Endland Reading

1 November 2008

I’m reading from the new Daiphanes German translation edition of Endland at Hebbel, Berlin (Hau 1, in the Foyer) with performer Thomas Wodianka, at 8pm this next Monday, November 3rd. Looking forward to that.

Here’s the intro I wrote esp for the new book.

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In the 1980’s, I had written a novel called Helen © & her Daughters. The book was messy and borderline incoherent; its landscape and tone very dark, brutal and cartoon-like. The story itself was crazy, set in the world that was a kind of hybrid of Thatcher–era North of England (i.e. selected lowlights of what I could see out of the window) mixed with all manner of other things and places, times and landscapes – some real, others invented. The language was also rough, cut-up, hybridised, slang. I was writing a lot of stuff for performance with the group Forced Entertainment at the same time and working on various short fiction things and film ideas and random projects and bits of writing.

My friend Tony White asked me to contribute to a publication series he had started, called Piece of Paper Press. The idea was to make a little book from a single sheet of A4 paper, cut and folded in a simple way, then produced as a photocopied edition. Some were by writers, others by artists; some were texts, others comprised sequences of drawings or diagrams. The idea appealed to me and I wrote a blunt, comical narrative called About Lisa. One tiny chapter per page. The sense of humour was very dark and a lot of the drive in the narrative came from stretching the world of the story really thin and making the world ‘be’ horrible to the characters. At the time I was reading 1001 Nights, William Burroughs, Russell Hoban, Kathy Acker, Donald Barthelme, Alan Moore and RAW comics. In the background were Mike Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, M. John Harrison, Charles Dickens, David Lynch, Tarkovsky, Philip K. Dick and a million other things. I was listening to The Fall, whose lyricist/singer M. E. Smith was probably the biggest single influence on what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. The great thing about Piece of Paper Press for me was how its formal framework and restrictions forced my writing to become much more stripped down and economical. I remember I used to tell people that it felt like taking the world, tone and language of my (unpublished) novel Helen  © and boiling it. About Lisa and the other stories that followed in the following year or two – which would eventually become Endland Stories – were the result of that process of reduction. I plundered the novel for landscape, characters and gags and atmospheres, hanging them on sharp, brutal, compacted little narratives – postcards from hell.

Years before I’d done an interview with William Gibson for Performance Magazine where my friend Steve Rogers was the editor. Gibson said that the world of his book Neuromancer was only one molecule thick – that (in effect) any reality sensed in it by the reader was just a temporary effect – a momentary production in the language. I liked that idea – it made sense to me in terms of other stuff that I respected as writing. In the Endland Stories, I was trying to play with how thin and dense the world in it could be at the same time, how disposable I could make that world and the characters populating it, how violently contradictory, while still somehow keeping an engagement with the reader. It meant creating characters and narratives in the ruins of something larger, whose shape, purpose and extent could only be guessed at.

The stories came pretty fast, one after another. Elaine Palmer at Pulp Books included German Fokker in an anthology on pop culture, titled Allnighter, and soon afterwards agreed to do the whole collection as a book. After Endland Stories: Or Bad Lives came out in 1999, I wrote a few more stories (Taxi Driver/Antagonistes for that year’s Sceptre Brit Pulp anthology and much later Cellar Story, published in 14 Hills) that pretty much existed in the same world / landscape / language, but apart from that my fiction writing post-Endland Stories took off in quite other directions. *
Years later, in 2006, I got another out-of-the-blue invitation, this time to participate in an extraordinary on-going project by Australian artist Barbara Campbell, 1001 nights cast. In response and without really planning to do so, I found myself back in what could be called Endland territory, wandering (and plundering) a related terrain ten years later, but with different intentions.

