Dr Chantal Faust
Katherine (Katie) Irani
Pablo Alvarez Fernandez
Turning and Turning, Rebecca Fortnum >
PROVA 5 The Urgency of the Arts, Chantal Faust >
THE URGENCY OF THE ARTS >
Paula Fitzsimons >
An Unfinished History of Glass, Joshua Leon >
Robin Kirsten >
The Shades of Dark Matters: Dappled insights into the aesthetics of blindness, David Johnson >
Unlikely Mike and the Counter Factuals, David Johnson >
The Queering of Photography, Åsa Johannesson >
Dario Srbic >
Ameera Kawash >
A conversation between recomposed fragments of four previous texts, Adam Walker >
Erotomania Part 1: The Patient’s Diary, 1956, Sharon Young >
The move within the play, Marina Stavrou >
Seungjo Jeong >
Wayne Binitie >
Mobile roots: a pot of flowers instead of a tree, Joana Maria Pereira >
Liz K Miller >
Xiaoyi Nie >
Frances Young >
RESEARCH GROUPS >
NO, Marita Fraser >
Postgraduate Research in the School of Arts & Humanities (SoAH): Professor Ken Neil (Dean), Professor Rebecca Fortnum (Research Lead), Dr Chantal Faust and Professor Johnny Golding, (Senior Tutors Research), Dr Josephine Berry and Dr Catherine Ferguson, (Tutors Research), Dr Murray Anderson (Research Administrator).
SoAH Research Group Leaders 2019/20: Professor Olivier Richon, Professor Victoria Walsh and Dr Catherine Ferguson (Archive); Professor Rebecca Fortnum and Professor Gemma Blackshaw (Correspondence); Professor Johnny Golding and Emma Talbot (Entanglement); Dr Sarah Teasley, Dr Mel Jordan and Dr Josephine Berry (Public(s)).
Turning and Turning
Professor Rebecca Fortnum
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Although Yates’ poem, The Second Coming is ‘rarely seen through a pandemic lens’, Elizabeth Outka in her book, Viral Modernism, the Influenza Pandemic and Inter-War Literature (2019) makes a good case to do so. Written in 1919, when his pregnant wife was convalescing from the great flu pandemic, Yates eloquently articulates the ‘nightmarish present’ being endured at that moment. The poem voices the sense of powerlessness and confusion many of us have felt in the last few months. But in a hopeful turn, the desire to regain agency and address injustice has found a form in the protests, both extraordinary and essential, against racism, following brutal state violence in the U.S.. So, to say this year has been like no other is an understatement. In the midst of so many urgencies and such chaos it might be hard to keep sight of our former intellectual enquiries, born from a world we may no longer recognise.
Yet our research is vital. The 26 vivas that have taken place this year in SoAH Research are not only the result of years of serious study, but share the aim of making a difference and initiating change. The PhD demand of ‘originality’ is no idle claim. When our esteemed colleague Johnny Golding asks, (as she is sometimes known to do), ‘What is your gift to the world?’, this is not a rhetorical question. Each and every one of the projects, completed and underway, aims to facilitate new ways of thinking and knowing in fields that emerge across, and between, the arts and humanities. Far from being ensconced ivory towers, SoAH research students develop visionary research emerging from their very real engagement with people, objects and places. And, although we are proud that our disciplinary scope is broad, creative and urgent, we also acknowledge and embrace the work ahead to embed full diversity.
Over the last three years our Research Groups have explored a range of research methods; Absurdity, Collaboration, Disorder, Documents, Entanglement, Environment, Fiction, Me, Politics, and Reenactment, with contributions from a range of SoAH staff. These then became the strands through which we forged debate when, in 2019, we staged the National Association for Fine Art Education’s annual international research student conference, Living Research: The Urgency of the Arts with. The conversations happening in this year’s groups, Archive, Correspondence, Entanglement and Public(s) are represented here by each group’s respective chapters. These groups, along with our public research platforms, presentations, exhibitions, performances and the journal allow us to work together, to establish deep understandings of our peers’ subjects and processes, as well as to reach out to others. Events this year have included; The Networked and Performed Image, When AI Encountered the Pavement, Geoaesthetics, Diagrams, Models and Magic, Art Practice and the Covid Pandemic, as well an online seminar with the artist Amy Sillman on painting research. In the earlier part of the year, whilst we were still in the material world, SoAH Research showcased a number of graduating students working in digital formats at Future Lab, Shanghai, an international event focused on art and design education and, in January, all students had the chance to participate in 2084, a group exhibition with an accompanying performances. More recently, using new found remote meeting skills we initiated Call & Response, working with University of Greenwich and the NAFAE network to develop a programme of PhD presentations from around the UK and overseas and we will culminate the year with the launch of the Prova website and In the Realm of Re-Sensing, several online events, developed by current students. Although some important figures have left the SoAH supervisory teams since our last issue – and we thank Juan Cruz, Brian Dillon, Melanie Jordan, and Sarah Teasley for their considerable work with us – we welcome new concerns and interests from Josephine Berry, Catherine Ferguson, and Ken Neil, new staff who are already making their mark on the programme. Thanks also to Bex Tadman, who has left to pursue her own PhD and hello to Dr Murray Anderson, our new (and tireless) research administrator.
Yates concludes the first stanza of his best-known poem,
The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity.
And we can of course recognize this malevolent ‘intensity’ writ large across our news channels daily. But we mustn’t, and we don’t, lack conviction. In these extraordinary times our research students have demonstrated the maturity and compassion in person that is also in evidence in their research. We, as researchers, artists, thinkers, must get on with our work, which as the art historian Michael Podro describes, does not ‘set out to show the look of the world as something previously known, but rather to extend the thread of recognition in new and complex structures of [our] own’*
Professor of Fine Art and Research Lead. School of Arts and Humanities
*Michael Podro, Depiction, 1998 pvii
PROVA 5: The Urgency of the Arts
Dr Chantal Faust
Published in 2013, the first issue of Prova was a modest Riso-printed journal that brought together a work-in-progress collection of ideas, essays, poetry and artworks by research students and staff in the then School of Humanities at the RCA. The following year, in Prova 2 we learned that Riso is an edible material printed with a soy-based ink and the launch of this issue involved a chewing-up and spitting-out of a copy of the publication, à la John Latham. A grey and somewhat tombstone-ish Prova 3 emerged in 2016, marking the end of the School of Humanities in a substantial issue that delved into the politics of the visual with speculations on surveillance and its technologies, paying attention to that which is often unseen, or hidden from view. Prova 4 burst onto the scene and the stage of the Peckham Liberal Club in 2018, in a jubilant Fiorucci-technicolour-explosion celebrating the newly formed School of Arts & Humanities and its Research Groups, involving researchers across divergent and intersecting fields of fine art theory and practice, curating, history, philosophy, and writing. Seven years and two Schools later, for the first time in 2020 we identified a theme for this articulation of the Journal and Prova 5 is The Urgency of the Arts issue.
In March 2019, the School of Arts & Humanities organised and hosted the ‘Living Research: Urgency of the Arts’ NAFAE (National Association for Fine Art Education) international research student conference. Our focus was both a question of and a speculation on the way arts research methods and practices might be put to use in our contemporary moment. Central to the ambitions of the conference were the questions: What does arts and humanities research have to offer in our current socio-political climate? What ‘work’ can a PhD do? By this we did not mean how might our research be instrumentalised or applied, but rather how might it lead our interactions with, and understanding of the world. The conference ran six strands of thinking around creative propositions engendered by a single word. The categories: Collaboration, Documents, Entanglement, Environment, Me and Reenactment, were based on the SoAH Research Groups of 2019, bringing together researchers across disciplines, developing creative methods to explore terms that demand urgent enquiry.
In place of a traditional keynote address, this task was shared amongst colleagues from across the RCA, including academic staff, administrators and heads of programmes, each asked to deliver a short response to the urgency of the arts. It created a powerful atmosphere and as the series of passionate and emotive responses to the provocation were delivered, the sense of urgency – of the ‘why’ of what we do as arts practitioners and educators and the ‘why’ it is so vital now – surged through the room. The following section of the Journal includes a selection of these responses. While one of the ambitions of the Living Research conference was to create a platform to share and expand our conceptions of research themes that have been highlighted as urgent within PGR teaching in Arts & Humanities at the RCA, this series of addresses also spurred a desire to continue our attention to the urgency of the arts and how this might contribute to understanding the potential impact of our research, within and beyond the university.
Somewhere in between the call-for-contributions to Prova 5 and their delivery, 2020 happened. I don’t know if the arts are any more or less urgent right now than they have ever been, but the world that we are both responding to and responsible to has certainly become increasingly more so, shifting us from a state of urgency to emergency. In the concluding sentiments of Prova 1, Professor Barry Curtis wrote: ‘I realise that the future has always been configured simultaneously as a shiny proposition and a fantasy of survival among ruins and confusion’. In the following pages of Prova 5, you will find some very shining propositions alongside pressing questions about our present reality. The urgent requires immediate action and attention, and the time is now.
Dr Chantal Faust is the Editor-in-Chief of Prova and the acting Head of Contemporary Art Practice in the School of Arts & Humanities at the RCA
The Urgency of the Arts
What does arts and humanities research and practice have to offer in our current socio-political climate? The Urgency of the Arts aims to promote an understanding of the necessity – as opposed to the luxury – of the arts and to create platforms that address the invaluable tools that creative practices can provide in a drive towards developing an understanding of how the powers of creativity and culture can become the most significant agents of change. At a time of increasing violent extremism and climate crisis it is essential that the value and contribution of the arts and culture is recognised as capable of adding an important and timely voice to the shape of things in our world. Through this thinking, we hope to take the question of The Urgency of the Arts beyond the borders of the art and design school and into the world in order to expand knowledge about how we engage creatively for impact and transformation.
Urgency, yes, but let’s not respond by reflex to the topic. Let’s not be led by the familiar (enervating) impulse to posit contrite arguments on the value of the arts in tandem with or in contradistinction to, what exactly, the sciences [yawn]? Let’s start instead with that preposition. On. Never before has that prepositional critic’s gambit been quite so inopportune. ‘On Photography’, ‘On Painting’, ‘On Sculpture’, ‘On Politics’: the gambit of safe distance; the construction of the escape before the entanglement. No, not an urgent apologia on the urgency of the arts. Let’s register, instead, the obvious from the middle of it: the truly tumultuous times in which we live (cultural, economic, medical, social, political, environmental…you choose [as if you could]). That tumultuousness helps us see (and know) that we are veritably in the urgency of the arts – like it or not; we live the urgency of the arts – not by design but by necessity. And this urgent living of the arts is always and forever there, and always and forever a cause and an effect. In significant and enduring ways, the world is given to us, comes into urgent being, through the arts, and, moreover, including in tumultuous times, our world is diagnosed and treated, urgently and gradually, by the arts. The arts help us make the world for us and help us make our way in that world. To say as much is not an appeal on behalf of the urgency of the arts via an exhausted argument for their special utility in times of crisis: to say as much is to confirm the omnipotency of the arts in making what needs to be seen at the same time as positing ways in which we might readdress (and redress) certain forms which have been brought into the world before now, with intention, through the arts, and by other means.
Following the writer Salome Voegelin, I want to suggest a nuancing of the difference between potential and possible. Potential suggests the likelihood of actualization, it hasn’t yet happened but it is likely to unfold, whereas the possible suggests that it may or may not be real, may or may not come to pass. The possible becomes the task of learning “to listen out for alternative conditions… alternatives that sound a present polyphony.” Now more than ever, when our ability to imagine the future seems to be most at risk, it seems urgent to shift from the potential to the possible, from an understanding of the uncertain, unidentifiable, unverifiable as dormant or latent, on the verge of actualization – to an embrace of the possible as the tentative (or even tentacular), multiple modes ‘to handle, to feel, to try’, the thing that may or may not be real or come to be. We need a wider threshold of openness and contingency: the possible as indefinite and uncertain, connected to hope and to an embrace of the unknown. Let us reconceptualise the open-ended, unsettled and unsettling crisis as a positive opportunity, a space for possibility and imagination. If the act of listening, of attention through sound, is an act of generosity, a tending to, leaning in, lending an ear; if attention in itself is currently valuable because it is scarce, because it is being subsumed into capital, monopolized into algorithms, can we find counter-strategies for a different modality? Not just investing or paying attention, lending our ears, but truly embracing the uncertainty of that which comes next, listening without bias, setting the intention for a very different kind of receptivity which does not pre-empt, predict or expect. Let us embrace the unsettling and the relational, the diffusion of boundaries, the possibility of plurality without opposites.
J J Chan
In such a chase,
in such a race
there are days when I recline back,
feeling guilty of my rest,
feeling that the world is waiting for me.
Hurry up kid…
there are times
that the world reminds me,
that I’m moving too quickly.
Close to where I grew up
there is a large shopping centre.
It can be said, that it is famous
throughout the neighbouring towns.
When I was younger
there was an arcade in there
bright with coloured lights
and above its glass entrance
hung an enormous
Excited to see the fish,
I’d run up to the automatic doors
that they were yet to open
enough for me to squeeze through.
Coming to an abrupt stop,
I would have to stand and await their
slow slow parting
And the sound of the suction
and the hot blow of the heating
to welcome me.
I spoke to someone recently
about that fish
and no one else
I can’t find any evidence that it ever
Later, after the arcade had closed down.
I tried to replicate that abrupt stop.
Closer to home,
there is a large supermarket.
it was designed to look like an old
but gone was the smell of wet tiles and
It was warm.
We used to come here for Sunday Dinner
in the café.
In retrospect, perhaps it was in protest
that I would use the heel of my foot
to bring to a jerking stop…
the revolving doors.
For a second, time would stop.
We all waited for the door to move again
to let us carry on with our lives.
For a moment, we stopped
with nothing to do
nowhere to go,
looking around at each other.
Make the Subject Visible
The current socio-political climate favours one dimensional thinking, division, monetisation as the sole value of all acts, and ways of speaking where aggressive point scoring soundbites crowd out nuanced argument. We need voices and creative acts which reflect the complexity of our lives and create spaces for genuine empathetic encounters with different ways of thinking and being.
Making is a kind of thinking and we live in a material world with ever scarcer resources, changing environments and displaced populations. We need arts and humanities researchers to contribute their questioning observations, and turn them into stories which can be shared. Improvisation is a skill, and many tasks need people able to work in teams. How can divided communities be bought into dialogue for mutual understanding, what are the stories that we need to tell and hear? Through engaging images and transformative material/textual explorations, we can grow our understandings and share them.
Mabe Bethonico the first PhD student I supervised, intuitively sensed that by juxtaposing historic images of alchemy, with pictures from the world’s first published study of commercial mining, she could examine the particularities of Minas Gerais in Brazil where she was born. Using lived experience she evoked through a collage of text and image, the rituals of the everyday and she continues deep investigation into the lives of women working in the mines. Her work creates an engaging insight into the lives of people working at the point where materials, embedded in things we all use, are extracted from the earth. When slurries of mud from a collapsed dam engulfed workers and villages in Minas Gerais in January this year Mabe wrote to me;
‘there are 22 dams about to crack … I will work around the subject, the only thing I can do is make the subject visible.’
When I ask myself what work a PhD in art and humanities might do, I ask: “what work is it that art might do?”. I think about the work I do, and how I can reckon with this question as an artist, a teacher and a postgraduate supervisor. So not only do I feel responsible for ensuring that what I do has a value in the world, I also feel an anxiety about what it is I should teach, or how I should supervise, to ensure that the art I make, and the values that shape and determine that, speak to a wider intellectual project.
When I speak about a wider intellectual project I bring myself up short, because it’s shorthand of course, and in that I acknowledge presumptions I’ve learned not to make. It’s a project borne out of a certain place and time, when I felt more certain of the terms than I do now, and with its origins in Glasgow in the early 1990s and my own postgraduate education. (I’m alert to the risk of nostalgia).
When I speak about a wider intellectual project, I’m circling around something borne of a certainty that no longer exists for me yet that deserves to persist. I revisit the parameters more frequently than I did at other times. I believe in something I’m not sure I can name.
When I supervise, I’m often angry, although not with the students themselves of course. The anger is a motivation to scratch out the itch, to untie the knot. I’m looking for a measure that works. I’m looking for more than a means to an end. When I ask myself what work a PhD in art and humanities might do, I ask: “what work is it that art might do?” and I think about looking hard and the capacity of art to do that with grubby fingers and not despite but because.
Here’s Carolee Schneemann, writing in 1966:
to have your brain picked
to have the pickings misunderstood
to be mistreated whether your success increases or decreases
to have detraction move with admiration – in step
to have your time wasted
your intentions distorted
the simplest relationships in your thoughts twisted
to be USED and MISUSED
to be “copy” to be copied to want to cope out cop out pull in and away
if you are a woman (and things are not utterly changed)
they will almost never really believe you really did it
(what you did do)
they will worship you they will ignore you
they will malign you they will pamper you
they will try to take what you did as their own
(a woman doesn’t understand her best discoveries after all)
they will patronize you humor you
try to sleep with you want you to transform them with your energy
they will berate your energy they will try to be part of your sexuality
they will deny your sexuality or your work they will depend on you for information for generosity they will forget whatever help you give they will try to be heroic for you they will not help you when they might they will bring problems they will ignore your problems a few will appreciate deeply they will be loving you as what you do as what you are loving how you are being they will of course be strong in themselves and clear they will NOT be married to quiet tame drones they will not say what a great mother you would be or do you like to cook and where you might expect understanding and appreciation you must expect NOTHING then enjoy whatever gives-to- you as long as it does and however and NEVER justify yourself just do what you feel carry it strongly yourself
The Urgency of the Arts
The words ‘urgency’ and ‘art’ combined make me think of two scenarios: the arts are dying and need rushing into hospital under a blue light, or they are the emergency vehicle needed to provide the therapy, knowledge and speed to resuscitate our corpse of a society. Neither, I think, is fully the case. If artists have their own urgencies – pressures of desire, revolt, breakthrough conceptualisations, sensuous deliriums and fits of cold disgust – the attempt to prescribe urgency on behalf of the arts is fraught with peril. There is no doubt that the envelopment of the arts in the stifling embrace of the culture industry has created a powerful need to liberate them from their extensive commodification, and indirectly commodifying effects such as gentrification, which have helped create worlds in which there is no place for artists let alone those multitudes who lack their exceptional social status. Yet the functionalism that asserts its power over the arts in the minds of policy makers and developers, creative agents and even activists, is urgently to be held apart from the being of art whose social contribution comes above all from its ability to withstand and negate the dull weight of habitual thought so often tied to the requirement to be useful. This intimate relation between art and uselessness, or more precisely inutility, is now, more than ever in the era of creative capitalism urgent to preserve. This shouldn’t be read as an elitist call for the exceptional preservation of art’s aristocratic freedoms, but rather as a defence of the freedom of all living creatures to become, to self-differ and to err for the sake of the dynamic emergence on which life depends. Protecting art from its total enclosure within social utility is as vital to preserving art’s power to deviate and therefore to build new knowledge and worlds as is the rewilding of land for the propagation of species diversity and life-webs capable of brushing off the dead hand of the Anthropocene.
Arrivals and Departures
Kairos is the instant, the moment of rupture and the opening of temporality. In opening time in this way, the opening of being is signified. Kairos is connected to poiesis (or the coming into presence) and is located at the interstice of the void and the act of naming. We require such an edge if we need to capture hold of something that is in the air or excessive, in order not to lapse into a reified notion of cultural progression or chronos.
There is an edge to the work of art but in being an edge it stands apart from urgency. If something is late, then it becomes urgent that time might be found for it but the work of art never arrives on time. This is because it cannot determine such things such as its arrival for it is not in time in any ordinary sense.
