A Stinking Cancerous Tumour in the Middle of an Exquisitely Beautiful Valley

27 June 2007

Reviews all over everywhere tag Lukas Moodysson‘s fifth feature Container (2006) as boring, irritating, pretentious, disappointing – especially those writers that bitterly regret his shift from character and narrative to more troubled and abstracted art-house territory. I liked the earlier films – Together is great – but for my money Container is more interesting. It’s rather brilliant in fact – an uncompromising piece of hard work, hard to take, hard to watch, audacious, single-minded. I was more or less holding my breath for 77 minutes. Afterwards I couldn’t think of a single word to say.


Moodysson’s extraordinary monologue for actress Jena Malone feels like some kind of post-internet Samuel Beckett crossed with Kathy Acker and runs through the entirety of the movie, almost without pause. Malone’s performance is the heart of the film, whispering, rambling and fighting itself, over an image track that is shot in black and white and which borders on the incomprehensible. Below there’s a short clip from the text. Does anyone know where I can get the whole of it? I’d really love to see it on the page.

“My particular interests are:
the second world war,
collecting different things,
different methods of torture,
different dead porn stars,
like for example Savannah, God, Jesus, Mary,
as well as various catastrophes like for example nuclear disasters,
like for example the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl,
I can see it all before me inside my head there is like
a box labelled catastrophes,
and inside that box there is another
labelled nuclear disasters,
and inside that box there is a third
labelled Chernobyl
then I take a carton of yogurt
and the yogurt symbolize all of my life force,
then I pour all the yogurt, I mean, my life force
into the box labelled Chernobyl
because I’m going to cool the reactor with the yogurt
and everything turns white
because I am a superhero who helps mankind”

Here’s Moodysson talking about the film:

“The strongest memory I have of the shoot is something that isn’t even in the film. (Every film is full of things that aren’t visible, but that lie behind.) A Gypsy family that lived on a rubbish dump outside Cluj in Romania. The rubbish dump was situated like a stinking cancerous tumour in the middle of an exquisitely beautiful valley. There was a clear line between the rubbish and the beautiful natural environment. The father of the family told me that they’d once built a house (no, not a house – a hovel made of old cardboard) some metres from the rubbish dump on the green grass. Then the police came and tore their house down. They weren’t allowed to leave the rubbish dump.

People with autism have a different perception and cognition than those who are “normal”, but who is “normal” really? A different perception can mean: difficulty in sifting and working out their impressions through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. A different cognition can mean: focusing on details, difficulty in differentiating relevant and irrelevant information, not knowing where to start, difficulty with the concept ”to be finished with something”. Container is an autistic film. I can’t sift it. Everything rushes straight at me.”

Scattered Links

25 June 2007

Mention of Forced Entertainment’s Bloody Mess at last week’s Meltdown in The Observer yesterday, here. And a rather more engaged and effusive blog review here.

The whole recent Modern Painter’s article by Nuit Banai surveying Vlatka‘s work is now online here. Great to see her work getting serious attention.

And finally, via BoingBoing, interesting work from British artist Tim Knowles. Check especially his Spy Box piece in which a digital camera placed inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system.

Rat Run

V says that Putin was just in Zagreb for some diplomatic schmooze/meeting which promted a big press scandal concerning security. Seems they were so paranoid about possible bombings/assassination attempts directed at him that they *welded shut* the sewer and other drainage/access hatches on all the streets along the route that his motorcade/entourage might use to travel through the city. Nice one. I made no attempt to verify this story but as is often the case the rumour suffices. I so like the idea of these guys trapped in an absurd welded-shut rat-run of 'safety'.


23 June 2007
Iggy Pass

Like you’re looking at a dancer in some cursory form of possession, ghosting temporarily between crucifixions, fashion poses, burlesque hangings, sex moves and semi-obscene gyrations, beckonings, crowd-tauntings, whiplash car-crash jerks, yells, rabble rousings, self-abuses, fragments of bar-fights, air guitar and fist-swinging street confrontations all played thru some kind of almost comically hyped-up full-on rocker lens. Or you’re looking at an exuberant grotesque, part-clown part-reptile – death-denying or death taunting and in any case, somehow in a state of avoidance concerning the fact that this body  is 60, the face like an astonished and jubilant skull that has just watched its own reconstruction thru surgery.

