More Butterfly

31 August 2008

Nice mail from Robert Cook following my Butterfly post some days back:

Your post… struck a memory, and I thought you might be interested. Something I wrote a few years ago, about something a lot further back:

‘Once, when I was young, I killed a butterfly. I was a knight wielding a mighty headless broom in defence of my Mum’s garden realm, or perhaps a wizard damning demons with a flourish of my magical WonderClean wand. Or maybe I was just a kid with a stick in a suburban backyard. I don’t want to remember those details, because details can blur the shape of a memory, and the memory as it stands is clear and perfect. The butterfly’s muted white crazy-dance, the aimless insect sublime jittering over my head. The abrupt cessation of fantasy at the same precise moment as a decision made by instinct and executed before I had even registered that I was no longer playing. The uncalculated millimetre accurate strike, the downward arc, the small precise thack of termination. The body in the grass.’

Since that murderous moment I’ve regarded butterflies as something almost divine (and I’m atheist, or at least irreligious). Guilt, obviously, but also a reframing, a genuine change of thought pattern based on something I had done and that was not undoable. The irrevocability of an act that leads to the lifting of a veil. Or something. Anyway, I didn’t know before about the belief that a butterfly signifies a visit from the departed. Is the belief that the butterfly is the actual visitor, or a sign of the visitor? I only ask because I know that I killed that butterfly not long after my father had died. (Bear in mind this is 25 years ago – I’m not on a guilt cruise or losing my marbles or anything, just trying to expand the contours of my own past experience…

More from Robert over at his blog Observer Error.


Over at his Ambiente Hotel blog meanwhile Mike Harrison pulls out the most startling quote from the intro to a new edition of T.M. Wright’s A Manhattan Ghost Story. Says Mike:

Here’s Wright on the dead (to add to WG Sebald on the dead) –

“.. you are allowed to know them and to see them, but not well, not at all well, only as well as you see the living.”

Read that a couple of days ago and I’m still shaking my head at the beauty of it.

Art Flavours

Performance, installation, video. 2008. For Manifesta 7.

Art Flavours involved the creation of new flavours of gelato with flavours inspired by curatorial concepts and terms from contemporary art. This process was documented on video and the completed work shown as both video-installation and as an occasional performance intervention as part of Manifesta 7, in which samples of the gelato are given free to the public.

At the heart of the work’s creation were a series of interactions between the artist, a gelato maker (Osvaldo Castellari, based in Mori, near Rovereto) and the Italian critic/curator Roberto Pinto. Through the process of the work Pinto presented a selection of concepts or themes drawn from the discussion of contemporary art (The Body, The Archive, The Spectacle and Memory) to Castellari, who in turn interpreted them, transforming his understanding into corresponding flavours.

Staging an encounter between popular confectionary and art practice, Art Flavours plays with the possibility (and impossibility) of translating the academic/specialised language of the art world into new edibles for the public.

Art Flavours reflects Etchells’ interest  in the interface between different discourses and cultural frames (in this case – art, confectionary and commerce) and the potential for communication and miscommunication between them.

Sight Is The Sense That Dying People Tend To Lose First

Performed by Jim Fletcher. Live performance, 2008. 

Socks are gloves for the feet. Snow is cold. Water is the same thing as ice. In America things are bigger. America is a country. Korea is also a country. Some men have sex appeal. Blind people cannot see anything. Burglars are men that go into houses and take things which do not belong to them. Mist is like smoke but it comes without  fire. The telephone is an amazing invention. A mouse that is dead is sometimes referred to as a specimen. Love is difficult to describe. Fire is what happens when things get very hot.

A shifting, personal, decidedly imprecise and badly organised taxonomy Sight Is The Sense That Dying People Tend To Lose First is a free-associating monologue that tumbles from topic to topic. The work creates a failing iteration and explanation of the world, the things, forces, experiences, people and landscapes in it – what they are and how they work.

Exploring the processes of describing and defining the world through language and the ways in which a lone speaking subject might approach this task Sight Is The Sense… embarks on a mission that is comically doomed from the outset. Structured as a maddening accumulation of un-linked facts, the performance – a virtuoso piece of recall by any definition – makes the viewer highly aware of the gaps in its grasp on the world, and in the narrative and conceptual possibilities created through its evolving sequence of dissociated facts and opinions.

