holes, rents and tears

21 August 2009
Pistoletto Venice Installation

Pistoletto Installation Venice 2

Pistoletto Installation Venice 3

I’d heard about but then somehow ‘forgotten’ the Pistoletto installation only to ‘remember’ it immediately on entering the gallery in Venice – a narrative scenario which must account for a lot of encounters with art these days (arriving to see the thing you have already had described at some length). The line of second-hand description in my head was a warning about how dead the scene of the work might feel, comprising as it does the residue of a performance in which a room lined with large mirrors in ornate gold frames have been smashed, the floor now littered with broken mirror shards, the mirrors themselves still hung there floor to ceiling, cracked and shattered in diverse ways. But somehow I wasn’t even drawn to even try imagining the past action of breaking the mirrors, happy instead to find the life in the room at the moment of my being there, seeing everything via its doubling into partial and repeated reflection. I liked that. The reality of the room and the people in it cut up, distorting through the crack lines in the mirrors, the whole scene endlessly fragmented/absented/replayed in part by the holes and shards of what reflective surface remained.

A space of stories, pasts, associations. I had to think of Pistoletto’s long journey thru his work with the mirror and reflections, as well as recalling Andre Stitt’s motto “art is not mirror it is a fucking hammer“, itself a re-versioning of Mayakovsky’s “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.

More than anything though I loved the accidental drawings and large scale Rorsarch tests producing by the breaking of the mirrors and the partial revelation of the blackness of their backing – bold graphic shapes that here and there brought to mind figures, or animals, whilst elsewhere they resisted any kind of narrative ‘reading’; each mirror a set of cracks, shapes and holes  that both incorporated the world as reflection and blanked it as absence. Thinking a lot about what art can capture and what it cannot, about these formal compositions in identical rectangular frames, produced by violence and to a certain extent by chance – contained or frozen chaos. About what we see of reality even, and what escapes us.

Saburo Murakami's Muttso no Ana (Six Holes) (1955)

Roman Ondak - Slovak Pavillion

Later there was Saburo Murakami’s Muttso no Ana (Six Holes) (1955) – a set of rents and holes torn or poked into brown paper stretched on a timber structure, so simple and perfect, violent, echo of an action, beautiful – again with this form of an object that both gives and denies a view on the world.

Later still there was Roman Ondak’s Slovak Pavillion which fashioned the interior of the space as a kind of compacted extension of the exterior, planting trees and bushes throughout, a path running down through the centre, as if the inside were no inside at all. There was a hint of ruin here, a faint suggestion that the space for culture had somehow been abandoned and partly overgrown, though still so evidently tended of course and with no drama added to the building, no theatrical decay. Instead here outside and inside have simply folded into each other, to make a kind of Escher space, at once genuinely perplexing and completely banal. This sense you see often in Roman’s work I guess – that the work can be simply an amplification of (or focus pull on) something already present or implicit. And/or that, however deliberate, clever, and articulate the placing of the work is, it also, somehow, aspires to invisibility.


Our work, our trade, our business, like that of certain drug dealers, doctors and psychiatrists perhaps is always one way or another the job of slowing time or the shattering of it, or the stretching, bending or speeding of it. The big clock of the now bent double, forced to a limit, or cranked up, condensed to hell. The strange yet necessary job we have in rooms like these, of getting time to drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.

I love those strange gaps or holes in time which appear in performance, in rooms like this one, gaps or holes that deny physics, break the clock, where you think for a moment that time has stopped or slowed, or that it was stopped or forgotten but that now in now this moment only it has started again, remembered. I love the ways in which – watching – you are forced (connected to – seduced, tricked, lulled or self hypnotized) to abandon the sense of time – to let go of time here perhaps, to somehow enter another. Or to enter that temporary space where time does not notice, does not matter.

Or conversely. To enter the space where time is instead highly marked, measured, marched, announced, eked out, dripped like water clock or water torture, ticked and tocked. No forgetting, no transport, just the click clack of feet, the clatter of fingers on keyboard, the fact of here and now. One. Nothing. Two. Nothing. Three. Nothing. Four. Five. Connected to blankness and complexity.

[A fragment of mine on time, which appeared in different versions, here and there in various lecture texts I’ve done in the last few years].


