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‘This Fish is Reversing’ In this essay I discuss the content and aims of the art project ‘Tourette’s Hero’. This project seeks to disrupt the perceptions of Tourette’s Syndrome and to encourage, through collaboration with other creative practitioners, the use of particular characteristics of the syndrome. The project is run by Tourette’s Hero, who herself has Tourette’s syndrome. In this essay I explain how my collaboration with artist Chris Poolman as ‘chris+keir’, has made use of the resources that Tourette’s Hero offers in our piece, “This Fish is Reversing”. By identifying what the Tourette’s Hero project offers to our creative practice, I will explore the use of chance as a way to disrupt the bias of the authors’ own personal and cultural histories. I finish by posing a question as to the wider implications of this project in the processes of meaning making. The Tourette’s Hero is based around specific characteristic behaviours of Tourette’s Syndrome. in his essay on the links between the neurological formation of poetry and Tourette’s, Ronald Schleifer (Schleifer 2001) cites, Oliver Sacks’ description of features of Tourettes’ syndrome in ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’. This captures both the impairments that Tourette’s dictates and the original, playful and creative aspects of this condition.

[Tourettes syndrome is] ...characterized by an excess of nervous energy, and a great production and extravagance of strange motions and notions: tics, jerks, mannerisms, grimaces, noises, curses, involuntary imitations and compulsions of all sorts, with an odd elfin humour and a tendency to antic and outlandish kinds of play. (Sacks 1986 p.48-49)

‘Biscuit's not a swear word, it's a biscuit.’

There has been a focus in the media, as seen in Tourette’s Guy1 , on an aspect of the syndrome that only affects 10% of people with Tourette’s (Singer 2005) and is only a small element of verbal tics 2: compulsive swearing or coprophillia. Tourette’s Hero discusses the medias focus on this aspect of Tourette’s in an interview on the UK comedy forum’s podcast (Bomb'd 2010). In the following excerpt she talks about ‘Tourettes Guy’, a series of youtube videos of a person pretending to have Tourette's, doing everyday tasks at home. All of Tourette's Guys tics involve swearing.

1 2

Videos of Touretteʼs Guy:

I refer to the compulsive utterances, characteristic of Tourette’s syndrome, as tics. Tics can be either sounds or fully fledged word combinations. I am referring here to the latter.

They [Tourette’s guy videos] completely miss the creativity and humour. All I can think when I see they have 6 or 7 million hits or what ever is that they [the viewers] are missing out.

The reality of living with Tourette's is much funnier partly because of the things that get said creatively as tics and their potential, but also because of the strangeness of other people reactions to you and to Tourette's. A lot of what Tourette's brings me is an interesting insight into other people but through their responses to me." 3 (Bomb'd 2010)

The intention of the Tourette’s Hero project is to realise these possibilities and to attempt to alter people attitudes of this condition.

Tourettes Hero began as an arts project by Tourette’s Hero herself in July 2010. The website4 contains a database of Tourette Hero’s tics which she adds to daily by noting down interesting and funny tics she produces each day. Through this act of recording, archiving and presenting these tics, she is pursuing a strategy that disrupts the perception and social construction of her disability.

There are over 2000 tics on the database at my last check.5 The database of Tourette’s Hero’s tics is presented to registered members of the site as a spreadsheet and a computer readable database. It is made available as a resource for creative experimentation by others. Different artists have contributed work to the site. This includes illustrations, costumes, photographs and a radio comedy show. A selection appear in the appendix to this essay.


In this transcription I have not included her verbal tics that occur during the interview.


5 accessed Jan 5th 2011

‘I’m a date with Jimmy Savile’s torso.’ Tourette’s Hero was travelling on a train from London to Manchester visiting friends. Sitting in the train carriage she could, as she described to me later, anticipate from previous experience and the demographics of the passengers that someone would be Tweeting about her Tourette’s. On arriving at a friends house in Manchester she searched recent tweets for the words: train AND Tourette’s. She found tweets from five different people that she could tell from their location and timings were about her recent journey and decided to respond.

This is a copy of conversation Tourette’s Hero6 had on Twitter with one of the tweeters @Abi_Macc, a complete stranger:

Abi_Macc Abi Gilmore On train with genuine Tourettes person in same carriage. Everyone around nobly studious in their scrutiny of on-board reading material. Abi_Macc Abi Gilmore Have solemnly promised not to swear on Twitter so here's the edited highlights: 'biscuit', 'I'm a baby', 'donkey'. What an affliction. Touretteshero @Abi_Macc It's also a gift. Check out my #dailyoutburst [daily tic on twitter] for more. Abi_Macc Abi Gilmore @touretteshero thanks I will check It out! Not sure if i was quoting you (virgin train to manc). If I was hope no offence caused or taken. Touretteshero @Abi_Macc None at all. See what happens when the tics come to life:http:// [Link to This Fish Is Reversing Video] Abi_Macc Abi Gilmore This is amazing. Not affliction, creativity @touretteshero What happens when the tics come to life. [Link to This Fish Is Reversing Video]

This story illustrates the intention and effect of Tourette’s Hero’s project; to change people’s attitude to her condition from that of ‘What an affliction’, to that of ‘not affliction, creativity.’ 6

Source: Touretteʼs Hero twitter archive - accessed through her Twitter account.

There is a distinction to be made between the disability that the neurological disorder of Tourette’s imposes on her body, and the impairment imposed by others as social and cultural pressures. (Davis 1995; Sandahl and Auslander 2005 ). By taking control of the tics through recording, archiving and presentation of her tics, Tourette’s Hero turns over the relations between herself and the society in which these tics are deemed strange, funny, and socially unacceptable. It enables her, and others to make creative use of the tics.