Everything starts to arrive late in this time. Antony Gormley recently announced that the moon might be regarded as a found object but is such a nomination is too late in its desire to discover new territory for art.
Early modernity expressed urgency in establishing it progression of the new, whereas late modernity expresses itself through exhaustion of the figures through which it once triumphed. Late Philip Guston paintings revolved around a singular sense, that of being “doomed”. Yet this sense did afford a certain licence to explore the underside of things. The last Bonnard self-portrait shows him looking out with blank eyes, as if to inflect all of his work with a corrective of a-visuality, a case of late time and late style in dark free accord.
In his book on Foucault, Deleuze states that the: “aesthetic lives of the Greeks had already essentially prompted a memory of the future.” This points towards the possibility of folding time and subjectivity in ways that open possibilities within late time. The fold of late time with the sense of urgency is part of the encounter with the present but is its point rupture also.
Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (London: Bloomsbury 2016) 88
The Urgency of the Arts
Summarising the results of over 100 years of experimental psychology in their book ‘Psychology of the Arts’, Hans and Shulamith Kreitler conclude that there is no reason to expect that works of art will produce behavioural changes in their recipients, since behaviour is a product of many and varied conditions which cannot be created or modified through art. Attempt to relate the general moral level of a culture to its artistic appreciation are also suspect the Kreitler’s warn. The widely shared belief that art can instruct the public, and help to attain a better state of affairs, lacks any factual backing.
A similarly disheartening conclusion is reached by those who work in arts education. The mid-20th-century confidence that an introduction to the arts at school would have a beneficial effect on the characters of pupils has now, it seems, evaporated. The American arts-education expert Elliot W. Eisner in his book ‘The Arts and the Creation of Mind’ (2002) concludes that whether work in the arts affects other aspects of a student’s contact with the world ‘cannot now be determined with any degree of confidence’. All that can be determined is that ‘work in the arts evokes, refines and develops thinking in the arts’
John Carey, What Good are the Arts? (2005)
Carey’s provocation concludes that there is no concrete proof for the good that art does, and it is indeed hard to think of ways one might demonstrate the efficacy of art’s value to society beyond all doubt. But does this lack of evidence mean artists are deluded or even self-serving when they claim art as a model for a way of being in the world? But perhaps we need a different form of measure? For if we cannot evaluate what art does for others, maybe we can say what it does for ourselves?
For me, the importance of art lies in its inexhaustibility. It sustains engagement both in the making and in the consuming. Magically, the same work can offer a completely different experience at different times of one’s life. Looking at the same painting, listening to the same track or reading the same novel years apart quite often unpacks into expanded, overlapping, even contradictory, understandings of it. It’s the same work but somehow changed. Its sphere extending beyond you when you first encountered it and developing to encompass you now in front of it, perhaps even extending into your future, if you stay with it. It is a dynamic, a conversation, that endures. For a producer too, art requests absorption and rewards immersion with a continual array of problems to be encountered and faced, if never resolved. I have observed that both the self-expansion and the self-forgetting of art buoys up those that engage with it. I have noticed that it is often a reason to keep living.
The Urgency of the Arts
I hear this statement as a proclamation. And I interpret it also as a question.
It’s a proclamation about how we connect emotionally through the arts; this is urgent at a time when we are seeing political, social and economic divisions rip apart our community and national lines.
It’s a proclamation about how we foreground personal experience through the arts; this is urgent at a time when new technologies are reducing us to data that is being exploited in algorithmic economies, stripping our fundamental rights to privacy.
It’s a proclamation about how we explore authenticity through the arts; this is urgent at a time when our cultural landscapes have become infested with fake news.
It’s a proclamation about how we are critical through the arts; this is urgent if we are to resist deterministic hype about artificial intelligence futures.
It’s a proclamation about how we channel our empathy through the arts; this is urgent at a time when identity politics and tribalism is breaking down our bonds.
It’s a proclamation about how we prioritise materiality in the arts; this is urgent as reposts to neoliberal, neocolonialist gaze that perpetuate structural inequality and discrimination. It’s urgent that we continue do so.
It’s a proclamation about how through the arts we can show our love for, and our creative commitment to save our planet, our urgent desire…
But remember: for me, the statement ‘Urgency of the Arts’ is also a question. And my question is this: how do we, as artists and practitioners, urgently do more to develop inclusive, representative, globally-sensitive research methods—that also take account of our own duties of self-care and emotional labour—to deal with our immediate concerns? How do we reform our critical pedagogies to be socially and cognitively just in order to release the potential of the arts as transformational, ethical, in these urgent times? To think together new ways of working and of knowing through the arts is for me part of its urgent appeal.
Time: She flexs like a whore
URGENCY is a ‘talk’ of time
I feel a need for a Different
understanding of time . layers,
quantum, unknowing time,
keys, clues that lead us stretch
A deep time, a connecting that
lasts from one to another and
the complexity held within
that moment as we gaze,…
And the lost understanding
of how long time is when we
err, error, wander again
We are (a)midst a(n)
Watching the rule swing back
hypnotised by the ‘ease’
dispersed dissipated and
distributed daily time is
different and precarious
and actually our role is the
need to explore that precarity
to be Free to respond
resist stretch it out
to have time to not answer
the question but ask why the
question has arisen
The practice of research reveals the complex labour of learning. Developing one’s own position in relation to each new canon encountered involves having relationships – with words, ideas and authors. Each new theorist is read, at first, with the force of an infatuation, in a flurry of extra attention. Special value is given to each idea, phrase or word in the heat of the new. Care is taken about where I read – in the morning light or in bed at night. Or, no care at all because I’m reading whenever possible – on the bus, while the kettle boils – incorporating the author, inhaling their steam.
After a while, a careless disregard may develop for this book once so important. I stop moving the book from room to room. I neglect to take it with me when I leave the house. A cooling off period might take place as dust (from my body) gathers on the cover left in the sun. Or, I might tidy it onto the shelf with other stored relations. Ideas, like lovers are grown out of, argued with and dumped, or worse – two timed.
Generating a new inquiry is detailed and time-consuming work achieved alone but also in relation to each other. The invitation to any researcher is to draw from their internal worlds to generate their work and there will inevitably be an interplay between intellectual ambition and emotional investment. Less guaranteed though, is that the teaching environment will support that aspect of the relation. What is urgent here is the acknowledgment of that emotional investment, those infatuations with ideas, surges of interest in authors, those declarations of our preoccupations which ebb and flow like love.
Perhaps art will help us to comprehend
The debris of the phenomenological and material world.
To sort the disposable, decomposing, decaying,
The reusable, refuse-able, recyclable and up-cyclable
Found within this pile of garbage.
Perhaps art is evidence.
Proof of the unequal accumulation and distribution of wealth, tax breaks and billionaires
Testimony to deep social cuts, inequality, poverty, austerity, and welfare.
Perhaps art is indictment.
Verifying the degradation, depletion, and disintegration of the earth’s natural resources,
Climate change and natural disasters.
Perhaps art will help us to recognize
Our future selves in relation to the ‘others’ we’ve created?
To conceive that we have poisoned our own wells
Through webs of control and destruction
Colonialism, nationalism, sectarianism,
Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism.
‘Isms’ creating schisms that have led to our immolation.
Perhaps art will be the repository of society’s collective memory
For the future beyond the Anthropocene?
Until then, we are all part of the same burning compost heap.
What goes extinct when we go to war?
Urgency makes me nervous. Or perhaps when we are nervous things seem more urgent. The word urgent spiked in English use during the first and second world wars, only to then climb sharply and peak in 1971. Urgency feels like war. And that makes me nervous. Or perhaps I am nervous because we are told we are at war. An urgent one. But I like this definition of urgent: earnest, but persistent; determined, resolute, obstinate, pressing, unrelenting. An urgent whisper. I think about the passenger pigeon, which was the most abundant bird in North America, at its peak some 4-5 billion birds, forty percent of all birds in North America at the time. As Stephen J. Bodio writes, ‘one recorded breeding colony in Wisconsin in 1871 was 125 miles long and between 6 and 8 miles wide’. They blackened out skies and they could take days to pass over. On September 1st 1914, the last passenger pigeon died, in captivity, at the Cincinnati Zoo. From 5 billion to extinct in 40 years, its death, an urgent whisper. If there is an urgency of the arts and humanities, it’s not only to be that urgent whisper: persistent, unrelenting, pressing, somehow stepping out of time with the urge to yell and the shout of the now. But also, to listen, for that urgent whisper. The last quiet breath of extinction. That autumn day, on the eve of that loud and urgent war.
The Urgency of the Arts
Changing the terms of a debate can often be a way to resist the already-established parameters of perception, and is a key strategy in activist methodology. But it goes beyond a semantic exercise.
To think of the urgency of the arts in terms of the arts of urgency is to think about a tactics for making public realities and ‘truths’. It is to ask how can art and artists express horror, suffering, collective and individual trauma with intelligence, rigour, truthfulness, integrity and ethics? Such tactics ask what constitutes effective political art, specifically in times and spaces of urgency?
De Certeau deployed the term tactic for identifying modes of resistant practice that could not imagine themselves exterior to a field of power, that necessarily were embedded within spaces of constraint and found themselves adjusting, reframing, and ironizing the space and materials given to them. A tactic ‘seize[s] on the wing the possibilities … and it does so without being able to establish a ‘base where it could stockpile its winnings’. In spaces of urgency, these possibilities are fragile, delicate, often eccentric, and sometimes provisional.
Such tactics can be seen in the work of Zanele Muholi, who is credited with inventing the phrase visual activism as a flexible, spacious rubric. In documenting and making visible black lesbian communities in South Africa she deploys and critiques the politics of intimacy. Muholi invites us to think about the difference between being an artist and being a visual activist. She speaks about that difference, but she also performs it – by appearing with her collaborators as equals, by putting relationships before objects, and by emphasizing the changes for her community that her practice aims to achieve.
The term visual activism puts pressure on its constitutive words and asks what are the politics of reckoning that what the tactic ‘wins, it cannot keep’?
In March 2018, the NHS published the results of a survey into cervical screening. Cervical cancer is a young woman’s disease yet 1 in 3 aged between 25 and 29 had skipped their smears, a proportion which increased to 1 in 2 in deprived areas. In March 2019, Public Health England launched its first campaign for these women, in particular for ‘those small sub-groups who are less likely to participate, including women from ethnic minorities, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and lesbian and bisexual women’. The prevention of cervical cancer is one of many urgent matters relating to women’s health, but what does it have to do with arts and humanities research?
The engagement in the arts and humanities with gender, sexuality, class and race, with bodies, cultures and regimes of power, has brought us to an understanding of medicine and medicalisation as one of the many institutions and processes of institutionalisation which affect us, even make us. Such research encourages us to question the ‘unquestionable’, such as clinical ‘truth’, authority and practice, to reflect upon why in the case of the survey the women did not (could not, would not) participate. More broadly, the criticality fostered through this way of working inspires a way of being and living which prioritises the actions of empathising, of caring and repairing, of resisting, activating and agitating – urgent actions which help us to continue developing our pedagogies and practices as critical.
In my work as an art historian, I think about the entanglement of the modernist image of the body – as diseased, desired, dominated – with the clinical medicine which emerged in the modern era, which developed new ways of scrutinising, opening and penetrating the body, in particular the female body, the black body, the ‘criminal’ and ‘deviant’ body. This is one of the many histories which lie behind the recent survey’s findings: the violence women fear; the shame they experience; the inequalities; the injustices. I say this not to conflate the present with the past, but to highlight how arts and humanities research might be put to use in our contemporary moment: to understand attitudes in order to change them; another, no less important way of saving lives
Border 2020, Forkhill, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.
An Unfinished History of Glass
night of broken glass. ‘38
When I began this gesture of using the drinking glass as a symbol for moments spent with others, I had the simple intention of making an inventory of my social life. I was, or had been, thinking about the reclaiming of social space as a kind of intimate political act, some kind of reclamation of a public space, a kind of movement for the dispossessed. But it turns out that this intention might have dispersed as my “collecting” began to be kleptomania. I cannot stop. Stop for what. I wanted the glass to say I am still here. I am here for those that are not here. That do not hear. That cannot hear. I wanted the glass to hold the milk, that I dyed black, which was a mere stand in for the impossibility of black milk. I wanted the glass to stand for me in space. But I am not in space, not like that. What happens when objects perform absence? How do objects perform? How does absence perform? What is the performativity of absence?
I do not wish to see you yet/ I am not alone here/ in this silence/ in this space/ of what you would call the floor/ but I would call it the unhome/ the un/ of a home/ that is not made/ you were brought/ from SP./ an evening/ where we met/ again/ after one year/ after seven years/after seventy two years/ still/ with a whiteness that borders to black/ we drink you at night/ we drink you at sundown/ held in the reformed glass/ where were we?/ not on your continent/ not in your house/ in the stillness of your body/ the softness of your voice/ in the darkness of your stare/ the love of us/ us/ and you/ and we/ and again we meet/ unbroken/ possessed/ spoken to/ if only to inhabit the spaces at the edge/ our excess/ of that which is not said/ that which will be left/ unsaid/ the vessels of your tongue/ reconstituted as stolen glass/ am I a thief/ would you call me a fugitive?/ if I am stealing them for you/ if I am claiming back us/ if we can be claimed/ quiet/ let you speak/ if you can/ if you must/ if you/ and to speak/ in this tongue/ not your home/ not your mother/ gone/ your mother gone/ our mothers’ gone/ our bonds/ unsilent/ we refuse to stop talking/ we resist being silent now/ even silence is loud/ this silence/ of the stillness of your look/ down/ and away/ not at/ we drink/ and we drink/ and we drink/ you remain full/ in full/ your stare in me/ I stare/ this glass/ stolen from Cozinha 212/ Rua dos Pinheiros 174/ Sao Paulo/ from dinner and drinks/with Goia Mujalli/ and Alexandre Ribeiro/on December 14th 2019 .
is the work of the kleptomaniac? Who steals for whom?
intention of meaning/ The meaning taking over/ the method defying the
intention/ the intention becoming addiction/ the addiction producing a
libidinality/ a pleasure/ the pleasure of repair/ our need to repair/ the
desire to be repaired/ am I alone?/ to repair is our restitution/ our
reclaiming is our restitution/ I take you back/ by theft/ by sneak/ alone/ for
us/ to be together/ to find our new refuge/ to find the space to build our
refuge/ and in this refuse/ my agency/ to be the restitutive agent/ the claim
to claim back/ without permission/ to protect this moment/ to hold our moments/
together/ again/ to sustain/ to feed/ to be of sustenance/ to have meaning in
the interchanges of our words/ your words/ the words in the glass/ stolen from
( )/our meaning is in our fugitivity/ the
decentred i/ i taken out of the experience of I/ once more/ you here with me/
I’ll give these back/ return them to new spaces/ context for a loss/ addressed
to us/ to you/ to the passed/ I know dispossession without having experienced
it/ it is passed/ how?/ how do we pass/ how is it be passed down/ passed
around/ passed with care/ if I address you/ can you understand the conditions
of my care?/ can you see in the absence of its material?/ in the transparent
vessel/ in the empty space/ the amorphous stage/ as opposed to the mirror/ you/
and I/ others and other/ we can reclaim this space/ this space can become a
stage for our home/ a stage to re-animate your voice/ to speak to us/ again./
addressing us again/ again/ and again/ to say/ your voice will produce your
being/ your voices will be here/ in the liquid that is not quite certain of its
condition/ that moves meaning/ that infers a relation to space/ to site/ to our
having been there/ to our having been/ to our not being there now/ to now/ to
then/ to the last fragment of broken glass/ re-pieced/ returned/ renewed/ restituted/ if just to deepen/
the desire to restore/ and find repair.
Is my context contingent, if so, what am I contingent on? Can you produce your own context? Can you exist without context? Can you begin to claim a context? Are contexts pre-determined, given, offered, inherited? The loss that makes you become us, that serves to offer my foreignness, to refer to Butler, and to wonder about what my irreducibility might mean in relation to my context. Who is it I am beholden to? Responsible for? To whom do I address? If I address the other in me, do I address you?
Peggy Phelan would say “All of our deepest questions are addressed to interlocutors who are not here, who cannot hear us. (If we could have a ready response our questions would not be “deep” – what makes them deep is their unanswerability)” 
This is addressed to you/ To all the you/To the you who comes through me in your words/ To you who speaks to me in your own address/ I am not certain of the tone of my voice/ To work on my tone/ To speak from the heart/ And to deliver a message that speaks to you/ To you and only you/ The plural you/ The you as the vous/ The you as us/ I want to sound the way you sounded when you were recorded reading Allerseelen/All souls (day)/ Soft/ Silent/ From a darkness/ Or when you wrote of your inability to take yourself out/ Weak/ Worried/ Incapable/ Or when you transformed us into the fly/ Anxious/ Uncertain/ My address will be so/ Indirect/ Kind/ Full of love/ to you/ to us/ and I will write from this address/ all the glasses/ Are addressed to you/ Where are your traces if not in the relations we hold together?
And what is it to address. To be addressed. To sign the address. To write the address. To think how I can be addressed. To think, who am I addressing? When the songs are written who is it, they have in mind? Or as Celan writes, there are still songs to sing beyond mankind. What would it be to beyond mankind? To be beyond the space that we exist in. in the void that is not yet known. In the home that is not yet built. Or the home that is just a maquette for a home? The songs of our lives that are no longer here. Those who remain, sing to those who are gone. Are the poems written after, the poems of the song? Driving on and on in unrelieved darkness. Dwelling in the darkness of those long gone. Is this the beyond you mean?
 ‘Kristallnacht’, HISTORY
 This fragment was written on Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 (January 27). Paul Celan’s todesfuge (death fugue) was first published in 1948. Celan, Paul, and Michael Hamburger. 1996. Selected Poems. London: Penguin Books
 Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (Verso, 2006). P46
 Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories, 1 edition (London ; New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 32.
 Primo Levi, If This Is a Man ; : And, The Truce (Abacus, 1987).
 Franz Kafka and Joyce Crick, The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
 Celan, Paul. “Threadsuns by Paul Celan | Poetry Foundation,” Poetry Foundation https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/58204/threadsuns> [accessed 7 February 2020]2014
 “For if I am here and there, I am also not fully there and even if I am here, I am always more fully here. Is there a way to understand this reversibility as limited by bodily time and space in such a way that the other is not radically other, and am I not radically over here as I, but the link, the joint is chiasmatic and only and partly reversible and partly not.” Butler, J. 2018. Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press) p120
 Lamentations 3, sefaria.org. Lamentation (online), Available at: Accessed 21 Nov. 2019
The Shades of Dark Matters: Dappled insights into the aesthetics of blindness
The Crow flies into the Sun,
It cries and is heard by those squinting to hear the last vestiges of times remembered.
It takes with it the shades and shadows
That light and sight thought it had as a life-long partner.
Finally, it is extinguished in the merest ‘phut’,
Drowned in the bedazzling light of the mighty inferno.
The Room with no view
The room sensed in all ways but visually
Is a room that’s full of solid air and vacant objects.
There’s the floor-that old familiar, flat friend to humans,
Always present to the touching toes and heavy on the heels.
The walls and ceiling often distant memories
But which box clever when brought to mind.
One wall might wear a window now and then
That frames the day or night with grace and favour.
The windows multi-talented glass allegedly lets in light and filters out the rest,
And is at panes to paint pictures of the world for some to see
Each painting framed to fit the viewers point of view.
Door oh door je t’adore the door!
My fingers fumble and find some solid air
Now here’s a table and a chair
Whose shape is remarkably like a table and a chair
That isn’t there.
