Norfolk & Norwich Festival: Busy May Part Two

21 April 2010
A Short Message Spectacle

I’m making a new text-messaging performance to be presented at Norfolk & Norwich Festival in May. Lasting the  duration of the festival, the new piece – A Short Message Spectacle (An SMS) – is an imaginary performance lasting 16 days, with each of its scenes described by text message, relayed as virtual events taking place through the day and night in diverse locations across an equally imaginary city. The audience for the work are subscribers to a special phone number (see below), and the events of the performance are summoned by text message alone, described and unfolding via a series of missives each day.

Receiving the texts that make up the project A Short Message Spectacle (An SMS) is free – to sign up as an audience member for text NNF, your postcode and your age to 60777.

A Short Message Spectacle (An SMS) follows my earlier SMS projects Surrender Control (2001) and 39 Or So To Do (2008).


My existing 2008 neon works (see here for pictures of a previous installation of them) are also on show as part of NNF at locations around the city, alongside five or six new neons specially commissioned for the festival.


Also in Norwich I’ll be performing in the Forced Entertainment durational piece Quizoola! on Saturday 15th May from 6pm to midnight.


18 April 2010

The world brings strange gifts sometimes. Friends or lovers, afternoons of conversation or late nights wandering in some city or books you chance on or songs in foreign language you overheard from an open window. Best of all perhaps, sometimes, if you are very lucky, the world will bring zebras.

You're walking, not alone, down in the no-mans land which follows the ring-road roundabout, on a street of boarded up buildings. That's where the zebra appears. And after it the lion.

It's maybe 9.45am. A spring morning on this abandoned street, the light bright, air sharp crisp and just ahead you see the two mini-cabs parked in the wide curve of the bend, the cars pulled up drivers-window to drivers-window so that the guys inside can talk whist waiting callouts for a job. Opposite from this, outside the boarded up cutlery factory (smashed windows/rusted metalwork/faded signage), there are six or seven guys loitering the pavement, sporting dirty green overalls, all chatting, some smoking, laughing as if on a break, or else maybe waiting for a van to take them off to some distant construction job. Impossible to tell of course, but you notice them anyway. And that's more or less the same moment where you notice the zebra just above them in the air. It's in the form of a tinfoil helium balloon 60-80cm long, and trailing a long grey ribbon from its tail. You and your companion stop to watch this zebra dance softly in the air above these same guys (apprentices? guys on some kind of training?), guys who are also watching it, skeptically, their eyebrows raised as the creature buffets lightly this way and that in the wind, its general direction a kind of awkward but steady upwards. For a moment you wonder if one of the guys might reach for it; try to pull this lighter-than-air-zebra down to the earth as it turns there, head over heels, marking irregular cartwheels just above their heads. But no, instead they just watch as you do, bemused and partly mesmerised. Time slows a little and the zebra turns softly. You  wonder if perhaps one of the guys in the overalls released this zebra/balloon as a prank – but they show no signs of ownership of this event, staring just as puzzled as you. One of them laughs.

That's when the wind takes the animal thoroughly and the sky zebra really rises, its legs fixed stiff in a Muybridge arrested-gallop, turning over itself at leisurely pace but really ascending now, crossing the road and passing directly over your heads, upwards so that you have to crane your necks, the lost creature going up and over the hoardings, still turning, passing twenty feet above you then really going higher, up against the clear sky. You watch the zebra tumble its strange irregular route,  surmising that this trajectory must be caused by its fantastically un-aerodynamic shape – the trotting legs, the tail, the outstretched head, the streamer of ribbon – all counteracting the air in their own different ways as the helium floats the creature into the wind. A zebra is a black and white animal. Certainly. You see its stripes and its shiny metallic balloon flank and it's rising and rising, and you are saying the same words over and over – 'wow' and 'amazing' – as it heads – upwards and inexplicable – high over the wasteground, tracing a jagged graph line on the sky. Amazing you say. And that's when the lion appears – a smaller balloon, also filled with helium, and also rising. The lion – in posture that's more like sleeping than prowling – seems at first to have come from behind the hoardings or from the derelict building beyond them. You can’t be sure though. Maybe these two balloon creatures are from miles away. Or they were launched from a vehicle. Or they were blown here by some freak of the winds. In any case the lion follows the zebra, upwards. It's not a scene you can photograph. You have your camera in your bag but you don't even reach for it, don't hardly even think of it. The lion chases after the zebra like some pursuit on the plains and you wonder for a moment if the lion will catch up with its prey but no of course there is no drama beyond that of the simultaneity. The two of them are rising, getting smaller – the sky is kind of taking them – turning them to small shapes, then just dots, almost nothing, then nothing, against its blue.

