Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Tamarin Norwood
Writing about writing as artwork
# 64 [30 August 2011]
Oh dear. That thing's happening again. Night-time hyperactivity. I have too much to do and I don't remotely want to go to sleep. Too many of the things are too exciting. I should be over tired, I barely slept last night because:
- 01:00ish - unexplained helicopter above our heads
- 04:00ish - bad dream about moving an artwork in a large museum because I thought it should be movable rather than static and then getting in trouble with the curator
- 05:30ish - bird singing very early and my feeling the need to tweet about it for #diyDC
- 05:45ish - imaginary worries about family members
- 05:50ish hearing our neighbour wake up, then listening out for anyone else on the street leaving for work oddly early
- 06:00ish - sudden fear of sharks
I really don't know what brought on the sharks.
# 63 [28 August 2011]
I got home exhausted this evening and wearing all my brother's clothes. It poured with rain as I found my way to his new flat this afternoon and my wet things had to come home with me in a bag. My feet came home in bags too, as it happens. We couldn't get my shoes dry, so he lent me a pair of new socks and put a plastic bag over each sock for a layer of waterproofing.
# 62 [26 August 2011]
I’ve been reading more Richard Schechner today (Between Theater and Anthropology), because I'm putting together a project about restored behaviour. Schechner writes about ‘twiceness’ in performance: that a character being performed is both ‘not’ that character (because it’s really an actor) and ‘not not’ that character (because the actor’s not being an actor but a character).
Something similar happens when you write about yourself or your work. You can find yourself doubled. In his book Self-Impression, Max Saunders
“discusses the vogue for fake memoirs, a genre he calls ‘autobiografiction,’ that is books in which the ‘I’ is an adopted alter ego, performed with complete convincingness. Saunders is interested in the way people romance themselves into another persona, and then give this ‘imaginary friend’ a complete life story.”
That was Marina Warner, describing Saunders’ book in her LRB review of Tracey Emin’s Hayward exhibition. She goes on: “To appear to be confessing, not inventing, has become a necessary ingredient of a successful work of art. Tracey Emin the artist is the imaginary friend of Emin the life-writer.”
I’ve been writing a diary for more than half my life now. I write every day, and I frequently wonder about its effect over the years. Whether I like it or not, I think it provokes a similar kind of doubling. I was flicking through a diary from April 2011 earlier today, and found these notes:
Nevertheless the diary format does interest me. You can leave a line or two of space to indicate that between one paragraph and the next you’ve gone out of the book and into the world, and now you’re back, the book comes with you and stays behind at once. Goodness. These books are my oldest companions. You see: I live particularly in twiceness. I would be interested to look through these diaries to find references to the diaries themselves, to writing them, to their effect.
I came back to my desk from brushing my teeth earlier and found it good that the book was there, open and waiting and attentive, and I sat back down amongst it to keep marking the time.
Sometimes I write and the page isn’t listening.
Often this diary is a way of marking time. I might write: “I am in Berlin now,” like checking in, with a time stamp. It isn’t to describe being in Berlin, but to put together myself, Berlin, and the twiceness of myself. What would have happened if, say, I’d gone all the way to Bangladesh and back with my diary, but had neglected to write in it throughout? And how would it be different from having gone to Bangladesh, neglected to write, but also neglected to bring the actual book along?
Confirmation. You confirm life by writing it down. You confirm it by talking to friends, taking pictures, recalling… if you don’t get a chance to do this confirmation, at a distance from life, then you either get problems with accumulation or you find a way to confirm life in the actual living of life.
There: I have been away and done things; you have waited for two and a half blank lines but I have been away more than an hour. Do I wish I were you, book? The one waiting instead of the one having to go and do things to write down?
I’ve just photographed this tabletop, about a dozen photographs along its length, in eight columns or so.
# 61 [25 August 2011]
I have relatives either side of Australia: cousins in Perth, grandmother in Sydney. A few years ago I took a three-day train ride from one side to the other. I travelled alone. I slept and ate and showered on the train. Sometimes it would stop at night, sometimes it would keep going, through landscapes spectacular for their scale and sunrise and sameness.
I filled all my twelve video tapes on the journey, desperate to catch it all. Afterwards I looked through the tapes and almost every minute showed the inside of my tiny cabin: the fold-up metal washbasin, the fold-up table, the madly thin cupboard, the chair becoming a bed at night-time, the peculiar catch lock on the door, the shutters against the glass. The paper cups of tea. It remains the happiest holiday I can recall.
Only recently have I come to appreciate how absurd it was, and how telling, that I should travel the breadth of a continent and stare lovingly at the inside of my compartment throughout. I have every little detail down on tape. I did spend hours staring from the window, and climbed out to explore at every pit stop, but very little of that ended up on tape.
