She and her boyfriend both got tattoos. Egyptian, she thinks that symbol is, but it’s not a hieroglyph. What does it mean? Truth she says. We liked truth and we liked Heaven. Now I think of it it, she adds, leaning in to speak from the front passenger seat of the taxi, it seems strange we chose Truth over Heaven. I ask are they still together? No, it was some years ago. He's in XXX now, she says – another country. (And I think later – the tattoos, two truths that were close together and are now far apart).
For Istanbul Bienale this year my project will take place beside the sunlit and heavily jammed highway leading to Ataturk airport. There, in the shade of a large traffic sign, seated as some other men might seat themselves in the shade of a tree, five men will crouch to eat their lunch, fingers passing food on the grass beneath the sign, their bodies at the same time shaded, framed and contained by the lopsided rectangle of its shadow.
We have started to get some doubts about the reality show we are in. First – in many years there have been no evictions. Second – the tasks they set are so different than in the other shows. Some of the theatre projects I am involved in (for example) – many of the productions take six months to complete. Any reality show I ever saw the tasks don't take more than a week, mostly lasting a day or so. Participants might be asked to stage a pantomime in a garden, or to learn and perform comical monologues… but the kind of avant garde stuff I'm required to do most of the time is another thing altogether. The job my brother does is so completely different to mine that it's hard to see how we are being judged side by side. I am not complaining that it's not fair – just saying that it makes no sense. At the very least we are starting to think that the show we are in has a very different structure to say Big Brother or I Am A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (or Top Model or Beauty & The Beast) and makes quite different demands on our time and our skills. Third – no diary room or confession cam. In fact the house has no camera installations at all that we are aware of, tho we assume of course that there are video recording systems concealed somewhere/somehow – otherwise the whole of what we're doing here (and all the great material we are generating day in day out) would be wasted, no? Fourth. No shouting or applause from outside the house at night (apart from the drunks etc). In fact there are so few restrictions on our movements that the whole concept of the shows' location – supposedly or at least conventionally 'a house' – is a bit nebulous. Some people reckon it's hard to say that X or Y are still 'competing' if they go on holiday to France for several weeks any time they feel like it? Or perhaps their alleged holiday is a ruse, stunt or invention of the production company running the show, a device designed to put pressure on those of us who remain? But who remains and why in any case? The mechanisms lack any kind of transparency at our end. Perhaps the viewers get more info than we do. Similar questions have been raised about the economic downturn and the so-called swine flu rumoured to be sweeping the city outside – none of us really feels confident that these events have much integrity, although the scale of them (and the potential complexity of simulating them), as well as their as-yet-entirely nebulous impact on daily life in the 'house' make them at least questionable (and surely dis-economic) as effective interventions. Finally we're drawn to discuss the severity of some of the tasks or challenges. In 2004 I underwent two bouts of serious cardiac surgery and long periods in the hospital, as well as long times recovering at home in the house. As 'challenges' for a contestant in a reality show these seem dangerous, exaggerated and even irresponsible. Some contestants I met in the hospital later died as a result of their ordeal. Last night Z wrote a long letter to the producers of the show and has posted it in several of the windows since we lack any established mode of contact with them, demanding both an explanation of the rules and a complete reform and reinvigoration of the structure. As yet we have heard nothing.
Somehow connected to the booklets outlining virtual events that I’ve been working on and to the recent writing I did on the Michelangelo Pistoletto installation at Venice, I came across this great Pistoletto project from 1976 – One Hundred Exhibitions in the Month of October comprising a series of proposals for exhibitions/works all thought up and described during that month. The quite comprehensive Pistoletto website says “One Hundred Shows was a sort of recipe book of exhibitions and works, many of which were later carried out; these include the video Who Are You? (1976), Overturned Furniture (1976), The Hoof (1979), Segno Arte (from 1993 on) and Free Space (1999)”.
