Before That Noises

30 August 2008

First there was a rocking chair moved all on its own. Before that noises. Then a bunch of smaller things were moving when they should not move or else moved when people were out of the room. Thought there were Ghosts said Dad, and slowly the ghosts that he spoke of got more and more. Some kids were frightened and cried in the Nite, but the older ones did not scare so easy – they were all laughing, Bravado and his brothers, tryna make a joke out it all. They said the ole man came in one time, saw the spirit at there in the corner, right near where he liked to occupy his chair and he just stared that fucker down. Get out of here.

But whatever – in the end they came more and more and lots of them. It got too fucking hard to live there and we had to move out. Priest couldn’t help, couldn’t get rid of them. It was inconvenient. Dad said it just like that – it was just too inconvenient living in a house with so many ghosts. Maybe the house was builded on a burial ground etc. Maybe there was terrible murders of kids and all sorts, done right on the premises. Anyway we had to get out of there. Next house it was the neighbors making trouble – the guy was always killing an animal in the garden or leaving trash outside their door or letting off some fireworks under of his car or the hedge or his brothers t-shirt. So that year we got driven out of one place by the living and another place by the dead. Ghosts was what X said. Fucking ghosts. He did not mind Mice or Cockroaches or Idiots. But ghosts were a Royalty pain in the ass and once they got a hold on your place they were hard to shift.

Bad Man

Brother Mark mailed:

Loved the butterfly story. And the Kinski clip.
Stroked his “crazy dog” outa frisco in the hills years back. He used to hide
up fire watch towers and abuse hikers babbling abt property and rights to em
from 20 metres up and talk abt his crazy dog. Had an electric collar which
he’d fry it when it got too close to said hikers. Mad laughter thru the
hills. And a stunned and crazy dog. Used to stop it mind.
Dragged his corpse thru the property where I was. Dog still there.
Fucker stank of skunks. the dog I mean. Glad the ol boy was dead i’d guess.
Mount Barnaby I dimly recall. California. Log cabin, woods etc. Anyhow.

Barbara Campbell mailed and sent haikus by Kerouac, not knowing that I kind of love Kerouac, which I read mostly way back in the past. I had forgotten these though:

Useless! Useless!
—heavy rain driving
Into the sea

Night fall – too dark
to read the page,
Too dark

New York at this point is warm and piss stinking streets and rats running under the cars on 1st street. Got called “a bad man” by a six year old Asian kid in Whole Foods. Usual story. I sat on a chair, the kid thought it was his chair. I was a bad man he said with deadpan even emphasis on the two words, his mum said no I was not a bad man, they had gone to the bathroom, how was I to know, I was just sitting there eating my lunch in a chair that was unoccupied, I was not a bad man the mum said but the kid was not convinced and made an enemy of me.

This is Recorded on Rust and Selotape

27 August 2008

I am jet lagged and very likely to be rambling here.

Kate sent me some footage from The Secret Life of Machines, which I subsequently followed thru to find more episodes/fragments of the same 80s TV series with Tim Hunkin. Can’t say I ever watched it at the time but the stuff on the actual mechanics of everyday technologies is pretty interesting – like some kind of more brainy Scrapheap Challenge. The photocopier one, for example, has pretty great stuff on early/diy attempts at document copying – hugely laborious and often involving wet and dry processes akin to photo-development. Made me think these last few days about the technologies that replicate on the one hand (turning a physical object into another physical object, often with an intermediate stage), and technologies which effectively mediate things from one form or media to another – like scanners or samplers. Wondering vaguely if there’s a marker moment in technological development where the problem “how can i get another physical object like this one?” gets temporarily superseded by the problem “how can i get this physical object into a non-physical (digital) form?”. Something about the physical object being a nuisance and just wanting to have it digital… like ‘great, but how the fuck can i get *that * onto my computer?” Probably in fact the dynamic thing is about the process of constant translation backwards and forwards between realms – physical and non-physical, two dimensional and three dimensional.

Thinking now of the Gelatin project Tantamounter 24/7 I heard about way back – a closed space in which the artists were based, working continuosly for a period of days with various kinds of equipment and materials. Visitors could bring  to the window of this space any item they wanted copied and within a specified time period a copy of some kind would be made using only those materials and processes the artists had available to them inside the gallery.

The “Tantamounter 24/7” is a gigantic, complex and very clever machine. It’s like a huge huge Xerox copy machine, only bigger and more clever. The friendly customer places their personal objects, ideas, smells on one of the entry ports and after a short analysis will be informed of the time it will take to produce the copy.

