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EDITOR IN CHIEF Jack Boulton email@example.com EDITORS – LITERATURE Phil Sawdon Marsha Meskimmon firstname.lastname@example.org EDITO R – ARCHITECTURE Rose Cooper-Thorne email@example.com EDITORS – ART Alan Dunn Ben Parry firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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L I T E R AT U R E A ND WRITING
Night Surfing Christina Lovin
Small Athina Harris Kyprianou
The Poet Gets Advice From Tom Wolfe... Christina Lovin
Curiosity and a Curator Phil Sawdon and Marsha Meskimmon
Salk 4 Words and images by Gordon O’Connor-Read
Unbecoming 1 Louisa Parker
Unbecoming 2 Louisa Parker
I Wondered ... Nithikul Nimkulrat
‘I’ Wonder Alan Dunn on Claire Potter
Dead Baby Mice 56 Alan Dunn on Jeff Young Images by Leila Romaya
wonder in the face of the world/ /world in the face of wonder... Deborah Harty
An Allegory Of Labour 62 Life and the Self in the art of Tatzu Nishi by Ben Parry
COVER IMAGE BY SARAH BURTON Dancer 36 Katrinka Wilson Wonder + 38 Monica Buchan-Ng Images by Sarah Burton An Elephant Story Nick Tobier
Giving Thanks in the Land of Roses Adam Henri Carrière
SA L K Words and images by Gordon Oâ€™Connor-Read
The pinnacle of an architect’s reputation often rests upon the lustre of a single building. They might design hundreds thereafter, but the perceived success or failure of that one defining commission is paramount to their legacy. In the case of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, we are presented with a timeless venue that is both monastic and receptive, putting the interdisciplinary approach to scientific research at the forefront of it’s design. Commissioned by Jonas Salk, the pioneer of the polio vaccine, the mandate for the institute was to become a “crucible for creativity”. In response, it’s architect not only crafted a centre devoted to the excellence in biological research, but an elemental journey that defines the complex studies undertake by staff. It is a modern-day wonder, bridging that hard fought divide between science and spirituality. Flanked either side by rows of three six-storey volumes, the experience of visitors is framed from the outset. A directed gaze from each laboratory is focused in unison towards the allure of the Californian sun, where the gentle orchestration between it’s rising and setting is observed each day. A small channel of water runs in-situ along the centre of the paved flooring, capturing the change in light as if it were a datum. Carefully choreographed, the open plaza is a quintessential snapshot for any Kahn-enthusiast, where the end of the vista aligns perfectly with the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Turning back towards the research facilities, visitors are able to wander freely in and around elevated walkways and sunken courtyards. The staircases are exposed to the elements throughout, fostering that distinctive attribute of serendipity where students, academics and scientists can meet one another outside of the conventional lab environment. Large floor-to-ceiling windows allow discreet inward glances, but the ’house within a
house’ concept, keeps visitors at a respectful distance from the inner goings-on. The dichotomy of the institute is finely balanced between the berth for visitors to manoeuvre around and privacy of it’s occupants. And yet there is a frank openness to the Salk that far exceeds the expectations of a independently-run institution. Previous alumni include the late-British scientist and Noble laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA helix, who must have marvelled at it’s candor and striking locale along the coastline of La Jolle, San Diego. As an advocate for finding the monumentalism within modernism, Kahn would not shy away from deploying understated features, such as the water channel, which were achieved with meticulous fever. His link between nature and man-made natural forms is deliberately and paradoxically loaded with religious and symbolic overtones, even for an institute whose pursuit is scientific advancement. Aspiring to the eternal, materials and forms are laid-bare, nothing is concealed or presented as a veneer. The sheer volume and weight of the building can be felt whilst on-site, and goes some way to legitimising it’s presence in such a picturesque setting. The Salk Institute forms the cornerstone of Kahn’s work, showing us extraordinary feats of architectural design with commonly used building materials. Subsequent projects such as the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Philips Exter Academy Library, New Hampshire and Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Island, New York, the latter of which was completed posthumously last year, continue that legacy. It is the apotheosis of twentieth-century modernity; a collective of concreteladen monolithic structures that still impassion visitors and occupants to this day, even after nearly fifty years.
S M A L L AT H I N A Photographer // Harris Kyprianou Model // Nia
NI G H T S U R F I N G for Chester Words by Christina Lovin
The Gulf at night—warm as a kiss, mysterious as a hard-to-get woman— he paddles out to where the waves caress him like her body against his: close, then moving away in the dark, until exhausted he rests against the board, his fingers trailing in the foam. Then a prickle beneath the skin: that knowledge of some presence unseen, yet sensed by the animal brain: his helpless hand skims an unseen bulk— a ten-foot length that glides just beneath the surface, silent as a midnight death— an unmistakable roughness so distinct from any other, so unlike human hide, that fragile armor. Just this one touch, then he alone on the dark water, where Galveston seems a mirage of lights, where piers jut like jagged teeth into the surf and twitching limbs and torsos rise and toss in their mutiny of sleep and sleeplessness.
TH E P O E T G E TS ADVICE FROM TO M WO L F E AT TOSCANINI’S ICE C R E A M S H O P Words by Christina Lovin
A hundred degrees in Cambridge today: a living heat that licks the melting crowds— like cheap popsicles they seep and drip. Cafes abandoned to the searing sun—no clouds in sight—their chairs too hot for summer skin: Bartley’s Burgers’ sidewalk tables stand bare where a limp musician plays his violin— the wilting notes condense and disappear. The door to Toscanini’s sweats and beads, so cool it is inside where sweetness chills the air. A dozen flavors today, I read. Then, dressed in white from head to toe, he smiles and whispers, “Try the Earl Grey Tea.” It’s new to me. But he is he. And so I do.
CU R I O S I TY A N D A CURATOR Words by Phil Sawdon & Marsha Meskimmon
“LOOK, there is a wounded drawing and some sheep; it is carrying the carcass of another.” “They are all evictees, rejected by the House of Le Singe.” That which might be called a wonder is sometimes perceived in the shock of the extraordinary as it ruptures the skin of the ordinary. In such an unusual encounter, the realm of the familiar pushes against the limits of our recognition but offers no threat to us. We are instead curious, fascinated or enchanted. Reluctantly they reach the wooded environs of The Fictional Museum of Drawing. The Uncanny [in Drawing], a charcoal-burner’s conundrum, a legless soldier and The Nurse, note their arrival through a tiny window in the museum vaults. Their vellum is crudely and bloodily scratched with an exceedingly corrosive fabrication, an amalgam of [set] theory, dry hawthorn branches, and iron gall ink. Their line is as thick as a wrist. They each have three to five punctures through which haemorrhaging and inky humors lazily pour. The Fictional Museum has an antechamber that is so dilapidated it is easily mistaken and always disappointing. "This place is full of holes.” The state of wonder may be experienced as a form of a temporal suspension further characterised by close attention to specific objects. An erstwhile academic and occasional charcoal-burner, with eight white monkeys (Les Singes), is
carelessly chopping wood nearby. “Hallo, can we go in?” “I'm not The Keeper of the museum, go through into Gallery #1 and talk to The Warden.” They tediously labour through to Gallery #1, it has several elisions in and on the walls and there are fragments of testimonials, some can still be read … ‘can’t have a point of view.’ They forcefully extract The Warden who is buried up to his waist in pencil shavings in front of a cartoon of The Paramour Plumbago. He is repeatedly blowing on the liquid surface of an antique ink well in the vain attempt to revivify the contents and clutches the remains of an eviscerated sketch.
As the familiar is rendered unfamiliar and the extraordinary tears through the ordinary, we experience a visceral, vertiginous and immediate response. “Hullo, can we enter?” “I’m not The Warden of the museum, go through into Gallery #2 and talk to The Guardian.” Dragging a bloodied deckle edge and the cadaver of the sketch they approach The Guardian who is fettling and whittling a strange stick whilst surreptitiously between strokes adding entries to a catalogue of what we assume are works on paper. “Hollo, can we look at the works?” “I’m not The Guardian of the museum; you will need to talk to The Custodian, who’s practising some more sleight of hand in Gallery #3.” They approach The Custodian busy with cups and a ball. An owl or perhaps it’s a monkey and a frog
wait to be included and The Custodian presents a large pearl. We are lost and found within the state of wonder, where our curiosity for the new and extraordinary emerges in the midst of the profundity of the quotidian. Attention arrested, we are opened to the pleasures of difference and irrevocably – wondrously - changed. “Hillo, can we view?” “I’m not The Custodian of the museum; you should talk to The Steward who is in The Library.” The Steward emerges from the stacks and proceeds to hold an hourglass over an open book, revealing an enigmatic figure drawing with an undisciplined hobby horse. The trio revel before the visitors in an evasive display of scholarship mindful that they are bent on theft. “Hello, can we access any further?” “I’m not The Steward of the museum; you should talk to The Superintendent.” The Superintendent is in a practicum demonstrating how to pull a cart laden with hay. They approach the cart. The Superintendent appears to be part fish with human legs and the face of a mouse. “Holloa, can we be guided?” The silence is interminable and is almost as extended as the reaction. Pausing, lingering and taking pleasure in an encounter with the unfamiliar, we participate in wonder – we seek it, we follow it – it leads us astray. “I’m not The Superintendent of the museum; you should talk to The Curator.” The Curator is hanging from the gibbet in the gloom cast by the closed doors of The Information Point. The sheep are grazing the scrub beneath. The wounded drawing and the carcass stare up at the ashwhite likeness of a face. Wonder compels an attitude of embodied and engaged enquiry: where are we, how have we come to be here, what do we make of this place?
“GOOD DAY, are you open?” There is a low drone like muttering, “The Fictional Museum of Drawing is open throughout the year.” The mumbling voice continues: “ … Sunday Closed, Monday Closed, Tuesday Closed, Wednesday Closed, Thursday Closed, Friday Closed … Saturday Closed. Last admission is irrelevant. Note that the café is closed. If you wish to closely inspect or research any particular collection you should make an appointment in advance with the keeper and the request will be denied. The displays are subject to change. If you are keen to view particular items you are advised to confirm with The Keeper that the items are on display and will remain on display when you are denied access to visit. If the items are not on display then it will be necessary to make an appointment to view said items and the request will be … DENIED …!”
