Tag Archives: artists books

Pyman at Paley

Lionel_Hours_coverI’m pleased to see that my good friend the artist James Pyman has some large drawings exhibited at Maureen Paley in Bethnal Green, London, as part of the gallery’s current group show with Salvatore Arancio and Rachel Cattle & Steve Richards. Do go and see them if you are in the area (gallery opening times etc. below). I love James’s work and have enjoyed watching some of these incredibly detailed and painstaking drawings take shape through my very occasional studio visits.

draccover2Readers may also be interested to know that James Pyman contributed a new, illustrated edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker to the wonderful Four Corners Books’ Familiars series, which features artists’ responses to classic novels and short stories. In the words of Four Corners, the books in the series ‘provide a fresh look at the tradition of the illustrated novel, with each artist choosing a text to be reprinted in full alongside their newly created work.’

I have published James Pyman twice on Piece of Paper Press. Firstly back in 1997 with The Adventures of Lionel: Through the Moon, and most recently in 2007 with The Adventures of Lionel: The Book of Hours (right).

Piece of Paper Press titles are usually produced in editions of 150, but there have been additional editions of both of these books. The Adventures of Lionel: Through the Moon was reproduced as a ‘cut-out and keep’ edition for AN magazine in 1997. A further one-hundred copies of The Adventures of Lionel: The Book of Hours were given away in sheet form at Publish and Be Damned, Rochelle School, London, in 2008.

Here is a scan (of a photocopy) of one of James’s drawings for the latter: a portrait of Lionel that was used as a vignette (i.e. an unbordered ornament) on the book’s title page. The drawing was also used on the printed invitations to a party that was held to celebrate the fact that The Adventures of Lionel: The Book of Hours was Piece of Paper Press’s twentieth book. Most of the print run was given away at the party, rather then being distributed by post as might usually have been the case with previous titles.

Given that books published by Piece of Paper Press are slightly smaller than A7-sized, the original printed form of this drawing was less than 3cm high, but I feel that the beautiful pencil work undoubtedly rewards enlargement.

© James Pyman, 2007

© James Pyman, 2007

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SALVATORE ARANCIO, RACHEL CATTLE & STEVE RICHARDS, JAMES PYMAN

MAUREEN PALEY.
21 Herald Street
London E2 6JT

30 November 2013 – 26 January 2014
Wednesday — Sunday, 11.00 — 18.00 (and by appointment)

A Tweet in the Lines

I’ve been enjoying people’s tweets and photos as they receive their copies of the Piece of Paper Press edition of ‘A Twist in the Lines’ by Michael Moorcock. Here is a selection. My favourite has to be @badaude’s ‘doll-sized’ photo, featuring Olive Oyle.

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As in free speech

Just back from a very enjoyable weekend of performing and compering at the Free University of Glastonbury. Here are a few photos…

On Friday I read from the satirical stream of filth consciousness sentience that is my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO.


Compering on Saturday I had a very interesting conversation with Dorian Lynskey about 33 Revolutions per Minute, his fascinating history of protest songs.


Also on the Saturday programme were Bad Science author Ben Goldacre, comedy writer Emma Kennedy, as well as comedian Marcus Brigstocke who spoke about his new book, but the highlight was interviewing the one and only Suggs for a heaving tentful of Madness fans.

Suggs is a lovely bloke and a great raconteur, so his forthcoming one-man show should be a blast. Keep your ears open for news of this in the autumn. Like me he is also a big fan of Resonance 104.4 fm and gave it a plug or two during our chat.

What I’d been looking forward to the most was performing my recently published short story ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, with live accompaniment from UK acid house pioneer Richard Norris on the Saturday evening. We didn’t get any photos of that, sadly, but it went so well that we’re going to do a studio version at some point very soon. More news on that as and when. In the meantime…

…to underline the Free University of Glastonbury’s belief in both freedom of speech AND free beer, we also gave away copies of a strictly limited print edition of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’. I’ve got a few spares of this to give away, so message me if you would like to lay your hands on one.

Free University of Glastonbury 2011

Lots of last minute preparations for this year’s Free University of Glastonbury which is the name of the festival’s literary strand (not quite as described by the Observer). I did an event for the Free University of Glastonbury for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, so I was delighted to be asked back. All of the Free University events take place in the hula-styled environs of the HMS Sweet Charity stage, in The Park area of the festival site. There are some great people involved this year, see the full programme just received from FUOG instigator Mathew Clayton below (which was definitive as of last night and which differs slightly from the info on the festival website).

