Sometimes wearing a scarf and a polo coat and no makeup and with a certain attitude of walking, I go shopping or just look at people living. But then you know, there will be a few teenagers who are kind of sharp and they'll say, "Hey, just a minute. You know who I think that is?" And they'll start tailing me. And I don't mind. I realise some people want to see if you're real. The teenagers, the little kids, their faces light up. They say, "Gee," and they can't wait to tell their friends. And old people come up and say, "Wait till I tell my wife." You've changed their whole day. In the morning, the garbage men that go by 57th Street when I come out the door say, "Marilyn, hi! How do you feel this morning?" To me, it's an honour, and I love them for it.
T. texted me after rehearsals to check out this Richard Meryman interview with Marilyn Monroe (in the Guardian, reprinted from Life, August 1962) which finds her in some kind of epic rambling mode, describing the strange space of her life, equal parts vivid and totally unreal – like the opening sequences of Blue Velvet. Fantastic looping sentences, changes of subject and reported dialogues. Great text.
Back at HKW in Berlin last month during the same programme as Vlatka‘s This Here And That There, I got chance to see Julie Tolentino’s great performance A True Story About Two People. In it Julie (who’s worked frequently with Ron Athey) dances barefoot and blindfolded for 24 hours continuously on a square of grass, inside a small mirrored booth. Strange that so simple piece as this one can multiply complexity in all directions as soon as you look at it, but I guess so much of my favourite work in performance (or in art more generally) is like this; clear, consequential, following a logic and irrefutable on the one hand and layered, rich, and (basically) bewildering on the other. Those two states, those two facts, sat side by side/on top of each other/overlaid at all times. Yes/And.
Visitors to the gallery are invited (by cards on a table next to her booth) to join Julie on the square of grass and dance with her, one at a time. If there are no takers she dances alone, whilst at other times there’s almost a queue, and very often there’s a small crowd of onlookers. This process goes on for 24 hours, a melancholy dance marathon for a single contestant with a constantly shifting (and sometimes absent) dance-partner. Throughout the work, music – country and western, ballads, torch songs, all sorts – slips from the speakers in the booth itself, the songs gliding in and out of each other, mixed to a landscape with the sound of crickets whose chirping adds its weight to the modest suggestion of the grass – that we might think for a moment of outside, of night, and of some other place than here.
Viewed from the outside the mirror panels of the booth let you see into it, though what you see is shot through, from time to time and depending on your angle of view, with reflections of the gallery, yourself, and passersby. Step into the booth through its open side, to dance though and the scene is very different. From within, as you’re dancing, the three screens are perfect mirrors, thanks to which you don’t see outside anymore. There are no more other people – only yourself, and her together, distorted, reflected and re-reflected – the two people of the title (now you and her, no longer her and a stranger) are doubled or multiplied out from your bodies as a series of moving images, phantoms, wraiths, memories, optical illusions. You feel, smell, touch, see her, but at the same time glimpse this shifting three-sided horizon of your dancing versions.
Seen after 12 hours of this work Tolentino cuts a frail figure in the booth, moving vulnerably, softly, made something of an object by her sightlessness. Reversing this impression though she retains both a strength and a privacy, like she’s able to deal, content in the fact that she’s alone and unknowable – a blank resilient figure. Hard to be sure if she is the victim of the economy she has set up (or mirrored) or if she is its master, hard to know if she serves this machine of encounter or if it serves her in some way. One’s sense of what levels of compulsion, work, need, desire, banality, sadness or joy govern the transactions that take place here is something that’s constantly shifting. Yes/And.
There’s been a fair amount of ‘for an audience of one’ work in performance in recent years and I’ve often had my doubts about it as a mode; it can seem like just too handy a short-cut to intimacy and affect, a route in which the formal decision too-often outweighs or doesn’t even speak to the content. Here though, in Julie’s work, as in Franko B‘s unforgettable Aktion 398, the formal decision and the content are the same thing, completely indivisible. It is what it is; a frame, a space in which a meeting takes place, an opening to possibility and to another person. And I guess A True Story About Two People isn’t ‘for one’, or isn’t really about two people in any case – its about the construction of two, its impossibility, its resonance and its possibility as an act in social space. As I write to a friend shortly afterwards:
“Intimate and totally public, contact but no contact at all, a meeting of some kind, but one that takes place basically inside your own head.. And the whole of the time in there is an occasion for a conversation with yourself of course, about this space of encounter, about holding and moving with another person… About watching and being watched, about what is and what is not.
