Homeworks IV

28 May 2008

As part of the Homeworks IV show at Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut, Vlatka and I have been showing the installation/long-distance performance project To Bring Down A House. The show ends at the weekend. Given the situation lately in Beirut, its been a bit unsettling to be constantly sending through proposals for destruction of a house – physical, psychic, playful, awful and otherwise –  as the project entails. My own contributions (see above) have become more and more minimal of late. Here’s a link to a couple of the earlier ones.

Described As

27 May 2008

Early this morning, a man described as violent and incoherent burst into a residence and shot two people to death before shooting himself in the head. A man, described as being in his early 20's and wearing a dark shirt and cap, asked if he could spend the night at the Youth For Christ Mission after a Christmas banquet at the center ended. The national assembly also approved a new first vice president, a man described as an aging Communist Party hardliner.

A man described as a polite neighbour died following a vicious assault which included an attack by his own dog. A man, described as being of Aboriginal or Islander appearance and aged in his mid 20s, then approached the victim and threatened him with an iron bar. The police have no suspects but are looking for a man described as white, 5'9," 40 to 45 years old, with a medium build and short brown hair. He has been travelling with a woman described as his "new wife" — the ex-wife of a Minneapolis police officer — while continuing to defraud people in the Minnesota area.

On November 12, a man described as a mentally disturbed musician shot dead two American businessmen and an eminent French jurist as they ate dinner at a local restaurant. Six people were killed by gunfire in a Portland auto parts warehouse Tuesday morning, after a man described as a disgruntled employee opened fire. Peter Gladstone, a man described as being a "leech on the resources of the community," was arrested Monday for allegedly stealing a $1.99 can of beer.

Arrested for the Sanderson Memorial Mausoleum wire theft last fall were Hillary Ellen Cooper, and a man described as her boyfriend. She was married briefly in the mid 1960s, to a man described as a gigolo. A man, described as a Hispanic male in his 30s with long, black, combed-back hair, pulled up next to her in a black Toyota. A man, described as white, in his 20s, tall, with an athletic build and sandy blond or light brown hair, possibly in a crew cut, jumped out of the car. Police appealed to members of the public who may have seen a man, described as Maori or Polynesian, of thin build with a gold- or tan-coloured dog on a lead. Police say Elleston was with two other people at the time – a woman described as his girlfriend and a man described as his boyfriend. Police were reported to be searching for a man described as 'middle-aged' and 'flabby', who had gained entry to various all – female groups. A small army of law enforcement officers, aided by helicopters and dog teams, searched for a man described as armed with a small handgun. As the coffin was carried shoulder high out of the stadium, mourners sang "Hamba Kahle Umkhonto" as the final tribute to a man described as a patriot.


[Been working on lots and lots and lots of the above… it's proving pretty compelling, and extremely addictive. Playing with and discussing for some time now the different possibilities of writing/working with text after Google, after search and replace, after track changes, after Spam-filter text etc – kind of fascinated with the structural and statistical possibilities these things offer, and the kind of access one has to miles and miles and miles of raw text. Need to write something longer connecting this to Vlatka's Google pieces, Graham Parker's spam projects and to some other aritsts I was thinking about. Anyways. This is just a flag for the moment… and a chance to share what's above.]


26 May 2008
Spectacular - Forced Entertainment - Sign

The new Forced Entertainment performance Spectacular is finally open, after extended sweat, toil and some changes of direction. The completed piece, performed by Claire Marshall and Robin Arthur follows a rehearsal process, and work-in-progress showings last year at B.I.T in Bergen, through which all five members of the core company were on and off the stage at various points whilst the project morphed repeatedly to find its final form. The piece premiered in Essen the week before last and we’re really pleased with the results. Spectacular plays the Pompidou in Paris this week from Wednesday, followed in due course by gigs in Theatre Garonne (Toulouse) and at Hebbel in Berlin in early July. In Toulouse the performance will be accompanied by a programme of other stuff related and spinning off from the work including my recent neon pieces, a programme of video I’ve put together featuring great work from Howard Matthew, Oliver Michaels, Aaron Williamson and the lovely Vlatka Horvat.

The sign pictured above didn’t make it to the final performance but who knows, maybe it can be a work in its own right at some point. Made as a quick mock-up for a full-on electrical sign (that of course never got made) we fell in love with the home-made cardboard one for a while before shifting our attentions elsewhere. Perhaps the best part was a period of a week where the letters dropped from the ceiling one by one, leaving an increasingly incomprehensible title above the stage and an accumulating pile of letters below. During the long discussions that dogged the process this pile of letters tended to get used in an on-going side-project/pass time for spelling new words, obscene phrases and general anagrams. Sometimes, looking around the room at the furrowed brows you could wonder if we were all thinking about the show or simply wondering what re-combination of the letters could possibly top RECTAL SAP. Hard to beat.

