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The Alkahest is an epic tale. It is recounted in the style of Homer, that is to say from the memory of the storyteller to a small and intimate audience. As in Homer, we do not begin the tale at the beginning; we in fact begin at the end. The epic is made up of three principal stories, each one being further back in time than the last. These three main tales each consist of a frame story: a narrator telling three stories within stories, hence resulting in a grand total of nine tales. The universe of The Alkahest is one in which time, geography, narratives and history have all been blended together. Within the narrative we encounter many disparate devices including Flying Saucers, the events of the 2nd World War, Yves Klein, shamans, golems, monks, the island of Manhattan, and the playwright Moliere, all coëxisting contemporaneously.

Narrative memes from such recognisable sources as Pinnochio, Wagner’s Das Rheingold, The Canterbury Tales and A Thousand and One Nights and many others appear throughout. The events and characters of the individual tales are interwoven with each other forming a rich tapestry of interconnected stories. The title of the project, The Alkahest hints at this narrative conceit. Alkahest was a substance much lauded and sought after by alchemists throughout the ages of the medieval and early renaissance. It was described as a ‘universal solvent’, a liquid that could dissolve any matter in to it. As an elusive goal of hermeticism, it contained yet another level of romance to it, for a liquid that has the power to dissolve anything cannot ever be captured. It will by its very nature break down any vessel in which it


is contained. It will corrode the pot and spill onto the ground, and in a cloud of smoke and fumes burn its way through the floor, the stones, the earth and descend away to the centre of the earth. It is a doubly impossible goal, for were you to ever create it, at that very moment you would also lose it. The basket of interwoven tales that forms this structure is also subject to a dissolving of walls and boundaries. The stories bleed into each other. Time, truth, location; all these things mix and dissolve. The final goal of our swirling cauldron of fables is to build a modern epic; a story for our times constructed from a dissolving of all the narratives that have and will continue to populate our consciousness.

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the performance The story is related to a small audience by the artist. It takes place in the same building or city in which it will later be exhibited. The story is improvised using a framework to get the narrator from one event in the story to another. Equipped with a wireless microphone he is free to range about the room, and articulate the story with gestures, movements and amusing voices. In


the centre of the room is an overhead projector. With the aid of a small mirror, its light is directed at the ceiling which diffuses it across the room. As the narrator proceeds through the tale, he grabs from a stack of transparencies, a single monochromatic colour, which at a given moment in the story he places on the projector, bathing the room in that hue. Often the choice of colour is representative of a described object or place; the deep green of forest foliage, the brown cloth of a monk’s robes etc. At other times it is more metaphorical, the majesty of a person for example, being emphasised with the placement of an imperial purple on to the projector’s glass. Throughout the original performance, a photographer takes pictures of the narrator, room and audience. For each colour used he is sure to get a good photograph to represent it. the exhibited work The room is completely dark save for three slide projectors. The first projector displays images of the performance; the second and third, subtitles of the story translated into the native language. The projectors are connected to an audio device that plays back a recording of the original performance through loudspeakers. As the audio recording comes to the point where a new colour slide was placed onto the overhead projector’s glass, the slide projector is advanced one frame. The result being that the documentation of the work is synchronised to the original performance. In the original performance, the room was coloured from the primary source, the overhead projector. In the exhibited form, the room is coloured by the reflected light of the slides documenting the first room . We have a translation of the experience. There is what in film and video is referred to as a ‘generation’ between the primary and secondary sources.

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!11#45"6)7&13(893+/&1):"#938(#;) !""G$%&'(')* + For the past couple of years I have been developing a series of flow charts or brain storms (Assembly Instructions 2008-09) utilising collages I have created from black and white photocopies. These systems range from simple arrangements of a dozen up to a hundred and twenty framed works, all connected via pencil drawn dots on the wall. These thought systems explore many different topics including using Ikea stores as mnemonic devices; tracing the vector of a persons confession through the hierarchy of the catholic church; casting the lead characters of Greyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Anatomy and Sex and the City as 19th century Byronic Anti-Heroes; the emotionally pornographic nature of in-flight movies; the nature of tangential logic as evinced in dreams, drug highs and mental illness; proposed alternative artworks for Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni; the truth behind the prevalence of equestrian statuary in western cities;

a proposed non-linear, rhizomic approach to magic tricks; the notion that all colours are contained not within white but within brown; and so on. The same materials from these flow charts have been developed into a series of lecture performances (Assembly Instructions [lecture], 2008-present). Using overhead projectors, I have transferred the collages to acetate transparencies which are layered on the projectorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glass, swapped, changed and manipulated in simple and tactile ways. I run through the images explaining the connections and threads of the thought-chains sometimes diverging and musing on tangents, other times pressing on swiftly through many interconnected ideas giving the impression of an associative, stream of consciousness discourse.


