Nothing Is Simple

16 December 2008

Barbara Campbell wrote about the performance/time entry below, quoting this part:

Or those times in performance where you think for a moment that time has stretched or slowed, or that time was somehow stopped or had been forgotten but that now, in this moment only, it has started again, remembered.

She wrote:

Best thing on Australian television when I was growing up in the 1960s was a children’s program called The Magic Boomerang. I’m hoping (cause I wasn’t watching out for this as a kid) that the said boomerang was owned by an Aboriginal boy but what I remember well and loved most was that the performance of the world did stop when the boomerang was thrown, spinning seemingly endlessly in the air. And boomerangs being what they are do indeed draw a magical arc in the sky, a parabola where you seem to hold your breath until you see the forces of physics? spirits? take hold and turn that spinning thing around at which point you can exhale. The world would stop for everyone except the hero boy boomerang-thrower who was able to act quickly enough to get the good guys out of danger. Long live the deus ex machina.

Just more romantic remembering.

I wrote:

That’s a lovely image. Is all remembering romantic? No, I guess not. But there’s something about the fixed-ness of the past that lends itself to that – the past always allows us to fetishise the particularity of what was – in its beauty, force, awfulness or other qualities. I’m not sure that that’s romantic – strange the force of things we feel that we witnessed – even if it’s just the trope of a children’s TV show. these things have such presence in us. psychic landscape and all that.

She wrote:

Isn’t it this fetishisation of our memories (a very particular version of the past), childhood ones especially, that tends towards the romantic? But only if we never allow ourselves to challenge those memories. In this case, with the Magic Boomerang, it certainly needs challenging. Since writing to you about that show I’ve checked the website to find out more. As I half-suspected, the boomerang-throwing hero was not a young Aboriginal boy. From the synopsis: “Tom Thumbleton, a 13-year-old boy who lives with his parents on a sheep farm near the fictitious town of Gunnaganoo, finds a boomerang among some Aboriginal relics his great-great-grandfather left in the attic of their homestead.” Such a lot of brutal history barely hinted at in those simple sentences; it makes my stomach churn. The 45 episodes were aired in 1965-66, ie just months before the landmark 1966 referendum that gave Aboriginal Australians full enfranchisement. Before then, they were allowed to fight and die in our wars but had no voting rights nor were counted in any census. And this was the least severe of the injustices.

“strange the force of things we feel that we witnessed” – indeed. And the things witnessed as a child go beyond the psychic – encompassing the somatic, guiding us consciously, unconsciously, subconsciously towards what/who/where/if we will be.


Can I quote you on the boomerang? I’d love to add that text to the notebook.


Yes but given what I’ve said above, it would be necessary to include the qualifying background don’t you think? I know it rather undercuts the simple beauty of the magic boomerang but nothing is simple where Indigenous politics or history is concerned.


Stopped Remembered

3 December 2008


In performance I love the big clock of the now bent double, forced to a limit, cranked up or condensed to hell. I love the strange yet somehow necessary job we seem to have in rooms like these, of getting time itself to drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.

Or those times in performance where you think for a moment that time has stretched or slowed, or that time was somehow stopped or had been forgotten but that now, in this moment only, it has started again, remembered.

Text and the first image from my Peachy Coochy in London, a while back. The first clock from my journey Dusseldorf to London to perform, the others from various stations and elsewhere in the last ten years. Seems like I am collecting these.

Kate wrote:

You would love brussels central station at the moment, it’s in this long groaning overhaul which is becoming a comedy. I love spotting the frightening half-measures and in-betweens they construct to keep things tottering upright while they replace the wall/floor that was keeping it there before. It was always dismal down there but now it’s shattered too. The latest new addition is a bunch of brand new clocks hanging off wires cause the ceiling hasn’t been replaced yet (everything’s coming in in the wrong order). Like yours these are half under wraps, taped over. But meanwhile they’ve turned off the older clocks that are also still hanging, so you look down the platform and there’s about 6 clocks in view, some bandaged, others saying wildly different dead times. it’s a clock grave down there.


Meanwhile, in that other world, where time has not stopped, I thought these were pretty gripping.

