2 October 2007

Vlatka got a new book from the often very smart and enjoyable artists projects/publisher Bookworks. Their Worldview by Emma Kaye and Under Hempel’s Sofa by Virgil Tracy are two of my favourites. The new one is Letters 2004–2006: Confirmation That You Still Exist; I Respect Your Authority; When Will It End; One London by Martin John Callanan (2007)

The blurb says:

“Callanan’s work explores apparatuses of power. Gathered here are the responses to his mass letter writing. Each letter poses a deceptively simple question or even inane rhetorical statement and the collected responses reveal the absurdity of bureaucracy and the egos of those that claim power.

Collected here are a selection of responses to a series of letters mailed between 2004-06, ranging from the bemused response of the Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury to the question “When will it end?” to appreciative letters from the offices of President Mubarak of Egypt in response to the declaration “I respect your authority”.

Callanan has some very nice projects documented on his site greyisgood. One of the letter-writing ones – called Confirmation That You Still Exist – is also documented in full there. For it “Letters were written to UK leaders, appointed leaders, and representatives. Confirmation was sought of their existence. This was done under the ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000’.”

The desperate dryness and bureaucracy of the responses from Buckingham Palace through the Houses of Parliament contain a kind of residual melancholy, with the entities compelled by law to respond to a request that is effectively meaningless. I think what’s beautiful about his work is the utter blankness of the statements or questions he employs – there’s a kind of monosyllabic theatre to them, which seems far from the extended or baroque forms of letter-writing, video and telephone pranksterism we’re more or less drowning in these days.

“I confirm..” writes one weary official in response to Callanan “…on behalf of the Department of Health, that Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, still exists.”