The Edge of Writing: John Stezaker's 'Cinema 1 II'
This article will consider the creation of a collage as an event. This event is constituted in and by the relationship, meeting and arrangement of two or more elements, usually paper-based and often associated with both gluing – which is the origin of the word 'collage' – and cutting. For the purpose of my analysis here, I propose that collage can be understood using the language of writing because, as I see it, collage is writing.
By deconstructing John Stezaker's collage 'Cinema 1 II' (2005) I will explore the event of a postcard of 'Cliffs at Beltinge Herne Bay' being placed onto a black and white photograph of two men, that hides their faces. I will consider how disappearance through the act of placing one image on-top of another can be considered as a writing event. Using Roland Barthes' ideas of the 'text of bliss' put forward in The Pleasure of the Text. I will consider how language is (re)distributed in the event of 'Cinema 1 II'. Since the early 1970s Stezaker has worked with found images and printed matter, creating collages which are both familiar and strange - transforming the practice of collage in the last century and developing the form. In 2011 he exhibited a retrospective from 30 years of artistic practice of over 90 collages at London's Whitechapel Gallery (29 January – 31 March), and in many cases he explored collage without using a physical cut. „I work always towards minimal intervention‟ (Personal Communication 11th January 2011). He says, employing a guiding maxim, 'minimum mutilation'. This is most evident in his series of "Unassisted Readymades‟, a collection of found portrait photographs and film stills (Published In: MONO #3, August 2010). Writing the Collage
'Cinema 1 II' (2005) is an example of this methodology of placing a postcard on top of a photograph. The photograph is the largest part of the work, 19cm x 24cm, and the postcard is much smaller – approximately 9cm x 14cm – meaning the work is only around 6 cm less than A4. The scale of the work is important to our reading of it as writing, as Stezaker works on a scale similar in size and physicality to the traditional act of writing with a pen and paper - his work no bigger than a book. Furthermore, the artist has discussed the importance of the table in collage saying that "collage is a tabletop practice‟ (Stezaker 2008, p.20) akin to writing, reading and working at the scale of the hand. Thus we can imagine Stezaker writing with non-language based signifiers, arranging images as carefully as a poet arranges words in a line. Poetry is a useful comparison to our discussion of the collage as writing, as the reading of it (either out-loud or to oneself) is a difficult practice that relies upon visual properties of line breaks. The line break interrupts the flow of language visually and distinguishes poetry from prose.
'Cinema 1 II' consists of two parts, a background Photographic film still and a superimposed foreground postcard. The postcard obscures the photo by hiding the central part of the image and replacing it with a layer that creates an inside edge and, in-turn, an outside frame. The postcard depicts a coastal scene of cliffs, there is a horizon line one quarter from the top of the card punctuated on the left-hand side of the card by a tiny cluster of houses. The other three quarters of the card are filled with charcoal coloured cliffs, topped with yellowish tufts of grass and moss that join the sloping embankment that run down to the sea shore. There is a small triangle (an inverted right-angle triangle) of sea in the right hand corner of the image, the horizon-line of the sea is unusually straight and joins the cliff top perfectly creating a clear break between the top quarter and the bottom three quarters of the postcard.
Two men sit facing each other at a table, we cannot see their faces because the postcard conceals them but we can see their arms, their backs, two hands (one for each man) and their elbows, it appears that they are arm wrestling. We can see the tops of their heads, a tuft of hair for the man on the right and a swept back length of darker hair for the man on the left. The landscape orientation of both the postcard and the photograph elongates the images, the headless bodies and the sweeping cliffs are both cinematic in their appearance. A literal reading might be that a cliff 'face' is standing in for/replacing two faces, that are themselves facing each other, however I am more interested here with the visual poetics of arrangement in collage; not a literal reading of language signifiers but a performative writing of the arrangement as text. The photograph is obscured, it appears that the important part of the 'scene' is missing, we can guess at what is not visible by using what is visible. It becomes a writerly text, one in which we as readers must write and read into. The interruption allows, or rather, requires a performative writing into the text, doubled by the knowledge that this is a photographic film still, created by re-staging the scene for a stills camera (See Stezaker 2006). The visibility of a watermarked record 'DP-40' in the lower left hand corner of the photograph confirms that the base image has not been altered and that the centering of the postcard corresponding with the hidden faces of the couple in the image is a deliberate part of Stezaker's composition of two original and unaltered elements. This a controlled interruption: interrupting the narrative of the photographic still (itself already an interruption of the narrative of a film); and redistributing our reading to imply (un)certain reasons for the marriage of these two seemingly unrelated elements.
How do we read this juxtaposition through the positioning of a postcard of sea- front cliffs in the center of an apparent arm-wrestle between two inmates of a prison? What are the connections between these two images? Their connection is poetic, similar to rhyme in poetry, a controlled interruption, like the line-break. 'Cinema 1 II' 'works' because of the similarities of visual rhyme, a term I am using to describe those parts of the images that are similar in shape and sometimes in content. The hair on the men's heads visually rhyme the grass tufts on the cliff- tops and the folds of the men's shirts rhyming the lines of the cliff face. Connections are made through compositional rhyme, on the postcard this is the small triangle of sea above the sloping edge of the cliff running down to the shore and in the photograph the triangle of wall behind the man on the right-hand side of the table in correlation to the sloping of his back. The unusually straight horizon line of the sea in this case rhymes the perfect top edge of the photographic print. On the left-hand side of the table the man's arm rhyme the shape of the cliffs that slope downwards to the edge of the shore line, his arm to the edge of the table. These parts of the images are different, but they look the same, they are part of the same shape and symbolically reference each other.