The Sound of ‘Sound’
The sound of sound is in town
The sound of sound is found in town
The sound of sound is found around the town
The sound of sound is bound to be found around the town
Around the town is bound to be renowned for the sound of sound
Around the town is renowned for the sound of sound
In town is found the sound of sound
In town is the sound of sound
These poetic fragments strive towards ‘shades’ or facets of the experience of blindness. Each fragment is a response to sensory experience infected by visual impairment. Each fragment privileges one particular modality or alternatively, takes a multi-modal stance. The commonalities that emerge from creative arts endeavours of this and other genres provides the methodological backbone for my practice-led research into the relationship between blindness and art.
The commonalities referred to coalesce into two broad yet connected strands of recurring sensorial experience that emerge from my day to day life and which are integral to my art practice. These are firstly, a preponderant and powerful sense of visual continuity notwithstanding the presence of total blindness. Secondly, a similarly present and intense awareness of a pluralised sensorium at work in whatever I am doing or thinking. In what follows I will briefly describe these phenomena highlighting their peculiar characteristics and genealogies.
The fact of the mental image, the ‘mind’s eye’ or the ‘inward eye’ is undeniable, but the mechanisms that underpin its phenomenology remain a mystery. The ubiquity of the mental image is evidenced in daily commonplace events such as closing our eyes in order to remember an object or place; or being disgruntled by the difference between our imagined image of a character in a novel and that same character portrayed in a film or theatrical production that interprets the novel.
The force and continuity of the mental image despite blindness was brought home to me when I first attended audio description events in art galleries designed for blind visitors to gain access to art. I was a newly fledged totally blind person aged about 35 still getting used to life without light having had sight as a younger person. I was startled and thrilled by the power and zest of the visual images I was experiencing in response to the audio describers words as we stood in front of both familiar and unfamiliar works of art.
All the myriad colours known to art in all their moods and manifestations were there to be ‘seen’. These were not disembodied, formless swathes of floating colour that I was experiencing. They were integral to the people and objects that populated the paintings and gallery environments being described and which were also available to my inner ‘gaze’.
Hungry to relive the visual fix I got from these audio descriptions I attended many other such events in the following months and years. I also attended many art making workshops designed for visually impaired people that focused on multisensory experience. All this activity revealed to me that the exciting visual evocations that I’d been experiencing were not unique to the aurality of the spoken word and that of music. Stimulating all the sensory modalities has, to a greater or lesser extent, the effect of bringing to mind visual experience. This led to my developing strong hunches about the existence of a complex, pluralised sensorium. It also led to me reviving my art making practice that had been dormant for many years.
The Pluralised Sensorium
All of us always experience the world in a multi-modal, sensorially homogeneous way. To suggest that humans are capable of experiencing in a sensorially segmented or siloed way, is quite unrealistic and unhelpful. It is through the multi-modal sensorium that we truly experience life. We do, of course, favour particular senses at any one time, but other senses are not thereby shut down. It is this pluralised and entangled understanding of sensory experience that lies at the heart of my research.
When sight, or any other individual sensory mode, is functioning in a healthy sensorium it is never working in isolation. It is part of a complex multiplicity and plurality of overlapping sensory modes working in tandem. So stimulating any particular modality will generate ‘echoes’ or traces of all the other modalities. Using the logic of this integrated sensorium we can better understand the true nature of sensory loss and the attendant disability it causes.
Observing the void that is created by the absence of an entity that is integral to an environment is revealing and informative of the nature and function of both that entity and its host environment. So it is with sight loss; the fact that visual experience remains available to individuals by non-visual stimulation in ways such as those described above is indicative of the plurality and complexity of the sensorium.
Howes, David, ‘Cross-Talk between the Senses’ in Senses and Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, (Berg, 2006).
 Sculpture, Installation Work and Sound Art are the principal categories that constitute my art practice.
 An informative overview of recent thinking regarding the multi-sensory is available in the review article ‘Cross-Talk between the Senses’by David Howes(Howes, Senses and Society, 2006, pp 381-390).
Unlikely Mike and the Counter Factuals
Mike, the lead singer in the main band, had gripped everyone’s attention for the entire two hours of their set. His eerie ululations, strange costumes, unbelievable hair and unlikely antics transfixed the audience in a mixed state of repulsion and attraction. The band’s haunting music jangled nerve endings causing both pain and pleasure in equal measure that was intoxicating and irresistible.
Mike’s fellow band members were borderline alien in appearance and demeanour. They were grim and frightening henchmen in their dazzling display of deviance. This band, called ‘Unlikely Mike and the Counter Factuals’, was the headline band for the night ahead.
The support act that had played earlier in the evening was the up and coming band ‘The Pete Solitary Quintet’; featuring Pete Solitary-Vocals, Rikki Poor-Guitar, Bob Nasty- Keys, Jan Brutish-Bass, and Claire Short-Drums. These desultory and dystopic peddlers of doom and sex were a fitting musical ‘cool-down’ and ‘chill-out’ in preparation for what was to come in the shape of Unlikely Mike and his fellow performers…
This is a believable picture of the whimsical and the unlikely. Above I have presented a fictitious night out experiencing two entirely imaginary and yet plausible bands in order to illustrate a well-documented idea. Namely what musicians do live on stage is very similar to what children do when they lose themselves in imaginative play. Both performing artists and children lost in their fantastical play present, or set up, a series of highly unlikely situations in order to interrogate highly likely, everyday occurrences. In the case of the performing artists they present the audience with wildly unlikely theatrical and musical ‘takeaways’ with which to test or judge the aesthetic and ethical content of their everyday lives. In the case of children they set up improbable play scenarios (like talking teddy bears) in order to test for proto-aesthetic and proto-ethical issues in very ordinary life-events like eating, falling down or getting wet. Sure, it’s entertainment and sure it’s escapism but the suggestion is that this behaviour also affords us a way of unpacking and repackaging the world of uncertainty concerning the past and (more importantly) our collective and individual futures. In fact it is argued below that, by employing what amounts to ‘counterfactuals’ as a method, the arts in general afford humans this invaluable service while simultaneously providing us with a welcome distraction and relief from the burdensome yoke of our daily grind.
The developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik has for many years argued that in the realm of human infant development children at play are in effect testing for the important distinction between causation and correlation. Gopnik points out that related events may or may not have a causal relationship and that it’s important for both children and adults alike to discern the difference. Children do this, she argues, by a kind of proto-scientific method involving comparative probability, conditional counterfactuals and possible world thinking. Gopnik further argues that adults employ exactly the same toolkit for exactly the same reasons using artistic production or consumption as a means for doing this. In the case of the child at play and the adult reading a novel or watching a music performance, both agents identify with the main protagonists (Teddy or Unlikely Mike) and, by a process of unwitting comparisons and assessments, they make judgements and even changes to their own behaviour as a result. 
In a recent article by Johnny Golding we are reminded of the significance of counterfactuals as a powerful and ubiquitous tool by which we try and make sense of the largely speculative character of our world view and by which we justify our actions. The uncertainty that exists at the heart of our view of history and our hopes and fears for the future are, claims Golding, managed most effectively, or at least, most usually, by use of the counterfactual. Politicians, religious leaders, teachers, parents and individuals at play invoke hypothetical, imagined worlds or scenarios that are clearly contrary to the facts of the immediate world but which are nevertheless possible or plausible. We then point out the logical consequences that flow from these possible worlds and use them as powerful indicators of both historical and future actual outcomes. 
Blind Aesthetics via the Counter Factual (or discovering the believable)
My own research is concerned with adding to the widespread contemporary move to redefine and realign ‘disability’ as a general category within society. My starting point for this work is to narrow the research focus to blindness as a subset of disability; I propose the existence of what I call a ‘blind aesthetic’ and I intend to demonstrate this by means of my sculptural and installation based art practice. By ‘blind aesthetic’ I mean an attitude, or a judgemental position, or a perceptual standpoint that is especially accessible through, or even dependent upon, vision loss or total blindness.
Contemporary critical Disability Studies scholarship examines the situations of people with disability and asks whether current understanding and attitude towards disability and disabled people are true, logically sustainable and ethically robust. Recent writers on the subject jostle for position with each new theory and model of disability replacing or superseding the previous one. A series of models have emerged that are sometimes contradictory and sometimes complementary. All are embroiled in debates over issues of identity, differing views on representation not to mention controversy over the attendant and foundational questions in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind. 
In my research, led by writers such as Seibers, Gopnick and Golding, I propose to employ the counterfactual as a primary research methodology. Above I have noted the power and ubiquity of counter factual thinking in our everyday lives and it is worth noting the following potential research benefits of adopting this approach. As the name implies counter factual modes of thought seek out the unreal as a starting point and a pathway towards discovering what might be true, real or believable. Through a process of storytelling and hypotheticals counterfactuals aim to discover possible worlds that can be used to test for causal certainty as against mere correlation. In addition the counter factual is congenial to the fundamental research requirement to produce an ‘original contribution to knowledge’ since, by definition, the counterfactual starts by asking ‘what is not currently and apparently the case’.
Musical performance and literature have already been mentioned as prime vehicles for the counterfactual. The visual or plastic arts, in its widest definition, also provides fertile environments within which counter factual experimentation can be conducted. This is in fact the starting point for my own research.
Self-consciously setting up counterfactuals or disruptive gestures as key elements in visual art practice is, of course, a well-worn constituent of the Duchampian paradigm in modern and post-modern art. In my current art practice and research practice I unashamedly continue this tradition. The main players in this ‘disorderly theatre’ will be, for example, the dysfunctional, the dissonant, the disabled and of course, Unlikely Mike.
Barclay, Linda. Disability with Dignity: Justice, Human Rights and Equal Status. (Taylor & Francis Group, 2019)
Golding, Johnny. ‘The Photograph of Thought’ in: Rubinstein, Daniel, (ed.) Fragmentation of the Photographic Image in the Digital Age. The Routledge History of Photography Series. (London/New York: Routledge, 2019).
Gopnik, Alison. ‘On the Imagination’ – Philosophy Bites podcast June 2011. Podcast audio. Philosophy Bites.MP3. https://philosophybites.com/2011/06/alison-gopnik-on-the-imagination.html
Haynes, Roy, Brown, Ivan and Hansen, Nancy (editors). Routledge History of Disability. (Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2018).
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan 1668. (Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 1994).
Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. (USA: The University of Michigan Press, 2008).
 These names personify Thomas Hobbes’ well-known characterisation of an imagined pre-social state of nature as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (Hobbes, Leviathan, p76).
 The entirety of this short Podcast is useful in understanding the relationship between the unreal or counter factual and the real (Philosophy Bites. https://philosophybites.com/2011/06/alison-gopnik-on-the-imagination.html).
 Johnny Golding, 2019, Book Section, The Photograph of Thought in: Rubinstein, Daniel, (ed.) Fragmentation of the Photographic Image in the Digital Age. The Routledge History of Photography Series. Routledge, London/New York, pp. 212-223
 The traditional Tragedy, Charity and Medical models of disability were challenged in the 1980’s by the Social model that argues for disability being essentially socially constructed rather than caused by the individuals’ biological defects (Haynes, Routledge History of Disability, p152). More recent writers have proposed more nuanced models that address the weaknesses of the previous positions. These include The Relational Model (Barclay, Disability with Dignity: Justice, Human Rights and Equal Status) and the Model of Complex Embodiment (Siebers, Disability Theory, p26).
The Queering of Photography
I explain that I do not wish to represent you. That I will ask you to pose and to look at the camera. That I will make a portrait. Sometimes you nod, other times you look puzzled. I tell you that you will need to pause, to hold your pose, your poise. That I will instruct you where I want you, your body, in the frame.
You warn me that you have not been photographed like this before. That you may be a bad sitter. A bad poser. Sometimes you ask me to make you look good. Bending my head, disappearing under the cloth, I see you. In the frame. Through the frosted, gridded ground glass. You are upside down.
Like mine, your skin is your largest organ. I am not mine but you are yours. The skin is you. I cut you out, skinning you from the back that grounds you. Curled up you are fragile and thin. Your existence in doubt, see-through and groundless. Yet still Photograph.
I am told that I cannot touch you. I remain at a distance as I set up my tripod and mount my camera. I am being watched by an Institutional Member of Staff. Fixed to the ground you exist in this room. I cannot move you so I move myself. Around you, to frame you. You are beautiful. You are carved out of pale marble. Sometimes you are damaged and then you show gentle signs of fixing. A material fixing. A putting-together-again. Rome is hot. I wish I could touch you. I imagine that you are cold. That you would cool my palm right down.
Clammy hands are not allowed in the darkroom. Clammy hands interfere with the photograph to be. Before I load the film sheets into the film back I have to remember to wash my hands with soap and to dry them. Clammy hands leave traces. On the film that will become a photograph. Like the light that flows through the lens, an imprint onto the film > negative > photograph.
You used to be made of glass. Dialectically named, you are nothing on your own. You require The Move to make sense. Before you were transparent you were a solid plate of metal. As daguerreotype you were positive and negative at the same time. Two things simultaneously you existed in one singular move, yet shifting with the gaze of the viewer. Back to front, silver whiteness and matte darkness. Superpositionality.
I instruct you to turn your head towards me. Your head on the bottom row of the grid. Of the ground glass that is my frame. One eye, two eyes. Stop, I tell you. And chin up. You are upside down. I hold you with my eyes. But I remain behind the camera. I do not touch you.
But sometimes I walk up to you. To the piece of masking tape on the floor. That marks where I want you. That marks the distance between you and the film plane. Onto which you will be fixed, via light. I stroke a lock of hair from your face. With my hand, tying it behind your ear. I try to flatten your creased shirt. Sometimes, when I cannot shape you through speech and gesture, I take your chin gently between my index finger and thumb. Tweaking your head to the deadpan point from where you might become the photograph I want.
Queer doesn’t come like a punch line. Queer is everywhere. Going through and within rather than oppose. Not against, not from the other side. Queer is the photograph: an entanglement of dimensions and matter. In a world of heteronormativity. In a world of Newtonian precision. The entanglement that the photograph is cannot be quantified. The photograph is the faggot, the queen, the butch. The photograph is the is: difference without negation.
A mash-up of spatiality and duration, of palette and density. Yet refined, you exist. Wiping transparency away. Wiping away representation. Enframing: the loop back to the same. Instead: Photograph: a world arranged, shuffled, twisted, flat. Not a copy though. Photographic matter. Metric cut. Entangled dimensionality. The queering of photography.
A conversation between recomposed fragments of four previous texts
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
- EMAIL sent on 25 July 2019 to one of the curators of the NEoN Digital Arts Festival where 6 Weeks in Kyiv was performed
- REPORT for funders detailing activities undertaken during a research trip to Kyiv, Ukraine in June 2019
- TRANSCRIPTION of a recorded conversation between Adam Walker and Vicki Thornton, who frequently collaborate, which took place in January 2019
- ANSWERS to questions sent by the funding organisation, who wished to write up a ‘case study’ of Adam’s research activities (sent on 2 October 2019)
Kyiv was a chance encounter at first. As the title of the work alludes to, it’s not so much about Kyiv in any ‘objective’ sense, so much as with the specifics of that situation I found myself within, partially constituted by my being there. My being there, on a residency, was a contingent result of opportunism. I took the chance to go, certainly out of interest, but also for the sake of the cultural capital it would entail, the funding provided, and such forth. If the residency had been elsewhere, I would perhaps never have gone.
The ability to take this opportunity throws up certain
problematic questions of complicity that carry through into the work. The
journeys listed, and recited, occur most frequently between art institutions
and studios. Close inspection would make it clear that I am in Kyiv as a type
of ‘linguistic-relational’ worker – a highly valued form of labour within our
present post-Fordist context. My flexibility is presumed, able to take
advantage and swiftly react to conditions of opportunity. This presumption,
which I am pulled to conform to, ignores the material and social ties and
responsibilities I have: a note on the table for example makes reference to my
partner and then-five-month-old child coming to join me in Kyiv for a week.
On Wednesday 5th June I interviewed Oleksiy Radynski, a film-maker and contributor to the Visual Culture Research Centre. Meeting Oleksiy was a priority, as he had produced the Hito Steyerl artwork The Tower which I had a seen in Kyiv (at VCRC) in 2017, and which I plan to write about. Our conversation was focused on this artwork: how Hito had wanted to do something on economic chains of outsourcing emanating from warfare and had initially been looking in South East Asia. The technochratic Soviet history of Ukraine means it is a centre for this type of work though, so focus switched to here. Hito found Oleg, the main protagonist, and Oleksiy went to interview him. He owns and operates a company
specialising in VR and AR rendering, and is one of the final graduates from the Soviet period scientific/technical institute in Kharkiv. Oleg’s company themselves produced the video, using adapted pre-existing material. The company became both the subject and object of the work, where the relations transpire.
Although I wasn’t able to travel to Kharkiv in person, on Thursday 6th June I Skyped with Oleg. He preferred to speak via text chat. We discussed in greater detail his personal history Oleksiy had alluded to, and things he mentions in the artwork The Tower including ideas of ‘near shore’ and ‘body leasing’. We also discussed in detail the process by which the artwork had been produced.
Adam: I think if I do have a basis in anything it’s a basis in text. Which is interesting vis-a-vis the relationship between practice and writing because sometimes the practice is writing and they slip into each other. […] I think because my work’s always been really bound up in the context and the process and there’s not a boundary. It’s like what is the work is porously entwined with the production of the work and the reception of the work and the context or contexts of encounter with the work. […] Like a bringing together of site and event and action and presence in a sort of moment but not like any sort of allegorical montage, like a montage of elements that are coalesced. But within the material reality […] trying to be affective.
Vicki: Well, now you’re making me think about the flag. So, correct me if I’m wrong but with this piece there’s a kind of process whereby you engage local economy to get that flag made and you go to this place that does the embroidery for you. But you are also reliant on Anna to mediate that or gate-keep that […]. But then there’s that whole back-and-forth part of it being too expensive to embroider. And you decide to drop some bits of the design. And then the flag is delivered to you in a bag at our TOMBOLA! event. And then there’s the next stage which is you taking off that Ukrainian flag of Taras’s that was found up the chimney or wherever it was and putting your flag back on. Then there is the process of the procession through the tram lines and that encounter with those guys at the tram stop (on Defender of Ukraine Day) and the climbing up to the roof and so declaring this kind of republic of Soshenko. Then there is the removal of that and taking it to Kharkiv and neatening it up then Olena’s dad finding a stick for it…
Then it came back via Kyiv. So, it wasn’t the end in Kharkiv. It then travelled back with me… With the Ukrainian flag also. And then it’s probably in a cupboard somewhere now. And that’s the end for now? So that’s the story of the flag…? But actually in that whole story, you could take that story that I’ve just described – we both just described – and you could transcribe that story and you’ve got an arc, a narrative arc of this thing and you’ve got all these different interactions within that thing… whether it’s you dealing with Anna at the beginning to the negotiation of the price to it arriving in TOMBOLA!, to it being walked around the forest, to the Ukrainian flag being taken down and the other one being put on… So which part of that is the work? Which part of that is the methodology or is all of it and is that story that I’ve just told now of that piece of work important?
Adam: But then there might be more fragments – there always might be another fragment further out from the edge. And there are fragments that are quite near the centre like the flag itself, probably. But then a lot of these other things like you just telling that story is kind of another fragment that sits somewhere beyond some of these other elements…
So I think the interesting thing about The Tower is how it shifts in relation between very bodily things, and very abstract things.
It starts with wanting to create a work about chains of outsourced labour emanating from warfare – warfare clearly being potentially directly, painfully affecting of bodies.
This is then translated through these global systems of technology and capital. Because of our instant global interconnectedness, western European companies can easily have their architectural renderings drawn up in Ukraine.
And, because of the global system of finance/capital/labour, it’s cheaper to do so.
But this abstraction then comes back to bodies, the bodies of coders sat working long hours at their terminals to realise these renderings on time. I found the use of the term ‘body leasing’ in my interview with Oleg very interesting in this regard.