Working my way through the text I'm preparing for the lovesong book, I'm reminded of the little compartment on the train. Trying to write to the line of ink I'm writing, trying to get it to listen to the words I'm putting it through, but it's only alive to me at the fleeting and racing point of contact with my nib. The desperate need to hold still a thrilling and wonderful thing that will not stop moving, and the hope that if you grip hold of the only bit within reach, it might still count for something even though it isn't the bit that thrills.
Perhaps that's not quite it. The fold-up table and the little catch that held it in place genuinely thrilled me on their own. That's not a bad thing is it?
# 60 [23 August 2011]
It's horrible. I've moved my to-do list onto my phone, in a smug little app with tick boxes and urgency stars of different colours. I put my lists there because you can have multiple lists and multiple tasks, and add new ones unexpectedly, set alarms and so on, but it's not nice. It feels too far away and not quite real. So I've stealthily been copying out bits of the lists onto paper so I can refer to them with due calm, and actually cross them out when they're done.
Top of the to-do list at the moment: finish the text for this book I'm making. It's about 72 pages of text, but it only amounts to a couple of paragraphs because I'm handwriting a single line across each double-page spread. It's a kind of lovesong to the line of ink I'm using to write the lovesong. It's hard to get it right for the very reasons I'm describing in the text itself: the difficulty of grabbing hold of the line to keep it sufficiently still to think about or address it; the need for the line to keep moving in order for words to keep flowing; the wish for the line to pause and stay still with me a minute without ceasing to mean and hence speak back.
Since I try not to take my nib from the page while I'm writing (to stay in continuous contact with the line) I can't cross the t's, dot the i's or add any punctuation until the whole text is complete. It makes it very hard to read over and edit. It's an important quality of the book itself, but it makes the writing process particularly difficult. I've been writing notes all day in barely legible long-hand, and I think this evening I'll try drafting the text again on my computer. Even though it'll be divorced from the ink and the paper for a while, the text itself might come away more coherent. Then I can transcribe it. It feels like fakery, but I think it's the only way to get the text clear enough to work on. The text has to be strong on its own, quite apart from the form it takes on the page. Indeed it has to be strong in order to withstand the form it takes on the page.
# 59 [22 August 2011]
GOOD TO BE HOME. On the train back from Edinburgh I took great care to restrain myself from just moving straight on to the next thing on the list. A list to end all lists has been accumulating in my absence, but Edinburgh needed some thinking through on the train.
Things do need thinking through. And writing down, ideally.
On Friday afternoon I visited Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden and forgot both my notebook and my painkillers. The absence of each had a similar effect. I can't manage the pressure of dumbness very well. I write a lot of things down on a daily basis so I have them recorded, and at a place like Little Sparta (that's what his home's called) it's headache-inducing to let things go by unrecorded.
It isn't that I liked everything I saw. A lot of it I straightforwardly disliked. But the garden contained certain difficult to recollect sensations and sentiments, and if I'd had a pen and paper I could have tried to gather them down into words and leave them there, and carry on with an unclouded head. Having no means of noting anything down, I had to contain all these things throughout the hours I was there, and continually risk losing them without using them up properly. I mentioned the other day in an interview at The Other Room in Manchester the need to mop up World, and the hope that language might be able to do that. And the hope above all that poetry - language redoubled - might be able to mop up more World still.
# 58 [19 August 2011]
Details of the works in the show, corresponding to the photos I posted on Wednesday. We tried Making Ends Meet for the first time this afternoon - I'll write more about it on the train home tomorrow.
* Days, Time’s Mice
Lines 44-45 of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem Le Bestiaire (1911) read: Belles journées, souris du temps, Vous rongez peu à peu ma vie. (Beautiful days, time’s mice, gnawing little by little my life away.)
* Doing Things with Words
J.L. Austin’s lectures How to do Things with Words (1955) identify certain categories of utterance that affect rather than describe their context.
* Doing Words with Things
Doing Words with Things shares its title with my collaborative performance between a sculptor and a signer of British Sign Language, resulting in conversations made of wire. Performance at London Word Festival (Apr 2011).
* Third Word Bird
Pencil marks resulting from my performance of Third Word Bird, Icelandic Embassy, London with Maintenant and 3:AM Magazine (2010).
Peter Dreher’s painting series Tag um Tag ist Guter Tag (Day by Day is a Good Day, 1974-ongoing) comprises nearly 4,000 numbered paintings of the same empty glass.
* Each to Each
Each to Each originated as a sculptural installation of the same name, created for the Citations Lifted Loose exhibition, part of the Concrete and Glass Festival (2008).
* Making Ends Meet
Visitors whistle to one another in pairs, one note at a time.
# 57 [17 August 2011]
THESE ARE NOT POEMS is installed! And the vinyl lettering arrived after all. Here are my five completed "shelf poems".