Visual rhyme is not the only discourse we can borrow from poetics when considering 'Cinema 1 II', in fact rhyme, ellipses, syntax, palimpsest, the line break, all of these protocols of poetics are applicable. I prefer this approach of reading Stezakers collage, not only because of an interest in the difficulties and complexities of reading poetry (live or to oneself) but also because of the performative qualities it evokes. How do we 'read' collage? How would we perform it? How does it perform writing? Barthes defines two types of text: text of pleasure and text of bliss. He explains "Text of pleasure: the text that contents, fills, grants euphoria; the text that comes from culture and does not break with it, is linked to a comfortable practice of reading.‟ (1973, p.14). We can use Barthes' theory of the text of bliss to consider Stezaker's collage as text:
"[T]he text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts...unsettles the reader's historical cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with language. (Barthes 1973, p.14)
We cannot read this photograph conventionally through content alone, we must consider it in context, its materiality and its presentation as well as its re- composition of two elements. 'Cinema 1 II' can be considered as a text of bliss in which we become readers of the seam of the two edges: the edges of the print; the edges of the cliffs; the edge of the table; the seams of the men's sleeves; the edge of seeing and not seeing; the edges as original and collaged. We see these edges as the interstice of bliss which, as Barthes says, occurs in the volume of the languages; in the uttering (interruption), not the sequence of utterances: "not to devour...but to graze, to browse scrupulously, to rediscover‟ (1973, p.13). By "grazing‟ (this concept indeed allusory to the grass on the cliff tops) the image we discover the subtle rhyme of text(ure) from one element into the other. The juxtaposition of these two elements, achieved through interruption, the event of the collage produces a new reading of the collage as a text. Barthes states that all works contain two edges but the edge of the text of bliss „is the site of a loss, the seam, the cut, the deflation, the dissolve which seizes the subject in the midst of bliss.‟ (1973, p.7). By placing one edge inside another Stezaker creates a new, subversive edge, which in 'Cinema 1 II' becomes the site of interruption.
Interruption is a common trait in collage usually through cutting and distorting the elements within the work. Cutting in 'Cinema 1 II' is not the kind of cutting that we might imagine when discussing collage, cutting without scissors or scalpel, nor any kind of cut that might damage the materials, but cutting both as removing and replacing. Materials (photograph and postcard) are removed from one, original, context and placed, carefully together, into another. We may also call this lifting, but lifting troubles our use of the word 'placing' which suggests the act of placing items down, onto one another is an important part of our discussion of the event of collage. This is also the event of writing, 'Cinema 1 II' imitates writing through the use of poetic forms of visual rhyme and line breaks that intrinsically perform language through interruption. When cutting happens in 'Cinema 1 II' by replacing one image onto and with another, the postcard interrupts the photograph. Interruption here performs writing, a textual exploration of visual material that is not language but is read through the redistribution of signs. In 'The Pleasure of the text' Barthes states that "redistribution is always achieved by cutting‟ (1973, p.7), and he goes on to discuss culture always recurring as an edge. 'Cinema 1 II' (2005) has two edges: the outside edge of the photograph and the inside edge of the postcard on top of the photograph. These two edges create a frame around the postcard of the photograph underneath and bring an awareness of the double edge within the collage: "Two edges are created: an obedient, conformist, plagiarizing edge...and another edge, mobile, blank (ready to assume any contours), which is never anything but the site of its effect: the place where the death of language is glimpsed‟ (Barthes 1973, p.7). Michael Bracewell states that the "horizons, sight-lines and image edges thus become synaptics in Stezaker's collages, enabling simultaneously both connection and disconnection‟ (2010, p.16). The eye level of this collage is just above center, we are presented with the horizon-line of the foregrounded postcard, Bracewell calls this the "host‟ image (2010, p.15), which hides the actual eye-line of the two men in the background it is attached to. Perhaps this is the ghostly absence of the two men in the host of the horizon of the sea and its cliffs. If the two men are looking at each other, the viewer's eye-line matches theirs in the photograph but it also matches that part of the image that we are drawn to, because it is hidden. This concealment is what Barthes refers to as language imitating itself. It's the part of the collage that imitates loss, but through imitation, it replicates loss with something that is different: concealing as interruption. A representation of loss as interruption in this case becomes significant to us reading the arrangement because we are faced with a different kind of desire from the desire for two original images: a tactile desire. This is not real loss, but appears so, as in fact the image of the two men has not been cut away and discarded but has been hidden behind another image. The postcard and the photograph are touching, they are layered and they have within their arrangement the impression (literal) of the event of placing one thing onto another. Our desire to redistribute the layers, to see beneath the postcard is our writerly position as readers to perform the text, to reverse the event of making through the event of reading.