While developing 6 Weeks in Kyiv, and through conversations had there, I was particularly interested in how the legacy of the Soviet techno-scientific state has left an extensive culture of technical knowledge and skill, particularly in computer programming and coding. This would seem to be an advantageous position in the emergent global economic context. However, in the case of Uber and its local Ukrainian equivalent and competitor, ‘Uklon’, the former’s established structural superiority of capital (financial and cultural) is allowing it to outcompete the latter. Global capital’s acceleration toward further inequality-producing concentration (and the massive already established structural inequalities) means the talent pool in a site like Kyiv becomes a site for ‘near shore’ outsourcing, rather than a place of potential competition. Several of the drivers listed in 6 Weeks in Kyiv had left jobs in the technology sector because they could earn more (or at least at the time thought they could earn more) as Uber drivers.
What I find so interesting about The Tower though as an artwork, is that while the above is what the work is ‘about’, it is also in a sense what the work ‘is’. We have a western Europe-based artist similarly outsourcing the production of this work to the company who themselves are the focus of the work they are producing.
In so doing the work is brought back into real world proximity with warfare, and frames the reality of coding programming expertise in contemporary Ukraine (as part of globalised labour markets) in relation to the main protagonist’s (Oleg’s) training in the last years of the Soviet military-scientific-industrial complex.
I stumbled into a chance encounter with a community of people in Kyiv, and later Kharkiv, through being selected for a residency there. That experience though, led me to become really fascinated by aspects of Ukraine as a context in a really key position at the nexus of multiple, complex flows of power, affect, capital and vulnerability within global networks generally, and also within global networks of art. My positionality is of course completely rooted within these, and acknowledging that is the first step in being able to engage in them critically.
[…] The Tower enters into exploration of a number of the same interests in Ukraine’s position within a layering up upon layering up of abstracted systems of power, capital and technology but ultimately how these might directly affect specific bodies. […] at the same time [I am] reflecting upon my own ongoing relationship with this place I’ve somehow become entangled with.
Adam: What TOMBOLA! did was… We sort of reconstituted a community. Of people all linked through us. Whereas with undertitled, we rocked up in a different space, a different city hundreds of miles away. And did this thing.
Vicki: Yes. And it’s different isn’t it? And I think it’s something to think about if we make another piece it’s like how we circumvent that or navigate that or use it or utilise it within the piece. Because for me, I still think TOMBOLA! is a better piece. But then also that’s maybe because I have got these fond memories of it. Also, this very involved… a kind of party vibe… But then it was also strange and dry and awkward and…
Adam: But then it’s been mediated through the editing of it into this second thing as well…
Vicki: Which has removed that layer of dryness and awkwardness and strangeness hasn’t it somehow?
Adam: Totally. I remember the edited version of it in a sense more than I remember the reality.
Beneath one of the pavilions is a fake mine shaft. It wasn’t open, but the caretaker there was able to let us in. The basement had the feel of a squat party space, which continued into the mine which is apparently regularly used for parties, events and filming. It was cold and dark, but not as cramped as a real mine; apparently made slightly larger so as to be more comfortable for visitors.
Vicki: So then this fragmentation clearly relates to this idea about different incarnations and different versions of the work. Like versioning. So, I guess that’s quite a clear answer to what can an artwork do or practice do that the text can’t. It’s about fixing. The text has a lot of similarities to the film. In that it goes through the draft stage, then the editing stage and then it gets polished, footnotes added and illustrations.
Adam: Yeah. And it has a linearity. Ultimately, it’s always going to be read like that.
Vicki: And it’s also time-based from beginning to end and the artistic practice is not. And maybe that is what is the difference? The thing that artistic practice does is about the encounter. Social interaction.
I went to Anna and Taras’s flat for dinner (okroshka made with kefir). We discussed this notion of the ‘new east’: how it can be viewed as an opportunistic, cynical packaging of an aesthetic that is ‘other’ but is also a globally-interconnected thing, e.g. how art-school kids in London now take on a fashion aesthetic echoing the Kyiv rave scene.
Taras sometimes wonders if he should just emigrate and get work as a builder in Barcelona. Many do apparently. And Anna would enjoy being by the sea; going back to Crimea is increasingly difficult, both practically and emotionally.
Vulnerability is deeply unequal. As noted, it affected certain parts of the country much more than others. And those who were most vulnerable were those without wealth, of working class background, without education….
What has happened in Ukraine in recent years is of course not
the same as this, but I think there is a parallel in the economic shocks to the
country that have occurred after Maidan and the invasion. Fear and
vulnerability are similarly produced.
It goes without saying that the rave/youth/drug culture is of course in part a response to the difficult situation, to try and escape out of it for a few hours at least.
Adam: Well I think a text, in a very confined way, in a very constrained way of being an academic text or a linear text, has confines but then how about text moving into the digital? I think it starts to have more possibilities of overcoming some of those problems. Some of those confines. Sometimes I feel envious of the pure academics. Sometimes I think ‘you’re so lucky that all you have to do every day is just sit in the library, read books and write and turn it into a text’. I mean it’s obviously not easy but… Well you don’t continually have to figure out what you’re doing.
Vicki: That’s true. You just do the thing you said you were going to do. And you don’t have to be in Donbas being escorted off a mine by a guy with a gun or have all these kind of encounters and interactions.
Vicki: But then even with the flag, it’s the same isn’t it? It’s your work but it is also not. Because all these other things happened within it that relied on other people. There are so many layers. And that’s maybe also the difference between practice-based methodologies and written ones. It’s just that in the written one, there is no collaboration. It is a singular pursuit. I mean you’re drawing in other voices but they’re all being funneled through your interpretation and you’re gearing them towards something which, yes, art also does…
- Texts are transcribed as originally written, including any grammatical errors or inconsistencies.
- The work being discussed is 6 Weeks in Kyiv (2018) <http://www.adamjbwalker.co.uk/6weeksinkyiv.htm>.
- <https://kow-berlin.com/artists/hito-steyerl/the-tower-2015-2016>.The Tower, a three screen video installation with voice over, tells the story of a 3D VR and AR video production company based in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The narrator acknowledges the present war and Kharkiv’s proximity to Russia as well as its past renown for producing tanks and such forth. He then re-calls the company’s past emphasis on producing military simulations which, he explains, has given way to predominantly producing 3D renderings and ‘fly-throughs’ of speculative projects for architecture firms and property developers. The narrator notes that most of these firms are located in western Europe or other places with time zones close to Ukraine, taking ad-vantage of ‘near shore’ labour. The narrator reflects on this economic con-text, also noting the preponderance of ‘body leasing’. Though not a prac-tice his company employs, he explains it is common, with the near shore em-ployee coming under direct management of a physically remote client compa-ny. In our later interview, Oleg explained to me it is typical to have rows of cubicles of workers side by side, notionally employed by the same (lo-cal) company, but in fact all working in the direct employment of different remote companies. The Tower concludes with the narrator recounting a commission they received from Iraq to produce a simulation of new Tower of Babylon, accompanied by images of a super-tall luxury skyscraper in the desert.
- <https://vimeo.com/333930879> [Password = tyneside].
- (Thatcherite Britain).
- While here adhering to the formatting of PROVA.
- This text is more usually presented as a screenplay.
Erotomania Part 1: The Patient’s Diary, 1956
In the early eighteenth century Erotomania was defined as ‘a general disease caused by unrequited love’ and passed through a few definitions over the centuries including ‘nymphomania’ and ‘mental disorder’. The current definition sees Erotomania as the ‘delusional belief of being loved by someone else.’
The Patient’s Diary, 1956 relays the experiences of a woman in the midst of an imagined love affair that took place during that year. Erotomania is a mirror of Western views of sex, love and gender inequality, most of which are recognisable today despite our ‘progressive’ liberalism.
The move within the play
In 1972, Steve Paxton made a work, during which “…11 men threw, caught, flung, collided and fell among one another continuously for 10 minutes. Then they stood for a few minutes.” In this work, called Magnesium, a dance was invented named ‘the stand’: a stillness performed, not that of statues but deriving “…from a redistribution of the amplitude of the signified motion of the dance, as well as a reinvention of the expectations regarding fluidity…”. As André Lepecki searched for examples of this tremulous stillness in dance, one aspect that caught his attention was the fact that stillness has been observed occurring as a response to moments of historical anxiety. In 1992, “Yochiko Chuma stood at Saint Mark’s church saying that the state of the world was such that she didn’t feel like dancing (Rodney King verdict, Gulf War, Bosnia).”
This crisis is real as any other before, offering another chance for stillness. At many occasions the storm of vectors inside a body that pull on every direction lead the hand to stand in mid-way, not knowing how and what to write.
“Having nothing to say, no words than the words of others, I have to speak”
I seek to discover ‘play’ through the oldest known mathematical puzzle named Osteomachion (translation; “bone-combat’) (Fig. 2) by Archimedes. Historians have assumed that this initial diagram was both a game and problem to be solved, and its triangles, when materialised into bones could form figures, objects or animals. I draw its lines and release this lingering hand; I write the first words that come into mind, following its diagonals. (Fig. 1)
- Steve Paxton (born 1939 in Phoenix, Arizona) is an experimental dancer and choreographer. He was a founding member of the experimental group Grand Union and in 1972 named and began to develop the dance form known as Contact Improvisation, a form of dance that utilizes the physical laws of friction, momentum, gravity and inertia, to explore the relationship between dancers. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Paxton, last accessed, 01/05/20
- Lisa Nelson and Nancy Stark Smith, A Short History, Contact Quarterly,1980, English, Contact Quarterly Vol. 5 No. 3/4, (Spring/Summer, 1980): 43. Source: http://sarma.be/docs/3269, last accessed 10/05/20
- André Lepecki, Undoing the fantasy of the (dancing) subject:“still acts” in Jérôme Bel’s The Last Performance, Department of Performance Studies, New York University. Source: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/lepecki-stillness.PDF, p. 2
- André Lepecki (Brazil, 1965) is a writer and curator working mainly on performance studies, choreography and dramaturgy. He is a Professor and the chair of the Department of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University. Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/André_Lepecki, last accessed 15/05/20
- Lepecki, Undoing the fantasy of the (dancing) subject: “still acts” in Jérôme Bel’s The Last Performance, p.2
- Beckett, Samuel, The Unnamable, edited by Steven Conor, Faber and Faber Ltd. 2010, p.25
Instead of a tree
Joana Maria Pereira
The word ‘mobility’ implies a dynamic, a movement, while ‘muteness’, on the contrary, equates with qualities of stillness. In The Neutral, Roland Barthes recommends silence as a tactic to outplay oppression and intimidation: for Barthes, silence has a ‘speechly’ substance. Likewise, I can speak while being silent, which means being silent by saying something else and in this way avoiding the taking of a position.
My silence sets in motion (activates) the other’s discourse.
Silence, here, is not an end but a means of: silence as tactic, as method. Indeed, the word ‘tactic’ already suggests an action, and in fact a certain tension arises between speaking and being silent linked to what in silence always resists deciphering.
Barthes, in writing about his weariness in relation to the demand for taking a position, mentions his desire to ‘float’, ‘to live in one space without tying oneself to a place’. Thus, one might say that silence does not only have a ‘speechly’ substance, it also has a mobile (‘fugitive’) one. Barthes doesn’t want to claim a position, he wants instead to be able to situate himself between different positions or, rather, he wants to be able to move between positions. Fundamentally, he wants to circulate, ‘to shift places’. As I see it, this ‘weariness’ is no more conceptual than it is bodily, suggesting an oscillation between moments of rest (immobility) and moments of action (mobility): a passage from one position to another.
One is caught in what appears to be a paradox: to stick to something (a place, a subject, etc), while having at the same time this desire not to tie oneself to a place. What seems crucial here, before all else, in order to unravel this paradox is to differentiate ‘place’ from ‘space’. It is then also important not to consider immobility as the opposite of mobility. For, as Nancy puts it, ‘the motionlessness in question is not static’. For example, we could consider the mobility of the face. In reality, we could also consider a certain mobility in the tree; although we cannot really say that the tree moves, if we watch attentively we might see its leaves moving.
‘To live in one space without tying oneself to a place’ – I stick to these words; they stick to me, planted like tree seeds in my mind. And suddenly I’m at the crossroads between three images of trees.
For image 1: I’m reminded of a tree at the top of a valley in The Turin Horse (2011), which, according to BélaTarr, was the starting point from which the whole narrative of his film developed. Location is crucial for the filmmaker. Indeed, all stories are embedded in particular places. After all, a conversation around trees necessarily implies a question of roots. Under a tree one can feel tied to the ground; it can take us back to our place of origin, our culture and tradition. Passing under a tree that remains fixed in its location also invites thoughts about time, which often comes down to asking ourselves (in opposition to the timeless tree) whether our time is lacking. More precisely, it is a matter of passage, and thus of transitivity, movement, impermanence. In The Turin Horse, as we watch the characters in an almost absolute muteness, we trace their movements and the shifting rhythms of their bodies – circulating throughout and around the space, inside and outside. Tarr seems, therefore, to suggest that one can give up talking but cannot really stop moving (breathing).
Image 2 returns us to 1998, when, for his Nobel Prize lecture, Portuguese writer José Saramago developed a speech around a tree, precisely to take us back to his place of origin, and his childhood with his grandparents, both peasants, in the village of Azinhaga in the province of Ribatejo. It was on hot summer nights under a fig tree, where sometimes he and his grandfather slept, that his grandfather Jerónimo ‘set the universe in motion just with a couple of words’. Like his grandfather, Saramago became a storyteller, transforming the ordinary people of flesh and blood into the literary characters that his work developed. ‘I could not and did not aspire’, he says, ‘to venture beyond my little plot of cultivated land, all I had left was the possibility of digging down, underneath, towards the roots.’ His purpose, however, by ‘drawing and redrawing’ these familiar faces, was never to repeat, recover or recreate his past. Saramago had another ‘immoderate ambition’: to fragment its deepest subterraneous layers. Perhaps just as for Barthes, Saramago had nothing more than a true desire to float.
Image 3, the last image of trees, comes again from film, this time from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). For me, there is anger and weariness in this film – but also resilience. Bergman has this extraordinary ability to say things without really saying them; he is a true master of silence. In Bergman’s own words: ‘everything has to be insinuated; nothing must be emphasised, nothing unravelled.’ Set in medieval times, the film tells the story of a rape and a murder. Like many of Bergman’s films, religion and morality play a central role. After the girl’s murder, and as a response to the terrible events that shook his life, the father makes a plan for revenge. Following a series of rituals, the man, carrying a fine sword in his left hand, goes to fetch birch twigs for his bath, yet as he approaches the young tree, instead of chopping off its branches with his sword, in an impulse overcome with grief, he throws it to the ground and violently launches himself at the tree until it has been uprooted. The man does not merely cut the tree down; its roots are no longer attached to the ground (to the place). Uprooting the tree carries a strong metaphorical sense.
Allow me to repeat (and return to) Roland Barthes’s line: ‘to live in one space without tying oneself to a place’. For, when I think it over, it leads me to reflect not only on mobility but on the idea of ‘place’ as place of origin. And then I wonder: isn’t Barthes – like Tarr, Saramago and Bergman – raising questions about legacy here? And then I also wonder whether this desire could be conceived in practical terms – I mean: to what extent can this desire reflect a working methodology? Although Barthes tells us that one should never raise questions about method, everything in his work seems to suggest that Barthes has turned desires into tactics, which also means his methods are never systematic.
Perhaps one has to move away from trees in order to be able to speak about tactics/methods that are ‘fugitive’. Instead of a tree, a pot of flowers could be tried. For a pot of flowers must not be confused with a tree fixed in its location; the pot is portable.
In the final scene of Abbas Kiarostami’s film Close-up (1990), the main character, Sabzian, buys a pot of flowers to offer as a sign of his regret, to ask for forgiveness. At the end of Through the Olive Trees (1994), Kiarostami plays this scene back. Note that the director returns to the motif; he chooses to use it again. This pot of flowers returns with both Sabzian and Tahereh (in Through the Olive Trees) carrying one under their arms in their final scenes. This motif is powerful in its ability to follow the rhythms and trajectories of those who carry it. I ask myself: if the ‘tree gives you the promise of something constant,’ what could a pot of flowers do? What is the function of this pot of flowers? Perhaps it says nothing besides the fact that it is minor and ordinary. Yet, somehow, in its ordinariness, it strikes with distinction. Two more of Kiarostami’s films, Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987) and Taste of Cherry (1997), end with an image of a flower; in the latter, soldiers pass them from hand to hand. Flowers often carry a sense of hope, and change. Hence in the passage of this pot from one hand to another, from one film to another, what resonates most for me is the possibility of this motion. Perseverance is obtained for both the filmmaker and his characters.
This insistent motif in Kiarostami’s films offers an image and a method which includes not only something of the essence of cinema but also something of the essence of the body itself. Bodies cannot be confined to (or tied to) one place, for the place of the body is mobile and multiple; in other words, body is a place in need of space.
Roland Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (1977-1978) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005)
Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film (London: Bloomsbury, 1994)
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987)
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film: Abbas Kiarostami (Brussels: Yves Gavaert Éditeur, 2001)
Jacques Rancière, Béla Tarr: The Time After (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013)
Close-Up, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami (Janus Films, 1990)
Life and Nothing More, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami (The Criterion Collection, 1992)
Taste of Cherry, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami (Zeitgeist Films, 1997)
The Turin Horse, dir. by Béla Tarr (The Cinema Guild, 2012)
The Virgin Spring, dir. by Ingmar Bergman (Janus Films, 1959)
Through the Olive Trees, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami (Miramax, 1994)
Where Is My Friend’s Home?, dir. by Abbas Kiarostami (MK2 Films, 1987)
- Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (1977-1978) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 25.
- Ibid., p. 19.
- Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film: Abbas Kiarostami (Brussels: Yves Gavaert Éditeur, 2001), p. 28.
- Barthes, The Neutral, p. 19.
- José Saramago, ‘Nobel Lecture: How Characters Became the Masters and the Author Their Apprentice’ NobelPrize.org, 7 December 1998. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1998/saramago/lecture/> [accessed 13 November 2018]
- Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film (London: Bloomsbury, 1994), p. 26.
- My approach here takes into consideration Deleuze and Guattari’s thoughts on trees (root-tree) in A Thousand Plateaus. According to them, the tree has dominated Western reality; it is then necessary to replace it with a different figure: the rhizome. They wrote: ‘The tree is a filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb “to be”, but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, “and … and … and …” This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb “to be.” (…) seeking a beginning or a foundation – all imply a false conception of voyage and movement.’ Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, pp. 26 -27.
- Abbas Kiarostami, ‘Abbas Kiarostami and Jean-Luc Nancy in Conversation’, in Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film: Abbas Kiarostami (Brussels: Yves Gavaert Éditeur, 2001), p. 86.
- After 25 April 1974, the date of the revolution that led to the fall of 48 years of dictatorship in my home country, a red flower became the symbol of freedom and resistance for Portugal. On that day, as the population celebrated the end of the regime in the streets, a woman offered carnations to the soldiers, which were later on placed on their uniforms and in the muzzles of their guns.
Liz K Miller
Introduced by Professor Victoria Walsh
Archives are significantly defined and constructed by the technologies and performances of writing, documentation and recording; of acts of selecting, remembering and forgetting. Critical interrogation of the archive as an organisation and representation of power, agency and ideology dominated cultural studies in the 1980s and 90s, and in contemporary art ‘the archival turn’ of the early 2000s highlighted the creative potential and generative interest of archival resources. Traditionally understood to support and evidence the verification of historical claims and narratives, the forged archive has its own complicated history.