Lean like a 20 year old, skinny like a cartoon stick man, all ribs, bare bones and muscle. At the same time tho he is nonetheless and evidently decaying; the tanned skin not-taut, the walk awkward, the teeth too vivid/unreal. He sings, yelps and shifts from catwalk-posturing to gym-honed show-boating, giving off an air of the borderline psychotic and then somehow just looking funny again. Possessed of apparently boundless nihilism, boundless joy, boundless testosterone-arrogance, revelling in the gaze of around 1,000 people but at the same time demeaned and degraded, self-demeaning, self-degraded. What you’re looking at, mouth open, jaw dropped, is a body surrounded by, at the very centre of, in the absolute eye, and the eventual cause of the wall, storm and rush of brilliant noise that fills the room. A body that crackles with its own internal electricity, burns bright in its own private logic, burns so very very bright in fact that it seems as tho it might be determined to burn out. It’s a body that by simple virtue of being here is already celebrating its own survival, rushing and flickering with its own continued vivacity and velocity, delighting in its capacity to perform, provoke and please. But what it returns to, most often and with most glee, again and again, is its ability to conjure, or to conjure with, its own destruction.

You can lose yourself in what is happening. And it’s hard not to be amazed.

I guess what struck me most was how much the event hung between a very well calculated rock-gig dramaturgy (precise, concise, absurdly effective) and the simple fact of Iggy inside it – a presence as simply synpatic, muscular, and electrical as it might be human. The event then as this meeting between some very good planning/theatre and something quite other, quite beyond, something bordering on the shamanic.

Linked to this is the fact that you cant very well see what you’re watching ‘just for the gig’ – that watching this 90 minutes you’re also always at the same time feeling the weight of the life behind it; the 40 plus years of this behaviour, theatricalised excess and genuine self abuse. You’re watching the life in fact, through the window of the show; the fact of his survival to this point, the history (real and imagined) that’s marked and contained in his presence. Like time wells up, is dragged up tangibly inside the auditorium, shimmers and flickers, made present at exactly the same moment that it is denied.

Counting The Minutes

19 June 2007

Article/interview with Sophie Calle in The Guardian, talking about her show in Venice, and about the death of her mother who she nursed through the last month of her life. The piece says she’d heard that dying people often take their last breaths and slip way in the two minutes when their relatives leave the room.

‘”It became almost an obsession. I wanted to be there when she died. I didn’t want to miss her last word, her last smile. As I knew I had to shut my eyes to sleep, because the agony was very long, there were a risk I might not be there. I put a camera there, thinking if she gave a last jump or start, a last word, at least I’d have it on film.“‘

This led to another fixation. “The obsession of always having a tape in the camera, changing the tape every hour, was so great that instead of counting the minutes left to my mother, I counted the minutes left on each tape.”

I like this exhaustive aspect to Sophie’s work – something we tried to honour in the performance we made based on her project Exquisite Pain. Also reminded, for some reason, of Perec’s dedication to W, or a Memoir of Childhood – a book that explores the lives of his own parents. The dedication is something like: “If I write them, they will be my children too..


Strained, Nasty, Desperate And Parasitic

17 June 2007

I mentioned earlier that the Forced Entertainment performance First Night hadn’t mellowed much since we made it in 2001. Proof of this in a short Village Voice blog item on the piece following the recent Toynbee presentations, which says cheerily:

Rarely has the actor/audience relationship seemed so strained, so nasty, so desperate and parasitic.

Thing is, this is a good review, by Alexis Soloski whose “ludicrously high expectations of the company.. Weren’t remotely disappointed“. Looking forward to the bad reactions!

That Night Follows Day I also mentioned elsewhere that everything (at least in performance/art documentation) will probably end up on YouTube sooner or later. Ironically only days later I’ve come across a short edit of one of my own pieces – the performance That Night Follows Day which I made this year. Not quite sure how this clip/edit ended up where it is, or quite what levels of permission were involved but I’m not starting the lawsuits just yet. In fact here’s a link. It gives a pretty good sense idea of the performance. The kids are so focused, even in close-up, they look really great.

Over at The Guardian the very boring theatre critic Michael Billington started a ‘debate‘ about who is the best director in the UK. I’m not mentioned in his entirely predictable text but I do scrape a nomination by jonaverage in the comments. Thanks jon. Check the comments for more interesting names and thoughts including one person flagging of the work of 80’s devising companies like Impact, Rational and Lumiere & Son.

Bloody Mess @ Meltdown

16 June 2007
Bloody Mess

Three years ago, maybe four. We were in Munich on the final leg of the work-in-progress for Bloody Mess. The last weeks of rehearsals are always a kind of delirium – no sleep, a general sense of chaos and panic. Mentally you’ve long been painted-into-a-corner that’s largely of your own making – caught in a set of constructed logics, dilemmas, associations and energies which seem tangible, real, absolute but which are of course pretty much arbitrary; product of the meeting between you, the material, the place you’re all in and the time you’ve spent on the project. It’s in this corner – part trap, part creative scaffolding – that you make your last few moves, discoveries, breakthroughs.

