Skip navigation

The Internet

I have moved house.

For information on my work as an artist, you should head over here. For scraps of thoughts and writing, please head over here.

Fresh off the ark
They wander in pairs through streets
that smell of warm sewage and cheaply manufactured pop music
Their eyes blink behind dark glasses.

In their rucksacks
Guidebooks with names that sound like grunge albums
argue incessently
scorning each other for being out of touch or even worse
predictable.
They make grand pronouncements and impossible boasts
They have spoken to all the right people
They know all the secrets
They are so off the beaten track that there are no longer any tracks
only thin desire lines
spilling invisibly outwards to
authentic beach bars
inaccesible hostels
and waterfalls so delicate that even looking at them can cause them to dry up
completely.

The pairs sit on small tables in crowded bars
drinking beer that glows like Hollywood
They fumble with colourful bank notes
The fan on the wall spins slowly to a stop
They are hungry
They want to see beautiful things
And have beautiful experiences
They want to wear somebody else’s courage
and arrogance
They want to buy desire
No one says the word adventure
Through a series of near-universally understood hand gestures
They negotiate the purchase of a packet of very foreign cigarettes
and try to inhale another language.

In the corner of the room
the older man in the faded yellow Tintin t-shirt
leans back on his stool and stretches his arms out along the bar
like wings
He prepares another anecdote like he might be rolling a cigarette
He thinks about all the photographs that he must be in
somewhere
arms around red shoulders
shot glasses tipped towards the camera
He imagines his stories disappearing second hand and third hand
to every corner of the world
each time breaking off a little bit of the original in the process.

Outside in the street
It is still hot
And the traffic hasn’t moved
Pairs of travellers try to glean information from a laminated sign that reads
Wilderness Tours
but the sign is bleached so white by the sun
that the photographs
and bullet points
have faded to the point of invisbility
They take off their dark glasses and peer closer
pressing their hands up against the page
to shield it from the light.

Here’s a link to the audio piece I made from the responses to my piece In Spirit at the Natural History Museum.

In one cordoned-off corner of the collection stood shelves of creatures in glass jars so fragile that even looking at them with a grown-up’s eyes might cause them to start to grow faint and then disappear completely. In pairs, one adult and one child, players were asked to help us try and remember what was in the collection. The child would choose three creatures and describe them as best they could, whilst their accompanying adult (blindfolded for the safety of the specimens) had to listen and remember everything that was described to them. At the end of the game each pair were interviewed about what they saw.

Out of those interviews I have created this audio-piece. It is intended for listening on headphones either at home or, preferably, whilst walking through the spirit collection at the museum.

Both the original game and this audio piece were created by Andy Field.

Music from Brian Eno, Robot Ate Me and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. Should any of them read/listen to this and want me to remove it I am completely happy to do so.

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

We are small
All of us
Whether we realise it or not

In 2010
I sat in the audience at
The State of the Arts Conference
And listened to
One time culture secretary
And full time arsehole
Jeremy Hunt
Tell us that
actors who began their career at the National Theatre
Might one day go on to become film actors
Think about that again
The National Theatre
This country’s most established
And well-funded
Performance institution
Is a feeder school
For bit parts
As criminals
And eccentrics
In Hollywood movies
That is where we fit
In that particular vision of our ecosystem

We are small
And it’s time to start acting like it
Because if we celebrate this
It can be our strength

We are small
We can understand the power of being so
We can be
As the brilliant Fierce Festival describes itself
Hyperlocal
Supernow
Generating a different relationship with present structures and institutions of power
And the articulations of place and time that they determine
We can exist beyond them
Between them
We needn’t believe in the assumption of growth
In the importance of territory
In clumsy articulations of progress and value

As Michel De Certeau suggests
We can produce new ways of operating
That are evasive and subversive
That turn that power back on itself

In The Species of Space
Georges Perec quotes in full
This old French children’s song

In Paris, there is a street;
in that street, there is a house;
in that house, there is a staircase;
on that staircase, there is a room;
in that room, there is a table;
on that table, there is a cloth;
on that cloth, there is a cage;
in that cage, there is a nest;
in that nest, there is an egg;
in that egg, there is a bird.