But in an era of mass digital documentation, instant technological reproduction and remote data management how should the archive be understood, used and handled? For the arts and humanities researcher what kind of methodological questions and opportunities does working with archives pose today? Do questions of history, of authenticity and temporal specificity matter to arts and humanities researcher in the 21st century—and if so, why? And if not, to whose benefit and interest should history be suspended or abandoned? Does practice-based research inherently license creative interaction with source material compared to other research practices?
I relied on screencaps to generate new works and add to existing ones. Now, whenever I screencap a media viewer (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) I get a black rectangle with white captioning. At first, this led to intense frustration and disappointment. After a while, I began to look closely at the resulting images—they were lovely. The iridescent shine of the screen rendered the rectangle a subtle, coruscating violet-orange-blue-black, and the captioning of the dialogue sans image and context became an eloquent statement. There was beauty here, just not the kind I’d planned. I decided to capture this experience in paint, taking professional training and advice from painter Shannon Forrester on the varied iterations possible in chromatic black and techniques for laying it down to recreate the experience of an empty screen in situ. These material tests are ongoing, and might ultimately fail themselves—a logical, if disappointing outcome.
Wuhan Diary and the ‘Repositories’ On Github
Fang Fang is a Chinese author based in Wuhan, the first city locked down among the whole world because of the pandemic of COVID-19, on 23 January 2020. On 25 January, Fang Fang published the first article about the pandemic on her personal Weibo (similar to Twitter) when she had not yet realised that she would keep writing on a daily pace until April 11 and her diaries would receive millions of immediate responses from her fellow citizens. However, these 60 pieces of continuous writing were released on some different online platforms other than Weibo, including about four blogs on Wechat (a social media platform) and a special column on the website and app of media Caixin. Why were there different platforms? One reason is that the accounts on Weibo and Wechat were often blocked and the contents published by those accounts were also often censored and deleted.
‘Error 404’, ‘the information is deleted’ or ‘the account has been suspended because of breaking the community regulations’ were so common that the expectation when clicking a link is not entirely reading an article but some sign of a red exclamation mark. Reading Fang Fang’s new diary then became a racing game for people with censorship when the whole country was paused. And to prolong the lives of words, people reposted and republished with their own accounts, and saved the copy of the texts to the storage of their mobile phones, personal computers and also, online drives including the software developing platform Github.
What people saved to their mobile phones and to the Github was surely more than the Wuhan Diary of Fang Fang—there were the interviews with the doctors in the hospitals in Wuhan, posts of cryings for help on Weibo and methods of self-care during the pandemic. Everyday there was so much information flooding on different platforms and it was impossible to catch up with the full development of the pandemic. Meanwhile, news, diaries and reports kept disappearing from the mainstream platforms.
Facing the overwhelming but also evaporating information, people start building the ‘repositories’ on Github and the excels and documents on Shimo (an online co-editing note platform). ‘Repository’ is ‘a directory or storage space where your projects can live’, a Github guide introduces. Such living repositories for information of COVID-19 were often managed by a group of volunteers and open for view for the public.
Information was not collected afterwards, but lively, instantly, constantly, bringing the floating fragments together. And these repositories were then not only for revisits in the future, but also used as hubs for information exchanges as the event unfolded. Despite that one of the earliest information bank was called ‘2019ncovmemory’ on Github, keeping the ‘memory’ was not necessarily the only function for all the attempts of information gathering. Or in other words, the ongoing reality was constantly turned into ‘memory’ when the online contents was wiped off from the mainstream platform and at the same time, rearranged and stored into the repositories on Github.
These archives were acting for the now. Although such archives on Github collected censored information and were often created with the suggestion of the freedom of speech, they differ from the often discussed ‘activism archives’ on histories of radical political campaigns or minority groups. The foremost feature for these archives is that they were born in an emergency, acting for now by gathering information and the formation of the archives could only be fulfilled by engaging with the current situation.
This sense of urgency was intrinsically bound to the digital and the network of social media on which information were shared to each other by individuals but not equally owned by each individual. The links between the readers and the contents were fragile if not arbitrary—for example, the contents could be deleted by the original publisher or the reposter could hide their posts. In this sense, no matter the contents are censored or deleted or not, the contents on World Wide Web are never secure enough for revisits. The Github, most often used as an open source platform for sharing codes among developers, is used during the pandemic as a tool to synchronise information systematically. Even for each individual the information is still fragmentary, the repository on the Github becomes an integrated entity for information, and therefore, used for more informed decisions.
Ironically, Fang Fang has recently been heavily criticised for Wuhan Diary which is going to be published overseas in June 2020. Fuelled by patriotism, a large crowd consider her writings to neglect the endeavours of the government and the people working during the lockdown. Many critics point out the distortion of truth, according to extractions from her diaries written in short of information and later corrected with annotations. Have the detractors read all the diaries? While this question remains difficult to answer, the ‘2019ncovmemory’ has been made ‘private’, for safe-keeping, it is said.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Nike of Samothrace (C.190 BC)
Located in the Louvre, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, or Nike of Samothrace, is an iconic example of Hellenistic Greek sculpture. Depicting Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, it is one of the few remaining Hellenistic sculptures that is a Greek original and not a later Roman copy. With her clothes clinging to her body, the goddess triumphantly moves forward as though on the prow of a ship leading troops to victory. One of the most famous sculptures in history, it would later influence Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
Image: Muratart / Shutterstock
Chinese Fashion Archives in a Digital Age
The archive has been described as a way of writing history, it records the memory of a certain period. Due to the subjective nature of the framework and appraisal process of the archive, however, it only records certain perspectives of a certain period. As a result this recorded memory still serves the owner, the creator, the audience and the public with precious information. Canadian archivist Terry Cook suggested that the archive should be able to guide society towards a healthier and more creative environment.
Within the fashion industry the archive has a long history in European fashion houses, as well as fashion corporations in the United States. But in China the fashion archive is still in fledgling form within the Chinese fashion system in the twenty-first century. Most fashion brands in China have a rather short history, and have mainly focused on surviving in a highly competitive market, with less of their resources on developing the awareness of preserving history through archives. As such there are very few fashion archives available in China currently. At the moment, only large corporations such as Aimu 爱慕, Qipilang 七匹狼 and the like hold archives, partly for commercial campaign purposes, for instance in the form of a brand museum. Fashion museums or institutions, such as Shanghai Donghua University and the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, have also both established in-house fashion museums. However the main archive collections are of Qipao and ethnic minority clothing. The blossoming contemporary fashion industry hasn’t yet found its position within China’s academia. In 2019 a leading Shanghai-based Chinese buyer boutique Labelhood actively participated in Shanghai fashion week, launching their first digital fashion archive. Why did this happen in East coast Shanghai, rather than the manufacturing centres around the Pearl River Delta in the South, or the capital city Beijing in the North? The answer stems from the historical development path of Shanghai’s cultural ideology.
Shanghai is a newly rising fashion city that cannot be ignored when fashion researchers discuss contemporary Chinese fashion. In the recently published Styling Shanghai, featuring fashion scholar Christopher Breward as the editor, there was discussion of Shanghai as the main case study for an emerging fashion city from multiple dimensions. According to fashion journalist Anja Aronowsky Cronberg’s interview in Shanghai Fashion Week, she noticed that the fashion designers in Shanghai in the second decade of the twenty-first century included a few distinct groups. The designers who gained the most attention were educated in London and New York (mainly graduates of Central Saint Martins and Parsons) and came back to China to start their businesses but are still hoping to gain international recognition. Another group of designers are those who have spent most of their life overseas, but because of their Asian heritage and the booming Chinese market, decided to relocate to focus more on the Mainland China market. They may just consider themselves as a designer, an international person, and where they come from or where they go is flexible, serving their career, with no particular allegiance to China itself. Shanghai itself is a hybrid product of multiple cultures from across China and overseas. Fashion scholar Hazel Clark supported Crane’s suggestion that the character of a city will “impact the way that fashion designers identify themselves” in her work. Shanghai’s historical background enables it to be more accepting of newly-settled fashion designers. Shanghai became the front row of the competition of Chinese fashion industry, and the awareness of the importance of fashion archives has sprouted.
Since 4G Internet spread across China, Chinese society has become highly reliant on mobile apps such as WeChat微信—combining the features of WhatsApp, Instagram and online banking—and e-commerce platform Taobao淘宝—a combination of Amazon and e-Bay—that have dominated citizens’ everyday life. The connection between smart phones and citizens’ daily life has become inseparable. This information technology revolution has brought new scenarios to play in the archive practice landscape. The Shanghai-based fashion buyer boutique Labelhood has stepped forward to start its own archive ahead of the fashion brands. Labelhood is playing a great part in building Shanghai Fashion Week, and the buyer boutique is highly profit-oriented. Under these prerequisites, Labelhood’s fashion archive is entirely digital, similar to the Vogue Runway website, recording the Chinese fashion designers who have joined Labelhood’s fashion show during Shanghai Fashion week. The archive collection consists of pictures of the fashion shows, and the most interesting part is that the Labelhood archive altruistically provides the shop address of each brand, not just including Labelhood’s own shop address. The basic framework that Tasha Liu, one of the founders of Labelhood, set for their archive was to promote Chinese fashion designers and record their growth history, and also to cultivate a positive attitude of sharing more brand information with their audiences and customers, not just to focus on pure competition.
This format is different from the general understanding of fashion archives in Europe or the United States. Most fashion archives can be divided into three types: institutionally-owned archives for public education purposes, which are normally quite selective when revealing their collections to the public; corporate-owned archives mainly for profitable purposes, which normally keep the archive in an internal-use mode, and; private archives maintained in any format the owner chooses. However Labelhood’s digital archive, which was founded by a corporation, makes all the information online available to the public, and emphasizes access through the WeChat app over other access methods. Labelhood’s archive captures the features of each of the three general types of archives. The archive is trying to assist the profit need of the boutique, is simultaneously educating the public, and unexpectedly also provides potential market competitors’ information. As a result, Labelhood has formulated a new archive format incorporating characteristics of the Internet age and the contemporary Chinese fashion industry.
1 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: a Freudian Impression. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).
2Carolyn Steedman, Dust: the Archive and Cultural History. (Manchester: MUP, 2001).
3 Terry Cook, ‘What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas since 1989, and the Future Paradigm Shift’, Archivaria, The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, 43 (Spring 1997), pp.17-63.
4Christopher Breward and Juliette MacDonald (ed.), Styling Shanghai (London: Bloomsbury, 2020).
5 Anja Aronowsky Croberg, “There will never be a Chinese Fashion”: Staking a Claim for Shanghai as a Fashion City’, in Styling Shanghai (London: Bloomsbury, 2020).
6 Hazel Clark, ‘Chinese Fashion Desginers: Questions of Ethnicity and Place in the Twenty-First Century’, Fashion Practice, 4:1(2012), pp.41-56.
Materials Matter: The Darkroom, Archiving, Sensuous Logic[s] of Method
“Nothing is less reliable, nothing is less clear today than the word ‘archive’.”
Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge
“The combination of light, and touch, and sound, and smell compels me to inhabit my body differently.”
Johnny Golding, Ana-materialism and the Pineal Eye: Becoming mouth-breast (or visual arts after Descartes, Bataille, Butler, Deleuze and Synthia with an ‘S’)
“Afterall, how else are we to go into the archives if not through our senses.”
Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru
“Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of fundamental encounter.”
Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition
“Bodies and archive overlap in multiple and unexpected ways, always mediated by emotions and affective states.”
Zeb Tortorici, Sins Against Nature
“The material body is center, and central. The body is the ground of thought.”
Gloria E. Anzaldúa
“Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on ‘what happened then’ than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell.”
“Materiality is always something more than ‘mere’ matter: an excess, force, vitality, relationality, or difference that renders matter active, self-creative, productive, unpredictable.”
Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialism: Ontology, Agency, and Politics
“We can articulate how sensation is connected to politics, bodies and feelings. It is these linkages in particular that enliven our understanding of the corporeal and its analytic possibilities. By theorising sensation, we acquire away to understand structures at the level beyond the discursive.”
Amber J Musser, Sensational Flesh: Race, Power and Masochism
“Nothing starts in the archive, nothing, ever at all, though things certainly end up there. You find nothing in the archive, but stories caught halfway through: the middle of things; discontinuities.”
Laura Vallés Vílchez
ADRIÁN GOUET, Year 1 practice-based Ph.D candidate, researching speculative poetics through painting. adriangouet.com
AJAMU, Year 2 part-time Ph.D. candidate, School of Arts and Humanities. ajamu-studio.com
COLE ROBERTSON, Year 3 full-time practice-led Ph.D. candidate, researching embodied thought and image theory/practice. rca.ac.uk/students/cole-robertson
HARRY CODAY, MRes Arts and Humanities, researching a digital history of fire. harrycoday.co.uk
ELIZABETH OLUKOYA, MRes Arts and Humanities. elizabethoarts.com
LAURA VALLÉS VÍLCHEZ, Year 4 part-time Ph.D. candidate, researching on curating as situated knowledge at the intersection between editing, story-telling and caring.
MO SHI, Year 1 full-time thesis-based Ph.D. candidate, researching fashion archives in China.
XIAOYI NIE, Year 3 full-time Ph.D. candidate, researching the curatorial history of China. nxy.one
Chapter Curator LAURA VALLÉS VÍLCHEZ
Chapter Designer HARRY CODAY
With thanks to
DR. CATHERINE FERGUSON & PROF. VICTORIA WALSH
ARCHIVE GROUP SESSIONS 2020
Tuesday 21 January, Tate Britain
Rosie Ram, Research display ‘Vital Fragments’
Tuesday 28 January, RCA CCA Mezzanine
Prof. Victoria Walsh, Reading workshop: Joanna Zylinska, ‘On Bad Archives’ & ‘The Creative Power of non-human Photography’
Tuesday 11 February, RCA Kensington STE04
Prof. Victoria Walsh, Reading Group: ‘Wayward Lives’ by Saidiya Hartman & ‘Sins Against Nature’ by Zeb Tortorici.
Tuesday 18 February, Battersea
Dr. Grant Watson, Seminar Global Archives, Bauhaus Imagininsta
Dr. Grant Watson, Seminar Global Archives, Bauhaus Imagininsta
Tuesday 25 February, Tate Modern
Prof. Victoria Walsh, Display: ‘Year at 1973’ and ‘Explore Art and Activism’
Tuesday 3 March, Wellcome Collection ‘Play Well’ Exhibition
Thursday 30 April, Zoom
Dr. Grant Watson: ‘How We Behave’
Thursday 7 May, Zoom
Dr. Ben Cranfield: ‘Performing Gestures Towards The Archive: Queer Fragments and Other Ways of Mattering’
Thursday 14 &21 May, Zoom
Dr. Catherine Ferguson, Prova Editing
Led by Gemma Blackshaw & Rebecca Fortnum
Participating staff: Jesse Ash, Alice Butler, Nicky Coutts and Joanne Tatham
Correspondence is an active form of research, situated in address and seeking response. To correspond suggests a meeting, a point of confluence that may bring together difference, but which is also based on commonality, solidarity, friendship and (we’ll whisper this) sometimes love (‘Oh, how I wish you were here/I were you…’). How might the practice of arts and humanities research be approached as correspondence, as the attempt to understand (to reach, even touch, and become) through modes of communication which might extend to mimicry, another necessarily distant subject, who may or may not be able (or willing?) to respond? This year our co-respondents have been theorising research as an opening of channels of communication, as a means of finding ways to speak to others and of considering points of exchange and interaction between, and alongside, others.
The epistolary address is associated with a marginalised mode of writing, of letters, postcards and diaries, ‘private papers’ often suppressed and sequestered which can be activated through careful attention to the politics of the archive. It is equally to be found in digital modes of writing, such as emails and blogs, as well as the chains of communication of instant messaging applications, SMS, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. But beyond the consideration of ephemera (and the ephemerality of digital media), excitingly, the epistolary can evolve into an approach that not only values the overlooked but is also marked by its intimacy, becoming crucial for a researcher whose projects demand an affective dimension. What is also thrilling about its appeal is that, for all its directness, it also ‘acknowledge(s) the distance and delay that defers the message before it can reach its recipient’ (Brisman, 2016). This deferral is vital for a researcher working over time(s), establishing a space for reflection. Indeed, a pleasure of this form is the way it allows connections or communications that straddle differences in period, genre and form. For the researcher engaged in any historical material, it allows a sense of the live to enter, ‘looking backward and forward, as remembrance and prophesy’ (Kauffman, 1988)
Over weekly sessions devoted to postcards, sick notes, love letters, letters from the asylum, and exploring widely divergent materials such as 19th-Century journals, biographical storytelling, animal sign language, letters to the dead, moments of coincidence, online advice and Whatsapp groups, we engaged with what was at stake with correspondence as form, method and value. In our moves across time, space and discipline we examined the hallmarks of the epistolary to and fro; ‘The back and forth…, [the] desire for reply, [the] incomplete ownership of information, [the] concomitant play on ideas of absence and presence, and [its] apparently personal and private nature, [that] model(s) an interactive openness (although one always knows paradoxically that this seeming openness can be used for manipulation and deception)’ (Bower, 1997). We wondered to whom we wrote and about our writing selves, we were curious about what was said, what wasn’t, when and why. We saw how the desire to connect is often matched by the wish to withdraw, and when our replies required spaces and gaps, they sat a little more easily.
Gemma Blackshaw & Rebecca Fortnum
Bower, Anne L (1996) Epistolary Responses, University of Alabama Press
Brisman, Sjira (2016) Albrecht Dürer and the Epistolary Mode of Address, University of Chicago Press
Kauffman, Linda (1988) Discourses of Desire: Gender. Genre and Epistolary Fictions, Cornell University Press
Dear long dog,
Breathing is an exchange. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. It is an effort and automatic. It can be held but not for long. How can breathing be both an effort and automatic?
At age 6, it is effort. I use the 3 Ball lung Incentive Spirometer. It’s a device to exercise and test deep breathing. I blow into the tube and try and the red ball hovers high, and the yellow almost is in the air. The blue remains grounded. The doctor thinks I’m taking it not seriously. “are you even trying?”. Next time only the red ball wobbles. At age 13, it is automatic. When afraid I hold my breath. My gymnastics coach screams “BREATHE”, as I tumble across the gym. Without filling my lungs on the back spring I can never meet the apex in the air for the somersault. After the session someone waits for me. “You should quit, you’re embarrassing yourself” His breath is outside his body.
It’s been two weeks since lockdown started. I catch myself holding my breath, bracing for an impact we will all feel. I try not to move but my bones are too busy, humming against my tissue. On my back I think of how to fall asleep, but these stories won’t leave my company. Their visit is interrupted by the ambulance screaming through Dalston lane on route to Homerton hospital. How easy it was for “spirit” to spring from the Latin spiritus (breath). The concept of life force being tied to breath will never change, it’s absence being the first sign of death.
You move near and place your head on my chest. You’re close enough that your breathing rhythm overshadows my own now. I count how many of yours fit inside of mine. For every one I give, you offer four. When you lay down, my mute confederate, I know no danger is present. A quick unburdening but one which I hope will come again.