Thrilling and weird to think that those decisions – made in discussions, in improvisations – will be things that you probably live with for years as a piece continues to tour. The fact that there, trying to make Bloody Mess, on that particular day, in that strange rehearsal room in Munich, she moved there and he did that and she said that providing a score that you’ll see re-enacted hundreds of times.


Starting work in Sheffield in 1984-6, our semi-derelict factory rehearsal space was the floor below the flat that Jarvis lived in and for the longest time people used to say that Pulp and Forced Entertainment were the best kept artistic-secrets working in Sheffield. That’s changed a bit now, but the Meltdown gig does seem to close some kind of circle.

And, in any case, as one friend wrote to me:

> appearing on a line-up with Iggy Pop and Motorhead –
> I guess you can cross that ambition off the list now.

Bloody Mess is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London at 7.45 on Tuesday 19th June as part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown.

Live Art Remains

14 June 2007
Signer Table

Been looking at the most recent issue Christopher Hewitt’s liveartwork DVD which features video documentation from contemporary live art and performance art. Issue Five has great material from Gary Stevens, Stuart Brisley and Goat Island.

Another good place to look for fragmentary Live Art remains these days seems to be YouTube. I guess everything will be there before too long, at least in more low-res/ stuttering form. I wrote here about a great John Cage clip involving a performance on a 50’s game show. More recently came across three very smart and short videos by Swiss artist Raymond Signer, two of them simple and funny interventions in landscape culled from a film by Peter Liechti. You can see them here, here and here.

Signer has been making his “temporary sculptures”–actions that he documents with film and video since the 1970s. These events, which can involve anything from amplified snoring to small rockets, are usually short-lived, often funny and always cathartic…

The rest of this article on Signer from Art in America by Gregory Volk.


Visiting the hospital  for blood tests. At a junction in the corridor which somehow the flourescent lights don't seem to reach, the lit up PEPSI drinks vending machine bears a handwritten sign that reads:




A friend writes, describing a recent open-air gig/performance:

Sweaty. Hopelessly messy, I couldn't even recognise some of the songs till we were well into them, strange feeling of ploughing on with singing through the noise on trust that somewhere, somehow it can be heard. We got good reactions.

Drama Queens

12 June 2007

I’ve been working on a project in collaboration with the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. It’s called Drama Queens and will be shown in Skulptur Projekte Münster 07 next weekend. Performances are on 16th June at 17:00, 19:00 and 21:00 in the Münster City Theatre.

Michael and Ingar proposed to make a performance without actors, in which a group of famous Twentieth Century sculptures hang out on stage and chat (via performers on voiceover) – making some small talk, boasting about their respective places in art history and bickering about their possible worth at auction. They invited me to write the text which by now is finalised and recorded.

As we’ve worked on it the piece has developed into a preposterous object-drama in which (amongst other things) Jeff Koons’ Rabbit falls out with Giacometti’s Walking Man, Hans Arp’s Cloud Shepherd falls in love with Barbara Hepworth’s Elegy III, and the whole scene is observed with conceptualist wit from Sol Lewitt’s Four Cubes and with outspoken rage from Ulrich Rukreim’s Untitled (Granite). There’s a great sense of fun in the piece but at heart it’s pretty sad too. Maybe there’s always something melancholic about objects that start to talk.

Initially E&D planned that stage-hands dressed in black would shunt the sculptures around the stage as they talked but in the final event the sculptures (slightly larger than life, and replicas of course) will be motorised and radio controlled from the wings.

A couple of weeks ago when we were in Berlin the kids and I went out to took a look at the guys amazing new studio (an old pumping station that’s very much under-reconstruction) and at the sculptures for Drama Queens lying prone, or  bubble-wrapped and awaiting electrification.  I think the performance is going to be pretty interesting. Drama Queens

Rabbit: They said I was a nothing, an empty gesture, a superficial if kind of clever decoration. Others said that I embodied a devastating critique of the economy of the superficial. They said that from the tips of my ears to the ends of my feet I was a dazzling attack on a whole culture’s obsession with wealth, glitz and easy pleasures. Still others thought that I was genuinely charming, that I showed a real and honest sense of fun – a kind of joy without irony that has all but vanished from the world.

Elegy III: And, what’s your own opinion?

Rabbit: I am a silver rabbit, based on the form of a cheap but colorful plastic toy and I am approximately 104cm high. I just reflect reality on my beautiful skin. That’s all there is to it girl. What kind of opinion do you expect me to have about those big questions about symbols and meaning?