It's [Tourette’s Hero] not about mocking or commiserating, it's about reclaiming the most frequently misunderstood syndrome on the planet'. (Poutney and Thomm 2010)

The project aims to disrupt perceptions of Tourette’s syndrome. What is more, Tourette’s Hero provides a ‘gift’ to others in the form of an original and compelling source for creative processes. What then is this gift? And how does it function within chris+keir’s process? Finally what implications does this have for other people using this resource in their creative practice?

‘Alexa Chung died. She stubbed her toe on the edge of the world.’

Chris and myself where introduced to the project by Tourette’s Hero, having worked with her on other arts projects. What interested us in the Tourette’s Hero project was the creative potential of her tic database. So I want to interrogate here is what did this database offer to our practice?

For ‘This Fish is Reversing7’, we selected tics to be used as source material for a piece of work. We used our performance and technical skills to render these tics as short performances to be documented and subsequently displayed as video. We read through the tics and discussed which we wanted to work with. Our selection process for choosing the tics was simple; we chose the tics that we could quickly think of ways to illustrate. Importantly the tics we selected made us laugh. We performed and videoed our interpretations of these tics creating several different 5 min edits from which we created a final 4 minute video cut. 8

Our typical process for creating a piece of work begins with myself and Chris finding a particular idea or theme we want to work with. Determining what that theme or idea is tends to take up a 7


ʻThis Fish is Reversingʼ can be watched online: ʻThis Fish is Reversingʼ can be watched online:

majority of the time we have for making the work. We tie ourselves in knots trying to find and interrogate the meaning of the work before we have created anything. Our creativity becomes restricted by our personal and collective predisposition to certain ideas or areas of interest.The most productive part of our creative practice is when we settle on an idea that gives us a set of clear actions to be performed. We then create the props, find locations and perform, usually to camera. In ‘This Fish is Reversing’ the tics provide constraint, containment, a construct to work within, an excuse: in short they give us permission to do something that we didn’t come up with. In illustrating these texts, we are implicated in a decision making process (how to film, where to film props, a consistency of style), but they also take away choice - acting as a direct order, a predefined objective. Like some Fluxus performance texts, they provide instructions, but instructions whose author is indeterminate yet breathtakingly original.

‘I love to fish in my mother's love life with tinsel tied to my legs.’ Using the tics as performance instructions introduces a chance element in our process. Chance in this piece has a similar function to randomness in statistics: the removal of any bias in the sampling of data. (Brecht 1966) The tics bypass, at particular stages of the work, our intentionality as authors. So why is this bypassing of the author important to the creative process?

In his discussion of the nature of chance, George Bataille, describes chance as a form of chaos (Bataille 1961). From this chaos links are formed and broken, original encounters that allow us to form and perceive new ideas and realities. So new possibilities for creative methods and ideas are accessed by engaging with this chaos at moments in our practice. The constraint that the tics provide inversely creates this area of new opportunities and ideas. Making use of this chance element results in work that possesses a greater generality and who’s methodological approach possess a wide set of applications (Bataille 1961).

For Batiaille chance in creative practice lacks what he calls a ‘conscious design’ (Bataille 1961). The tics are constructed through an unconscious logic which, through it’s unstable mode, deflects direct interrogation. However the tics have a logic, and a logic that goes beyond chance. What separates these tics from, say, using a computer program to construct random, though intelligible sentences is that they posses a logic that has,

... an odd elfin humour and a tendency to antic and outlandish kinds of play. (Sacks 1986)

It is this humour, this incongruity formed in such a way as to be instructional that offers so much to our work. Using the tic’s short circuits, the pressure to explain, interpret and rationalise as artists even before we have made anything, because the starting point for the performances is a piece of text that defies direct interpretation but is formulated in such a way as to be useful as an instruction. They are certainly not blank statements, but they have a degree of slipperiness to them and are open to multiple interpretations. There is a scrambling of meaning and a disruption of the process of interpretation.

The Tourette’s Hero project and our resulting work ‘This Fish is Reversing’ raises an important question: Does maintaining control of the source, production and product reduce the field of possibilities for creative expression?

I would argue that this project is able to demonstrate, by the engaging and exciting work we have created, the potential of losing some control to chance elements, in this case the tic’s of Tourette’s Hero. In our project her tics served to disrupt our intentionality as authors during the creative process. We can make use of the wonderful humour Tourette’s Hero’s unconscious mind produces. It also demonstrates the exciting potential of making use of the characteristics of what is deemed a disability. This results in work that does more than disrupting the social construction of a disability, it opens new and original possibilities for creative expression that is the ‘gift’, a gift that must be reciprocated with trust that Tourette’s Hero has given to us in recording, archiving and publishing her tics.

Bibliography Bataille, G. (1961). "Le coupable." 233. Bomb'd, N. (2010). Having Tourettes Is Like Being Kicked Up The Balls By Michael Jackson's Mum. @comedychat @CaB_Radio. N. Bomb'd, http:// Brecht, G. (1966). "Chance-imagery." 15. Davis, L. J. (1995). Enforcing normalcy : disability, deafness, and the body. London; New York, Verso. Poutney, M. and J. Thomm. (2010, December 2010). "Tourette's Hero." from http:// Sacks, O. (1986). "The man who mistook his wife for a hat." 233. Sandahl, C. and P. Auslander (2005). Bodies in commotion : disability and performance. Ann Arbor, Mich., University of Michigan Press. Schleifer, R. (2001). "The Poetics of Tourette Syndrome: Language, Neurobiology, and Poetry." New Literary History 32(3): 563-584. Singer, H. (2005). "Tourette's syndrome: from behaviour to biology." The Lancet Neurology.

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In this essay I discuss the content and aims of the art project ‘Tourette’s Hero’. This project seeks to disrupt the perceptions of Tourette...