Death Is Certain

27 June 2008
Death Is Certain - Eva Meyer-Keller

Death Is Certain - Eva Meyer-Keller

A chunk from a long piece I wrote a while back about Eva Meyer Keller’s brilliant performance Death Is Certain:

Deaths are enacted on cherries, one by one. When the last cherry is killed, the performance is over. The execution of the performance (small pun intended) is as perfectly simple, as lacking in frills or ornamentation as the structure. Meyer Keller moves between the tables in her deadly kitchen, moving from one killing to the next, in a mode that might be described as neutral or functional, but which in any case declines to signal comment on her task. She makes no drama of her decisions, no comedy or tragedy of her actions and no melodrama of her reactions. Slightly brusque, with a faint hint of the laboratory or cook’s assistant in her demeanour, her manner might best be described as that of someone simply doing a job. She does what’s needed, not more and not less. After an initial acknowledgement of those watching, she does not bother much with the informally grouped audience; does not seek eye contact or look for reactions to what she is doing. She is self-contained, to all extents and purposes too busy with her job to have time for social niceties and in any case, clearly convinced that what’s she’s doing – demonstration of death on her thirty-five cherries – both speaks for and is clear enough in itself not to warrant further mediation or explanation from her.

What I’d forgotten, watching the piece again last week in Toulouse was how much Eva’s performance tunes you to see detail. The difference (visually, emotionally, physically, performatively, metaphorically) between a cherry skinned with a razor blade and a cherry stripped with the abrasive edge of a nail file, the particular crackle and fizz of bare electrical wires pushed into the cherry on the plate, the way the smoke from a cigarette curls and shifts when trapped inside a plastic cup (gas chamber to some other unfortunate cherry). For something so small – a performance that takes place for the most part on two table-tops – it’s extraordinarily vivid. Made me think a lot about the way that any work creates an economy of expectation – a set of parameters  – which it then exploits. It’s great how sometimes the strictest of these restrictions create the most  beautiful resonant things.


25 June 2008

With Vlatka Horvat. 2008.

From a position seated at a table in the space a lone performer makes a series of occasional deadpan 'public announcements' into a microphone relayed, over a loudspeaker system. The announcements puncture the social set up of an event or location, and momentarily suspend conversation and other interactions.

Comprising statements such as: ‘Please return to your houses and stay inside’,
‘Put down the weapons. Put down the weapons’, and ‘Clear the area. Clear the area. Go back to your houses’, the announcements come from another context – that of riot or civil disturbance – and sit in a comical and unsettling relation to the environment of gallery, art-space or public building.

The Frequently Asked

Eight-hour performance/discussion event. 2007. Curated by Tim Etchells and Adrian Heathfield. Videography by Hugo Glendinning.

An invited international group of 16 artists, writers, curators and thinkers ask each other questions relating to contemporary art, to their own practice and its place in the wider cultural, philosophical and social landscape. The questions range from the experiential to the metaphysical, from the practical to the hypothetical, from the mundane to the absurd. This is no normal talk-session, but instead a rolling marathon lasting eight hours in total, taking the form of a playful and exhausting relay interview, in which participants first ask and then answer a series of questions during a specified time-slot ‘on stage’.

The Frequently Asked aims to accumulate through an evolving sequence of relations and questions, a dynamic picture of the current stakes and states of thinking around aspects of art, performance and cultural practice.

The audience for The Frequently Asked are free to arrive, depart and return at any point.

First presented 24th November 2007. Commissioned by Tanzquartier Vienna.

Participants: Rebecca Schneider, William Pope.L, Bojana Kunst, Alan Read, Alastair MacLennan, Goran Sergej Pristaš, Boyan Manchev, Jonathan Burrows, Joe Kelleher, Irit Rogoff, La Ribot, Emil Hrvatin, Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson, Tim Etchells, Adrian Heathfield.

Please Come Back

Neon Sign. 2008.

The text spelt out in the sign suggests both an intimate relationship with its author and a situation of our past conflict and consequent departure from some place, none of which can be fully inferred or understood from the information supplied. A further tension exists between the personal topic and supposed urgency of the text on the one hand and the overly elaborate means of its display. A message most suitable or likely for a private communication is here turned into a public plea, producing a host of confusions and amplifications in respect of its status and significance.

100 People

Single-channel video. 18 Minutes. 2007.

100 People conjures the imaginary presence of one hundred people, each of whom exists only by virtue of brief descriptions on screen. Framed as ‘a kind of minimalist anti- (or virtual) cinema’, the work’s simple presentation of unfolding text on a black background investigates the dynamic capacity of language itself to create images and to summon presence.

Looking Back

19 June 2008

He says he walked two hours to the station and that the strange thing is he didn’t see anything. I mean normally you see something – a building, or people, or a street, or something interesting to remark on. But that morning he did not see anything. Only later, thinking back on it did he remember that the people there seemed to put many little things in their windows – pictures of family members in plastic frames, small trinkets and souvenirs, or flowers, or dolls or statues, or those little plastic cats that look back at you.


“It winds me up. I can’t go nowhere without them following me,” said Michael, 18, after what he said was his fourth stop. “I got back from work and as soon as I got out the van they were just taking photos of me straight away zooming in on all the patterns I’ve got in my hair.”

Strange scenes in this link Ant sent me a while back to a piece on police surveillance-as-systematic harassment in Essex.

