Fig-2: the last stamp

Around the art-world in fifty weeks

bensleyHarry Bensley was an English rake and adventurer who in 1908 set out to circumnavigate the world on foot pushing a pram and wearing an iron mask.

A surreal successor to Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg, it’s said that he did it because he lost his whole fortune in a card game and accepted the extravagant wager of £21,000 as a forfeit, along with fifteen bizarre conditions including having to find a wife in spite of being married already.

These indecorous but hilarious terms suggest he did it not entirely for the money: the whole venture smacks of the most gamesome English eccentricity.

Nobody goes around the world in a metal mask like Harry Bensley, or in eighty days like Phileas Fogg, for anything so un-Romantic as a wager. An adventure must have drama, ambition, grandiosity, all for their own sake. There has to be a grand challenge to stir the senses. There has to be the strong likelihood of a spectacular and embarrassing failure.

I am pleased to announce that I am on the brink of a glorious, glittering, sensational failure!

cropped-photo-10.jpgFifty weeks ago on the 8th of January, one boring winter Thursday I messaged a friend saying I was going to swing by the ICA to check out this new project called Fig-2 that was going to put on a new art exhibition every week for fifty weeks:

“50 weeks. I’m going to *try* to go every week. I may even notate my thorts.”

The blog started off innocently, even hesitantly, with short-ish quite technical pieces in which I teased out the meanings of each week’s exhibition.

Contemporary art often presents you with a box of parts and no assembly manual. Whether you build a car or a sex sling says as much about you as it does about the work itself.

The blog rapidly got out of hand as my historical and theoretical sweep broadened, with the intellectual breadth of the exhibitions requiring hours of extra study in esoteric fields from anthropology to crypto-zoology.

fig2It took over my life, but I fell behind writing a long short story about an infinite library, though this made later writing a 600-line modernist poem about going blind seem easy. The pieces aren’t reviews, aren’t criticism. It’s experimental writing but it’s also documentary.

I’ve covered thirty-eight weeks (three ably helmed by Alix Mortimer) and four ancillary seminars, and today it’s Tuesday in the last week of Fig-2.  I have twelve write-ups to finish by Sunday. This is of course impossible. It was impossible from the start. Fig-2 is an intellectual banquet, and writing about each week takes weeks of research, thought and experiment.

fig2-finaltwelveI’m working on these last pieces all at the same time as if they were one monstrous dissertation, the last chapter in a terrible anti-thesis on Fig-2, the universe and everything. It’s taking up all my time, and I’m not even getting anywhere. People keep asking me if I’m going to things at the London Contemporary Music Festival but I just can’t.

I’ve got the usual chronic FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but recently this has turned into a sanity-preserving energy-retaining JOMO — Joy Of Missing Overtiredness. JOMO is gonna be the big thing of 2016.

willy2At the end of every version of Verne’s Eighty Days there is a now ubiquitous cinematic trope. The heroes think they’ve won, everything seems brilliant, but then, no! It’s all gone wrong! There’s nothing that can be done, nothing. At least they tried. Everyone starts to disperse, but then, what’s this, wait! From the jaws of defeat is snatched the, I dunno, the salmon of victory. Joy, elation, and a happy ending for some reason.

It’s by no means certain whether this salmon will be forthcoming.

What is certain is that I have visited all fifty weeks. This blog is named after the Fig-2 loyalty card, which is a sheet of paper (pictured below) bearing the promise “Visit all 50 projects and endorse this loyalty card by each week’s unique artist’s stamp. Upon completion, you will be granted a copy of the fig-2 publication.”

There’s a small bunch of us with all fifty of these stamps, winners of the Fig-2 wager, each due one of these documentary books that will commemorate the year.

Set-of-50-stampsThe publication is currently being crowdfunded (check it out!) with rewards including personalised postcards, posters, VIP drinks, prints, tea with Bruce McLean, and the apotheotic grand prize of a box containing all fifty of the actual loyalty card stamps (pictured). The crowdfunder is unlikely to achieve great failure. The team already pulled off the fifty weeks with only mild onset chronic alcoholism and then only toward the end, and I imagine the book will fly (if books could fly).

The £995 box of stamps is obviously beyond my means but I have never wanted it so much as now, now that I’ve found out that someone else has actually gone ahead and bought it.

Perhaps we could discuss some kind of deal, maybe some arrangement by way of a wager…

FIFTY

 

With special thanks to Fatoş Üstek, Jessica Temple, Irene Altaió, Yves Blais, Alix Mortimer, Huston Gilmore, Adam and the other loyalty card heroes.

 

 

Fig-2 at Bicester Village – 29 October 2015

One cold October day a bunch of journalists and I and the whole of Gaggle were shipped off to the Baudrillardian Bicester Village where ’tis forever Christmas . . . 

12189644_10156188631880181_6023941664043227912_nFig-2 is a great project taking place at the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA). For fifty weeks in 2015 an artist is selected each week to create a new exhibition that is only in place for seven days. It’s a curatorial ultramarathon that has seen the ICA studio transformed into a dizzying range of different uses and appearances from a paint-splattered art studio to a gleaming white cube.

12187835_10156188631540181_5435690224447651839_nOne of Fig-2’s sponsors is Bicester Village, and part of the deal was that four ‘Fig-2 artists’ would be asked to respond to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire and produce site-specific work there. From the forty-some Fig-2 artists so far the four commissions were a performance on October 29 by Deborah Coughlin and Gaggle (from Week 9 of Fig-2), a film by Annika Ström (Week 10), an immersive animation by Shezad Dawood (Week 13) and a sound and light installation by Vesna Petresin (forthcoming Week 46).

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Bicester Village, Oxford

Bicester Village is a kind of open air shopping mall in the visual style of a village in a Christmas movie. When we arrived it was even snowing! (Courtesy of a snow machine). Regular villages have post-offices and pubs, or used to, but Bicester sells luxury goods, mainly designer clothes. Each of the major fashion brands has a house in the village but you can’t get a drink anywhere. It’s busy too. Aspirant Brits and affluent tourists flood in via the purposely built station, getting their Christmas shopping done early. They’re served by staff dressed like bellhops to mimic the American retail experience’s visual class distinctions. At 4pm the bellhops entertain the village in a dance performance.

120322WearingDance_5968452Dancing and shopping have been paired before in art. In Gillian Wearing’s classic video “Dancing in Peckham” the Turner Prize winner dances uninhibitedly by herself without music in a London shopping precinct. It’s hilarious, but very few of the shoppers walking past even turn their head to look. Noone points and laughs.  Everyone is very British about it and ignores her. Presumably they think she is a crazy lady. There is a disparity between the unabashedness of the dancing and the refusal of the shoppers to step away from their purposive walking and shopping. The video is from 1994 so perhaps today everyone would be filming her with their smartphones, as they were the bellhops at Bicester.

02212012_EDU_1998.1.709_LargeFashion and shopping have been a source of fascination for artists, as you can see at the current blockbuster show ‘The World Goes Pop’ at Tate Modern where pop artists like Andy Warhol both celebrate and satirize modern consumerism and its obsession with the latest thing. Art itself is subject to the vicissitudes of fashion and the reputations of artists often rise or fall in parallel with the prices their works command at the auction house.

Sylvain_Deleu_Fig-2_10.50_-14Annika Ström’s work explores encounters between people. Just as Gillian Wearing’s video worked by dropping her into a public space, Annika Strom likes to set actors out into public spaces to interact with people. For Week 10 of Fig-2 she directed six actors to act in a lovely manner toward everyone they came into contact with. Her friendly film ‘Changing Rooms’ depicts two women who only meet at Bicester Village. Their friendship is in a sense based on the act of shopping, which you might see as a devaluation of their friendship or as an ennoblement of shopping!

12195975_10156188631710181_5276000071257545234_nShezad Dawood created an animation that you view through eyeholes in a colourful shed-like circular structure in the centre of the Village. It depicts digitally generated characters from the animation he made during Week 13 of Fig-2 and in watching it the viewer enters a kind of virtual reality. Is shopping also a virtual reality?

CSe__jLWwAA_HedWe are looking forward to Vesna Petresin’s week at Fig-2 (from 16-22 November). Her sound and light installation at Bicester is playful and challenging. You enter a white phone box and are immersed in pink light with flashing lights running up and down like Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator, soundtracked by a female voice sexily whispering. It was too much for a couple I saw who emerged after barely seconds slightly perplexed. Art can take you to another (virtual) world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like that world.