The bird knocked the egg over;
the egg knocked the nest over;
the nest knocked the cage over;
the cage knocked the cloth over;
the cloth knocked the table over;
the table knocked the room over;
the room knocked the staircase over;
the staircase knocked the house over;
the house knocked the street over;
the street knocked the town of Paris over.
(Children’s song from Les Deux-Sevres, quoted in Georges Perec’s The Species of Space)

I like it.
I like the way in which it suggests
change happens
Not from the top down
Or even necessarily from the bottom up
But from destabilising something fundamental
Right at the heart of things
Small actions cause vibrations that might be felt far beyond themselves
They might radiate out in unlikely even extraordinary ways
Like Lucy’s anger
Amplified by the speakers
washing through our chests
In a living room in Edinburgh

I like the way in which this song suggests our influence
Is not our reach
but the way in which
Our small
But significant
Alterations of the status quo
radiate out
Recolouring everything they reach

In our small spaces
In our hallucinatory dreams
We might create new strategies
New tactics
New ways of living
That extend outwards
Carried by those that
were there
And those that wish they were there
Carried by rumours
And heresay
And old photographs
And breathlessly excited descriptions written on blogs or twitter
Or wherever
The performance is never just the thing that happens
It is the accumulated evidence that it ever existed
And small gestures and accumulate a lot of evidence
Perec also approvingly quotes Jonathan Swift:

Elephants are generally drawn smaller than life size, but a flea always larger.

Already the fifty or so people in that living room
Have told others
Have written words in newspapers and on websites
They drawn that event larger than it was
Whilst other
More lucrative
More well planned
More well attended
More spectacular events
Begin to fade

In these small theatrical encounters
What matters is not the message but the medium
In a world overwhelmed by information
We have the opportunity to create spaces in which that information
And that world
Can begin to be recalculated
Spaces in which people can come together equally
Writers
Directors
Artists
Performers
Critics
Audiences
Volunteers
Participants
Passersby
The enthusiastic
The curious
The uncertain
The hostile
And together
We find a temporary space
In which we can dream

A space in which I being angry becomes we being angry
Spaces in which to learn new kinds of love
Spaces that hold open the possibility of a better way of living
And provide us with an opportunity to try to do so
We gather
We breathe together
And it’s a beginning

This
I hope
Was similarly
A useful beginning

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

So I made a wish to be big! That is what I’m trying to tell you! I changed into a grown up but I’m really just a kid! (Tom Hanks, Big)

In the Tom Hanks film Big
The child who will become Tom Hanks
Makes a wish on something
Called the Zoltar machine
That looks a little like a heavily goateed Timothy Dalton dressed up as the Prince of Persia
He makes a wish to be big
And when he wakes up in the morning
He has overnight
Turned from a thirteen year old boy
Into Tom Hanks

In the adult world
Child Tom Hanks
Gets a job designing toys
And he’s really good at it
(He also
In more problematic territory
Gets a girlfriend
But that is not totally relevant for now)
He is really good at his job designing toys
Not because he is big
But because he is still little

He is not burdened by the things that adults need to consider
By the obligations and responsibilities
By the social conventions
By taste
By reputation
And when he realises that this is what being an adult
Seemingly entails
He decides he needs to be a kid again

My friend Debbie and I
Have run Forest Fringe for around five years now
We put on a festival in Edinburgh each summer
And each summer
We are asked if we will be back again next year
Bigger & Better
As if the ampersand between those two words
Is actually a pair of handcuffs

The Edinburgh Fringe
More than almost any other festival
Is prone to considering itself in these reductive terms
Every year it declares itself bigger and better
As if the two are the same thing.
More companies
More shows
More tickets sold

It articulates absolutely the same faith in the possibility of unlimited growth
That was the downfall
Of it’s lead sponsor
The Royal Bank of Scotland

Why does live performance remain so woozily enamoured with size and scale?
Especially when bigness in theatre is so often such a fiction?
Fewer people will attend a National Theatre production in a whole year
Including NT Live and the touring version of War Horse
Than have watched this clip
Of a mariachi band singing to a Beluga whale

We are not big
And when we try to be
Like Tom Hanks
We are prone to forget what it is that might make us so good.

We
Forest Fringe
recently had the chance to work with a big artist
On a big project
It was not our project
We were merely involved
But being so
Being as it were
Both outside and inside the project
Was a revealing experience
The big artist in question
Despite his name being on every piece of publicity for the project
Spent less than two days working on the show
And didn’t even see the completed piece
He got paid an astronomical fee
Whilst the majority of the volunteers performing the show
Recent graduates
Local people
Artists interested in the work
Were paid absolutely nothing
The audience knew none of this
And neither did the press
Both of whom were full of praise
For the artist in question
At the launch event for the show
These volunteers were told not to eat the canapés
As they were for invited guests only

This is not the kind of dream I want to be living in
I think we can do better
Than to rehearse the kind of privileges
And hierarchies
That we are already living under
And yet in striving for scale
And prestige
These values reassert themselves

Becoming the biggest arts festival in the world hasn’t made Edinburgh the best
In its prohibitive costs
Its control by a small cadre of little-seen and barely accountable venue heads
In the proscriptions it tacitly demands of the shows and artists that perform there
In all of this
Edinburgh has simply become the mirror of the society that produced it

And the place that we might go to imagine a life
And live it
Is only spitting back at us the life we’re already subjected to.