That's all it is really. The lads over the street were watching too but now they're leaving. The taxi-cabs are still there and the drivers don’t seem to have been that engaged – their radios are muttering on and only one leans out of his window to watch the last part of the ascent as you and your companion depart. The zebra and the lion its pursuer are vanished now into the sky and it's time to continue your journey. There are times, and this is one of them, when you feel that the world brings you strange gifts, as valuable and as temporary as they are impossible to understand. On a morning like this one – vivid, complex and beautiful in all of its ways –  it's like that for sure.


Stop Start

13 April 2010

Sometime after midnight you’ll almost certainly be treading the shallow water of a story that lacks purpose or direction, begging silently for the “stop” to end your misery. More often than not, no such luck; there’s more amusement in letting you hang.

My latest Guardian Online performance diary piece, about And On The Thousandth Night… is up.


Meanwhile the lovely Forced Entertainment launched its very own Notebook this last week – a scrapbook of photos, video and text fragments from various company members relating to current work, touring shows and creation processes. I’ll be pitching in from time to time.


Site Notes

5 April 2010

I’m wondering what would it be to do nothing – as if that possibility were the real starting point. And then, starting from this bottom line, I think every idea has to justify itself. With some stress on the fact that it’s easy to do too much. Or on the well known idea that less will probably be more. I’m trying to put a brake on the gratuitousness that flows so easily. And on invention for invention’s sake. The world is full of things after all.

Another way to come at this is something to do with looking and listening. I’m trying to look and listen and understand what’s there. I might ask of the work that it adds nothing to this, or that it adds as little as is needed to make a change or pose a question. Or that, in other words, the work concentrates on processes of echoing, repeating, mirroring what is already there. There’s a certain self-erasure in the work considered or made this way. It’s not about assertion. More about listening. Or, if about asserting, then asserting the right thing, precisely the right thing, for the context. I like the idea that the work doubles, repeats, mirrors, echoes and that in doing so it amplifies or underlines or makes visible what was already there.

In the form of one question: what’s the least (but still effective and articulate) intervention you could make?

In the form of another question: what’s here, what’s at work here and what would make these things visible?

Are We Here Yet?

3 April 2010

In Essen last weekend for performances of the double bill I made some years back with Meg Stuart, and for the launch of a great new book on her work titled Are We Here Yet? Put together by Jeroen Peeters and Meg in collaboration Are We Here Yet? explores Meg’s work, process and documentation with contributions (interviews, short texts, essays, working-drawings, photographs, video stills, notebook pages and so on) from a great many of Meg’s collaborators past and present including Myriam Van Imschoot, Anna Viebrock, Benoît Lachambre and André Lepecki.

Below you find the short text I wrote for the book. You can see some pages, and order Are We Here Yet? online.


Tuning In

Often it has been a matter of stepping on a plane to go somewhere, to go some dark place (a studio, a theatre) that at first sight (on arrival some blurred morning) is very like the room I work in with Forced Entertainment but at the same time not like it at all – as if in some once familiar place everything was taken one night or early morning and shifted, slightly down or to the left. In this realigned room, most likely in daylight or else in near darkness I’d find a group of people, talking, working, already half way into some improv, some investigation, some kind of conversation that might have lasted weeks. Or it might be a break and a sound guy would be busy with something – the whole room bending with shards of music, atmospheres that are somehow stopped, paused, tweaked and restarted. Or else, as my eyes get used to the half-light, video projections might shimmer here and there – pixelated ghosts flashing on the walls of a house, or some temporary structure, or on the walls and floor of the studio. In any case people talk, wait, move on, and many of them – as it seems at least – are working and talking with different agendas, if not exactly at cross purposes, heading this way and that. It’s a group for sure but not constituted evenly, not made for its appearance but for its hybrid, unbalanced functionality. Looking round in the dark, you get this sense of material haunting the room already, of scenes that are being worked on, dances in the process of morphing or tightening, texts whispered and repeated, texts that have been put in, thrown out, and are now put back in again. On the wall there will be pictures, most likely, and some texts – scrawled or photocopy pages.