As a writer of this particular text Stezaker has control over the original photographic image/object, and has created a new text event by appropriating two old ones. This text event hides parts of the old one by rearranging and concealing parts of the image, words. „[C]ollage reveals a complicated relationship with the realm of desire‟ (Gioni 2007, p.13). There is the desire of the reader to view the hidden areas of 'Cinema 1 II', to undo the cut. Barthes says that a writer, Stezaker in this case must seek out his reader using desire, „These two edges, the compromise they bring about, are necessary. Neither culture nor its destruction is erotic; it is the seam between them, the fault...which becomes so.‟ (1973, p.7 original emphasis). Stezaker creates a desire to see the original, to reveal that which the interruption conceals. This interruption forces us to consider what we cannot see and compare that to what we can. In the case of the two apparently arm wrestling men, we can use Barthes statement that „It is the flash itself that seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance as disappearance.‟ (1973, p.10) And we can apply this to the idea of collage as a table-top practice. Like writing and like performance it is „an arena for this presence of absence‟ (Stezaker 2008, p.20). Writing processes often utilise the methods of collage, perhaps without knowing it, through the use of found language, reference and syntactic decision making. When we write we arrange structures for the purpose of reading, the structures are performative because, like collage, they are connected to the event of their creation and the event of their reading.
The event of collage, like the event of writing, is a physical and visual exploration of syntax. 'Cinema 1 II' is a writing that layers, the postcard is a subordinate clause, the photograph is an interrupted narrative that, instead of a linear structure, becomes a framing mechanism for poetic collage-practice.
Barthes, Roland. 1973. The Pleasure of the Text. London: Hill and Press.
Bracewell, Michael. 2010. "Behind the Lines: The Art of John Stezaker‟ In John Stezaker. 10-20. London: Whitechapel Gallery & Riding House.
Gioni, Massimiliano. 2007. "Its Not the Glue that Makes the Collage‟ In Flood, Richard & Hoptman, Laura (ed.), Collage: The Un-monumental Picture. 11-15. London: Merrell.
Stezaker, John. 2006. "The Film-Still and its Double: Reflections on the “Found” Film-Still‟ In Green, David & Lowry, Joanna. Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image, 113 – 127. Brighton; Photoworks.
Stezaker, John. 2008. 'A Conversation with John Stezaker' Lillington, David. In Craig, Blanche (ed.). Collage: Assembling Contemporary Art, 20 – 31. London: Black Dog Publishing.
Citation: Walker, N. (2011) The Edge of Writing: John Stezaker's 'Cinema 1 II' In: activate, Issue 1, Vol.1. (Spring 2011). Roehampton University
Similar and Different and Good Looking
Reading Intelligent Clashing
For some time I have followed the work of artists whose making is arranging found images. These arrangements often evoke personal and social memories. For me they are reminiscent of bedroom walls, family photo albums, the inside of American High-School lockers, notice boards, pictures of the insides of peoples study's or artists studios, the offices of graphic designers and specifically magazine designers who lay out the arrangement of pages/images in grid formations. It is the practice of arranging found images and the decisions of this (dis)organisation that interests me.
Intelligent Clashing locates this practice within a digital space of browsing, scrolling and (re)searching. Curate, which means both to arrange and to care, is a fitting term for the methodologies of Rhiannon Silver's practice of displaying found images. Silver, based in Leeds, UK, arranges images found online by groupings. This categorisation is personal and can be determined as much by when the images are found as it can by their contents. Usually arranged through a kind of symmetry or harmony of things, visual rhymes like colour, shape and content. These images are different sizes, and follow an evolving grid formation whereby the addition of new images can alter the spaces and arrangement of images below. It's top-down form means that to browse the images is to scroll vertically down the page, a reading practice that is specific to online spaces. The images spread across the page and look unorganised (because of their different size) but there is order in Intelligent Clashing. In addition to looking the view can also interact as all the images are also hyperlinks to the source web page, when clicked a new window opens to show the place in which the image was found by Silver. Through this essay I would like to locate Intelligent Clashing within a lineage of artists who use this practice of finding and arranging images and how we, as both viewer and navigator, read these collections.
Part One: Maps
My interest in this practice is its dependence upon various methods of display. When amassing large quantities of images how these images are viewed and read, independently and collectively becomes the work. In fact we rarely view the images as independent works but only as fragments of a larger whole. I'm thinking here of artists like Wolfgang Tillmans and Tobias Buche whose contemporary approach to photography considers the display of their works as sculptural installations. Similarly Gerhard Richter, Aby Warburg, Christian Boltanski and Joachim Schmid are all artists who have created works using found images and who are dependent upon grid formations in order to organise their collections. They all create work in which the viewers role becomes active, instead of looking at art we are sifting through 'things', material images that have histories and memories. According to Rosalind Krauss, grids function in two ways, spatial and temporal:
The spatial sense […] states the autonomy of the realm of art. Flattened, geometricized, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature. In the flatness that results from its co-ordinates, the grid is the means of crowding out the dimensions of the real and replacing them with the lateral spread of a single surface. In the overall regularity of its organization, it is the result not of imitation, but of aesthetic decree. Insofar as its order is that of pure relationship, the grid is a way of abrogating the claims of natural objects to have an order particular to themselves. (Krauss 1986: 9)
She further states that the grid maps the surface of the work onto itself, that the aesthetic and the physical are the same plane, 'co-extensive, and, through the abscissas and ordinates of the grid, coordinate' (Krauss 1986: 10). This coordination is the difficulty of works in which many elements make the whole. How can it 'work' as work, as art and as collection?