It's a brief show - closes again on the 19th - but do come and have a look if you're in Edinburgh. It's here:
3 Bristo Place
Time for bed now. There's a maybug outside the window. Maybugs are good things, too heavy to be realistic moths at all.
# 56 [16 August 2011]
The train window next to me reads EMERGENCY EXIT. It’s written on the outside of the glass, and from in here it’s backwards even though we’re the ones who’d need to exit. But it isn’t an exit at all - it’s a fixed pane with glass that looks very very strong. You wouldn’t want to try and break it without a very serious emergency on your hands. My back aches. It’s lovely, out the window, it’s getting Scottish. And there’s a telecom tower taller than the clouds.
But today has been shaken and damaged by things not working. Complicated and uninteresting administrative things variously involving a touring exhibition, a text submission, a contract to sign, a scheduling difficulty, and most of all the vinyl lettering for tomorrow’s show, heartbreakingly lost in the post for the second time in a fortnight. The guaranteed overnight courier didn’t materialize, and the artwork doesn’t work without the vinyl. All this and no proper internet access to monitor things and try to get them straight. I slept very little last night, I couldn’t concentrate on getting sleepy.
Standing at the station earlier today with my coat falling down its own sleeves dragged by heavy bags badly packed, my suitcase toppling at every move, tapping emails into my phone and getting all the touchscreen spellings wrong, I thought it was probably time to slow down.
When everything works, the breakneck speed feels good, like the quiet rustle of apparatus working smoothly. When things break, all the speed catches up with itself and trips over. I do worry about the long-term effects of trying to fit too many things into the month, the week, the day, especially when I know blank time is the most productive. People need to be slow sometimes.
Then I got an email from a friend saying hello. We met up last week, and I described to her the work for the Edinburgh show. She feels, incredibly to me on days like this, that what I’m trying to do is worthwhile. I’d told her it sometimes feels like pretending. She told me about floatation devices in the sea, viewed from the shore.
I’ve just noticed the EMERGENCY EXIT is in vinyl lettering. Lucky train.
# 55 [15 August 2011]
I’m in Bury today and tomorrow getting started on the #dawnchorus Twitter project initiated by Natasha Vicars and Mary Paterson. We’re looking at ways to use the platform to create a collaborative dawn performance. I’ve never used Twitter before - I set up an account a year or two ago to track the gradual fall of several hair grips from my hair, but in the end I never did it, and the account has been dormant ever since. This project's a good way (back) in, because we're thinking about how to use the existing structure to develop an intervention with a new set of structures and relations.
We talked a lot about Twitter, but we also talked about dawn (I didn’t know dawn light counted as twilight too), and about birds. People tend to have good stories about birds. Darwin broke many hearts when he pronounced the dawn chorus a territorial showdown and not the celebration of a new day’s hope. Birds don’t hope, he said. My new garden shares a blackbird with the adjoining gardens. It’s the only one there so it gets the best worms. You see them in its beak. A lovely dawn story emerged about a father feeding his new baby at five every morning, by a window looking over an empty street.
Now and again we stopped to write 140 characters or less about our relationship with Twitter, to see how it changed as the day progressed.
Here’s how mine developed between 10:30am and 5:30pm. My relationship with Twitter is…
-1- not very much of a relationship. Mainly, worries about writing too much, about starting and never going on, about getting etiquettes wrong.
-2- I DIDN’T DIE I’M STILL HERE THIS IS MY TREE
-3- under construction. If I can ignore the graphic design - that’s a big if - I might let it be a good place for short poems with ragged edges.
-4- to do with gardens and birds and dawn. Nice. I wonder if getting my phone out to tweet these things will spoil them. The screen’s so bright.
You can see I’m not yet wholeheartedly resolved, but there’s still time and I do want to find a way to like it. (2 isn’t as weird as it sounds: it’s a quote from Natasha, who was paraphrasing what Darwin claimed birds mean when they tweet at dawn. It gets cold at night so some of the birds die before sunrise. I suppose it’s just re-tweeting a re-tweeted re-tweet. Sorry.)
I’m writing this in the lobby of a conference centre in Manchester where I’ve found free wifi. Above me a large brass sphere has been swinging through space with great composure, at odds with the thin music being piped into the room. If I crane my neck to the right I can read a brass plaque beside me: “THE FOUCAULT PENDULUM. The pendulum swings in a place which retains a fixed orientation in space while the earth rotates beneath it. As a result the end points of the pendulum bob’s swing trace out a circular path.” So the earth’s been moving all this time. Even though there’s easy-clean carpet on the floor and tinned music in the air and I’m staring at a shiny screen.
ps. VINYL SAGA UPDATE: this morning I phoned the vinyl people from the tram between Manchester Piccadilly and Bury. They were happy to recut the titles and express courier them straight to Edinburgh so it all arrives at the gallery tomorrow. All fingers crossed. I wonder if the first copy is sitting on my doorstep back at home by now..
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