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Assembly Instructions is a loose associative structure created from Xerox photocopies of books, pictures sourced from Flickr, Wikipedia, and other materials. The individual collages are arranged in structures ranging from a dozen to hundreds of frames all connected by hand drawn pencil dots. The dots connect the ideas and images together as in a flow diagram. The images form groups that mimic real world systems of cause and effect as in machines such as cars, cameras, and film projectors; historical narratives, urban myths and folklore; bodily processes such as digestive and respiratory systems and so on and so forth. The narratives and ideas presented in the work range from pseudo-historical facts to idle musings on such diverse topics as Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, Equestrian Statues, Egyptian Mummies, Dreams, and Logic. Assembly Instructions (Manzoni, Klein, Colour Theory and Statuary) tells of the desire of Piero Manzoni to construct a camera that could film or â&#x20AC;&#x153;eatâ&#x20AC;? the

entire world. We see the entire world being sucked into a 16mm film camera. In the next image the film is compressed and condensed just like in a neutron star. We see a cow munching on a large earth (in fact the Terre Bleu of Yves Klein) and excreting it into Manzoniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cans of shit. These cans of shit (taken from a monograph on the artist) metamorphose into film cannisters that are loaded into a hypothetical projector. This machine is so vast that it uses the stars and galaxies of the universe as its light bulb. The incredibly dense film (made up of the same dots that connect the works) passes through the film gate and projector lens throwing out another collage, The Brown Light, the ultimate colour. From this collage follows a series of images supposing that Brown is the colour from which all others are derived, they proceed to vehemently attack the spurious ideas of colour theory purported by Goethe and Newton.


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Assembly Instructions (Tangential Logick) takes as its departure point the city of San Francisco, placing it on the edge of reality and the imagination. The system of thought of the psychedelic, the mentally ill and dreamers is explored as a pyramid of linear, logical associations expanded upon to form giant unwieldy structures of thoughts that collapse upon the dreamer’s waking like a house of cards. All that is left is a mysterious’omega’, the culmination of a night of dreaming leaving an indelible but unexplainable image. !11#45"6)7&13(893+/&1)=2%&,#&3+%")</,+90?,+!""G,!!"#$%&'


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Assembly Instructions (Tangential Magick) explores the conventions of magic tricks that are rooted in chains of cause and effect. The piece posits a non-linear or rhizomic form of magic in which rather than pulling a rabbit from a hat, or making the Statue of Liberty disappear, the magician is caught up in a network of ricocheting transformations resulting in improbable and fantastic events.

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Assembly Instructions (Vectors of Confession) visualises the paths of a believerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s confession from the ear of priest to bishop, bishop to archbishop, archbishop to cardinal, and cardinal to Pope; at which point the Pontiff reaches to the lowliest of places in the lowliest of creatures and confesses into the anus of the donkey whereupon he receives absolution.


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Assembly Instructions (IKEA) examines the possible use of a retail store as a modern menemonic device in the manner of a renaissance memory palace. The placement of objects and goods is used to record information that will later be recalled by the consumer traversing through the retail enviroment. The Ikea furniture stores represent the ideal incarnation of this idea being located all over the world and yet all sharing a common internal layout with very little difference between the individual stores. This idea of a memory palace recording the external world is then inverted and explored along the lines of Giordano Brunoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s suppositions about the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocoms. The layout of wardrobes, divans and cushions in the Ikea showroom rather than being a reflection of the external world become the levers enabling us to manipulate the universe. The movement of a single cup or the renovations of a kitchen display unit causes the destruction of existing spheres of human knowledge and the creation of entirely new realities.


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Assembly Instructions (An Immodern Romanticism) draws parallels between the idea of the romantic as expressed in American television shows in the 21st century and the idea the of the romantic as explored in the literature of the 19th century. Let us look at two shows in particular, Grey’s Anatomy (2005 to present) and Sex and the City (1998-2004). We could say that Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy and Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City are not modern characters in that they don’t represent modern women. They are rather more an amalgam of clichéd character tropes. They themselves have no definite personalities, discernible motivations or rational desires. They are somewhat mysterious in their rationales, being often depicted as brooding, introspective and unsure; romantic yes, but unrealistic in their expectations. It would seem clear that these are characters not drawn from the real world, nor even from a modern conception of an emancipated woman but from a much older provenance, from the mold of the 19th century romantic hero. And the operative word here is hero rather than heroine.


For it seems that it is the disembodied spirit of the brooding male Byronic anti-hero that occupies the bodies of Carrie and Meredith. Like a ghost calling to us from a fog wreathed cemetery, the male romantic archetypes will not fade into history. Like a parasite, they have attached themselves to the nearest thing that pulses warm blood. Putting wetted fingers to the wind, they begin to pick up the faintest pulses of electromagnetic radiation. They detect in the static, the emission of two television shows. Images start to flicker on their eyelids. Two women appear: one vessel for Pushkin, one for body for Byron.

Grey’s Anatomy: season 3, episode Walk on Water.