Although Intelligent Clashing rejects a narrative reading it is still read sequentially because of its arrangement that includes a beginning and an end (a top and a bottom), which is both chronological and ambiguously categorical. Interestingly, Intelligent Clashing is an ongoing arrangement, its chronology records itself as images appear when they are found and the place of their finding is linked. Images are categorised chromatically, symmetrically – through shape, visual rhyme and synchronisation, and spatiality, as when a new image is uploaded the arrangement can shift and change. The grid provides one way of organizing these images, and our reading of this organization is through a negotiation of materials, the image and its space as well as its content. Krauss has said that, 'The grid's mythic power is that it makes us able to think we are dealing with materialism (or sometimes science, logic) while at the same time it provides us with a release into belief (or illusion or fiction)' (Krauss 1986: 12).
This release into belief is what makes me want to read Intelligent Clashing as a form of collage. Not photo-collage as such, or montage for that matter, but an understanding of collage that may help our reading of the liberation or emancipation of material and its mass accumulation and arrangement.
I am drawn to understanding Intelligent Clashing as a form of collage, because collage has always been cobbled together with found things 'feeding off the pollution of visual culture' (Gioni 2007: 11). Furthermore, collage is also concerned with both dissipation and conservation, the arrangements of Intelligent Clashing conserves the collection of images whilst at the same time creating space for new meanings through the juxtaposition of sources within the symmetry of form. The navigation of material and the direction of thought that their work ‘moves’ towards is part of a historical lineage that can be said to begin with Dadaist collage. An appropriate example of the development of Dadaist collage in relation to Intelligent Clashing is Hannah Hoch’s mass media Scrapbook (1933) which can also be considered along-side the development of photomontage. Hoch's Scrapbook is a collection in the form of a scrapbook and mimics the mass media print pages from which the images are taken, it is significantly similar to Moholy-Nagy’s Painting Photography Film (1925) which contains similar arrangements with less intricate layouts (See Lavin 1993). Unlike her collages Hoch's Scrapbook placed images next to each other without cutting or altering the image. This was a collection of curated arrangements stuck into the pages of a book. When looking at the work now I'm struck at it's similarity to Intelligent Clashing, playing with found images in subtle and sophisticated arrangements that speak to us through the poetics of the visual essay. Intelligent Clashing is not narrative based but works by tabular systems of organization and anti-order, it plays with ideas of the archive and histories of photo-collage and photo-montage and places itself between art forms to work with art history and visual history to dismantle myths of unity and to provide an understanding of connective reading. We can understand collage as a text to be read, placing one thing next to another, constructing through the deployment of found objects, terrains of personal and social memory.
Intelligent Clashing has got something to do with the simple pleasures of everyday design; the arrangement of the home and the art gallery; hair styles; the back of the head; 1980's clothing and t-shirts; new things that look like old things; the aesthetics of the 1990's; plants and cacti; saturated colours; braided hair; rope; book illustration and design; cat things; baby things; found images of found things; women; woman; Aztec patterns; wallpaper; rugs; throws; fabrics and towels; pottery; exotica; technicolour; flower arrangements; geometric jewellery; children's art; folk art; outsider art; crap art; food art; stripes; things that hang; the representation of the home; interiors; california; knitwear; symbology; magazines you can't buy anymore; and hands.
Part Two: Atlases
Art Historian, Photographer and Artist, Aby Warburg is well known in the former role but it is only more recently (in the last ten years) that his work in the latter aspect, as an artist, has been noted, and he has been acknowledged as having made a major influential work. His work Mnemosyne Atlas (1927) consists of more than sixty panels and over one thousand photographic images to create a large, portable, moveable and sculptural photographic archive. Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, created just after the Dadaist collage movement, continues the tradition of working with large amounts of found photographs and reproducible photographic prints and placing them in grid formations, and in a 'sometimes' seemingly 'non-specific' ‘order’. Warburg’s Atlas follows the idea of the mnemonic as something that aids memory, by constructing in images a social and material memory. Its relationship to a textual practice of reading is inherent in its placing one thing next to another, constructing, through found objects, terrains of personal and social memory 'texts'. Reading this Atlas is similar to the practice of reading other atlases and maps. Reading becomes about navigating; creating meanings through associations (juxtapositions, separations, gaps and seams), and discovering/uncovering relationships between these things. Both the differences and similarities. Kurt Forster describes Warburg’s Atlas:
'There, cheek by jowl, were late-antique reliefs, secular manuscripts, monumental frescoes, postage stamps, broadsides, pictures cut out of magazines and old master drawings. It becomes apparent, if only at second glance, that the unorthodox selection is the product of an extraordinary command of a vast field' (Kurt Forster In Buchloh 1999: 124).
This command over a vast field is partly what the Atlas is about. We might consider how Intelligent Clashing commands the vast field of online imagery, embracing the digital practice of accessing data through massive indexes and archives (often) arranged by images. Constellations of images can provide a different kind of access to conveying knowledge and insights textually and pictorially. Work like Warburg's and Intelligent Clashing are spaces where collections and their arrangement were/are developed over a prolonged period of time and that somehow transcend linguistic categorisation and avoid the representation of language.