Barbara’s request to guests on her project was to write in response to a prompt – a fragment she’d pull from that morning’s newspaper coverage of events in the Middle East. As an invited writer, you had to somehow use the phrase she’d selected – a word or a few words – as a starting point and turn the story around in a few hours. Each narrative produced had to be up to 1001 words long and each evening Barbara would perform that day’s story on the Internet as a live webcast. She did this continuously, daily, for almost three years – 1001 nights to be precise, ending in March 2008. Once again, there was something appealing and creatively liberating to me about the constraint – the very short length and the process of writing under a time limit. Most of the second wave of Endland Stories included in this collection ––  murky and opaque, intentions seem good, I thought I smelled something dirty, paying for a bullet, wanted to get a good look, generally unsmiling and now not moving ––  were initially written for Barbara’s project. Two further stories were also done around this same time for projects by other artists. For performance maker Kate McIntosh’s solo work Loose Promise (2007), I created a text which had to include elements from a menu of words and events she’d compiled. For Goran Sergej Pristas and Nikolina Bujas-Pristas of Zagreb-based group BADco meanwhile, I wrote at their instruction, a new version of Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, which became one of the texts for the group’s 2007 performance, Changes. This “second wave” of Endland stories is published together for the first time in this collection, alongside all of the stories from the original UK publication. Both “batches” share an interest in creating a place/space which hybridises different geographies and fictions and which is dominated by dark humour, absurdist puns and general air of malevolence. Shifting in time and apparent location, mixing the high tech and the decayed/archaic, colliding the realistic and the impossible, Endland was always a messy place: at once a capitalist free-for-all, an anarchistic bedlam, a post-apocalypse retro-medieval nightmare, a Central European civil war zone and a heavily trade unionised pre-yuppie-fication military junta Housing Estate in Rotherham or Doncaster. In the more recent stories, there is also somehow more America in Endland, perhaps since I’ve spent more time in America. There’s also more Iraq and Afghanistan in it, too – not surprising I guess – as the war wagons of geo-politics and atrocity have moved on in that direction. In addition, the fictional modes of fairy tale, pub anecdote, parable and condensed movie plot have been boosted by a thick residue of digital culture. As a result, the reality of the newer stories is now prone to error-messages, pixilation, artefacting and other compression faults, as well as to the jump-cuts, sarcastic punch lines, graffiti, exaggerations and pseudo-moralising that abound in the earlier set of stories.*Endland exists and does not exist. It is not locatable on maps and no doubt its relation to any ‘England’ described in newspaper accounts or in realist fiction of the last 30 years is highly tangential. My hope is that these grotesque tales out of Endland – ontologically, geographically and temporally confused as they are – might get closer to the heart of things than might be possible by other narrative means – fictional or otherwise. I hope that as work, these stories come closer to the bone – closer to the essence of the strange and bitter times we are living in. It is my belief at least, that the psychological, political and cultural landscapes we’ve been walking in these days – from Thatcher to Google, with IFOR, ICANN, Big Brother and Bin Laden in between – need strange fucking tools to navigate them.

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Finally my thanks go to Tony White and Elaine Palmer for their parts in getting Endland Stories started, and to Barbara Campbell for her project 1001 nights cast which offered space for me to continue these stories. I’d like thank my agent Ivan Mulcahy at Mulcahy Conway as well as Sabine Schulz and Michael Heitz at Diaphanes for their interest in creating this German edition. And last but not least big thanks to my friend Astrid Sommer who has translated these stories with a patience and an attention to detail that’s never ceased to amaze me. I will miss Astrid’s emails seeking clarification for the possible meaning of made-up film titles, invented slang words or arcane aspects of Endland/England and the characters inhabiting it.

Tim Etchells, Sheffield, 2008.

Natural Is Not In It

31 October 2008

Long interview with yours truly by Helmut Ploebst at Corpus (Internet Magazine for Dance, Choreography and Performance). The new issue is themed on the ghosts. We are talking about ghosts, Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular, performance, the economic crash, Ghostdance and all and everything

Meanwhile some talk of That Night Follows Day over at the Guardian Live Blog including what’s below, from me, in response to various strands in the comments. Worth checking the link since both Alexander Devriendt, director of Once And For All (from Gent) and Richard Gregory of Manchester’s Quarantine both weigh in with lengthy comments on their own perspectives on working with young people, the kind of truth or authenticity we can or can’t achieve in performance and so on. Some nice links from Ant Hampton also, to materials on Beunos Aires director Vivi Tellas. Here’s my two penneth:

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Without getting into too long a thing about process, I can maybe add something here about how That Night Follows Day was made. The piece – which was produced by the Flemish theatre Victoria (Campo) – has a text by me, as noted by Lyn already and as I think anyone who knows my work (or reads the programme) can probably tell. The text was made in two stages – it started with writing by me, to which new material was added, developed, structured and refined in a workshop process with the 16 young people who perform the piece. It certainly wasn’t a case of my arriving with a completed ‘vision’ and a script and dropping it onto the performers – instead, as is the case with more or less anything I’ve ever done with adult performers in Forced Entertainment or elsewhere– this piece grew from, in and around the performers as part of a long long process – a process that involved discussions, suggestions, trying things, changing things, collaborative rewrites in doing you could say.

The whole question of if the performers understand and own what they are doing is a fair one. My experience working with and watching these young people doing the piece over the last two years is – that like a group of adults who have worked together on something – they know what they are doing and they own it very well. They’re acting. They’re finding a position within the piece from which to speak and face the audience. They know what that means. I take the young performers in the making and doing of the piece seriously. They made, regard and play it intelligently. It’s a structure, and they work to make it sing.