The “Tantamounter 24/7” can scan two and three-dimensional objects, analyze their flavours, ideas, concepts and contents. As a clever machine it can not just copy or duplicate objects, but of course be tantamount to them. Due to its complex emotional circuitry one will never know how the “Tantamounter 24/7” will reflect the input. After the announced waiting time the input object and its duplicate will be ejected through the exit slot. The working mechanism behind “Tantamounter 24/7” is some completely hardwired intense individual agents operating day and night under close supervision of a bankrupt psychiatrist.


“I don’t even like art..”

Jacob Wren posted a link to a great set of 1986 interview fragments by David Hammons. By coincidence, and looping back to the copying theme, Vlatka and I saw an unofficial (and unauthorised) retrospective of his work a couple of years back which so far as I can recall consisted only of photocopies or replicas of his works.

A Butterfly

22 August 2008

A butterfly is loose on the stage during the second performance of That Night Follows Day in Gotenburg. The kids are all speaking in unison, just as they usually do, their eyes are steadily working the audience and they are making their way through the text and it all feels very present, very strong. And then there’s this extra layer, beautiful and distracting in equal parts – the butterfly, moving here and there, with this constant, unfolding micro-narrative of where will it go and what will it do. The kids say afterwards that as they watch the audience they see them move their heads in strange choreographed unison movements, each one trying  to track/watch/follow the butterfly’s path about and around the stage. And from time to time the butterfly comes to rest – on Viktor’s shirt for example, or on Taja’s shoe, or on Yen’s shoulder or on Lina’s arm where it stays for the longest time, so perfectly still and she so focused on what she is saying that and I’m not even sure if she has noticed it or not. The butterly seems to like green colours and he certainly loves the bright light of the stage. He is not the performance, but from time to time he really is the performance. I keep waiting for his story to resolve somehow. Will one of the performers panic or react when he too gets near them, or freak out when they notice that he has landed on their skin? Will one of them crush the butterfly or kill it with the swipe of a hand? or catch it? But nothing like that happens. The performance is taking place. The butterfly goes around, red and black colours, beating wings. He visits various people. He lands on one of the white lines that mark the gymnasium style floor. Then later I don’t see him anymore. There’s no end to the story.

Afterwards Keng Sen says that in China the arrival of the butterfly (or a moth) means there is a spirt in the room, a visitor from another realm. At a funeral especially it means that the deceased person is back – taking a look at what’s going on. I guess I don’t know who it was there in the theatre three nights ago, taking a look at the show, or at the building, or the audience. I guess the butterfly always seems like he’s from another story, another logic, another set of understandings even in out the world in a meadow, a garden or a park. On stage it seems doubly so. Also, as I think about it now the butterfly is all about gaze, about gaze in transit – about shifts of attention and  trajectory – fluttering from place to place, landing, staying setting off again. Strangely circuitous and arbitrary but always, in fact, going somewhere, searching, looking at, or for something. I loved the way that in Gotenburg he slipped out of my story.

Writing now though I’m suddenly thinking of the end of Herzog’s documentary/memorial to his friend, sometime-adversary and life-time collaborator Klaus Kinski, My Best Friend. In the final scene of the film Kinski faces Herzog’s camera while a large Amazonian butterfly flies around him – resting from time to time on his face, his shoulder, his outstretched hands. Kinski smiling in the brilliant sunshine, his movements patient, delighted and calm, in love with the moment and with its recording. Herzog on voiceover talking about how, perhaps against his better judgement, this scene and not the tempestuous and confrontational ego monster we’ve had glimpsed elsewhere in the film, is how he would most like to fix Kinski in his memory. Watching the clip again now I had to think about the double layer which was always there in it but never so explicit for me as it is now – Kinski being gentle, careful, kind to the dead spirit in the butterfly, just as Herzog, on the soundtrack is loving, and careful with the spirit of Kinski himself.


17 August 2008

Long Richard Price interview in The Guardian on Saturday talking about his new novel Lush Life about the Lower East Side. Loved this quote from the book – a kind of machinic tracking-shot of an intro, in which both he and the characters seem to be scanning the landscape searching for a story, which is followed by a paragraph of his discussing it.

“Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, crêperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People’s Park, corner. Tyson mural, Celia Cruz mural, Lady Di mural, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner. And then finally, on a sooty stretch of Eldridge, something with potential: a weary-faced Fujianese in a thin Members Only windbreaker, cigarette hanging, plastic bags dangling from crooked fingers like full waterbuckets, trudging up the dark, narrow street followed by a limping black kid half a block behind.”