I’m performing on Friday lunchtime around 12:15, compering the Saturday lunchtime session, and then in a special late addition to the bill I’m performing with UK acid house legend Richard Norris on Saturday afternoon at 17.30.

I’m really excited about this. Richard has composed a new backing track which he’ll be mixing live as an accompaniment to my story ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, which I first performed at my National Portrait Gallery gig (with bass player Simon Edwards) a month or two back.

In as much as it is about anything, ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ is a kind of collision between Throbbing Gristle’s design aesthetic and the Bournemouth funk, soul and zine scenes of the early ’80s – via vinyl obsession, the history of acid house, art school and the cryptic etched messages of UK record pressing maestro George Peckham a.k.a. the ‘Porky’ of the title. It’s fantastic to be doing this gig with Richard, not least because he is a real pioneer of the British acid house scene: as part of Psychic TV he co-produced their Jack the Tab ‘compilations’ in 1988.

To celebrate the Free University of Glastonbury gig with Richard, a strictly limited edition print version of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ will be available free on the night while stocks last.

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For the Friday gig I’m probably going to be rambling about various things like this,

and this,

as a kind of preamble to talking about this,

and reading from my novel CHARLIEUNCLENORFOLKTANGO (which I’ve blogged about here and here).

I’ve barely taken in the rest of the festival programme, although my friend Tim Etchells has just posted some amazing photos of his illuminated sign which was installed in the Shangri-La area last weekend (note the moody-looking sky).

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The 2011 Free University of Glastonbury programme (in order of appearance) :

Friday:

12:15 Tony White

13:00 Jon Ronson

14:00 Mark Thomas

Saturday

11:30 Dorian Lynskey

12:15 Suggs

13:00 Emma Kennedy

13:45 Ben Goldacre

Intermission

16:40 Marcus Brigstocke

17:30 Richard Norris/Tony White

Sunday

11:30 Gavin Knight

12:15 Richard King

13:00 Matthew De Abaitua

13:45 Edwyn Collins and Grace Maxwell

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Auto-destructive Arts Policy #2 – Metzgervaizeymashup

I was surprised and honoured — and in the event, not a little moved — to be asked to speak at the 85th birthday celebration of the artist Gustav Metzger, which I attended in London recently.

Among the many other friends and colleagues who had gathered to celebrate this important day were Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson of London Fieldworks, Alastair Brotchie of Atlas Press, Alan Sutcliffe of the pioneering Computer Arts Society, composer Kaffe Matthews, The Arts Catalyst curator (and Performance Magazine founder) Rob La Frenais, Andrew Wilson, Curator of Modern & Contemporary British Art at Tate, Ingrid Swenson of Peer, and my former Arts Council colleague Bronac Ferran.

Following a short and eloquent speech (reminding us of absent friends) and toast by Andrew Wilson, it seemed apt that I should read an excerpt from my new short story, ‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’, which is dedicated to Gustav Metzger. The title refers of course to Metzger’s 1st and 2nd Manifestos: Auto Destructive Art, 1959, and Manifesto Auto-Destructive Art, 1960.

As discussed in the previous post, this story was written partly to test the satirical potential of applying the ‘cut-up technique’ to two source texts: Metzger’s own 1974 call for an ‘art strike’ and the ‘Creative Ecologies’ speech made at the State of the Arts conference in February 2011 by the Right Honourable Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. I had wondered what kind of new text might be created by remixing these two originals, and whether that new text might reflect back critically on both sources as well as forming the basis of some sort of critical response to the work of artists Rupert Ackroyd and Alison Turnbull.

As well as being, you know, a good story… You can judge that for yourself, as the full text of ‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’ is reproduced in the previous post, but the cut-up sequence at the centre of the story ends with a couple of sentences that I found much more difficult to read aloud, in public, than I had expected. The words really caught in my throat:

The government is passionately committed to smothering art and the denial of labour is our chief weapon. To bring down the art system it is necessary that people who once practised art never regain their creative spirit; to eradicate it in every corner of the country.

‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’ was commissioned by the Russian Club Gallery and published on 30 March 2011 to accompany the current exhibition by Rupert Ackroyd and Alison Turnbull, which runs until 7 May. The story is published as an A3 folded pamphlet which is available free to gallery visitors while stocks last.

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Rupert Ackroyd / Alison Turnbull, Russian Club Gallery, 340-344 Kingsland Road, London E8 until 7 May. Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday, midday to 5pm.

A barricade in all but name

The Russian Club Gallery just published my new short story, ‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’, as a folded A3 pamphlet to accompany the exhibition/project by Rupert Ackroyd and Alison Turnbull, which opened on 30 March. The pamphlet is free and is available from the gallery until the show closes on 7 May, or while stocks last. I am reproducing the full text of my story below, but of course the pamphlet is the real thing. I’ve given away the few spare copies that I had, so I would recommend getting to the Russian Club asap to see the great show by Rupert and Alison and to obtain your free copy.

I’ve worked with Alison Turnbull before, contributing a short work of fiction to her artist’s book Spring Snow: A Translation, and publishing her Black Borders: 1994 – 2006 on Piece of Paper Press. I wrote a little about Spring Snow here. The opportunity to write another piece of fiction in relation to Alison’s work seemed too good to miss, so I visited both Rupert Ackroyd’s and her studios on 10 February 2011 to discuss the collaborative project that they were making for the Russian Club show. This was the day of the State of the Arts conference, which was taking place at the RSA on the Strand and which I’d been following on Twitter. Visiting the Russian Club gallery at the end of the day, I noticed what looked like a page of yellowing newsprint among some rubbish — faded prints, cardboard backings and mountings — that had been extracted from junk shop picture frames by the artist and Russian Club gallery director Matt Golden. Looking more closely I discovered that it was an original news broadside published by the Daily Express during the General Strike on 12 May 1926. At the bottom right of the page is a story bearing the headline ‘False News’:

Three men have each been sentenced to 21 days’ hard labour for selling a leaflet called “The Fulham Worker” which stated that the Welsh Guards had been confined to barracks for intimidation.

‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’ is dedicated to the artist Gustav Metzger and at the heart of the story – as noted also in the story – is a short text produced for satirical purposes by cutting-up his statement, ‘Art Strike 1977-1980′, in Art in Society / Society into Art: Seven German Artists (London: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1974) and Ed Vaizey’s speech at the RSA, ‘The Creative Ecology – Speech at State of the Arts’ (London: DCMS, 2011). The story’s title is of course after Gustav Metzger’s 1st Manifesto: Auto Destructive Art, (single printed sheet) London: the artist, 1959, etc

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Auto-destructive Arts Policy

For Gustav Metzger

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Three men and a woman have appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court, Horseferry Road, London, charged under the new legislation with Conspiracy to Exhibit and for distributing a satirical broadside entitled Auto-destructive Arts Policy . This publication includes a text that one of the accused, the author Tony White, allegedly produced by ‘cutting-up’ and ‘re-mixing’ (‘for satirical purposes’, he claims) artist Gustav Metzger’s 1974 call for an ‘Art Strike’ with a speech made at the State of the Arts Conference at the RSA London on 10th February 2011 by the Right Honourable Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

By such ‘literary’ contrivance was the Minister made to appear to have said that he wanted, ‘to make a case for the use of art for direct social change.’ (Our italics.)

An editorial standfirst asks whether Vaizey and Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt might not themselves yet succeed where Metzger failed, by actually creating the ‘years without art’.

Tony White’s disputed text continues:

The art world uses art to confuse and divert us. The only way through this horrifying reality is to face the fact that the arts are currently deployed against the interests of the state. That art, the voluntary arts and the amateur arts should be in the service of revolution against the state and capitalism is unsatisfactory. Nevertheless much of the debate about the arts focuses on fighting the system.

Artists can use the same methods of production and distribution as me to talk about lack of money, but I call for a lack of art, for years without art, a period of three years – 2011 to 2014 – when artists will not work, sell work, or permit work to be supported by grant funding. It’s worth reminding people – and some still seem oblivious to this fact – that last year’s settlement took place against the background of the publicity machinery of the art world. Art pretends that it would have been possible for the dealer/museum/publicity complex to continue juggling artists, finance, works and patronage systems.

My view is that our cup is still plentiful but we should refuse collaboration with any part of the art world. National and local government is at best disingenuous: the years without art will see the collapse of many local libraries, local theatres and theatre companies or local arts centres, dance companies as well as diverse arts events and organisations. Institutions handling contemporary art will be severely hit and will have to reduce their staff. Magazines will fold.

Yet the ramifications of inaction would be tough. The last thing a Whitehall Minister needs is the arts demanding changes to every decision they disagree with. I believe that three years is the minimum period required to cripple the Arts Council and create difficulties for artists. Artists should be sufficiently wealthy to live on their own capital. It will be necessary to prevent not just the local library or the local theatre or the local arts centre from exhibiting and publicising art in the future but the entire community. The government is passionately committed to smothering art and the denial of labour is our chief weapon. To bring down the art system it is necessary that people who once practised art never regain their creative spirit; to eradicate it in every corner of the country.

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The accused are (in alphabetical order): Rupert Ackroyd, a sculptor working from Myddleton Square, Islington; Matt Golden, Gallery Director of the Russian Club Gallery, named after a snooker club that previously occupied the premises on Kingsland Road in London’s East End; Alison Turnbull, a highly-regarded painter latterly of Kentish Town but born Bogotá, Colombia, and; the above-named Tony White, best known for penning a novel set in the contemporary East End but now living in south west London.

Ghoulish Ackroyd – a church crypt is his studio – has exhibited widely in recent years. A typical ‘work’ might be his ‘Large Assemblage’ (2010) which comprised a replica Victorian Gothic church door stood horizontally against a transparent glass or perspex column filled with coffee beans. A hollowed-out, fake oak beam contained a number of cardboard boxes themselves containing multiple ‘stash tins’ – standard tobacco tins painted black and adorned with glittery stickers bearing black and white likenesses of late folk-rock legend Nick Drake, the whole then distressed as by some mechanical sander. This apparent drug-culture reference prompted one elderly gallery visitor to remark, ‘My 59 year old son with a chain of “head shops” and a couple of stalls at Camden Market could have done that.’

Turnbull too, has exhibited extensively in the UK and around the world, most recently at Matt’s Gallery, Copperfield Road, where her installation, Observatory (2010) took as its starting point the ground plans of one such astronomical edifice built by Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Astbury asked that twenty pages of notes produced by White during apparent ‘studio visits’ to premises rented by Ackroyd and Turnbull respectively be considered for disclosure. These notes, she claimed, recorded heavily coded conversations – also held on Thursday 10 February 2011 – in which Ackroyd talks for example of ‘English vernacular’, of craft, architecture and the ‘heavy, conservative nature of the built world’. He describes journeyman carpenters, air-dried European oak and mortice and tenon joints. Turnbull also speaks of domestic vernaculars; particularly those found in 1960s wallpapers. She talks of lozenge motifs and counterintuitive perceptions of size such as might be created by distance or proximity. White questions whether this might produce a kind of domestic ‘dazzle’. Turnbull repeatedly mentions the Japanese architectural concept of kirei sabi or ‘gorgeous humbleness’.

The Crown Prosecution Service suggested such statements were far from the innocent discussions of art that the accused claim, and attempted to show that the so-called ‘collaborative artwork’ produced by Ackroyd and Turnbull to Golden’s commission is in fact a barricade in all but name. Documents were shown to the court in which art historian Dr Ed Krčma specifically uses the language of class struggle when describing Turnbull’s work as, ‘the result of disciplined labour.’ (Our italics.) He talks of her using ‘…the tools of technical draftsmanship,’ of her ceding to, ‘the painting’s demands,’ through, ‘the jostle and poise of colours [and] incident,’ before concluding that, ‘This disciplined aesthetic constitutes an effective barrier to […] vague poetics.’

The CPS pointed out the current proliferation in the art world of ‘agit-prop’ ‘installations’ comprising sit-ins, workshops and teach-ins, as well as materials including barrels, chains, carts, paving slabs, stones, cobbles, bricks, planks, scaffolding, earth, sandbags, tables, doors, Molotov cocktails, gas masks, motorcycle helmets, fireworks, signs, posters, placards and sundry items that might be instantly repurposed to create a protest or to produce an impromptu barrier to blockade for example a street or public square, or to defend such a barricade.

Expert witness Professor Mark Traugott of the University of California Santa Cruz and author of a new book The Insurgent Barricade (University of California Press) spoke of a ‘barricade consciousness’ when called to explain his ‘preoccupation’. Citing historian and political scientist Charles Tilly, Traugott described a ‘repertoire of collective action’: the spectrum of contemporary approaches, methods and tactics available to protesters.

Structures that were not constructed and defended by civilian insurgents, although perhaps identical in all other respects, are considered here only as a point of contrast with the revolutionary barricade proper. Even one and the same structure, built by insurgents but captured and turned to account by a military force attempting to quell their rebellion, will, from the moment it changes hands, cease to be treated as a barricade under the definition adopted in this study.

In her concluding remarks, Chief Crown Prosecutor Astbury questioned whether given the volatile social and economic situation, all artworks might not be seen as insurrectionary: ‘Might we not,’ she asked the Court, ‘add to Tilly’s “repertoire of collective action” the massive civil disobedience of making things?’

All four were released on bail and will appear at Southwark Crown Court for a plea and case management hearing on 7th May. Father of one Golden was ordered that the Russian Club Gallery premises should remain open to the public until then, from Tuesday to Saturday each week, midday to 5pm.

Daily Express, Wednesday 30 March 2011

© Tony White, 2011
Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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Pioneers in Art and Science: Metzger, (DVD) dir. Ken McMullen, published London: Arts Council England, 2005. Available from Concorde Media.

Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Alison Turnbull, Spring Snow: A Translation, London: Book Works, 2002.

Tony White, ‘Auto-destructive Arts Policy’, in Rupert Ackroyd/Alison Turnbull, London: Russian Club, 2011. Available free from the Russian Club Gallery, 340-344 Kingsland Road, London E8 4DA.

Free MP3 of A Porky Prime Cut live at the NPG

Thanks to Gabriel Thorp at the National Portrait Gallery, London, who grabbed a digital recording off the desk during my Dirty Literature gig with Tim Etchells on 18 March 2011.


Creative Commons Licence
A Porky Prime Cut © Tony White, 2011; Music © Simon Edwards, 2011. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Feel free to extract the MP3 from this player (e.g. using the Firefox add-on ‘Download Helper’) if you prefer to listen using your own MP3 software or device.

Electra who put the event together will be putting the recording of the whole gig on their site very soon. Regular readers will know that I’ve been very excited to work with bassist Simon Edwards on this, so I wanted to make the live recording of ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ with Simon’s funk bass accompaniment available as a standalone piece of audio in its own right too. This is also a chance to test out the WordPress audio player for the first time, so as ever feedback is welcome.

You can download ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ as a free ebook courtesy of James Bridle’s excellent Artists’ eBooks site. We’re also hoping to put this recording on to the EPUB file as an extra.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Acknowledgements: ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ by Tony White is part of Digital Transformations, an arts project using photography, film, sound, mapping, creative writing, web design and exhibition to raise the profile of the communities of Kinson, Townsend and West Howe in Bournemouth. Digital Transformations is coordinated and curated by SCAN with Bournemouth Libraries and Arts, and Bournemouth Adult Learning. It is funded and supported by The Learning Revolution Transformation Fund, Bournemouth Borough Council, SCAN, Bournemouth University, and The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). The collaboration with Simon Edwards was supported by Electra as part of their Dirty Literature programme for the National Portrait Gallery, London.

A Porky Prime Cut


Last week I gave a reading from a new short story entitled ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ at the National Portrait Gallery London, with live musical accompaniment from bass player Simon Edwards. Twitter friend @Alexandra_Wall posted this excellent photo of the gig on Twitpic. Thanks Alex.

It was a very enjoyable evening and I shared the bill with old friend Tim Etchells. All of this was for the launch of Electra’s exciting new Dirty Literature series of talks and readings that runs through until June. Tim read a lovely new piece which is quite hard to describe, but felt like a kind of sit-com in fragmented monologue form that was culled (or collaged) particularly from a series of increasingly unhinged internal memos from an ever smaller group of constables who guarded the Gallery in the early years of the 20th century. There is a plan to get audio and video of the event online, so when it’s up I’ll post a link to Tim’s piece. At present it doesn’t exist as a published text, and I’m not sure if Tim has plans to perform it again, so do have a look at the video when it’s up.

Tim and I have known each other for quite a while now. We met in the late 1980s when I was at art school in Sheffield where Tim’s company Forced Entertainment are based. Here is the Streetview photo of the former Sheffield art school premises on Psalter Lane. The Googlemaps car snapped it just before the college was closed down – hence the banner above the door. I have very happy memories of being at Psalter Lane, so the thought that these buildings have all now been knocked down makes me feel slightly bereft. However, it is still possible to get an arts education in Sheffield. The courses have survived it’s just that they’ve moved out of these mainly purpose-built studio buildings down to other Sheffield Hallam University buildings in the city centre. I was there quite recently. It was good to be back.

Tim was one of the first few people that I invited to do something for Piece of Paper Press when I started the imprint in 1994. He wrote the short story ‘About Lisa: a small bad story in twelve good parts’ in response to the constraints of the format and we published it in the usual edition of 150 in 1995. Here is a slightly murky scan of the front cover!

Tim has blogged about that period in the introduction to a new German language, Swiss edition of his collection Endland Stories, which sadly is out of print in English.

My story for the NPG gig, ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, was commissioned by digital arts agency SCAN in Bournemouth as part of their Digital Transformations project. I first blogged about the project here around a year ago, when I met the two other artists involved, Simon Yuill and Kevin Carter. Then I blogged some more here, here, here, here and here! You may gather that it was a very generative project :-)

The story is kind of a culmination and a condensation of all of that research.

And it was particularly generative not least because it made me confront my own biography even while writing a short story set in and around a town I hardly knew. Or two towns: Bournemouth and Poole. Writing ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ made me look again at some of my own formative experiences, in particular those moments where as a teenager perhaps you might discover that you have some kind of creative agency. All of which made me remember just how contingent my own art education really was.

So it felt quite special having the chance – thanks to Electra and the NPG – to read the story as a 20-minute standalone piece with live music from Simon Edwards in the form of his fantastic 85 bpm funk bass accompaniment. This really is something that both Simon and I are hoping to do again.

I’m also hoping that we can add the MP3 of the performance on to the ebook which you can download for free from James Bridle’s wonderful Artists’ eBooks.

The ebook includes beautiful colour photographs of Turbary Common taken by Bournemouth photographer Diane Humphries. Diane also took this photo of me on my first visit to Turbary Common, one cold, wet and misty March morning a year or so ago. At some point soon ‘A Porky Prime Cut’ will also I think be available via Bournemouth Libraries, both in ebook form and as a special print edition on Piece of Paper Press. I’m hoping there will be an event or two down there, too. I’m looking forward to that very much.

Pre-aged anonymous future

L-R: anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, Tony White, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous, anonymous.

Announcements received from or on behalf of the artists Rod Dickinson and Heath Bunting in the past couple of weeks reminded me how much I like each of their work, and that for a while I’ve been meaning to do a post about a short story of mine that features both of them, or which uses each of them as a way of writing about the other. Reason being that the story is set in or after 2011, which when I wrote it seemed sufficiently like ‘the future’ (albeit a very near future) to offer some satirical advantage, so I’ve wanted to quickly mention it before that year is upon us (with the obligatory nod to that great William Gibson story of fictional futures made real, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’).

‘The Lunar House “Re-enactment”‘ was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to form part of a report on a series of events called the Arts and the Law seminars which brought people (artists, lawyers, academics etc.) together, ‘to debate and clarify the legal and ethical implications of portraying real people through artistic representation, wider issues of freedom of speech for artists,’ and, ‘how such issues are involved in’ particular art forms: visual arts, theatre, literature etc.

I’ve known about Rod Dickinson’s work for ages, initially via Cabinet Gallery who showed his work in the early 1990s, but hadn’t met him until two or three years ago. For this new work Rod has collaborated with Steve Rushton to produce Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, a video installation which is showing at Alma Enterprises, London, until mid-January. Here is the blurb:

‘two actors deliver a simulated forty five minute press briefing [...] composed solely of fragments of speeches and press statements [which] focuses on the way in which similar declarations and political rhetoric have been repeated and reused by numerous governments across continents and ideological divides to justify acts of aggression and state sanctioned violence.’

Heath Bunting‘s work also engages with the production and practice of power, amongst other things, but it is more elusive, low-level and unbounded and it has sort of crept in to my consciousness over the past decade. I think of Bunting’s work like the faint glow of a persistent beacon on the horizon — he works out of Bristol — that seems to relentlessly and doggedly illuminate contemporary practices of politics, power and identity, but which the closer I get to the more resistant to summary it becomes. Bunting is often described as a net.art pioneer, but a project might consist of a real-world action, a collaboration, a book or advice on making a day-planner that will enable you to avoid working. It could be an ‘IT COSTS MORE TO BE POOR‘ poster, or an extensive record of points of engagement (transcripts, legal documents, etc.) between the body(s) or person(s) and any one of the infinity of social, political, geographical, legal multiverses in which we find ourselves to be born and living. In all this teeming beaureaucracy and detail Bunting’s work starts to seem like Borges’s same-scale map of the territory, as if it is identical with his life.