I WO N D E R E D … Words and images by Nithikul Nimkulrat
Wonder is wonder, a spontaneous feeling variably weighted experiencing the wonderful world are the wonderwith fear and longing. ing. Wonder encourages me to contemplate the (Sheets-Johnstone, 2011, p. 284) world surrounding me. “Wonder invites not only investigation of the world, but also reflection on the The meaning of wonder may not be made fully clear subject who experiences it, and on the experience by the above statement. However, it generates a itself,” says Kingwell (2000 p. 89). question with regard to the relationship between In this text, I wonder about wonder and its feeling-based experience and wonder in a phenome- consequences for my creativity and everyday experinological sense. Phenomenology is philosophical in- ence. I seek to find an answer to my (possibly philovestigation of experience that is driven by fascination sophical) question of why and how wonder is involved in or under the influence of wonder (van Manen, 2007, my personal and professional experiences in relation to space p. 11). We can easily see a child being fascinated by and time. wonder that in turn prompts a question he or she In exploring the above question, I have come may ask. The question is normally concerned with across Maxine Sheets-Johnstone’s book titled The why is there something doing this or that. It seems Primacy of Movement (2011). Sheets-Johnstone interestsimple but its answer can be very difficult to find. ingly uses tapestry weaving as a metaphor to reflect on the timelessness of wonder: Will wonder fascinate an adult living in this world as a The timelessness of wonder explains … why creative practitioner? If so, is wonder important to creative philosophy is an infinite task. We pick up threads of practice? thought and create new ones. We weave a tapestry that meshes with the past and with our own age. As a textile artist and designer, I could say that won- But wonder endures. The end of philoso¬phy is der can influence a creative practitioner similarly to nowhere in sight, or if sighted, signals only the end how it does a child. According to Kingwell (2000, of personal wonder, which is to say, mistakes the p. 85), wonder exposes a threefold structure: wonindividual tapestry one has woven to be the final one derer, the wonderful and wondering. While I am the anyone can or will ever weave. On the contrary, our wonderer and the world is the wonderful, my acts of weavings are both alterable and intermi¬nable. We
never finish wondering. We never come to the end of our questionings and explorations because we never come to the end of our ignorance (Sheets-Johnstone, 2011, p. 281). In Sheets-Johnstone’s view, philosophy begins and ends in wonder. While time elapses, the process of thinking and doing something, as well as wondering, still continues. This statement illustrates the spatial and temporal experiences of a textile practitioner quite well. WO N D E R A N D EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES From my experience, I tend to wonder about things surrounding me when they differ from what I have seen or believed. Being born and raised in a tropical and chaotic metropolitan area like Bangkok, I tend to be attracted to the calmness and tranquillity found on the opposite side of the world. The extreme differences have the power to make me wonder or be under the influence of wonder. Living in Helsinki has given me no experience close to what Bangkok would have offered. While Bangkok is extremely hot and humid, Helsinki is by contrast very cold and dry. If chaos is part of the everyday lives of people in Bangkok, people in Helsinki rarely know what chaos is like. Although I have been in Finland’s peaceful and freezing environment for over ten years, I am still easily amazed by winter and the power of nature. Every winter seems to be genuinely manipulated by natural phenomena, so that it yields a new
Alone and not alone in the world. A man skiing on the frozen sea.
and particular fascinating experience for me. Wading through snow in a forest next to the frozen sea has been my routine. This habit has created a fresh encounter between the snow and me every time I have made my way through it. Its whiteness and the traces are never the same. Their dissimilarities are the results of different temperature, time, light, wind, people passing by and many other things. The quiet, magnificent but harsh environment tends out of curiosity and fascination to make me question what I see – or where my wonder lies. I wondered why things appearing to my eyes in the same place are never the same. Wonder has a power to dislocate me from the actual location. My everydayness is not as routine as it seems. “Wonder sees the world of everyday as suddenly strange and mysterious, obtrusive, standing out” (Kingwell, 2000, p. 104). Eugen Fink’s philosophic and experiencebased account of wonder (1981) emphasizes that: Wonder dislodges man from the preju¬dice of everyday, publicly pregiven, traditional and worn out familiarity … drives him from the already authorized and expressly explicated interpretation of the sense of the world and into the creative poverty of not yet knowing…. [The structure of wonder] forces man out of that fundamental way of life, one of lazi¬ness and metaphysical indolence, in which he has ceased to question. It leads him close to dread, fear, [and] horror … as well to that great self-movement of man (1981, p. 24).
When my everyday experiences vary, many questions arise in my mind. The questions include: Why is no one else alone in the white forest? Hasn’t there been anyone else stepping on snow on the ground today? Where have all the people gone? Why are forests in the city? Sometimes, I even ask myself whether where I live is actually in the metropolitan area?! On many occasions of experiencing snowy forests, a question that has occurred to me is why and how forests can survive the -30°C or lower and lengthy winters. This question tends to continue with the subsequent observation that natural phenomena, such as snow falls, can make the forest look as if it is made by human hands. The questions that I asked out of astonishment or “wonder” later became part of further questions I generated in another country.
Haven’t there been anyone stepping on snow at all?
Is the forest ground really made by nature?
WO N D E R A N D THE MAKING OF THE W H I T E FO R EST As a pure experience, as simple astonishment at the fact of the world, wonder precedes both its flowering into philosophy and its investigation by philosophy (Kingwell, 2000, p. 89). “I wondered” is the key phrase that triggers the start
of my creative practice which can then progress to the materialisation of the work. In some cases, this phrase has also become a phrase that may arise in the mind of the viewer. For every new creation, I tend to seek inspiration from the environment that surrounds me. I believe that as a being-in-the-world, to use Heidegger’s term (1962), I must share my experience of being in this world with other beings in the same world. The wonder of my being-inthe-world specifically takes place when I experience something for the first time and am fascinated or astonished by it, so that the experience becomes unique and memorable. Following my experience of the snow in Finnish forests, my curiosity had remained silent for several years until I spent two months as an artist-inresidence in Reykjavík, Iceland in 2008. Already as the plane was about to land, I was stimulated by the country’s wonderful, surreal landscape, yet amazed by its treelessness. The fact that Iceland had no forest contrasted sharply with my everyday experience of being so close to forests in Helsinki. How could it be possible that Iceland, a country located on the same continent as Finland, has no forest? Why can’t forests grow in Iceland when it is not as cold as in Finland? From these questions the creative process of The White Forest began in wonder. More than ten centuries ago, Iceland had forests (Eysteinsson, 2013, p. 4). However, they were gradually cut down at the time of human settlement and had not been replanted until 1950. More than half a century has passed with new trees constantly being planted yet forestation in the treeless land has not become evident. Due to the harsh climate and strong wind, a tree can grow only five centimetres a year. I visited a number of protected forests and found that trees were small and crooked – completely different from prosperous forests in Finland. Even so, Iceland still continues growing its forests little by little. Having been impressed by the difficult mission of growing forests in a treeless land, I spent time from 2008 to 2012 to grow my paper forest. Using references from the trees I had seen and been familiar with in Finland, I slowly knotted each tree by hand, one knot after another. There was no way to make it faster, echoing the pace of the Icelandic trees. Only patience and strong determination would make the forest in both the artificial and the natural worlds happen. The period of four years spent making the paper forest seems a long time. However, it is not comparable to the time and effort Iceland has allocated for restoring its forests. The
White Forest made of paper string, a product of Finnish forests, represents the beginning stage of growing trees or the becomingness of Icelandâ€™s forests. My wonder about the treeless land ended with the completion of my paper forest and a new wonder emerged: whether and when Iceland will be able to complete its mission.
A completed paper tree and the installation The White Forest
A completed paper tree and the installation The White Forest
EXPERIENCE BEGINS AND ENDS I N WONDER A world without wonder is deprived of possibility. Without wonder, things are taken for granted and their qualities are overlooked, especially when they exist silently in the cloudiness of time and space. Wonderlessness indicates our disinterest in the world. We lack a relation to things and other beings in the world as well as to the meaning of really living in the world. Wonder does more than open us to something. When wonder arises in us, we become open in appreciation for, and stimulated by, what we are seeing in front of our eyes, so that it turns out to be beautiful, meaningful or sometimes disturbing. Wonder exposes us to possibilities and vulnerability.
The feeling of wonder is … time-laden. When we ourselves wonder, we give ourselves over to the feeling and sense its particular and possibly varying affec¬tive tone. In giving ourselves over in this way, we are moreover aware of the feeling that impels us to inquire, to hesitate, to probe, to vacillate, to ponder, to reflect. In a word, we live with the feeling long enough to feel its character and its demands (Sheets-Johnstone, 2011, p. 291). My creative practice begins and ends in wonder, which drives me to investigate my own experiences, both the current and the past. Phenomenology offers moments of seeing into “the heart of things” in a thoughtful relation to our everyday being as it is involved with the things within our world (Heidegger 1962). By wondering I am sensitive to and curious of what I am experiencing. Wonder is an effective tool to support an artist’s creativity. If wonder is missing from the moment I first see a thing, I may have lost the potential for being creative. R E F E R E N C ES Eysteinsson, T., 2013. Forestry in a Treeless Land (4th edition). Egilsstaðir: the Iceland Forest Service. (Original work published in Lustgarden, 2004). Fink, E., 1981. “The Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl,” trans. Robert M. Harlan. In William McKenna, Robert M. Harlan, & Laurence E. Winters (eds), Apriori and World: European Contributions to Husserlian Phenomenology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 21–55. Heidegger, M., 1962. Being and Time (J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, Trans.). London: Blackwell. (Original work published 1927). Kingwell, M., 2000. Husserl’s Sense of Wonder. The Philosophical Forum, 31(1), pp. 85–107. Sheets-Johnstone, M., 2011. The Primacy of Movement. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins. van Manen, M., 1997. Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy. London, ON: The Althouse Press. van Manen, M., 2007. Phenomenology of Practice. Phenomenology & Practice, 1(1), pp. 11–30.
DA N C E R Words by Katrinka Wilson
There was a woman who was full of rage against the fates; she was a dancer who lost the chance of love with a man who should have known better. They had only the night when their hearts met and desire found a voice in the chaste energy of the dance floor and time was suspended in the rhythms of the music, except. Except some wife had woken to find her man gone and the baby in her belly wriggled. So of course she wailed, pouted and watched and come dawn he refuted, squirmed and sorrowed. And the dancer became a participant in something else, something that defiled the passion of the dance, unravelling the harmony of the moment. A reluctant adulteress she. No joiner in another woman’s downfall - be her ever so piteous and annoying, so no fight for the already taken man, just a lonely walk away from the heat. The dancer cried for three days straight, then picked up and put on her dance shoes and moving into the street she raised her head to the skies, calling music to mind and cursing the fates that would not let her follow her bliss. As her head went up, her arms followed and her heel went down, stamp. Then stamp, stamp, stamp, with a strut and a turn. Criss-cross went her arms, her back arched and her brow lowered and watchers gathered. They expressed their pity and admiration with pennies and shillings and the woman danced on, faster and harder wanting the very gods to pay attention, wild child to their critical parent, stamping until her heels hurt. Still there was a limit to the racket even she could make, although the guileless audience were impressed by her effort, wondering if this was some fund raising endeavour or record breaking attempt. In her hind brain the stream of guitar and drum ran on but with her ears she picked up the sound of the clinking and clicking of money, the sounds married and she realised a way to make more noise to wake the gods. She gathered up the little discs and ran to a cobblers where she flung them on his work bench, tore off her shoes and demanded the coins on the soles and heels ‘fix them to my shoes so they’re loud enough to raise the dead’ the cobbler feared for her but feelings were somebody else’s provenance, his business
was shoes. She spun out of the shop and away, dancing out of town, into the night and on to a hill so as to be closer to the heavens and better heard. Upon a flat rock under the stars with music in her head the dancer danced. Stamp, stamp, stamp, clickity kick and yes, a goddess stirred. The goddess of the hearth, protector of domesticity and no friend to disrupting adulteresses – however accidental, Hestia was also a lover of a good night’s sleep. Raising her head she grumbled into the night, ‘woman, still your heels!’ but the shoes sung back ‘so much have I lost, my sorrow must be heard and I can’t be still, so no sleep for you’. Stamp went the feet and the dancer’s arms curled and her hands clapped while the moonlight shimmered on the tips of her fingers, the curls of her hair and the buckles on her shoes. All night, every night for seven nights the noisy dancing continued - the exhausted and now dying dancer had no modicum of sense left and wouldn’t pause even for a brief rest in the day. The audience to her life’s sad drama had long gone, taking such human warmth as it could spare for someone who was after all basically a hussy, and Hestia, who like all good domestic goddesses was a lot tougher and more cranky than she looked, was not prepared to lose any more beauty sleep. Finally provoked, she announced from the sky somewhere ‘Enough noise’. ‘Lady, you shall have all the spinning, swaying and stamping you can stomach. In the corners of hearth, behind candles and round bonfires you will dance on in the flicker, forever silently tracing your sorrows and joys in the heart of the heat’. And the man? Maybe he remembers.
