What Previously Passed By For Reality

2 March 2008

When you step through the doors it's already clear that it's not a very good place to be. Not because it's too dark in there but because it's too bright – lit wide, harsh and indiscriminate – fluorescents bouncing in all directions. The bar itself is an island structure of wooden veneer in the dead centre of a room comprising yellow stained and painted walls given recent respite by the smoking ban but still looking well sick, propped up, pinned down or held in place by an arrangement of random slot machines. Above the bar there's a large square of mirror tiles on the needlessly high ceiling – the tiles themselves appearing like a remnant of some other decor, some other logic, some other time. Look up there now and you just get a pointless surveilance-eye view of the dry and rotting insides of some plant pots stacked up on high shelves or else a vertiginous look down on the balding heads of some blokes sat right on the other side of the bar. It all depends on your angle of course and you figure out that it probably pays not to be slumped like the old guy to your right, whose head is rested at a drunken angle so obtuse you can't even start to triangulate his view. Everyone in the place looks like they've been in here for some time. Days certainly, weeks even. Others blend into the carpet and the wallpaper in ways that make you think they might have been here years. Life meaning life.  Frayed personalities. Old wounds. That dispersed cluster of people sat or stood here and there round the wooden stools of the bar who give off an energy like they might all be the publican or a barmaid or just a regular regular that helps out from time to time. A family extended so far that it becomes meaningless, unsure of its own edges. Division of labour. Distributed consciousness. A woman with a handbag, all dressed in brown. A blondish woman in green – 30-35 maybe going on 50. The guy you have to step past – a stumbled 'shall we dance?' moment – has kind eyes long ago exploded with drink to watery pools, a dirty football shirt. Toothless laughter from some old guy hunched at the bar. From the other side comes the sound of singing, you can't really see who but the ceiling mirror points back to the bald heads. 

At some point the Sky Sports commentary/soundtrack that grips everyone and no-one gets replaced/drowned out by an unexpected track from the cd jukebox and there is some yelling, some waving of arms to unplug the fucking thing, get Tony, the remote, or reboot or turn down. The music lingers, unwelcome, then goes sent back to the ether or the methadone. You are back to the football already when a bloke barges in from the street  very rapidly, followed by some other bloke in hot and cold running pursuit, the latter with his fists swinging and yelling a whole lot of fucking this and fucking that. Straight line from the door is the determined trajectory of GBH or wounding with intent at which the extended and dispersed group around the bar reforms into new shapes, an amoeba steeped in Carlsberg, all yelling, defending the chased man, making lunges to grab the other one, legs and arms everywhere. Stools are thrown around like street trash in a storm – half-hearted weapons, then temporary barriers. There are scuffles, grabs. A temporary standoff. You meanwhile have edged (rapidly) to the other side of the low table, just slightly out of striking distance but trapped between it and the wall. The fight lurches again, you calculate some possible exit routes as the yelling kicks off once more to a background chorus of 'call the police'. Sky Sport continues where in the old days the piano player would've stopped. The intruder gets pushed out the door in a flurry of fists but then just seconds later comes charging back again, double-quick-time, for a rebate of scuffling before a final expulsion.

All this followed by a long, drawn out confused and overlapping dissection of what happened, what started it, who started it, what's wrong with Jean Paul who loudly protests all innocence – they just came by in a van, they were outside, just came by stopped the van and were shouting something then the whole thing kicked off. Speculation that the guy that came in just now had a knife. He had a knife in the back of his jeans or in the back of his belt. He had a knife. Something about him going back to a van to get it. Something about a knife. He had a knife down the back of his jeans. Some saw it, some did not. You sit again. Various figures in action – the woman in brown takes her handbag upstairs for no particular reason,  a friend of Jean Paul goes to peer from the back window, someone else to peer from the front doors to see if they are lurking or plotting outside. No, apparently not. Just traffic. Passersby. What previously passed by for reality ebbs back in again slowly, very slowly, and you think about leaving, eye the door space. As you sit there and think about it, the watery eyed bloke emerges from a door at the back somewhere, walking very slowly, carrying a baseball bat and a long handled garage mechanics wrench made of rusted metal, one makeshift weapon in each hand, then leans them up next to his stool at the bar all casual-like, in case of the intruders' recurrence, and fluidly re-engages in the general level of chit chat. Things quieten down. A new person enters, unaware of what went on before, orders a drink. His mate arrives. The place becomes less like an amateur warzone and just another horrible pub. Taking this perhaps, as a sign to exit, you drink up, and leave.