Up Against It

Recoiling from time to time Nick Cave gets tiny electric shocks from the microphone during the set, stepping back from it, in something between alarm and irritation. I'm getting these tiny shocks he says vaguely, almost, but not quite asking for technical assistance. After a later shock he looks concerned for a moment and then makes a joke out of it "Please" he says "Please don't let me die in Sheffield". It seems a reasonable request and it's one that he goes back to a few times during the night which is otherwise all deserts and moons and melting snow, and rain and beautiful girls and guns of course and bad towns and bad men and blood and fire, and eyes and rage and knives. No one wants him to die. The crowd are too happy with him caught in a boiling torment of lust and doubt and need to want him dead, they are too happy with him caught in melancholic near-suicide mode, they are too happy with him bent double self-tortured and writhing in a sweating, howling, yelling rage of incomprehensible confusion and guilt to ever want him dead. But mostly they want him living so that he can kill. Stagger Lee is what they want to hear. Again and again. Stagger Lee, Stagger Lee. Those are the cries between songs. Stagger Lee. They want him coming out of the darkness and into town, and they want him not dead but murdering,  blood and brains and the rest of it all over the walls and floor, red right hand, but mostly Stagger Lee. And in the end they get what they want.


On the floor in the window of the toy shop at St Pancras Station a gaggle of battery operated toys have walked themselves into a corner. The fluffy pig is down there, nose pressed right into the angle, head actioned in a relentless twisting, a frenzied side to side, like he's digging for something caught there between the glass frontage and the wall, his feet propelling him forward, the glass wall holding him forever in place. Forever or until the batteries wear down. Behind this stuck pig, a soldier thing marches back and forth and a few other creatures amble the neighborhood, heading here and there, purposeless, mildly pathetic, and for the most part forgotten. One of them, a duck perhaps, or chicken, is tangled somehow in the lower wire framework of a postcard stand, another (the clown perhaps or the puppy) trails an accidental ribbon of sellotape, gummed with dust and human hair, like an amateur street sweeper. Best of all though is the giraffe, who, at a lanky ten inches tall, has walked himself to the window and is gazing, staring straight ahead, big eyes fixed on the feet passing by, and on the stretch of marble veldt that extends beyond his prison. For motion he has two modes, a pointless side to side juddering jig (net effect = zero), which alternates with a stepping-forwards-with-intent that culminates with a kind of head butting jerk motion. It's the latter that makes him the star of the show. He's right against the glass and every headbutt forwards is directly into the window, bang, pull back, bang,  as if, with the cute face and wide eyes he is trying to hammer his way out, or destroy his good looks, or somehow get the kind of psychiatric attention that is no doubt his due. Giraffe's face though is a total blank, the action, calm, repeated, like one hard-man trying to prove to another that he has no feelings whatesoever, nutting the glass repeatedly – bang, pull back, bang, pull back, bang – the whole thing done with that kind of numb expressionless conveyer-belted animatronic anger you expect from caged animals and humans without hope, a numb rage that suits the context and goes largely un-noticed.



On a large blue billboard The College of Christ the Redemeer advertises its courses in Theology, Computer Technology, Business Studies and English Lessons.

Not far off in the South London rain a chalk-board slogan beckons you to the

Last ENGLISH run pub on Harper Road

Most of the lettering in white chalk, the word English capitalised in red.

Thanks. But no thanks.

Two Fragments

23 November 2008

we are walking on the roofs, and he's talking us through the
footprint of the building from above,
the different areas, gesturing around, we're stood on a 3-d map.
Below that's the foyer… out there that way, that's the fly tower,
over there, right up the edge there that's the studio.
We step this way and that on the silver roof paint,
that part there, with the tiled roof, that's the original stage and auditorium, it's just fraction of the complex,
then we're on the move again, wary of the edges, stepping the low 'walls' which mark the boudaries of the separate buildings/extensions/additions to the structure below
look he says, that's the city wall, he's pointing out and down to the stone structure running off beneath us and away from the building, before it's sandwiched between two much more modern structures. We look out over the city trying to get a fix on location,
below us the warren of the spaces we've walked through – under stages and over them, through corridors, passages, second-foyers and studios, past offices and apparently random apparently windowless rooms, through construction spaces, ascending and descending to second balconies, third balconies etc – knots and unknots, tumbling in mental space, as it tries to match, settle or cohere with the plan view we have from up here but whichever way I picture it, whichever way I twist, stretch, bend or compress the model in my head, it seems unlikely that the space below our feet could ever contain the whole of what we saw.


later, in another city. Up there on the stage one of the dancers in the golden 60's mini dresses (it's the one with the beard) neglects to put down her bottle of beer as they traipse to the stage for the song, so that the section with the synchronised hand movements – the Supreme's Stop In The Name of Love – has only two outstretched hands to gesture the punctuation Stop!, and a third which seems to vaguely proffer a bottle.

A Revamped Procedural Sky System

20 November 2008

“First we look to buy a nice house and car. Then we buy guns and other weapons. The rest of the money we use to relax.”