WO N D E R + MY EC O LO G I CA L SUBLIME Words by Monica Buchan-Ng
I am lost in a stream of flickering technology segmented into ten second slots. Limited to the length of a blank attention span in the blue light of a screen, a portal that reflects blurred colours on the skin of my face translates the universe into two-dimensionality before my eyes. At least the monitor is Apple, covetable; perhaps a distant cousin of the first apple in a garden, eaten by a rib-creature. Finding wonder seems impossible in the ubiquity of daily life, amongst routine and regularity. In an increasingly detached society that has globulated into a homogenous monoculture, exoticism and mystery and beauty have been reduced to axioms for copywriters. Humans are caught between the tensions of a disconnected capitalist existence and the flatness of the world it causes us to make. When everything is so uniform, how can one stay engaged, excited, vital? I fear being fragmented into a series of similarities, cultural diversity relegated to history, capacity for emotion mined by the sugar-empathy of a faceless branded lifestyle. The desperate young idealists have grown cynical, eyes narrowed to an onslaught of images/ and images/ a nd images/ an d images that stand as mediators between humanity and reality (Davies, 1978), provisional symbols to replace what was once lived. Image-screens form a symbolised encapsulation of matter and experience. I’ve visited the aerial views of my ancestral lands, but I can’t disregard the surrounding eddies of New Zealand air. Physicality has been cut out of a floating world and made extraneous to modern life. Moving the body is arduous just to visit a place anyone can peer at from satellite cameras. This separation is more than a loss of experience. I feel alienated from the warm relationships with nonhumans. I miss lying in the grass with the companionably intimate bodies of insects living furiously around me. It is easy to close off the world we live in. Somehow the structure of the universe has been reorganised to spread out from ‘us’ as the centre, with usefulness to humankind providing a hierarchical classification; “human fantasies of mastery” (Bennett, 2009: 26) in which we have become the natural-born rulers of the inanimate, passive matter about us. I have found my reconnection in the ecological sublime, in a re-immersion into nature. I wish I could truly communicate to you, so that we both understand fully, regardless of individual differences, with no ambiguity of meaning or room for personal interpretation, the empty/full feeling of dissolving into the environment – the wonder of leaving your self to find the rest of the world.
Everything, Part 1. 2012, Sarah Burton
I am at the edge of the land of the long white cloud, here and nowhere else, away from the grey noise of modern human activity, away from metropolises and economies and the edifices we build to contain ourselves separate from the outside. I can breathe (do you remember what that feels like? Suspension; pause; the complete surrender to breath, to your body that keeps you alive between the moments when you forget you even have a body, when you forget that you are a body). I am at the brink amongst air, and water, and ground, on the dark-bright Aotearoa coastline. I can’t feel the edges between myself and the air alive about me; I’ve somehow lost that particular sensation. But I still feel – so intensely – as if my skin-borders have been erased and there is nothing protecting me from disappearing in a trickling dissolution of atoms into the sky. The particle structures that shape my opened ribcage flow into the structures of wet sands and sharp wind. It’s almost terrifying; tendons open to the world, completely and utterly vulnerable. My eyes are filled with tears, or perhaps they have dissolved into the water. I can’t tell. This is not a semiotic representation. I am engaged. Nothing, Part 1. 2012, Sarah Burton
It is this interconnectivity that deviates from humanity’s assumed role as separated director, above and apart. I am only a series of atomic patterns that were by chance formed into a human being, instead of a fern or a mineral or a polymer strand. When you consider how much we are made up of subatomic space – the void between protons, neutrons, and electrons – I am amazed we are stable forms that do not constantly float apart into the countless other patterns that make up the environment we are part of. Re-connection enlivens my attitude to those around me, makes me see them as beings and lives and vital matter in what Jane Bennett and Eu Jin Chua refer to as the ecological sublime. The heady rush of being pulled into a tumultuous sphere of motion and stillness and animate creatures – from quiet to blinding noise to silent – is the effect of total immersion into the mass of universal substance, from grit to seed to cliff face. The ecological power of Bennett’s assemblage (2009); the power found in compositions, in the “egalitarian ethics of abundance and mutual respect” (Chua, 2009: 61) gives agency back to the vibrant matter we systematically disregard as dead object. The surroundings are just as capable of feeling and being part of the sublime experience as I. My bones act upon me as much as my brain commands them into motion; they keep my wilting flesh upright. Our bodies are an evolutionary product of their communal power. It is only ingrained arrogance that keeps us from recognising the way different entities have influenced our species, how others have grown around us in an exquisite evolutionary synthesis. While the postmodern sublime has been applied to the overwhelming effects of technology (Bordo, 1992) or the horror of environmental devastation (Hitt, 1999) in Aotearoa the Romantic sublime is still omnipresent: the impermanence of humankind in the face of a devastating wilderness. On a small rock island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we are open to the violence and volatility of natural phenomena. Earthquakes disrupt the grounds my feet touch: a jolt reminder of the force of things through the sudden unfamiliarity of a moving terrain. Cities are disparate and small in comparison to the limitless romantic landscapes untamed by agriculture and untouched by humanity. The sweep from vertiginous peaks cut out in harsh-shaped light and dark, through the filtered green of subterranean forest, to the raw ferocity of white-cresting water against cliff faces: it is impossible not to find wonder in the beauty and terribleness of the natural beyond our insubstantial urbanity.
The Kantian sublime has been recontextualised in the current age of hyperreality and ecological instability Nothing, Part 2. 2012, Sarah Burton
Everything, Part 2. 2012, Sarah Burton
– the power of the nonhuman to awaken; to re-engage; to change perceptions and relationships. My interaction with nature may not be strictly sublime. I can barely fit my mental capacities around the thousands of life forms that teem about the vast landscapes, living and eating and dying as active and dynamic as any species. Kant’s sublime reason is a tenuous bubble I strain to stretch around unimaginably vibrant mass. The dominant-dominated model seems irrational: neither human reason nor nature should have to play conflicting roles in an ecological sublimity (Chua, 2009). After all, humanity is part of nature and therefore so is human reason – all my actions are inherently ‘natural’ because I am still a natural being, as much as my self is tied to the artificiality of modern life. When I am outside in a nonhuman nature, the rationality of urban logic seems to slip away into an odd abstraction that doesn’t quite make sense from a distance. I am not struck by the might of my own reason but rather by my interdependence with all substance. Reasoning is reactivated in writing; by communicating afterwards to quantify the experience in my own mind, and in the hope it will draw others into similar understandings. I have found another common spirit in J. C. Davies’ oceanic feeling - the “merging with the environment… in which an individual loses consciousness of self and becomes in his own mind indistinct, indistinguishable from any aspect of the environment… like a drop of water that falls into the sea” (1978: 69). Though lucid words flew away during those moments of everythingness, his description of disintegrating steadies my own stilted account. Others feel it too! and can communicate it in clear running words that leave a taste of the sensation, a faint memory, as if I can relive a shadow of it well after the fact. The ecological sublime brings me to a place in nature that is right: In the opened-out experience of utter interconnectivity, I can’t help but feel closer the non-human entities I am enfolded into. From Bennett’s abject trash pile to the closest patch of suburban green seething with non-human life, finding empathy with the other can adjust our attitudes in an environmentally minded direction. Forgive my egotism in describing only my experience, as it is all I can express in honesty and directness. I ask others of my species, who also communicate in our odd written ciphers, to find their version of the same – their wilderness, their nature, their vibrant matter. Watch with eyes closed - you have lost the border between the touch of your breath on your fingers. You have hollowed into pure sensation, feeling light at the ends of every exposed vellus. You have disappeared into nothingness and also everything. Empty and aching and sunlit; that is wonder.
I M AG E C R E D I TS Photography: Sarah Burton Designer: Monica Buchan-Ng MUA: Maryke Barnard Models: Ella Esau, Sequoia Etti, Suny Xia Assistant: Annabel Harris R E F E R E N C ES Bennett, J., 2009. ‘Thing Power and an Ecological Sublime’. In: White, L., Pajaczkowska, C.L., eds. 2009. The Sublime Now. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 24-35. Bordo, J., 1992. ‘Ecological Peril, Modern Technology and the Postmodern Sublime’. In: Berry, P., Wernick, A., eds. 1992. Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion. London: Routledge. pp. 165-178. Chua, E. J., 2009. ‘Ecological Aesthetics – With or Without the Sublime?’ In: White, L., Pajaczkowska, C.L., eds. 2009. The Sublime Now. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 50-68. Davies, J. C., 1978. ‘Essay Four’. In: Fitzgerald, R., ed. 1978. What It Means to be Human. Oxford: Pergamon Press. pp. 64-82. Hitt, C., 1999. ‘Toward an Ecological Sublime’. New Literary History 30(3), pp. 603-623.