Working Together

29 February 2008

Talking in Leeds tomorrow with Kate Valk and Andrew Quick. Kate is one of the most extraordinary performers, a stalwart of the New York theatre makers The Wooster Group. I’ve met her a few times here and there and seen her perform often over the years but I’m really looking forward to talking with her and Andrew. It’s going to be a great event. First time I saw Kate on-stage was 22 years ago, hard to believe, in The Wooster’s L.S.D: Just The High Points alongside the amazing Ron Vawter. A lot of water under the bridge since then but it’s still very vivid to me, that first encounter with the Wooster’s approach – clipped and in some ways clinical performance style and a high-speed mix of materials, live and on video. What spoke to me most (in that piece and in later ones) is that the tricks of it, especially from performers Ron, and Kate and Nancy Reilly always created space, opened doors – all surface and all depth at the same time. Can’t wait. Here’s a short fragment I pulled from an interview with Kate a while back, and what I wrote after seeing her, Scott Shepherd and the rest of the group in the Wooster’s recent Hamlet. The panel Working Together is at WYP’s Courtyard Theatre, Leeds, Saturday 1 March 2008 at 2.30. In the evening (tonight and tomorrow) in the same place there are what may be final UK performances of my piece with Forced Entertainment, Bloody Mess. Next stop for that is Bogata in a week or so!

Andrew’s The Wooster Group Work Book which was published by Routledge late last year is also well worth checking out – a scrapbook collection come archive of documents, rehearsal logs, texts, long interviews and photographs that show the process and aesthetic of the group’s work incredibly well. It was designed by old friend Lewis Nicholson, who did my own Certain Fragments and much of Forced Entertainment’s early publicity materials.


A very nice blog The Leila Texts pointed out to me last night by Vlatka and comprising an on-going collection of SMS/texts from many different senders, arriving at someone’s phone mistakenly, thanks to a technical glitch. I like this one:

 Leila sheryn will pick u up after school do not take the bus i will see u in the parking lot i will have your things call me as soon as u get this message

Also this one:

Lets her know she s not missing anything 


27 February 2008

Accounts of this undercover operation and the related convictions this week were the by-now usual mix of outward-bound bonding exercises for wanna-be terrorists in Hampshire, combat skills and camaraderie honed during cut-price Paintball long-weekends. The last part of the article though, about the initial arrests, came over especially cryptic, blunt and vivid.

Surveillance transcripts recorded the moment when armed officers raided the private dining room shortly before midnight on August 31 2006, shouting: “Sit down. Hands on the table, please. Everything will be explained to you.”

Seemed like the kind of moment that conspiracy theorists or zen monks might dream of – when the secret/reality police burst into the room at random and explain everything.


Meanwhile a friend in the midst of emotional dramas wrote:

i couldn’t do anything yesterday except wait for him to arrive. i didn’t know that a person can just sit there and wait for hours. just watch the clock. creepy


26 February 2008

i thought he was dead tho.
but its good tht he s not

hes like your age

plenty of dead people are my age

why did you think he was dead?
(you joking?)

i guess i thought he was dead for the 'reason' that people in the world start to think that certain celebrities are or are not alive or dead…
there is not realy a 'why' that I can think of

Wait Life

18 February 2008

Overheard from Vlatka:

what i don't get is that he is texting her from a combat situation and she doesn't reply to his texts. i mean if he was my boyfriend I would be glued to the computer. I'm not bothered really cos the important thing is that she cares for him. I would say something but i guess it is just her nature, to be like that.

And another, also via Vlatka, this from the ageing philosophical Georgian classical pianist/taxi-driver (think Soviet rather than Deep South) that took her out to JFK last week. Stuck in traffic, at the end of a long monologue, describing the trials/tribulations of his family, immigration/exile and poverty economic situation, the whole thing punctuated by bursts of his daughter playing piano on a tape in the in-car stereo ("how i play is nothing she has fingers like rubber.. they would not let her come here to join me, she is a separate person they say") he confides in her:

Now we only wait life. this is not yet life that we have. we only wait life.


All the leaves are brown

16 February 2008
Empty Stage - Winter Garden

Roman Ondak Leaves

Something quite Philip K. Dick about this story, with its promise of replacement pets cloned from the tissues of loved-but-lost animals.

Meanwhile, in a beautiful project for Art Sheffield Roman Ondak covered the floor of the city’s Winter Gardens with autumn leaves, confusing first by virtue of switching the seasons and second because  the Winter Gardens is all ever-green trees. The first thing that hit me walking through the space yesterday was the smell. Something deep, earthy, walking-in-the-woods – in any case a far cry from anything you’d expect in there. At the opening lots of people venture stories about reactions to the leaves. Adults don’t notice them so much one person says, it’s more the kids that engage with them, as if the adults don’t have time. It’s true that during the opening event speeches there are a few kids scooping handfuls of the leaves and chasing each other. Someone else describes how one particular shop/coffee stand owner in the Gardens was sweeping away the leaves in a neat circle around her space. It’s good I think, says Roman, she becomes my performer.

Art Sheffield

12 February 2008
Art Sheffield

Working hard now on the last stages of the pieces for ART SHEFFIELD 08: Yes, No & Other Options. The opening is Friday and the show runs from 16 February – 30 March 2008 in venues across the city including Bloc, End Gallery,  S1 Artspace, Site Gallery, Yorkshire ArtSpace, Sylvester Space, The Winter Garden and the Millennium Galleries where my stuff will be. I’m showing three new neon pieces alongside two works made with Vlatka – our existing video Insults & Praises (2003) and what began as a kind of mutant follow-up to it titled Threats & Promises. Sneak preview of one of the neons below, meanwhile late night video shooting to complete the Threats & Promises piece got abandoned sometime around midnight tonight when all the lights in the studio tripped out. Desultory end to the long work day which was just starting to clarify (and not before time!). Will help make tomorrow nice and pressurised.

