No Known Complete Protection

30 December 2008

“There is no known complete protection from the breakup event except to prevent its occurrence.”

True. From the NASA report, published yesterday, on the breakup of the Challenger Space Shuttle. More in the NYT.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, N. Wayne Hale, Jr., a former head of the shuttle program, said, “I call on spacecraft designers from all the other nations of the world, as well as the commercial and personal spacecraft designers here at home, to read this report and apply these lessons which have been paid for so dearly.”

Looks like Ballard was right. It’s not the writers who get the best sentences these days. It’s the engineers. Beautiful.


Poor Signal


See also.


In less apocalyptic mode Will Ashon invited me to do a “best books/art/dance etc of the year” which is now posted, along with contributions from a whole bunch of other people at his blog Vernaland.


22 December 2008

Local newspapers carried a typical story of a man who had been sending text messages out of a coma. How he had been in that coma a long long time in a hospital of the city and how all family and nurses and all that had by then got used to the slow rise and fall of his breathing, the ocassional twitching of fingers, shifting of toes, movement caused by evacuation of bowels etc. And then how the mother of the guy one day went by to visit, unexpected and alone one winter afternoon and noticed his thumb was moving, twitching, nervous, circling, stark against the white sheets. And how one thing led to another and a small crowd assembled to stare, and how when his uncle came by he remarked that with all that movement it looked like the man might be texting in his 'sleep'. And although laughing and incredulous, larking around almost they tried it with a old Nokia that belonged to his step-dad, just like the one he had before, and his mate Kev or Baz (according to different reports), bent his hand around it, the digits a strange combination of eager and inert. Also how the brother begged them not to do all this, saying that it was all too much disrespect, too much against nature, that "they should leave him coma in peace" (sic) but that reason prevailed and soon there was a near dead man lying horizontal, familly and a few stray nurses/night-porters gathered round and the phone in his hand. Of the thumbs continued movements, and the texts he started to send. Strange texts the paper said, very strange. As if maybe written in a texting slang of another era, or in the code-word argot of some unknown teenage tribe, or maybe perhaps gibberish. They called in a psychic, a texting expert, a poet etc to pass for a panel of opinion and still none the fucking wiser. Paper reprinted a few of them messages also. Dumb combinations of letters that did not make words, but chilling sounds and people of that town wrote in to claim that they could read messages printed there but no one really confirmed or believed. A few weeks running the papers featured the bloke, in many editions, with a few pictures and all speculations about what strange zone he was communicating from, between life and death they said, most likely. Local radio even used his texts as an introduction to songs each Saturday morning and invited listeners to call in or even send their own texts to interpret them. But then came the matter of his bill, and in the end, what with the familly skint and the general down-turn, there was no one that wanted to keep paying it and communications, 'such as they were' the paper added in a late attack of cynicism, ceased.


21 December 2008

The Live Art Development Agency and Tate Research have just announced that artist Anne Bean and I are the two recipients of their joint Legacy: Thinker in Residence Awards. Very exciting. The awards have been set up in recognition of the breadth of influence of Live Art practice in the UK today, and to acknowledge its achievers and achievements over the last few decades. The awards – which follow a complex shortlisting and application process – are focused around ideas of legacy, documentation and archive in the broadest interpretation of these terms and give Anne and I, in our own distinct ways, a fantastic opportunity to research the legacies of performance in art historical contexts, examining the processes and challenges of archiving live work, and looking at our own performance practice in relation to these.

Press statement with all the details below.

Three fragments from my application here, the first of them reworking a short text I wrote a while ago in another context:

Years ago Forced Entertainment rented a couple of garages on the edge of Sheffield. It was in these dank, dark and insecure places that we stored for a long time the boxes of old objects and costumes, as well as the sets and other constructions made for previous performances, and the collected raw or nearly raw materials of one kind or another (timber, furniture, steel bars, scaffolding, random ‘interesting’ items) which we thought might be of use to us in some as yet unimagined project, at some time or another in the as yet unimagined future. To each we paid occasional visits, retrieving one thing or another, searching for lost items, or for things for which we’d newly imaged a use. At a certain point the lock on one garage became so rusted that it was impossible to enter, whilst the other developed leaks in its roof, an arson attack badly damaging its doors, thieves breaking the windows, stealing some sound equipment and so on. The garages were unstable, entropic. Mostly Richard would drive up the mud track to them alone, bringing things back in the van, along with reports on the troubled status of the buildings and their much-beleaguered contents. Some newly-mildewed curtains he might bring back, or a crate of shrunken costumes, a wind machine, an overhead projector lacking a plug – stuff that we could use, skip or salvage.  

The garages, I used to joke, were not so much real places as they were a state of mind – a mental space pitched perfectly between an exhausted past and an intense future set of possibilities – a psychic store of both memory and potential, the discarded and the yet to be imagined.


Archive to me is a dispersed accumulation of traces. Primary materials – performance objects, constructions, notebooks, papers, drawings and computer files are here and there in Sheffield. Secondary materials are here, there and everywhere. Some of it (as video recordings of performances and rehearsals) is in the British Library Live Art Collection, some of it (as photography) resides in any number of neg files and on any number of hard drives at the studio of Hugo Glendinning, yet more of it is in publications (texts, essays, more photographs) or in other people’s and institutions collections of texts, photographs and videos. None of these accumulations is remotely definitive, nor would I especially wish them to be. All bear some relation to the garages I mentioned above, where a degree of disorganization of the materials distorts and transforms the possibility of their use or comprehension. Again, so be it. Archive to me is by its nature provisional, off-centre. Remaindered from live practice it is emphatically not the thing. It is a residue, sometimes an almost accidental left-over of the work, sometimes a deliberate record, but in any case always a material that waits to be transformed as a kind of work in and of itself.


Perhaps two things lie at the core of my diverse artistic practice, especially regarding performance. The first is an interest in the unfolding of events in time – structuring experience and processes over time, manipulating (sculpting) time and building chains or sequences of events that work with and through time itself as a medium. I’m thinking both of dramaturgy, in the theatrical sense and in the expanded sense that comes to us via performance studies. I’m also thinking of the rather different kinds of unfolding temporal structures that backbone the durational works that I have made, witnessed or written about. The second core to performance for me are the various ways in which the form constructs presence – ‘actors’, viewers and the relations between them – and in the economies through which presence in this sense is negotiated, deployed and manipulated; a playful and always live triangulation between all those who are present, in space, and of course through time.

What I’ve begun to work with intuitively, and what I would like to explore very much further through the opportunity of Legacy: Thinker In Residence, is a set of correlations between these fundamental properties of performance and the qualities of quite different forms like the page, the photograph, and text. Through my numerous text-based projects in visual arts, through my work in fiction and through my critical writing on contemporary performance I’ve been exploring for some time the ways that text always conjures (stages) presence, and the ways that its progress on and over pages is (or parallels) a kind of temporal performative process. The page, for me at least, has something that might be considered a dramaturgical now – a moment in the process of narrative or argument, a moment, or set of moments in which the presence of reader/viewer and writer or staged subject find themselves together, in different realities but joined across space and time. This now of the page is what grips me – the present moment, this one, summoned here with this arrangement of marks/code, ink/pixels, letters and words.

The Live Art Development Agency and Tate Research are delighted to announce that Anne Bean and Tim Etchells are the recipients of Legacy: Thinker in Residence Awards.

The Legacy awards have been set up in recognition of the breadth of influence of Live Art practice in the UK today, and to acknowledge its achievers and achievements over the last few decades. The awards celebrate artists whose outstanding bodies of work have tested the nature and possibilities of live practices and had a demonstrable influence on the development of the Live Art field.

Live Art is often an ephemeral and fleeting experience and raises many questions about what it might leave behind.  The processes of archiving Live Art and its positioning within an art historical context, pose countless challenges to the artist, the archivist, the art historian, the scholar and the audience alike. Legacy: Thinker in Residence Awards will provide Anne Bean and Tim Etchells with £30,000 each and the opportunity to undertake in-depth research periods throughout 2009 addressing the legacies of performance in art historical contexts, examining the processes and challenges of archiving live work, and looking at their own performance practice in relation to these. From this, they will translate their findings into the creation of their own legacies,that may take the form of new artworks or publications.

Following a national nomination process begun in August 2008 and involving over 50 key UK curators, writers, and thinkers, 49 artists were nominated for consideration for Legacy awards. From these, twelve of the UK’s most influential and inspiring artists were invited to submit proposals on how they would approach the idea of legacy.

The final decisions on the awards were made by a selection panel comprising: Lois Keidan and Daniel Brine (Live Art Development Agency); Nigel Llewellyn (Head of Tate Research); Lizzie Carey-Thomas (Curator Tate Britain); Vanessa Desclaux (Curator Tate Modern); Michael Morris (Director, Artangel); Stella Hall (Creative Director, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative), Claire MacDonald (Centre Director, International Centre for Fine Art Research, University of the Arts London); David A Bailey (senior curator, Autograph); and Mark Waugh (Director, A Foundation).

Legacy is a one-off initiative developed in collaboration between the Live Art Development Agency and Tate Research.

Legacy is financially assisted by Arts Council England and the Live Art Development Agency.

Anne Bean (Born 1950, Zambia. Resident in London) has undertaken numerous solo and collaborative projects worldwide, for nearly 40 years, in diverse media including performance, installation, drawing, photography, video and sound, using materials that range from fire, wind, steam and honey to laughter and breath. In early 2008 she was commissioned by the National Archives to create a permanent installation for their museum at Kew. In summer 2008 she went to Croatia, Iraq-Kurdistan and Spain where she worked with local people to develop and produce performances and installations referencing local history. In autumn 2008 she presented 4 installations for Power Plant, a part of a Liverpool City of Culture programme commissioned by the Contemporary Music Network as well as a performance for Liverpool Biennial Made-Up Weekend.  In November she completed a video inspired by Darwin, commissioned by Artsadmin and DVDance supported by the Wellcome Trust and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. In 2007, she was the International Fellow at Franklin Furnace Archives, New York.

Tim Etchells (Born 1962 in UK. Resident in Sheffield) is an artist and a writer. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts, notably as the leader of the world renowned performance group Forced Entertainment and in collaboration with a range of visual artists, choreographers, and photographers including Meg Stuart, Elmgreen & Dragset, Hugo Glendinning, Vlatka Horvat and many others. His work ranges from performance to video, photography, text projects, installation and fiction. He has also developed a unique voice in writing for and about performance – his monograph Certain Fragments (Forced Entertainment and Contemporary Performance), (Routledge 1999) is widely acclaimed. Etchells has also published fiction; Endland Stories (Pulp Books 1998) and The Dream Dictionary (for the Modern Dreamer) (Duck Editions, 2000) are now followed by his first novel – The Broken World – which takes the form of a guide to an imaginary computer game and was published by Heinemann in July 2008. In recent years he has exhibited work at Sketch and Butchers (both London), Netherlands Media Art Institute (Amsterdam), Sparwasser HQ (Berlin), Art Sheffield 2008, ArtFutures (Bloomberg SPACE, London), The Centre for Book Arts, Canada and Exit Art (all New York), Kunsthaus Graz and Manifesta 7 in Italy.

No Judge O Time

19 December 2008

Ages back Mark mailed me this beautiful text that he'd written for the birthday of an old friend, Chris. I asked if I could post it here and Mark said yes but somehow I delayed and the file got buried on my desktop. Just found it again, sifting the docs and the folders around.

Back in the day when summer months and weeks meant nowt an there was no judge o time, wa’ed be fishin. Back of Ivans place, bottom of th’ garden overt fence, thru the beans and veg down thru the yards a land theyd all took since builders had gone on elseweir.
Nettles abart yay high, enough to sting yas chin anyroad. Waed beaten some track thru t’brookside with willer sticks. Make good swiping and nettle choppers arm telling yu now.
Anyhow, us had cut a swathe an hafe that dee. Musta bin bugger, yard wide.