Next day we’re at the Iceland Pavilion in the Palazzo Michiel dal Brusà, a 14th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal near the Rialto. shows his ongoing performance/installation/project  (not sure what the right word is there) titled The End. He’s working each day to paint a portrait of the same guy – his model for the project (Haukur Bjornsson, also a painter) – and there’s something truly wonderful about the space he’s creating. You feel time differently, that’s for sure. The studio sprawls towards the open doors at the far end, opening to the water in beautiful afternoon light. Canvases lean and hang everywhere, the floor and tables are strewn with paints, beer bottles, wine bottles…. music plays from a cd player, a few old chairs, an acoustic guitar. Ragnar is talkative and friendly when we arrive (I know him a bit from Manifesta last year), while Haukur lies more or less naked and more or less asleep on the green sofa, a blanket draped over his midriff. For a moment or two the project they present looks like it could be a mockery of what an artists life might be at this point – there’s something colonial, dandyish, almost 19th century about the scene – but at the same time it’s quite genuinely idyllic, warm, generous. We chat about this and that. For some reason I’m explaining that the t-shirt I’m wearing features a text description of Texas Chain Saw Massacre until Haukur waking/stirring corrects me  – it’s The Hills Have Eyes of course, he points out. These dandy types know their schlock B-horror movies. We laugh a bit.

Ragnar Kjartansson - The End - Venice

I guess more than anything what you feel in there, at The End, is the slowing of time, the entry onto another continuum – it’s a six month project, six months that they’ll be there, six months on one portrait a day, only the ebb and flow of visitors and the shifting light marking the hours as different, the paint accumulating week in week out on the canvases – at once boring and gripping I guess, the same body in the same room endlessly re-seen with the same eyes, portrayed with the same tools, intense macro focus. You feel the commitment of time, the commitment to time, slow time, the taking of time, and in the rush of Venice (and the drastic schedule some of us are on constantly) you can take a deep breath in this space, which is really something of a gift. An impossibility (of many different kinds) made manifest.

On the way out check we check Ragnar’s video work in a side space –  a darkened room with five projections which time and space have been remixed quite differently. On each screen there’s a winter scene – mountains, ice, snow (the Rocky Moutains in fact) – and in each of these landscapes we see Kjartansson again, sometimes alone, sometimes with another guy (musician Davið Þór Jónsson), mostly in longshot, other times in mid-shot. In each case they’re playing instruments… on one screen a grand piano, on another a banjo plus mic, in yet another it’s a drum kit stood at the edge of a lake or by a line of snow laden trees. Their isolated exterior figures, always dwarfed by the landscape, attempt (and succeed in making) a kind of long distance musical jam, their song building between the audio of the separate projections. It’s like the inverse of the 6 month focus on one model in one room in the heat of Venice, instead a fifteen minute dispersal and repetition of Kjartansson (and Jónsson) in set of distant exteriors.

Ragnar Kjartansson - Venice Video

Ragnar Kjartansson - Venice Video

Summer Specials: Everything Must Go

16 August 2009

Following on from my scurrilous Events at The Downturn series of virtual events for Amsterdam earlier this year, this week sees the publication of a new programme of unlikely, impossible, disgusting and largely imaginary events, this time for Forest Fringe up in Edinburgh during the festival there. Titled Summer Specials: EVERYTHING MUST GO, you can pick up a copy of the pamphlet at Forest Fringe, Bristo Hall, above The Forest Cafe, on Bristo Place, 5 minutes walk from the high street. Forest Fringe is a miniature festival within the festival, trying to make space at the Edinburgh Fringe for the kind of work that might not otherwise find a home there. Co-directed by Andy Field and Deborah Pearson Forest Fringe is now in its third iteration and this year has stuff from Ant Hampton, Third Angel and many others. I’ll be doing yet a third virtual programme (and a lecture on my work) for a project called Playtime at Bentonsalon in Paris in the Autumn.

Events Image 1

Events Image 2

Events Image 3

Those Who Want To Be Seen & Those Who Do Not

“Drone … plane … sky …” I mumbled my words, closed my eyes and waited for the whoosh of a missile.

The commander and his men laughed. “These are media lies, that Americans can see us,” he said. “Look now, we are a big group of Taliban. There are 200 men here and they can’t see us. We believe in God, so don’t be scared.”

Another fighter spoke up: “If you stand still in the dark and not move they can’t see you. It’s written in the Qu’ran.”

On the way to the camp I had been told of other drone-dodging techniques. If you are on a motorcycle and the drone fires a missile, jump off and the missile will follow the motorcycle. If you are with a large group, stop, like musical statues, and the drone will confuse you with the trees.

More Taliban, in The Guardian.


“These trips have their own lingo, I learned, as part of the traveling press corps assigned to chronicle every speech, handshake and hug. “Bi-lats” are bilateral meetings. “Meet-n-greets” are visits to American embassies. “Camera sprays” are essentially photo opportunities, usually staged and no questions allowed, and “spray” can be used as a noun, as in, “there’s a camera spray at 2 p.m. with President X” or as a verb — “come on guys, time to spray the lunch.” The secret service on her plane refer to their M-4 assault rifles as their “sticks.” The secretary of state is called “the package.””


“In eastern Congo, we needed to use two planes to land at a small airport and Mrs. Clinton’s plane circled in the air for 15 minutes so journalists could land first, set up their cameras and get the arrival shot of her, the first secretary of state to swoop into Congo’s conflict zone, despite the fact this very area has been a killing field since the mid-1990s.”

More Clinton in the Congo, at NYT.


15 August 2009

Witches from the mountains have kidnapped a young child belonging to some tourists. In a message to the local paper they threaten that if a large ransom is not paid they will turn the child into a fox. Special forces locate and then storm the encampment of the witches who flee into the barren, inhospitable foothills, leaving the child behind, to be found – curled and hidden beneath a pile of sacks – in a cave . The parents are relieved and consider themselves lucky in the reunion with their son. Only when he hits puberty is the truth revealed with the first signs of strange red hair that begins to sprout across his back, the lost, dark and feral look in his eyes. A nightmare.

Heroes & Heroines of Live Art Poster

13 August 2009

Heroes & Heroines of Live Art Poster

Following on from my Heroes & Heroines of Live Art (First 110) T-Shirts project for the Live Art Development Agency’s tenth anniversary ‘presents’ series, LADA and I just released a kind of follow on – the ‘bonus’ Heroes & Heroines of Live Art Poster which features all 110 artists’ names in their appropriate (and not so appropriate) typefaces (see above for example). The posters are 1 Edition of 110, A0, signed and editioned on the back.

I wrote a text about the two works which was read in my absence by the performance maker Rajni Shah, at a LADA event at the Rochelle School, last Saturday.

(Not-so-relevant footnote: Rajni is also one of the two main models for the pictures I made for Forced Entertainment’s Void Story).

He wrote me about a friend, a long way back.
Who as a kid had had a set of seven pairs of underpants each with a day of week printed on them, written for some reason in German
one pair for each day of the week
she liked them she said
except for the peculiar feeling produced from time to time by wearing
the wrong pants on the wrong day
a feeling of perverse pleasure,
as though living the whole day under the wrong sign
or the living the whole day under a lie,
living life under mischief, a mis-naming,
the wrong name
even now he tells me,
keen to point out the obvious
I’m Rajni

reading Tim

a question of one voice
in another mouth
For his own part, he said, for a long time he more or less refused to wear clothes with any kind of writing on them at all
not liking to live under any kind of sign, right or wrong
or fearing what would happen in that space ‘under writing’,
like another friend of a friend
he reported
who’d refused to read novels for fear of the way he got taken over by the characters in them.
sometime or other all that snapped
and he started to like wearing words on clothes
especially simple words that said the something so simple simply that they could easily make an endless confusion
KETCHUP it said one shirt, a red one
a favourite
since the one word text seemed to vacilate endlessly between appearing to declare a love or support for Ketchup,
or instead to indicate that the wearer was in some way ketchup
or instead, since the shirt was red, it was possible to maintain that this word ketchup simply reffered to its colour.
None of these readings, not one of them, being certain in any case
He wrote me:
When it came to LADA and the Birthday I wanted to make tshirts
and the thought I had was about the pleasure in wearing another person
or wearing another person’s name
he wrote
I was thinking about a white work tunic I’d bought second hand somewhere years back
a strange looking Muji style thing
largely cotton but with some faint taste of nylon in the mix
on the shoulder of which was a name tag, complete with a company logo, beneath which it said in bold and clear bright red letters
itallic, embroidered script the single word, anothers’ name
I found it odd to wear this shirt.
Perhaps to do with not liking to be Tony
but it made me (he wrote) know something about the power of the worn name
the strange double of one voice in another mouth
For the Live Art Development Agency (he wrote) I made one shirt for each person
each person a hero or heroine of live art
whatever that might mean
and I liked the idea (he wrote)
not of mass production
(how many t-shirts say Madonna, Bruce Lee or Bruce Springsteen?)
but instead a kind of modest one to one
one shirt per person of these Live Art Heroes & Heroines,
bestowing a kind of intimate fandom,
modest, human scale
or else (he wrote)
as with the ketchup,
perhaps these shirts convene a kind of masking or impersonation
as if
the guy wearing the Alastair McLennan shirt (when it’s finally sold) might be *being him* for a moment,