A table has four legs. A prison cell has four corners. A window is an opening in the wall of a room built by people who want to see outside. A hostage is a prisoner used to bargain with. A bargain is a deal or an arrangement where one person has one thing and the other wants it and the first person has something that the other wants and they make an exchange so that each is more happy. A fart is gas that escapes from a body. Torture is a way of hurting people, in the belief that this will make them tell you things you need to know. Some bridges fall down under specific circumstances. A layer of ozone protects us from the rays of the sun. Lions, horses and women can make interesting subjects for statues.

Comical in its apparent naiveté and preposterously encyclopaedic in scope Sight Is The Sense… explores the absurdity and horror of consciousness as it tries and fails to seize and define everything that it encounters.

Credits: Text and Direction – Tim Etchells / Performer – Jim Fletcher / Assistant Director – Pascale Petralia / Lighting Design – Nigel Edwards / Produced by Forced Entertainment.


Read New York based theatre academic Jonathan Kalb’s generous and smart response to Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola! and Sight Is The Sense…

Before That Noises

30 August 2008

First there was a rocking chair moved all on its own. Before that noises. Then a bunch of smaller things were moving when they should not move or else moved when people were out of the room. Thought there were Ghosts said Dad, and slowly the ghosts that he spoke of got more and more. Some kids were frightened and cried in the Nite, but the older ones did not scare so easy – they were all laughing, Bravado and his brothers, tryna make a joke out it all. They said the ole man came in one time, saw the spirit at there in the corner, right near where he liked to occupy his chair and he just stared that fucker down. Get out of here.

But whatever – in the end they came more and more and lots of them. It got too fucking hard to live there and we had to move out. Priest couldn’t help, couldn’t get rid of them. It was inconvenient. Dad said it just like that – it was just too inconvenient living in a house with so many ghosts. Maybe the house was builded on a burial ground etc. Maybe there was terrible murders of kids and all sorts, done right on the premises. Anyway we had to get out of there. Next house it was the neighbors making trouble – the guy was always killing an animal in the garden or leaving trash outside their door or letting off some fireworks under of his car or the hedge or his brothers t-shirt. So that year we got driven out of one place by the living and another place by the dead. Ghosts was what X said. Fucking ghosts. He did not mind Mice or Cockroaches or Idiots. But ghosts were a Royalty pain in the ass and once they got a hold on your place they were hard to shift.

Bad Man

Brother Mark mailed:

Loved the butterfly story. And the Kinski clip.
Stroked his “crazy dog” outa frisco in the hills years back. He used to hide
up fire watch towers and abuse hikers babbling abt property and rights to em
from 20 metres up and talk abt his crazy dog. Had an electric collar which
he’d fry it when it got too close to said hikers. Mad laughter thru the
hills. And a stunned and crazy dog. Used to stop it mind.
Dragged his corpse thru the property where I was. Dog still there.
Fucker stank of skunks. the dog I mean. Glad the ol boy was dead i’d guess.
Mount Barnaby I dimly recall. California. Log cabin, woods etc. Anyhow.

Barbara Campbell mailed and sent haikus by Kerouac, not knowing that I kind of love Kerouac, which I read mostly way back in the past. I had forgotten these though:

Useless! Useless!
—heavy rain driving
Into the sea

Night fall – too dark
to read the page,
Too dark

New York at this point is warm and piss stinking streets and rats running under the cars on 1st street. Got called “a bad man” by a six year old Asian kid in Whole Foods. Usual story. I sat on a chair, the kid thought it was his chair. I was a bad man he said with deadpan even emphasis on the two words, his mum said no I was not a bad man, they had gone to the bathroom, how was I to know, I was just sitting there eating my lunch in a chair that was unoccupied, I was not a bad man the mum said but the kid was not convinced and made an enemy of me.

This is Recorded on Rust and Selotape

27 August 2008

I am jet lagged and very likely to be rambling here.