Perhaps the strongest part of the piece is/was the moment of leaving her. When to leave? After a few songs, after a period of time? At least after the time when it feels like ‘something’ happened or something was exchanged. It can never be the right moment of course. I think I waited for the end of a song. What felt strong was that I looked for here eyes – to negotiate the departure – and then of course realised that, thanks to the blindfold – her eyes were not there. So I had to say goodbye by means of slowly letting go my touch.”
Watched from the outside some visitors seem to talk a lot. Others not so much. From the look of it they ask lot of why’s, how long’s and how are you’s. I’m guessing. But it looks like the small small negotiations of the ‘being there’. Physically one can see that there are the questions of what to do with the hands, how close to be, of where to go with the feet. The problem of tall persons (she is short). The problem of people that are too enthused (she is tired). Some are smiling. Some serious. Some easy. Some almost rigid. As for the movement itself; some dance with a little comedy in their step, some with moves in grinning quote marks. Or a raised eyebrow, that sends the eyes out to those watching outside, as if to say “Oh, yes, look at me. I am doing this. Dancing with her, here, in this place now…”
All those ways of engaging with the piece are possible, and a part of it of course. But they’re also a kind of avoidance, a way somehow not to be there. The piece, at its heart, wants to draw you into a space of intimate proximity with another human being – based on dancing, touch and movement – and asks simply (in full complexity) that you spend time there. Both times I took off my shoes and went in to dance with Julie I talked with her at first as we danced – the how’s it going, the this and that. The second time in, I even told her a story I’d remembered as we’d danced before, something from an old performance, a love story. But then I shut up, which for me at least was a kind of surrendering to the being there, to the thing of it. It was only then, in a certain way, that the piece started in earnest. You dance, move, hold. Hugo Glendinning took the pictures above and many others, without my even noticing. You think, drift, watch the mirrors, maybe close your eyes. You wonder – about her and how it is, about you and what this is, this contact. You think – about other dances you did here or there, or other dances you did not do here or there. Its a small space that you’re moving in (literally and as metaphor), but it goes down deep. It can be sad, ordinary, delightful, tender, awkward. Shifts in between all these things, tries to find what it is, this meeting between you and her, surrounded by ghosts/reflections. It’s an economy of taking and giving – that you give something to her by dancing, and that you take something too, the balance uncertain, in constant negotiation.
The goodbye is the marker moment, as I wrote already. Because then you have to deal with the fact that she’s not ever in it on the same terms as you were, that she’s locked in it in fact, since whilst you can leave she’s in it for good – a production line of sorts, in which many others like you come and go, to look, hold her, talk, dance, and leave and that she alone stays, dances, continues – trapped in one sense and way stronger than you in another. Yes/And.
Someone is texting you repeatedly with the same unsigned message, at all times day and night. It says simply:
I DO NOT EXIST
If you ignore the message it still comes again. If you reply there's no direct or consequent response. Invariably though, at some point, minutes, hours or, on some occasions days later, the same message just comes again. It keeps coming.
I DO NOT EXIST I DO NOT EXIST
This goes on for a month or two, maybe longer. It's freaky at first but you get used to it somehow and adjust your routine to take account of what's happening. You turn my phone off at night and in the morning collect streams of identical texts. You check your phone only sporadically, tell friends not to text you because it only leads to confusion as real messages are so often obscured by the deluge. You consider changing numbers, and find yourself involved in long complicated conversations about if its possible or not to block communications from particular places.
I DO NOT EXIST I DO NOT EXIST I DO NOT EXIST I DO NOT EXIST
A few times you even call the number from which the messages are emanating and which you don't recognise at all. But on calling it you just get some kind of number-error message. No voicemail, not even a ring, like this number is itself a phantom, something cancelled, something impossible.