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

There is an event score
Created in 2004 by the artist Ken Friedman
Which I was first introduced to
By the brilliant theatremaker Chris Goode
And this event score reads
In its entirety
As follows

 

Imagine a Life

 

Live it

 

Performance
For me
Exists somewhere in the unstable territory between those two imperatives
It is the imagining
And making that imagining into doing
Making it into something real
Theatre is where we go to know what our hopes and fears and fantasies would feel like
If they were made of real bodies and real spaces

Freud described dreams in a similar way to this
As a way of thinking through doing
Dreams are never dreamlike when we are experiencing them
They are visceral and real
We feel them
We cry
We jump
We cum
We make our hopes and our fears and our fantasies
Into something that is
Real
And by doing so we are thinking
These are ideas running
Jumping
Dancing
through our heads
The in shape of real bodies that we can see
And feel
And touch
Bodies we fight or fuck
People we talk to
Or imagine we are talking to
But it’s all just us
Thinking
Painting an imaginary world
With things we’ve learnt from the real one

And the most exciting thing about this whole process
Is that once they have been dreamt
These wild experiments
These immersive environments
These chaotic unfiltered ideas
They can’t be undreamt
Once you’ve dreamt about kissing someone
Or killing someone
Or someone being killed
You don’t look at them in the same way again
An idea you dream
Is something you’ve learnt by the time you wake up in the morning

Dreams bleed into the world
Full of possibility
And desire
And this is perhaps the best evidence we have that we are not the rational, logical creatures that we like to perhaps believe we are
Because in what kind of reasoned world
Would most of us still spend several hours of every day
Hallucinating in the most visceral and tangible way possible
Imagining a life
And living it out
Inside our heads
Creating
Implausible stories
Combining
Memory
History
Celebrity
Friendships
Horror
Sex
Sadness
Beauty
And then we wake up
With the residue of those ideas
Streaked across the inside of our heads
Like the detritus of a riot or a carnival
And go to work
As if nothing has happened.

You don’t need to believe
As Freud did
That dreams are the expression of some unconscious longing
To know that they are important
To me they are important
Because they are dangerous and exciting
Because they are full of ideas that we are having before we know what to do with them
We are thinking in ways that are undisciplined and chaotic
Messy, full of flaws and longings
We are being changed in ways we can’t control
We learn from dreams without understanding them
They stain our perception
Leaking out into the way in which we see and believe in the world
We can touch

Georges Perec said
We can even allow ourselves to dream

Is performance like this?
Could it be?
Could theatre be a place in which ideas
Are made out of bodies
Breathing the together
Moving around each other
Nonsensical scenarios
Nightmares
Fantasies
In which we think not by listening
But by doing
Together
Figuring out a way of living
In the shapes that form in the space between us
Out of chaos
And play
And possibilities
A theatre that is actually, properly dream like
Because it feels like a real life
That we might be living
But aren’t
Yet

If you could decide upon your own dreams
What would they look like?
What things might you want to explore?
What might you want to experiment with?

And if you could decide upon somebody else’s dreams
What would you put in their head?
Where would you lead them?
What would you want to make them feel?

If you could imagine a life for someone
And give them an opportunity to live it
What would it look like?

And if this isn’t what your theatre looks like
Why not?

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

What do you think of when you think of love?

I am a sucker for romance
In all my favourite films
People fall in love
Or out love
Or both

In my favourite songs
People are heartbroken
Or about to be heartbroken

I am consumed by love
We are consumed by love

On the album
69 Love Songs
Steven Merritt
Of the Magnetic Fields
Described love as like
Being on the moon
You struggle to breathe
But you feel lighter

Which is true
But maybe that metaphor could be extended
Maybe it’s also true in other ways

Perhaps love becomes a vacuum
In which we can’t hear the other things we’re trying to say
Love turns everything into a love story

And perhaps there are times when we need to talk about other things
As the writer and director René Pollesch once said
I would like to talk to the capitalists about money, but they only wanted to tell love stories