Buchloh (1999) considers the relationship between Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas and Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962). Richter’s Atlas is a collection of images that evolve more like a book, each ‘page’ framed, it relates more to the family photo album than to the sculptural work of Warburg. Although, aesthetically, the works offer similar placing of photographs in grid formations, the content of the images and the sequence(s) in which they occur are strikingly different. When exhibited in 1998 Richter’s Atlas consisted of more than five thousand images displayed on around 650 framed panels. (Bruno 2002: 332).
Warburg and Richter's Atlas' are often considered as archives but they are also difficult to accept as such. Derrida’s discussion of the archive in Archive Fever (1995) states that the word ‘archive’ comes from ‘Arkhe’, 'where authority, social order […] in this place from which order is given' (1995: 1). Because the archive is a place, a house, a domicile, 'The archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown of […] memory. There is no archive without a place of consignation without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority' (Derrida 1995: 11). If these works are archives then they are also archiving thoughts and memories of their creators as a form of control and a radical visual statement. Control here, paradoxically, is not the primary quality that we read in the works; it is their anarchic, arbitrary, emancipation of photographic reproductions that is interesting. Tobias Buche has, in the last ten years, created formally and structurally similar works that deal with very different subject matters. Buche (born 1978) uses simple structures that subvert the institutional display boards and signs of museum displays to present large collections of photocopied images from mass media, pop culture and the internet developing a personal and global history. Buche's arrangements are anarchic ('Anarchy is order' (Proudhon In Marshall 1992: 234). and feel visually similar to Intelligent Clashing due to their white backgrounds, random size formations and image orders. The relationship between order and disorder becomes problematic, because unlike an archive, in these works, to steal a quote from Objectivist poet George Oppen 'Things explain each other, not themselves' (Oppen 1975: 134). How we understand things explaining each other and not themselves is to do with a close and openly referential reading of images. A reading which according to Derrida is 'a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces' (Derrida 1979 / 1991: 257). Intelligent Clashing is able to refer to its network of traces literally through its interactivity as a digital space.
I have arranged a selection of artists in relation to Intelligent Clashing, whose work; systems of displaying found and reproduced photographic images and objects, is similar in different ways. Intelligent Clashing; simultaneously reproduces and extends this historical trajectory as it continues to arrange and rearrange Silvers collection of different and similar and good looking images.
Bruno, G. (2002) ‘Film and Museum Architexture: Excursus with Gerhard Richter’s Atlas’ In: Atlas of Emotion: Journey’s into Art, Architecture and Film. New York, Verso, pp 331 – 357.
Buchloh, B.H.D (1998) ‘Warburg’s Paragon? The End of Collage and Photomontage in Postwar Europe’ In: Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing and Archiving in Art. Ed Schaffner, I & Winzen, M. New York, Prestel. Pp 50 – 60.
Buchloh, B.H.D. (1999) ‘Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas”: The Anomic Archive', In October, Vol 99 (Spring 1999) MIT Press, pp 117 – 145.
Derrida, J. (1979 / 1991) ‘Living On: Border Lines’ In: A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, Kamuf, P (ed). Chichester, West Sussex, Columbia University Press, pp 256-268.
Derrida, J. (1995) Archive Fever : A Freudian Impression. London, University of Chicago Press. Translated by Prenowicz, E.
Diaz, E. (2007) ‘A Critical Glossary on Space and Sculpture’ In: UNMONUMENTAL: The Object in the 21st Century. (eds) Phillips, L, Flood, R & Gioni, M. London & New York, Phaidon with the New Museum, p 206.
Gioni, M. (2007) ‘Its Not the Glue that Makes the Collage’ In: Collage: The Un-monumental Picture. London, Merrell, pp11-15.
Krauss, R. (1986) The Originality of the Avant garde and Other Modernist Myths, London, MIT Press, pp 9-22.
Lavin, M. (1993) Cut with the Kitchen Knife: the Weimar photomontages of Hannah Hoch. London, Yale University Press. Pp 71-123.
Marshall, P. (1992) ‘Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – The Philosopher of Poverty’ In: Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London, Fontana Press, pp 234 –262.
Oppen, G. (1974) The Collected Poems of George Oppen. New York, New Directions.
Polke, S. (1997) ‘Early Influences, Later Consequences or: How did the monkeys get into my work? And other icono-biographical questions.’ In: Sigmar Polke: The three lies of painting. New York, D.A.P, pp285-294.
Citation Walker, N. (2011) 'Similar and Different and Good Looking: Reading Intelligent Clashing' In: 'Something Tremendous Has Happened' by Silver, R. Quibk Design, Leeds.
External Link: Intelligent Clashing: Something Tremendous Has Happened by Rhiannon Silver (2011). 289 x 400mm, 20pp, full colour, newspaper, + risograph insert. Design by Silver & Qubik.
Mark Greenwood, Dog Food, Sid and Kylie
'Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles' (Roland Barthes)
'Dog food is my whole life, Dog food composes my wife' (Iggy Pop)
Mark Greenwood is a Newcastle-born, Liverpool-based, performance artist and writer whose work utilises indefinite durational practice and minimal actions as art forms. Greenwood’s interests lie in anthropomorphic puzzles and inter-textual folds.