I once saw an elephant walk through midtown Manhattan in the middle of the night. Standing waiting to cross the street, I looked up at the traffic signal, then down at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel where cars generally came careening out. It was quiet for once. Then the elephant walked out, followed by another elephant, and these followed by a man with a shovel and a bucket on wheels. The cars heading south were still, headlights trained on the passing parade. The mouth of the tunnel, ordinarily a dull roar, was an illuminated processional, its gritty surfaces flooded with a golden glow. New York City pedestrians, a breed geared towards determined impatience stood obediently at their curbside posts to let the elephants and company pass by. It is difficult to maintain an air of studied disinterest when elephants walk by. Around me were a number of other faces similarly locked in astonishment. It was hard to tell who was in on itâ€”where the show started and ended was blurred with the real places of the city. Were the trucks with their headlights on coincidentally illuminating the tunnel or were they part of the procession? A few minutes later, the light went green, cars and pedestrians who had paused continued back into the city streets filled with the memory of this unexpected occurrence. For those moments, the streets I walked routinely had been host to a spectacle that was anything but routine, casting the city and those inhabitants into a collective gathering worthy of celebration. -Nick Tobier
Giving Thanks in the Land of Roses Words by Adam Henri Carrière We lost the road to the village, we lost the will, the words, the language of a common dance. ~ James Ragan, The Separation
Giving Thanks Every light in the house blazed, but the small Thanksgiving mêlée remained ill-lit. Dry and tepid turkey, bad inconsequential football, poorly strained cabbage, mis-mashed potatoes, politely ignored lima beans, store-bought dessert: Married America insists its legions feast. With wintry streets dreamlike in their empty breath, they lead to the careworn scenery of grandparents, the more human alternative of driving into a wall lost in the disassociated but well-rehearsed lines delivered like Dresden’s fires. The unlit trenches between the car seats glowed of a cozy, less sinister land of Roses the babies only knew from accusations – dressed in wistful reminisces, strewn across the bleached and subdivided, rural yet painfully still too near landscape - that shone across the rictus of their teeth. Matrimony Side East and West Berlin sat opposite ends of the meal misbegotten children holding silent dialogue with their rations. November rattled in the background,
behind the old glass and obsolete radiators the once-fashionable slum upheld against the city block that dwindled with each dry-mouthed bite. An untrue history book’s once brave officer in business to find an income he no longer had to lie to his kin about; A daughter of an old-fashioned village of mothers checking pulses, shuffling papers, sticking needles into indigent asses. Daily Blue Plate Specials gunshot wounds free refills diseases of the poor Both carried wallet photos of the increasingly mute Christian names elapsing from their communal flock, both equally spited in absentia during school hours, neither forgiven in the perpetual theater of broken bread. In the Old Country They Were Called Peasants Yes, James, the neighborhood had changed. Our tribes, outcast in other folklore, hadn’t learned to spell ‘sociological’ or hear urban migratory patterns fly south, and out. It takes an academy to misspell the anguish of families running their course, ancestors disappearing from their ankles up, parkways and boulevards faded out in an autumn bloom everyone took to be safe and sound. Closely-dreamt of trains passed less often, the mills’ steady hum suddenly well-mannered. The lower-middle don’t situate geography like that, convinced, all the roses were theirs. Unionized sweat planted them. Tears hidden in tavern beer watered them. Hands toiled to corn held them
in tight bunches, the thorns a source of perverse pride, bloodying a parish made of thick fingers. Such roses could never be someone else's. The riots were only news footage, the flights the unsightly fright from unworthy coops, they swore, the neighborhood could never change. Zeitgeist Those were the Archie Bunker days, daddy-o. John played mind games, Paul grew wings; The old Saint was the new Bond. Duke was out, Shaft and Super Fly were in. Our White Sox wore red, hired hit men, wore shorts, demolished disco records, went broke and got bought out by the Bonzo crowd. The Daze of Obligation Churches, armies of aunts thought they’d built hung ‘unwelcome’ signs from the ivory smiles of the newly congregated. Baptism was all that funky music, at the expense of St. Anthony. Hatefully, no one carried spare change. Real Estate a) Frame houses passed down through big families? Repos before close. Bungalows Truman built? Wrecks in a year. Six-flats flowering the Drive? Tenements by Christmas. b) The flower beds in the park, once untouchable, now undone; the outdoor pool, hollowed, barricaded;
even the stone fountains (fluoridated water one good thumb away) passed on. c) The ceaseless hiss closed the toy store at Easy-Bake & Matchbox, the candy store on 115th & Cherry Phosphate. d) The City banned FOR SALE signs to keep the flight from panic. It didn’t work. Stardust The State Theater became a marquee for a church. The Normal Theater spat at the clock ‘til torched soon after, during a matinee; midnight blue and gunmetal gray curtains, like our parents’ eyes, their deep drape, their every movement a wedding, a birthday party, and funeral procession rolled into one. Such screens go dark with only deep suffering. Ancestors Children of another era, who don’t recognize the sorrow baked into homemade bread, wonder why, on this, of all days, a simple prayer in Great-Grandma’s paprika burr makes them all sad. Her old pruned fingertips see themselves, the solitude of no longer needing to want; her accent was already over and done, her loaves’ recipe stuck in her memory. The vexing tittle-tattle of the uninvited, cooling heels on streets with a million home movies, meowing
about missing hub caps and hitting potholes of spite every Christmas toy on the market couldnâ€™t fill. Their pictures still watched, every bite, loitering up on the dusty hutch. Salt and Pepper for Dessert Someone would be chosen, someone would have to go, once all the food and pantomime ran dry. It was only a bag of garbage, but it needed to go where the many scripted roles of loving met abandoned truth. Touching rust and frost in the garden, the alley still in their arms, an old man hobbled through the chill, shaking his head at the sight of a white boy crying over refuse. He had seen the world from a set of rails, always knew to look at both passages for the right message, to sing while he prayed, to dream he could still hope as bullets rained across the fields he could still feel between his toes. Yet those woolen sobs frightened him where the old wars did not, seeing this youngster taken in Novemberâ€™s heartless draught. The old manâ€™s kin was down the block, up the hill, by the tracks, on the Avenue in the neighborhood this white boy was just visiting. When the whimpers broke mortified, on a woolen giggle, it seemed safe enough for the two of them to smile, at two holiday meals distinct as petals fallen from the same rose.
‘I’ WONDER Alan Dunn on Claire Potter
Claire Potter is a Leeds-based artist and editor of the journal soanyway, an online repository of words, pictures and sounds that tell stories, founded in 2008 by Derek Horton and Lisa Stansbie. Claire’s own practice is located between writing and performance and Alan Dunn interviewed her about three recent live pieces. …nonetheless bears witness (September 2012) was created for the PRIVATE event at the top of Liverpool’s Radio City Tower. Performance with Sam Keogh (July 2013) was presented at The Hardy Tree Gallery in London as part of the Enemies exhibition and The audience is delayed (June 2013) was at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. AD: If we begin with …nonetheless bears witness, a three-part spoken word piece based around the voice of an abused woman who we find out has six children; she describes incidents of domestic violence and her children gradually leaving her. It is a very harrowing work, could you reflect back on it, a year on? CP: I remember wearing a blue shawl in adherence to the event’s dress code. I drank blue WKD that was served at the bar. I held three sheets of A4 paper, sometimes I read from them, sometimes I didn’t need to and delivered the content with my eyes closed. I spoke up unannounced three times from areas not designated for performance and I remember making a lot of people unsure as to
whether I was part of the programme or not. I spoke from an unclear position, at once an announcer and then a confessor. I know the content and the delivery were uncomfortable for people at PRIVATE. AD: What were you reading or looking at when developing the piece, both as direct influences but also as those ideas that float around with us? CP: What it means to say ‘I’ as a writer and as a performer. I was introduced to the idea that ‘I’ as a pronoun is ‘promiscuous’. It belongs to whoever is speaking it and so, as an apparatus for writing and speaking ‘I’ can be said to be a site of temporality. It is a slippery site: ‘I’ can produce great impact but is also gone in a flash. Furthermore, ‘I’ is divided like a cell down to each thought or impulse. Around the same time I read Chris Kraus commenting that women writers operating within the first person are ‘still subject to memoiristic interpretation as though female experience itself were so troubled the female ‘I’ could only be intensely self-reflexive.’ Theoretically, this was how the work emerged. I wanted to demonstrate this problematic female ‘I’ by addressing it through the shifting/shifty temporal conception of the pronoun - shifting and utterly subjective. ‘I’ began to form as a character for me: a troubled drunk, which is something I decided to run with
AD: The accompanying text mentions Colin Wilson’s seminal study of the outsider in twentieth century literature and Cathy Caruth's Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Is it fair to say the work drew on the uncomfortableness of trauma, especially within such a confined social space as the one you performed in?
The other text you mention by Professor Caruth took for its cultural example Margeurite Duras’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by Alain Renais. This piece of writing, and the film itself, illustrate PTSD as a rupture of narrative, a blind return that confuses the space and time of the self. I wanted to extrapolate these ideas for the delivery at PRIVATE. I wanted to use the exclusivity of the event, and the mannered tone that accompanies such a setting to amp up the performance. I would shout up, be too confessional and self-concerned. I’d have to not only talk about a singular experience, I’d have to enact it by having a total self-regard for my own speaking. I’d have to be the unwanted guest: the sentence that starts with ‘I’. AD: You’ve always drifted towards words rather than images. Can I ask which visual artists, if any, had some bearing on your practice over the years? CP: Working with words and/or images are essentially ocular practices and to that end I don’t see myself has having drifted from one to the other as such. But it’s funny, whenever someone asks me a question like this, I think of watching Tracy Emin’s Why I Never Became A Dancer in Tate Liverpool when I was about fourteen and I also think of trying to move the cabinet of Mark Dion’s Tate Thames Dig with my
AD: Performance with Sam Keogh was presented at The Hardy Tree Gallery in London as part of the Enemies exhibition earlier this year. As Sam Keogh spoke outside the gallery, a speech based around Oscar – from Sesame Street rather than Wilde I believe - you were inside, creating a live textual response to his words, is that correct? CP: Yes that’s right, however I’d stress that though I was writing a response, it was not textual. My conception of writing is more akin to orientation; it doesn’t always have to take the form of inscription but serves to produce a line in, or a pathway through signification in order to produce meaning. This is as important a key for my reading practice as it is for writing performances. Footage of my work is intentionally low-fi and subjective so I’ll talk through the work and it’s backstory a little. Enemies has been a year-long series of events and publications directed by the poet S.J. Fowler. For the closing night of the two-week residency at The Hardy Tree, Steven invited me to work within a fifteen-minute slot and to perhaps invite some other artists and/or writers to work with. I have seen Sam perform Taken out of/put into Oscar’s Bin a few times but always within the context of contemporary art. Fundamentally it is a script about the cultural history and uses of Oscar the Grouch that he has committed to memory by the allocation of a series of pictographs. The performance is the remembrance of these signifiers and the delivery and omission of recalled and forgotten information. Generally, my writing performances develop through audience sensitivity and context. I have delivered the same texts in pubs as I have at art galleries and the variables not only alter the reception of a work but they act as an editing tool or a filtering system for the content. I wanted to invite Sam as an artistperforming to deliver something with me as a writerperforming. I felt like there was something to unpick there, particularly as the context was a poetry event at an art gallery. Blurring the fields of writing and art is a popular concept but as an art writer, it is very important for me to clarify the terms of my practice without it reducing to a juxtaposition. The audience left the small hot gallery space for
Image by Leila Romaya
CP: Yes definitely. To talk about this demonstration of ‘I’ in another way we could talk about trauma. Colin Wilson’s book is a cartography of the divided self with many examples of literary characters in various states of consideration of a stable or whole self: the returning soldier, the wandering exile, the existentialist, the preacher, the outcast, the victim. The subject living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for example, has no delusions of objectivity. They are a walking testament to the nouveau roman - all detail, fracture and repetition.
shoulder when the invigilator wasn’t looking on a school trip to London. For better or worse, these adolescent experiences don’t leave me when I am asked about visual art. I refer back to them perhaps because I haven’t yet analysed them to death. They are protected by being before art education. They came a bit too early to be used as fodder for a pedagogical essay or presentation. They are remnants from the childhood memory vault.