Or perhaps
As Rebecca Solnit says
In her beautiful book
A Paradise Built in Hell
There are other loves:

But we have little language for them. In an era whose sense of the human psyche is dominated by entertainment and consumerism and by therapy culture – that amalgamation of ideas drawn from pop psychology and counseling – the personal and private are most often emphasized to the exclusion of almost everything else. Even the scope of psychotherapy generally leaves out the soul, the creator, and the citizen, those aspects of being human that extend into realms beyond private life. Conventional therapy, necessary and valuable at times to resolve personal crises and suffering, presents a very incomplete sense of self. As a guide to the range of human possibility it is grimly reductive. It will help you deal with your private shames and pains, but it won’t generally have much to say about your society and your purpose on earth. It won’t even suggest, most of the time, that you provide yourself with relief from and perspective on the purely personal by living in the larger world. Nor will it ordinarily diagnose people as suffering from something other than familial and erotic life. It more often leads to personal adjustment than social change (during the 1950s, for example, psychology went to work bullying women into accepting their status as housewives, the language of Freudianism was deployed to condemn their desires for more power, more independence, more dignity, and more of a role in public life). Such a confinement of desire and possibility to the private serves the status quo as well: it describes no role for citizenship and no need for social change.

Popular culture feeds on this privatized sense of self. A recent movie about political activists proposed that they opposed the government because they had issues with their fathers. The implication was that the proper sphere of human activity is personal, that there is no legitimate reason to engage with public life, that the very act of engaging is juvenile, blindly emotional, a transference of the real sources of passion. What if that government is destroying other human lives, or your own, and is leading to a devastating future? What if a vision of a better world or just, say, a better transit system is a legitimate passion? What if your sense of self is so vast that your well-being includes these broad and idealistic engagements? Oscar Wilde asked for maps of the world with Utopia on them. Where are the maps of the human psyche with altruism, idealism, and even ideas on them, the utopian part of the psyche, or just the soul at its most expansive?

I would like you to make a list of your favourite films
And your favourite songs
How many of them are about romantic love?

I would like you to make a show about love
In which no one falls in love

And I would like you to make a map of the human psyche
with altruism, idealism and ideas marked on it.

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]

It starts with being angry
This is always a good place to start

And I want to offer you two different minutes of anger

For the first of these minute
We are in the front room
Of a house in
A quiet corner of Edinburgh
There is thick carpet
And sofas
And Table lamps

But there are also other things
That you wouldn’t normally expect to find there
There are large speakers
And guitar amps
And mixers
And microphones
And a music stand

And we are more people than have ever probably squeezed into this living room before
People on the floor
And the sofas
And people standing squeezed into the kitchen area to one side
And everyone is watching
As three people
Make an incredible amount of noise

We are watching the wonderful performer
Lucy Ellinson
And she has just told us
about a writer
called Paul Reekie
And the two letters he received
One from the Department of Work and Pensons
Telling him his incapacity benefit had been cut
And one from
Edinburgh Council
Which informed him is housing benefit had also been cut
And Lucy told us how
Paul had laid this two letters out carefully on his desk
And then he had taken his own life
And she told us
That sometimes
One minute of silence is not enough
Sometimes you need one minute of noise
And that is what we are now listening to

And it sounds like a howl of unreason
It sounds like a fox with its foot torn off
It passes through us
And you can feel the sound
Like the physical thing that it is
I can feel my body
Moving with Lucy’s anger
And the room is crowded
And electrified
And I realise the important difference
Between
I am angry
And we are angry
And I realise that theatre is the perfect place
To transform
I am angry
Into we are angry
And whilst I am angry is always a good beginning
We are angry is where things get really interesting.

The second minute is by the writer Chris Thorpe
Who happened to be playing lead guitar
In the previous minute
This is a minute of words that he wrote for a project called
One Minute Manifestos
That Lucy recently put together for Battersea Arts Centre

Chris kindly allowed me to read this out today
I don’t sound as good as he does
But I’ll give it my best shot

Don’t waste your minutes in reason.

This is a minute.

Nobody was ever persuaded of anything in a minute.

Use the hours for reasoned argument.

Use the minutes for anger.

It’s OK.

It’s OK for your response to be.

Fuck this.

Fuck that shit.

Fuck it.

Just fuck it.

Because some things are wrong.

So let the luxury of a minute mean that you’re an absolutist.

Let the luxury of an hour mean the attempt to understand. The construction of a reasoned argument.

Let the luxury of a day, a week, a month be the craft of your art or your point of view, or sometimes,wonderfully, a synthesis of the two.