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Hello Meth Lab in the Sun is a collaboration between Jonah Freeman, Justin Lowe and Alexandre Singh. The installation that transforms Ballroom, Marfa’s gallery spaces into a labyrinthine assemblage of rooms, hallways, closets and observation platforms, Hello Meth Lab in the Sun is a rumination on the theme of alchemy, uncovering of some of the sites of alchemical transformation in the modern world. Like the dioramas of the Museum of Natural History or the period rooms of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hello Meth Lab in the Sun creates theatrical depictions of three specific social/historical contexts: the utopian hippie commune, the clandestine meth lab, and the varied sites of modern industrial production.

Each room and object is suggestive of a state of transformation or hybridization: vegetables into broth; match heads into meth; sugar cane into Mountain Dew. The zeitgeist of 1960s counterculture is channeled by Hello Meth Lab in the Sun, although at times it’s more “living dead” than a romantic flashback. The shag carpet is well worn, the furniture stained, rooms have been incinerated. Ceilings are low and the hallways are tight - these spaces are under surveillance.


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The show consists of two conflicting sculptural approaches, two conflicting visual languages. The space is actualised as a regimented museum replete with plinths and vitrines. Displayed within are very everyday objects, innocuous modern implements divorced from their sources. There are objects of play, baseball bats, video game controllers; decorative objects, fake flowers, vases; quotidian objects, cereal packets; pedagogical objects, atlases, globes; bureaucratic objects, stationary, stamps, embossed seals.

The objects appear to be completely unrelated. They have however been manipulated, engraved, photoshopped etc to create a pattern of visual references between them. On the cover of a cereal packet a bowl of toasted oats is held up by playstation controllers. On a packet of frosted flakes, three giant tulips rise up behind the breakfast arrangement. Lying horizontally, trophy baseball bats have been engraved with the insignia of a video game controller. There are copies of a Time Magazine issue concerning the spread of breast cancer around the world. On the


cover a naked womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s torso transforms into the topography of a map. This same topography is played with as maps of the world have been crumpled into balls and placed on the stands of three-dimensional globes. All the sculptural play that happens in this space is intensely modernist. Space and surface are manipulated and glorified in a regimented way. Even the plinths themselves have very formal permutations, each one playing and distorting the conventions of museum displays. This space is cold, detached mathematical. On the walls stock photographs of patriarchal men stare down. These figures of the narrative are like the objects in the show, quotidian, found, anonymous, they have been purchased from a stock image archive and brought into cosmology with the addition of tulip inserted into their front pockets. At the root of this space is the world around us, only through this selective filter does it appear insidious, paranoid, authoritarian.

Interrupting this visual language is the barricade. Like a revolutionary structure, an impromptu architecture, it appears in opposition to the museum. It has knocked over the plinths and cannibalised the Time Magazines; the ads and articles crudely collaged into absurd slogans. The disarming positivity of an advert for photocopiers, â&#x20AC;&#x153;create share and think as oneâ&#x20AC;? becomes instead a corrupting alarming image pasted over the leering visage of Mick Huckabee, US presidential candidate. These slogans and materials are photocopied, reduced and compacted into little spitballs. And then in the most puerile fashion, like the schoolchild at the back of the class. The barricade attacks the rest of the show with pellets of propaganda. Little balls that pepper the space sticking to the vitrines, accreting on the portraits the walls, being trod into the carpet. It is as if one part of the show, middle finger raised, was graffiting the other, running its keys down the side of its brand new Mercedes.


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The Marque of the Third Stripe is a collection of works, prints, video, sculpture and installation centred around a gothic narrative of the life of Adidas founder - Adi Dassler. The story takes place in a universe of reversed time and geography. In this world America is the Old World and Europe, the home of the savage white man, is the New World. The story describes a dark force, a personification of gravity as the evil impetus of the plot tempting and corrupting Dassler. As each narrator passes on to the next, the tale becomes embedded with stories within stories like a Russian doll. The final narrator speaking on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean insinuates that the story he is about to tell is in fact the very first chapter of the work. In this way the story loops in on itself becoming an infinite narrative Mรถbius strip.

The installations are built around a video translating the story into patterns of hieroglyphs. For every word of the story a corresponding pattern of eight by eight black and white squares had been conceived. The symbols relate to each other through visual relationships between related concepts, synonyms and antonyms. As every word is spoken by the six female Portuguese narrators, the corresponding symbol is flashed up forming a hypnotic undulating pattern of information.


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The Jewish Cabbalists subjected the Torah to anagrams and mathematical codes in an attempt to divine the secrets of God, supposedly hidden behind the surface meaning of the text. The Economist series uses the same approach discovering mystical sentences, absurd rhetoric and poetry in the anagrams of the headlines and adverts of the British magazine. Hence:The Economist / EsThetic moon The story of man / Thy art of omens Eavesdropping in America / i derive a pomp ArcanE sign South Koreaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cloning scandal / goldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s canonical harKenS to us The dismal WTO deal / a dim Toad sTeW hell Santa Claus, branding genius / Satan Claus, i banned surging

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Alexandre Singh  

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