CSgt-IxWEAAdJAvDeborah Coughlin’s work with her all-female choir GAGGLE is also challenging, with an explicit feminist purpose of female empowerment. In Week 9 of Fig-2 they performed in between readings of classic speeches by great women including Virginia Woolf. In Bicester each member of the choir carried a rock made out of paper and wire and sang ringing harmonies to her source of burden, “I wish my rock.. were you!” The choir carried their rocks through the crowds along the whole length of Bicester Village.

10178099_10156188632215181_2974744521471714333_nWe fell about when we saw a dad successfully goading his children. “Those women must be so strong!” he said, provoking their incredulous reply “It’s fake rocks, Dad!

Fig-2 continues until December at the Institute for Contemporary Arts.

AJ Dehany is blogging about every single week of Fig-2 at fig2loyaltycard.wordpress.com.

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I was bad & I bought a suit..

Week 22 – Marjolijn Dijkman – June 1-7 (by Alix Mortimer)

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A three century old ritual is reimagined by artist Marjolijn Dijkman in the form of a week long presentation of ideas and discussions called ‘LUNÄ Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios’.”

There is a moment in most pub conversations when I test the water. The talk has been flowing for perhaps thirty-five minutes, second pints have been purchased and a couple of proper belly laughs successfully banked. We are all looking each other in the eye. This is officially a successful evening. The stage is set. Pubs are becomingly like stage sets these days – all moody dark walls and 70s oxblood leather Chesterfields. The topic might be lucid dreaming, Neolithic henges, Prime Minister’s Questions or someone’s psychometric test results. Anything reasonably educated, informed people might be commenting on in a pub. Then after three serious comments, two counter-arguments and a leavening joke, there’s a pause. This is the moment the conversation could go either way. There’s a sort of dodge and feint in what follows, because this is when the people round the table establish the level. Are these just a few more pub topics to be sandwiched in between lighter material, funny stories or news of mutual acquaintances? Or are we having this conversation for real.

1280px-Sohohouse1In the eighteenth century, the Lunar Society, a dining club of industrialists, scientists, reformers, thinkers, talkers and futurologists, presumably suffered from no such preliminary constraints. Time is short enough for busy people to really talk to each other about the past and the future, so a meeting held once a month – on the Monday nearest the full moon – between (mostly though not exclusively) men such as Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgewood, presumably did not spare time on introductions, because they all loosely knew each other and all probably took themselves unashamedly seriously.

NL_Project_LUNATalks_2But week 22 of fig 2 brought together 10 collections of people, of whom 2 to 4 at a time would be speakers and the rest observers and contributors, most of whom had probably not met before, so introductory speeches, for want of a better word, were necessary.

CGqYg-qW0AAJvlgThis week’s artist, Marjolijn Dijkman, was inspired by the Lunar Society to create a clean-lined modern version of the table round which the original protagonists met. Among her interests seem to be science fiction, representations of the future, and deep time. But her involvement really ended there apart from some commendably relaxed chairing of the meetings – what she has created, in the re-imagined lunar table, is a conversation piece, in the sense of something that fosters conversation rather than something which draws its attention.

I attended two of these talks but I was more interested in and lastingly affected by the one in which I didn’t say anything (I didn’t realise until later that anyone could chip in) so make of that what you will.

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768

Changing prospects, Sat 6 June, 2pm-6pm

“Saturday’s session will concentrate on the notion of change in relation to the locus of collective imagination of the future. We will explore different approaches, which are utilised to motivate and trigger seismic shifts relating to the world around us.”

51oEjGD+juL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s just as well I have that paragraph because while I was entranced by the whole thing I came away without the foggiest idea of what it all amounted to and I’d be surprised if any of the speakers did. Mark Fisher was having a good rant about capitalism, elite corruption and the utter cultural wasteland generated by the rich, all good stuff (the rich are boring and this is a profoundly important truth – go and look at the redevelopment around Tottenham Court Road if you don’t believe me) after which he segued somewhat less nobly into how put upon he is as an academic by all those terrible higher education administrators (of which I am one so, oh please, just answer my emails) and how culture is struggling to do its job as a means of drawing attention to things that are wrong because we no longer have time or capacity to enjoy shared attention (a profoundly important point). Someone else is touchingly obsessed with the moon and had many interesting reflections on the history of our collective obsession with it and I’m only sorry the John Lewis Christmas advert wasn’t out at the time. Ken Hollings is touchingly obsessed with sci-fi manga, Philip K Dick, Godzilla and human perceptions of robotic intelligence, and also provided the much needed reassuring humour that presumably someone provided in the original Lunar Society to stop everything going completely off the rails. There was a really interesting and grounded set of verbal notes from, I think, Caroline Edwards, which speaks to the impact of science fiction on our ways of thinking and perceiving at quite a neuro-mechanical level – she mentioned how preparing for the science fiction course she teaches to students causes her to have much more interesting dreams than normal, as if her brain is being exercised in some way.

It was all great fun, I just don’t think all that much of people’s special subjects necessarily got into the end product, if that is what four hours of conversation can be called. If things coalesced around any particular speaker it was Fisher, which is odd because he was the one person there without a specialism of some kind in science fiction which is one of the key themes all the talks of the week were supposed to turn on. So the three observations that follow are really just me picking out bits I liked, for lack of a better discriminating mechanism.

2012_Summer_Olympics_Parade_of_Nations

One of the topics on which everyone’s specialisms briefly threatened to gel was the subject of shared attention. There was a lengthy and enthusiastic exchange about big cultural events, and it was proposed that big shifts in reality such as those that followed things like the release of a Beatles record just don’t occur any more. Our attention is split too many ways. Fisher proposed that the Beatles and Dylan were a form of consciousness raising that did in fact lead to change, or at least the possibility of change. The cultural history of the 60s remains a testament to the power of shared time spent together, and the self-actualisation and wider consciousness that ensue. The group discussed possible current outlets for shared attention, and in the context of music these were felt to be “underground” music of one sort or another at one extreme, and X Factor at the other, and neither really performs the same “cultural event” role entirely. I’m still unsure about this. I think we’re perilously close here to arguing that people were somehow purer, more aware individuals in the “old days”, and cleaved to these great cultural icons and events because they chose to experience shared attention, rather than because the television set just didn’t get any more channels. And it’s not as if there wasn’t underground music when the Beatles were around which absolutely defined the 60s experiences of an awful lot of people living in Britain at the time who one way or another were excluded from a lot of the conventional 60s shared experience. But even if we do concede that cultural events no longer focus shared attention on that scale, I don’t think that necessarily implies that massive cultural shifts do not and cannot occur. It just makes them harder to spot. And so more difficult to work into arty, well-informed think pieces about the history of popular music.

The shared attention conversation led on into something else, which exemplifies one of the problems with being a futurologist; sometimes you just sound like a Grumpy Old Man (whatever your gender), and sometimes that is precisely what you are (ditto). I have had this experience listening to David Graeber and Brian Eno in conversation and it is disappointing.

isolation

Yes, inevitably people started talking about social media. And hence the atomised life of cities and segregation and alienation and of course someone ended up mentioning how you go into a café and everyone is plugged into their headphones working on laptops in a way that undermined genuine sociability with the “illusion” of human connection, yada yada yada.

CGfgi8nU8AE2BtBMy science fiction reading may be pitiful but I studied archaeology so I do know something about sociability and cities which is how I know all this is faux-nostalgic wibble. The “illusion” of sociability inherent in sitting alone in a café is only an illusion insofar as any socialising is perforce an illusion (it rests on effective theory of mind, after all, and what is that if not the ability to conjure and sustain an illusion about the other person’s viewpoint.) Socialising is socialising. There are certainly people I exclusively interact with face-to-face where genuine exchanges of understanding are pretty bloody illusory. Furthermore, it makes no sense to regard cities as a sort of alien imposition driving the poor little humans apart. We made the bloody things. That’s not to say they don’t have emergent properties, but their emergent properties are unlikely to be on average more uniquely damaging and disturbing than any other complex form of social organisation we have evolved, such as companies, nation states, nuclear families and orchestras. The cities-are-bad-for-us schtick comes from a naïve and pessimistic view of human evolutionary capability, in the face of several dozen thousands of years of the most astounding counter-evidence you could find. You might as well say we’re profoundly damaging our wellbeing because we’re not “evolved” to drive cars. It’s the same kind of just-so logic which causes people to advocate certain diets with extremely precise rules about crops that half the world successfully survives on (and not the fatter half at that) because of what we “naturally” evolved to eat as “hunter-gatherers” (when? where?).

hqdefaultThat’s not to say there are not trite truths in play here – we are probably less fit than we would be without cars, and we probably shouldn’t have normalised the consumption of small sugar-drenched pieces of cardboard as a healthy morning choice. But these unfortunate tendencies, along with the real or perceived ill effects of social media, the dislocation that can send people in large communities spiralling down the cracks etc, are just the unremarkable bad cards we have drawn in this particular gameplay of modern civilisation. The fact that people work on laptops in cafes and have headphones is not a sign that things have gone Horribly Wrong and there isn’t a clear and obvious utopian alternative in which Everyone Is Friends.