My earliest recollections of his work are of experimental poetry readings using pornographic (and Hello Kitty) playing cards, guitar pedals, trucker caps and whiskey; attempting to disturb the hearing aids of poetry academics in the room. I've seen his work regularly since 2008 and witnessed countless actions that push his body's mental and physical capabilities. In 2008 he performed Free Cell a durational performance in which he played solitaire for 48 hours, more recently in 2010 Greenwood performed a 9 hour group performance in York with O U I Performance that included repeated actions of clapping, tapping and repeatedly applying Deep Heat to his torso. Greenwoods approach to materials can easily be categorised as punk, or having punk qualities; they are often DIY, a bit messy, a bit dirty, guttural, collaged and animal. His is one of the most unique forms of performance art in the UK today.
His performance for the opening of London's ]Performance S p a c e[ has its origins in the underground scene of London's 1970's punk movement and brought together disparate associations with The Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, Iggy Pop, Glen Matlock, Dee Dee Ramone, Stiv Bators, Kylie Minogue and the construction of the 2012 Olympic Site in London's Hackney Wick.
In 1979 Iggy Pop wrote the song Dog Food with ex-Sex Pistol bassist Glen 'the posh one' Matlock, in response to, amongst other things, the murder of Nancy Spungen by Sid Vicious who had replaced Matlock in the Sex Pistols line-up earlier in 1977.
On the morning of 12th October 1978, Sid Vicious claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find Nancy Spungen dead on the bathroom floor of their room in the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan, New York. She had suffered a single stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. The knife used had been bought by Vicious on 42nd Street and was identical to a collector's knife given to punk rock vocalist Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys by Dee Dee Ramone. According to Dee Dee's wife at the time, Vera King Ramone, Sid had bought the knife after seeing Stiv's.
Vicious was arrested and charged with Spungen's murder. He said they had fought that night but gave conflicting versions of what happened next, saying, 'I stabbed her, but I didn't mean to kill her. I loved her, but she treated me like Dog Food', then saying that he did not remember and at one point arguing that Spungen had fallen onto the knife.
In the film Sid and Nancy (1986) Sid's first gig with the Sex Pistols is depicted from the just off stage right, you can clearly see Graffiti above the stage on the wall that simply says MARK. This was added by set constructor in the art department 'Mark White' a pseudonym for Mark Greenwood (referenced in his 2010 release White Mice, All Colours on ONE.C Records) whose earliest art experiences were on set construction in the post-punk haze of the 1980's.
Mark Greenwood now works as an artist and academic, his performance at London's new ]Performance S p a c e[ included the action of re-marking MARK, not on the walls of a punk-club-film-set but on himself. Towards the end of this durational performance (180 mins – the same Length as Sid and Nancy) Greenwood removed his clothes and using a razor blade carves the word MARK into his chest, a literal and conceptual mark, inscribing himself onto himself. Greenwood writes the body, names it and causes it to bleed.
The performance included objects from Sid Vicious's archive bought on Ebay. Greenwood wore Vicious' sunglasses and famous arm band. Directly addressing the audience Greenwood explained how these items were both worn by Vicious on the night he killed Nancy Spungen. A DIY toolkit for Sid type stabbing performance. Greenwood stands flailing a stick horizontally in semi circles around his body, covering his head with a black hat holding a horse shoe, hammering the horse shoe into the wall, holding one side of the horse shoe whilst members of the audience hold the other, and sitting for over an hour holding a large bone that was subsequently taped to his leg.
He stands in appalling underwear, proceeds to fill them with dog food, looking like a junky who just shit himself. He wears the sunglasses and wrist band, and walks, rattling the empty dog food can on a stick, leading the audience outside of the space to the end of the industrial estate to witness the spectacular building of London's 2012 Olympic Site.
The audience are conducted in a chorus of Kylie Minogues I should be so lucky (1988); lucky to have the Olympic site so close and lucky to have cuts - not like Marks - but cuts that imply the 1980's, the Kylie Minogues and the Margaret Thatchers, the jobless and the culling of northern industry. As we sing I should be so Lucky a disturbing image emerges of Minogue as Spungen and Greenwood as Vicious - The associations are more complex through knowledge of Minogues little-known love affair with Iggy Pop and Greenwood's last set construction job on the video for 'I should be so lucky' before his career with Ladbrokes betting shop and setting up the curatorial programme RED APE.
Citation: Walker N. (2011) 'Mark Greenwood, Dog Food, Sid and Kylie' In: 'I Stood Up and Said Yeah' Issue 1. New Work Yorkshire 'Zine (50 Copies)
Out of Time: Group Action and Temporary Autonomous Zone, almost
ArtEvict:Group Action, London
11 January 2011
By Victoria Gray and Nathan Walker
“If History IS “Time,” as it claims to be, then the uprising is a moment that springs up and out of Time, violates the “law” of History. If the state IS History, as it claims to be, then the insurrection is the forbidden moment, an unforgivable denial of the dialectic – shimmying up the pole and out of the smokehole, a shaman’s maneuver carried out at an “impossible angle” to the universe.” (Hakim Bey 1985: 98)
ArtEvict is happening in a once launderette, now squat building, just off Mare St in Hackney, East London. Over the past year ArtEvict has established itself, modestly, as an important platform for emerging contemporary performance practices most notably in the area of action art. It employs an open and democratic approach to curation, which negates an institutionalized curatorial approach; one often considered as a hierarchical practice that is predicated on the ‘good work’, ‘bad work’ school of thought. ArtEvict maintain this principle, however fluctuating and therefore risky it might be. This is the first of principles that set ArtEvict outside of the mainstream, the second is that ArtEvict happens in empty disused buildings, forgotten spaces, usually squats, and is organized with the collaboration and consent of residents. Using spaces such as this, those that in a social context are in direct opposition to state control are also, in an artistic context in direct opposition to the institutionalized control exercised by theatres and galleries. This negation from establishment happens in the event of it taking place in these particular contexts, and permits ArtEvict to perform its own autonomy and simultaneously perform its political stance. This idea mirrors Hakim Bey's concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) of a space which “does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it.” (Bey 1985: 99). As such, for ArtEvict to happen it must keep moving, between abandoned spaces, between artists, between practices and between times.