Kate sent me some footage from The Secret Life of Machines, which I subsequently followed thru to find more episodes/fragments of the same 80s TV series with Tim Hunkin. Can’t say I ever watched it at the time but the stuff on the actual mechanics of everyday technologies is pretty interesting – like some kind of more brainy Scrapheap Challenge. The photocopier one, for example, has pretty great stuff on early/diy attempts at document copying – hugely laborious and often involving wet and dry processes akin to photo-development. Made me think these last few days about the technologies that replicate on the one hand (turning a physical object into another physical object, often with an intermediate stage), and technologies which effectively mediate things from one form or media to another – like scanners or samplers. Wondering vaguely if there’s a marker moment in technological development where the problem “how can i get another physical object like this one?” gets temporarily superseded by the problem “how can i get this physical object into a non-physical (digital) form?”. Something about the physical object being a nuisance and just wanting to have it digital… like ‘great, but how the fuck can i get *that * onto my computer?” Probably in fact the dynamic thing is about the process of constant translation backwards and forwards between realms – physical and non-physical, two dimensional and three dimensional.

Thinking now of the Gelatin project Tantamounter 24/7 I heard about way back – a closed space in which the artists were based, working continuosly for a period of days with various kinds of equipment and materials. Visitors could bring  to the window of this space any item they wanted copied and within a specified time period a copy of some kind would be made using only those materials and processes the artists had available to them inside the gallery.

The “Tantamounter 24/7” is a gigantic, complex and very clever machine. It’s like a huge huge Xerox copy machine, only bigger and more clever. The friendly customer places their personal objects, ideas, smells on one of the entry ports and after a short analysis will be informed of the time it will take to produce the copy.

The “Tantamounter 24/7” can scan two and three-dimensional objects, analyze their flavours, ideas, concepts and contents. As a clever machine it can not just copy or duplicate objects, but of course be tantamount to them. Due to its complex emotional circuitry one will never know how the “Tantamounter 24/7” will reflect the input. After the announced waiting time the input object and its duplicate will be ejected through the exit slot. The working mechanism behind “Tantamounter 24/7” is some completely hardwired intense individual agents operating day and night under close supervision of a bankrupt psychiatrist.


“I don’t even like art..”

Jacob Wren posted a link to a great set of 1986 interview fragments by David Hammons. By coincidence, and looping back to the copying theme, Vlatka and I saw an unofficial (and unauthorised) retrospective of his work a couple of years back which so far as I can recall consisted only of photocopies or replicas of his works.

A Butterfly

22 August 2008

A butterfly is loose on the stage during the second performance of That Night Follows Day in Gotenburg. The kids are all speaking in unison, just as they usually do, their eyes are steadily working the audience and they are making their way through the text and it all feels very present, very strong. And then there’s this extra layer, beautiful and distracting in equal parts – the butterfly, moving here and there, with this constant, unfolding micro-narrative of where will it go and what will it do. The kids say afterwards that as they watch the audience they see them move their heads in strange choreographed unison movements, each one trying  to track/watch/follow the butterfly’s path about and around the stage. And from time to time the butterfly comes to rest – on Viktor’s shirt for example, or on Taja’s shoe, or on Yen’s shoulder or on Lina’s arm where it stays for the longest time, so perfectly still and she so focused on what she is saying that and I’m not even sure if she has noticed it or not. The butterly seems to like green colours and he certainly loves the bright light of the stage. He is not the performance, but from time to time he really is the performance. I keep waiting for his story to resolve somehow. Will one of the performers panic or react when he too gets near them, or freak out when they notice that he has landed on their skin? Will one of them crush the butterfly or kill it with the swipe of a hand? or catch it? But nothing like that happens. The performance is taking place. The butterfly goes around, red and black colours, beating wings. He visits various people. He lands on one of the white lines that mark the gymnasium style floor. Then later I don’t see him anymore. There’s no end to the story.

Afterwards Keng Sen says that in China the arrival of the butterfly (or a moth) means there is a spirt in the room, a visitor from another realm. At a funeral especially it means that the deceased person is back – taking a look at what’s going on. I guess I don’t know who it was there in the theatre three nights ago, taking a look at the show, or at the building, or the audience. I guess the butterfly always seems like he’s from another story, another logic, another set of understandings even in out the world in a meadow, a garden or a park. On stage it seems doubly so. Also, as I think about it now the butterfly is all about gaze, about gaze in transit – about shifts of attention and  trajectory – fluttering from place to place, landing, staying setting off again. Strangely circuitous and arbitrary but always, in fact, going somewhere, searching, looking at, or for something. I loved the way that in Gotenburg he slipped out of my story.