I actually don’t like to write so I have to work myself up. This was me trying to get something going about these cops riding round the Lower East Side in a bogus taxi. I wanted this quality of them making right turn after right turn for hours on end all night, so I started this incantatory chant of the properties they were passing. And reading it back it seemed to say something about what this place was and what it had once been. Sometimes you have to jump up and down on a motorcycle pedal 10 times. This was the moment when it caught and it became like an overture to the book.


Meanwhile I am working on my own rather different intro/tracking shot. This from a draft of a text I’m writing right now for a forthcoming catalgue/book about the National Review of Live Art.

 It was the National Review of Live Art, in Glasgow but the exact year escapes me, but for sure a time where the entire contingent of the festival – artists, technicians and a good part of the travelling audience – were lodged in some Hotel on the Central Station itself. The row of late nights and blurred mornings we spent there, entangled with artists and otherwise were made stranger still by the fact that the hotels’ other large (probably largest) contingent of guests were the massed and often fully-costumed delegates of a Star Trek convention taking place right there, in the unlikely environs of the ballroom and other conference facilities. The combination of the Star Treks and the contemporary performance crowd made for a vivid meeting ground. Klingons in the elevator. Body pierced artists and a scattering of dancers in the foyer. Uhuru, Spock, some guy from a festival in Krakow and an assortment of Kirks all drunk at the bar. I don’t know what was stranger – the confrontation I had over three days with that years NRLA art, in all of its tremendous beauty, confusion and glory, or the encounter I had in a long empty and dimly lit corridor with a lone guy in a Star Fleet uniform, head down and running zig-zag towards me, a pretty crazed look on his face and a replica Phaser strapped ready and waiting to his thigh. It was 3am more or less. I don’t know what perils he ran from, or who or what exactly he sought as went past me at speed in the corridor, then crashed the door to the service stairs heading down, but the smell and the friction from the faint wind of sweat and lager as he went past will certainly stay with me. I’m thinking worlds passing close to each other, not quite touching. It is years later now. The hotel is gone I guess, or more likely stripped, gutted re-furbed and franchised to fuck. There will be no more barefoot dancers in the elevators, that much is for sure. No more artists asleep in the bar or yelling from those windows, as loud as the trains.


16 August 2008

Parents in Starbucks, addressing their noisy kids sternly, with a combination of vagueness and high precision.

Now then – your volume is at 6. We want your volume at 2…. or 4.


Graeme brought me a copy of Joe Brainard's book I Remember – a personal list catalogue of statements each beginning with the phrase 'I remember'. Shades of Perec there, who I think did a pretty simillar piece, probably pretty much the same time as the Brainard. Hints of Handke's Self Accusation, and Forced Entertainment's own (much later) Speak Bitterness here too. This ambiguous open-ended confession I liked especially:

I remember learning very early in life the art of putting everything back exactly the way it was.

More Drama

12 August 2008

Last year I wrote the text for Drama Queens, a project by the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Comprising a short (40 minute) play for 6 radio controlled sculptures (scale models of real ones by Jeff Koons, Sol LeWitt, Giacometti, Warhol, Barbara Hepworth et al)  it was presented at Munster Skulpture Projekte and, more recently this year, at Art Basel. Here’s what I wrote about it back then with links to some reviews etc here and here.

Ingar was in touch with me a while back to say (slightly mysteriously) that “a London theatre” might be interested in staging the piece on a one-off basis with live actors providing the voices for the sculptures. The two presentations of the work so far featured recorded voices, as done by actors in Munster. Anyways. Things went quiet on all this and I thought any London plan was dead in the water. But now it’s all happening.

The Old Vic, no less, will present the work as a one off on Sunday 12 October 7.30pm, with artistic director Kevin Spacey reading one part and various other actors great and small looking at the script in due course with a view to joining the cast. Drama Queens is £250 a ticket gala fundraising type event but there are regular priced tickets too. The performance comes just a month before Forced Entertainment’s Spectacular at Riverside in London and alongside a new show by Elmgreen & Dragset at Victoria Miro.

Currently hard at work on the text – one sculpture is getting cut (sightline and space issues – The Old Vic stage is ‘in the round’ this season, and a general spring-clean of the text is going on). I’m definitely going to make it to the performance in October.


Anything Is Possible

11 August 2008

In Vienna to talk with Fumiyo Ikeda about the solo for her which we will collaborate on next year. Before I arrive she sends me these notes on improvisation.

These are my personal notes about improvisation.
They are very short. I want it to be short sentences.
While improvising it’s too late to think what am I doing ?
While improvising it’s too late to think how will I do it?
Improvisation is now and here. Me and communication.