Press release goes like this: “Taking as its foundation a specially commissioned text by art critic Jan Verwoert, this city-wide exhibition addresses the fact that in a post-industrial condition… we have entered into a service culture where we no longer just work, we perform in a perpetual mode of ‘I Can’. (Even advertising tells us that ‘Life gets more exciting when you say yes’).Verwoert asks, “What would it mean to put up resistance against a social order in which high performance and performance-related evaluation has become a growing demand, if not a norm? What would it mean to resist the need to perform?” He suggests that certain means of resisting are in themselves creative – that as well as embracing exuberant performativity, art has also used the ‘ I Can’t’, by creating moments where the flow of action is interrupted, established meanings are suspended and alternative ways to act become imaginable. He suggests that as well as yes and no, there may be other options.”

Please Come Back - Neon

The mix of both emerging and established Sheffield-based, nationally and internationally-based artists includes Tomma Abts, Michal Budny, Phil Collins, Andrew Cooke, Kerstin Kartscher, Silke Otto Knapp, Július Koller, Jiri Kovanda, Ruth Legg, Hilary Lloyd, Deimantas Narkevicius, Ines Schaber, Sean Snyder, Frances Stark, Mladen Stilinovic, Esther Stocker, Nasrin Tabatabai, Wolfgang Tillmans, Tsui Kuang-Yu, Gitte Villesen, Eveline Van Den Berg, Ryszard Wasko, Nicole Wermers and Xu Tan. As well as from Vlatka and I there are new commissions from Katie Davies, Annika Eriksson, Host Artist’s Group, Janice Kerbel, George Henry Longly, Roman Ondak, Kirsten Pieroth, Paul Rooney, Dexter Sinister, Esther Stocker, Neil Webb, Katy Woods and Kan Xuan.

Una cosa es una cosa

10 February 2008
Una Cosa

Vlatka wrote me about a performance Una cosa es una cosa (“a thing is a thing”) by Columbian artist María Teresa Hincapié. She saw documentation of the work in a big show Arte ≠ Vida: Actions By Artists Of The Americas, 1960-2000 at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem, New York. The show, which from reports sounds amazing, runs until May so I will get to see it before too long. For Una cosa es una cosa Hincapié took all of the objects from her home, except the furniture, and then spent a two week period arranging and rearranging them, according to a set of shifting criteria and principles.

There’s some material about Maria Teresa, who died very recently after a long illness, in the book Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas by Coco Fusco. I really love the text below which Hincapié wrote connected to the Una cosa es una cosa performance.

“…movement here. then. in the corner. in the center. on one side. near him. very far. further. very far. very, very far. here are the handbags. here, the pocket. here the bag. here, the box and over it, the pocket. at one side, the box. in the corner, the pocket and the bag; in the center the paper bags and very near, the box. leakage. dispersion. everything getting empty. everything disappears. everything scatter. disseminate. blend. stop. organize themselves in a cue in a random way. they mark a space. they separate in groups, one beside the other. common groups. where they are similar. because they are white. because they are made up of fabric. because they are dresses. because they are made up of plastic. because they are large. because they are covered. because they are ceramics. because they are jars. because they need one another as the toothbrush and toothpaste. but also because the paste is by itself and the toothbrush is with other toothbrushes or by itself. all the flowers here. the dresses are extended. the black ones are near me. the pink ones here. the towels by themselves. the coverlet by itself. the blankets by themselves. the bags by themselves. the pencils by themselves. the dresses by themselves. the colors by themselves. the broom by itself. the onions by themselves. the carrots by themselves. the corn by itself. the sugar by itself. the wheat by itself. the plastic by itself. the handbag by itself. the rubber bag by itself. the box by itself and empty. the mirror by itself. the shoes by themselves. the socks by themselves. the herbs by themselves. I, alone. she, alone. we, alone. they, alone. a space alone. a place alone. a line alone. one sock only. one shoe only. everything is alone. all of us are alone. a mass of rice. a mass of sugar. a mass of salt. a mass of wheat. a mass of coffee. a mass of different things”.

Reading about the piece also made connections to me with the first Jérôme Bel show Nom donne par l’auteur (1994) in which Jérôme and Frédéric Seguette systematically construct arrangements and imply temporary relations between a small group of objects culled from Bel’s apartment. At Bel’s the show must go on last night, seeing the piece for the 5th or 6th time in as many years, I was still completely sucked into its space, drawn in by its great blankness, by the sheer time it gives you to think. It’s a pretty devastating work, even now, when somehow it seems so much easier for audiences to deal with than it did back in 2001. Great to see it in such a big epic space as Sadler’s Wells too – the kind of space (all potential) that it really needs to stage the decisions of its vivid starkness. The programme note I wrote about Jérôme’s work recently is here.