It’s over a fortnight since we installed Child’s Play at Imperial War Museum North, and launched The Book of Debts VIII as part of the opening of the Asia Triennial. It was a very intense week but I began to really appreciate how much more support I have in making and installing – and showing – my work than I did five years ago, when I was crawling around the studio in the freezing winter of the Xmas holidays designing The Gifts and inexperienced in having ever suspended work before, not really knowing how it would all work. I still cycle through doubt, anxiety and stress but I think I have been conditioned to struggle on all levels in making work, and in fact these days, at least on certain projects, there is a level of collaboration and hands-on support – normally voluntary – which can minimise this and enables me to be working on more than one piece at once with much more ease. So its a question of allowing my own mindset of overwhelm to shift.
However, at ATM I have two works, and so the mental juggling between them was the challenge. This is as much to do with the themes I am working with – debt, conflict, death etc…and the existential journeying through these as it is to do with being organised about what needs to be attended to next.
The War Museum and Asia Triennial teams were a real gift in terms of the amount of consideration, respect and attention given to getting the work into place, and also the sense of appreciation for what I am doing.
There was a bit of panic as Child’s Play went up, as groups of school children descended on it as if it were one of the many handling exhibits in the main space, and we had to quickly think of a subtle way to let visitors know this is an artwork not a bunch of nice feeling weapons to be handled…but then of course the allure of weapons, the magnetic pull of a kalashnikof in velvet and the question about whether this is real or a toy all came into play, so I am implicated in this too. Disturbing objects of desire, and the questioning of this are part of the work.
The opening night was held in the huge main exhibition hall at IWM and packed with people, around 500 I think…
I had met the Iranian musician Arian Sadr on my last visit and as he was playing at the opening it felt like a natural step to ask him to improvise during my provocation – watch the clip of our intro here. I have asked him to do something at the finale too, having just worked with a choir on the last Book in London, additional performative elements like this seem too good to miss and bring the text to life in a fresh way.
I think the single most stressful part of the week was the debates on going into Iraq that were happening in Parliament and the intensifying narrative of panic and fear in the media which all feel like the gulf war approach again except worse, because this time I have children. I don’t know how to explain to them, when they ask, why this is happening and who the ‘goodies and baddies’ are, but I want to find a way, a language to communicate the complexity of it in a simple, human way without creating dread every time I open my mouth about it. I signed up for a non-violent communication course which I am doing next week. I figure as language is such a big part of my work, and I keep being drawn into project/venues where conflict is the core focus, that I must follow the clues and develop my learning in this area, and see where it takes me.
I got rather panicked this week when I was told that The Book of Debts VIII sitting at IWM is already half full ! After just two weeks, with 6 to go. I’m about to go through it and upload it online to see what the spread of contributions are and whether I need to prepare a second volume..
I was able to see some of the other works on display and in a few other venues, some of it is really stunning, and very, very diverse and I highly recommend following the trail to see as much as possible if you are in Manchester before it ends on November 23rd. I will try and write more about some the other artists I met and didn’t meet next time.