Accepting the situation
Getting into the momentum
No judgment
No comment
No evaluation
Anything is possible
Let it come
Let it go

I first saw Fumiyo dance more than twenty years ago, in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker‘s Rosas Dans Rosas. I must have seen her dance many times since then, most recently in Nine Finger with artist/performer Benjamin Verdonck, which they made with Alain Platel. Fumiyo always looks like she’s thinking about what she’s doing, as if the movement she makes is under some kind of scrutiny or consideration – consideration not shown on the face, more by the body. More than anything else her movement seems constantly weighed, as if there is some sub-micro-second (or unquantifiable attention-split) of contemplation involved in even the fastest move. Not all dancers give that impression but with Fumiyo it’s very strong. For me it means that what happens counts. What’s amazing too is how fast she picks up and drops a particular energy in her movement – so the tone of what she’s doing can seem extremely fluid, changeable, unstable – light one moment, harsh or difficult another, with barely a boundary between the two. I’m compelled by this – as I am watching the other dancers I’ve been lucky enough to work with, Meg Stuart, Wendy Houston for example – even as I’m still very unsure what Fumiyo and I will make together. There is time for that still.

I found the new piece of Anne Teresa – Zeitung – very strong. The structure is deeply fragile – deploying the nine dancers in small groups for duets that turn into solos, trios that turn into duets – an unfolding, dissolving, endlessly adjusting and re-forming use of the stage, which only later pulls out the stops for some large-group set-pieces or more dynamic and exhausting improvisations. Even there though the piece resists the easy climax very often, many times choosing to dissipate an energy rather than take it to the max, shifting focus from one performer to another or one mode to another, where continuing would evidently make better, or at least more evidently functional drama. The piece is all so much the better for this fragility though even if it gives a hard time to anyone looking for an easy ride and even though I’d struggle to explain why. It’s more than my perversity speaking here I’m sure. There’s something very simple going on (not that I can name it), as well as a shifting between different kinds of intimacy, dramatic interaction, bodily distortion and, in a certain way, grace.

Throughout much of the piece Anne Teresa also lets the music and the lights take their own independent tracks – working with and for the choreography but also at many junctures seeming to ignore it, keeping it off balance. Ghosts or spirits that haunt the dance but do not serve it always, the lights (done, along with the stage design by Discordia’s Jan Joris Lamers) are prone to changing apparently at random, moving from one to another of the set number of lighting states during scenes, throwing what begins as a stark or simple scene into sudden backlight or total darkness, or creating huge space suddenly around an image that was previously isolated or framed by light. The music for its part quite often arrives during sequences that have already begun, or at other times the action endures apparently unchanged once the music has ended, suddenly exposed, continuing in silence. You have the impression I guess of things being slightly out-of-sync, displaced, misplaced  but without any kind of melodrama being created out of this condition. What seems key too is that these tactics aren’t deployed to make a mess either – there’s no flaunting of dysfunction. In fact the structure remains extremely careful, slow-burning, without appearing to be going anywhere much and persists in this way, nontheless creating a space, place, mode in which small interactions or events in the choreography start to count over and above their real weight. There’s a kind of self-effacement in the work too – each of the dancers gets their moment, or shines in some particular interaction or sequence, but no one’s lifted far out of the group which remains in some senses human and straightforward (watching each other, working, waiting) but at the same time slightly austere, blank, sparse and aesthetic in the ways that you might expect from a Rosas piece. Perhaps the closest thing to a through-line is the presence of Alain Franco  – seated at the piano to play the Bach pieces which are the spine of the work, and controlling the introduction  of the recorded versions of Weburn and Schoenberg that provide the rest of the music. It’s certainly matters that the first Bach track is played by him alone on the expanse of the stage area, with both dancers and audience in effect waiting – it’s an act of contemplation, private as well as public, that sets the tone for much of what will follow – simplicity and focus. Later in the evening Franco rises from his place at the piano – abandoning it during one sequence so that he can slump in an arm chair, and for another wandering into the depth of the space, behind the playing area – a man, who, drained from his own playing and having set the final recording in motion seems to have no further task left.


An Axe To Break The Frozen Sea

8 August 2008

Coming across lots of quotes from Kafka for some reason, most likely because I was in Prague last week.

Liked this:

Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence… Someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence, certainly never.

(The Silence of the Sirens, October 1917)

And may well make a title from somewhere in the last beautiful melodrama of this:

“… we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us.  …we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book should be an axe to break the frozen sea inside us.”

(Letter to Oskar Pollak, 27 January 1904)


Ant Hampton meanwhile sent the image below after my brief writing about a guy seen at the airport. Ant’s picture reminded me that years ago I filmed a weary looking guy for ages, as he waited at Manchester Airport, with a sign that read BROTHER. It meant the computer firm I am pretty sure… but the other possibility was too strong to resist.

Mr Sandman