I guess I don’t trust much or care about the top 100 anything

that whole MOMA Series of the top 100 performances they plan can rot in Hell

just like i don’t find it too hard to turn off the best 100 adverts or the top 100 screen kisses or whatever

I mean for me the Heroes & Heroines of Live Art (first 110) was more a less an absurdity, a mockery but with and despite all that
i do like names (he wrote)
and how they circulate
and the names that mean most to me
are those that contain what Greil Marcus once called a secret history
a secret knowledge
and i liked the chance, on these t-shirts, to whisper some of those names that have been important to me
out into the world again
passed from mouth to mouth, life to life,
live art to life art
a chance
to nod to some of the people that changed things for me
probably changed things for all of us here
people whose work I saw and which touched me
or those perhaps a way to nod to those whose stories or documents wound a strange route to me
in sheffield say
when glancing at a book or some internet picture
i got that spine-tingling feeling
as many people here did no doubt
get that spine-shaking feeling
of connection to an action that happened long time back, or short time back
in another room
far away in space
and with it always a story and a name
from this often secret history
today we launch the poster
Live Art Heroes & Heroines (First 110) – bearing all 110 names in my list, each name in its dedicated typeface
and T-shirts bearing fabulous legendary names are still on sale
just one of each
roll up roll up
happy birthday again LADA
keep up the good work
get em while they’re fresh
coming at you not exactly live and certainly indirect



11 August 2009

Let us remind you that there is no life-guard around our swimming pool and that it is open without any time limitation. Its cleanliness is secured by means of a “robot creepy crawler”. You can take your moonlight swims without worries – we only beg you not to remove the robot – should it be taken out of the water it would cause irremediable damage.

(The reality of the scene at the apartment-complex swimming pool late at night was regrettably somewhat less strange than that summoned above.)


“I could hear human activity outside and I hoped I could be part of it again some time but I knew I wasn’t ready…”

Michael Clark interview, at The Guardian.


Been listening to The Slits album Cut  again after, er, something of a pause. I wasn’t doing the maths but it’s apparently 30 years since it was recorded. Sounds very fresh. Somehow came across a link to the bands 1978 Peel Sessions put up for download by someone.

Meanwhile, just so it’s not all old music around here I’m putting in a word for, DOOM’s most recent Born Like This, esp the tracks That’s That and Gazzillion Ear both of which I’ve been playing often since Berlin. Pure crazed delight in language, breathtaking, robust and playful, genius.


Venice Readymade

10 August 2009

For my project at the Biennale a team of men will sell fake designer bags on the streets of Venice. Fifty performers will appear each night,  dispatching in different directions through the city without discernible pattern or plan. The cast will comprise a group of African men – immigrants legal or otherwise, whose diverse stories of arrival, struggle and (dis)incorporation into the social, economic and political structures of Southern Europe sketch out an unspoken background for the work. Each of the performers will carry up to 30 bags looped on their arms as they walk, the luggage (bearing logos Gucci, YSL, Prada, Armani, Guess, Moschino etc) forming great harvest bundles of gold and black, sea blues and deep sea greens.

At agreed locations in the city each performer will place his collection of bags on the ground in front of him, arranging the combination of handbags, clutch bags, purses, shoulder bags, small luggage and holdalls into some temporary installation on the paving slabs, never shouting for business but simply standing once the bags are laid out and waiting calmly. Sometimes in particular places a few performers will congregate for a while; at the end of the Campo San Stefano for example or in the Campo San Angelo a small group will stand or sit together against a particular wall, not far from a drinking fountain, always keeping in sight the bags set out some distance in front of them.

In a process of pedestrian ebb and flow my work will explore the movements of this mass mobile sales-team, their trajectories in the streets of Venice and their animation of urban space, marking both the city's paths and at the same time evoking its shadow economy, whose replica goods shadow those of the daytime stores, a night-time mirror, echo or distortion of the Capitalist real. Later in the evening the performers will take different routes to disperse in the city again – standing still in new places for special solo scenes on its bridges or on its street-corners or else waiting in narrow crowded alleyways alone, with ten or so bags each, like strangely burdened statues, caught out of place in the press and pull of the night-time throngs.

The performers will project a sense of calm, still, self-composure which will mark them out from the restless tourist throng as much as the colour of their skin, so different from that of the mainly Caucasian visitors to the city. Looked at from any kind of remove the project's bag sellers will seem to have stepped in sideways from another reality or universe, which indeed, in many ways, they will have, both as immigrants and as artworks inhabiting the everyday.