Suddenly it’s all Somali pirates all the time, all driving speedboats, all loading their machine guns and rocket launchers, all chewing the narcotic leaf qat and dreaming of ways out of the zone – here, here, here and everywhere else. Where is the amazing Kathy Acker when you need someone to mix this stuff up a bit?


Initially, the team created a procedural sky rendering approached based on algorithms — which led to a totally unconvincing skybox that was clearly inferior to what a hand-authored skybox would be. “We considered it to be a total failure,” he said.

He explained that a great deal of focus must be put on the tools that surround the algorithms, to allow the systems to be properly harnessed. In the end, the game shipped with a revamped procedural sky system that ended up much more effective than the first attempt. It takes into account myriad weather patterns, atmospheric conditions, and other variables.

Following earlier post on games testing, and in general zone of The Broken World, the quote above comes from a nice piece here at Gamasutra on virtual world creation and how developers, like those of Far Cry 2, are increasingly minded to use what they call ‘procedural content generation’ to make spaces, environments and so on from sets of rules and more-or-less random variables. I still can’t quite explain or understand why I find this kind of thing so totally fascinating. Link via Boing Boing.

Night Vision

19 November 2008

[picture by vlatka horvat]


Local newspapers carried the typical story of a factory owner who consorted with local witches so that he could transform into an owl to watch over his workforce from up amongst the rafters in his premises, how the spell had been successful and the various dealings and shenanigans he had uncovered from up there involving theft and misappropriation of goods, also how the spell was intermittent and how he had randomly transfrmed from time to time – becoming an owl at a dinner party and at a trip to see a supplier of some essential goods that he needed, to his great personal embarresment and causing probelms with his wife and certain business partners who made comments on his strange transformations and started rumours that he was in league with a devil. Also how he one day transformed back from a owl to a person again without intending to do do and how he was thence stuck up in the rafters, clinging there, naked and alone, weeping, according to a caretaker they interviewed on condition of anonymity, until he got rescued at dawn by some lads from the Maintenance Department on extendible ladders. And how, as time passed he became at war with the witches because of how the spell was so useless and caused so many problems in his work and private life and how he trade descriptioned them for the bad spell and how finally, frustrated with the legal process, he sought to kill them and hired some other witches (from another town) in the pursuance of that act.


The geography of the building makes even less sense with the lights on. As if the architecture was meant, somehow, to be navigated late night in confusion, by strobe or ultra violet light, in a state of drunken sway, or otherwise staggering. In blunt daylight, or under the flat vibration of brutal fluorescents, the vertiginous and counterintuitive twists and turns of the stairwells are awful confrontations, abstract puzzles remaindered from some nightmare and rendered in concrete, where at night, routed though its quite other logic, filled with sweat, din of sound, and intoxicated bodies the same passageways are soft spirals, secret routes that turn forever in, out and around your desire. “The space”, he whispers, when you find him later “grows from the logic of the night”.


the pastness of the past you know. what was and what isn’t, what’s gone.
and your turned back, the perfect symmetry of your arms, your self-absorption,
the blurring/ flattening of the colours thanks to the nightvision so that body and landscape begin to dissolve into each other..
the pool of light and clothes at your feet.
the indistinguishable background that looks like it could have other distant figures,
the sea that could be sky.

Writing and Speaking

18 November 2008

Mike (M John) Harrison has some nice words around Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular. Also, thumbs up from Lyn Gardner on the same piece in The Guardian, and Maxie Szalwinska on the many delights and fabulous rigours of Saturday’s Peachy Coochy Afternoon which we co-hosted with David Gale and Adrian Heathfield, hereSpectacular continues to Manchester, starting tonight, followed by Taunton and Glasgow.


Vlatka‘s London show at BAC (2nd floor space) runs 13 – 29 November 2008, Thu-Sat 12pm-7pm & 9pm-10pm. It’s free. The show has a mix of her photos, videos and recent collages. They say:

With a strong connection to performance, Vlatka Horvat’s work makes use of a range of media from video and photography to works on paper and projects with text. She stages puzzling encounters between a human figure and elements of the built environment. Comical, mischievous and unsettling, her work explores aspects of experience that are difficult to put into words, or depict in images – feelings of doubt, hesitation, restlessness, and of being lost. 

For anyone in New York meanwhile, or headed that way, Vlatka is also half of a two person show with Jennifer Cohen. It runs November 7-December 14, 2008 at Rachel Uffner Gallery at 47 Orchard Street,  Lower East Side.


Also since last week the video I did with Vlatka Insults & Praises is in the exhibition Speaking Out Loud at Netherlands Media Art Institute, Keizersgracht 264, 1016 EV Amsterdam. Curated by Susanne Jaschko it runs 15 November 2008 – 17 January 2009.  Opening hours:  Tuesday – Saturday and first Sunday of the month + December 7 and January 4 from 1:00 – 6:00 pm.