Of course anyone that steps onto a stage is read in ways they can’t predict, control or anticipate – performance always exceeds and escapes us. The young people in That Night Follows Day know that too, just as any performer has to know, live and work through this fact. This doesn’t make them puppets or parrots. The performers understand that they inhabit and are visible in the piece in a lot of complicated ways. Discussions about acting and ‘truth’ and character and persona and self are ones you can have with any of the cast of TNFD, even the youngest of them, if you choose your moments, and take time to do so.

That Night Follows Day is about the frames (societal, intellectual, educational, famillial, physical) that adults construct for young people. It’s also, inevitably, an example of these processes. So far as I can work out there can be no interaction possible between adults and young people that escapes this. That’s what the piece is about. You can see my projection in it, and as an audience you can see and feel your own. The children are ‘in’ that – caught and free at the same time – just as they are in the outside world. What’s great I think is that young people are also always exceeding and escaping these frames. They do that in the performance too.

I’m glad to agree that TNFD is not “the authentic voice of young people” – ughhh. I wouldn’t set out to make something so naive. I wouldn’t claim to represent in that way. In any case I hardly believe in authentic voices fullstop, not even my own. Voices are voices – they are complicated layerings of desire, fantasy, limit, projection, haunting, fiction. Authenticity is a particularly contemporary tyranny of sorts, and has become a fetish, sought everywhere, by the media especially and (to be frank) most often quickly devoured as spectacle before the circus moves on. In that sense it doesn’t interest me – I’m interested in making something more complex in fact, and which knows very well that it is artifice, even as something like a truth moves in and out of it. But maybe that’s another discussion. What TNFD tries to make as a performance is an echo box, a space for reflection on how adults make and frame the world for young people. I think, from reactions over from audiences and critics in countries all over Europe over the last 18 months since we opened the piece, that it works pretty well in that respect.

Essen – City Changes

27 October 2008
City Changes - Essen Installation

City Changes - Essen installation 3

City Changes - Essen installation 2

As mentioned below City Changes is now showing at PACT Zollverein in Essen. A few installation pictures above. For the opening I wrote a short text for curator Stefan Hilterhaus, about the work and what I hope it is dealing with.

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Dear Stefan,

Years ago Forced Entertainment rented a couple of garages on the edge of Sheffield. It was in these insecure, damp and dark places that we stored for a long time the boxes of old props and costumes, as well as the sets for old shows, and collected raw or nearly raw materials of one kind or another (timber, furniture, steel bars, scaffolding, random interesting items) which we thought might be of use to us in some as yet unimagined project, at some time or another in the as yet unimagined future. One garage contained the more current materials, the other contained the things we felt less likely to use. But to each site we paid occasional visits, retrieving one thing or another, searching for items we’d lost, or looking for things which we thought we needed again or for which we’d suddenly imaged a use. At a certain point the lock on one of these spaces (the less current one) became so rusted that it was almost impossible to enter, whilst at another point the more current space developed leaks in its roof, a small arson attack damaging its doors and so on. The garages were unstable, entropic. Mostly Richard would drive up the mud track to them alone, bringing things back in the van, along with his reports on the status and usually catastrophic developments of the buildings themselves. Some curtains he might bring back, a crate of costumes, a wind machine, an overhead projector – stuff that we could use or salvage. The garages, I used to joke, were not so much real places though as they were a state of mind – a mental space pitched perfectly between an exhausted past and an intense future set of possibilities – a mental space of both memory and potential, the discarded and the imagined.

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I’ve always loved cities – as places of social, cultural and political diversity, contestation, change and stasis. For a long time I’ve loved descriptions of them too – from Italo Calvino’s near-impossible conundrum urban spaces, to Dickens’ filthy, stratified and fog-bound London to William Gibson’s sprawling near futures, with the different cities of William Burroughs, Mike Davis, M. John Harrison, Luc Sante, Kathy Acker, Michael Moorcock and a whole host of others in between. A city described is always more than a landscape of course, always more than a set of architectures – like our garages in fact, a city mapped in text is always at some level a state of mind, a set of possibilities and prohibitions, an atmosphere, a  philosophy posed as linguistic cartography.In my own writing I’ve been drawn (like several of the writers above) to conceptions of the city as contradictory and incoherent – a three dimensional collage that can (and must) be seen (and used) from a number of different angles in order to be seen (or used) at all.