Instead of drawing on the road or on the sidewalk as beggars do, I fix broken pieces of public places, taking as one does when restoring works of art, a color Polaroid before and one after the job. Next to the photograph I explain how my father, besides being a painter, also taught me restoration and how I now make art restoring the world where it is broken.I leave my hat next to the finished job in the hopes of a penny or two. Besides showing a global view of the world, this work attracts attention to minimal details. It also shows the evident separation between the artificial world, which can be restored, and the natural world, which is always perfect and therefore cannot be restored.
Completely empty gallery. There is a sign at the entrance saying: “Each person, before entering, must write in the book which part he is going to play inside the room.”
Another great resource I came across recently is The Diary Reinvented by Ian Breakwell, hosted at Anthony Reynolds website and made as part of Ian’s AHRC fellowship project at Central Saint Martins. Breakwell died in 2005 and much of his work comprised on-going diary projects, shifting between text, drawing and photography. There’s so much great material at The Diary Reinvented it’s hard to know where to start – and exploring there already led me on something of an Amazon jag getting hold of books and a BFI DVD of Ian’s TV Diary project, short video works and other stuff.
I chose a couple of Breakwell’s diary fragments to quote below. What’s fascinating to me – aside from the great blank comic tone, and the eye on (often scatological) urban detail – is that it’s such vivid visual writing. And in many of the entries there’s a kind of clear or evident visual grammar to the event or scene described – a symmetry, or an echoing, a set of lines traced, a mirroring, a colour link between one thing and another and so on that really makes one thing about linguistic composition in very particular way. The first of the entries below is great for how it multiplies and escalates from the first image, whilst the second of them I love for the set of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines and traces it draws in the space of three sentences.
16th April 1982
Two young girls on the tube train sniffing glue out of plastic bags. They try to talk to each other but give up and sit side by side picking their noses. A girl sitting on a street bench with a fibre-tipped pen stuck up her nose. Glue-heads stumbling round the fruit market, sniffing out of plastic bags and eating peaches, juice running down their chins. The taste of summer: peaches and glue.
13th February 1982
London. Butts Café, St John Street, EC1
A man carrying a polythene bag full of tongues sits down at the café table alongside a woman who is scratching her leg. A man walks past the window with the headless carcase of a deer on his shoulders. On the other side of the street the second-floor window of the Dream City Massage Parlour For Men is raised and a slender hand with long red fingernails slips through the gap between the curtains and flicks the ash from a cigarette out onto the street below where a man with his trousers round his ankles is shitting in a doorway.
In the event that any of this is news to anyone here you can also find online various older press and blog reactions, mostly from last year when the hardback came out. There are reviews at Scotland on Sunday, at Frieze, at Big Dumb Object, at Popdose, and from Marcus Gipps. There are interviews with me about the book at Metroand (once again) at Big Dumb Object. If you’re inclined that way you can even become fan of the book on Facebook, tho I have to say that making a direct link to that here is beyond my ability and current attention span.
I’d heard about but then somehow ‘forgotten’ the Pistoletto installation only to ‘remember’ it immediately on entering the gallery in Venice – a narrative scenario which must account for a lot of encounters with art these days (arriving to see the thing you have already had described at some length). The line of second-hand description in my head was a warning about how dead the scene of the work might feel, comprising as it does the residue of a performance in which a room lined with large mirrors in ornate gold frames have been smashed, the floor now littered with broken mirror shards, the mirrors themselves still hung there floor to ceiling, cracked and shattered in diverse ways. But somehow I wasn’t even drawn to even try imagining the past action of breaking the mirrors, happy instead to find the life in the room at the moment of my being there, seeing everything via its doubling into partial and repeated reflection. I liked that. The reality of the room and the people in it cut up, distorting through the crack lines in the mirrors, the whole scene endlessly fragmented/absented/replayed in part by the holes and shards of what reflective surface remained.