Other artists participating:  Mukul Patel (UK) and Manu Luksch (AT), Charles Sandison (UK), Christoph Keller  (DE), Jaromil (IT) and Jodi (NL), Linda Hilfling (DEN), KH Jeron (DE), Tudor Bratu (RO) and Istvan Ist Huzjan (SLO), Michael Höpfel (DE), Trikoton (DE), Evan Roth (US).

Press release:

Speaking Out Loud centers on the processes of both “thinking out loud” and “speaking out.” Thinking out loud describes the associative, dynamic and rather uncontrolled process of simultaneously thinking and speaking about a particular topic. We think out loud to make a suggestion, to put forward an idea or a thought rather than to make a claim. Speaking Out Loud advocates this free and creative process of thinking out loud through artworks that enable a playful and surprising experience of language. This happens in the form of what could be summarised as experimental language exercises or canny transformations and alternations of language.  

Meanwhile the act of speaking out demonstrates resistance and the existence of alternative concepts and views. As a democratic act it constitutes a cornerstone of democratic society. In  that sense, the exhibition promotes the idea of controversy, dissent and debate as a relevant society shaping strategy. In the light of representative democracies, low voter participation and  increasingly levelled concepts of life, Speaking Out Loud attempts to call for taking an active role in the debate. Moreover it explores the subversive power of spoken or written text but also unmasks the inflationary and culturally connoted use of words and phrases.

The artworks in the  exhibition deal with the act of speaking, reading and writing.  They particularly reflect on and emphasise the performative qualities of language and thus reveal the strong and inseparable connection between words’ meaning and their performance/performer.

Renowned novelist Paul Auster captured the act of speaking as “When words come out, fly into the air, live for a moment, and die. Strange, is it not?” It is this fluidity and dynamics of language and its meaning that the exhibition centers on, observes and reflects.

In this fluid state, words fly and dance, thus enabling a mental dialogue between the artwork and its  viewer/listener, and opening up to continuous interpretation.The exhibition mainly presents works of Dutch and English language. Thereby it also reflects on a world in which vast distances are bridged with relative facility but where language remains a system of cultural “multivalence.


There’s a good review by Tim Robey of my novel The Broken World in November/December’s Frieze. Sadly not online so I can’t link to it.

They Say Damp Records The Past

17 November 2008

Nice conversation with Robin Rimbaud / Scanner after Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular last week. Via talk of John Cage and the amazing Ubuweb we ended up at archives. Robin span thru a fantastic description of the audio tapes he started accumulating from the age of about 11 – home audio-taping TV episodes of Spiderman no less (pre VCR), with his own introductions – talking from these thru the recordings and collages he made at school (crash editing teachers in the classroom, random corridor chatter and flushing toilets) to the tapes he made of concerts and talks he attended as a teenager – all this before his own musical/sound work/recordings as such really began. Conversation about if and when to digitize or set free the above, and also the strange audio traces that accumulate behind each of us these days.

For me a small but tangible sign of this was back in the summer… Mark sent a scan of a Joy Division ticket, from a concert back in 1980 (19th April, Ajanta Cinema, Derby)  that he and I had gone to – the fourth time we’d seen the band, and the second-to-last gig they’d ever play. Googling that I found this link with a few pictures from the gig, a black and white shot of the venue (so weird to see it) amongst a whole archive of visual material, dates etc. Also in the same place a track listing and a list of various bootlegs which had featured the music from the gig that night in Derby. I was pretty intrigued by the thought that there was a recording and set out Google searching to see if I could find mp3s. Took me about half an hour… mainly leapfrogging thru fan sites with listings or people selling CDs, slowly closing in though. Must’ve been around 1am when I found what I was looking for (at this full-on, comprehensive JD bootleg site) and as the first tracks downloaded I was really quite goose-bumped to hear them – sparks of short circuit arcing backwards and forwards in time. Strange thing about the yell of a crowd that you know you are in… esp a small one I guess. You can’t hear anything of course. But you know it’s there. Plus the fact that I had no idea the event was recorded. A night a long time ago (call it 28 years) that is totally lost in any case, but then like this some audio spill from it reaches you, compressed, distorted, just a trace really but one that contains more of it than you’d have guessed at. The sound brings back the smell, the light and the heat. And all that out of Google.