Image by Alex Bell
during the performance. The speaking ‘I’ was a self-absorbed, stuck voice that disregarded anything other than its own emergence, its moment of speaking. It got drunk, butted in and made people uncomfortable. I had begun to read at poetry events around the time of making this work and was thinking around the uses of the A4 sheets of text and how it provided a textual site for the pronoun and how that delineated what was within and without the game of speaking to an audience.
the pavement for a ten-minute break, Sam began his performance and I navigated the situation: the physicality, the theoretical divisions and unities between both our performances and also the role and responsibility of the audience and the host. I couldn’t really think about these things without being in them and that situation is something that I had to induce. I walked about a lot, I talked myself through the situation, I arranged objects on the floor to mark and retrace what I’d said and statements began to emerge. These statements serve as the beginnings of a much bigger research practice, the results of an experiment if you like. AD: The work seems to have been contingent on a lot of things from the way you describe it. Was there significance in having window between the two performers right up until the last minute when you join Sam on the street? CP: Only in that Sam wanted his performance to spring unannounced from among the crowd. The window was a necessary and fortunate element that allowed me to refer to Sam’s work while maintaining his performance specifications. That was the practical intention. Though I do concede that the bearing that the window has on the development of the work is great, not only in the reception of the mobile phone footage that you see, but in developing the writing performance at the time. AD: Again, I am interested in what you were absorbing around this time, in terms of theory, fiction, images or sounds, particularly the manner in which the documentation sets the window as a background frame. CP: It was Miwon Kwon’s use of Mark Dion’s On Tropical Nature in her book as an example of a sitespecific artwork that divided over multiple sites. That spurred this work on. The idea that a work exists in its conception as a project AND in its existence in the gallery AND in its relation to the event AND in a site of discussion and documentation, excited me. I participated in Sarah Pierce’s performance work Campus in London a little before Sam and I were at the Enemies show and this affected me too. Campus is a group rehearsal. About six participants were given a simple script of chants and actions. We ran through this a few times in an open rehearsal and then performed it without the script twice. What was miraculous about being involved in the piece was the activation of different forms of memory, linguistic, spatial and sonic, and how this produced a communal body of knowledge for us to access in order to perform a play we had only read fortyfive minutes earlier. Though Campus was delivered among guests, I really felt that the work had existed among the performers and was not accessible to the
audience in the gallery. That has stayed with me. AD: The texts you wrote could be said to have links with Joseph Kosuth’s billboard Text/Context or even Alvin Lucier’s soundwork I am sitting in a room. Did you plan these beforehand to some extent or do you ever wonder what would happen if your mind actually went blank and language deserted you just when you needed it? CP: I think the two works you mention collapse the binary of delivery and reception. They both implicate the audience in their generation or emergence as artworks. The work is only there when it is happening. They are performance works. They both also exist as actions, demonstrations that fuse method and content. This is something that I am very interested in as it is crucial for my conception of art writing and I consider both these works to be examples of that, so yes, I do see similarities with my work. In terms of planning, there is very little I plan. There are things I want to pull apart and assess about writing and its relationship to performance and I can’t do that until I am in the midst of it and thinking to myself: right, now what’s going on here? It’s so fundamental a position for me that language doesn’t get in the way of that. And anyway it’s good when you get nervous or forget something, that’s when I’m really performing writing, really navigating the situation. Yve Lomax once described language as having the burden of expression. But it can be freed up and invigorated. Language doesn’t have to just serve some end, describing something; pointing outside itself, it can be active and do something or demonstrate something. And its absence is equally as useful as its presence. AD: The audience is delayed was at the Whitechapel Gallery in London as part of an evening of writerly performances. Is it appropriate to describe your performance for those who did not witness it, or would you rather talk about the ideas around it? CP: The event at the Whitechapel, Language is the creek on a stair, was conducted for two hours in two rooms on different floors. The three performances in each of the rooms had the same time slots. The guests congregated by the makeshift bar on the stairwell and when the time came were instructed to pick their room. There was no pandering to the audience. I really enjoyed that. There are no descriptions to help you choose; you have two minutes, pick a room. The show was really about delivery in that way and paid a little less attention to reception. I had a typewriter on a plinth, located on the stair well. I typed here for the duration for the event. I typed on the reverse of old bookplates that illustrated Persian and Turkish
carpets. I then posted these texts in production order on a partition window behind me. The guests could read them but I couldn’t refer to what I had written, I just had to continue with a forward action without revising. Essentially The audience is delayed was an act of performed writing, not only in sense of inscription and publication on the window but also the production of knowledge and content from pulling together and assessing the intersection of sites of performance: my body in the physical environment, my social relation to guests, my practical use of and the cultural location of the manual typewriter, and the intellectual and inter-textual application of my reading Lines: A Brief History by Tim Ingold and my study of Persian and Turkish carpet weaving techniques. It was a work of writing my experience of writing about what writing is. I’m still considering what to do with the 27 pages that where produced. I can’t decide whether their emergence in the performance was their publication, their life if you like, or if they might make a book themselves. Perhaps they are doomed to only be a document. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so precious about it. In the end, I wasn’t there to make a product. Selfishly, I was there to have a good live think. AD: The audience is delayed has the phrase writing engenders performance, also used with Sam, which suggests you see the performances as events driven by texts which is an anti-improvisational approach rooted in a classic scripted theatre context? CP: That’s an interesting response to the phrase and yes in one way events are driven by language but writing in the way that I mean it is an action. In that way, writing for me essentially engenders performance. An action is performed from within a system of rules producing something sensible. Reading too for that matter begets performance. The activation of language is a well-remembered dance in that way. So I suppose theatre is not so far removed from that. It’s important for me to make statements like that as part of the research. If for nothing other than to generate friction at a later date.
See clairelouisepotter.blogspot.co.uk. Links to video footage of …nonetheless bears witness and Performance with Sam Keogh www.alandunn67.co.uk/stimulusaudio.html
D E A D B A B Y M I C E Alan Dunn on Jeff Young Images by Leila Romaya
Jeff Young is a Liverpool-based artist whose practice spans theatre, radio, sound art, writing and television. Carandiru, recorded in a Sao Paulo prison, was nominated for a Sony and he has been shortlisted for Prix Italia and Prix Europa awards. Alan Dunn interviewed him about two recent live spoken word pieces. Ouija (April 2012) was presented in collaboration with Moongoose at Metal, a former railway station on the edge of Liverpool’s Lime Street. Sputnik Jesus (September 2012) was presented with Martin Heslop and Vidar Norheim during an event at the top of the Liverpool’s Radio City Tower. AD: Ouija was originally a 28-part piece, when does it date from? JY: I’ve been writing Ouija for about eight years but it grew out of particular pieces I’d written for radio in which I tried to write a sort of autobiography based more on fevered memories than actual events. Certain memories have fallen into my thoughts over the years - a haemorrhaging horse, an escapee from a psychiatric hospital running over a potato field, the roar of football crowd voices coming over the rooftops when I was in bed, a floating woman singing lullabies outside my bedroom window when I was eight, these sort of half remembered dream
visions. I started writing a sort of epic poem in 28 parts, inspired by Kenneth Patchen’s Journal of Albion Moonlight, which is a key text for me. Patchen’s imagination was like a menagerie and there is a vernacular robustness to the heightened, Romantic and fabulist world he created that feeds into what I do. Patchen was a radical precursor to the Beats. Mark E. Smith of The Fall is another important writer for me. These people are awkward, misshapes and hallucinators. AD: Can you locate Ouija within your output? What else were you working on and absorbing during its gestation?
JY: Ouija connects with radio plays such as The Hunt For Billy Casper and Red Rock, Grey Rock which were broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and 4. I wrote four radio drama documentaries that tried to paint a picture of four stages of my early life. They were montages, or collages, of memories, which used dissonant juxtaposition of clashing styles and tones as a modus operandi. I thought that if I jammed a story of a dying grandfather with maggots in his turn-ups up against a fleeting vision of Billy Fury walking on water on the Leeds & Liverpool canal, up against the Milky Way clinking like xylophones, glimpsed through a skylight in a Liverpool terraced house, up against readings from favourite books and so on it
would make more interesting radio than the usual. I was writing stage plays such as River Fever, which were based in similar landscapes of blighted industrial zones, ruined warehouses, bonfires on wastelands and half demolished asylums. All of this is now called edgeland writing and there is a touch of psychogeography about it but as far as I was concerned I was just trying to get across a sense of a boy in Liverpool, slightly unhealthy, medicated, bed bound, dreaming of travelling fairgrounds and Waltzers and dodgems on fire. River Fever used imagery such as polluted canals and ramshackle caravans to get across a sense of hallucinatory fever.
It comes close to surrealism and is non-naturalistic. I was drawing more on paintings such as the work of Ensor and outsider artists such as Madge Gill and Henry Darger. Joseph Cornell’s boxes and Kurt Schwitters collages also feed in. In literature I was drawing on Ted Hughes’s Crow poems and the prose poems of Rimbaud. I quite like ‘bad influences’ such as Burroughs and Ballard. I don’t like polite, English lit. I’d rather ‘read’ Franz Masereel’s woodcut books or look at Leonard Baskin’s illustrations for Hughes’s Crow as they fit the fever better. Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium is a book I’ve used for twenty years and even wrote a puppet show in 1995 inspired by it. I fill my house with nightmare clutter and hope that it seeps into my imagination. AD: Could Ouija be described as a séance with former family members and if so, are séances something you experienced as a child? JY: Ouija is certainly a séance. I remember countless visits to hospitals, which used to be Victorian poor houses where we’d visit dying grandparents. Butcher’s shops and abattoirs figured strongly in my childhood because quite a lot of uncles were butchers. There was a lot of meat around! I wanted to try and communicate with those people and invite them into the Ouija texts and inhabit it. Most of all though it is a séance with my younger self. I have a very real sense that the boy I used to be is still alive. There are two of me, one is me now, one is the boy
in the past. I try and get back into the incidents of my childhood and also to let the boy I used to be crawl through my imagination, through the texts. Whether I achieve that or not is for others to say. We used to pretend at séances as kids and there was a make shift Ouija board. There was a garage where we used to act out fairy tales such as Rumpelstiltskin and a derelict refugee camp where Polish immigrants had been housed during the Second World War. We used to hole up in these places and frighten the life out of ourselves with imagining the dead. It’s amazing how much death there is in childhood and I suppose Ouija is an attempt to bring the dead to life. AD: You performed parts 1, 2, 4, 8 and 22 from Ouija as a spoken word piece at Metal, a former railway station engine room located on the platform of Edge Hill Station, on the cusp of Liverpool Lime Street. It’s an example of industrial architecture being adopted by culture on what is one of the Britain’s most historic railway lines, the Liverpool to Manchester link. JY: I worked with Liverpool band Moongoose who had a rare track called Don’t Play! and we selected five Ouija texts to make a sixteen minute performance. To perform it in Edge Hill Train station was perfect because the texts are set in dereliction and post-industrial landscapes. The
railway cuttings leading into Lime Street Station seem to be of the same world as the Ouija texts. There is something about the ferns and buddleia growing through the cracks, nature returning and overwhelming the city. Mike Davis’s book Dead Cities is an important book for me. In it he talks about Bomber Ecology and how blitzed cities burst to life with fireweeds - buddleia and rose bay willow herb blooming on derelict wastelands in blitzed cities. This fits the world of Ouija perfectly. It would have been better if there had been a burning locomotive collapsing on Platform 2 but you can’t have everything. AD: Can you describe what we might call the range of Ouija? JY: If you make a story up it comes to the point where you actually remember it even if it didn’t really happen. Some of the texts are invented, or distortions of the truth, but I can remember them happening. There is a story about a horse bleeding to death outside Everton football ground. I can remember this vividly and it’s haunted me all my life but my mother told me just before she died that it was her who saw the horse dying when she was a child, not me. There is nostalgia at play here. Nostalgia is a bit like influenza, it’s not healthy but it’s actually incredibly useful for generating feverish imagining. There is a brilliant book by Svetlana Boym called The Future Of Nostalgia in which she talks about it being a ‘hypochondria of the heart.’ It’s a longing for a past that can never return but if you conduct the séance in the right way you can taste and smell it. I don’t believe in ghosts and I don’t believe in the soul but it suits my creative purposes to kind of pretend I believe in them. That way I can summon up ghosts and memories and stoke up the fever. AD: Do you hear music when writing? JY: Music is important. I write listening to everything from Trout Mask Replica to Sun Ra to doo-wop. It has to be extreme and anything that destabilises. I’m not a musician but I work with lots of musicians. I imagine music for the various places and characters in the stories, usually distorted lullabies and imaginary soundtracks. There is a touch of David Lynch here, Thelonious Monk there, and remembered music such as Tamla Motown and early reggae. My teenage years were spent observing a nocturnal world of canal banks and railway tunnels populated by Clockwork Orange droogs, sound-tracked by the sonic surrealism of Lee Perry and The Upsetters. In reality it was a suburb of Liverpool but in my remembering of it, it’s hallucinatory. AD: How do you see a performance such as Ouija
relating to Patti Smith, William Burroughs or Jim Morrison? JY: I wanted to write like Patti Smith’s spoken word stuff such as Piss Factory as far back as the mid 70’s. William Burroughs’ spoken word stuff such as Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Beefheart’s spoken word interludes on Trout Mask Replica and Apes-Ma on Shiny Beast but that period of Beefheart in general, these are all more important to me than conventional poets. I would like to have seen Patti Smith in her early performing days reading at St. Marks in The Bowery. There is a delinquency about this kind of work that makes most published poets look anaemic. I also like Anticon stuff like cLOUDDEAD. I don’t know much about that world of hip-hop but it’s left field and a bit fucked up and it connects somehow. Mark E. Smith in general. John Cooper Clarke’s Beasley Street is important too. With the performance of Ouija I hoped to invoke the spirit of this kind of work. We knew that it would be the only ever performance so that heightened the sense of occasion. AD: And Moongoose? JY: Yorkie who runs Moongoose is a Liverpool legend, very much a part of the post-punk culture. Don’t Play! was released as almost an art object, sealed between two bathroom tiles and you could only play it if you smashed the tiles. It has a nocturnal menace about it as a piece of music, which perfectly matched the spoken word. Moongoose usually perform strictly instrumental pieces so to collaborate as a ‘voice’ was an honour. There is a version online with archival images assembled by Mark Moongoose and the ghostly images of lost Liverpool evoke and enhance the texts beautifully. AD: Frightened children, death, baby mice, comic books, there are some recurring themes through your work. JY: Comic books such as Doc Strange and a warehouse full of burning Eagle Comics, war comics such as Victor and Hotspur, these are vivid, flickering rememberings. My dad witnessed the destruction of a warehouse full of every single issue of the Eagle, a hundred copies of every edition on fire because the printing factory needed the storage space. That’s another memory that I can remember even though it happened to someone else. I had a butcher uncle who used to lock my sister and I inside a walk-in meat freezer so frightened children creep into the world. Elsie Barmaid was a floating woman who used to hover outside my bedroom window singing men’s names. I discovered years later that it was actually the barmaid from the pub next door, having sex with customers down the back alley. The
saucepan of dead baby mice is true. We found a nest of baby mice on a pan and took it out onto a piece of derelict land in Kirkdale where we sat around watching them die. It’s all haunting, all part of the phantasmagoria. AD: If you were given free reign with the education of young people in Higher Education in relation to art and literature, what would you introduce? JY: I teach at Liverpool John Moores University and one of the things we do with students is to get them to engage directly with the city. It’s difficult for students to break through the confines of the immediate student experience and I encourage them to explore Liverpool more deeply. We walk the city, make maps and drawings and scrapbooks and listen to the city’s noises. If I were given free reign I would encourage young people to see themselves as artists and writers and to engage actively in the culture – establish creative relationships with working artists, make work, live in the city as well as study. An institution that teaches art and literature, creative writing and so on should be commissioning work, bringing the public in to the building and also sending the students out of the building and into the world. AD: Can you tell me about Sputnik Jesus? You performed it accompanied by Martin Heslop and Vidar Norheim at the top of Liverpool’s Radio City Tower, the city’s futuristic beacon that is both private and public. It was set in 1969 and floated Neil Armstrong over Liverpool amidst ‘metal rainbows’ and sadly foresaw the arrival of ‘the future.’ JY: Neil Armstrong was a childhood hero of mine, and still is. He’s been mentioned in loads of stuff I’ve written and in every script I’ve ever written I think there is a reference to the moon, Yuri Gagarin, Sputnik, the 1950s and 60s or sci-fi. I followed the space race through the 1960s and I was eleven years old when they walked on the moon. I like pulp sci-fi novels and there is often a sci-fi element in the mix. A metal rainbow is something poetic and evocative like the xylophone Milky Way I mentioned earlier. It’s a world made by Chad Valley, Triang Toys and bits of old Meccano. AD: You conjure an image of a child sitting in wonder, peering out at the tower from his bed, seeing it as a space beacon, as Dali looked at the telephone handset and saw a lobster. The child climbs the tower, as a throat, up to its eyes. JY: I couldn’t actually see the Radio City Tower from my bed but I could imagine it. I watched it being built. The old Liverpool market was a magical labyrinth full of caged animals and exotic fruits
and fabrics. The city visionaries – or philistines - demolished it and replaced it with this futuristic edifice and old men watched the demolition and rebuilding of the city. I reckon old men were killed by this brutality. Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark is a huge influence on me, and the tower as throat is nicked from that. Lots of the buildings in the city, especially the gothic Cathedral, have faces; Brutalist modernity, astronauts and cosmonauts, comic book imagery, it’s another collage of dissonance. Liverpool’s powers that be have often conspired to ruin our glorious cityscape. They’re doing it as we speak with their systematic flogging off of the city to property developers. The more they flog off the more the city dies but its ghosts will come back and haunt them. AD: We’re also interviewing Claire Potter who performed at the same event at the top of the Radio City Tower. What are your memories of her piece? JY: I think Claire Potter is an astonishing artist. My memory of the piece is vivid. I couldn’t work out where the performance stopped and the reality began and neither could anyone else in the tower. It was emotionally so raw and vulnerable that I wanted to protect her but I was scared of her intensity. At one point the whole space lapsed into silence for an uncomfortable length of time and we couldn’t work out if she’d stopped performing or not. She made me feel conservative and that was a good thing. I came away from watching her and wanted to take more risks. She’s amazing. AD: Billy Bragg’s track The space race is over is a man trying to tell his son there will be no more missions, only cyber space, and there is a similar sadness at work here; wonder replaced by melancholia. JY: Yes, there is nostalgia here again. It goes back to that feeling of looking up at the moon with your dad or your school friends and realising with a sense of wonder that there are men up there walking on it. The moon used to follow me home and now there is a man walking there. It’s beautiful. AD: What were you absorbing when you wrote this? JY: Sun Ra. Seeing Sun Ra and his Arkestra perform at the Liverpool Bluecoat in 1990 was terribly important. The Night of the Purple Moon by Sun Ra is just deranged. The music for Sputnik Jesus by Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop was vibes heavy and suitably Sun Ra-esque. And Alice Coltrane’s Astral Meditations. I was dipping into Alfred Bester’s books The Demolished Man and Tiger, Tiger and a bit of Ballard and Philip K. Dick. It’s useful to think What would Ballard do? and then to dip into him at random and try and do a Ballard.
AD: Imagine for a moment you were brought up in Rio de Janeiro, Auckland or Dakar – would you be making the same work with the same references?
was excited and moved by its appearance. It was the perfect light show and we were in a space station temporarily anchored over the rooftops.
JY: I think so. I’d be responding to the place in the same way, absorbing the sensory and sensual atmospheres. Essentially what I do is hang out in a place and get to know it and sooner or later something about the light, or the architecture, or perhaps someone I observe or eavesdrop on or interview…that feeds into a rough outline of a piece into which I pour any of my own memories and experiences that resonate with the work in progress. Out of that I assemble a finished piece. I did a Radio 3 project in a prison in Sao Paulo and it was an assemblage of materials including fragments of stories that happened to me, thousands of miles away from Brazil in Liverpool. I’d be doing the same in Dakar, Rio or Auckland yes. But having said that, I prefer places where it rains.
See jeffyoung26.wordpress.com. Links to video footage of Ouija and Sputnik Jesus www.alandunn67.co.uk/stimulusaudio.html
AD: As can be seen on the video footage, as you read Part 3 of Sputnik Jesus, the sun started to go down and everyone appeared mellow as the rhythm slowed. This was the Tower as space station and the audience as space travellers? JY: The best thing about the event was that magical moment when the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds just in time to set beyond the river. The sun did its bit beautifully and everyone
A N A L L EG O RY OF LABOUR Life and the Self in the art of Tatzu Nishi by Ben Parry
Ascending_Descending_Tatzu_Nishi_photograph Ben Parry Ascending Descending by Tatzu Nishi, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London, 25-27th May, 2013. Temporary intervention for Cultural Hijack exhibition at Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA). Commissioned by Jump Ship Rat and Architectural Association
All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street-corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door. So it is with absurdity. 1 Parry Ascending_Descending_Tatzu_Nishi_photograph Albert Camus, The Myth of SisyphusBen
Ascending Descending by Tatzu Nishi, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London, 25-27th May, 2013. Temporary intervention for Cultural Hijack exhibition at Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA). Commissioned by Jump Ship Rat and Architectural Association
All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street-corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door. So it is with absurdity. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus1
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, translation, Justin O’Brien, 1955, Penguin Books, London, 2005, 11.
This is no ordinary hole! It is a Friday afternoon in May. On the south western corner of Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, London, a large hole around five metres in diameter is being dug from the wide asphalt path surrounding the private gardens. Behind temporary fencing workers continue to dig the hole, loading conveyor belts to carry soil away. It appears as a regular everyday service hole for some sort of infrastructural maintenance. From their peripheral vision a casual passerby takes in these basic observations, aided by a cautionary sideways glance to ensure the obstacle will not force diversion. People are coming and going from all sides of the square. In the facing Georgian terrace, a man in a suit exits, another enters two doors down. A student locks up her bicycle outside the School of Architecture, a courier van pulls up with a delivery; two pensioners are seated on a bench eating sandwiches. It is an ordinary day on an ordinary street. These familiar sights and sounds of a typical street scene recede efficiently into the background allowing the pedestrian to focus attention elsewhere. Seconds later the same passerby performs a double-take as the seemingly latent background receptors of the brain detect an anomaly in the urban anatomy that turns the head to reconsider the scene - of the hole and the digger. The eye follows the conveyor that leads from the hole. At the fall it joins another and rises again, then another conveyor mirroring the right angle turn drops and rises. At the final fall from the fourth conveyor the earth ends in the same hole from which it came, in a perfect daisy chain. The absurd nature of the information now being received commands the full attention of the passerby. Caught off guard the particular pedestrain is now a spectator undergoing a brief episode of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when the brain receives information that conflicts with established ideas, emotions and cognitions. When the consonance between expectations and reality are effectively hijacked and another world of apparent dissonance is presented, the brain works hard to return to its preferred state of equilibrium. In other words it must try to resolve the conflict standing before it. The pedestrian spectator is now firmly in the moment of the present, the real-time of the conveyor, the man digging each spade of earth. The absurdity appears genuine: this is no ordinary hole! The affirmation that something isnâ€™t right (dissonance) precipitates the search for confirmation from others (consonance) that they too notice this anomaly. The duration of dissonance, extended here by a lack of any logical explanation or useful clues as to what is going on, gives sufficient time to engage meaningfully with the questions posed by the man digging the hole. Indeed, how does the spectator now draw conclusions from this encounter with a city construction worker undertaking an absurd and pointless task? The labourer seems unperturbed by his predicament and appears to dig with appropriate vigour necessary to achieve such a hole. The two pensioners sitting on the bench eating their sandwiches appear not to notice, other pedestrians walk on by. What is it that they are looking at exactly? Is this an elaborate hoax? Without the necessary answer this detail is suspended and a more focussed engagement takes place. The distillation of one man trapped in a hole neither burying himself in, nor digging himself out precipitates profound reflection. All things fall and are built again. What we are actually looking at is a temporary art intervention titled Ascending Descending from the playful mind of renowned Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, best known for sitespecific works in which he creates domestic rooms, sometimes hotel rooms around public monuments and statues. Ascending and Descending was inspired by the 1980â€™s Japanese game
show Za Gamen (Endurance), popularised in the UK by Clive James on Television in which he showed clips from unusual and cult TV shows from around the World. Nishi’s vivacious ode to humorous acts of endurance is balanced by a more exacting reference to M.C Escher’s 1960 work, Ascending and Descending from which it borrows its title. Nishi’s geometric form achieves Escher’s optical illusion of a never-ending stairway by the infinite rise and fall and the impossibility of emptying or filling the hole. The careful arrangement of the conveyors creates an infinite cycle whose repetition follows a square that viewed from a certain angle does indeed make one think of Escher’s infinity stairs and the figures marching down passing those on their way up… Only a limited number of people were able to approach the work with such references to hand. What comes more readily to mind is the story of Sisyphus punished by the Gods for his trickery and deceit, condemned to the underworld for eternity. There, he must push a giant boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll down and repeat the task over. The wasted effort of a man digging a hole he cannot empty, is altogether more complicated. As high levels of unemployment persist in the aftermath of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s we may be reminded of Keynes famous dictum – “The government should pay people to dig holes and fill them back in again.”2 intended to provoke government into stimulating the economy by creating jobs to counter growing unemployment. The Keynesian logic of intervening in a recession to stimulate growth by paying people to ‘dig holes and fill them in again’ or better still build schools and homes, links the debate about policymakers’ handling of the consequences of 2008’s financial crisis. In its West End location, on a street corner yards from massive commercial developments, in particular the monumental excavations of the Tottenham Court Road section of the £25bn CrossRail project, the particular use of construction vernacular might refer to the cycles of urban development and the rise and fall of civilizations with the appropriate adage; All things fall and are built again.3 Of equal pertinence, is our subservient relationship as consumers, trapped in cycles of insatiable appetites for commodities and the illusion of satisfaction. Or perhaps a more empathetic response to life’s seemingly impossible tasks, as one blogger put it; ‘We’ve all felt a little like this guy in the past...24 hours of constant digging while his hole is filled back in.’ Whether the sensation - of the dead-end job, the treadmill of life, or a person unable to free themselves from circumstance repeating and recreating their scornful reality, the work functions very well as an existential allegory for the human condition under global capitalism. Ascending Descending opens up in a multiplicity of narrative interpretations, literary references and lines of flight, and in doing so creates a space for self-reflexivity. The work involves a remarkable condensation as the lone worker pits himself against the machine. His separation, isolation and singularity holds forth an empty vessel, into which we may enter, project ourselves and fill it with subjectivity. By putting the self in place of the worker, manual labour is a substitution and metaphor for all and any forms of labour in servitude of the machine. This distillation of capitalist relations enabled a large number of observers to come to the same conclusion; that what they were witnessing was labour in its purest form. Not labour abstracted, rather labour in its nudity, stripped of its pretence and illusion, to reveal our individual relationship to labour under the neoliberal economic regime. Ascending Descending is an allegory of labour that demands further analysis. 2 3
http://modeledbehavior.com/2011/10/31/digging-holes-just-to-fill-them-back-up-again/ W. B. Yeats, Last Poems & Plays, Macmillan Press, 1940, 4. – ‘All Things Fall and Are Built Again’ from the poem Lapis Lazuli
Cultural Hijack Ascending Descending was a 48 hour durational performance that appeared on Wednesday 23rd May, 2013 and vanished at midnight on Friday 25th May. The work was part of the project Cultural Hijack, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London. Cultural Hijack was a survey exhibition of recent trends in art interventionism crossingover into cultural activism, accompanied by a live-programme of interventions across the capital and an international conference held at the Royal Institute for British Architects. An active archive [www.culturalhijack.org] was in operation within the exhibition, updated daily to reflect the transition from live-work to documentation. When Ascending Descending ended, a short video of the work entered the exhibition, featured on the website and was circulated via social-media platforms. The encounter and reading of this work falls into two distinct categories that are important to art intervention in the public realm; the direct and embodied experience of the live work, and the documentation of the live event presented in exhibition. The first iteration, an undetermined audience who experience the work live, at first hand, has two categories; those that have come to see the work (with some prior knowledge as to what it is) and those that haven’t, who happen upon the work by chance. We might simply define these differences as the rendezvous, and the unforeseen encounter. The next category is another public who experience the second iteration of the work as documentation of live intervention experienced in the gallery - in the context of a themed group exhibition with thirty other international artists. Lastly, it can viewed (semi-decontextualised) on the likes of Vimeo or Youtube. In the original and live iteration of Ascending Descending the construction site on Bedford Square contained no signage or explanatory text, neither stewards nor external security to explain what was going on. The work was unnamed, anonymous and the only available explanation was in the hole itself. The unmediated nature of this intervention means the artist had no possibility of controlling how and by whom the work would be experienced and interpreted. The desire of the artist and the curators that the work’s identity and intention remain in doubt was to extend the possibilities of encounter and self-interpretation. The second mediated iteration belongs more conventionally to the realm of art-exhibition and the pedagogic institution in the form of an international school of architecture. Nishi’s work also plays out in a further set of social relations with those of Camden Council’s Highways Department and the sub-contractors who carried out the work on/in the hole. The writer takes an equal interest in all of these spheres of encounter and engagement along with their specific contexts, as forms of engagement. And in this project specifically, the audience’s relationship to systems of labour exploitation and domination and the power-relations inherent to cultural production. These are reflected in the following analysis. From concrete to immaterial labour At first, Ascending Descending may appear distant from recent debates on the transformation of everyday life in an information economy. The changing role and subjugation of labour under neoliberal globalisation and the pervasive commodification of everything under capitalism has brought with it the rise of social movements and network resistance linking local experiences with global struggles. The manual labourer in Ascending Descending would seem to typify the traditional division of labour in industry and manufacture whereby such labour practices have changed little with the introduction of technology into the construction trade. And yet, it
is precisely because the work does not contain an overt critique of new forms and changes in labour practices under neoliberal globalisation, that it is able to focus its debate upon economic exploitation, alienation, and the subjugation of the body and mind. Under this lens, Ascending and Descending becomes a political work that, perhaps inadvertently, enters recent debates in art discourse around precarious labour. This is situated in relation to the autonomist theorization of immaterial and affective cultural labour (with a focus on refusal) and political activism (with a focus on resistance.) The transformation from a Fordist to post-Fordist economy, from traditional modes of production within industry and manufacture to a service and knowledge based economy can be read as implicit to Ascending and Descending. Hardt and Negri refer to this migration from industry to service jobs as informatisation in which ‘all production tends toward the production of services, toward becoming informationalised.’4 These services in the postFordist economy are referred to as immaterial labour, defined by Michael Hardt as ‘labour that produces an immaterial good such as service, knowledge, communication,’5 and cultural products. He goes on to suggest that immaterial labour has become the dominant sector of the economy and its dominance over other labour practices cause radical changes in society. For Hardt, each form of labour practice may ‘produce collective subjectivities, produce sociality, and ultimately produce society itself,’ since ‘humanity and its soul are produced in the very processes of economic production.’6 Just as the alienated digger alone in the hole might signify a diminishing proletariat and the impossibility of organized solidarity it also proclaims new forms of resistance to emerge through a reconceptualisation of refusal. The technological efficiency in demand driven manufacturing of a ‘zero-stock’ is mirrored in Nishi’s image of the labourer and conveyor belt. There is no waste in this infinite reproduction loop, if the digger stops nothing enters the hole, and the level remains the same. Like the ouroboros - the serpent that eats its own tail - the symbiosis between production and consumption realises its ultimate perfection. Even Nishi’s hole is a beautiful executed circle, a perfect zero. At the point in which concrete labour (digging a hole) resists commodification and is subverted and transformed towards the service of art it becomes a complex form of immaterial labour. More accurately it corresponds the particular form of immaterial labour referred to as affective labour, concerned with the affects its produces. Affective labour that focuses on the creation and manipulation of affects, producing and modifying feelings, relations and creating emotional experiences is the main staple of the entertainment, advertising and creative industries. The consumption of these affects is a significant factor in identity formation. It also establishes new social practices, forms of community and social networks associated ‘with the communicative action of human relations.’7 Here then we see the transformation of concrete [material] labour into affective [immaterial] labour, producing knowledge, creating emotional and relational experiences and manipulating social affects.
4 5 6 7
Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2001, 285. Michael Hardt, Affective Labor, boundary 2, Duke University Press, 1999, M. Hardt, 1999, 91. M. Hardt & A. Negri, 2001.
A Precarious Existence The role of art practice in debates surrounding immaterial labour has been less the concern over impacts of informatisation and more towards the negative affects of the precarisation of existence. Creative and cultural workers bear the brunt of almost all the defining characteristics of precariousness in a life without security - of any kind demanding continuous flexibility and mobility. Irregular hours, uneven pay, information technologies and mobile devices blurring work-time into leisure time mean that work and insecurity accompany us everywhere. The social and material insecurity of moving from house to house, one temporary job to the next is no longer just the concern of low paid workers in the factory, fast-food chains, cleaners or black-economy workers, it is a reality of the so-called ‘creative class.’ And as Bourdieu points out, even those apparently spared are affected, as the ‘awareness of it never goes away; it is present at every moment in everyone’s mind.’8 This ever-present state of anxiety and insecurity defines our relationship to the capitalist system, never more so in an economy of debt. The lone digger caught in the mechanisms of exploitation and domination in Ascending Descending imagines the debtor-creditor relationship in the subjective figure of Lazzarato’s ‘indebted man.’ With the neoliberal transformation to an indebted population new forms of struggle are imagined and emerge. ‘The figure of the indebted man cuts across the whole of society and calls for new solidarities and new cooperation.’9 Since precarity is not merely a social and economic condition of immaterial labour but the very conditions by which capitalism exacts its domination, theorists have come to reconceptualise precariousness as a political concept.10 As Chantal Mouffe points out, the political consequences of the transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism bring forth the introduction of new practices of resistance, new political struggles and solidarity.11 These debates, acknowledging the cultural and creative industries as an instrumental part of the service and knowledge economy, have, until recently, largely neglected their role in political action and resistance. Critical art and art activist practices have instead taken a more central role in the debate on precarious labour, as Isabell Lorey writes: ‘knowledge of the precarious, and a search for commons (in order to constitute the political), has conspicuously taken place more often in art institutions that in social, political, or even academic contexts.’12 In this picture, as Gill and Pratt put it, artists and cultural labourers have been identified as ‘the poster boys and girls of the new ‘precariat’ – a neologism that brings together the meanings of precariousness and proletariat to signify both an experience and exploitation and a (potential) new political subjectivity.’13 Gill & Pratt go on to explain how precarity politics inherited from autonomists have expanded from analysis of precarious labour conditions to include a range of global struggles including migration, citizenship, LBGT and feminist movements - all of which are exigent themes in contemporary art. Thus, art has been instrumental in linking a discourse of precarisation to social movements, political struggles and new forms of 8
Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1988, 82. Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man, trans. Joshua David Jordan, semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2012, 162. 10 Isabell Lorey, Becoming Common: Precarisation as Political Constituting, e-flux *17 – June-August 2010. 11 Chantal Mouffe, in Jorinde Seijdel, The Art Biennial as a Global Phenomenon, NAi Publishers, SKOR, 2009/No.16, 32-40. 12 Isabell Lorey, 2010, 1. 13 Rosalind Gill, Andy Pratt, in The precarious Labour in the Field of Art, ONCurating 026: Issue 16/13, 26. 9
resistance. In this case, new forms of self-organisation by individuals, collectives, community groups and social movements are attempting to turn the intellect, creativity, communication and diverse skill sets of their affective labour against the system that exploits them. In growing numbers, artists and cultural workers are taking up the mantle of resistant practices, sometimes as mere ‘aestheticization of protest’ and in others, activist tendencies as experimental forms of anti-capitalist struggle that use the affective weapons in a subversion of affective labour. As exemplars of affective labour they are well positioned and well versed in the art of subversion, disobedience, ‘the manipulation of affects’ and garnering of public attention. And yet this turn towards the political in art, as in other forms of institutionalised critique, has its own problems not least in the art world’s recuperation of resistance to itself. Instead, we explore Nishi’s intervention not as a form of critique of social and economic labour under capitalism, but a lucid and poetic image of its very condition: An aesthetic thesis on the concept of work. Reproductive labour As an allegory of labour, Ascending Descending may play out to all manner of political subjectivities. Nishi’s emphasis of the ‘classical’ image of the heroic (male) labourer as a substitute for humanity can be seen as an amusing critique on the gender hierarchies, wage-divisions and power relations that are missing in Hardt & Negri’s ‘gender neutral’ theory of immaterial labour. In Ascending Descending’s strange image of labour producing and reproducing itself, we cannot fail to recognize women’s unpaid reproductive labour, understood as the ultimate labour power in the cycle of reproduction of the workforce (of human beings as labour-power, as future workers). Silvia Federici explains that these important political insights of feminist analysis uncovered new crucial areas of women’s exploitation in a redefinition of work that established the significance of women’s unpaid domestic labour for reproduction of the workforce - as a premise and key source of much capitalist accumulation. And that Marxist and much autonomist theory has brushed aside women’s reproductive labour, shadowing their importance in understanding economic and social organization of capitalist production.14 These insights provoked a rethinking of forms of anti-capitalist struggle that put the reproduction of movements themselves into the labour-power equation. Writes Federici; ‘by recognizing that what we call “reproductive labor” is a terrain of accumulation and therefore a terrain of exploitation, we were able to also see reproduction as a terrain of struggle, and, very important, conceive of an anti-capitalist struggle against reproductive labor that would not destroy ourselves or our communities... “We need to build a movement that puts on its agenda its own reproduction.”’15 And so by ignoring the significance of women’s reproductive labour Virno, Hardt and Negri also miss within it the notion of women’s refusal that ‘erases the subversive potential of the concept of reproductive work.’ As Federici explains, the potential to stop reproducing labour power entered broader areas of work and relations that extended from women to their children. ‘Actually our refusal opened the way of their refusal and the process of their liberation.’16 14
Silvia Federici, Precarious Labour: A Feminist Viewpoint, From: In the Middle of the Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protest, Movement & Movements. Publisher: The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. http://www.variant.org.uk/37_38texts/9PrecLab.html 15 ibid 16 ibid
Stop Making Capitalism In Nishi’s image of a labourer caught in an endless cycle of work which they themselves reproduce, presents limited possibility for emancipation; refusal, exodus or sabotage. The first of these would be a logical continuation of the art and political avant-garde’s successive ‘refusal to work,’ exemplified by Debord’s situationist slogan, NE TRAVAILLEZ JAMAIS.17 However, as Hardt and Negri suggest in Empire, refusal is not to ‘never work,’ but to construct new modes of life in what is a refusal of voluntary servitude. Precarisation then, as both a mode of capitalist exploitation and domination relies upon the voluntary servitude of the consumer. The illusion of the ouroboros in Nishi’s endless digger in which continuous destruction leads to continuous renewal and vice-versa subverts the metaphor of unity in an all out refusal to consume; a refusal to create the conditions to which we are subjugated. Or in the words of John Holloway, not to think of revolution as ‘destroying capitalism, but as ceasing to create capitalism.’18 This remains a challenge for most artists who grapple with the paradox of wanting to critique the destructive forces of capital, its alienating tendencies and the ecological and environmental degradation caused by rampant consumerism, whilst producing the most expensive and rarefied commodities on the planet. Stop making art remains an important proposition, perhaps the first in an effort to Stop making capitalism. In his recent book Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity;19 a critical review of ideas of the university as the new factory and a bastion from which social resistance and political activism are possible, art critic and philosopher Gerald Raunig makes use of an earlier example of a workers strike entering the field of art. In the 1974 exhibition, Art into Society – Society into Art at the ICA, London, artist Gustav Metzger refused to show work and in place of an exhibit wrote only a contribution to the catalogue in which he proclaimed: ‘The refusal to labour is the chief weapon of workers fighting the system; artists can use the same weapon. To bring down the art system it is necessary to call for years without art...’20 Metzger proceeded to carry this out (alone) from 1977 to 1980 in which he made no art, nor had any dealing with the art world. Stop Making Capitalism therefore bates the artist and the art world - as the ultimate commodity producers - to stop making art and therefore to stop selling art. The second possibility for action from Nishi’s aesthetic vision follows the notion of exodus. The version of exodus put forward by Italian political thinker Paolo Virno involves an exodus ‘away from the state and its machinery’ towards alternative social forms and the necessary creation of new public spaces in which they may find purchase. 21 He explains; ‘all the features of human nature that post-Fordism put to work and converted to cash can be reclaimed and reassigned to the production of ‘a new public space’ that makes use of the general intellect and general knowledge,’ and ‘instead of its power producing profit and surplus it becomes a political institution.’22 This notion of creating new modes of life, and alternative public institutions, follows the growing 17 18 19 20 21 22
Guy Debord scrawled the situationist slogan ‘Ne Travaillez Jamais’ on a wall in rue de la Seine, Paris, in 1953 John Holloway, Stop making Capitalism, 2011, http://www.johnholloway.com.mx/2011/07/30/stop-making-capitalism/ Gerald Raunig, Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, (trans. Aileen Derieg), Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2013. Gustav Metzgar, cited by G. Raunig, 2013, 138. Paolo Virno, in Jorinde Seijdel, A Precarious Existence, NAi Publishers, SKOR, 2009/No.17, 72-85. Ibid, 80.
patterns of user-generated-cities defined as bottom up, self built and self-organised with the specific characteristics of collaboration, dialogue, experimentation, creativity and self commitment. This is done not ‘outside’ capitalism but by the reassignment of labour, or redefining the value-systems reproduced by labour within it. The final option for exodus from the labour machine in Nishi’s Ascending Descending could be of course be sabotage, breaking the machine and putting an end to its rule. In the theories around various forms of counter-hegemonic intervention, social movements and new political subjectivities associated with the terms that opened this analysis, all are in agreement that breaking capitalism or attempting to take power is no longer a viable option. This is not a negation of sabotage, but a question of where acts of civil disobedience and sabotage locate themselves within a broader global struggle in the search for new forms of governance and new kinds of social relations. Insecurity inducing strategies Under the analysis of immaterial labour generally, and precarious labour more specifically within the creative and cultural industries, the enduring image of Ascending Descending is one of total immersion and the struggle for emancipation. Nishi’s ‘labour as spectacle’ or ‘spectacle of labour’ reminds us that the systemic advance of the society of the spectacle, since it was first theorised by Guy Debord over fifty years ago, has found no limits. In Baudrillard’s post-mortem of Debord’s spectacular society he concludes that reality and image are no longer inverted or interchangeable but are one and the same. ‘We’re threatened not by separation or alienation, but by total immersion.’23 This interchangeability and non-differentiation, collapsing distinct spheres of everyday life into a total immersion extends from work into leisure, private into public, social into economic, political into cultural and so on. The blurring of the operational and existential aspects of human life, and the inability to distinguish between spectator and spectacle, consumer and producer, between acting and being acted upon is what allows capitalism to turn every aspect of human nature to the logic of the market. Writes Lieven De Cauter; ‘Work becomes directly social and begins to blur the lines between economy, politics and culture. However this blurring does not represent a chance of ending, subverting or even changing the rule of capitalism. On the contrary, it is in a sense the most advanced stage of exploitation, expropriation and hegemony.’24 The labour force inside the information economy to which this statement is aimed is manipulated by what Bourdieu terms insecurity inducing strategies, in which precarization becomes a form of capitalist control and exploitation.25 As Mouffe asserts, if people are not as passive as before it is because they have now become active actors of their own precarization.26 Ascending Descending describes this perfectly in its creation of a precise vision of our role in the maintenance of this socio-economic order. Under the illusion of consumer logic, capitalism’s subjugating powers and society’s subservience result in the self-production of our own instability and anxiety. Rather than see Ascending Descending as simply a playful reflection on our human condition under neoliberal globalisation, it should be acknowledged as a surreptitious act of resistance in the following terms: Instead of Ascending Descending being complicit in the 23
24 25 26
Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Conversations with François L’Yvonnet (trans. Chris Turner), London: Routledge, 2004, p.19. Lieven De Cauter, in De Cauter, De Roo, Vanhaesebrouck, Art and Activism in the Age of Globalisation, Nai Publishers, Rotterdam, 2011, 14. Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1988, p82 C. Mouffe, 2009, 32-40.
total commoditization of social /cultural relations Nishi’s intervention turns this commoditization on its head. The labourers in what was ‘just another’ highways contract were assigned and employed to dig the hole by the Council. It is only the product of their labour that is subverted by the artist, from the official economy of commodity relations to a form a ‘gift economy.’ In this scenario the labourers play themselves but their labour has now become the form and medium of art, creating new social relations. Not unsurprisingly the widespread acknowledgement of the economic value of the creative industries means the Council except, even celebrate this alternative use of civic resources. At the same time the labourer is content to be paid for digging precisely nothing, a realfalse hole: everyone - fully remunerated -is happy to fake it to make it real. This kind of economic detournement redirects its labour-power towards a gift economy in the form of a misdirection where something appearing to follow its normal trajectory wanders slightly offpiste in search of another path. Whilst refusal, exodus and sabotage are necessary in the creation of as many alternative worlds and new forms as is possible; the misdirection here is a clever subversion of the time of capitalist labour reassigned to an affective labour of resistance. This can be read as significant step towards a refusal of voluntary servitude. In the end, however, Nishi’s motivation in conceptualizing the work is indeed more interesting than the screeds of explanation put forward here. The artist actually has ‘nothing to say’ about the work, his position is a refusal of interpretation that hands over to a non-determined audience. On a street corner the feeling of absurdity strikes the passer-by unawares; a nobody labourer who is everybody employs their futile and hopeless labour in servitude of the machine. ‘But one day’ (perhaps this day), writes Camus, ‘the ‘why’ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement... Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain, or it is the definitive awakening.’27 We leave the labourer at rest in the hole, leaning against his spade, catching his breath just as Camus leaves the story of Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. ‘One always finds ones burden again.’ And so too we must leave the passer-by gazing at the hole with the possibility of awakening.
See www.tatzunishi.net and www.alandunn67.co.uk/stimulusaudio.html
A. Camus, 2005, 119.
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