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Embarking on the work City Changes I was interested in two main things. The first were the rhetorics that are often wheeled out around cities and change – the various accents (positive and negative) that are placed on stasis, stability and stagnation on the one hand and fluidity, flux, energy, vitality and change itself on the other. I was fascinated by the language that so often surrounds urban space – the language that talks cities up (and talks them down) in everything from travel guides to fiction, to the kind of reports that are produced by NGOS to back-up quangoistic EU redevelopment initiatives. These kinds of stories about cities – fantastical or factual, coolly written or intensely poetic – are always part of a conversation about what we want our lives to be like, about imagining futures and as such of course I think they are always very revealing.The second thing that interested me was the idea of creating a text work that somehow revealed it’s own process. I guess that’s something that comes to me from my work in performance, where my inclination has often been to expose the mechanism of decisions, events and effects – showing choices being made, showing hesitations, re-thinkings and so on as performers go about their work. I wanted to do something similar with City Changes, tracing my rewriting of the text and allowing its proposal to be punctured by the revelation of its own contingency. In this work the City Changes text is something that has layers, history, process – internal tensions and complications that are worn on the sleeve rather than hidden. I think what drew me to that is a desire to demonstrate that words like cities are always choices, always changeable, always loaded political objects.

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I’m so glad that the works will be shown during Explorationen 08 which I think sounds like a great initiative and context to approach these kinds of topics. I wish you well and hope that the symposium is as creative and inspiring as it can possibly be.

With best wishes to you all,

Tim

Updates

26 October 2008

Heading to Belgium to rehearse with the new cast of kids for That Night Follows Day, just as the original cast start their long journey back from the Melbourne Festival.

New York Times on Drama Queens. You may have to register but it’s worth it to see the picture of the actors standing slightly awkwardly besides the motorised sculptures – some kind of almost-ironic postmodern re-run of a Futurist moment. In the event though, they did a pretty great job with the text.

Lyn Gardner, Lois Keidan, Helen Cole, Ant Hampton, Robert Pacitti and pretty much the entirety of the UK Live Art scene have a good old go at Ekow Eshun here for his comments on the relevance and vitality of the sector, and for his recent announcement about closing the ICA’s Live And Media Arts department. Not that anyone really connects the ICA with performance these days but really – with a bit of imagination they could have an interesting program there with plenty of relevance and vitality. I guess private hires of the theatre space is too lucrative a cash cow.

My work City Changes (and Art Flavours) are in their last week at Manifesta 7, Rovereto. City Changes has, at the same time,  also just gone on show at PACT Zollverein in Essen.

Butchers – where my Wait Here neon resided back in the Summer months – now has a new show comprising Marcos Chaves’ video Laughing Mask. Curated by Ben Borthwick and Cylena Simonds.

Fumiyo

25 October 2008
Tim Etchells & Fumiyo Ideka 01

Tim Etchells & Fumiyo Ikeda 02

Tim Etchells & Fumiyo Ikeda 3

Tim Etchells & Fumiyo Ikdea 04

Fumiyo and I have been working in Sheffield, on her solo during the last couple of days. Here are photos by Herman Sorgeloos of the two of us in Brussels a week or so ago.

 

Skank Tart

23 October 2008

Anne Colvin / TART in San Francisco are organising a series of events under the banner of The Colony Room and taking place at The Garage at Langton, Fridays and Saturdays, bar 7pm – 11pm. September 26 – November 6, 2008. Events start 8.00pm. This Friday, October 24th they’ll be presenting a selection of my video works plus performance by San Francisco artist Stephen Shearer. Should be fun… wish I could be there!

Anne is also editor of the very cool publication/artist multiple collection Skank Bloc Bologna, the third edition of which is out now more or less. It’s launched at The NY Art Book Fair, October 24 – 26, 2008 and features another international cast of contributors from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco including Jessica Brier, Anne Colvin, Ryan Gander, Alasdair Gray, Marie Jaeger, Lucy Keany, Kevin Killian, Darin Klein, Annika Larsson, Neil Mackintosh, Tom Marioni, Mark Orange, Ara Shirinyan and me. Silverman Gallery will be carrying all three issues of Skank at their Art Book Fair booth O-3. The fair is at Phillips de Pury & Company, 450 West 15th Street at 10th Avenue, 3rd floor, NY.

Two Readings & Two Shows

15 October 2008

I am going to be talking about and reading from The Broken World as part of Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival on Sunday 19 Oct. Due to circumstances etc the event has moved from its original location at Bank Street Arts to the Showroom Cinema, in Showroom 5. The starting time will now be half an hour later than planned – at 8.30pm –  to allow time for  anyone that turns up at Bank Street enough time to get over to the Showroom. Advance tickets are from the Showroom on 0114 275 7727.