So you can lay off cities. Cities appear to be this monolithic parasitical bad thing because we are not good at thinking about complexity, randomness and large numbers of people. But that does not mean that cities aren’t human. They’re incredibly human and therein lies the big reveal. The reason I know that cities are not the chosen mechanism of cackling omniscient capitalist oppressors to engineer our segregation and isolation is because the capitalist elite oppressors are just as shit at thinking about this stuff as the rest of us. Possibly worse.

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Point three was really a collection of ideas about social organisation and social norms, and how people cling to them or resist them, culminating in an interesting insight into said capitalist elite oppressors. A discussion about robot intelligence threw up a neat point about practice (in the sociological sense) and what it signifies, as follows. One solution to the problem of an ageing population is to use robots as carers for the elderly. People tend to have an icky response to this – on some instinctive level it doesn’t feel right to us to have a machine that does not care doing these sorts of tasks for human beings. Yet the real live humans who do these jobs also ape the motions of caring at times, perhaps most of the time. They do things as if they love and care for the people in their charge, but this is not really true. They may well be naturally caring people, they may be absolutely fulfilled in working in a caring profession, they may form strong bonds at work like a lot of people do. But they are not actually required to love their charges like a family member. If we accept this happily, we have to accept that it is the practice of caring that really matters to us, not the feelings it derives from. In which case, the company concluded, why shouldn’t a robot carry out the practice.

7f84c85474c8b2a61de9d99db433f171Fisher’s students apparently have a similarly ick response to his attempts to deconstruct the family as a “natural” and inevitably correct phenomenon, despite the fact as he pointed out that this is a relatively disadvantaged group of young people. Their demographic does not enjoy a particularly good experience of family, yet they are loth to see the concept reduced. I think this is probably a perfectly natural heuristic bias of some kind – if you experience a version of something (an event, a social construct, a job, anything) which is self-evidently non-optimal, it is easy to believe that an optimal version (a) exists at all and (b) would vastly improve your life. You haven’t experienced the reality of having a pretty-good family upbringing and yet still encountering mental health problems, or disadvantage in the workplace, or whatever it might be. So you remain able to enshrine the family as a panacea for all these sorts of things. The other interesting point is that another group who fetishize the family are of course the traditional boarding-school educated elite, and I think it is this similarity that some Tories have in mind when they claim to really understand The People in a way lefties or liberals cannot. Of course, the proximate explanation for the similarity is that the elite too, perhaps, are less likely than the rest of us to have experienced the modern idea of a healthy, functional family unit.

And that was our Saturday afternoon.

mini-150x150Of course, the thing about the original Lunar Society is that it was a meeting of elite people – in the power and money sense. Whatever it was they talked about, they presumably had the capacity to translate the outcomes into real world action, and this action would be played out in science, industry, technology and social reform at near-parliamentary level. In other words, in some pretty momentous fields which would substantially affect the lives of large numbers of people (in this context, I note that one of the homage societies is a collection of entrepreneurs and software developers in Australia, who are probably one of the nearer things to a modern equivalent). A lot of the people speaking at the Luna talks at fig 2 were intellectually or artistically exciting but I would guess few have the capacity to make immediate impacts like that. This was after all a “re-imagining” of a “ritual”, a word that implies practice but also implies relic, tradition for its own sake, an act carried out without engagement. The whole thing does speak slightly to the limitations of this style of head-on verbal critique as a mechanism for identifying problems with society. We all know that ranting in a pub or on a blog, unless you are an influential person, or talking to them, doesn’t actually change anything very fast. This is why a lot of people look for engines of cultural change in, haha, more traditional avant-garde art.

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Alix Mortimer posts at https://fabulousblueporcupine.wordpress.com/ and has written here for Week 7 and Week 20.

Week 24 – Ben Judd – June 15-21 – “Apart, we are together”

A story in verse inspired by Week 24 of fig-2. As the days pass he is losing his sight, going blind, alone. At night in his dreams she and he are together but when he wakes he can’t remember her. As the days and nights pass they grow together, apart. I hope that you will find it beautiful. Original artwork “Sleepwalker” by Tess Cunningham.

Apart, we are together

“Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene,
I’ll see you in my dreams…”

First day (Monday, January) – The hospital
First night (Monday-Tuesday, February) – The ballroom and the masque

Second day (Tuesday, March) – The funeral
Second night (Tuesday-Wednesday, April) – The mountains and the sea and the sky

Third day (Wednesday, May) – The city
Third night (Wednesday-Thursday, June) – The magic lantern cinema

Fourth day (Thursday, July) – Summers
Fourth night (Thursday-Friday, August) – Dream within dream

Fifth day (Friday, September) – Pain
Fifth night (Friday-Saturday, October) – The marriage in the moonlight

Sixth day (Saturday, November) – Home
Sixth night (Sunday, December) –  Dream without dream

Sleepwalker (Tess Cunningham)

First day (Monday, January) – The hospital

I’m going blind.
Like my father and his
I’m going to go blind.

In the bright morning
with birdsong
I was happy as an egg;

then the auld tune,
      I’ll see you in my dreams

Just the TV, mute flickering
in the corner of the kitchen;
lonely night in spring —
tapes of old shipping forecasts,
     occasional rain.

I’m scared that when I lose my sight
I’ll lose my memories too —
it’s irrational — or I’ll have nothing
but memory to live in, a haunted
house full of ghosts
    and noone living to remember.

Then the screen
    goes white —                   

                — you are dreaming

First night (Monday-Tuesday, February) – The ballroom and the masque

you are dreaming – in the dream we are lovers.
we have always been lovers.

we waltz in the blue ballroom, a masque dance
of faces without faces and figures
without form.
the chandelier is made of rain,
sparrows and ravens.
when the music stops
we lose each other and you don’t remember me —

remember these words

“apart, we are together”

then you would remember everything
    and the day would be night
        and the night would be day

the masks lift from our eyes
and rise as black birds into the sky —
the eyes of a black bird,
a blue dog yelps, chases in a tight circle
the flailing thing,
chase and flail, the jaws champ,
growl and banter, bark, tramp
and jump, jump and bite.

remember me

i will carry you
the waters will bear you
 to sleep

if you could only remember the words
when you wake up from the dream

“apart, we are together”

our faces were unknown. we met, but not —

dreaming a sky
       a raven
               at nightfall

in the first night of the dream
you will dream of me,
but we will never meet:
each morning you will wake;
i will have gone from you
and you from me.

apart, we are together —
the lightning blast and the world off its blood axis. begging,
hungry for a dream. together
in the dream we are apart,
apart, we are together.

remember these words

Second day (Tuesday, March) – The funeral

“Lilies, the flowers
of sorrow,” she said, long ago.
And today, lilies.

My father and grandfather
died blind, and both for a time
lived blind.

Grandad was a poacher turned gamekeeper,
literally. He used to hunt on Croydon Common
and make ‘rook pie’.

                                       “No-one makes rook pie,
do they any more?” said my grandmother.
I’ve never heard of rook pie before or since.

My father’s funeral.
The night before they slapped his body
down to dust:

    radio static
    crackling; my mother singing
    to herself nearby.

Two black horses
leading the hearse
to the house of the dead.

My poor father and his emerald knife
scratching and squinting his eyes away
chipping away into the night for pennies.
Sometimes the money wouldn’t come,
he wasn’t the sort to question things;
gleaming white plates, a bit of gravy,
roast and duck fat,
the slave and the bones in chains.

Il pape, not the pope, it’s what we used to call him –
Ill pappay – the fathering flower of a Tuscan vine.
At least it wasn’t Il Duce, Dad – the dome of your head,
richly tanned, it looked more boiled, a kipper
pumped with hot Neapolitan air and microwaved.

He squinted away his eyes,
those bulging applejohns on summer stalks –
winter hospital glass, the breath condensing,
I traced his face with my pinkie —
one of my first memories and the whiteness
of the wild as the snow fell at the end
of a cold decade. They buried the debts and lots,
filled every bed, holes in the light,
blank spots, blank stoppages,
every patch and face
blurring and peeling into smoke. The drake’s lantern:
cold sympathy served as warmed through
remains of a wastrel day –
a terminus, bus-light, trapped agents.

The clock stopped at 12.09,
the moment at which, it is said, he died.

Maybe the two men are actually ghosts in the graveyard.
The gravestone looks white
when you break it open,
like coconut ice.

What I haven’t said that I wanted to say — Dad
wanted to say, said he should have written a book,
but where was the book under the pram wheels,
the paycheque and rent demands,
so where was the book – he lived as he lived  
and he died, blind –

he gave away his time
and in time he gave away
his health – his body
falling apart as his mind
crumbled – the body follows —

When I’m old, before I die
The colour will flood back into my eyes
and the skies will fill up with tears
raining back as colours
to brighten my death.

Second night (Tuesday-Wednesday, April) – The mountains and the sea and the sky

in the second dream, the second night,
when you can’t see a metre in front of you
you make up stories about things you can’t see

the rock shook
and the mouse swallowed the mountain.
the mountain gives birth to a mouse:
an unseen promise – promise of a promise:
it’s not the silence of your blindness

river of ghosts
    water lanterns
              printed on the wind

i was looking for you
before i found you
in my dream. you were my dream
then one day i woke
and you were still there
lying beside me.

i kissed you, lightly,
so as not to wake you.

Third day (Wednesday, May) – The city

I remember this one.

She served me a shot glass of carrot soup and I pretended it was delicious.
We went into a salty backroom and did monkey impressions together
and I licked the sweat off the back of her shoulders.

Spermbank alley
a wishbone noose
         & red flashes
“this machine charges”

Sleep without dreams
night without stars
darling come back to me

I walked home in the rain
past what’s her name
and why did I never ask,
she’s there in a blanket
with a tin cup for money,
smoking a roll-up.

She ‘says’ with her hands
like hailing a cab to nowhere,
“No man is a traffic island.”
Her laugh
                     like a magnet
                                                 to a magnet.

The city’s cancer – this,
in the light of lost things
the list of never agains,
never anothers,
I get a cab to the edge of the city
and ride in obnoxious frippery
one last time.

In the morning,
     a wineglass full of rainwater.

The list of things I’ll miss seeing
when I can’t see:

              dropped where a conker
cleaves beneath my boot, an old
           yellow tennis ball.

I’ve kicked at the pricks
with their selfie sticks,
the white peal of a rock drill
burrowing into the hard ground
at Hoxton tea-lights,
that bloody squealing,
the screeching opera harpy, heavy machinery
creeching, mechanical lurch
of an Anglican brooch,
a junk gaberdine,
so much, the links’ punch
in the morning, the dread thump,
clump and me, grinch, and then

a tin
     can
         clatters
                 down
                      the steps
                                      it
                                          hits the tracks
                                                            & becomes a train

Third night (Wednesday-Thursday, June) – The magic lantern cinema

i want to tell you, if I could tell you,
all that you forget when you wake, all
your body remembers, the night’s
enchantment and the day’s rough course.

my love is death to you
my love for you is death
it will choke and smother you
wrap you and leach
the air from your lungs
the love from your heart
the sight from your eyes
and I will hold you as a dead doll
and you will be mine

i watch you while you sleep;
i know every curve of your body,
the childish perfection
of your skin,
the crown of your soft
angry eyebrows and your
hollowed eyes.
i know every mole
and turn of muscle
but you remain mysterious.

my love is you
my love is death
my love is you, death
my love is death

Fourth day (Thursday, July) – Summers

It was summer and her hair was spring
buds and hollyhocks
and yellow straw.
We loved in the lengthless day
and held each other in the evening,
red light for cherry lips
and sticky finger tips,
blood heat and beautiful
pumpkinseed and snowdrop.
She fell in the summer
and the apples in the orchard
withered overnight and all
fell rotten among the rows
in which we’d run.
She fell and the sun
never rose again.

                                  You are dreaming.

Vision of something I’ll never see again.
List the things I’ll never see,

  a chill in the air —
  the imprint of a body
  in the empty bed.

In the light of lost things,
the list of never agains
and never anothers:

      the rain,
the baby boy held in the lad’s arms
and the leaves’ rich green.

The bugsplat on the windshield:
“Why don’t you bloody clean it” she said.
“Clean what.”
“It’s filthy!”
“Looks all right to me,” I said.
It looked all right to me.

The sun is only setting
but it feels like 4am.

The list of things I’ll miss seeing
when I can’t see:

                   the puddle i jump into
                        & the splash it makes
                             twenty years before.

How perfect to live
at this moment – at dusk,
with the light fading.

I’m trying to make myself sad –
to make myself the saddest I can be, the saddest anyone
has ever been. So sad that finally
when I rise panting from the plunge,
starved for breath and gasping, when the sadness breaks
all over me and splashes back into itself in blue,
I’ll be less sad, even happy.
Sad happy or happy sad. I will stare into my life
and make myself the saddest I can ever be,
because finally
when I am the saddest anyone has ever been
I will be happy.

It isn’t black, blindness —
I don’t see black
but live a miasma of colour,
yellow, blue, green. I see
not red, not black. It’s like
swimming in a dream.

Fourth night (Thursday-Friday, August) – Dream within dream

i dreamed you were dying, i
dreamed you’d died
alone, at night, without me
and i was a ghost beside you,
absent and there, and you
cried out but i wasn’t there.

then i dreamed you were dying
in a bed below me
and my love couldn’t save you.

i did nothing, didn’t help, watched, held
your skin as the sickness emptied itself out,
the violence of the choked air rocked by screaming,
the shaking apart of the soul in anguish,
molt of angelwing, flake and fleck of bile, blood —
i did nothing.

you held me then in the morning
but I couldn’t tell you.

and dreams are real.

i dreamed in the dream you’d died.
you were blind and passed at night
from the unseeing to unseen shades —

blindness is a truer kind of vision.

as we pass into the unseen,

the sleepwalker
at the edge of the cliff
 leaps out of the dream.

Fifth day (Friday, September) – Pain

Dream of falling
blossoms — I wake
clutching a flower;

it reminds me of something i can’t remember
but know I’ve forgotten.
If I could not touch it
it would come back to me.

Outside in that weird light,
the last whistle of the guard —
the season’s snapped and it seems later than it is.
Everyone’s knocked off early.

They turned off the lights,
those fifties brights on brutalism,
halls, halls and halls and halls. Maybe I have dementia.
I bruised my knee. Crack, it caught on the corner –
more bloody painful than the old, you-know,
sight thing.

The slowness of the end,
how the spine seems like a cross
                      on which to hang flesh.

“I will drop you like an egg,” she said.
“You did,” I said.

Just the TV, mute flickering
in the corner of the kitchen;
the sun is only setting
but it feels like 4am.

Pain. That pain.
Pain of loss, pain of losing.
Pain of this, pain of choosing you,
Pain of drawing the moon down and burning up its flame to this
charred remnant, char
and smoking petrichor.

Pain of these eyes, these fading eyes,
the world dissolving into grey
and blue lights, a flood and cloud
of shimmering snailtracks and spiderdances.

The photograph is blurring, like film caught in the projector tearing into flame, black and yellow – the image of you in my mind is burning away, resolving into flames, into ashes, into night and nothing.

Pain of these joints, robot bolts
rusted with brown scars and tight spasms,
bend and warp.
Pain of you – I never meant for this.

Pain of the sunset when the paint has peeled off,
Pain of the dream that flies at morning —
I open my eyes
in the remnant of their light
and stare back at myself,
blank, finished, forgotten.
I am hollow. What remains
of a man when what makes him
has collapsed – a shrunken thing,
a beast, a ghost, sightless and sorry.

What is there left to want?
The ostrich flew.
Rook pie.

My head hurts. My eyes,
blood pressure, bad stories and failed
resolutions. There’s nothing inside me
but broken organs playing the wrong notes of forgotten tunes
tunelessly, voicelessly, in resounding silence,
as if nothing were not beautiful
     as empty as fullness
      as full as emptiness.

Pain of the laboured breath, rasp and pant;
Pain of the pint’s last third I can’t finish, I’m too weak to drink;
Pain of the empty table
stretching in front of me
as I drink alone.

Loss
Desire
Despair

Pain of that autumn morning
white with winter snow
Pain of

Pain and waste
Waste of

Fifth night (Friday-Saturday, October) – The marriage in the moonlight

what does midnight taste like?
a kiss without lips. you were sleeping.
do you remember our wedding,
when we were married in moonlight?

tender me
laid as carved in
lies on a cold slab of stone
shaken awake and peeling off skin
finger by finger
pretty white fingers
from my throat.

only love can end these tears
only death can open these eyes,
only blind —
these fragments
and movements
will perish
and fly from us
and become
what never was.

our love is not like love.
remember, we met in the dream,
two souls, unalike
in ways, the fracture of one mirror.

we shared our souls. what is the soul
if not desire? you are
my soul. what else could that be?

form the words. form the words
at the apex of the palette,
say the words, please, the sleep
still crumbly and crinkly in your eyes
before you remember you are yourself,
before you open your eyes to whatever’s left,
remember the words, say them,
say eternity, say
together, say
“apart, we are together”
and we will never be apart.

but when you wake
i know you won’t remember.

Sixth day (Saturday, November) – Home

Radio static
Crackling. My mother singing
To herself nearby.

Alone. Utterly alone.

I’m scared that when I lose my sight
I’ll lose my memories too —
It’s irrational — or I’ll have nothing
but memory to live in, a haunted
house full of ghosts
and noone living to remember.

The fable of the man who remembered,
the man who couldn’t forget —

  skating on Lake Empty;
the darkness is coming in
       the dark is inside.

Funny, memory. The torturer
and the laughing blade,
hacking away the happy evenings,
twisting the screwblade
of black nights spent staring
blankly, blackly into bleachblack
despair, death at your fingertips
but denied that mercy.

        Haunting the ghosts,
   the last guest —
          Hotel Amnesia:

Memory Palace —
   a deposed King
       haunting the ghosts.

The house has grown cold
   and soon there will be no one
       left for ghosts to haunt.

                     I close the door.

I spent years trying to write a musical setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. My grandmother had recited it to me while she was going blind.

I could never finish the music. I started to believe that if I ever finished the setting she would die, so I didn’t.

She died very alone and very scared, and I never finished the music.

I guess I never will.

It isn’t black, blindness —
I don’t see black
but live a miasma of colour,
yellow, blue, green, I see,
not red, not black. It’s like
swimming in a dream.

Sixth night (Sunday, December) –  Dream without dream

i will carry you
the waters will bear you
 to sleep

two worlds in time

you are declining
you will move into and become the night
and embrace that dark world in your depths.
you will bridle the moon and ride on the stars
away into peace, the peacefulness
of last things, the silence that ends the sentence.

i’m standing on the egde of you,
ready to dive with you, into you.

you are not blind.
without sight
we see the whatness of things,
trembling — the terror
of the real, when the lights blaze
at the words
at the tip of the tongue
and the end of every judgement —
the night’s judgement.

moths flit and dazzle.
life is short and art
so long to learn. love astounds,
then it slips away.

my love is death to you.
my love for you is death.
it will choke and smother you
wrap you and leach
the air from your lungs
and the love from your heart
and i will hold you like a doll
and you will be mine

your love establishes the death in me,
the life and death in things,
the wreck of all
the shame and hope
of ending and beginning.

in the lights’ sparkle
i dreamed i held you.
our father in emerald.

please don’t lose
the best thing that’s inside you,
don’t give away
the biggest thing that drives you.

as we pass into the unseen,

           the sleepwalker
on the edge of the cliff
 leaps out of the dream —

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Week 43 – Kihlberg & Henry – October 26-November 1

fig-2_43_50_9

“Sit on the carpet!” Yves ordered me in a stage whisper. The crowd at the gallery opening was pressed along the walls in a thick uncomfortable crust around a carpet in the middle of the space, breathing in and watching a blue film.

“Oh thank God for that,” I broke for the breathing space of the carpet and sat down with my bags and my gin cocktail. Other people followed, but more stayed. This is crowd dynamics.

It was busy and the sound of the microphone overloading wasn’t conventionally pretty but for me being in a wholly aesthetic intellectualised environment is a good relief of or distraction from stress. I feel I can breathe easier in these places.

fig-2_43_50_2

Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry’s “This Building, This Breath” is a new film-stroke-performance, which they presented for Week 43 of Fig-2.

fig-2_43_50_14You don’t know when you go in that the voiceover is being performed live. It sounds a bit distorted and unpolished because it hasn’t been filtered or produced. Watching the film as just a film is enjoyable in itself. It is a wide-ranging meditation on breathing referring to culture, biology and martial arts and it develops through an engagement with the buildings and spaces we inhabit to establish a poetic proposition that the room itself is breathing.

You might notice after a few times through the film that the sound seems to be changing, or that some of the utterances don’t seem to come from the speakers but a cappella, or someone might just tell you. I was astonished, and had a cheeky peek round the corner of the back of the screen that delineated the viewing room, and there he was, Reuben Henry hidden away behind a computer and microphones, performing in camera. It was a Wizard of Oz moment. The curtain drops away and ecce homo. More Latin, sorry! I only used in camera  (‘in private’) because I enjoy the fact that in camera means off camera.

fig-2_43_50_8It seems relevant here, because another clue would have been that above the screen was a camera pointed at us through which Reuben could view us and sometimes respond to us. When the studio space was empty in the week he would be able to see, and rest until someone came in, but he essentially performed the film all day every day for the whole of Kihlberg & Henry’s week at Fig-2. This makes it a durational performance, like Marina Abramovic or sitting through The Hobbit.

fig-2_43_50_5It’s especially extraordinary given many viewers would not have known it was a live performance at all. There are of course other instances of performances taking place in camera or unbeknownst to an audience. Examples of the latter usually have an element of anthropological study, such as when Leah Capaldi doused herself in strong perfumes and took herself onto the tube at rush hour, recording the reactions of the other people to the whiff.

Acconci1The classic example of invisible performance is Vito Acconci’s Seedbed (1972) in which a ramp was installed in the gallery underneath which Acconci reputedly lay masturbating for eight hours a day. The work is simultaneously private and public. I also recall reading that there is an ambiguity as to what he was really doing down there, about the truth value of it. Reuben Henry could have set a backing tape off and sat back and we’d have been for the most part none the wiser.

Piss_Christ_by_Serrano_Andres_(1987)We have to accept that the piss in Andras Serrano’s photo Piss Christ is piss when it could be lemonade, and some still believe that Piero Manzoni (I seem to be really into Latin and Italians today), that Manzoni’s cans of Artist’s Shit actually contain gummi bears rather than the artist’s waste. This reveals that there is a contract that occurs between the artist and the viewer when they come in contact, an element of trust, faith in the work, like the suspension of disbelief you experience while watching a story. In a sense, the Wizard of Oz moment is a disruption of that. You thought this was a film? It’s a man!

fig-2_43_50_1The exhibition will be touring to Plymouth Arts Centre and Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool in 2016. These spaces are totally different to the ICA Studio. Even if the script and images remain largely the same, the work will be different, both because of the nature of live performance as unrepeatable and because the film draws attention to rooms and spaces so the viewer will be more aware of the space they’re in, which will be different in each case. I wonder what the Wizard of Oz moment will be like elsewhere.

The voiceover begins soothingly explaining what is about to happen: “The images will cease. There will be blackness. Like the room, you will be weightless. In ten minutes there will be nothing but images.”

We are encouraged to “Breathe deeper, breathe slower.”

“The breath you took – did you mean it?” This is a interesting little kōan. How can you ‘mean’ a breath? We think of breath as involuntary and don’t notice it until we choke on a pretzel and momentarily lose the knack. Learning to control our breath can have a real effect on our wellbeing. In a moment of stress, you take a deep breath to calm down. In exercises like yoga and meditation breathing is one of the basic techniques you use to improve all-round physical and mental health.

urlThe film lists symptoms of unbalanced deep breathing (UDB) patterns that can lead to “almost all maladies including excessive stress, anxiety, panic, phobias, depression, high blood pressure, allergy, fatigue, poor sleep, speech or singing issues, emotional imbalances, personality distortions, excessive body weight, heart problems and may forms of cancer.”

pete_doherty-350x307In my yoga session in Fig-2 Week 27 Siri Sadhana Kaur told us “Through the munthra, through the posture, the breath, align yourself to truth. To your inner wisdom.” The breath is the key unit. A breath is to yoga what a word is to a poem. Though you haven’t heard me wheezing at night. Not quite what Graham Coxon said about Pete Doherty’s lungs, “they sound like a bag of crisps” (what with all the crack) which isn’t that great for a happy meditation experience, but then neither is being on crack. Crack just makes you want to make loads of phone calls.

 photo by josh cardale“Breath cleans the mind of images,” said Reuben’s voiceover, “Think of nothing..” This is not at all what meditation is about, as I learned at a meditation session here during Fig-2 Week 38 when the instructor explained that meditation is not about emptying the mind: “You wouldn’t want to encourage your mind to be blank, because your mind is designed in a way that is supposed to connect you with the world around you. So why would you ask your heart to stop beating, why would you ask your digestive system to stop working? If you want your mind to go blank, get your best friend to give you a healthy blow on the head.”

060711-fw-prince80“What does nothing look like?” asks the voice, another kōan to accompany the one about the meaning of breath. I’m reminded of a Prince song except I remember the lyric wrong; it’s similar but actually it’s “We’ll try to imagine what silence looks like,” which seems even harder than imagining nothing. To me nothing looks like an eye (a camera is a pale imitation) and silence would have been preferable to Prince’s records after 1994.

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While Week 38 explored how if you better inhabit and use your own body you will benefit – through breathing and exercise – this week explored some of the same themes by thinking about the buildings we inhabit, imagining that the building itself is breathing. The film describes “a room with an unbalanced breathing pattern” while we view film of buildings being earthquake tested. “The room expands” making the proposition that the room itself is breathing.

CSfJzkVWsAAvy7fSick Building Syndrome is an acknowledged condition that affects the health and comfort of building occupants that appears linked to time spent in the building but without identifying a specific illness or cause. Most of the suggested causes are interestingly linked to breathing: poor indoor air quality, poor heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, contaminants such as aerosols and gases, molds, ozone exhaust and poor air filtration.

This-Building-This-Breath_Kihlberg-Henry-1These are all how a building ‘breathes’. It sounds odd to say a building breathes, but think of it in the way we describe how a food tastes. The food isn’t doing the tasting, it’s being tasted. A book might read well, but it can’t itself read (unless Google has already invented some kind of self-reading book, which wouldn’t surprise me). A building might breathe well.. or ill.

I hope this feat of linguistics doesn’t spoil the poetry of imagining a building breathing. Truth is beauty and all that. Speaking of linguistics . .

mutant lisp generatorAt one point in the voiceover Reuben read the textual punctuation, the way you would if you were dictating to an amanuensis. Full stop. New sentence. A text’s punctuation indicates when you’re supposed to breathe. I don’t mean that you’re at risk of dying if you read the unpunctuated text of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses or took a gamble on Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable, though the film does state “Breath is the punctuation of your death.” You’ll still breathe, though there are those suspenseful Silence of the Lambs moments when you suddenly become aware you haven’t breathed for the past two minutes.

IMG_0363If written punctuation is there to tell us when to breathe, the opposite is true in speech, where our breathing may be one of the ways in which we punctuate our speech to clarify what we’re saying. In Fig-2 Week 30 we discussed punctuation in Anna Barham’s work with voice transcription software.

click to make it big!
click to make it big!

When we listen to someone speaking we hear a stream of unpunctuated syllables to which we have to apply our own punctuation to understand, deciding between whether we hear ‘four candles’ or ‘fork handles’. If you wanted to be really clear you might take a little breath between four and candles to spell it out. So breathing can be a kind of punctuation, making it in the context of speaking a linguistic act, which is another way of answering the question “The breath you took – did you mean it?”

The room becomes a living thing, a character. We say that something – an environment, a person, an expression, an idea – ‘takes on a certain character’ sometimes when it comes into contact with a new thing or when we think of it in a new way. This curiously points toward a notion that these things are not discrete entities that are complete and immutable but are in fact a sum of sensations and definitions subject to change when their context alters.

CSfJzatWUAAZUmUThe film concludes with these words “Do you feel C-A-L-M? Breathe this breath. 30 seconds. This building.” then he whistles, and concludes with the injunction “Hold your breath indefinitely, room.” Roy Orbison’s song “House Without Windows” strikes up and we see a slideshow of buildings whose windows have been covered up in diverse ways. These are choked buildings that can no longer breathe.

“He’ll have it memorised by the end of the week” said Fatoş at the Monday opening. Reading it all day for a week, that’s what you’d expect, but by the end of Sunday Reuben hadn’t memorised it. He still had to read the words. After a few days mistakes had started to creep in. In the last performance on Sunday he stumbled over a “comma” (luckily he didn’t fall into a coma, ahaha).

Everyone is familiar with having a job that they soon learn how to do perfectly and which they subsequently start doing perfectly badly.

theoffice_davidbrent_tvThere should be a name for that. There’s the Peter principle, but that’s a bit different, that’s when people are promoted for their competence in their current role rather than the intended role, so they stop rising when they can no longer perform effectively, having risen to the level of their incompetence. This is why you always think you can do your boss’s job better than them.

It’s different to the Peter Principle though: it’s about repetition, in a job, or a performance, or making a film. It’s not even boredom, it’s just entropy. Seeing or doing the same identical thing a hundred times makes you notice the tiny details of difference between these supposedly identical things, and they become destabilised.

fig-2_43_50_7As Stanley Kubrick’s endless takes of a scene progressed, film would spool out of cameras, actors would forget lines they had said a hundred times. It’s a curious quirk of repetition. Maybe it makes our brains unravel, sometimes in a good way. During the yoga weeks ago Siri Sadhana Kaur said “Through repetition we don’t understand the world, it takes us out of the logical explanation of things, puts us into a different space.”

Essentially, during the week while Reuben had been hidden away in a tiny cell behind a screen he had been exploring space. Far out.

Now breathe.

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Week 32 – Oreet Ashery (Anoxide + New Noveta) – August 10-16

Anoxide is this death metal band made up of four glamour models and the midget off game of thrones. DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA. DJENT DJENT DJENT. SHRED SHRED SHRED.

anoxide-3“Who likes babies?”

MUTHAFUCKKAAAAA

“So this one…’

OLD PEOPLE SHIT

anoxide-4“…goes something like this…’

OLD PEOPLE SHIT

“We are Anoxide. Let’s do this.”

Anoxide are heavy as fuck and bringing it in this weird garage down a ramp at the top of an art gallery. The drinks are free but it’s neat gin, fuck that. We’re all screaming and throwing each other about. It’s dark, it’s green light, it’s your elbow in my eye. Everyone’s screaming and whirling about, the guys are making a circle pit while the band tear it. It’s not loud enough, it’s bad, the singer is screaming and growling, hands in the air and everyone is jumping and headbanging and moshing out.

MUTHAFUCKKAAAAA

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The guys are throwing each other around. They push into each other but never fall over. There’s the kid who was outside earlier playing this weird flute or something. He’d set out some kind of hamper and he was wearing Brighton-issue crusty crap. Here he’s the alpha dog of the pack, the one who starts and directs the trouble. He’s tossing rolls of blue cleaning paper across the space, up and across they go in bluegreen flames. Anoxide are heavy and crunchy as fuck. The low riffs turn into double time drums into screeching guitar solos into growling and chanting and djunt. Kill everyone and fuck every hole.

TIMG_0407hen the lights go on, and it’s blinding. A door opens, and a couple of girls wearing red dresses are dragging poles through the crowd. Everyone’s still screaming and there is piercing electronic noise from the speakers. Performance duo New Noveta, the two girls in the sexy red, are panting and sweating and they look distressed as they fuck about with this bucket of fish and these long white poles that they’re trying to move in the bright white garage light. The crowd opens as they move through it and they take ages to move along. The fire doors open and they go up out of it. The faces in the queue outside gape in at us. Did this really happen? The fire doors shut.

anoxide-2Four snare hits and Anoxide are back. The lights drop to darkness again. Listening at home to this shit gives me a fucking headache and racing pulse, which is what it’s supposed to do. I’ve left it way too long to write this fucking thing. And I cannot read the fucking logos of metal bands. UNFATHOMABLERUINATIONAre they deliberately unreadable? Look at this, their bandcamp says “lyrics written by anoxide” so it’s not just all growling but fuck me it has in fact literary qualities.

IMG_0398“Shout out to Stitches” he says, “Shout out to Stitches.” Stitches must be the one with the stupid flute who’s naked with a scarf round his neck. Everyone’s mates, we’re all having sex in the circle pit and sweating and dripping. We’re covered in sweat. Drenched. Wet. Wringing. Saturated. Fucking soaking. The band play an older one, it launches out then goes into a solo then a serious head banging riff and then the verse with the ride cymbal going over a chromatic descending riff. The guys are soaking, the roof is dripping, everyone is crazy, the garage is smashed up but sexy and beautiful. The riff opens up, we’re drunk and we’re dead.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-09-at-14.17.31-528x352This is exactly a year after I saw another death metal band do an art show. Unfathomable Ruination played a full set inside a soundproofed metal box containing no oxygen. I say ‘saw’, once the door shut you couldn’t hear or see anything. It was amazing. I really wanted them to die in that box. You’d be able to sense them all pass out as they used up all the oxygen and then the door would be opened and there would be a dead metal band.

Unfathomable Ruination played three days a week for a month in this box under the Gherkin in the shit City of London for ‘Box Sized Die’ as part of João Onofre’sSculpture in the City” project. On the last night of their residency they were allowed an extended set of 31 minutes and the bastards still didn’t fucking die. There are photos and there is a sound recording of this performance in the soundproofed metal box that you couldn’t see and couldn’t hear. Naturally the gig is edited down to a length of 4’33”.

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FURTHER READING 

Should I worry if my child is a goth?
Blackest material ever made created by scientists
Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs?
Crude Behavior: How Big Oil Tries to ‘Artwash’ Itself
The Little Death: Living and Loving as a Necrophiliac
The pleasures of METAL DRUMMING
There is a death metal band from Santa Cruz called PARASITIC EJACULATION

FURTHER FURTHER READING 

Anoxide and New Noveta performed on the opening night of Fig-2 Week 32/50 in which Oreet Ashery installed a beautiful white space and explored notions surrounding death and dying as part of her ongoing project Revisiting Genesis.

Fig-2 page for Week 32
Fig-2 interview with Oreet Ashery
FB event page for Anoxide at Fig-2
Video of New Noveta at Fig-2

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The Parable of Yellow Black and White

yellow

I used to know an artist who only worked in yellow. Yellow paintings and yellow sculptures, all in grades of yellow and made in a yellow studio.

One yellow day a critic came along and said ‘This is not yellow work. This is really about black and white. It uses colour as a dialectic of shade. This work is not yellow. This work is black and white!’

Everyone heard this, especially the artist, who carried on making the yellow works.

Some years later I went back to the yellow studio, and was surprised to see no yellow works anywhere.

‘What happened to yellow?’ I asked. ‘All these works are black and white.’

‘You’re wrong,’ said the artist, ‘the works that I used to make were black and white. These ones are yellow!’

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(Indirectly inspired by something in the discussion at Fatos Ustek’s seventh Fig-2 curatorial seminar)

Week 35 – Amy Stephens – August 31-September 6

12096235_10156151170120181_8789224296981707273_n“I left my heart in San Francisco,” crooned Tony Bennett. I once left my cashcard in Llandudno. There is also an artistic tradition of people deliberately leaving things in art galleries.

Duchamp perfected the objet trouvé, inventing the “ready-made” by exhibiting unaltered everyday objects designated as art. It’s less clear who if anyone invented the objet déposé, or objet abandonné, or whatever you might choose to call those works that are left in a gallery as a comment or as an intervention.

11700957_10156151169670181_469298560441831057_oBanksy has crept into the Tate and National Gallery in disguise and covertly stuck to the walls a number of satirical works. Another kind of intervention found Brian Eno peeing into Duchamp’s urinal, which seems much more sympathetic than the idiot who went to jail for defacing a Rothko in the name of his own ‘artistic movement’ Yellowism. Curiously, of these three instances it is Banksy’s that isn’t vandalistic, in spite of the larger part of his canonical stencil works being strictly speaking acts of vandalism.

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During Week 35 of Fig-2 someone left a postcard depicting “The Falls of Leny, Callander” though I’m still can’t quite convince myself it wasn’t actually part of the show. The rock formation within rushing water and an external overlaid shape left by a sticker perfectly matched the themes and techniques of the exhibition around it.

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Amy Stephens uses sculpture, drawing and photography to explore relations between geological, architectonic and sculpted forms. She plays with the intersections between objects and how we represent objects. In her show two-dimensional representations turn into three-dimensional objects and vice versa via interventions in the forms by introducing synthetic elements to organic forms and organic elements to synthetic objects.

fig-2_35_50_3The room had been split into two exhibition spaces: one large and a smaller one in the corner which at first I missed. It was lucky they told me it was there because without the second room the show didn’t seem to work. Together the whole show suddenly came to life as the totality of the pieces resonated. The two-dimensional forms first encountered in the large space suddenly spring off the wall into full sculptural form in this second semi-hidden room. Considering all the works together let them ring out together like an orchestra. It was literally an object lesson in curation, and proof that the ‘art of curation’ isn’t just an amusing turn of phrase.

fig-2_35_50_8I loved the slippage between media, the way that a geometric shape would be presented in the big space on a photographic surface and then you’d find yourself confronting the same shape turned into a sculpture, the way the colours yellow, cyan and red would pass between sculptural objects, photographs and across the walls of the room.

fig-2_35_50_4Solid and outline shapes in yellow overlaid the two silkscreens “Freeze-Thaw I & II”. A yellow line led along the length of a wall and continued inside a picture frame as if it had thrown itself off the wall, and finally found itself embodied in the yellow perspex lozenge of the spindly-legged sculpture teasingly entitled Silence.

fig-2_35_50_9The same thing happened with the blue waterfall roll of heat transfer foil “The First Dive” spilling back into the blue shape digitally overlaid over the rock form photography in the c-prints “Rock-fall I & II”.

12138351_10156151169685181_8429118969511032606_oThe digitally overlaid blue shape then turns white and emerges as the flock-covered lozenge-on-legs sculpture “Tethered Object”, and the heat transfer foil reminds us through artificial means of the great violence of slow geological processes to shape valleys and mountains from solid rock.

fig-2_35_50_6The rocks emerge from the flat plane of photography into the gallery in the form of “something. anything. everything. I, II & III” in which there are three rocks. I tell a lie, they’re minerals. Jesus, Marie! They’re minerals! Specifically the mineral ilmenite, a weakly magnetic black and grey ore of titanium. These minerals have been wrapped in red tape: line interacting with shape, then the line wanders off and finds itself as a red flocked fabric line going up through clear Perspex in the large sculpture “Unicorn”, where it looks like either the broadly ascending line of a rising company or the descending fortunes of a failing one. What it is in fact is not dissimilar: it is a representation of the Palio horse race in Siena, Italy created through extreme simplification of a horse or a person stripped to essential forms and motifs.

12108055_10156151169350181_6377449736809568949_n“Unicorn” seems at first a curious title for it. Just like “Tethered Object”, it isn’t tethered, just as a unicorn can’t be tethered. Being mythical it either doesn’t exist or it exists as an absence (like silence, maybe even the yellow lozenge sculpture “Silence”). A unicorn is strong, being a beast, and fragile, in terms of its mythical rarity. Similarly the sculptures all possess this simultaneous stability and fragility. Untethered, you could knock them over easily, and people always walk into things.

tumblr_inline_moaej6xV3d1qz4rgpUnicorn (Leocarno) is actually one of the seventeen contrade (city wards) that compete in the Palio di Siena, so we even find here slippage between language and form: the name unicorn becomes a thing unicorn (just as James Joyce had made a cork frame for a photo of Cork city). The emblems of the district are the same reddy-orange as the lines of “Unicorn” and “something. anything. everything”.

Mention of Palio reminds me of a point raised by Douglas Hofstadter: Chi dice Siena dice Palio — to mention Siena is to bring up its famous horse race. Which would go for Wimbledon too: you think of tennis (or wombles?). In any word, many concepts are sous-entendus: there, but whispered. Inherent. A tethered object.

10350629_10156151170070181_7459507364983449044_nEven the striking rock and mineral forms in the photographs have been created by the eroding action of water: stable and fragile, hard and soft. “Tethered Object” looks inscrutable and monolithic, but its hardness is balanced by its spindly legs and its covering of flock, the lustrous velvety fabric that is Amy Stephens’s signature material. Flock draws the eye and light in: it’s soft but it’s also highly synthetic. Black flock is used like bark to wrap a piece of wood, giving it a synthetic but somehow warm edge.

AS26In “Birch In Space” we encounter a branch of Icelandic birch wood that has been cast in eight pieces and welded together and suspended from the ceiling: the shape is organic and natural but the material is metallic and synthetic and the suspension gives it a lightness that offsets the weight of the metal. The pitching of the one against the other characterises all of the work. The shape of the cast birch also echoes “Unicorn”.

12107094_10156151170370181_6704806387226526579_n“Pulpit” shows a photo of a clifftop, a famous Norwegian tourist destination formed of ilmenite and rock. You can imagine Moses standing at the top and declaiming his fifteen ten commandments, telling us how to live our lives. The Tetragrammaton YHWH (Yahweh) is derived from the verb that means “to be”, “exist”, “become” or “come to pass”: another slippage between language and form, another unicorn: words cast in stone.

12122856_10156151169695181_5496369759480006322_n“The First Dive” is inspired by David Lynch’s book “Catching the big fish: meditation, consciousness and creativity” and the idea of diving in when creativity takes over: jumping in at the deep end and submerging oneself in that danger rather than remaining sat in the shallow end.  You need to take risks to move on. Any act of life worth living is a naturally occurring artificial intervention.

I found Amy Stephens’s work thrilling in the way it exchanged colours and shapes between natural and synthetic forms and between two- and three-dimensional realms. It’s like a daytime Nights At The Museum, as if the non-living things all come out and cause trouble in real life.

Causing trouble in real life is what artists tend to be good at, from Banksy’s interventions to Stephens’s more personal artistic challenges in developing her play with forms and materials, and so on to that troubling and mysterious postcard The Falls of Leny, Callander” . . .

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You can listen to the Fig-2 audio interview with Amy Stephens on Soundcloud

Week 33 – El Ultimo Grito – August 17-23

“Genius is an error in the system” – Paul Klee

photographs by benjamin cosomo westoby

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe Birth of the User is two inflatable sculptures in one: a figure, called the User, within an outer womb: a space within a space (within a space). As the outside structure inflates with air from the machine the pressure of the environment compresses the User and a struggle occurs between them which is only resolved when the mechanical air inflow switches and the structure within starts to inflate, which causes his uterine environment to start to collapse around him. This creates a glitchy ecosystem of one against the other: fighting for air, or fighting because of the air. Balance is not consistently maintained.

People going into the gallery can’t help but touch it, which adds another feedback loop. You can feel the inflatable structure resist your hand as the air pushes back against your fingers or when it bucks and yields to your prodding.

Fig-2_33_50_1Design duo El Ultimo Grito is Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo, who have created this sculpture The Birth of the User during Week 33 of Fig-2. Rather than displaying finished works at the start of the seven day show, they set the ICA studio space up as a workshop in which to improvise and develop ideas and create a unique Open House setting in which the public could interact with a production environment.

ultimo_mexico_04A fantastic illustration of their working methods is their account of creating a public seating installation in Mexico City. It’s fascinating to see the skeleton-and-muscle structure made of bubblewrap and foam taped over plywood that looks like junk (“when we left the first day [they asked] ‘are you going to leave this here? for how long? what is this for?’”) transformed by the addition of a skin of circular stickers into something bright and brilliant.

ultimo_mexico_03Their spidery fantastical sculptures are colourful and tangly and semi-organic looking and are often designed to be sat upon and interacted with in public spaces. The use of ‘packing materials’ comes from a decision they made to create a design and manufacturing system free from “traditional methods of production” using their hands and bodies and readily available inexpensive materials: a DIY aesthetic or rather a design aesthetic with a DIY implementation.

File 17-10-2015, 18 41 39‘El Ultimo Grito’ apparently means ‘all the rage’. Literally translated it’s ‘the last cry’ which I think is from the phrase ‘the last cry of fashion’ which makes ‘all the rage’ make sense: this season’s show-stopping be-all-and-end-all (until next season). Their use of ‘El Ultimo Grito’ as a moniker is clearly an ironic comment on the transience of fashion.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westoby“It was a week of work in progress. Mainly to develop ideas and works that explore the idea of glitch, glitch as a malfunction in the system that allows you to see the structure in the system, how the system works,” El Ultimo Grito explain in their audio interview with Fig-2. There is a day-by-day written account by El Ultimo Grito on the designboom website.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe show included a number of digital prints developed from images created by encountering ‘glitches’ in Apple Maps while walking around London. This is similar to Clement Valla’s project documenting ruptures in Google’s Universal Texture mapping system: those images of melting bridges when the texture mapping has gone wrong. We encountered this in Fig-2 Week 12 (part 6) and one of Valla’s ‘Postcards from Google Earth‘ was on show in Week 29. The phenomenon has clearly struck a nerve.

valla-5In Clement Valla’s work ‘glitch’ exposes the algorithmic principles involved in how our digital realities are constructed. El Ultimo Grito are more interested in the political and social factors exposed by ‘glitch’: the historicity of glitch. We are in the middle of both a housing crisis (caused by our rich keeping supply of housing down to boost what they can charge us to buy or rent) and a migration crisis (caused by our rich selling weapons to indiscriminately arm every side of every conflict worldwide, which leads to people trying to flee these places to survive).

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe construction and reconstruction of our cities is a document of political will. There’s no social housing, but ugly cheesegraters keep springing up in the city. Estates are knocked down, and spring up again as megastructures of gentrification. Sometimes our maps won’t update in time, and we will experience ‘glitch’: an uncanny sense of displacement, walking through two different realities at once, two different periods of history.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyWith the accretion of vernacular building in a city we in fact find countless levels of periodicity simultaneously. A new glass structure bolted to a medieval wall dominated by a prefab made of ugly. Each layer reveals the ‘ultimo grito’ of its period. Currently everything is glass that is largely flat, the next fashion will probably find this bending and twisting as new technologies develop, and then there’ll probably be some rage for sixties style stone cladding.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThese architectural paradigms (fashions) are temporal but internationally uniform, and part of El Ultimo Grito’s method in their week was to render a number of different but recognisable styles together to create the forms and surfaces of a single United Estates conflated from images of London’s ‘iconic’ Brutalist housing block Trellick Tower, other buildings in Montevideo, and London housing estates. The United Estates sprang up over the week as a number of structures representing a glitched dystopic city that you can’t live in, just as you can’t live in a city without housing or a country refusing to accept immigrants.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyEl Ultimo Grito‘s fictional character The User is intended to represent “when the consumer becomes a citizen”. The sculpture’s rise and fall that dramatizes the pressure of an environment over the individual. El Ultimo Grito developed their DIY approach to the construction as well as just the design of their works. If each of us is ‘The User’ it is up to each of us to try to take a more active role in it, becoming a citizen rather than a consumer Otherwise the larger structure will crush us all.

The Fig-2 website gives a day-by-day photographic account of the work in progress, in which you see the elements of plastic and wood used to make the nascent sculptures. When I visited on Friday night there was a smell of paint so strong that even I could smell it, Rosario and Roberto working and another guy making things in the fire escape. They had just about finished making a camera obscura, which they demonstrated to me.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe camera obscura projects an image upside down on a screen. Vermeer probably used one when he painted and there’s a good one in Bristol that let’s you look at the Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge without having to go to the effort of looking directly at them (you have to go to Bristol though). It’s another form of mapping, another way of projecting a 3D reality onto a flat screen.

photographs by benjamin cosomo westobyThe camera obscura is a kind of ‘real time cinema’ in which a moving image is antique Chinese erotic porcelain depicting a couple rutting, which doesn’t look dissimilar to the Birth of the User sculpture. In the logic of the show it bridges between the scale of the third day’s large inflatable sculpture and the comic strips they made on the final day in which they synthesised all of the glitch mapping of the digital prints and the three-dimensional sculptural forms of the United Estates, with the User character ultimately triumphing and creating a new reality: “If you control the glitch, you control reality itself” — el ultimo grito!

In Iain Sinclair’s lecture Blake’s London: The Topographic Sublime the earnest psychogeographer describes how there is “a love of the fabric of this multidimensional city and also a cynical despair at the changes now being wrought … New enclosures, blue fences and razor wire topped with surveillance cameras, have sealed off enormous tracts of terrain along the eastern margin. We see the dominance of the virtual over the actual, the computer-generated version over the particulars of locality … What you are creating, in effect, is an electronic Golgonooza. A system predicated on affectless gazing. Therefore Los stands in London building Golgonooza,

Compelling his Spectre to labours mighty; trembling in fear / The Spectre weeps, but Los unmov’d by tears or threats remains. “I must create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s. / “I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.”

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POSTSCRIPT: I made a mistake and accidentally posted this while I was tagging it with “glitch” with the result that the title came up as Week 33 – August 17-23 – El Ultimo Gritoglitch, — a meta-glitch I’m tempted to reinstate.