But the luxury of a minute is:

Fuck this.

Fuck you.

This is wrong.

Fuck you.

This is the wrong path.

Fuck you.

For suggesting idealism is adolescent.

Fuck you.

For treating the market like a human being.

Fuck you.

For encouraging resentment of the unlucky.

Fuck you.

For equating anger with shame and naivety.

Fuck you.

For smiling indulgently when you’re told you’re hated.

Fuck you.

For giving a man the opportunity to smear shit into the nation’s culture like he smeared shit into its TV.

Fuck you.

For making no sacrifices while preaching pointless sacrifice.

Fuck you.

For not asking ‘how can we make everyone healthy’, but ‘why should we’?

And fuck you.

I’ll take this minute for myself, thanks.

And I’ll offer you no solutions. Solutions are for hours and days and weeks and months. And those will come.

But this is a minute.

Fuck you.

So I want to ask you.
Are you angry?
And if you are angry
What are you angry about?
If you aren’t angry
Well, why not?

How do you make an audience not hear anger but feel it?
How do you transform
I am angry
Into we are angry,

I want to invite you to be brave enough to be angry about something in public
Be angry without apology and without elegance
Be angry even if it makes you red and stupid
If it makes you vulnerable and embarrassed.

Make something angry
Make it one minute long
Take one minute and make it yours
This is your time to be angry.

[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists]

I was asked to come here today
To talk to you about something
Anything
They told me it would be a practice session
Though they didn’t tell me what we’d be practicing for
I have two hours of your time
Or you have two hours of my time
Or most likely we’re just sharing this space for two hours

When they asked me if I could come and speak
I said I would
And then I made up something to talk about
And as I imagine you have all done at some point in your life
And if you haven’t you almost certainly will
I made up a paragraph of text introducing something that hadn’t been invented yet

I was going to talk to you in quite conceptual terms
About the nature of urban space
And how the rhetoric of ownership
Reiterates the ideology of exactly the social order
We are resisting

(and when I say we there
I mean the people
Who believe in the possibility
Of something better than
The inequality and cruelty and wilful indifference
Of the world
And the society
In which we presently live
And if you do not believe in that
Then I would suggest the next couple of hours
Is probably not going to be for you)

I still think that’s interesting
But it’s not any longer what I want to talk about
Though if you’re interested there is a long piece
I wrote on the subject over here

Instead I want to talk in slightly broader terms
About the relationship between art and protest
More particularly
I want to suggest some ways in which
Art might be a kind of protest
Some ways in which it might be both
A challenge to the present way of doing things
And an attempt to make new ways

I might have called this talk

BEYOND AGITPROP: A NEW RHETORIC FOR POLITCAL THEATRE

Or

HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE BEING BOTH EARNEST AND PRETENTIOUS

Or

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU DO IT’S HOW YOU CHOOSE TO DO IT

Or

SOME OF THE THINGS I’VE LEARNT IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Or, simply

HOW I’M TRYING TO BE BETTER

But because this whole week was themed around the work of Georges Perec, I have instead called it:

POLITICAL ART: A USER’S MANUAL

And like George Perec’s Species of Space it is not so much one talk as several
With some lists
And some questions
As Perec was fond of both

And it’s a work in progress
And I’d be immensely grateful for your help
And I’m already immensely grateful for the help
Of those whose words I have borrowed
Unwittingly or otherwise

There will be time for questions at the end
But if you do have a question
Or anything to say at all really
Please do interrupt me at any point.

[a one minute manifesto performed at Battersea Arts Centre yesterday]

This is a cry for help
This is a call to action.
We are in Battersea Arts Centre
A theatre that was a town hall
There were boxing matches here
People were punched
Actually punched
And there are weddings here
Real weddings
Words are said
And those words really change something
Walk out of this building
And turn right
Go past the magistrates court
And the police station
I want you to go all the way to ASDA
And I want you to do this
I want you to do this one thing for me
Pick up some small thing
And leave without paying for it
Please
Just this thing
I am asking you to do this one thing for me
I am standing here in a town hall
And I am fucking serious.
And as you leave Asda behind you
Crane your neck
And look down the hill towards
Where the fires were
And stolen shoes
And eyes watering with smoke
And briefly everything shimmered
Beautifully
Thrillingly
Horrifyingly
And when you get home
Spare a thought for me
Answering the door to a stern-faced policeman
And talking about incitement
And in my best
university educated voice
I am telling them
That political theatre
Never changed anything.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers