This is Sculpture

29 April 2009
Charles Ray - Plank Piece

In the last few months I’ve been working with Tate Liverpool curator Peter Gorschlueter on a part of their new exhibition/display: DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture. The exhibition is at Tate’s Liverpool location and opened this week. I’ve also made a new performance work for the gallery which will be presented a few hours each day over the next year.

Press release says:

Leading cultural figures from different disciplines will be bringing their own unique vision to bear on sculpture from the Tate Collection for DLA Piper Series: This is Sculpture. Transforming the first and second floor galleries are artist Michael Craig-Martin; designer Wayne Hemingway and his son Jack; and artist, director and writer Tim Etchells. From 1 May 2009 the co-curators present dedicated displays of sculpture which have been selected in conjunction with Tate Liverpool curators. The displays feature masterpieces from the Tate Collection by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, alongside recent acquisitions of contemporary art by Sarah Lucas, Jim Lambie and Terence Koh, among others.

The special section of the exhibition I’ve been working on with Peter takes the title ‘Performing Sculpture‘ and approaches the connections and overlap between sculpture and performance in a number of different ways. We have some great works in there – from Charles Ray (Plank Piece, pictured above) as well as pieces from David Hammons, Francis Alys, Mona Hatoum, Rebecca Horn, Michael Craig Martin and Cindy Sherman amongst many others. Alongside co-curating this section I’ve made a work which  speaks to and provides a kind of context for the selection – In Many Ways – is a playful more-or-less ambient performance that has a single performer in the space for a number of hours each day involved in an ongoing task.

One more or less incidental outcome of the project has been the view of the work behind the scenes at Tate. I’ve been fascinated with the processes and procedures that surround the art works – the emphasis on preservation/conservation, the fragmentary notes that are collected on how and in what ways works can or can’t be shown, the conditions for their presentation and so on. Last week we were up there for the day and watched all kinds of iconic pieces coming out of their boxes and packaging. There’s Piero Manzoni’s can of Artists’ Shit coming out of its locked gray plastic crate, the interior polystyrene packaging pinned shut and marked with a hand written sign demanding that the pin only to be removed in the presence of someone from the conservation team. Gloved hands everywhere. Even the curators aren’t really encouraged to touch and as unpacking and installing continues in different parts of the gallery someone’s busy moving around the room photographing everything as it comes out of the boxes – not taking pictures of the work but documenting the wrapping and packing so that it can be replicated a year or more later when this stuff comes off the walls. It’s C.S.I in reverse. There’s a powerful paradox to all this at times, esp when you get something like Jean Tinguely’s 1970 sculpture Débricollage  – evidently created using tools (hack saw, socket wrench, screwdriver etc) which clearly bear the traces of a life in which they were probably kicking around the studio or doing time on the workbench in someones’ garage – but now, formed into his tangled and unwieldy moving sculpture, are only approachable by a team of guys moving slowly and wearing surgical gloves.

Void Story Programme

28 April 2009

Posting here the programme note I wrote for Forced Entertainment’s Void Story.


A man and a woman stand at the window to their apartment and look out at the night. Something happens. They flee. The night is bad and threatens to take them deep down to the centre of its dead heart of cartoon darkness.


Hack-saw pictures, spilling digital noise.

Someone’s snapshot of the sky grabbed off of Google, cut, shifted to black and white, flipped horizontal then more or less buried with the stretched midnight clouds from another picture. In the foreground a fence from Sheffield, a wall from London, the whole scene backed by random Flickr trees. A face – the eyes of one man, backwards and brutalised, the nose and the mouth of another set off with an image of a wig, its texture depleted, the colour drained. Skin distorted, then mixed with the texture of stone. My brother’s hands, cut off and stuffed in the sleeves. That makes a bad guy by the road.

Stupid perspectives. Self-evident nonsenses of geography, biology, architecture. Spaces with bad physics. Crude repetitions of elements. A dream view from a window that dissolves as soon as you look closely. A world that flaunts, in short, its own cut and paste construction and its own hybridity.

In the sound department it’s a similar kind of jumble. Snatched sound effects overlap and collide with recordings, echoes, layered distortions. Half the world makes no sound but the rest of it is somehow jacked-up high to compensate. Doors. Drinks. Gunshots and killer bees. All too loud on hung-over ears. The voices tremble, echo and pitch shifts perspective further out of whack. A hallucination in the aural zone, someone’s talking in the darkness but soon you figure out that it’s not the person you thought.


In performance terms with this project we have come to a compelling and strange place that we’d never exactly anticipated. With a nod to the unstable worlds and dark comedy of my work in fiction (Endland Stories, and the recent novel The Broken World) Void Story is a narrative of sorts, operating in performance as a dynamic kind of hybrid cinema/animation meets radio play, or as a graphic novel come to life.

Perhaps it’s the narrative part that’s the strangest for us. After all, we’ve spent a long time in our work as a performance group more or less dismantling narrative, especially of late it seems, through processes of shattering and splintering it – fragments of story, figures adrift from context, cast out and in collision. In works from 12am: Awake & Looking Down to Bloody Mess and Spectacular, we’ve been perhaps not so much interested in ‘a story’ as in the plurality of possible stories that might emerge from any collection of material, fascinated by incompletion, and by the meeting of different things over time and in stage space (characters, images, music tracks, texts, textures), in the ways that stories appear to fly out like sparks from the meeting of disparate elements.

‘These fragments have I shored against my ruins…’ we might have said if we were looking for mates from the big time, quoting Shakespeare via Eliot.

There are other methods of course and Void Story with its brutal urban picaresque of a story, told at high speed, without the sop of psychology might be one of them. On a stage split between projected images and live voices/sound, and with a vivid set of events that do not happen but which somehow do find a way to happen, Void Story also pursues our obsession with breaking and remaking the apparatus of performance – a kind of simultaneous denial and remaking of theatre, as if it were might be something else. We hope you enjoy the work.

The Unreadable

26 April 2009

A group of people stood in the park which I pass thru each morning. The group – caught in some complex interaction- contains too many people to take in at a glance – nine or ten – and it's make up is too diverse to instantly frame a title to it. There's an old man and woman, a couple of kids. Three youths. A more middle aged bloke in jeans and a shortsleeve t-shirt. A woman in her thirties. Racially it's all mixed up. A combination of Moroccan and maybe Turkish, plus some White – French speaking Flemish I guess. Some mixed race in any case. Hard to say much more than that they are all standing and that they are all somehow looking at each other. It's not a family. There are at least two groups or factions that seem to be in some kind of interaction, maybe more than that. It's not clear if it's an argument, a confrontation. Looks like it might be. Or the aftermath of one. But the whole thing lacks any urgency, is too much an apathetic tableau. That's what I'm seeing as I get closer and I'm aware that I'm reading it hard – trying to figure what I am walking towards, the scene I will soon walk past. Every gesture gets processed somehow, each tone of voice, each line of eye contact between them or move gets flagged but still the thing is a blank to me. As I get there the main interaction seems to be between two of the youths and the middle aged guy on one side and the older couple on the other, grouped with the middle aged woman maybe, and the kids, which float around, hard to pin to anyone in the scene. For a moment I think it's the end of some incident – someone stepped on someone's toes, or bumped into someone (neither likely in the almost empty park)… but soon even this reading is unsustainable. As I get there the three (youths and middle aged guy) are drifting off but just as I use this as a clue to decide they are 'together' they're parting ways, heading up the path separately and without speaking to each other, clearly part of different narratives. I'm left with nothing, no clue what that was all about. This is what I like about the city.


Assorted reviews of Forced Entertainment’s Void Story which has been at Soho Theatre in London all week as part of the excellent Spill Festival. Void Story has more gigs coming up through the Summer (Berlin and Graz for sure) and features text and images from me, performance from the company and sound by our collaborator from the early days of Forced Entertainment John Avery. Here’s a Guardian review (with an image of me since Richard was delayed for the photoshoot), here’s one from MusicOMH and one from Science is a Lie blog. Also, a long and smart piece from Mary Paterson at the Overspill blog.


Meanwhile in the carpark of a Morrisons supermarket, Anniesland, Glasgow these days you can have conversations with the police that go like this:

 “We have men, women, who are now, yeah – right now – doing their work, their daily work. They go about their work day in day out. They then go home to their families. They go home to husbands, wives, children. We are way, way down. That would be exactly the same with you. You would still have your life, Tilly. You go about your life as you do every day – we would be sitting somewhere way down here. But when you would be going to the meetings that you would be going to anyway, we would maybe be meeting you about once every two weeks, once every three weeks, once every week maybe. [Inaudible.] That’s the type of thing. Likewise, the thousands of other people that work with us [inaudible] they’re at their works now, be it joiners …”

More in The Guardian here. Or just read Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.


Swimming outdoors this morning in Central London, the gridded windows of the concrete office buildings which flank The Oasis divide and reflect the sky as a complex system of blue and white polaroids. For the most part unadorned, a few boast squares of cardboard stuck directly to the glass evidently designed to block the sun at particular times of day, others – on the window sills which evade the upward track of your eyeline – sport an arrangement of photoframes seen from behind, mugs, pencil holders and nondescript ornaments the generic momento traces of the people that must work there in the week. Looking up, stood in the deep water at the far end of the pool you find yourself completing some kind of virtual circle and in turn imagining them, stood motionless at the windows, looking down at the water left moving by your exit from the water.

Like so much of the landscape it’s hard to see it these days without thinking of Ballard. His last short story – typically perverse, funny and rather good, self-consciously framing his own death – is published online. Tributes from various people at Ballardian.

I came across Ballard when I was a teenager – stumbling into his work, along with that of Michael Moorcock, Phillip K. Dick and William Burroughs in amongst the vast amounts of less ambitious science fiction I was reading. Ballard had a big effect on me – thanks to his work’s dark and thoroughly ambivalent take on contemporary culture, for the continuous embrace of catastrophe and for the aggressively experimental and poetic approaches to language he developed in The Atrocity Exhibition.

Sad that The Guardian couldn’t find anyone from performance or theatre to talk about his influence on them or the field for its article. They only had to ask! But it’s probably a sign of how lame British theatre is that there wasn’t an instant connection, or even a thought about making one. Ballard’s take on the human (always somehow so deeply bound up with landscape), and aesthetics (his work so bound up with cinema and painting) probably doesn’t much lend itself to the stage, and certainly not to the cheap-pop-humanistic-psychology that drives 99% of drama. For me his approach to language, to deep interiority, to time (stretched, shattered, bent out of shape) and to the body (subjected to similar processes) are the things that have trickled unacknowledged perhaps into theatre and performance work – a process too osmotic and profound to be termed influence. Sentences of his, images of his, vivid pictures from his writing have stayed with me for years and years and years – I don’t think they’ll ever fade.

No Phone Home

6 April 2009

The home phone is missing, presumed dead. Last seen a month or two ago, there’s little doubt that it’s here somewhere, beneath one of the many piles of papers, electrical cables, books, dvds and other detritus stacked here and there. The house phone has always been an object at risk, since once the two maybe three places in which it sometimes resides have been searched and found wanting it descends (or ascends) immediately to the category of ‘anywhere’,  the category of potential oblivion. In the months since it was first thought or reported lost I’ve hardly been here anyway – coming and going with a suitcase and a laptop, in the usual semi-frenzy of this and that. Now even the archaeology of the piles in the house is slightly mysterious to me, their layerings of past doings and undoings too complex to decipher, and the usual trick for locating the house phone – call it from the mobile and follow the trail of the sound – is completely useless as the battery on the abandoned handset has long since run down. The house phone at this point is an inert object, a dead plastic, no longer a tool of communication. There is, from time to time, a mournful ringing from the pretentiously named base station (itself hidden behind pies of books)  – tho it’s really only telemarketers that are fool enough to ever call that number. In some ways it’s reassuring to think of the software in some automated call centre system patching calls of human or synthesised/recorded voices selling this or that, offering this or that offer, deal or opportunity to a dead object buried somewhere in the junk of my house – a recorded voice answering, the recording stored and databased in some other computerised stack – a machine loop in which I play no necessary part. Perhaps I was hasty – the phone is not dead at all – it simply lives its life without me now, in privacy, darkness and dust, plugged into its own networks, in silence for eternity.