A space of stories, pasts, associations. I had to think of Pistoletto’s long journey thru his work with the mirror and reflections, as well as recalling Andre Stitt’s motto “art is not mirror it is a fucking hammer“, itself a re-versioning of Mayakovsky’s “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
More than anything though I loved the accidental drawings and large scale Rorsarch tests producing by the breaking of the mirrors and the partial revelation of the blackness of their backing – bold graphic shapes that here and there brought to mind figures, or animals, whilst elsewhere they resisted any kind of narrative ‘reading’; each mirror a set of cracks, shapes and holes that both incorporated the world as reflection and blanked it as absence. Thinking a lot about what art can capture and what it cannot, about these formal compositions in identical rectangular frames, produced by violence and to a certain extent by chance – contained or frozen chaos. About what we see of reality even, and what escapes us.
Later there was Saburo Murakami’s Muttso no Ana (Six Holes) (1955) – a set of rents and holes torn or poked into brown paper stretched on a timber structure, so simple and perfect, violent, echo of an action, beautiful – again with this form of an object that both gives and denies a view on the world.
Later still there was Roman Ondak’s Slovak Pavillion which fashioned the interior of the space as a kind of compacted extension of the exterior, planting trees and bushes throughout, a path running down through the centre, as if the inside were no inside at all. There was a hint of ruin here, a faint suggestion that the space for culture had somehow been abandoned and partly overgrown, though still so evidently tended of course and with no drama added to the building, no theatrical decay. Instead here outside and inside have simply folded into each other, to make a kind of Escher space, at once genuinely perplexing and completely banal. This sense you see often in Roman’s work I guess – that the work can be simply an amplification of (or focus pull on) something already present or implicit. And/or that, however deliberate, clever, and articulate the placing of the work is, it also, somehow, aspires to invisibility.
Our work, our trade, our business, like that of certain drug dealers, doctors and psychiatrists perhaps is always one way or another the job of slowing time or the shattering of it, or the stretching, bending or speeding of it. The big clock of the now bent double, forced to a limit, or cranked up, condensed to hell. The strange yet necessary job we have in rooms like these, of getting time to drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.
I love those strange gaps or holes in time which appear in performance, in rooms like this one, gaps or holes that deny physics, break the clock, where you think for a moment that time has stopped or slowed, or that it was stopped or forgotten but that now in now this moment only it has started again, remembered. I love the ways in which – watching – you are forced (connected to – seduced, tricked, lulled or self hypnotized) to abandon the sense of time – to let go of time here perhaps, to somehow enter another. Or to enter that temporary space where time does not notice, does not matter.
Or conversely. To enter the space where time is instead highly marked, measured, marched, announced, eked out, dripped like water clock or water torture, ticked and tocked. No forgetting, no transport, just the click clack of feet, the clatter of fingers on keyboard, the fact of here and now. One. Nothing. Two. Nothing. Three. Nothing. Four. Five. Connected to blankness and complexity.
[A fragment of mine on time, which appeared in different versions, here and there in various lecture texts I’ve done in the last few years].
Next day we’re at the Iceland Pavilion in the Palazzo Michiel dal Brusà, a 14th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal near the Rialto. shows his ongoing performance/installation/project (not sure what the right word is there) titled The End. He’s working each day to paint a portrait of the same guy – his model for the project (Haukur Bjornsson, also a painter) – and there’s something truly wonderful about the space he’s creating. You feel time differently, that’s for sure. The studio sprawls towards the open doors at the far end, opening to the water in beautiful afternoon light. Canvases lean and hang everywhere, the floor and tables are strewn with paints, beer bottles, wine bottles…. music plays from a cd player, a few old chairs, an acoustic guitar. Ragnar is talkative and friendly when we arrive (I know him a bit from Manifesta last year), while Haukur lies more or less naked and more or less asleep on the green sofa, a blanket draped over his midriff. For a moment or two the project they present looks like it could be a mockery of what an artists life might be at this point – there’s something colonial, dandyish, almost 19th century about the scene – but at the same time it’s quite genuinely idyllic, warm, generous. We chat about this and that. For some reason I’m explaining that the t-shirt I’m wearing features a text description of Texas Chain Saw Massacre until Haukur waking/stirring corrects me – it’s The Hills Have Eyes of course, he points out. These dandy types know their schlock B-horror movies. We laugh a bit.