At intervals through each night the performers will act as though they fear some invisible threat, most likely the imminent arrival of the police – looking around, gathering their bags and sometimes moving on, not hurriedly but shifting place in any case with a particular urgency and purpose, vanishing to the narrower side streets only to reappear some short while later, to stand with their goods again in new locations, like ghosts compelled always to return. Building on the above, a few times each night,  the 50 performers will run together from one part of the island to another, forming a wave of human and knock-off designer goods that builds and ripples from square to to square, corner to corner; a stampede that gathers up new runners and their wares as it passes through street after street, building past the pace of a decent jog, getting faster and faster. The men will always run in silence, though, only the sound of their feet and their breathing impacting the ambience of the city as they move through it.

Somewhat retrospective

9 August 2009
Gondola Prow

Somewhat retrospective, thanks to near-zero internet the last ten days.


There are two theories about Venice. One is that the people you see on the gondolas are the dead, transported though the narrow streets on the dark green waters to take a last glimpse of life on earth. Lain back in each others arms they are gazing up at the buildings from their mobile sarcophogi, hoping to catch a last glimpse of some loved one on a sunlit bridge or to see some relative or friend disappearing down a shadowed alley. All day their boats are heading this way and that on this kind of idle farewell tour, steered in an out of the sun and circulated by those cheery but absent-eyed stripy-topped guys, angels of death, all day until the time is come and the gondolas head out en masse, out of the maze of the city and towards the islands of the dead, where they’ll give up their passengers to the darkness. Yesterday, as the sun began to sink I saw two gondolas full of dead Japanese guys, heading out of the canals towards the open water, in a strangely excited state, mutually photographing each other in all directions, cameras pointing from one boat to the other with much gesticulation, shouts, laughter and calls for attention, then turns and more gesticulations to photograph the inhabitants of their own boats, as if each, photographing the photographers whilst themselves being photographed, were somehow determined to catch the final moment of their departure.

The other theory is that those of us walking on the islands of Venice are the dead, and that the people in the gondolas are living, tourists in fact, come here for daytrips to see what our echo of a life is like. Up here on the land we are going about our business (which is not much), walking here and there, eating in the cafes, sweating, laughing, talking, going through what we might think of as an echo of our former lives, staged here in this this endless ruined filmset, with its endlessly interrupted and incomplete tangle of streets. All day the tourists gawp at us, staring up to see again and again how lifelike, and yet how strange we dead are. All day they drift past on the gondolas, going through the dark passages of the canals, taking photographs as best they can of the liminal space we inhabit, capturing at 8 or 9 or even 12 megapixels our  glorious decay and that of our dead city, and at night they retreat, heading off to safer places, the mainland, home.

My copy of Nabakov meanwhile, used these days as much as a weapon as it as a reading book, accumulates mosquito blood.

In X’s apartment I develop a new way of killing the mosquitos that lurk each night on the ceiling, a method that involves launching the book, face upwards, in sudden vertical movement all the way to the ceiling. It’s a joy like lift off at Houston to see the book thundering directly upwards to smash into an insect on the white plaster high above with a satisfying thump. The upstairs neighbors must love this too, esp when I am dancing around in glee at my (too rare) latenight success. I imagine this would be a strange death though. Sensing nothing perhaps, or only feeling the terminal updraft, or else glimpsing a dark rectangle, ominous, mysterious, headed at high speed, perhaps turning mosquito head slightly to make out the looming words of the title Speak, Memory before sudden oblivion.

Fading Fast

28 July 2009

I have often noticed that after I bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently it became more closely identified with my novel than with my former self, where it seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist. Houses have crumbled in my memory as soundlessly as they did in the mute films of yore, and the portrait of my old French governess, whom I once lent to a boy in one of my books, is fading fast, now that it is engulfed in the description of a childhood entirely unrelated to my own.

[Nabakov, in Speak, Memory]


‘Dr Paine of the Space Center in Houston says: “This flight was a triumph for the squares of this world who aren’t ashamed to say a prayer now and then.” Is this the great adventure of space? Are these men going to take the step into regions literally unthinkable in verbal terms? To travel in space you must leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, country talk, mother talk, love talk, party talk. You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to live alone in silence. Anyone who prays in space is not there.’

[From: Word Virus. The Williams Burroughs Reader. Eds J Grauerholz & I Silverberg. London: Flamingo]