UK touring of Spectacular will be in the Autumn. It’s looking like a good piece – simple, strong and binary in its structure, yet pretty easy going, relaxed. There’s a nice sleight of hand to it I think. Really looking forward to presenting it around and seeing the reactions.

Real is pretend, and pretend is real

24 May 2008

“If I keep hitting the block, I’ll fuck up this acting business. The only way to leave my fucked-up reality is to throw myself into the pretend version of my fucked-up reality.”

Just getting into The Wire so I’m more than a series away from the arrival of actors Jamie Hector and Felicia Pearson. Liked this interview with them at The Guardian though, esp the stuff around Pearson’s story of going from drug dealing and second-degree-murder prison time in Baltimore to playing a dealer in the show.

The real-life Pearson, meanwhile, felt as though she’d stepped through a looking-glass… but until well into [the show’s] run, in real life she was still dealing in hard drugs – she’d tried to stop, she says but had lost two legitimate jobs because of her prison record – so she had a foot in two worlds, and the experience was disorienting. “Real is pretend, and pretend is real,” she writes of that period in her memoir, Grace After Midnight, co-authored with David Ritz. “I wake up in the morning, get dressed, leave my work on the block to walk into a world about make-believe work on the block.”


Meanwhile and basically unrelated, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut at Cannes this week – Synecdoche – sounds like it might be fun.

[Philip Seymour] Hoffman plays a theatre director whose life is disintegrating. He begins work on a new project which involves putting his life and world on a vast theatre stage. Hundreds of actors are involved. At one point someone says they’ve been rehearsing for 17 years and they’re still not ready to open the play. What is real, what is created and what is metaphor is deliberately blurred.

Robot Voice

22 May 2008

I’m sometimes teased, when reading to S. that I don’t pronounce the characters’ names correctly. Partly due to my incompetence this is also because I often join the reading of a book late, cos I have been away for a week or whatever, showing up at a point where the names have long since had an (arguably arbitrary) pronunciation attributed to them. This is esp true for fantasy/other-world parallel universe adventure stories of which S. reads quite a lot. How are you going to pronounce Ffarreijl? First one to tackle that question is bound to be right.

I’m also known at storytime for being the one that doesn’t really do the voices when reading – adopting a blankness (but lots of energy), as a counterpoint to the accents and attitudes other people bring to the job. They do it well! For once I’m not arguing with someone else’s performance style here. This is a bloke that won’t let his ‘experimental theatre monotony-voice’ go, not even for a kids bedtime. Someone should call social services.

This evening though I came across a note on the computer saying simply ‘Robot Voice’. A single phrase in an otherwise comprehensible list of ‘things to do’ or ‘things to write more about’ this was evidently something I’d meant to go back to… but I could not remember what.

Finally it came back to me that when S. and I were reading the other week I’d rather randomly started to do an accent for some character or another… and since that’s far from being my strong point the accent had become more and more like a Robot. Pretty soon S. and I (and D.) were all crying with laughter as every time this poor character spoke he became more and more a robot and every time S. would interrupt to remind me (remonstrating and laughing at the same time) that Mr. XXXX was not a robot. At this the character voice would revert to human. In the end I took the robot thing to the max and was arguing with S. that my interpretation was at least valid. My line was that whilst the book – I can’t even remember what it was, but not too exciting I think –  did not say that Mr XXXX, the protagonist’s uncle, was a robot it did not say either that he was not a robot. The text – I argued – remained ominously silent on the topic of Mr XXXX and his robot-status. If nothing else I’m sure S. will give his English teacher a run for his or her money when the time comes.

Now we are reading Russel Hoban’s The Mouse & His Child. We read it before and now we are reading it again. We don’t need to invent Robots in this one. It’s already got enough ideas and ontology questions for S. and I. We are just at the part where the Muskrat is teaching the mouse child and the mouse the Them Times Tables. He is talking about Much-in-Little Thinking. Beautiful, beautiful. Reading this once again makes me think of his books for younger kids too. We loved those so much – They Came From Argghhhh was one of them. So brilliant. So many sentences and ideas you want to read a second time to S., or where S. himsef would say “that’s brilliant, lets have that again”.

