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:
OUT OF ORDER
SMELLS OF BURNING
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.
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.
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?
All yesterday afternoon an email list that I'm on (usually a quiet backwater of the internet) went into total tailspin as one person's email auto-reply (triggered by a conference announcement) spent hours and hours endlessly auto-replying to its own auto-replies, flooding the list. As afternoon turned to evening new messages continued to arrive at two minute intervals, with additional waves of auto-response triggered unwittingly by frustrated mails sent by people complaining about the deluge.
Kind of beautiful coming back to the hotel at one point to find 434 new messages, all with the same text, the subject line just getting longer and longer. This lonely machine talking to itself in a public space, the rest of us looking on powerless to do anything except delete its plaintive utterances.
Best line overheard on the street this week: 'but you were kissing a girl, you were kissing a girl, I saw you kissing a girl'.
"I want you to slow it down… Everything slower, much much slower. As slow as it can be. In fact you should hardly move at all."
Seems like I've been endlessly recommending Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder to people that I've bumped into, so now I'm extending that process here. The narrator is a man made super-rich overnight with the compensation pay-out that follows an accident involving "something falling from the sky". He soon puts his fortune to work orchestrating re-enactments – initially of banal scenes from his own past. The reconstructions change shape, scale and ambition but often involve the purchase, alteration and re-decoration of entire buildings, as well as the continuos employment of many actors/re-enactors, and technical people, on call 24 hours a day to (for example) be 'the lady that passes him on the stairwell whilst taking out her trash', or to be in the team shoving reluctant cats out of cages onto a neighbouring roof at particular moments to complete that all important detail in the picture.
There's some Ballard in there (= obsessive slow motion and staring at the texture of concrete) but also an enjoyable reminder of what I liked about Tibor Fischer's The Thought Gang – a kind of boisterous but somehow deadpan approach to narrative, full-on absurdity in no-nonsense prose. Like Fischer's book Remainder is good in the plot department (which Ballard never was/is) and Tom's book is great on people too – the narrators enthusiastic facilitator/assistant Naz is a terrific foil to the protagonist, comical and otherwise.
You're never quite sure what the narrator is chasing in Remainder but whatever he seeks to reconstruct it's not long before his interest moves on. I'm still haunted by the image of him ordering one complex re-enactment in a warehouse, with three teams working shifts around the clock, so that he can visit it any time day or night. He drops by a few times and is pleased with the work but soom gets preoccupied and somehow neglects to stop the warehouse. It's weeks later that the ever-efficient Naz reminds him 'The warehouse.. The warehouse is still running'. Very nice.
Frightening was the main word that came to mind watching the run through today, at least when I wasn’t laughing. We were pushing the edges when we made First Nightback in 2001 and the piece doesn’t seem to have mellowed. I had shivers several times, as well as a strange alternation of flashbacks and memory blanks – thinking ‘oh yes, I remember‘ one moment and then ‘er, was it always like this?‘ the next. Three performances in London at Toynbee Hall starting Friday 8 June.
“Your staircases thing yesterday immediately reminded me of a Gordon Craig ‘vision’, and i started looking for the book, but couldn’t find it. Later it turned up at B’s place and I went home with that and a whole pile of other books i’d lost… What’s really strange is that it’s written more or less in the style of a notebook / blog entry, and then today I’m reading your ‘dream of a performance’, an idea also very in sync Craig’s ‘stage visions’… I’ll stick the whole page in here – you probably have this already. i find the way he writes quite endearing, if not always that ‘clear’..”
Ant’s amusing pragmatic solution to sending me the text; to take pictures of the book (you can see his hands there, to the left) doesn’t work so well at the size of picture I’m using here, so I’ve retyped a couple of the nicest passages below. I don’t really know Craig’s writing but from this stuff it seems like an interesting, anecdotal, slighlty antique take on some good ideas. If you want to read more the book Craig On Theatre is edited by J. Michael Walton and you can find it on Amazon here.
Ant is heading to Minneapolis today to present Rotozaza’s table/headphone performance Etiquette. It’s at the Guthrie though I’m not sure about exact dates and times… so I guess use Google if you happen to be in the area and want to attend.