Your short human
Inside/ inside/ late at times/ early at others/ into the circle/ no other way in/ out/ to do it in time/ to weep/some nights/ but the day goes/ on/ and our memory ain’t but/ ain’t but/ a process of sitting/ torn shirts/ a throng of garments in disregard/ you got your hours/ and your details/ and we sat still for a little while/ dodging the oncoming/ wound/ the wound that goes and goes and goes/ passes from one parent/ to the next/ an exit from the safe ground/ don’t build it if you can’t maintain it/ that’s what they say/ but we have to build/ there’s nothing else to do/ they get you uprooted/ down playing the distance/ we are quite close/ performing gestures/ performing our privacy/ performing our personality/ pretty much/ pretty please/ thanks for coming/ let something dissolve in our glasses/ let me dissolve into a glass/ sand/ the unstraightening of our line/ not to say/ it was ever very straight/ hopping/ between/ location/ no place is home/ no place/ like/ home/ no place/ home/ is unknown/ only places/ places we have been/ we are being in/ we are being un/ un-do/ un-learn/ under-go/ the under as home/ that’s what we know/ like when we get lost in conversation/ and they look at us like/ what is this all about/ because they don’t want to know loss/ they don’t know how to be lost/ what it feels to be lost in your beingness/ you’re being there/ or as Cathy Park Hong wrote/To even the youngest planet of powdered matter: hear my lament,/ As I gawk and rub my hands/ while saline cells slide/ and slide down my sodden face./
*This text is contained in a letter to absent friends, dated January 27, 2020
PLACE. — small alcove with dark curtains. The class consists of one member.
SUBJECT.— Thomson’s Mirror Galvanometer.
The lamp-light falls on blackened walls,Did you say it’s made of waves?
And streams through narrow perforations,Yes, that’s it.
The long beam trails o’er pasteboard scales, With slow-decaying oscillations.I wonder what the waves are made of.
Flow, current, flow, set the quick light-spot flying,Oh, waves are made of waves.
Flow current, answer light-spot, flashing, quivering, dying,Waves are what they are,
O look! how queer! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, sharper growingShimmeringness,
The gliding fire! with central wire,Oscillation,
The fine degrees distinctly showing.Rhythmical movement which is the inherent essence of all things.
Swing, magnet, swing, advancing and receding,Ultimately, there’s only movement,
Swing magnet! Answer dearest, What’s your final reading?Nothing else.
O love! you fail to read the scale Correct to tenths of a division.The movement that light is
To mirror heaven those eyes were given, And not for methods of precision.Comes out of the sun
Break contact, break, set the free light-spot flying;And it’s so gorgeous a thing
Break contact, rest thee, magnet, swinging, creeping, dying.That nothing else is ever anything unless lit by it.
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) ‘Lectures to Women on Physical Science’, 1882 from Poetry Foundation.
Margaret Tait (1918-1999) ‘Light’ 1958 from Sarah Neely (ed.), Margaret Tait: Poems, Stories and Writings (Carcanet Press, 2012).
1, 027d ago
Message Failed to Send
Three years is a long time to leave a message unanswered, and the message is still on my phone, never having been sent and without an answer, for even longer than that now. I had hoped it would answer itself, try again when I turned my phone on, or joined a different network. I can’t bring myself to trail back through all my messages to find which one it is and tap ‘send again via text message.’ But there it is with its question – How in your opinion are we to prevent this happening again? – still unanswered.
It is true that since then many answers have suggested themselves, but none that would not need explanation, and explanations take time. In this case, too, there are reasons why it is particularly difficult to avoid misunderstandings. A whole page could be filled with excuses and apologies; declarations of unfitness, incompetence, lack of knowledge, and experience: and they would be true. But even when they were said, there would still remain some difficulties so fundamental that it may well prove impossible for you to understand or for us to explain. But one does not like to leave so remarkable a message as yours – a message perhaps unique in the history of human correspondence, since when before has an educated man asked a woman how in her opinion a virus can be prevented? – unanswered. Therefore let us make the attempt; even if it is doomed to failure.
I can tell from the lists you’re giving me what you really need. What food, or meal is coming out of our kitchen this week, your plans and preferences, your hopes for normalcy. I can read the lists and read you both: your neat handwriting listing off our everyday lives, her panicked texts underlining the real need, the reliance on my action. “I’ll try my best” I told you last week, but I couldn’t find everything. Sorry. I could probably write the lists myself, and in part I feel like I am, picking up things that I know you’ve forgotten, stuff that you’d only remember when you see it. I guess they’re less essential then, but it helps me too, to walk through our home with you and find the stuff we’re missing.
I’m surprised by the emptiness, but I hope you are not yet short of anything.
The skeleton is working from home today. The skeleton has been busy. Like that scene in Kendall Jenner’s art studio where they put on boiler suits to make sponge paintings and you can tell she’s been in there, painting, canvases of all different sizes, she likes color, see the rainbow. The skeleton paints bucolic scenes but we know it’s grim fandango. A blue suit and Thonet chair, for intuition. A cockeyed head, a white cloth, to make her lucky. But there are specific kinds of luck, and different kinds are needed for different occasions. Kendall says this used to be a cinema room, she didn’t use it. Let me tell you I’ve seen a cinema room with a Stella on the wall. I swear on Kendall Jenner’s rainbow if I had it, I would use it.
In love, Roland Barthes tells us, the scene plays a key role1, inflecting the experience and increasing the scale, and I have been thinking about the role of scale’s verticality in experience. Scale connects to ratio, proportion, hierarchy, and scale also connects to ascend and transcend. The French term for scale, échelle, also translates as ladder, which has a vertical connection and a use value but becomes depending on our experience.
A ladder fixed to a structure can form an alternative exit, an escape or fire exit and the idea of a fire exit is somewhat subversive, as it is not meant to be used but can function both as entrance and exit. In a similar way, the ladders fixed to the pier (St. Ives, Cornwall) reveal a subversive potential while facilitating a game during which the pier is traversed by playfully moving over and under the structure. The game starts with scaling the pier and, once on the other side, it may be necessary to swim downwards to return through the tide filled vaults. At low tide a duality is provoked when a revealed wall is ‘vaulted’, also as part of the game.
1. Barthes, R. (2002) A lover’s discourse: fragments. London: Vintage (Vintage classics).
I’m getting bitter better aren’t I?
Are you alright?
Too much too much
Feel bit sad
I’m getting bitter better aren’t I?
Am I getting bitter better?
I try to turn it back
him, bloody hell
gain bit odd
are you alright?
A familiar face in your own home
was a wha
I am getting bitter better?
Yes, you are
A familiar face in your own home
you go to give em a go your thing?
get your, your umm, your umm, your, your, your umm,
ok only now tried your open your shawm your
as you try it more doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter
Feeling at home with familiar faces, Home Instead sponsors late evenings on ITV
Thank you for the updated dance instructions “Passing and Jostling While Being Confined to a Small Apartment.” I had found your ‘No’ manifesto such a balm for thinking about action, for embracing refusal, as a way of making space in which to move ideas and actions on my terms. I was hoping this new score might also help. I always wondered how refusal might function as a larger collective act. Now in living it, confined to the home, I’m looking to find a new way to move.
Your dance “Passing and Jostling While Being Confined to a Small Apartment.” is described by Brian Seibert of The New York Times as ‘A D.I.Y. Dance for Your Home ’.I understand from the text I can ‘walk, in any direction, or stand. Assuming there are two or more people, a person who stands must remain stationary. Someone who chooses to walk can walk as close as possible to the standing person without touching; that’s “passing.” Or the walker can choose to bump, lightly, into the standing person; that’s “jostling,” and it can free the standing person to get back in motion.’
Here is the thing, since I’ve been home, all I have been doing is moving constantly, caring for others. I am not in a state of boredom or stasis, but rather stuck in the role of unpaid carer and labourer. What I am looking for are instructions on how to get back to my thinking and agency, now that ideas that seemed so vital and urgent just weeks ago, are falling through me, more like watery flashes of something important I can no longer grasp.
I have been devastated to discover that I have not made a space for thinking alongside the caring of others, and that my space of thinking is dependent on the absences of others from the home. What I’m hoping to find is a way to do some ‘passing’, walking past another in confinement, whilst still being able to hold onto a vitality of ideas, and of asking new ones. But here, right now, new thoughts seem to spring from a different sources, not connected to ‘new knowledge’ that can be articulated in a structure agreed upon by the academy. Rather they spring from an outrageously large over-sized worm, and its thousands of babies, I found under an old bag of compost, I’ve been using to sprout way too many tomato seeds than our tiny garden can accommodate. My body never settles through the day, to sit and read, or sit and think, or sit and eat, but rather moves restlessly through performed tasks of domestic labour, the dishes, the production of meals, the moving of wet and dry clothes from various locations. Caring for others, their hearts, stomachs, and fears. My body talks of lack, rather than knowing, absences rather than comfort, and that there is still more to know, currently unknown, somewhere in the layers between sleeping and dreaming. There are pains emanating from my legs when I sleep. I wouldn’t want to jostle the others in the house, they are already straining under the confusion of my mental absences and excessive physical presence. When we touch, it needs to be clear prior to embracing that I need to come close for some comfort, and I am not walking past.
Do let me know if you have any thoughts, do you find the worm compelling?
Love in confinement,
1.‘A D.I.Y. Dance for Your Home, From Yvonne Rainer’, By Brian Seibert, , The New York Times, 24 March 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/arts/dance/yvonne-rainer-do-it-yourself-coronavirus.html (viewed 24.03.2020)|
It is bluebell time. They are opening bell upon bell amongst the ivy and euonymus of the small, walled garden I am spending an inordinate amount of time within. It is a sick spring, a good time to write to you at long last, because you’d know how to live it. You’d have the reserves I am trying to find, the tricks up your mischievous, bloodied sleeve. The story I love most is about your nightly escape from an alpine sanatorium to go dancing in the town below. This was recounted by the friend who painted you, who was staying at your long-distance lover’s request because you were lonely in your remote resort for health, waiting for a visit, for a letter, for an end to the end. I sensed your embodiment of this dance of death on looking at your picture for the first time, in reproduction in an art book shop on the Charing Cross Road, long gone. He captured your morbid, contagious beauty, your teetering on the edge of nothing, which must have been so very hard to have unveiled.
Bessie, did it take your breath away?
He painted you in blue, a bright bow tie at your throat, its vividness set off across against a white collar you must have wanted to keep pristine. The thrill of the painting lies in his seeming inability to control the pigment, because blue takes on a life of its own on your canvas, spurting from his brush to seep into the fabric of your dress, running down its sleeve to your fingertips where it pools like blue-blood. It will consume you, this most beautiful of colours. I want to know if you wore it to welcome it, to show it no fear.
I have never seen your painting, but I was travelling to Switzerland this spring to visit your sanatorium. I wanted to imagine you there before the sun had risen above the mountains that surrounded you, when the light was as pale and as silvered as the inside of an oyster-shell. I wanted to see you being helped from your bed to sit on the balcony and take the thin, cold air, to count your breaths as your hair – your glory, despite it all, so thick it couldn’t be contained between thumb and first finger – was brushed back from your lovely, sweat-beaded brow. All that waiting for death, Bessie. All that unwanted attention to lungs that could still, when the mood took you, sing. How can I soothe you, songbird, you who are sick of the touch of others?
Let me distract you with something I know will make you smile. I am as attached to your picture as I am to you; it is mine, as you are mine. I am, as you will understand, as possessive of another. Bessie, are you leaning closer? I sent this other your picture; I asked him, what do you think? I didn’t know, I told him, despite all these years of looking.
He wrote in reply: what do I think? The irony is that if you had sent me that picture before I knew you I wouldn’t have had much to say, so my reply is mine, but it is also ours.
He told me of the book he’d bought ahead of meeting me for the first time, to impress me with his cultured reading. The Essex Serpent is a historical novel set in the county’s rural landscape we had just discovered we’d both grown up in, a matter of villages away from each other. The book is as much about its wide open fields and blue, blue skies as it is about correspondence, and about love, and about sickness of the blue kind. He wrote of the character, Stella – the tubercular wife of a priest with a wandering eye – who becomes besotted with the colour blue, collecting blue objects and writing in a blue notebook. Soon after encountering her, early in the awful fits and starts of her illness, the reader watches her standing by a window, still caught in the dream she’d had the previous night when ‘someone had come to her room and painted everything blue’.
‘The walls had been blue, and so had the ceiling; in place of the carpet were blue tiles vivid with light from the window. The sky had been blue, and so were the leaves of the trees, which bore blue fruit.’
On realising that she had not woken up to a new, blue world, Stella asks her son to pick bluebells from the garden for a vase, arranging the fresh flowers alongside pressed violets and lavender. ‘Touching each bloom with her thumb she said, singingly, over and over, “Lapis, cobalt, indigo, blue,” but later could not explain why.’
So much of your life eludes me, Bessie, but this much I know: that blue is the colour of the glass bottle you spit into, the colour of contagion and abjection, of isolation; that blue is the colour of love, of the lovesick, and of the sick of love. Yes, yes, I have read my Sontag on tuberculosis as the disease of those who love too much, but your picture, framed by a new love with a novel on the landscape we had criss-crossed as children and teenagers, almost but never quite meeting, brought me back to Nelson’s Bluets, her love letter to the colour and to the ‘face of a derelict whose eyes literally leaked blue’, her prince of blue who had left her for another. This was the first book I bought for the one who is writing to me about you. I had sent it in the second week of our separation with a letter inside the front page, with notes in the margin, sentences underlined, not knowing that it would come to form a blue correspondence between books, lovers and lives across a sick time that would include you.
Bessie, what to say? In my mind, I am writing to you in the spring of 1910, the spring of his visit, the spring of your picture. You will take so very, very long to die.
Live, write, love, blue.
Amy Peace Buzzard
Lisa O Donnell
This was a sustained, intensive research lab where we drew upon contemporary philosophy, poetics and the logic[s] of sense. Stirred into this mix were certain developments in quantum mechanics, especially emphasising dimensionality, erotic praxis, non-conscious cognition, folds, the accident, ritual and magic, fictioning, art and the algorithmic move, meme humour, contemporary fascisms, undecidability, sensuous intelligences, surveillance, feedback loops, and the importance of zero. Old terrains provided scaffolding for moves not yet invented – the work of Heidegger (event) came to terms with newer offerings in artificial intelligence and robotics. Such were the best laid plans of mice and other sentient beings, we planned to visit different robotics labs, although ended up just about making it to the kitchen. Materialities shape shifted around oil [paint/ petroleum/ ocean], atmosphere [waves, pollution, psycho-politics] , ephemera [image/dataLoam], ethics [pineal eye, mouth-breast, Parrhesia], and pear-shaped pears. This was a lab and not a seminar as such, it was imperative that all discussions and whatever texts were foreground, connecting back to our individual research questions, we brought our work to ‘the table’ for every session. It was useful to have to hand: Caspar’s The Book of Barely Imaged Beings.
This year, the tutors included:
The research platform this year is Entanglement Just Gaming. We have reformulated Jean Francois Lyotard’s Just Gaming through a zoomified version of Entanglement where 7 days are compressed into four hours, we will be presenting our work through avatars.
As we navigate filming in the former estate of the deposed Ukrainian president, STATESCAPE∞ simultaneously presents itself as a game and an attempt to figure out what the game is.
The viewer is led through a series of levels, linked through a reflexive dialogue between us as artists as we attempt to understand the game, and what our role is.
The game keeps changing.
It is global capitalism, but also the simulatory experience of walking through Mezhyhirya. STATESCAPE∞ shifts back and forth between the material and the abstract.
Toad (Matsutake) is an artist with a research based practice focussed on critiques of self-perpetuating structures of inequality (including self-reflexively within the economies and circulations of art) and speculative profferings of other ways of being. Their work takes textual, performative, collaborative and digital forms. Recent projects, performances and exhibitions have taken place at and with the Serpentine Gallery and Tyneside Cinema (UK), Izolyatsia and Yermilov Centre (Ukraine) and online at www.skelf. org.uk. They are a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art.
Vicki Thornton & Adam Walker, 2019
Ø / zero
BodyWorks or Works in the Head
Select material for the OpenLab workshop, Chisenhale Dance Space, Oct 2019
__ Thank you for my name. I like zero, it’s perfect. Zero as a black hole of curved spacetime, a moment of infinite density and a trapped object on TFL. I have already selected the options for my tattoos. It has been a couple of years since I started drawing symbols of a triangle, a dot and a circle on my hand. Whenever I feel bored. In different arrangements. Last night I became rather engrossed reading about the concepts of zero :: as nothingness, as space, as infinity, as a sum of it all. Aristotle’s refusal of zero in his philosophy, Zeno paradoxes, Babylonian first symbols, Taoist wuji of emptiness and zero-equals-infinity in God’s math. Then I remembered how I was taken back by your use of the word cunt, the quasi-bourgeoisie mentality leaping forth. The idiocy of that discomfort. The next day I went to a movement workshop, where we explored ‘sounding’ in and through the figure of Sheela-Na-Gig. The hag, the archetypal entity with oversized vulva, the gateway that swallows, transforms and alchemises, dissolves and expels with great force that which enters. As nothingness and as the universe. The perfect zero. The word cunt has been used. A lot. By the time we finished, I no longer found it jarring or external but rather it started to belong to me.
Cold Sweats (2020) draws from the experience of withdrawal from medication. The imagery has been influenced by prosthetic makeup and the portrayal of decomposing flesh in horror films. Using these visuals, the work gives visibility to the affects of this disturbing experience. Although these influences may be seen as dark, by highlighting how the body’s flows of vibrant matter and varying intensities are stimulated, the work gives vitality to this horrific event.
HD Video, 1min 38secs
A Zombie has continued a practice working in video despite feeling like death warmed up. Their research project explores the relationship between chronic illness and affect. A Zombie’s practice focuses on intensities and flows of imagery, forming video works that reflect our temporal experience as decomposing, enfleshed bodies. A Zombie studied MA Sculpture at the RCA graduating in 2014, and has now returned to the RCA as a PhD candidate.
α Phoenicis (Ankaa)
Performance for Data Loam: Sometimes Hard, Usually Soft [the future of knowledge systems], a group exhibition, Angewandte Innovation Laboratory, Vienna, Austria. 25th February 2019, 0.15’.
α Phoenicis (Ankaa) is a London-based performance artist whose practice engages computing technologies, philosophy and science. They work with AI, drones, neurotechnology, CGI and 360-degree imaging. Within live digital-analogue audiovisual performance
α Phoenicis’s work investigates questions of intelligence diversity and ethics of the technological. It looks at artificial forms of intelligence and liveness in relation to nonconscious cognition, quantum reality and distributed forms of sensuousness. α Phoenicis is a PhD Candidate & Tutor in Fine Art (Performance & Technology) at the Royal College of Art.
Book of Disquiet-5
The artwork Book of Disquiet-5 is trying to combine the audience’s bodily change with artworks and performance in public space. It explores the tension between the very personal matters of the human body and its relation to public space. When the work is situated in public space, it is meant to develop a close relationship between art and human bodies within public space. The work serves as an ongoing enquirer to test people’s perception towards their environment. As Lucretius said: “the senses are manifold and create the moment of fold which has a mass influence, and a collective effect on people”. Especially in a totalitarian society, this work is meant to open the multiplicity of space and offers an alternative to the existing world order.
ASMRtist-Chang is a London based artist. In 2018 she was awarded a Full Tuition Funding from Chinese Scholarship Council to continue her practice-led PhD research at the Royal College of Art. Her work explores the tension between the reactivity of the human body and its relation to the public sphere by addressing questions around the personal and collective experience in public space. She explores the function of public art and the impact of artworks on human bodies. She is a co-founder and director of the International Social Innovation Lab at the Central Academy of Fine Art in China. She has recently held her double-solo exhibition at the Royal College of Art, her artworks have been widely presented in London Beaconsfield Gallery, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, RCA, 508 King’s Road Gallery, and galleries in Seoul, Japan, Helsinki and many museums and galleries in China.
Chthulu Witch (aka chtlwh)
“This is the moving image work which leads the second chapter of my PhD, which focuses on incantation in relation to the artist moving image. Moving image provides a medium which speaks to a philosophy of flow and visual circulation which extends beyond surface materiality. It becomes my method to interrogate incantation as an aspect of ritual practice. I am interested in the potential of moving image and incantation as connected to the symbolic, which circulates to translate a wider, collective, body of knowledge. The project is guided by the narratives of various stone circles, which I revisit through a contemporary lens, reflecting upon how they could be translated from the perspective of contemporary forms of enclosure and feminisms.”