I guess more than anything what you feel in there, at The End, is the slowing of time, the entry onto another continuum – it’s a six month project, six months that they’ll be there, six months on one portrait a day, only the ebb and flow of visitors and the shifting light marking the hours as different, the paint accumulating week in week out on the canvases – at once boring and gripping I guess, the same body in the same room endlessly re-seen with the same eyes, portrayed with the same tools, intense macro focus. You feel the commitment of time, the commitment to time, slow time, the taking of time, and in the rush of Venice (and the drastic schedule some of us are on constantly) you can take a deep breath in this space, which is really something of a gift. An impossibility (of many different kinds) made manifest.
On the way out check we check Ragnar’s video work in a side space – a darkened room with five projections which time and space have been remixed quite differently. On each screen there’s a winter scene – mountains, ice, snow (the Rocky Moutains in fact) – and in each of these landscapes we see Kjartansson again, sometimes alone, sometimes with another guy (musician Davið Þór Jónsson), mostly in longshot, other times in mid-shot. In each case they’re playing instruments… on one screen a grand piano, on another a banjo plus mic, in yet another it’s a drum kit stood at the edge of a lake or by a line of snow laden trees. Their isolated exterior figures, always dwarfed by the landscape, attempt (and succeed in making) a kind of long distance musical jam, their song building between the audio of the separate projections. It’s like the inverse of the 6 month focus on one model in one room in the heat of Venice, instead a fifteen minute dispersal and repetition of Kjartansson (and Jónsson) in set of distant exteriors.
Following on from my scurrilous Events at The Downturn series of virtual events for Amsterdam earlier this year, this week sees the publication of a new programme of unlikely, impossible, disgusting and largely imaginary events, this time for Forest Fringe up in Edinburgh during the festival there. Titled Summer Specials: EVERYTHING MUST GO, you can pick up a copy of the pamphlet at Forest Fringe, Bristo Hall, above The Forest Cafe, on Bristo Place, 5 minutes walk from the high street. Forest Fringe is a miniature festival within the festival, trying to make space at the Edinburgh Fringe for the kind of work that might not otherwise find a home there. Co-directed by Andy Field and Deborah Pearson Forest Fringe is now in its third iteration and this year has stuff from Ant Hampton, Third Angel and many others. I’ll be doing yet a third virtual programme (and a lecture on my work) for a project called Playtime at Bentonsalon in Paris in the Autumn.
“Drone … plane … sky …” I mumbled my words, closed my eyes and waited for the whoosh of a missile.
The commander and his men laughed. “These are media lies, that Americans can see us,” he said. “Look now, we are a big group of Taliban. There are 200 men here and they can’t see us. We believe in God, so don’t be scared.”
Another fighter spoke up: “If you stand still in the dark and not move they can’t see you. It’s written in the Qu’ran.”
On the way to the camp I had been told of other drone-dodging techniques. If you are on a motorcycle and the drone fires a missile, jump off and the missile will follow the motorcycle. If you are with a large group, stop, like musical statues, and the drone will confuse you with the trees.
“These trips have their own lingo, I learned, as part of the traveling press corps assigned to chronicle every speech, handshake and hug. “Bi-lats” are bilateral meetings. “Meet-n-greets” are visits to American embassies. “Camera sprays” are essentially photo opportunities, usually staged and no questions allowed, and “spray” can be used as a noun, as in, “there’s a camera spray at 2 p.m. with President X” or as a verb — “come on guys, time to spray the lunch.” The secret service on her plane refer to their M-4 assault rifles as their “sticks.” The secretary of state is called “the package.””
“In eastern Congo, we needed to use two planes to land at a small airport and Mrs. Clinton’s plane circled in the air for 15 minutes so journalists could land first, set up their cameras and get the arrival shot of her, the first secretary of state to swoop into Congo’s conflict zone, despite the fact this very area has been a killing field since the mid-1990s.”
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 Posterwhich 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