The International Center of Cultural Exchange and Diplomatic Friendship: Day 4.

Finished. Back in London now.

Here is a relevant anigif work courtesy of Ben Jeans Houghton

(Everything is fucked and nothing will ever be ok) Appropriated Gif, Dimensions Variable

The International Center of Cultural Exchange and Diplomatic Friendship: Day 3.

Penny and Dan say that they’ve only ever seen Column once, from a distance, and only for a moment. I’m riding fast down towards the city when I experience a similar thing. A slight, winding, dark grey line appears in my peripheral vision, but when I turn my head to look, it’s gone. As I get closer to town I see some anti-abortion activists outside the university. I stop and speak to them. One of my favourite things to do with anti-abortionists is to tell them that I think abortion should be mandatory unless you get a special licence to have a kid. The person I’m speaking to asks me how people would get a licence and I say that they’d have to complete gameshow style, physical challenges. Maybe like that weird show The Cube, presented by Philip Schofield. He says he doesn’t know the show so I spend five minutes describing it before he twigs that I’m either taking the piss or mental. He points at a police officer watching us and asks me to leave.

By the time I get to the docks the sun has started to set. I take a look across the water but can’t see anything. I figure I’ll go into one of the galleries and ask about it. Apparently different weather conditions affect it in different ways so I guess it’s best to ask instead of just wandering up and down the docks in the cold.
  I walk towards the Cunard Building where one of the exhibitions is happening. When I approach reception, there are two people there. A young, pretty girl, with a soft face, VOLUNTEER printed on her T-shirt, and a lanyard around her neck, and then an older, more authoritative looking woman with long frizzy hair. The older woman looks up at me first.

‘Hi, do you know where the column is?’
[Recognisably North American accent]
‘The water?’
‘I think so - on the water, Anthony McCall.’
‘Well, there you go’
[She grabs a Biennial guide and starts jabbing her finger at the little map on the inside cover.]

‘Have you ever seen it?’ I ask
‘Not to my knowledge.’
[I laugh but I don’t know what she means.]

‘He’s here you know.’
‘Who, the artist?’
‘Could be, could be someone who works for him’
[She says this conspiratorially, making eyes at some of the visitors in the gallery space, I look around but none of them look like the photo of the artist I saw on the internet.]

[She turns back to the map and points her finger at a point further up the docks.]
‘Here we go, just make sure you close your eyes.’
‘Amazing, thanks very much’
‘Yeah, because this is where we are, and that’s the Museum of Liverpool, and there is Open Eye Gallery…’
[She is moving her hand back and forth across the map, pointing at different Biennial locations.]
‘Ahh, thanks that’s amazing yeah.’
‘And this is the Walker Gallery, and this is where we are…’

This carries on and I start to move away from the desk nodding and saying, ‘Ahhh, yeah thanks that’s great, cheers, that’s perfect’, just before I turn around the younger woman with the soft face and the lanyard catches my eye and mouths something at me. I can’t tell what it is, but it looks like ‘Snot wheels, never wasp.’
  I look at her and make a subtle but clear indication with my face that she should mouth it again because what I think she mouthed makes no sense at all, but she shakes her head and her eyes look sad and I feel ashamed that I couldn’t understand what she wanted to communicate. The North American lady laughs and says, ‘Remember to close your eyes.’
  I head back to the docks, to where she pointed on the map. A porter from the Museum of Liverpool smokes and stares at me with barely concealed hatred. I look across the Mersea, to the sky above a cooling tower where Column should be. There is nothing. I search up and down the clouds, sweep my gaze across the old industrial landscape, empty of people. It’s funny in a way, because I guess when Liverpool was an industrial city or whatever then there would have probably been clouds of smoke rising up from everywhere, all the factories and stuff. I get my phone out and try to zoom in on the sky with the camera, hoping to some wispy traces; anything. All I get is a pixellated screen of clouds. I take some photos but they are just blurry grey, tinged pink by the setting sun.


The International Center of Cultural Exchange and Diplomatic Friendship: Day 2.

Embarcing Failure (1)

Artists often talk about failure. Lots of people who haven't read much Samuel Beckett quote this line he wrote,

'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

I think Beckett is talking about the existential impossibility of succeeding. To succeed would be to transcend our humanity, and Beckett certainly wouldn't have been doing that. Even within the tiny framework of our understanding, success is like happiness or pleasure, it is a fleeting, transient feeling: untrustworthy and impermanent. An idea best left alone.

But there are two ways of shying away from the idea of success. Beckett, I think, is semantically uncomfortable with the word and its associations.

The people who say the quote,

'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

are aware of the embarrassment around the word, but they attach their embarrassment to the word and not its meaning. This gives the quote a self-help patina; the idea that if you re-program yourself to not use the word "success", then you will obliquely, but necessarily, succeed.

The irony is that this probably is a useful self-help technique. Evaluating your actions in terms of success and failure could cripple your ability to act. Seeing all of your actions as failures (but with failure here meaning something else, not real failure, something more like partial success) allows you to disregard an unhelpful way of thinking.

But Beckett wasn't interested in helpful or unhelpful ways of thinking. Philosophy is not self-help. Understanding is not succeeding. Meaning is not happiness.


What would it mean to embrace failure - like real failure?

I was in a writer's group on Tuesday night, and we were discussing how to write as a dickhead - as in how to write as characters who is unlikeable. The problem being to write in the voice of a character who is meant to be a dickhead in the story, but who isn't somehow so irritating that the reader becomes annoyed at the author who wrote the story.