Things pull together before a run through and most likely I’m listening, trying to catch what’s on the wind. When Meg talks it’s a sketching or scattering of language, not quite sentences, but more a temporary constellation of words, always in motion, a flicker of birds (perhaps digital ones, or scrolling on video), at the centre of which, unspoken, is what she’s reaching for. Precise and impossible to fathom at the same time. Or at least, again, that’s how it seems. Arriving in this room I’m bringing with me fragments of writing perhaps – some lines, some paragraphs. Or I’m bringing with me nothing but the time to sit there, watch, absorb and then react. Bringing attention from one place to another – tuning in. And I’m listening often, amazed at the flow and falter of the conversation between this group in this room, which, again, is so like that in the room I spent much of the last 25 years with Forced Entertainment but, again, so different, as if things were shifted upwards, or just over to the right. I watch Meg sometimes, from the corner of my eye, paying close attention I guess because the job she does here is the one that I do myself most often – as some kind of director/ organiser, the editor, the putting-togetherer, chair-person of some especially strange and unruly committee. Watching her as if understanding what she does might help me understand what I do. At times (I remember quite hazily one hotel room or dressing room late night meeting with a lot of people) I really just can’t see what she’s doing at all or I can’t see how she does what she is doing, or I can’t imagine what it is that she wants, and more than anything at times I can’t quite imagine how this process (which seems to be circling and uncertain, too-many-directional, distracted even from and by its own distractions) is going to get there in any case. And at times there seem to be so many opinions, so many ideas, so much noise in fact that I really start to wonder why she works like this, with so many voices around. But what I’ve learned (from my role in this, my from-time-to-time presence and voice in all this) is that Meg is only listening sometimes, absorbing boldly at others, and at other times (maybe always) she is processing, deep in the background, riding the waves of what goes on in the room. That all this stuff (conversations, improvisations, texts, ideas for videos, spatial constructions, music, movements) are moving in and out and around of her, waiting for a moment where the need or the intelligence of it coheres and she has something in her sights, or in her hands or on her hands like blood or there, out there in the space, something shaking, moving on the floor of the studio. And again, arriving in a specific kind of half-light what I’ve learned is to trust this other person’s feeling-for-something in a busy room, sifting, filtering, processing voices and bodies, a feeling-for-something which I guess is like mine but not at all the same.

Other times, what I’m faced with is a DVD rehearsal tape, shot from the back of the room, wide angle for the most part, recording the traces of movements, speeches. I skim back and forth – trying to make out details, listening to scenes. People dance up and down a staircase, or endlessly stumble and fall in the recording of that room’s half-light. I’m looking for 8.25-32 or for 56.19 onwards. Scenes that need input of text. I’m watching, making notes. Not sure what I’m looking at, not sure what I’m looking for exactly (there is no exactly, not yet) but looking and listening anyway. Tuning in. Long distance. Trying to get the measure of something that is taking shape in a room far away. It’s not channelling and it’s not remote viewing but there is probably a little of each of them in this process. I write some notes. The movement of bodies in one place is pressed onto a DVD somehow, Fedexed across an ocean and then transferred to a screen. Once it’s there, on the screen in front of me, I’m attending to it and the movements, (or the charge of the movements) is transferring from the screen to me. Twitches and shadows of the movement ghosting into me, leg twitch, shoulder move, hand clench, hips shift. In the deteriorated image on screen (bad light conditions and a hasty DVD) I can make out this or that person I know, a dancer speaking words I might have written, or words that she here has improvised. I’m typing as I watch – fragments of the text transferring to the screen of the laptop much as the movements whisper themselves to my body. Later I will carry this text, which I have ghost written here to the there I can see on the screen, collapsing distance, space/time, putting my words again in the mouth of another.

Meg writes me that she has an exercise called ‘remote partners in contact’, a duet contact dance where she ask one dancer to leave the studio and have coffee down the street while the other stays in the rehearsal room, knowing that they are agreeing, despite the distance, to dance together… connecting through distance. She tells me this because she knows of course that this is what we have been doing for a long time, eight years or so.

Or at other times we are in the same room. And I’m watching her move in that way which endlessly takes the same body (hers) and pulls it into different focus, morphing biology, pulling up from the shadows all the many possible and impossible versions of itself. It sounds cliché and stupid to say that there is a child there, an old woman, a beautiful woman, a girl again, an adolescent, a monster, a ghost, an animal, a man. Sure, but watching her you feel these things directly, presently, concretely just as if ‘I’ were to reach out of the page and touch your hand. There is something super tangible about this, which for me has been the great gift of working with the small number of dancers that I’ve worked who all in their own way somehow made me understand a little better that bodies themselves are plural, or that bodies can be fluid as a blank page, haunted as a house, possessed and shapeshifted in relation to their own past and future, their own environment, context, or possibility. Maybe that’s been the gift of this, amongst other things – the task I’ve had from time to time of finding the right phantom words for the body phantoms that multiply in Meg’s work.

We are sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Meg and I. We are talking about the possibilities and impossibilities of group work, or what it means to work in performance and how to continue doing so, of how to hold things together, or how to let things drift apart. It’s not the same what we do, not by any means, and the institutional structures we work inside are different but at the same time there is a recognition of something, of similar experience, related questions.

