One Thing At A Time

4 October 2009

My friend Tomoyuki in Tokyo mailed me after he’d been watching the monologue Sight is the Sense… which i made with the American actor Jim Fletcher.

The piece… reminded me of what Imre Kertész said in his Fateless about the linearity of the order of things that happen. He says the fact that things happened one by one during his Auschwitz experience saved him.  He would have been destroyed if all the things happened at once.  What if all the definitions in Sight is the Sense… came to me at once?  Then it would be a very dangerous piece, but doesn’t the linearity of the monologue somehow save me at the same time? 

Tomoyuki underlines the linearity of the piece (the text for which consists of many many many disconnected single sentences one after the other), and to the way that all performance in fact unfolds in this way over and through time, building and accumulating, but at the same time systematically forgetting and undoing itself. The lived event (performance in life) is always slipping away. Its accumulations (such as they might be in short-term memory, or in the build up marks/detritus in a space, or in their impact on a body) are inevitably only partial and incomplete traces of its present moments and their sequential impact. (Strange parallel process of both both building/accumulating and slipping/disappearing).

You can see the work live in Paris later this month, at Theatre de la Bastille who are also showing the more recent solo in pieces I made with the Japanese dancer Fumiyo Ikeda.


2 October 2009

A cruel boss, it was rumoured that he punished people who were late to meetings with him by making them eat their watches. Common were the complaints of the local doctors called to the bedside of men who were trying with some difficulty to pass the indigestible remains of a large Rolex or whose throats were ravaged by the fragments of a crushed diamond encrusted, four time-zone Seiko.


I've been thinking a lot, she says, then adds, well, i should be careful of the word. It's not so much that I have thoughts these days – I am invaded by them.


Out front of the gas station, as other cars come and go, a very large guy is inspecting the underside of the very very large jeep/four-wheel drive which he evidently drives, peering under it methodically as he walks around it, a baseball bat clutched ready in one very large hand.

No Cages

The city has no pens, cages or shelters in which it gathers stray or abandoned animals. Instead it pursues a policy of catching, vaccinating, neutering and tagging the many such creatures to be found there before then returning them to a life on the street. Poster campaigns from time to time remind the city’s inhabitants to feed or give water to these animals, specially as the summer temperatures rise. This now-established shadow population constantly performs a set of subtle but extraordinary demands and gestures in relation to the urban space. The streets are full of them – dogs with their own corners, shop doorways, park benches and traffic intersections, cats in the bushes, running along walls, sleeping on the boxes of books outside a second hand bookshop, or under the tables in a restaurant, or peering from rooftops here and there. In many cases these animals have particular sets of people providing sustenance for them in specific locations – impromptu homes with dishes for water and food, a scrap of clothing for a blanket even, to sleep on. And all this has a strange effect on the public space of the city, populating it with animals that lack either the status or the indignity of ‘ownership’, existing as they do in a physical and social space that’s at the same time highly public and yet which becomes, by sheer dint of their custom, domestic. The ubiquitous presence of these animals also thrusts a strange collective responsibility on the city’s inhabitants, tying them in a collaborative project of nurturing whose rules and roles are uncertain. At the very least, the population are required to negotiate (with care, indifference or cruelty) the spatial needs of these animals as they lie on streetcorners, sit beneath restaurant tables or hang out beside playgrounds, scavenging what they can. All cities have wildlife of course.. a layer of the natural in the urban, but these animals are sanctioned semi-citizens – loping their way through the crowds, or laying with apparent indifference at the busiest of markets or shopping streets.


Small news. I’m going to be writing a fortnightly column/diary for Guardian on-line imaginatively titled ‘Tim Etchells on performance’. I hope that writing on or around performance there will leave me free to meander here. See above.



She and her boyfriend both got tattoos. Egyptian, she thinks that symbol is, but it’s not a hieroglyph. What does it mean? Truth she says. We liked truth and we liked Heaven. Now I think of it it, she adds, leaning in to speak from the front passenger seat of the taxi, it seems strange we chose Truth over Heaven. I ask are they still together? No, it was some years ago. He's in XXX now, she says – another country. (And I think later – the tattoos, two truths that were close together and are now far apart).

Istanbul Readymade

15 September 2009

For Istanbul Bienale this year my project will take place beside the sunlit and heavily jammed highway leading to Ataturk airport. There, in the shade of a large traffic sign, seated as some other men might seat themselves in the shade of a tree, five men will crouch to eat their lunch, fingers passing food on the grass beneath the sign, their bodies at the same time shaded, framed and contained by the lopsided rectangle of its shadow.