The Broken World

16 June 2008
The Broken World cover

I added a page here about my novel The Broken World – the cover is above. The book looks great and it’s released on 3rd July. I’m hoping that the Live Art Development Agency online bookshop Unbound, as well as the Forced Entertainment online bookshop, will be carrying copies – I’ll be signing some for each of them. Impatient people, or people unconcerned with my signature can already advance order the book from Amazon.

Strange feeling on the arrival of the ‘actual’ book – not the page proofs, not the printed proof edition but the actual thing. A worrying ‘finality’. As soon as it’s out of the Jiffy bag I am scouring it to check the places where I made changes in the last proofs – are all the changes there, do they make sense? After a few minutes of randomly opening it at different parts, reading passages I’ve read (and propbably rewritten) a million times I realise that in fact what I’m doing is looking for a mistake. It takes me 15 minutes to find one – a place on a certain page where a the word ‘world’ has dropped a letter and mutated to ‘word’. It’s a strange mistake and easy enough to see how it has slipped through – because the error is an actual word, not a nonsense, and because in the context of the sentence ‘word’ almost makes sense. Apparently though, I’m satisfied to have found this error (proof that there’s nothing definitive about the object, in that sense nothing ‘final’ at about it at all) and once that’s done (the object is just a process) I put  it down on a pile of other things and get on with my day.


Meanwhile my friend Asta Groting, for whose ventriloquism project  I wrote the performance Dead Air has a new website, where you can check out her projects, and clips from her videos. A clip and some info on the piece I wrote for her is on this page – second video clip down is mine, first on the same page is from her piece with Deborah Levy. Buddy Big Mountain is the performer in each case.

My Words To You Are

10 June 2008

From his position lain on the couch, enjoying the shade as a break from the afternoon sun, S. yells me that he has "done something with the titles of the books" on my shelves. I go into the room and ask what, and S., still lain there, in serious mode, eyes scanning the chaotic and piled shelves to pick out the titles he needs, recites:

They All Sang Sharp Teeth and Nova Swing
in Japan, Seattle, Paris and Tokyo
and in the Mapplethorpe trees
they made a Massive Change
it Charmed them
like What is the What?
my words to you are
Black Swan Green.


Art Flavours

7 June 2008

Art Flavours

Art Flavours

The last few days I was with Hugo and Pascale in Italy where we were filming for my Manifesta 7 piece Art Flavours. For the project I set up an encounter between an Italian critic/writer and curator, Roberto Pinto, and a gelato maker from Rovereto,  Osvaldo Castellari, whose gorgeous Gelateria Bologna in Mori was the location for the filming we just completed. To start the work off Roberto briefed Osvaldo on a small selection of terms (or zones-of-practice) from contemporary art  – The Body, Memory, Spectacle and The Archive – and after this Osvaldo was charged with the not-so-small task of making new gelato flavours to illustrate these concepts. Translating art-thought into tasty ice-cream may not be the easiest job going but it made for a pretty intense few days. I was really lucky in the collaboration/ participation of Roberto Pinto – he was so calm and generous in how he talked with Osvaldo –  smiling and at the same time taking the whole thing seriously, playing it all very calm, on a human scale as we sat in the back yard of gelateria near the cherry trees. I really loved watching the conversation between them even though I didn’t understand it that much until the translation came through.

One of those projects where you only realise what you are doing about half way through the thing, or where you are struck repeatedly by these kind of “oh *that’s* what it s about” realisations at different points in the process. At the end of Tuesday we were looking at the footage of Roberto and Osvaldo’s chat and watching the latter’s worried face in close up again and again had me feeling really unsure how the whole thing was going to play out the next day.

Luck was with me regarding the collaborators in the project a second time though. Because as much as Osvaldo was nervous, anxious or even incomprehending at the meeting with Roberto, he was smart and together and full of ideas and energy when it came to making the gelato – what we might have expected I guess but it was still great to see. I had to think a lot about what it is to be a person with a skill, with an affinity for something, with a sense of grace or ownership in a certain zone or practice. It was so great to see Osvaldo in his element, adding fruit for flavourings, whisking up the gelato. And great to hear his reasoning for the choices he made in the flavours too.

In my mind The Archive was always going to be the tricky flavour of the four. Hard to separate from memory (although Roberto did a great job in defining a distinction) and in any case summoning for me the idea of a taste somewhere between dust and yellowing book pages I wasn’t finding it the most appealing prospect. For Osvaldo though this all rolled rather differently as he decided that the human brain was the biggest archive we have, and that his response would be to create a complicated flavour, comprising many layers which would really necessitate thought and a trawl through ones mental taste-archives to locate and define its elements. Flavoured with some combination of fresh peach, strawberry and orange juice The Archive ended up as my favourite by quite some distance. Perhaps it was only once Osvaldo was well into his work – adding flavour to the first batch of gelato – that the project became truly tangible to me. I was stood in the big kitchen, watching him and his assistant at work and I was suddenly smiling at the thought that through the summer in Rovereto it will be possible to take a cone of gelato called Memory.

When the Manifesta show opens (19th July) in Rovereto, at Manifattura Tabbachi and Ex Peterlini, you can catch the video of Osvaldo, Roberto and the gelato-making as well as sampling each of the Art Flavours gelati. My piece City Changes – now completed in its sequence of 20 framed texts/drawings – will also be shown for the first time. More details here in the notebook a bit closer to the time.