A masterpiece of luminescent highlighter pen

20 May 2008

Kate wrote me a while ago now:

M. was telling me after that his son is mildly autistic, which to me is also in [his] work somehow, in that really comforting and driven thing about repetition which is beautiful and mad at once. Anyhow he told a story about how someone gave his son an invisible-ink pen with a special torch at the other end which makes the writing visible after. One night his son beckons him into his bedroom and switches out the light – shining his torch, he shows his dad the walls of his room, now covered in lists and lists and lists in invisible ink – lists of his soft-toys birthdays, lists of things to tell his Mum’s boss etc. etc. He said it was frightening, he said like a prison but I thought surely also beautiful, a treasure cave.

Something so strong about this mapping of language and thought onto the physical landscape of the room. Place and state of mind conflated. I mean a bedroom is always a mental space, an index of its inhabitants’ consciousness, a mental map in any case and this act of writing on it just seems to make that more concrete. I could feel the nightmare aspect of it too and I was also thinking about this writing’s status as public secret (something open and closed at the same time), a secret performed/ played privately into in public space. An amazing image in any case.


For some reason Kate’s text also made me think about the story James from my Endland Stories collection, perhaps cos James sometimes writes these kind of lists, defining his world in a cataloguing way. I looked back on the story and found this:

In the morning they set off again going many leagues to the westerly direction and within a day or two they caught sight of their destination – the city of C____ in the province of D______ where men call each other ‘brother’ and where the women are dark haired, long legged and free.

Dad slammed car doors and walked into the Hotel De Ville, demanding room 236 and leading the kids up there in confidence. It was a small room, just like he remembered, closed tight on a double bed, with shit brown curtains and a picture on the wall that caught James’ eye.

Dad broke open the mini-bar and reluctantly shared a vodka bottle with Olivia while James stared at the picture, stood up on the bed in his muddy shoes, but no one really cared.


The picture: one of those allegories popular in former times. Service Stations Of The Cross. Baroque detail. A masterpiece of luminescent highlighter pens. Christ on The Forecourt. Crucified. The gay centurions. Posh Spice at Christ’s feet, wailing and weeping and washing diesel off of him with her long black hair. In the background Peter, Paul & Mary. A pair of winged pump attendants hovering in the air and sporting the fluttering banner in typical period style:


James stared at the picture and an hour passed in an instant and it seemed to him so real he could  smell the sand, and feel the breeze in Peter’s hair.


The German edition of Endland – from Swiss publisher Diaphanes is on its way later this year. The new book will feature the stories from the original Endland collection, as well as a collection of further stories in related territory, many of which were written for other projects, notably Barbara Campbell’s 1001 nights cast and Kate’s own performance Loose Promise.

I just got the cover for the German Endland. It uses a great wrap-around photo from an installation called Pygmalion by Swedish artist, Charlott Markus who’s based in the Netherlands. I love the feel of her work and the scrappy, violent dysfunction of it plays really well to Endland’s landscape. The image from the cover is about number six in the sequence. The cover itself, below, looks lovely.

Endland - Tim Etchells - Diaphanes cover

The Faraway Place

That Night Follows Day - Notes in Glasgow

Another extremely positive review of That Night Follows Day from the Tramway performances, in the Scotsman (second piece on the page, with the title slightly wrong!).

Liking this violent and endlessly convoluted Guardian piece on drug gangs in Liverpool, especially the overload of nick-names, and jargon explanation.

They call it Easydrugs. With counter-narcotics officers able to monitor emails and telephone conversations, the latest modus operandi of Liverpool’s cocaine dealers relies on catching budget flights from Merseyside to contacts throughout Europe, relaying messages and instructions in person, often returning the same day…

Smigger decided to front it out. He was a good blagger. He told the people from the Faraway Place [the Liverpool mafia’s nickname for Colombia] that the load [of cocaine] was probably rotting on a dockside somewhere in Holland and that he knew nothing about it.

And later in the same piece:

The Colombians contracted a top emissary in the Flat Place [underworld slang for the Netherlands] to recover the debt. He went to Amsterdam, but he was shot by Smigger’s firm.

Map of Time

12 May 2008

Spending hours on this kind of thing at the moment. Great chunks of time getting transcribed from video tape, compared, annotated, re-done, rehearsed, edited, tweaked then re-transcribed, annotated and re-done. It can get to feel like you’re in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (I wrote about it here). All towards the new Forced Entertainment performance Spectacular which opens this Thursday here in Essen. See the FE site for more details.

Onstage Sympathy

8 May 2008

Overheard from the troubled looking Tour Manager, talking on his mobile in the hotel breakfast room.


Look. The problem is that onstage theyre just not the same sympathetic band they were before.

They're all past their 40th birthdays and they're all complaining about the breakdown of their marriages.


 Well, you can deal with Greg then…