What follows is an account of the event of a group action that took place on 18th September, 2010. ‘Group Action Performance’, when put into a historical context seems, deliberately to escape any concretely recorded chronology and so in this instance, and at this moment, we simply identify collectives that have significantly informed theories of group action performance. From this lineage, which is not linear, we borrow and carry the torch of the theoretical principles practiced by Black Market International and Bbeyond; highlighting them as foundational examples and influential to our own practicing of this mode of performance.
The performances begin early in the evening with solo actions whereby Colm Clarke has spilt milk, Victoria Gray has burnt cotton, Christina Brooks has danced naked, Nathalie Bikoro has covered her face in clay and Jamie Lewis Hadley has bitch slapped and been bitch slapped, After a break, Kiki Taira initiates a 'group action' signaling its beginnings by marching continuously against a wall. The room changes and the space between performing and not performing, spectating and not-just-spectating blurs. The audience can no longer attempt any form of passivity, they are implicated just by ‘being’ there , they are amongst and inside the group action. Moments of grunge and feet standing on the wall, deathly march and ghostly shouts. The phantom actions of new shamans attempting to destabilise spectacle. Squatting there in the pillars inbetween, surrounded by windows, sleepy people and plants, mattresses, sleeping bags and dogs the air clogs the air ducts, fabric is unrolled and shakes like a specter curtain in a gale. Duncan Ward’s soiled face, black creases and talcum powder white as the apparition sheet. Medical bags as muzzles, faces barking ghost, dust rising, smokeholes for eyes. The actions transform the room, the room transforms the action, I didn’t think people felt like this anymore, this is what a group action feels like: stormy sea, unwashed cabin crew, disappearance.
Like Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone these young artists are playing with time, history, and the law. The group action acts on a network of relations whereby participants negotiate the performance of individual actions within the politics of a group situation. The events operate within an open structure, a methodology to explore modes of synchronization, communication and participation between performers and audiences and bodies and objects, relations that resonate aesthetically and politically. There are a variety of instances whereby the group experienced a synchronization of actions accessed via physical, verbal and psychic dimensions, folding and weaving to form a rhizomatic network. There is positivity in difference, felt in the rub of synchronic and discordant actions, sensed in the relationship between informed intuition and arbitrary coincidence and witnessed in the visual rhyme between bodies, objects and architecture. Synchronicity occurs as a moment of communication that takes place in the space between things.
A network of relations was exercised in the performance, but on a wider scale, this group action fused together a network of relations between key artist groups working in action art in the UK. Present were Colm Clarke of Bbeyond (Belfast), Bean & Jamie Lewis Hadley of ]Performance Space[ (London), Victoria Gray and Nathan Walker of O U I Performance (York) and ArtEvict (London).
“Like festivals, uprisings cannot happen every day...But such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life...shifts and integrations have occurred--a difference is made.” (Bey 1985: 98) Bey notes that revolution, whilst seemingly attaining to a new permanence, rarely achieves permanent change. Instead, we favor these impermanent uprisings, temporary experiences that surface a new network of performance art in the U.K, practicing a contemporary experience of this art in this new decade.
Victoria Gray & Nathan Walker 2011
Bey, H (1985, 1991) T. A. Z. : The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. Autonomedia, New York.
Bey, H. 'T. A. Z. : The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism''. Autonomedia. HTML Edition. Accessed online at http://hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html
LaChance, M '15 Principles of Black Market International' Accessed online at http://performancelogia.blogspot.com/2007/09/15-principles-of-black-market.html
Citation: Gray, V: Walker, N. (2011) Out of Time: Group Action and Temporary Autonomous Zone, almost' In: 'O U I BOOK ONE'. O U I Performance, York.
FIVE: HARD SOFT DIRT ADER WORD
The overlap or coincidence made a certain sense to me
Everything is connected, unresolved and one fifth has been removed. Reductionist writing, subtraction (like maths) and taking away (like death).
To come closer to one’s own buried past, one must act like an excavator. Above all, one mustn’t be afraid of coming back to the same point time and time again - to spread it like one spreads the earth, to churn it like one churns the soil
Hard happened and was hard. Consider hard tasks, hard objects and hardness. Performing difficult actions with specific hard objects. The objects are dad stuff, the stuff of dad. DIY object and Hardware and tools and tool-like and brick and door and nail. A not unhard like door and its double. Unlike properties they are simultaneously themselves and other. Charged and dead. The objects status is troubled (cared for), hard objects (see WORD) shift from their assigned functionality to a new functional or dysfunctional task based logic. The hammer is a hammer and the hammer is a cock. Inanimate objects can also be the body. The object stays after the work. Hard. The actions within Hard are hard. Writing Hard. Solid Fucking Writing. Solid Writing Fucking. Fucking Solid Writing. Into Air. Impossible. Almost Possible. Not tricky no that’s not it. Troublefull (careful/careless). Sexuality is hard work. Hard Talk. Fuck my mouth, Sorry (see SOFT). Roll up sleeves. Roll up naked sleeves for sex. And then hard. Hard. Lucky. Hard gets crying going. Hard plays into soft (see SOFT). Watching Hard work, if it does work, and hard work is hard work. The care with which there is incredible thingness and likeness, all this makes magnificent Hard, and also a fountain of soft (see SOFT). Funny when light is hard.
