ as a form I could explore.
City Changes is a binary writing task, in which I describe and re-describe a city – first as an urban space of stasis and then as one that changes all the time. In the beginning, I was keeping daily track of the changes, colour coding them. So every morning, I re-wrote what I’d written the day before but I slowed down a bit for a while because it was doing my head in! What attracted me, I suppose, was this idea of archaeologising – making choices visible and exploring these contradictory versions of urban space.
BB: Did you start with certain models for cities in mind? Some are very clear – the totalitarian city, the psychedelic city, the neo-liberal ‘libertarian’ city – and then others are more opaque; they don’t quite fit any clear model of cities we know or recognise.
TE: I didn’t pre-plan it – I approached it much more as a kind of live improvising game, unfolding over several weeks. I wrote the first text and for the second simply made cheeky changes to reverse its meaning. After that, each time I revisited the text I was discovering new ways that I could propose either stillness or change. Partly it was about identifying models, as you suggest; thinking about cities and the languages and structures that are used to define them. Just as often though my approach emerged from the writing in quite a macro way. I saw it as a poetic job as well as a conceptual one, but it also felt strangely like how I think making sculpture must feel -because you’re always stuck working with this object that’s left from the day before. You might really wish you hadn’t deleted that word, or you’re sick to death of a particular sentence but you’re wary what happens to the object if you erase it. It was a very interesting moment-by-moment improvisational process that felt like a battle between two parts of myself; the part of me that loves or thrives in disorder or chaos, or the part of me that loves change versus the part of me that likes some peace and quiet.
BB: Which of the cities would you want to live in?
TE: I was very happy with the city where everything was fossilised. The stasis it summoned seemed really permanent.
BB: [Laughs] But to live in?
TE: [Also laughing] I don’t know.
BB: How do you situate your different practices in performance, writing and art practice in relation to each other?
TE: I used to find it almost impossible to reconcile my different activities, but lately I’ve been thinking about things that pull them together despite the shifts I make between forms. The first through-line is the way that my works occupy, or unfold in, time and space. There’s also this sense that often I’m co-opting the reader/viewer as a kind of active, imaginative agent who will unpack what I’ve done, at least in the works that involve language… So both sculpting time and space, and using language to conjure or make events and to pull viewers into relations with imagined objects, actions or spaces seem like useful frames around the work.
BB: What about the production process? You often work with a group…
TE: Of course all the work I’ve done with Forced Entertainment has been produced in a constant negotiation of the opinions and whims of six or more other people! By comparison, I’m often not answerable to anybody else in the space of either writing as writing or art-making, which opens some different possibilities.
BB: City Changes emerged from a shared editing processes, while in the work itself you’ve taken that collective process and made it a form for your solitary practice.
TE: I hadn’t thought of that. City Changes is absolutely a process of contestation – I’m writing and re-writing so that in the end every word in the text gets flipped or spun in some way. I suppose in one sense I’m mischievously re-enacting the kinds of contestation that go on when working with others. In one sense it’s flat, and in another sense what you get is me arguing with myself!
BB: One of the really striking aspects of the piece is the use of colour. Did you just follow whatever arbitrary colour scheme the software offered you, or have you used colours that evoke the moods in each scenario? I mean, it has a very clinical look to it but then there’s this vibrant colour scheme.
TE: I started with the most obvious colour – red, then did the next set in blue and so on. Making 20 versions you soon run out of easily distinguishable colours and the palette gets more and more complex. There’s some delight in the way that a procedure like the colour-coding, which is meant to generate transparency, in fact generates more confusion.
BB: What’s important to you about having this archaeological view on its own production? What’s your interest in archives?
TE: The interest is basically political because the twentieth century, and the twenty-first so far, have produced this kind of Capitalism that’s increasingly obsessed with surfaces –presenting artefacts that have their production hidden. Perhaps coming from performance, my interest is more in failure and in failing bodies, in processes that are visible and exposed. I’m interested to make objects that declare their contingency and their failure to a certain extent – that declare the fact that they are formed out of intention or intentions –the fact that they arise from, out of, processes. I find that important in face of a politics, and a cultural context, so based on hermetic positions and statements.
BB: One of the ways I read City Changes is as a kind of score, both formally and in the narratives. It brings to mind the work of someone like Steve Reich, or Bruce Nauman, or Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, where they will start with a phrase and then explore the possibilities of that phrase from different perspectives…
TE: I love these kinds of structural approaches to meaning-making – in sound, language, dance, even in more pictorial practices. I’ve never been interested in writing that won’t acknowledge its status as writing, as arrangements of signs coded in a particular way. Of course that’s what people like Steve Reich, Nauman, or Georges Perec have done by exploring simple forms and rules – creating structures where, as a viewer or listener, you can start to see what the system is and therefore you can read decisions or moves that are being made. I find that much more interesting than some idea of supposed freedom.
Ben Borthwick is a curator and writer who works at Tate Modern, where he has curated exhibitions like Rodchenko and Popova, Gilbert & George, and The Irresistible Force. He is a specialist in sound related practices and, in addition to curating Bill Fontana and Bruce Nauman’s sound installations in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, he contributes to the music magazine The Wire. In 2008, he co-founded the public art organization Butcher’s that has done projects with Tim Etchells, Marcos Chaves and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa.
N (who is 5) says these words of greeting as I walk out of the train station and towards the car.
You're a bad man sometimes. You say you can fly but really you are walking. Is that right?
C wrote: this lake is actually very deep and supposed to have a british plane from WW II in it, with it's pilot/the remains of him… It is in the East and they say that the GDR neither had the money to look for the plane nor did they care. If my diving brings light into the story, i'll let you know.
Just to say that I finally went into the bank today and organised the transfer of the fee for your lovely Vienna text. Thanks again.
They told me the transfer should take a week or so.
The woman who served me at the bank wanted to know what country you were in. I told her Lebanon. She said "is that a country?" I said, er, yes. She said she never heard of it. She explained that she thought that Lebanon was a language, possibly connected to Libya. I said no, it's a country. A small one. Where? She wanted to know. I said bordering Israel, Syria, Jordan.
She shrugged. She said "You learn something every day".
I'm sorry about this. Also – it's not intended as an excuse if the money is late – the personal knowledge of the bank tellers does not affect the money transfer.
all the best
She takes you by the arm and leads you to the bushes by the road, up at the place where the street on the hill joins the much larger road, just by the tower of the hospital, intent on smelling these flowers for which she does not know the name in English.
Look, she says, "Jorgovan! Lovely. What are they called here?"
You don't know.
"So beautiful. Jorgovan. The partisans loved these. So many songs about them, how the "jorgovan" are in blossom and how happy the partisans are.."
as we stand waiting in the subway one rough looking quasi-homeless guy ahead of us on the platform stoops to pour water from a bottle down into the gulley of the tracks. His friend meanwhile squats on the tiles that bounce florescent light and holds his hands out to wash them in the stream of water, the excess falling, dispersed/redirected and unseen to the ground below.
X mentions a couple he met (English/French) who when speaking of their already bilingual kid mentioned that they will soon 'introduce' Chinese. What you mean X asked – you're going to learn Chinese? No, they'll just hire some nanny-type person to speak Chinese to the kid. X looks a bit blank. Chinese, the mother says, it's the economic language of the future. To teach him that – it's a great investment we can make for him.