Chthulu Witch (aka chtlwh) is a London-based artist working in residence at Somerset House studios. She researches ritual magick for post-capitalism, asking if subversive counterculture is truly dead within a surveilled neoliberal environment, drawing from her upbringing within the New Age traveller scene of the 1990s.
She embodies the radical figure of the witch and the work is often collaborative through her collective Sp0re, initiated in 2018. This is composed of a geographically scattered network of artists, who engage with ritual/ magick through heightened technological spaces. The collective is based throughout London, Milan, Stockholm, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Adelaide. chtlwh is a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art.
Dr. Death (Berlin, Germany and London, UK) started coding as a twelve-year-old and always felt that the machine was not merely executing the code, but also emanating an inexplicable sensuousness. Initially fascinated by the dark arts of algorithmic trading in the business world(s) he transitioned through philosophy into the equally dark sciences of algorithmic art. His current practice examines the embodiment of desire (arousal, pain, excitement) into code and expresses it in artificially (ready)made sculpture and performance. He holds an MA in Photography from Central Saint Martins and is currently studying for a practice-led PhD at Royal College of Art.
How much order-chaos does chaos-order need to stay creative? Or how to keep sculpture coherent when generative algorithms start exploring space-time, (relatively) unpredictable in their development, folding and unfolding in desiring corporeal flows? Or Nail reading Lucretius: “Venus is thus creative desire that moves through and produces the subject and the object, and the desire/pleasure between them.”
Transient Objects Caught in a Multi-Dimensional Moment of Impossible Pringles
This 3-D print in plastic measures approximately 15 cms, by 7 cms by 7 cms. It is part of a series of prints that use the latest 3-D print technology, Voronoi logic and on-screen digital sculpting processes to attempt to express what it is like to touch objects as a blind person. Inference, memory and the points or moments of contact between finger and object, combine to lend objects a more transient ephemeral quality.
David Johnson is a British installation and sound Artist who returned to art in later life having left it while going totally blind because of the hereditary eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa. Johnson now uses blindness as an integral and generative force in his art practice rather than regarding it as an impediment to be overcome. The affordances of blindness and disability are what Johnson employs and strives for in his dual enterprise to give expression to the qualia of blindness and to demonstrate the existence and nature of blind aesthetics.
2019 – video still, video, 7 secs
Part of a series of video sketches-of-sketches and transitional spaces, Untitled is a loop of undecipherability, always and again at the edge of sense-making but never just so–playful and threatening, exhilarating and absurd, duration, tempo and rhythm as part of an ever continuous now where memory (the scene takes place in a beach where childhood summers were spent) and anticipation (as a body runs towards the water and the viewer is in suspended anticipation) are part of a transient present.
Despina Papadopoulos is an explorer and inventor that looks for ways to upend the hegemonic regime of algorithmic representations and the quantification of human experience. Her research is concerned with the move towards disembodiment and the taming of materiality, the me-notme of machine-body assemblages and the space where embodied cognition meets machine learning. Inspired by non-digital algorithmic systems and the stubborn, messy and idiosyncratic nature of matter, she develops transitional objects & spaces that stream from the past to the present to the not-yet and perform alternate versions of inhabiting technology and the future
Oil, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102 x 190 cm, 2019.
Drawings by Picasso and from digital painting apps, Instagram-able manicures, doodles and cartoons, Russian glamour models, FUNNY DOG MEME COMPELATION!!! There’s no good or bad in painting, Cheryl… it’s just that plants died to make all that linseed oil and they’re probably sad to end up like this.
Bugs Bunny (b. 1992, Worcester) is a painter and researcher based in London. In 2019 she was awarded a London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP) studentship to continue her practice-led PhD research at the Royal College of Art. Her work explores the worlding potential of “post-internet” painting in terms of its temporalities, communities and humour. As an artist, she has had a number of solo exhibitions, most recently at Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, Tromsø (Norway). Her work is in permanent collection at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and she currently lectures at Birmingham City University.
Time Had Almost Disappeared
Video still. (HD video, colour with sound, 03:20, looped, 2020
#wheelofdoom #throbbers #mallmuzak #loops #infiniteloops #time #duration #junktime #inbetweentime #internaltimeconsciousness #husserl #bergson #steyerl #interplanetary #noneventhorizon #entangled
Frances Young works with moving image and sound. Her work is shown internationally and is in the permanent collections of: David Roberts Art Foundation (London, UK), Gemeentemuseum, Helmond (Netherlands), and University of the Arts London (UK). Recent exhibitions & screenings include: Sp0re: Psychedelic Laughter, Platform Arts, Belfast; Fort Process, Newhaven Fort; What’s Your Location?, Focal Point Gallery, Southend; David Roberts Art Foundation X Art Night, Battersea, London; Stone Bodies, Red Sea: Judith Noble, Charlotte Prodger & Frances Young, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; ARTE Video Night, ARTE TV & Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
Socrates – Re-made in Peckham
A selection of battery-powered vibrators
When switched on and spread across the floor, the vibrators generate an ‘incidental
symphony’ while the motors drift in an out of sync.
When switched on and spread across the floor, the vibrators generate an ‘incidental
symphony’ while the motors drift in an out of sync.
WHEN DO BODIES START VIBRATING? BODIES START VIBRATING?
set the mood / adjust speed and pressure / discharge of accumulated tension / set the mood / adjust speed and pressure / discharge of accumulated tension / set the mood / adjust speed and pressure / discharge of accumulated tension / set the mood / repeat
Rehearsing, undisclosed territory, 2019-20
Noise first fell sideways – from a great height – at 4 days old. Since then they have been exploring the stories of both inhabited and hidden spaces using various methods including performance, action and collaboration. Currently Noise is collaborating with D-5878 in the Cerberus Plains and Mx USWP (the universal soul of war paint) in Hollywood.
The Open of the Eyes
The Open of the Eyes is a film about the creativity of the act of “watching a film” as well as a documentary film that documents various human activities in Africa and Southeast Asia, where researchers Ueru Tanaka (Environmental Agriculture, Soil Science, Regional Development Theory) and Takao Shimizu (Cultural Anthropology, African Area Studies) conducted their research.
The film is narrated by two people. There is a cameraman who tweets his own experiences while documenting the activities of researchers around the world, and then there is the viewer who contemplates while watching the images recorded by this cameraman. Through the intersection of the words of the two who are trying to read their own visual experiences creatively, the eyes for looking at various human activities at the level of visual representation will be formed.
Kenichi Sawazaki is a Japanese artist and a film director as well as the representative director of Living Montage. Also, he is a PhD candidate at the Kyoto City University of Arts in Japan. He has conducted his research activity at the Royal College of Art as an exchange student. In his doctoral research, with the cooperation of anthropologists and agricultural scientists who have conducted research mainly in Asia and Africa, his research and production is aimed at creating a technique that uses the creativity of the Eyes of the In-Between, which is born out of the use of images, in order to bring the fragments = the Margins of Knowledge, which cannot be treated in the specialized field of academic research, to the surface as living intellectual resources. In addition, in collaboration with the project Living Montage, he is exploring a new model for sharing results widely, aiming to realize social practice that organically links artistic expression and academic research that both of them were born from field research.
Fight or Flight or
white chalk on blackboard
To my investigation of crisis in a kaleidoscopic inter-disciplinary way, the Entanglement research meetings led by Johnny Golding acted as a springboard for a dive into consciousness and its dimensional aspects.
The philosophical dialogues throughout the course of months led to the building of awareness and dynamism in drawing out underlying ideas and presuppositions, as they kept encouraging the creation of innovative argumentative structures.
In one of those creative and associative outlets i used notation; to what became a diagram with vectors, a stage for plasticities of fight, flight, and spaces in between.
Marina Stavrou stages acts relating to theatre, video art and sound performance aiming for dramatic compositions of spatial qualites. For Just Gaming, she presents a sound collaborative study for a performance on the theme of tension.
Tijs Ham is a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, engaging in instrument design, comprovisation and performance in a context where the sonic output will be inherently unpredictable.
Entanglement Oscillograph (2019-2020)
Phosphorescent Resin Disc, Mirror Ball Motor, Laser-Speaker Module.
Commissioned by the EU Commission, Joint Research Centre for Resonances III Festival.
To create the Quantum Entanglement Oscillograph, Melanie King worked with quantum physicist Constantin Coutsomitros at the European Commission Joint Research Centre. Coutsomitros passed electronic pulses through a quantum walks experiment, which involved a laser beam pointed at a crystal. The crystal split the beam into two entangled beams, and the original beam was absorbed by a special filter so that it did not interfere with the other two entangled beams. These two beams were connected and could “feel” the same interference. When one beam is altered, the other beam follows suit. King’s Quantum Oscillographs visually represented the two entangled beams. Visually, the oscillographs should look exactly the same, however it was up to the observer to detect any differences. This oscillograph used photo-acoustic technology, where sonified data moved a laser which then created marks upon a phosphorescent disc. This disc then re-emitted the laser light slowly while rotating, allowing the lasers’ intricate drawings to be seen.
Melanie King is an artist and curator with a specific focus on astronomy. Melanie King’s studio is based in Ramsgate, Kent, UK. She is co-Director of super/ collider, Lumen Studios and founder of the London Alternative Photography Collective. Melanie’s solo exhibitions include Argentea Gallery (2020), Leeds Art University (2017, 2020), Bloomsbury Festival (2019), the Blyth Gallery, Imperial College London (2018). Melanie has exhibited in a wide range of international galleries, such as The Photographers’ Gallery, UK, the Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden, BOZAR Brussels, Unseen Amsterdam, the Williamson Gallery in Los Angeles and CAS Gallery in Japan. Melanie has attended residencies organised by Lay of the Land Ireland, Joya Arte and Ecologica, Spain, Bow Arts, Grizedale Forest, BioArtSociety, Finland and SIM Reykjavik, Iceland. Melanie has been involved in a number of large scale commissions, including the European Commission, Museum of Freemasonry, Bow Arts, Green Man Festival, Vivid Projects, Bompas and Parr X Citizen M Hotel, Mayes Creative, Design Miami x COS Stores, Chelsea Flower Fringe and the Wellcome Trust. In 2020, Melanie was awarded funding from Arts Council England and South East Creatives. and a Research Funding Award from London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.
Assets! The game where every loss is a profit!
This poster advertises a game for players to find the hidden assets (and their owners) in the public space. The picture shown hides the ownership and profiteering of assets in the public realm – the surface assets, above and below the surface are also owned by entities such as utility companies, GPS organisations, data collection entities such as congestion charge cctv collection sites. The game player is asked to pinpoint an entity and gains points by doing so. Extra points for discovering who the owners are and at the next level finding ways of identifying an asset they can claim ownership of and profit from that. The more advanced the game level; the more power the game-player has. Going up each game level and understanding how to game the public space to squeeze profits from these assets, the assets then become members of the public to be gamed. The system can be designed to exclude certain types that don’t add value to the system. People who are too slow using the space, if they have mobility problems, need to be kettled into side streets. People who don’t meet the game player (now designer of the system) can be excluded and forced off the space – this is purely up to the gamers choice or bias as to who stays and who goes.
Orla Fahey is a perpetual seeker of knowledge. This phase sees an investigation into design and its impact on safety for the (vulnerable) public. The research and involvement with the entanglement group has opened up the philosophical arena. Conjuring up what is seen and unseen in the public space and the hidden puppet-masters who seek to alter perceptions of liberty. The work looks at unveiling hidden knowledge and translating that into actionable ideas using technology and humour.
Sabra-cactus, human and tank
Sabra- cactus, human and tank, (b. in Tel Aviv) is an artist living and working between Berlin and London. In her works she focuses on the notion of “land,” in both meanings: land as material, as soil, and land as a place, as territory; land as natural and cultural, political and historical. Her practice is based on thorough investigation of historical documents. She integrates her findings in her works in order to critically expose the historical foundations of ideologies that even when forgotten or repressed, still construct identities today. Sabra is a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art.
A Dream- a dialogue with a cactus. The sound and ultrasonic waves from me and the cactus are layered on top of each other at the same time. It creates the effect of a landscape, a silhouetted landscape of this dialogue.
“Language is-language, speech. Language speaks. If we let ourselves fall into the abyss denoted by this sentence, we do not go tumbling into emptiness. We fall upward, to a height. Its loftiness opens up a depth. The two span a realm in which we would like to become at home, so as to find a residence, a dwelling place for the life of human.” (LANGUAGE, Martin Heidegger, p.
Igorithm (pronounced “eye-gorithm”)
A mild algorithmic curse for humans and cyborgs (2020) is a video gameplay and a vicious spell. It explores a sadistic pleasure of spoken/written meanness and virulence of online hate speech.
Igorithm (pronounced “eye-gorithm”) is a storyteller investigating the ontological politics of algorithms in the information age, their matter(ing) and encounters in the context of fascism. Their research, based on conversations with the members of alt-right and personal experiences of a pathological liar, focuses on abnormal forms and pleasures of fictioning in the post-truth and post-fact realities. Igorithm is a founder of the Idle Institute – a storytelling lab and a collective of writers, musicians and engineers, who examine the potentialities of storytelling in anti-fascist resistance. They are a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art.
Public(s) is led by Dr Josephine Berry, Dr Mel Jordan and Dr Sarah Teasley
Both plural and singular, the research term signifies a recognition of the contingency and specificity of each of our positions, yet simultaneously a commitment to imperfectly working to bridge these divides.
What, who, or when is public? This research group, convening weekly throughout 2019-20, has sought to both untangle and further entangle a range of approaches to practice which seek some form of affect within or relationship to ‘public’.
We set out using ‘public(s)’ as a self-reflexive critical framework to approach conventional understandings of space, people and Other inhabitants of our common spaces, thereby folding the social and the political – understood well beyond the human – into ourselves and our environment. Public(s) has been our methodology to understand, highlight and overturn perceived assumptions dominant in our various political realms, and to posit ethical modes of staking and undertaking our roles, actions and relationships within the world.
Significantly, being social is not a human-only practice or condition. Do other living organisms have a public? (How) Do they share ours? Public(s) has explored how such an expanded awareness of sociality and being public can develop our own practice and stance.
Being public in public, going public, being public in private, being privately public, publishing… These are all strategies used and examined within art and the humanities. The Public(s) research group have immersed themselves in methodologies of the public(s): combining space, material, people, the apparatus, language, time, context, the performative, the hegemonic and more into an approach through which to think about the creation of new material, not least by writing, speaking, acting and the montaging of ideas.
The heterogeneous contributions which follow are some of these explorative new materials. Holding open a plurality of publicness, we have not sought to overtly link or determine them through a unifying framework. Presented alongside and in public relation to one another through diverging, contesting and contradicting, these are a contingent glimpse of some of our independent and emergent thinking-making in relation to the collective discussion of public(s).
Geoaesthetics: Reading Art in Sick Times
When Robert Smithson first stood at the site of what would become his Spiral Jetty at the edge of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, he felt as much as saw the patterned effect of a gyrating force emerge:
As I looked at the site, it reverberated out to the horizon only to suggest an immobile cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear to quake. A dormant earthquake spread into an immense roundness. From the gyrating space emerged the possibility of Spiral Jetty. No idea, no concepts, no system, no structures, no abstraction could hold themselves in the actuality of that phenomenological evidence.
To wield the term ‘geoaesthetics’ would seem to refer to epic work of this order in which the surface of the earth becomes an agential force or perhaps even a sublime star of the artwork. For Smithson, the powerful experience of this enigmatic landscape – an inland lake cut off from all external sources of water – provoked a phenomenological encounter with gravity, light, distance and the surface tension of water which electrified his imagination. His account reads like a slightly shocking return to a prehistoric moment of real bodies encountering real landscapes the likes of which we can barely fathom today. Yet this notional experience in the raw (idealistically hyperbolised by me) is rather different to the genealogy of the word ‘geoaesthetics’ that we find in Deleuze and Guattari’s word ‘geophilosophy’. For the French 20th century philosophers, ‘geophilosophy’ derives from the relationship they foreground between place (or milieu) and thought as a means of drawing the concept down to earth and embedding it into conditions which are as social as they are territorial, as conversational as they are climactic. Theirs is a kind of recasting of historical materialism:
Philosophy appears in Greece as a result of contingency rather than necessity, as a result of ambiance or milieu rather than an origin, of a becoming rather than a history, of a geography rather than a historiography, of a grace rather than a nature.
They are clearly impressed by the Greek style of conversation – not only its conviviality but its productive fractures. The geographical place, a scattered landscape of islands and peninsulas at the edge of ‘Oriental’ empires gave rise, in their account, to a pattern of movement and association which produced a type of sociability – ‘societies of friends’ – as well as rivalries and arguments. For Deleuze and Guattari, the inhabitation of this Greek geographical and social place-time gave rise to ‘immanence, friendship, and opinion’, embodied in philosophers, which were then deterritorialised as philosophy – a way of thinking and creating concepts.
How then does this relationship between thought and earth unfold in our current highly precarious, globally interconnected, densely populated, hypermediated and ecologically fragile milieux? This question arises when the earth as a life-giving, moving series of terrains often feels far away, whilst being discursively ever present as the suffering body of capitalist humanity’s extractive relation to the freely given and all things living. If we can establish such a revitalised relationship for philosophy (new materialism or speculative realism anyone?) can we hijack the term from philosophy and use it to think afresh about art? Can milieu-thinking, or thinking about the precariousness of life within itinerant, toxic, dying, unaffordable and sociopathic environments and settings, give us critical insight into genres which seem to happen in a non-place like post-internet painting or immersive installation art? Can it bring anything to light within contemporary art practices that might otherwise remain obscure? Can we identify in art an indexing, imprinting, mimesis, transliteration, deflection or, more straightforwardly, feeling of financialised capitalism’s production of planetary inhospitality? And does this focus on the milieu risk side-stepping or sharpen the issue of art’s blurring with commodification and waning autonomy in the era of what Frederic Jameson has called ‘total culturalization’?
One might hastily retort that the state of ubiquitous commodification which produces total culturalization is above all a form of social relation which involves an increasingly alarming relationship to the earth understood through its unbalanced biospherical impacts. But while this alarm is undoubtedly present as an overt topic in much contemporary art, one could still ask why privileging a geoaesthetic approach, the understanding of earth/place/thought relationships, is worthwhile when ‘ground’ is barely visible in artworks today? While it should be emphasised that geoaesthetics is emphatically not a covert call for an eco-aesthetics, it is worth taking into consideration that this progressive disappearance of earth-as-place from art (as opposed to earth images which act as surfaces by which to think mediation) is a key symptom this proposed method aims to analyse. The disappearance of a sense of the human’s phenomenal relationship to place or territory that is so conspicuous in recent work is an absence which unquestionably speaks of the transformation of milieux within late capitalism, and whose absence structures thought more broadly, including the thinking that is art.
So, would a geoaesthetic analysis simply reveal what Jameson discussed in the early 1990s as the postmodern inability to cognitively map the world around us, to orientate ourselves within a welter of mediated images and infinite networked complexity? Undoubtedly this sense of disorientation is present today, but it has undergone a transformation from the early years of digital globalisation. It is striking that the networked condition that undergirds all our social activity, not least art making and its display, is less available to diagramming and less amenable to producing a sense of the ‘capitalist sublime’ than it was in the lead up to the millennium. The network is harder to grasp as a built structure to be understood and hopefully repurposed, and more of an amorphous context and condition to be gestured at knowingly, parodically or regretfully. In this sense, we might say that the dream of Silicon Valley has been fulfilled: digital networks and the softwares they run have phantasmatically and literally fused with the material world, making it impossible to decompose the two. In this respect, we are truly living in a post-media condition. When we think back to Paul Cézanne’s pronouncement that the ‘landscape thinks itself in us’, it is clear that we can understand this in a radically different sense today; a ‘smart’ landscape is thinking itself in and through us as the phenomenological one fades from view. Can this landscape still quake, like the Great Salt Lake did for Smithson, and if so what visions does it impel?