In callouts for artists residencies or development opportunities, there is often an emphasis on experimentation or open projects with no pre-defined outcomes. But at the same time, there is an unwritten implication that there will be an outcome, or that the experimentation will lead to something concrete.

When I speak to people about performance that involves some level of interaction with the audience, we often talk about the exciting possibility of failure within an interaction, but not the exciting possibility of the failure of the whole performance.


Technically, I'm on a residency - I answered a callout, emailed a proposal and now I'm here in Liverpool, thinking, making. And but also it feels like a holiday. I'm staying with friends, and last night we went to a gallery and had a beer and then came home and watched a film and talked bollocks.

A friend of theirs is staying, and so when she asked what I was doing here, I explained that I'm thinking about failure. I met Penny and Dan when I stayed with them during my 2010 residency at the Royal Standard. In a way, I wouldn't be here now if I had somehow failed in my interactions with Penny and Dan. Social situations aren't explicitly tests, but there are ways in which you can fail them. Dan made the point that, for example, in 2010 when I stayed with them, I didn't take a shit in their bath, which would have most likely been considered a failure on my part.

There are more subtle ways you can fail. In 2010 another artist came to do the residency once I had left. When I returned to Liverpool, I asked the gallery how it had gone - whether the work was good etc. The response was not so much about the work, but more about the social interactions between the artist and the members of the Royal Standard. One example of this was that the artist had asked to be taken to where James Bulger had been abducted. This is not necessarily offensive, but at the same time the request implied a failure to understand the history of the place in which the artist was working.

I met a curator who had organised an exhibition in Shenzhen in China. Shenzhen is a huge city just north of the border with Hong Kong. It is one of China's Special Economic Zones, with huge amounts of money poured into its development. The curator had put on a show of work by artists from China and Hong Kong in a building inhabited by migrant workers from other parts of China who were building the huge skyscrapers that make up the Shenzhen skyline. A lot of the work in the exhibition was subtly critical of the two tiered development of Shenzhen - the poor communities and building workers live in cramped conditions in places known as City Villages. But there was an implicit agreement that the work should not get anyone in trouble. The authorities were going to visit the show and the Chinese artists were wary of creating any political tension with their work. An artist from Hong Kong installed work that was directly and intentionally antagonistic to the authorities and then left after the opening to go back to Hong Kong. The curator was distraught - she knew the authorities would not approach her, but the Chinese artists were worried that after the exhibition finished they would be regarded as politically dangerous because of their association with the exhibition.


The most important rules of social engagement are not laid out in words, they are implied by, and deeply embedded within, our behavioural relations. These rules are both obvious and infinitely complex. Following the rules won't necessarily lead to success, but not following them may well lead to failure.

(1) I think I might have stolen "Embarcing Failure"  from somewhere else. But I googled it but it didn't come up so I'm just going to use it.

The International Center of Cultural Exchange and Diplomatic Friendship: Day 1.

I'm in Liverpool until Saturday. I'm not sure why. Ostensibly I'm here to take part in a residency program run by Penny Whitehead and Daniel Simpkins, but in reality, I just looked at google calendar on Sunday night and it said LIVERPOOL from Wednesday until Saturday so now I'm here.

That is how my life works, I just set my phone to tell me what I'm doing , and then I do it. I don't know what I'd do if my phone broke. I'd probably just write everything on scraps of paper and be early/late/in the wrong place all the time like I used to.


I was walking across London Bridge the other day and I thought 'I've thrown my life at the wall and it didn't stick'. It came through like that, in speech marks, as though I was saying it, but I wasn't. It was being said, but not by me. I think it means that I consider myself a failure, or, at that moment I was considering the idea of considering myself a failure.

On the train up here I thought 'I feel like I've been pumped by the world', again, in speech marks - someone else's words somehow. I guess by pumped I mean fucked or milked. Like I am a bag of pus that has been squeezed by a giant hand and now I'm empty.

A friend reminded me that I had a saying that was the axiomatic basis of my thinking when I was at art college. He quoted it to me - wrote it down actually, and put quotation marks around it, "Everything is fucked and nothing will ever be ok". I smiled and laughed - it was meant to be a joke at the time, but sort of a true joke.


I went to watch a film about Stuart Hall at the Bluecoat. It was a three screen digital projection. As I walked in I heard a very loud Windows "error" noise

And then as the film looped the Quicktime toolbar came up on the screen.

There was a fly in the room. It appeared occasionally in front of the screens, casting a tiny shadow and giving the film a 3D vibe that was distracting but not unpleasant.

A geezer in a shell suit came into the room. He sat next to me. He smelled really bad. Nylon isn't a very breathable fabric.

Two women walked in and came over to sit near me and the shell suit guy. I thought, 'I hope they don't think that smell is coming from me'. This was a real thought and I just thought it without having to think about thinking it, even though I didn't know the women, and I wasn't going to speak to them, so it didn't matter if they thought it was me who smelled bad.

It was obviously the man in the shell suit who smelled bad though. The shiny-ness of the shell suit was visible even in the dark room.


I walked past a nightclub called the Krazyhouse. I felt like I'd had a dream about it, a dream where I was in the foyer and I was waiting for someone to arrive and when they arrived then we'd have to try and kill each other but they never came and that's how the dream ended; in the brightly coloured, but still dank and sad foyer of a nightclub that I have never been to, waiting in the cold transition from street to club, that smelled of both stale and fresh alcohol, cigarette smoke from outside, and the Red Bull tainted sweat of the bouncers, who eyed me warily, tolerating my presence but only just.