I will also be reading soon in Berlin at the Hebbel Theatre on the night of Monday November 3rd. This time it’s a reading from Endland – the German edition of my Endland Stories which also features a whole lot of new material including stories I wrote for Barbara Campbell’s 1001 nights cast and for Kate McIntosh’s solo performance Loose Promise. Endland has been translated by my good friend Astrid Sommer and for the reading I will be joined by a great performer Thomas Wodianka (he’s going to read the German versions, me some English ones). I first met Thomas working on Meg Stuart’s project Alibi. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his fading, almost whispered version of a passage from David Wojnarowitz’s amazing book Close to the Knives. Hebbel also shows my Manifesa 7 project Art Flavours as part of its season Fressen Oder Fliegen – Art Into Theatre – Theatre Into Art. There will be something like 6-800 portions of Osvaldo Castellari’s fabulous gelato (created for the project) going free in the season as well as screenings of my video work that documents the process.

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Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular kicks off its UK tour tomorrow at the Arts Centre in Warwick. My piece for Victoria (now Campo) That Night Follows Day meanwhile is heading for the Melbourne Festival, with performances 22-25 October.

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To celebrate all the above I will spend the whole day tomorrow locked in a hotel room in Coventry and working on my taxes. This hotel boasts of refurbishment by the way, but we all know that demolition is the only answer.

 

Drop Kick

13 October 2008

In any case I claim as my work this week the choreography of all the drunks in Brussels. The backwards and forwards staggering of the guy at the ATM, with its interlaced measure of side-to-side swaying, the guys head leading his body in confusion, his whole frame suspended from time to time in moments of temporary balance and bewildered thought, was pretty much the start of the show. Later, when his money spat from out of the machine, he let it fall, stupid fingers bluntly grabbing as the notes scattered flightless to the pavement  – the green brown of brand new 100/50 Euro notes heading downward to their place at his feet. His comical grasping, blind, flat palmed, was my work, and the trick of the other guy, his friend, with a darting less-drunk motion coming in to help him, crouching and grabbing the fluttering cash was a maybe too clever way to turn a solo into a duet, the two of them gathering notes in hurry that was frightened by the prospect of wind. The way they circled the pavement to the waiting taxi was mine, the more-sober one going round, out and into the road to take the left-hand passenger door after first flinging the other wide open for his friend, who, after collapsing inwards to the darkness of the seat, made great and protracted drama from the action needed to close the door after himself – faint circles of the  hand, conflicted leaning in tension with the seat belt and then finally the gesture of his fingers, straining for the handle, a miniature ballet staged one full half metre short of their mark.

The climax of my work was maybe days later when a different drunk altogether, a veritable Nureyev or Nijinsky of his time, crashed down the stairs of a restaurant, head over heels and then wedged in the curve of the stairs turn, unable to right himself, in unwinding agony of an overturned beetle, legs in slow motion, animal groans. His friend also joined for the duet, the latter trying to right the former, by pulling him upwards, all the while threatening to fall and join him in the almost and painful horizontal. Their exit was the piece de resistance – the drunkest of the two clasping his hands around the neck/shoulders of the other who took him, weaving an unsteady path between the tables, his friend a good natured more-or-less-sentient sack of potatoes at his back declaring good! good ! good!, as they lurched closer to the door then found release to the darkness of the night beyond.

The work I am proudest of though, was my trio for a drunk man, a half empty beer can and a brand new Mercedes Benz taxi. Staged at 1 or two in the morning the lone dancer – in white track suit, sideways baseball cap and rolling stagger – drop-kicked the beer can from his hand and out into the floodlit street, the can moving in a wild unruly arc, towards the parked up taxi, but over it, a beautiful clearance which non-the-less dripped and dashed a curve of lager to its gleaming bonnet and windshield, incurring the wrath of the driver but stunning the crowd with its thrilling, abrupt and unexpected parabola. In the aftermath the dancer almost collapsed, fell back on himself with the recoil, so beautiful.

The rest of my work – all the swaying, blundering of the city's many drunks dispersed across its vast stage, all the missed footsteps, the fumblings, the falls, the yells, extended arms, slumped backs, entangled pas de deuxs, the gyrations, twists, circlings, stumbles and misunderstandings, the sudden motions, the unison chorus of staggerers, subway platform soloists of confusion, argumentative quartets around benches  etc etc I will not recount or describe in full detail here but hope that you have seen them, and appreciate the work. Something about a venture on this scale is suiting me. I will move, in the not too distant future to larger things – the rise and fall of the money markets beckons and I have let the relevant authorities know that I am ready for the job.