There is then something ‘infrastructural’, as Irit Rogoff argues, in our relationship to place which is both a materialisation of ideology (efficiency, safety, etc.) and a way of disguising ideology behind apparently neutral values. How then do we think the earth’s relationship to thought when, in Keller Easterling’s assessment: “infrastructure [not ground] is the overt point of contact between us all – the rules of governing the space of everyday life.” Has functionality in this scenario replaced spatiality, and has effectivity replaced sensation? Is this connected to the progressive withdrawal of artistic practice from three dimensions into the non-space of the informational? In Matthew Fuller’s rendition, ‘Artworks have become multidimensional complexes of interactions between highly variegated, often stratified, and profoundly internally differentiated systems for the articulation of meaning and force.’ This relational complexity of art today is as much a reflection of its presumed mode of reception as an imprint of economic and infrastructural milieux. Not only the worker now, but also the artwork along with the viewer, are required to be responsive, self-transforming and ‘multidimensional’ beings – ‘abilities machines’ in Foucault’s unforgettable phrase.
But above all else, the geoaesthetic method requires us to think how artists live, an activity that produces a quilting point between multiple layers from the economic to the affective to the environmental. The relationship of behaviour to environment (ethology) and the values our habits of living produce (ethos) both share the same Greek root: ἔθος (éthos). Environments shape habits and customs which connect to value systems (both ethos and ethics) and are entangled with ‘structures of feeling’ and modes of expression. When our environments world over are pervasively commodified, converting territories, nation states, neighbourhoods, complex ecologies, farmlands and milieux into ‘merely land’ for financialised investment, a universal sense of unlivability is imposed. A geoaesthetic programme of research would require the mapping of continuities between such defining conditions as precarity, displacement, alienation, infrastructure as relation, multidimensionality, and omnivorous extraction and the necessarily post-medial artworks of our times. This might look like a projective mapping of unliveable milieux as much as a diagnostics of art. Such an endeavour could allow us to specify not only how ‘thinking takes place in relationship of territory and the earth’, but also how our relationship to the earth is changing our way of thinking through art – and with it our capacity to imagine the earthquakes that lie dormant.
This text was written as a response to the SOAH Research Platform Event Geoaesthetics: Locating Art in Unstable Milieux, Royal College of Art, May 5th with Irit Rogoff, Anthony Iles and Boris Berger Čućkovič.
1. Robert Smithson cited in Rosalind E. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture, MIT Press, 1990, p.282.
Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ‘Geophilosophy’, in What is Philosophy, Verso 2013, pp.96-7
2. This metastasis of instability, caused by capitalism’s most extractive mode yet, makes it possible to draw direct relationships between the depopulated and dying foreign-owned and industrialised farmlands of Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, and the class-cleansed and monoculturalising effects of financialised city developments in the rich world.
3. For geoaesthetics, the alienated, negative and hyperreal is just as important a way of understanding how milieu and thought relate as the utopian, salutary or relational impulses of artworks that seek to heal ecological wounds.
4. See Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso 1991.
5. A classic example of this will to understand and diagram the topology of the internet in early cyber culture is art collective Jodi’s map from the mid- 90s: http://map.jodi.org/
6. Keller Easterling, cited by Irit Rogoff in her talk given at Geoaesthetics: Locating Art in Unstable Milieux, Royal College of Art, May 5th 2020, https://rca.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=ab115414- 0868-43ea-8d1c-abb201354ce0
7. Matthew Fuller, ‘Inhabiting High-Density Realities: On Shu Lea Cheang’s Artistic Language’, in 3x3x6: Shu Lea Cheang, curated and edited by Paul B. Preciado, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2019, p.18
8. This is Saskia Sassen’s term, see Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014, p.83.
9. This is Saskia Sassen’s term, see Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014, p.83.
Ten propositions on resistant being within the technosphere
1. Accept it as our sole reality
The technosphere is our reality, and is not something we can position ourselves outside of; an un-fully-conceivable global structure of the perpetuation of re-presented inequalities. This is not to say that is does not contain a multitude of fractures and paradoxes. Though it presents itself as such it is not static. It is completely contingent, but nevertheless as our sole reality, it absolutely matters.
2. Understand the asymmetry of the capital-human relation
The economic logic of the technosphere is anti-human. It renders us in terms of an unavoidable logic of indebtedness, and de-humanises us as repositories of exploitable data or labour. Historically contingent mediators of the human-capital relationship such as the state or ‘society’ are increasingly diminished. The asymmetry of this relationship renders direct confrontation frequently painful and ineffective.
3. Contest points of translation
Translations between the material realm and textual logics of the technosphere offer glimpses of systemic vulnerability. Counter-ways of being can be asserted at the points of interchange. A misuse of the technosphere’s own networks and technologies might be possible, or a subversion of its presumed logics of individualism, productivity and economic rationality. The technosphere’s texts hold material affect, but this is not singular or inevitable and those texts can be playfully misused, re-orientated or hacked.
4. Recognise, and (mis)use, our contingent positionality
As constituent elements of the technosphere, we are differentially positioned within it to best benefit a logic of capital. We must recognise this unequal emplacement within the structure, and the impossibility of achieving an objective perspective from without. It is imperative not to presume a non-existent equality, and also not to overlook that inequality. This is not to inhibit action though: with care we can act counter to technospheric logics in a manner unfaithful to our origins. Where this intersects a fissure of systemic weakness, it might manifest as a reassertion of counter-hegemonic agency for ourselves and others.
5. Uphold, and contest, the material
The vast amount of material labour underpinning the technosphere, but continually devalorised by it, needs to be reaffirmed and valued. Material labours of care need especially to be valued. Material care must be collectively undertaken if we are to resist the imposed exhaustion and abstracting violence of the technosphere.
6. Acknowledge our somatic bodies as pivotal sites of both vulnerability and potential affect
Our human-ness, within our bodies, offers alternative affirmative resistances to textual technospheric abstraction beyond direct refusal. In their capacity to care, feel, bear, sense, desire and be present, our bodies hold various potential languages of mutual connectivity, and logics of being, beyond those of the technosphere. In asserting these ways of being and thinking, we need to hold onto their unabstracted contingency, to resist the technospheric logic of translating these apart from our somatic presentness into new fungible markets. At the same time, our bodies are the sites at which unequal technospheric violence and exploitation is made materially manifest, and are thus a key terrain where care must be made present.
7. Refuse individuation
The technosphere is premised on its subjects being rendered individuated non-humans. Alongside asserting our embodiedness, we need to contest this false formulation of ourselves as discrete independent units. Rather than centring on the notional self, we should orientate our thinking towards the networks of connection between our collectivity. Care is a means of doing this, as well as result of this, and thus a direct, material means of contesting inequality within the immediate context. A rejection of ourselves as technospheric individuals fragments additional logics and techniques such as property or surveillance.
There is a risk in going against individuation: it is to reject a core tenet of what the technosphere teaches us to care for. Challenging this exposes us and makes us vulnerable. Collective care, trust and trustworthiness is needed.
8. Establish, join, and uphold counter-publics, and also critique them
Anti-hegemonic networks centred on connectivity can emerge from a refusal of individuation. With care, these might become counter-publics operating to critique the technosphere. To do so an affirmative, forgiving acceptance of humanness, and the inevitable mistakes which come with it will be needed. Any counter-public which takes hold emerges in relation to the technosphere, and thus needs to be contested and critiqued both from without and within. They need to be rigorously held as porous and fluid if they are not themselves to replicate either an oversized individual or mini-technosphere.
9. Acts of resistance must be diverse and unpredictable
Affective resistance from a counter-public will recognise the diversity of agency and vulnerability within itself. There will need to be cooperation founded on equality and care. Privilege, for example, might need to be (mis)used where it is present within the network. Art might manifest a targeted resistance without the need for vulnerable bodies to be placed directly at stake. At other times vulnerable bodies might need to be on the line (though there must be great care in doing this). The reflexively resistant manifestation of being, acting, articulating and disseminating will require a mutual coordination. Through such strategies, acts might coalesce into systemic disturbances.
10. Claim a future
The technosphere forecloses the possibility of divergent futures. Key to resisting it is both articulating these, and working towards them. The above propositions offer a frame on which this might be possible. In resisting the presented stasis agency can be asserted and the perpetuation of inequality contested. Artistic practice and activism are key in this, but without these propositions or something similar can, unwittingly or otherwise, uncritically replicate the technosphere’s own logics. Paradoxically, a core part of claiming a future is holding onto and re-presenting the past. If not done, the technosphere appropriates the archive, and we lose it as both navigation aid and example of the contingency of our present reality and its potential to change. Politically, a well-articulated future, as opposed to critique alone, can form an effective
Public Space = Private Profits;
An Inquiry into Design of Road Safety in a Shared Space in London
A reflection on how public space has been designed ostensibly for the purpose of safety and how this translates into the real world experience. The research began by looking at design and its potential role in improving safety for ‘vulnerable’ road users, through qualitative research methods and the reflective practice approach of this group the research has deepened into questioning what is public space – who benefits from the historical patriarchal design of public space and its users safety? Who benefits from the ‘ownership’ of the space both below and above the ground?
The findings to date have unveiled the mushrooming ‘safety’ mini-industries predicated on the unsafeness of the space. Visions of a universal approach to safety promoted by world organisations reveal a complexity of connected and nested groups who seek to influence international government policies and introduce colonial style guidance and regulations that build on the public/ private capitalist model used in metropolitan cities such as London, where funding for initiatives are taken from the public purse to protect citizens from harm.
Segregating vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists – for their own safety has roots in segregation models that exclude weaker and minority groups from the public view and space. The term vulnerable has been used in other contexts to imply women and minority groups. Is this shared space model a modern version of an earlier exclusionary design? The seemingly parental blanket of safety may cloak a darker impulse to conquer the space and monetise the use of this space under this safety blanket.
Could a feminist approach point the way towards the design of public space that gives a voice to ‘others’ without sacrificing them on the altar of private profits.
Ultan Coil is a film documenting the first part of a performance in which I retrace a cycling route completed by a man I briefly knew and remember as someone I wanted to be.
I met Ultan while studying for a postgraduate diploma at Chelsea College of Art around 2010. His name sounded like no name I’d ever heard. He was quiet with an Irish accent and always cycling. I have a memory of looking up and watching him either put talcum powder onto his socks or watching the talc fall off his feet as he changed his shoes. As soon as I remembered his name I knew it was something I could use. It’s strangeness was already like a negative. It hollowed him out. It sounded like a landscape or a landmark, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. The only time I remember talking to him was at the back of the main lecture hall. I asked how his project was going and he said, something’s cooking. He was the most attractive of the guys I knew at the time and so a clear memory of him stayed with me as someone I wished I was. His degree project was a large projection of a truck moving across a grassy landscape, leaving black tracks in the grass. He projected it at the back of a garage shaped room on the ground floor of the college and I remember not understanding it. There were other landscape related works on his website but it’s now gone. The only one of these that I remember clearly was a series of photographs of large bits of driftwood arranged on a beach that I assumed was somewhere near his home.
Sometime after making this work I learnt that Ultan is an Irish name meaning a man from Ulster. I wanted to find a way to go somewhere Ultan had been, or could have been, and by repeating his journey, or being in a place he once was, to somehow inhabit him. It was a work that was to do with gender, with trying to become male. After I knew about Ulster I thought, it would have made much more sense to go to Ulster, it would have been a real journey. Instead I went to Greenwich. I found out that he had once done a cycling route through Europe and that this was where it started. And it was doable straight away, not too far from where I lived. I filmed all the way to Greenwich on the train, and then all around Greenwich. On the train I filmed the sky. In Greenwich I filmed long still shots of roads and open spaces, the Cutty Sark, the river. All day I felt like I was looking for someone. I was watching myself search but the search felt confused because I wasn’t only looking for Ultan. I was there because of Ultan and because of gender, but the day and the film didn’t remain entirely about gender, as though gender itself wasn’t entirely about gender. The desire to inhabit the body of another, or to inhabit one’s own body in the way it should be, felt connected to other forms of desire. It felt universal, even in myself, even though for myself it was also specific.
Supernormal Stimuli to Create Public Artworks: An Experiment in Countering Cultural Hegemony and Postcolonialism in Chinese Urban Space
The artworks of my practice-based research use an evolutionary psychological theory called ‘supernormal stimuli’ to trigger the audience’s sensuous desire, especially with regard to the aspect of sexuality. For example, the production of artworks such as Organic Access, Mind Peace, Emotional Encounter (shown in image), with using a squeezable ketchup squeezer, the action of licking and biting lips, as well as a sexually charged shape of human organs (breasts, buts, genital organs), aim at inducing the audience’s sexual desire which are constrained to be expressed freely in public space. Compared to cuteness, humour, intellectual interest and flavour-intensified food, sexuality is one of the desires that people try to suppress the most in public space. In a society like China, where people are restrained from freely speaking about their political opinions in public, the sexual charged forms, in a way, inspire and encourage the public to express their restrained desire to speak out the truth.
My practice-based research explores the tension between the reactivity the human body and its relation to the public sphere by addressing questions around the personal and collective experience in public space. It explores the function of public art and questions how sensual reactivity received from artworks can address the cultural hegemony and postcolonialism in Chinese public space.
Hannah Arendt wrote, “the main objective of the public space is to bring us together and to restrain our individual passions and urges”. People are repressed from behaving freely in public space because the social norms and moral standards require people to follow social rules. By collaging the urban environment of Victoria Station and the projection of ketchup squeezer that symbolizes the action of ejaculation, the series Organic Access creates an opportunity for the public to encounter a moment that merges the public and the private, the virtual and the real.
The location I chose for Organic Access is Victoria Station. It is the place where the city landscape is marked by towering contradictions between the historical architecture and modern buildings. The city landscape itself has already created a strong contradiction, which usually creates a strong sense of alienation and cultural identity anxiety. By using the surrealistic art language of juxtaposition, I plan to project digitally the sculptures and moving films onto the surface of the buildings or above the cities on the surface of buildings. By observing a very slow movement of a tongue licking the lips, or a very slowly squeezed ketchup squeezer, the audience’s instinctive desire is provoked and released.
Emotional Encounter is a Pepper’s Ghost installation projected in public space, which serves as a tool to change people’s perception toward space and society. The work provokes the reaction of the public and allows the public to express their desire by encountering a moment of convergence between the private and the public, the day and the night, the real and the virtual. The symbolic or metaphoric meaning of the licking lips as well as the bodily and affective form of communication show the double dimensions of the work. The licking and biting actions of the mouth symbolise the greediness of the capitalist developers’ desire. Meanwhile, the sensual action of licking the lips may trigger “individual passion and urges”, which may trigger desires in the audience to kiss. Thereby, by releasing people’s desire, the work aims to create a moment of enchantment for the audience.
The intention of using supernormal stimuli as the method for producing art is to trigger emotions like enchantment, or a mood that “involves a surprising encounter” in a public space. The unexpected, the encounter could turn the encounter into a moment of enchantment. As Todd Cronan described: If the majority of viewers of a particular work of art report a similar set of sensations when looking at it then the work must be working on our emotions in a consistent way.
This series of public art interventions, therefore, aims to open up the multiplicity of space. As Doreen Massay said: “Space is not a surface across which we walk, it is the dimension of multiplicity, which opens politics to the possibility of alternatives.” Public space such as subway entrances, airport terminals are entrances or exits that allow us to enter or leave a different dimension of space or exists that end the cultural and political environment. Besides, the places I chose are the areas the traditional architecture and modern buildings have strong contradictions. The discrepancy between traditional architecture and modern buildings symbolise different ideologies and different cultures. The intervention in such areas by collaging public art using supernormal stimuli, in my opinion, opens the multiplicity of spaces.
In a totalitarian society like China, where the ideology is strictly controlled and censored, it only allows one type of voice to exist. This series of work tries to provoke the public’s desire and subconscious bodily reactivity in order to induce audience’s sensitivity toward the environment. By intensifying the sense of alienation created by the discrepancy created by the contradictory urban space, the provocation of the body, which can be regarded as Wynter’s notion of ‘Non-symbolic representation” to inspires people’s awareness of Subalternity, the class who are denied or fail to represent themselves. By granting the right of speaking through bodily affect, my practice attempts to open up the possibility of alternatives to politics and to create a multiplicity of the space.
1. Hannah Arendt and Margaret Canovan, The Human Condition: Second Edition, 2nd Revised edition edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
2. “For Space,” SAGE Publications Ltd, May 15, 2020, https://uk.sagepub.com/engb/eur/forspace/book227109.space/book227109.
What does it mean to sit alongside a body in movement which refuses artifice. A performer, performing refusal.
In 1965 Yvonne Rainer wrote the No manifesto.
No to spectacle.
No to virtuosity.
No to transformations and magic and make-believe.
No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.
No to the heroic.
No to the anti-heroic.
No to trash imagery.
No to involvement of performer or spectator.
No to style.
No to camp.
No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.
No to eccentricity.
No to moving or being moved.
From her Nos Rainer created compellingly beautiful movement, offering us a moving vessel, being her performance work, Trio A (1966). In watching her film of this work made in 1978, I see at first a historical artifact, silent, black and white, minimal, stripped back aesthetic. The body is pacing, legs, arms, shoulder, turn, looking, flowing, not too quickly, she is pacing, but with intent, and I am drawn soon to where the body leads us, to the edges, the extremities, to the hands and the feet, and the head. Where the eyes lead to, the body follows. This work is a call to giving something our attention, to attend to what is present. To attend to movement rather than to form, a fixed shape, or pose.
This call to attend, brings me back to my own discomfort in the body, trying to type quickly to capture this moment. I push back my chair looking for some other bodily shape to work with and settle on propping my feet up on another chair and am seated with my laptop on my lap as it were.
In dance the hands are important for storytelling, they shape action and direct the viewer to the point of interest. Here in Trio A the hands are bringing me back to the body, to movement, but not to a dancer being moved. I am not witnessing a choreography of shapes and forms, tempos and rhythms, but rather to an internal attention to a body’s movement over a duration of time. I am struck by movement as refusal as something so much bigger than its economic gesture. Excessive.
To refuse the demands to entertain, the power structure around the role of a performer stretches out to me as a beacon of hope. How can I talk about refusal, as a way of situating myself, where I wish to put my labour. Can I allow for something that happened then, to happen now.
I am watching her move, in a seminar room, there is a smaller version of the work on my laptop and a larger image projected on the wall. There is no sound as the work is silent. I am wondering if the room has the patience to watch all of the work, 10 minutes long. It is silent, we are breathing, watching. Rainer is moving. As the time passes, my attention is drawn away from the room, the screens, the breath, towards her movement. I don’t see the body, but more the attention to the body. Once the work is over, I am left with the point of refusal. It persists now as a movement, of many parts but without any fixed shape.
After the screening, I look at a still taken from the work. Rainer is upright, dressed in black. She is static frozen through single frame capture, however this body resists a pose. Her head is held strongly turned away from the camera to the side, and the eyes are looking toward the corner to which she will move next, the left arm is gently gesturing out from the body towards the space her eyes are drawn to, but it feels like a spatial suggestion rather than a direction. The other arm is up with the fingers and hands soft at the extremity, the finger tips breaking the upwards gesture, curved, ready to continued the arm’s movement elsewhere. The left leg anchors her to the ground allowing the other to swing out to its right. I’m not sure if its swinging up or down in this frozen moment. My body aligns with the movement in order to describe it. Refusal as action, within and ongoing.