This fragment (below) from my Spill opening address last year, also tracked back to the Ajanta, this time by way of a gig by The Fall:

Mark E. Smith. Ajanta Cinema Derby, sometime in 1978 or 1979, back at the time when he was talking at least as much as singing, punctuating the songs with extended delirious rants about the proliferation of psychics and Cash & Carry stores or the possibility of time travel or how much he did not like Doncaster or the audience or Stalin you could never be sure which. Huge fucking row of music, small audience. A venue that used to be, by some incomprehensible irony, The Derby Playhouse (I mean before they built that new one with hexagonal barstools and purple orange cross-hatch carpets) and was by then (the old playhouse, re-named as Ajanta Cinema), a semi-derelict music venue run by some Asian guys maybe as a front for a drugs ring at least if you believed what was gonna be in the paper ten months later, who knows.

Just in front of the stage there is a space that used to be seats, but which has been for some months now an extended no-mans land, a zone of smashed floorboards and seat-remains – a cleared space created when the first gig took place here and at which the room allowed for the crowd was patently not big enough and so by Mutual Agreement the seats were kicked to pieces by those present, the debris for the most part lifted high and Hurled Asunder, causing minor injuries. It is this space – directly to the front of the stage that Smith has his eyes on, when he turns around, neglecting the routine that he himself has characterised as ‘backs to the audience and pass the hair-dye mate’ though he of course has no hair dye. This space, right there in front of the stage, this no mans land, is clearly bothering him, big time. Maybe cos there’s no one in it – I mean there’s only fifty people in the venue max and most of them are leant against the walls holding lager cans. And maybe it’s bugging him – this space – cos he’s not sure who’s it is. I mean – he’s on the stage and he’s wandering all around it like he owns the fucking place, which for all extents and purposes he does – but somehow he doesn’t seem so happy there on the stage – like he’d really like to be somewhere else, in some other place, a bigger one perhaps. Like somehow the stage is too small because it isn’t a whole world.

What does the character Price say about the nightclub in Trevor Griffith’s play Comedians? Something like: When I stand up there on the stage – I still hit my head on the ceiling. It might be literally true – but mainly of course he means it more like a metaphor – a way to say, that the world which Capitalism has on offer isn’t big enough yet to accommodate his dreams or imaginings.

Anyhow back in Derby in either 78 or 79, Smith wont take it for long. He’s at the very edge of the stage by this point, walking back and forth, pacing on the exact border, looking down off the low rise and into that other space – that other world, no-one in it and everyone eyeing it, a space in this case between him and the rest of us, a space not quite his and not quite claimed by the rest of us. Time passes. And then there’s a moment like there always is, a moment so good I won’t ever remember it, and could not in any case describe it, a moment in which he makes the jump and steps off the stage. He’s off, he’s over, gone into the emptiness down there, the band oblivious or inured to his probably amphetamine whimsy, and the music’s all thump and screech and grind and he’s wandering, caterwauling, out into the no-man’s land/wasteground that he’s somehow made his own now, barely tethered by the microphone lead and in some ways never to return. 

That, was an inspiration. And no mistake of all.

The rest of the Spill text is included in the publication/collection Live Art UK/LADA’s Live Art Almanac,  alongside essays by Lyn Gardner, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Daniel Gosling, Leslie Hill and Rebecca Schneider amongst others. Copies from LADA’s bookshop – Unbound.

Long & Short

6 November 2008

The durationals find a new shape each time they are presented, within the parameters that are possible. We’re not really interested in them as ways to create outrageous narrative or developmental arcs though! They tend to be quite flat in that sense — to travel is better than to arrive kind of thing. You might best think of them as landscapes of endless variation… but in which no change is permanent. It’s flux.

One aspect of shape that is predictable or recurrent though are physiological or other rhythms. For instance, if a perfomance like Speak Bitterness or And On The Thousandth Night… is six hours long, the performers get tired and there is usually a certain hysteria by hour five. You are generally trying too hard in hour one. So you can say certain things about the shape and rhythm of those pieces, but it’s not written or dramatically forced. What’s allowed to happen in all of the durationals is that the performers step into the space, begin, and then play, and then at the end it’s finished. In a way it’s like football, or any sport: you know what the rules are, you know who the players are, but you don’t know what will transpire inside the set of rules.

Jonathan Kalb, Professor of Theatre at Hunter College, CUNY, wrote a great piece on Sight Is The Sense and Quizoola! that I flagged already a while back. He’s just added to the HotReview site a long interview with me, quoted above and focused mainly on the durational performances that I’ve made with Forced Entertainment including Quizoola!, Speak Bitterness, And On The Thousandth Night… and 12am Awake & Looking Down. You can check out the full interview online. It’s a nice one.


Meanwhile I’m in London for Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular which started its run tonight until Saturday 15th. Looking forward to it  – the piece looks really good in the Riverside space.