Or, later, much later, like now, for example, I’m on the train whilst writing this text, laptop on the table as we’re speeding through green wet fields of English summer. Sky gray, flat. And as I write I’m guessing that  Meg is in Berlin, and I’m guessing she’s awake but maybe not since long. Maybe sitting at a table at a window. Out there in the sunshine I’m guessing she sees an airplane. Vapour trail. A vapour trail viewed remotely/danced at a distance. For a moment my moves echo hers, then a pause and maybe her eyes close. Connection closes. The train I’m in enters a tunnel. Meg and I are something like a thousand miles apart (I can’t connect to internet so I can’t use Google to check this) but let’s say we are a thousand miles apart. When the train comes out of the tunnel I’m looking at hedges and fields again and the windows are quickly streaked with rain.



30 March 2010

The latest of my Guardian Performance Diary pieces – on the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow – is online. There are some questionable edits… but there we go. Why would anyone think that this sentence:

Ron’s absence – slipped away in the Glasgow night – only seems to further fuel the rumour fire, adding mystery to deliberate injury.

Is improved by being turned into this:

Meanwhile, Athey’s absence – slipped away in the Glasgow night – only adds further fuel to the fire.

The edit is shorter I know, and very likely clearer. But….


My video 100 People is part of What If… festival at Siobhan Davies Studios in London next week. Co-curated by Lucy Cash, Becky Edmunds, Claudia Kappenberg and Chirstinn Whyte with Gill Clarke from Independent Dance, the festival mixes live performances from dance and live art with screen work by myself, Cornelia Parker, John Smith, Miranda Pennell, Desperate Optimists and Oreet Ashery.


Art Review is now available online and is a real treat for people that like having to register and create passwords, reading articles in flash-pop-ups with idiosyncratic navigation and text that’s displayed in special way so that it can’t be copy-pasted. Probably should’t be so rude – the content is pretty great and the review by Mark Rappolt, of my recent Gasworks show, which closed last week, is a good one.


I also have work in an on-going series of Forest Fringe micro-festivals, the first of which takes place at BAC this coming weekend. My project is a series of four posters for imaginary events allegedly taking place in each of the four locations of the micro-festival (London, Bristol, Swansea and Glasgow), and as soon as I get myself organised I’m going to make a version of the poster available for download here.

We’re All Actors In This I Suppose

15 March 2010

Two fragments from last week’s Guardian coverage of John Venables’ identity relapse:

His deteriorating mental condition has seen him transferred into the hospital wing of the prison where he is being held in an isolation room. He is understood to have told fellow prisoners and staff who he is, making it more likely that his new identity will leak out.

“It’s an extremely difficult position for the authorities to be in,” said Harry Fletcher, assistant secretary general of the probation union, Napo. “If they go ahead with court proceedings, this could undermine his anonymity but the fact he is self-disclosing his identity means giving him another new identity becomes almost inevitable. This situation is fraught with difficulties.”


Ian Cumming, a consultant forensic psychiatrist who has worked with serious offenders in the prison system, said “the national demonisation of an individual was a heavy burden” that could explain why someone would find it difficult to keep their past hidden forever.

“Double lives are a burden for people,” Cumming said. “Just juggling two relationships is stressful and the secrecy takes its toll. People are not necessarily well equipped to do this sort of thing; it’s not their natural state.”


This from Tony Thompson on undercover police Officer A, in The Observer.

The constant strain of living a double life was also beginning to take its toll. “I couldn’t get out of role. Even after 18 months I was having trouble leaving the undercover persona behind. One time I was out swimming. Someone said something derogatory and my angry persona took over. It was an immediate reaction. There was blood everywhere.”

Before they were deployed, every SDS officer was visited at home to ensure they were married. “They introduced that rule after one officer refused to come out of the field. It turned out he just enjoyed being with his contacts so much that he was willing to give up his police salary and everything that went along with it in order to stay with them. Now you have to be married on the basis that, if you have something in the real world to come back to, you are less likely to want to remain in role. That’s the theory.”

Acting Surgery

Several plastic surgeons told me that actors do privately fret about rendering themselves unemployable by taking cosmetic work too far and limiting their expressive range. “I ask them, what expressions, what emotions, are you concerned about losing?” says Stephen Pincus, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. “They’ll say, ‘I have to be mad, or surprised, or I’m worried about my eyebrows, I don’t want to be a blank stare.’ I say, ‘I can paralyze your forehead from this point up, but you’re not going to be able to wrinkle a good part of the forehead. Is that an issue for you? If it is, we shouldn’t do it.’ ” Some of his patients go ahead with the treatment. “They’re more concerned about wrinkles than about the five seconds of emotion people might not notice anyway.”

Not a great article How Plastic Surgery Has Caused Acting to Be More Stilted, Stylized, and Masklike in New York Magazine – but definitely suggesting direction for something interesting and more radical on the same topic.