An ode willer all ovver angin she was, used to climb her land side, laves t’watter, ode flies and such driftin off it an under it.
Bostin pleece fer a fish t lie.
Alsorts were theer. Them Blue Circle trout, an ode chub, sometime a roach a two. Dace an all. An odd time a bloody sheep, dead mind, floatin.
Them bloody trout, thems the ones, free eatin and bloody currency to them as can fettle em out.
6 casts a chub, mouth lark a rabbit hole, lovely fish, ate em since, not so lovely. Scales and bones and a hint of shit n compost.
Had line on a cork, abart 12 foot, sea hook an’al. Winfield line mind, 22lb strain, quality product.
A gobbet of compressed Slimcea from me mothers, too dry and fuckall too it  on me hook, a perfect nettle free cast of abart 6 foot fuckin Bingo, her drops nicely abart 4ft t goo and shes in Troutland.
Bread drops deeper an deeper. Ar can feel the stones as er roles over em, me line feels just nice thru the fingers, this time, this time, summat picks it up me line disappears off top, theres that tension on er and I yank me hand back to get the bloody hook set and nowt. Time and time again the bugger has me slimcea.

A chap called Chris comes down, Ives Uncle. He’d managed to get overt fence so he wanna that ode. Anyhow, he’s a bit of a fish man I gathered off Ives.
Loud shirt and flares, ar thought fuckin nay chance.
Lent im me line anyroad.
So the flared one takes the mantle in t’ nettle highway and compresses said Slimcea with an air of a fuckin boulanger, I ask you. Impressed, me.
Shaky cast mind you, but passable Id say under the high pressure circumstances.
Anyhow, the shite cast took the Slimcea abart 3 foot from the bank under the willer.
Nay fuckin chance youth thal a got a bite from daddy fuckin weed and stick fish theer thinks I.

Tell tale vvvvvvs as is hook gets took up appeared on the watter and the Winfield hawser was getting dragged under an yonder.
Bah Christ the bloody buggers got a bloody bugger on.

A wrestle ensued, tho brief it was.
A Blue Circle Brownie to you Sir.
A memorable hour
First time we met
Some time ago
Happy birthday youth. 


If this were choreography

17 December 2008

You dream that you have woken but that soon you are slipping back again, not into sleep but into unconsciousness. Vague panic reactions. Layerings of different kinds of unconsciousness. A mechanical bird brings the answer to your questions.


M. watching an almost motionless Jim Fletcher in the drifting, dramaturgically flat and rather circular monologue Sight is the Sense… says to me afterwards that she had spent some time during the performance thinking “what would this be, if it were choreography?”. I was so happy with this thought, and with the perverse but beautiful image of her sat there listening and thinking, hard at work translating the shifts, turns, spirals, associations, jumps and flows in the text into steps, gestures and moves through space.


Afterwards the rain seems to blurr everything and soon pretty much all that remains is the image of a beggar on the streets of Brussels – a guy who sits on Anspach every day with a beat up set of bathroom scales set out on the ground in front of him. It’s as if (you guess) these scales at least nod to the chance that his presence here – with downcast eyes and torn paper cup – is work rather than beggary.


16 December 2008

When x tells me that Barack Obama has moved to Sunderland after a few months playing for Bolton I am not too surprised. He's shown some promise for a young player and clubs like Sunderland are probably always on the lookout for fresh talent. I don't make the mistake of confusing this particular Barack Obama with the president elect of the United States of America, and in any case I'm aware that X has a handful of quite distinct Barack's in operation right now. After all, his up and coming footballer is stored on the same hard drive as his Obama 'lone survivor of a mutant pack searching for answers and his father in the dangerous atomic wastelands of Washinton DC', in Fallout 3. And neither of these two is sensibly confused with his Barack Obama the small time pimp and drug dealer, who recently woke from a trauma-induced coma in a prison hospital in the town of Stilwater, and who following a daring escape has resurrected his gang the 3rd Street Saints, in a quest to reconquer the city and eliminate his rivals who now control the streets. Perhaps most distant and unconnected of all is his further Barack Obama who is busy seeking portals, fleeing assassins and from time to time slaying goblins and dragons left right and centre in Oblivion. Seems like the president elect Obama and his numerous alter egos have a lot of very different battles ahead of them in these next months, in many many different worlds. We'll be following Sunderland in PES 2009 with interest.


