Ping-Pong All Over Margaret [2016] at the Counter-practices exhibition.

Categories: Chelsea | Counter-practices (Nov 2016)

Created: 2nd March 2017

Dysmorphia as a Starting Point: Snarks

[Clockwise from top left: Snark #1 (2017), Snark #5 (2017), Snark #2 (2017), Snark #3 (2017)]

“It starts with a dysmorphia, a social confrontation, a physical disquiet. Not an argument of the gods, not the casual arm of Hera turning man to woman, woman to man, human to beast. It starts with turning the piece around and around and finding that, whatever angle you try, it doesn’t fit.”

Some are transformed just once
And live their whole lives after in that shape
Others have a facility
For changing themselves as they please.


The life
Of a monster no longer a man. And so,
At last, the inevitable.
He began to savage his own limbs.
And there, at a final feast, devoured himself.

Erisychthon, Tales from Ovid, Ted Hughes

Categories: Chelsea | Façade | PARC instagram takeover (Feb 2017) | Trans-
Subjects: , ,
Created: 25th February 2017
Edited: 30th March 2017

Tranny Faced

[Left to right: Margaret LXXVIII: Her Vetoed Disgrace (2017), Margaret LXXIX: In Peristalsis (2017), Margaret LXXX: The Sudden (2017), Margaret LXXXI: In Torpitude (2017)]

“I grimaced as she grimaced, it looked weird, it felt good. I actually don’t know if she ever grimaced that way, but it seemed right, and now I grimace every time.”

“But if it doesn’t come from her, where does it come from? Where do any of these expressions come from? Messerschmidt’s bowels get visited in the night by twisting fiery punishment, commanding his face and hand.”

“My bowels get visited by a seven inch dildo. It’s some way that you are supposed to receive that, the way it should be received, with firm retention and violent rejection. It’s the awareness of the bowel and the throat as being part of the same long tube, the mouth and the sphincter mimicking each other, pouting and puckering in an attempt to outdo the other.”

“And her? You’re all mirror no? Stuck in that loop.”

“Yes, that’s true, I need the loop. That is the crutch, the enabler, sadly. But I am the one who holds her there, retains her at that point of understanding through satiety. Lips to anus, I turn my microphone to the speaker and try to talk and hear at the same time. That’s how you become her, you have to speak and listen at the same time, a feedback loop that retains the force of becoming and holds back the force of become.”

“And what about her flesh? I’ve eaten thanks. I’ve eaten a lot of things, not all of them good.”

“I miss her, I really do. But how would that situation have been resolved? Possession? Amnesia? She is dead, I am not. She is in time, she’s not a catalyst. All things burn up, transformed by the body, its uneasy spirit.”


Categories: Chelsea | Façade | PARC instagram takeover (Feb 2017) | Trans- | Written

Created: 13th February 2017
Edited: 2nd March 2017

Dated Data

[Rachel Maclean – It’s What’s Inside That Counts (2016), at Tate Britain]

There is an essential ahistorical moment in an artwork, something that defies the systematic purposing of ideas to politics alone. This critical moment allows artworks to escape a complete definition, and stems from their unique placement within a culture. Watching the whole of It’s What’s Inside That Counts I couldn’t see that ahistorical moment. In fact it seemed the opposite was being displayed, a piece that was not only deeply historicised, but was also ten years out of date. The content of the film, and its overall thematic, feel like it is being aimed at a public who are only just getting the confidence to use words such as ‘spam’ and ‘download’, despite being familiar with them for almost fifteen years. The effect is that of sitting through a joke you’ve already heard a dozen times, and, although the average Tate visitor might feel this is a new one on them, the film’s failure to represent any critical moment beyond an outdated comment on social media and avatar anxiety gives it little artistic value. I sound harsh because Maclean’s work to date has been so good. The Lion and The Unicorn (2012) pre-dated and channeled the Scottish referendum and Brexit, and at the same time its lip-synced tea parties didn’t make any literal connection to any specific moments in time. This enabled it to continue an incomplete dialogue and remain watchable within evolving contexts. But It’s What’s Inside That Counts is delivered to us complete and its content is never countered from within. It feels like a Mighty Boosh sketch, we get something to be amused by then discarded in its entirety. If this was a comedy show this wouldn’t seem so bad, any accusation of datedness, or unoriginal imitation of previous eras of comedy would be seen as overcritical. But this is a work of art dominating a room in a national gallery. It offers itself as both a commentary on a familiar landscape of contemporary social concerns and as art. But by serving itself up stale and without a subverting internal language it appears as neither commentary or art. By using a language and format that is accessible to an audience whose tech-smugness peaks at transferring money to their children’s student account, the piece fails to get beyond that level of understanding itself, and remains an inert product of time.

Categories: Chelsea | Notes

Created: 11th February 2017

Missed guided

[Reaction to the group seminar ran by Brian Chalkley on Thursday 9th February 2017]

At the seminar I showed the video of Play, something I had been quite pleased about until…

I don’t think Brian’s accusation could be levelled at the piece, even if he thought it was. No one in the seminar had actually attended the performance. But after my usual bad habit of over-answering all questions, it became clear I was the one charged with neglecting to provide a proper critical function within the work. I interpreted the feedback as suggesting it was actually a flaw in my practice that had allowed this piece to suffer from a lack. And the problem that (perhaps unintentionally) seemed to be highlighted by the seminar, was the idea that I didn’t actually get anything out of Play; that, in reality, I was struggling to get anything out of this experiment in indirect practice.

Unfortunately that was going to be on the cards, because by successfully opening up the idea of play as practice you close down the chances of critical derailment. When making Play we followed, loosely, Winnicott’s definition of play, but I wonder now whether the result was that the unprepared audience/participants could experience a tangible creative response within the piece, whereas I was left without a challenge to my method/script. What Brian was actually seeing in my response to his questions – I assume – is that Play failed to include the critical moment for me. In the playground this would be a break in flow caused by a rule dispute, the bell ringing, or one of the children falling down and smashing their face on the concrete. This missing element is the point where all forms of critical questions would be applied within the aesthetic language of the piece itself. I feel that my focus on the successful manipulation of a space failed to critique that space on a personal level. The desire to hone a true lightness of moment left all the edges carefully smoothed and padded. The only thought I may have had, was that the institution itself would provide a critical moment, yet it remained indifferent and Play proceeded without interruption.

I cannot say if Brian’s criticism is a valid critique of Play as a whole, in fairness, he didn’t attend and only saw a heavily edited video. It would be wrong to apply his judgement to a piece that had many more stages of trial and thought in its process than could be revealed by the recording. But the accusation of a lack of critical response in myself is valid on a wider scale and it hurt like hell!

[Email to Ana 10th February 2017]

“Heya, didn’t want you to think I was suicidal or anything. I’ve actually worked through the thoughts a bit and feel better. I am always amazed at how easy it is for arrogance to consume me. Did I really think I’d get through this MA without tears? When everyone around, myself included, has been broken by this process!

What I was actually confronted with, on top of my arrogance, was my fear of commitment, my lack of engagement and my resultant obsession with the irrelevant.

I feel kicked but reengaged.


Categories: Chelsea

Created: 10th February 2017

Bacon [2016]

Some conversation to be had about jokes here. This video was made for an exhibition called “Grab ’em by the pussy”. That infamous phrase was uttered as a joke, and defended as one, but contextualised with much more gravity, and deservedly so. Yet despite its activation as outed misogyny, I still thought of jokes, and the way they can brutally turn one thing into another; a woman to a vagina, a vagina to a cut of meat, a woman to a pig; synecdoche, simile, metaphor, pun. Why is feminism not funny? Perhaps because it is an attempt to humanise, not to dehumanise.

Categories: Chelsea | Façade

Created: 6th February 2017
Edited: 16th May 2017

Play. 1st February 2017

Categories: Chelsea | Façade | Play (Feb 2017)

Created: 6th February 2017
Edited: 17th May 2017

Time Passes (2015) by Ane Hjort Guttu

On a third viewing I am still unsure what draws me to this film so much. Perhaps this uncertainty is caused by the film’s cinematic detachment. It feels pre-Internet in its tone and style, and it doesn’t necessarily develop questions outside of its context. This maybe counter to Ane’s intentions but I found myself evaluating the film as an insular dynamic, not reading its politic on a wider scale. Perhaps this is because I am not Norwegian, yet the characters and events of the film did not feel very different from my own art college experiences. To me, the film felt more like a fairy-tale, complete in itself yet somehow able to comment on reality without direct analogy. Damla’s relationship with the Roma beggar Bianca is both believable and unbelievable in equal measure (as any cinematic dynamic should be), and, although the art students and lecturers could easily be discussing their art practice here in this room, they are shot and edited with a filmic eye, rendering and mediating them to story-serving caricatures. Time Passes feels like a film in the way life (and education) can often feel like a film. The effect seems to heighten the internal frustration of Damla. Being a young art student is a time when life feels like a film and everyone, including yourself, like actors talking and thinking in a mixture of scripted lines and improv. It is a time when metafiction feels less like a style of literature and more like the experience of being alive. When I watch Time Passes, the characters seem defined as fictions, their world is unreal in its manner, yet the whole thing seems perfectly believable in its abstract dilemma.

This certainly doesn’t mean to say that the film denies any implicit interpretations. The fact that the two main roles are female and the dismissive voices are generally male gives us plenty of fuel for discussion about masculine and feminine artistic traits (the male painter – a grotesque reminder of old-fashioned masculine ‘power-painter’ ideologies – and the cringingly well-meaning yet inert tutor, versus the more empathetic views of Damla’s female peer). Feminist discussion is also readily available in the marginalised voice of a Romanian beggar pushed to the foreground. There are also nods toward post-Marxian understandings of time and value (note the Adorno volume in Damla’s book shelf), and the status of affluent north European countries and the disoriented generations spawned by them. However, the film is definitely more Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise) than Godard (Week-end), and any sense of direct politic is, as far as I can tell, carefully avoided. What we are given instead is a simple relationship conundrum that is left to the viewer personally to resolve.

Categories: Chelsea | Written

Created: 5th February 2017

A Thousand Soft Shoes

[Written after a three-part Parade at Chelsea]

“What’s important when you start on a new course?”
“That you don’t know where it will go. You knew where you were going so you changed course.”
“So that the parade can remain perpetual?”
“Whatever. A parade has a beginning and an end.”
“This parade is mapped. We have a map to follow and a map to create. A sound map, a visual map, a geographical map, and an empirical map.”
“I heard you before I saw you, the trumpet first, then the chanting. What kind of sound can we follow?”
“And what steps? Nikolaos favoured the military two-step, a collective pace. And order is important in chaos. Which seems to be the flavour of all thought at the moment, how much chaos, versus how much order?”
“At the beginning we encircle, with chairs, and hope to attain harmony, which we did, even with a necessary dissent, to keep us focussed. Then we decide what the conditions of movement are. What makes a parade. We have a direction, perhaps a combined purpose, perhaps a unified sound, a gesture, a banner, a colour. We decide on the rules that make us a together and keep us an apart.”
“Because we’re all new, and there is fear as well as trust.”
“Yes and we mitigate the fear with a libertarian trust.”
“And we know that the parade draws focus, perhaps away from our weakness as individuals, eyes drawn to the dragon, rather than his thousand soft shoes.”

Categories: Chelsea

Created: 3rd February 2017
Edited: 11th February 2017

Telling Stories in the Dark

[Response to NoNothing Salons in the Dark: Collaborative Storytelling, developed by Oreet Ashery between November 2016 and January 2017]

As part of her Chelsea residency, Oreet Ashery took cardboard and black sheets to the windows and doors of Babak’s Bar & Grill and invited James, Emily, Mark, Chiara and myself to sit in a circle and generate a story. In three sessions we experimented with a form of sensory-deprived improv, resulting in dreamlike narratives. We are yet to decide the editorial format for the recordings taken during the sessions, but the experience of writing from the Broca allowed a better understanding of the creative process.

I have always had a very pragmatic sense of art creation, I don’t believe in divine inspiration. I feel that language gives us one of our best experiences of the what and how of making art. Language production, and its subsequent conscious thought, takes place in a vague circuitous area somewhere between our collection of short and long term memories; the perlocutionary act and our reaction to that act, feeding back into a word flow. Think of starting the sentence, “That will be three pounds fifty madam”, on autopilot whilst running the ticket office of your local theatre, then realising as you are saying it that the person in front of you is male and owns the theatre. The sentence will adjust even as it leaves your mouth in tone, and even if it remains significantly identical its content may gain irony by its conclusion.

When we write, we exercise a form of locutionary acts where the receiver can be seen as the page forming in front of us. Writers rarely start a page with a predefined knowledge of what it will consist of; sentences form and are reacted to in a dialogue with the page. This dialogue involves the format of production, the person slurping coffee next to you, the whir of the fridge, the food in your belly, the paper, the pen, the keyboard, the fear. These influences are concentrated on the cursor or nib. As the words form on the page, or are structured by the hugely influential framework of the computer user interface, our understanding of where we are going adjusts continually in a conversational loop.

Generating a narrative as a collaboration is a more recognisable form of conversation, yet by removing the visual feedback we can rarify the dialogue to something mimicking the writing process. During Oreet’s sessions I found myself deliberately clearing my mind like a new sheet of paper and allowing the literary images to appear from whichever source was talking. I tried to replicate the same atmosphere in my mind that I have used when writing poetry, allowing the continuous mental hubbub to freely rattle and coalesce with as little interference from grammar or intention as possible. It’s a difficult process, you hold too tightly to some images, ignore others that contradict your expectation, and you curse some words that leave your own lips. Oreet’s sessions were a single draft process, no delete key, and the story continued without our complete control. It reminded me of writing music within a band; the jamming process, when you all explore an idea proposed by a vocal line, guitar riff, bass line or drum beat, taking it as far as it will go before it becomes repetitive or falls apart.

NoNothing Salons in the Dark: Collaborative Storytelling will be available in published form from the summer of 2017.

Categories: Chelsea | Written

Created: 3rd February 2017
Edited: 21st May 2017