History[…]is never over
Not of care. No easy. The disgrace is not in carelessness or even in flowers (see ADER) it comes out out of the work. Feels impotent, feels soft and soft to watch. Soft Focus. Spoken. A safe weight is that which when it pleases is hanging. Easy No. Phantom Please. Dad uses soft as a put-down. Not strong. Crying perhaps. Crying. The audience are soft when they let the work get to them. I’m a soft audience and a sad man viewing the hard news. Soft critters of critical hardness. The soft actions in performance, delicate arrangements of objects, images, actions and gestures. My hand touches the ground and soft happens. Suppose a disappearance, suppose gone gone. Performance is never over but it doesn’t remain hard it remains soft. Like a word ringing in the air and going. Performance ghosts and ghosts is soft. Soft ghost. The tangible soft. The emotional soft. Soft water. Ritual and/or Flow. Hard Ephemera - Soft Ephemeral. Queer in soft thinking and hard (see HARD) ground. Soft should not care.
Life has grown from the rock and rests upon it; because men have left it far behind, they are able consciously to turn back to it. We do turn back, for it has kept some hold over us
Good morning, darling, what’s the dirt today? A Handful of Dust. Dirty writing and writing dirty. Returning. Turning soil. Dirt in nails. Wash before dinner. Dig. Buried, sifting collector coming back. Excavating and Remembering. Makes the shape so heavy and the melody harder (see HARD). But like a new watered ground (see SOFT) or like the bike and the canal (see ADER) that unclean of grounds and their grounds. Sex Pistol Reunion. Shit. Anal Erotic Character Traits. The farm I grew up next to. Viewing the field. And a field and a new watered ground. Expanded fields. Churn and worry and hold close to the earth and that that falls falls (see ADER) and returns unover not over over turn underneath and behind over holding (see WORD). Offering appearance and smudgy smudgy marks like a plant thrown against a wall. Marks. Marker in the dirt for a grave or the dead.
ADER. (BAS JAN)
Flower Arrangement video art and the time it takes to fall. Crawl. Crawl and then how petals do, like petals. Crawl petals do and I. Out of falling comes crawling and out of flower arrangements comes disappearance, out of the thing comes itself and out of itself comes its ghost (see SOFT). The Ghost of Ader on a bicycle outside my window at 5am. Like Walt Whitman, I see him always and always see him. Like a word ringing in the air and going. Dying word and word dying (see WORD). Points of Departure. No airport. No Casablanca. Flower arrangement as writing. Temporary Life. Collapse into writing. And it’s over (see WORD). Collapse into writing but never into failure, only hard hard (see HARD). Only one thing next to another. Not only nor just and merely. (The buttons are not merely decorative) Only only explaining each other. The ground explains the crawl. The sky begins immediately. Carefully. Care here, care there, care care in the words and the careful soft landing sometimes sometimes (see SOFT). Again. Departure of points. Suppose point and the finger points index points near not merely close but nearly.
Texts are themselves signifieds, not mere signifiers. TEXT: it requires no hermeneusis for it is itself one – of itself…Excommunication, rather than appropriation. Words are the ghosts of regret
Words are things too. The Zukofsky and The Object Word. Care, Clear. Suppose the word is here, suppose it is in hand, the word in hand, and it is transparent, soft, a ghost (see SOFT). Ghost word not writing. Ghost writing word not. Ghost not word writing. Word is like a solid fucking thing too. Word is not over and then Louis Louis it is a thing to remember. Remember word? The clear care here her hair makes better hair of hair and care here. Not transparent. Word is no Ghost (see SOFT) word is a thing like as to make a splash when it falls into the canal. (see ADER) Be Careful. The word stays after the work (see DIRT). Word. The action as writing, the word as action, here are hard (see HARD). Writing Hard Word. Solid Fucking Word. Solid Word Fucking. Fucking Solid Word. Into Air. Impossible. Almost Possible. Word turn back. Holding. Safe again.
Citation: Walker, N. (2010) In: 'RITE', Open Dialogues and New Work Network (Eds), London.
RITE contributors include Emma Bennett, David Berridge, Rachel Lois Clapham and Alex Eisenberg, Emma Cocker, Hannah Crosson, Amelia Crouch, Chloe Dechery, Tim Jeeves, Emma Leach, Johanna Linsley, Joanna Loveday, Charlotte Morgan, Mary Paterson, Jim Prevett, Nathan Walker and Wood McGrath.
A Mountain Communion
Elanor Stannage & Nathan Walker
Collaborative Artist Pages.
Citation: Stannage, E; Walker, N. (2009) 'A Mountain Communion' In: Performance Research 13:3 ‘On Congregation’, London, Routledge Gough, R, Allsopp R, MacDonald, C (Eds)