Even stranger when you think the real Obama will have this nation to preside over. 

Nothing Is Simple

Barbara Campbell wrote about the performance/time entry below, quoting this part:

Or those times in performance where you think for a moment that time has stretched or slowed, or that time was somehow stopped or had been forgotten but that now, in this moment only, it has started again, remembered.

She wrote:

Best thing on Australian television when I was growing up in the 1960s was a children’s program called The Magic Boomerang. I’m hoping (cause I wasn’t watching out for this as a kid) that the said boomerang was owned by an Aboriginal boy but what I remember well and loved most was that the performance of the world did stop when the boomerang was thrown, spinning seemingly endlessly in the air. And boomerangs being what they are do indeed draw a magical arc in the sky, a parabola where you seem to hold your breath until you see the forces of physics? spirits? take hold and turn that spinning thing around at which point you can exhale. The world would stop for everyone except the hero boy boomerang-thrower who was able to act quickly enough to get the good guys out of danger. Long live the deus ex machina.

Just more romantic remembering.

I wrote:

That’s a lovely image. Is all remembering romantic? No, I guess not. But there’s something about the fixed-ness of the past that lends itself to that – the past always allows us to fetishise the particularity of what was – in its beauty, force, awfulness or other qualities. I’m not sure that that’s romantic – strange the force of things we feel that we witnessed – even if it’s just the trope of a children’s TV show. these things have such presence in us. psychic landscape and all that.

She wrote:

Isn’t it this fetishisation of our memories (a very particular version of the past), childhood ones especially, that tends towards the romantic? But only if we never allow ourselves to challenge those memories. In this case, with the Magic Boomerang, it certainly needs challenging. Since writing to you about that show I’ve checked the website to find out more. As I half-suspected, the boomerang-throwing hero was not a young Aboriginal boy. From the synopsis: “Tom Thumbleton, a 13-year-old boy who lives with his parents on a sheep farm near the fictitious town of Gunnaganoo, finds a boomerang among some Aboriginal relics his great-great-grandfather left in the attic of their homestead.” Such a lot of brutal history barely hinted at in those simple sentences; it makes my stomach churn. The 45 episodes were aired in 1965-66, ie just months before the landmark 1966 referendum that gave Aboriginal Australians full enfranchisement. Before then, they were allowed to fight and die in our wars but had no voting rights nor were counted in any census. And this was the least severe of the injustices.

“strange the force of things we feel that we witnessed” – indeed. And the things witnessed as a child go beyond the psychic – encompassing the somatic, guiding us consciously, unconsciously, subconsciously towards what/who/where/if we will be.


Can I quote you on the boomerang? I’d love to add that text to the notebook.


Yes but given what I’ve said above, it would be necessary to include the qualifying background don’t you think? I know it rather undercuts the simple beauty of the magic boomerang but nothing is simple where Indigenous politics or history is concerned.


Stopped Remembered

3 December 2008


In performance I love the big clock of the now bent double, forced to a limit, cranked up or condensed to hell. I love the strange yet somehow necessary job we seem to have in rooms like these, of getting time itself to drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.

Or those times in performance where you think for a moment that time has stretched or slowed, or that time was somehow stopped or had been forgotten but that now, in this moment only, it has started again, remembered.

Text and the first image from my Peachy Coochy in London, a while back. The first clock from my journey Dusseldorf to London to perform, the others from various stations and elsewhere in the last ten years. Seems like I am collecting these.

Kate wrote:

You would love brussels central station at the moment, it’s in this long groaning overhaul which is becoming a comedy. I love spotting the frightening half-measures and in-betweens they construct to keep things tottering upright while they replace the wall/floor that was keeping it there before. It was always dismal down there but now it’s shattered too. The latest new addition is a bunch of brand new clocks hanging off wires cause the ceiling hasn’t been replaced yet (everything’s coming in in the wrong order). Like yours these are half under wraps, taped over. But meanwhile they’ve turned off the older clocks that are also still hanging, so you look down the platform and there’s about 6 clocks in view, some bandaged, others saying wildly different dead times. it’s a clock grave down there.


Meanwhile, in that other world, where time has not stopped, I thought these were pretty gripping.