Your phone beeps, or trills or clicks. You check the message:
They make their livings out at the airport, scavenging recyclable material from the trash containers which are dedicated to aluminum cans and certain kinds of plastic bottles, for later resale. A small group of people seem to work the same terminal. You spot a young asian woman, an old man that looks like he’s hardcore homeless. Another rather non-descript guy. Like ghosts they drift thru silently and alone, treading routes that cross repeatedly, though they don’t seem to make or seek contact with each other. Each place in the terminal they stop at they examine the contents of the recycling bins, discretely but matter of fact… turning the bottles over or around to see what the symbols are… micro-experts in the rules, regulations and logos of this strange detail of the consumption economy.. each with large laundry bag on wheels, one with a large shopping bag from KaDeWe, in which to gather their spoils. It takes you a while to even notice them as distinct from all the other passengers, meeters and greeters – but once noticed these curious itinerant workers are shadows that its hard to ignore, you see them more and more. Like background noise/buzz or the fact that a movie is out of synch – once recognized you cannot stop from noticing and you wonder how many other people around you in the crowd are also players in some not-yet-noticed sub-economy. What gives them away in fact is the repetition – their grazing/paths which take them back around in a parasitic cycle from one place to another and back again. Everyone else here only comes around once – one trip to the toilet, one to duty-free, one to the café or electronics store. These scavenging ghosts are on rails however, always cycling back to the same places. Hoping to be the first to get there just after someone drops another useful/resaleable item.
I’m doing a show of my video work at Sketch in London from 15 September to 3 November 2007. For the show, titled One Hundred and Three People, I’m exhibiting three existing pieces (Kent Beeson is a Classic & an Absolutely New Thing, Erasure and So Small) alongside a new work called 100 People, which conjures the imaginary presence of one hundred people, each of whom exists only by virtue of brief descriptions on screen. This last one is currently under construction. Like my earlier video Starfucker,100 People functions as a kind of minimalist anti- (or virtual) cinema in which simple presentation of unfolding text on a black background investigates the dynamic capacity of language itself to create images and to summon presence.
Sketch is at 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG Tube: Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus. The opening reception is on Saturday 15 September, 12.30-2.30pm.The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm. Free admission.
Also, as mentioned here before Starfucker will be part of Ein zweites Leben (A Second Life), at the Stadtgalerie Pavilion / Loge in Bern, opening on the 8th of September and running until the 21st October. As part of the exhibition there will be a special screening event with a selection of my other video-pieces on 19th September at 20.00 with an introduction/Q&A by curator Barnaby Drabble.
Finally on art-related matters the Drama Queensproject I made earlier this year with Elmgreen & Dragset has a very nice mention here in Kate Bush’s roundup of Munster for ArtForum. I’ve written about the project a few times here in the notebook and have flagged other press stuff and youTube clips from it here too – use the tags below to locate this info if you’re that way inclined.
Then, out of the blue comes the most beautiful spam subject line I’ve had in ages.
> i very want to find my love
Must use it as a title for something. It’s from one of those ‘I am biologically female, saw your profile on the internets, will be in your town soon and would like to meet you’ invitations, which I have been collecting for no particular reason. I think I’m attracted to it as a project (like some of mine) about endless variations-on-a-theme. Also the performance of not-writing-very-well. Or the genuine not-writing-very-well. Or the combination of the two.
A few things on the Nettime list recently that I liked reading. This interview by Jelle Bouwhuis with Norman Klein on the New Canon. A link by Olia Lialina to her article about Web Vernacular which led me, indirectly to this piece of hers from back in 1996, which I liked, called (I think) ‘My boyfriend came back from the war. After dinner they left us alone’. Very much a Donald Barthelme kind of title. (Google Ads makes a very weird intervention on the first page of this work though, by pulling up random text-ads for anything to do with War – War Medals, War of the Worlds Tickets, Modern War Studies, Records from World War Two etc – hard to take against the minimalist aesthetic of the piece). Also on Nettime Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) pointing to this blog entry by Steve Shaviro reviewing William Gibson’s Spook Country. I wasn’t so keen on the book myself (I just finished it and liked Pattern Recognition rather better) but Shaviro makes an interesting case for it.