Just so with the work announced by Bunting’s email of 21 November 2010 which — in as far as I am able to locate it, and amongst other things — is just as analytical, botanical, countercultural, dispersed, ethical, fragmented, guarded, honest, idiosyncratic, journalistic, key, labyrinthine, malcontent, networked, open, provocative, questioning, rigourous, satirical, time-consuming, unglossed, volatile, wide-ranging, X-border, yippyish and zealous as ever. The email offers ‘a spare pre-aged anonymous letter box facia’ for sale (pictured left), and lists both secondhand and ‘artist signed’ prices. The email also links to a webpage from 2005, entitled Anonymous Letter Box – Howto, which is at least partly self-explanatory dealing as it does with the siting over long periods of time of anonymous mailboxes in disused street locations around the city. The simple design and the proliferation of texts and pages found here and under the wider Status Project heading is indicative of the approach used elsewhere on the irational website. A new project, slated to run from 2010 to 2020 lists works in the Heath Bunting Collection that are, like the spare pre-aged anonymous letter box facia, available for loan or sale/exchange.

So much for a very limited introduction. With even less to go on and beneath the distracted-looking gaze of E.M. Forster, whose portrait was one of several hanging in the seminar venue, Heath Bunting’s work proved difficult to understand for many of the participants at that Arts and the Law seminar at King’s College, Cambridge. Particularly challenging was a short discussion of Bunting’s arrest in 2001 (documented on irational through a series of documents entitled ‘In defense of the tools of my trade’). In order to explore this further, and to see if fiction might offer a useful approach, I appropriated elements of Rod Dickinson’s practice (thank you Rod) to write a short story which imagined a large-scale work of participatory performance art being convened to mark the tenth anniversary of Bunting’s arrest. That story, ‘The Lunar House “Re-enactment”‘ is downloadable as a free Diffusion ebook pamphlet by clicking on the cover image (right). If you are not familiar with assembling ebooks made using the Diffusion or Bookleteer format, there are some useful how to videos on Vimeo. I have made a number of other short stories available free in this format also, which are all searchable on the Diffusion site, though I haven’t got around to listing them on this website’s Free Beer page.

Also available in the Diffusion format is Heath Bunting’s ‘Single Step Guide to Success — Day Planning’. the introduction to which reminds us that: ‘Rigorously planning your days can minimalise time spent working or waiting and maximise engagement with pleasure, happiness and growth.’

§

Because the Arts and the Law seminar series was conducted according to the so-called Chatham House rule (to encourage openness and the sharing of information within the group at least) I’m apparently bound not to reveal the ‘identity [or] the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant’. So it was initially a bit frustrating when the artist Manu Luksch sent a fantastic panoramic photograph of seminar participants, which I wanted to reproduce at the top of this post. Then I realised that I could comply with the Chatham House rule by anonymising everyone in the spirit of Manu’s excellent surveillance footage sci-fi film of the same year, Faceless.

Middling English and fantasies of exclusion

I travelled to the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton on 23 October to take part in an event around Caroline Bergvall’s exhibition Middling English; result of Caroline’s 3-year fellowship at Southampton University, supported by the AHRC’s former Fellowships in the Creative and Performing Arts programme.  The show was previewed in the Guardian and here’s what it says (/said?) on the ‘current exhibition’ page of the Gallery’s website:

Middling English explores some of the pleasures and complexities of language use, in and through writing. The exhibition brings together multi-sensory elements – spoken pieces, audiophonic compositions, printed broadsides and the strange memory world of pop lyrics – all presented through a stunning architectural installation. [...] Middling English pursues [Bergvall's] interest in speech detail, language histories and politics, verbal eclecticism and inventiveness derived from various kinds of cultural displacement [...investigating] modes of writing, from the printed letter to a loose realm of visual, audio, kinetic and perceptual writing and reading environments. Bergvall combines Chaucerian contemporaneity with bilingual audioworks and spatial structures.

Here (right) is the gallery’s photograph showing a detail of the wall of broadsides that Caroline Bergvall had written and published for the show.

The closing event on  23 October was chaired by Claire MacDonald who also gave a presentation, as did Caroline, Gabriel Gbadamosi and myself.

Claire sent some preparatory thoughts to speakers, which talked about Caroline’s (and our suggested) engagements with the voice and voices through a number of parameters: diversity, the ‘reworking and renewal of the positions from which we speak, the registers and technologies through which we speak, and a cross-fertilization of forms between print, sound and the visual,’ and a questioning of what it means to, ‘push the boundaries of language.’

Presentations were necessarily brief. I chose to pick up some themes that I wrote about on this blog back in July of this year, in relation to my novel Foxy-T and the poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson. I wanted to link these also to Ivy4Evr, my collaboration with Blast Theory for Channel 4, by focusing on a quite slight yet particular genre of response that emerged in common to all three and which can be described as a projected fantasy of exclusion.

Since notes for a slide show might form a particular mode of writing and a type of ‘reading environment’ in themselves, I wondered if there might be value in sharing those notes in their raw form, as a companion piece to the presentation itself. Here, then, is a quick edit of the notes that I made for my presentation at the John Hansard Gallery, together with screengrabs of some of the slides.

Slide 1

  • 3 key points about Foxy-T? Ephemeral economies; an empty shop unit in a moment of flux (sweatshop, internet shop or gallery); rupture with the identity politics of the 1970s and ’80s.
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson
  • Exemplified: use of the word ‘Rasta’
  • Caroline’s comment about ‘writing that is aware of its history’; the Black Atlantic in London.
  • Read page 1 of Foxy-T
  • Intro audio: excuse quality. R4 Today Programme; A-Level results day 19 August 2004; 08:10 feature on declining standards; interview with David Milliband then brought me on to defend those declining standards?
  • My interview curiously absent from the Today Programme‘s otherwise exhaustive Listen Again archive – here’s a home-made copy from audio cassette.
  • Play audio from 2:35 to 4:05
  • In case you missed that, Ed Stourton just said: ‘Mind you it is important that we all understand it, isn’t it. [reads excerpt] It’s getting quite close to the edge that, where some of us are going to be excluded, excluded from the book because we don’t understand the language.’
  • The voice of a powerful institution — invocation of a normative majority, ‘us’, for whom Ed Stourton was claiming to speak.
  • Reversal of the then current cultural and social policy language of social exclusion.
  • Who is this ‘us’ that is being excluded?

Slide 2

  • Talking of LKJ: interesting echo
  • Play DVD from start of Chapter 4 i.e. 6:49 to 9:09
  • Intro over musical interlude/Brixton market scene: An extract of the documentary Dread, Beat an’ Blood, dir. Franco Rosso for the Arts Council (Arts Council Film Collection).
  • This is from a Japanese DVD but you can get this bundled as a DVD extra in some editions of Rosso’s 1980 feature film Babylon. Well worth getting hold of.
  • Radio studio reading into interview.
  • In case you didn’t hear that: ‘It’s not really for my ears, is it?’
  • N.B. Relationship between poetry/writing and activism — as Caroline said, ‘music as a form of resistance’ — what LKJ called BASS CULTURE (B.A.S.S.)

Slide 3

  • Ivy4Evr — interactive SMS drama for Channel 4 — Blast Theory — written by me.
  • PILOT transmitted October 2010 — ran through one week in REAL TIME.
  • Reasons for SMS: young people no smart phones, rubbish phones but always on.
  • NOT in so-called text speak “L8r” etc/ despite press clichés. Because our research showed that young people don’t use it.
  • BUT use: compression, different registers, tones of voice, colour, rhetorical devices, habitual misspellings — plus some hacker/web slang e.g. LOL — carried over into the script as a PATINA of typo’s and abbreviations.

Slide 4

  • Quick few screengrabs from Ivy4Evr script illustrating some of this texture.
  • Again we saw projections of exclusion.
  • e.g. in the week before broadcast a single message went out as a trail, and tech blogger Topfife tweeted: ‘Just got an odd text message, then realised I signed up for C4′s SMS drama IVY4EVR. Very yoof.’
  • ‘Very yoof’? The offending msg? Not very ‘yoof’ at all —->

Slide 5

  • Ewan McLeod in Mobile Industry Review wrote, ‘The site explains that Ivy has left home because “Lilsis” (is that “Little Sister” or somebody else, who knows? I’m over 30) has “done the dirty on her”…’ [actually that's not my writing but a phrase that emerged in early drafts of press releases etc and stuck, though it's probably more archaic than contemporary?] ‘Again,’ McLeod continues, ‘forgive me for not quite knowing that definition [...] I only point that out because I’m 30+ And I imagine you are too…’
  • So again, slight but unmistakeable (as with Ed Stourton on the Today Programme talking about Foxy-T, and the unnamed radio interviewer on Franco Rosso’s Dread, Beat an’ Blood): a projected fantasy of exclusion and a call to — or suggested complicity with — some imaginary majority. In this case those of us over 30.
  • Here are a few links –
  • Thank you –

§

Caroline Bergvall’s Middling English exhibition was both generous and generative, as were the closing events at John Hansard Gallery.  The conversations continued through the evening, of course, and on the train for those of us who travelled back together. An exhibition publication is promised and I’ll link to this when it becomes available; and similarly if further events emerge from these conversations.

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