Reality Show

25 August 2009

We have started to get some doubts about the reality show we are in. First – in many years there have been no evictions. Second – the tasks they set are so different than in the other shows. Some of the theatre projects I am involved in (for example) – many of the productions take six months to complete. Any reality show I ever saw the tasks don't take more than a week, mostly lasting a day or so. Participants might be asked to stage a pantomime in a garden, or to learn and perform comical monologues… but the kind of avant garde stuff I'm required to do most of the time is another thing altogether. The job my brother does is so completely different to mine that it's hard to see how we are being judged side by side. I am not complaining that it's not fair – just saying that it makes no sense. At the very least we are starting to think that the show we are in has a very different structure to say Big Brother or I Am A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (or Top Model or Beauty & The Beast) and makes quite different demands on our time and our skills. Third – no diary room or confession cam. In fact the house has no camera installations at all that we are aware of, tho we assume of course that there are video recording systems concealed somewhere/somehow – otherwise the whole of what we're doing here (and all the great material we are generating day in day out) would be wasted, no? Fourth. No shouting or applause from outside the house at night (apart from the drunks etc). In fact there are so few restrictions on our movements that the whole concept of the shows' location – supposedly or at least conventionally 'a house' –  is a bit nebulous. Some people reckon it's hard to say that X or Y are still 'competing' if they go on holiday to France for several weeks any time they feel like it? Or perhaps their alleged holiday is a ruse, stunt or invention of the production company running the show, a device designed to put pressure on those of us who remain? But who remains and why in any case? The mechanisms lack any kind of transparency at our end. Perhaps the viewers get more info than we do. Similar questions have been raised about the economic downturn and the so-called swine flu rumoured to be sweeping the city outside – none of us really feels confident that these events have much integrity, although the scale of them (and the potential complexity of simulating them), as well as their as-yet-entirely nebulous impact on daily life in the 'house' make them at least questionable (and surely dis-economic) as effective interventions. Finally we're drawn to discuss the severity of some of the tasks or challenges. In 2004 I underwent two bouts of serious cardiac surgery and long periods in the hospital, as well as long times recovering at home in the house. As 'challenges' for a contestant in a reality show these seem dangerous, exaggerated and even irresponsible. Some contestants I met in the hospital later died as a result of  their ordeal. Last night Z wrote a long letter to the producers of the show and has posted it in several of the windows since we lack any established mode of contact with them, demanding both an explanation of the rules and a complete reform and reinvigoration of the structure. As yet we have heard nothing.



23 August 2009

Somehow connected to the booklets outlining virtual events that I’ve been working on and to the recent writing I did on the Michelangelo Pistoletto installation at Venice, I came across this great Pistoletto project from 1976 – One Hundred Exhibitions in the Month of October comprising a series of proposals for exhibitions/works all thought up and described during that month. The quite comprehensive Pistoletto website says “One Hundred Shows was a sort of recipe book of exhibitions and works, many of which were later carried out; these include the video Who Are You? (1976), Overturned Furniture (1976), The Hoof (1979), Segno Arte (from 1993 on) and Free Space (1999)”.

You can download the text One Hundred Exhibitions in the Month of October by Michelangelo Pistoletto (PDF).

Two favourites amongst the proposed exhibitions:


“Restoration of the world”

Instead of drawing on the road or on the sidewalk as beggars do, I fix broken pieces of public places, taking as one does when restoring works of art, a color Polaroid before and one after the job. Next to the photograph I explain how my father, besides being a painter, also taught me restoration and how I now make art restoring the world where it is broken.I leave my hat next to the finished job in the hopes of a penny or two. Besides showing a global view of the world, this work attracts attention to minimal details. It also shows the evident separation between the artificial world, which can be restored, and the natural world, which is always perfect and therefore cannot be restored.


Completely empty gallery. There is a sign at the entrance saying: “Each person, before entering, must write in the book which part he is going to play inside the room.”


Another great resource I came across recently is The Diary Reinvented by Ian Breakwell, hosted at Anthony Reynolds website and made as part of Ian’s AHRC fellowship project at Central Saint Martins. Breakwell died in 2005 and much of his work comprised on-going diary projects, shifting between text, drawing and photography. There’s so much great material at The Diary Reinvented it’s hard to know where to start – and exploring there already led me on something of an Amazon jag getting hold of books and a BFI DVD of Ian’s TV Diary project, short video works and other stuff.

I chose a couple of Breakwell’s diary fragments to quote below. What’s fascinating to me – aside from the great blank comic tone, and the eye on (often scatological) urban detail –  is that it’s such vivid visual writing. And in many of the entries there’s a kind of clear or evident visual grammar to the event or scene described – a symmetry, or an echoing, a set of lines traced, a mirroring, a colour link between one thing and another and so on that really makes one thing about linguistic composition in very particular way. The first of the entries below is great for how it multiplies and escalates from the first image, whilst the second of them I love for the set of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines and traces it draws in the space of three sentences.

16th April 1982


Two young girls on the tube train sniffing glue out of plastic bags. They try to talk to each other but give up and sit side by side picking their noses. A girl sitting on a street bench with a fibre-tipped pen stuck up her nose. Glue-heads stumbling round the fruit market, sniffing out of plastic bags and eating peaches, juice running down their chins. The taste of summer: peaches and glue.

13th February 1982

London. Butts Café, St John Street, EC1

A man carrying a polythene bag full of tongues sits down at the café table alongside a woman who is scratching her leg. A man walks past the window with the headless carcase of a deer on his shoulders. On the other side of the street the second-floor window of the Dream City Massage Parlour For Men is raised and a slender hand with long red fingernails slips through the gap between the curtains and flicks the ash from a cigarette out onto the street below where a man with his trousers round his ankles is shitting in a doorway.


The Broken World paperback

22 August 2009
The Broken World - Paperback Cover

The paperback of my novel The Broken World is out on the 3rd September.

There’s a small review from today’s Guardian.

In the event that any of this is news to anyone here you can also find online various older press and blog reactions, mostly from last year when the hardback came out. There are reviews at Scotland on Sunday, at Frieze, at Big Dumb Object, at Popdose, and from Marcus Gipps. There are interviews with me about the book at Metro and (once again) at Big Dumb Object. If you’re inclined that way you can even become fan of the book on Facebook, tho I have to say that making a direct link to that here is beyond my ability and current attention span.

Enjoy. And please spread the word!