“There are two kinds of drama and… they are very sharply divided. These two I would call the drama of speech and the drama of silence and I think that Maeterlink’s streams, fountains and the rest come under the heading of the drama’s of silence – that is to say dramas where speech becomes paltry and inadequate… If we pursue this thought further we find that there are many things other than nature which enter into this drama of silence. [For example]… architecture. There is something so human and so poignant to me in a great city at a time of the night when there are no people about and no sounds. It is dreadfully sad until you walk till six o’clock in the morning. Then it is very exciting. And among all the dreams that the architect has laid upon the Earth, I know of no more lovely things than his flights of steps leading up and leading down, and of this feeling about architecture in my art I have often thought how could one give life (not a voice) to these places, using them to a dramatic end.. And so I began with a drama called The Steps. This is the first design, and there are three others. In each design I show the same place but the people who are cradled in it belong to each of its different moods.”
“Here we see a man battling through a snowstorm, the movements of both snow and man being made actual. Now I wonder whether it would be better if we should have no snowstorm visualised, but only the man, making his symbolical gestures which should suggest to us a man fighting against the elements. In a way I suppose this would be better.
Still I have some doubts; for, following that line of argument in its logical sequence, then, would it not be still more near to art if we had no man, but only the movement of some intangible material which would suggest the movements which the soul of man makes battling against the soul of nature? Perhaps it would be better to have nothing at all.”
What was most strange perhaps, watching Dirty Work again last night, nine years since we first performed it in England, was that it almost felt easy – or at least *not difficult* – in the way that the culture changes around things over the years, making them possible, or thinkable somehow. Back in 1998 it seemed like a big ask (or even a provocation or an affront) from us that an audience would just listen to a performance that consists of talking for an hour; that a piece would so self-consciously refuse to have any action, that it would instead conjure action virtually, through language alone. Watching the piece now that all seemed perfectly OK, a possibility everyone in the room could admit to, a fact that left the piece quite free to simply get on and do what it wanted and needed to do. It went really well.
I was shocked by how *material* some of the text seems. How much really like an event in the room it can be when Cathy says, for example, describing one scene in the ‘imaginary performance’ which the whole piece comprises:
“The dissection of the corpses begins,
in an atmosphere of unease.
Cuts are made from adams apple to abdomen,the skin is peeled back and clamped…”
Another strange thing is how short the piece feels! Just (almost) an hour in fact. These days we’d make it twice the length I’m sure… And with that there’d come a whole new difficulty!
One more performance in Toynbee tonight (6 June) and then we move on to the other piece First Night. See this previous post for all the details on place, dates and times.
The stage is a dip. We're looking down a hill of rich green grass and the performers walk slowly form the bottom at the start of the show, coming up the hill to speak with us, the audience, as one might arrive to a picnic and greet friends who've arrived already and settled in some nice spot. We can see them coming for a long time. Once they've said hi they turn around and walk back down again. There is some kind of house-structure at the bottom, with plaster peeling on the walls.
Later they are dancing outside the house-structure and after a while I'm making gestures to the performers that certain people should hide or lie down. It seems important that we get a scene with one person alone. On-stage it's the regular crew of Forced Entertainment, with the addition of Franko B who's whole presence is not surprisingly very different than the rest, and who I find myself watching too much. At one point he's watering a tree, the watering can containing some kind metallic glitter. Its great but kind of distracting.
Later still everyone seems to be playing-dead – corpses strewn around on the grass – and a couple of performers, down there at the bottom of the hill are slowly dragging the bodies from off the grassy slope and off-stage. It looks like the scene of a massacre, something almost rural. I guess related to images we saw in the Deutsche Historische Museum last week showing Nazi slaughter of whole Czech villages where they suspected resistance fighters might be based. In the performance there's music playing. Its very moving – the scene with the slow removal of the bodies from the hillside down there at the distance and I know we're onto something – but the music is something vaguely ethnic and lamenting and its too much, too suitable, too cloying somehow. I'm yelling on to the stage and gesturing that they should find something 'more rock, or maybe rap.. something with energy' to counteract the tone. Clipse would be good maybe. Or Patti Smith. It will be moving anyway, I am yelling as people onstage rifle thru CD's to find something else, we don't need the sad music, lose the music. It will be more moving if the music cuts against the scene.
When I wake I'm still half in the dream, trying to work out if the sight-lines to a descending hill of this sort might make such a setting practical or not.