Writing now though I’m suddenly thinking of the end of Herzog’s documentary/memorial to his friend, sometime-adversary and life-time collaborator Klaus Kinski, My Best Friend. In the final scene of the film Kinski faces Herzog’s camera while a large Amazonian butterfly flies around him – resting from time to time on his face, his shoulder, his outstretched hands. Kinski smiling in the brilliant sunshine, his movements patient, delighted and calm, in love with the moment and with its recording. Herzog on voiceover talking about how, perhaps against his better judgement, this scene and not the tempestuous and confrontational ego monster we’ve had glimpsed elsewhere in the film, is how he would most like to fix Kinski in his memory. Watching the clip again now I had to think about the double layer which was always there in it but never so explicit for me as it is now – Kinski being gentle, careful, kind to the dead spirit in the butterfly, just as Herzog, on the soundtrack is loving, and careful with the spirit of Kinski himself.


17 August 2008

Long Richard Price interview in The Guardian on Saturday talking about his new novel Lush Life about the Lower East Side. Loved this quote from the book – a kind of machinic tracking-shot of an intro, in which both he and the characters seem to be scanning the landscape searching for a story, which is followed by a paragraph of his discussing it.

“Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, crêperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People’s Park, corner. Tyson mural, Celia Cruz mural, Lady Di mural, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner. And then finally, on a sooty stretch of Eldridge, something with potential: a weary-faced Fujianese in a thin Members Only windbreaker, cigarette hanging, plastic bags dangling from crooked fingers like full waterbuckets, trudging up the dark, narrow street followed by a limping black kid half a block behind.”

I actually don’t like to write so I have to work myself up. This was me trying to get something going about these cops riding round the Lower East Side in a bogus taxi. I wanted this quality of them making right turn after right turn for hours on end all night, so I started this incantatory chant of the properties they were passing. And reading it back it seemed to say something about what this place was and what it had once been. Sometimes you have to jump up and down on a motorcycle pedal 10 times. This was the moment when it caught and it became like an overture to the book.


Meanwhile I am working on my own rather different intro/tracking shot. This from a draft of a text I’m writing right now for a forthcoming catalgue/book about the National Review of Live Art.

 It was the National Review of Live Art, in Glasgow but the exact year escapes me, but for sure a time where the entire contingent of the festival – artists, technicians and a good part of the travelling audience – were lodged in some Hotel on the Central Station itself. The row of late nights and blurred mornings we spent there, entangled with artists and otherwise were made stranger still by the fact that the hotels’ other large (probably largest) contingent of guests were the massed and often fully-costumed delegates of a Star Trek convention taking place right there, in the unlikely environs of the ballroom and other conference facilities. The combination of the Star Treks and the contemporary performance crowd made for a vivid meeting ground. Klingons in the elevator. Body pierced artists and a scattering of dancers in the foyer. Uhuru, Spock, some guy from a festival in Krakow and an assortment of Kirks all drunk at the bar. I don’t know what was stranger – the confrontation I had over three days with that years NRLA art, in all of its tremendous beauty, confusion and glory, or the encounter I had in a long empty and dimly lit corridor with a lone guy in a Star Fleet uniform, head down and running zig-zag towards me, a pretty crazed look on his face and a replica Phaser strapped ready and waiting to his thigh. It was 3am more or less. I don’t know what perils he ran from, or who or what exactly he sought as went past me at speed in the corridor, then crashed the door to the service stairs heading down, but the smell and the friction from the faint wind of sweat and lager as he went past will certainly stay with me. I’m thinking worlds passing close to each other, not quite touching. It is years later now. The hotel is gone I guess, or more likely stripped, gutted re-furbed and franchised to fuck. There will be no more barefoot dancers in the elevators, that much is for sure. No more artists asleep in the bar or yelling from those windows, as loud as the trains.


16 August 2008

Parents in Starbucks, addressing their noisy kids sternly, with a combination of vagueness and high precision.

Now then – your volume is at 6. We want your volume at 2…. or 4.


Graeme brought me a copy of Joe Brainard's book I Remember – a personal list catalogue of statements each beginning with the phrase 'I remember'. Shades of Perec there, who I think did a pretty simillar piece, probably pretty much the same time as the Brainard. Hints of Handke's Self Accusation, and Forced Entertainment's own (much later) Speak Bitterness here too. This ambiguous open-ended confession I liked especially:

I remember learning very early in life the art of putting everything back exactly the way it was.