How much of that is true?

I get asked that question a lot about my performances and my writing.

I struggle with the idea of truth and fiction and how much people should be able confirm as "true". My work isn't meant to trick anyone, but it does present itself as some form of authentic experience being retold to an audience.

So what's my responsibility to the questioner? How should I respond when people ask me 'How much of that was true?'

I've been looking for people to speak at The Bad Vibes Club and someone suggested Nicholas Ridout. I read this essay of his, Performance in the Service Economy: Outsourcing and Delgation (it's on page 126 of the linked pdf), and in the final section he kind of sums up my ambivalence about answering the question, or maybe gives a good reason not to answer it.

'Theatre is, most of the time, a kind of delegated performance, in which actors or performers appear as representatives of or stand-ins for others and in which they carry out their actions as agents of higher powers, such as authors and directors. When a theatrical performance seeks to disrupt this familiar system of representation — such as, for example, someone appears on stage either as themselves or in such a way as to lay claim to a specific identity whose story or plight is being dramatised — a muddle often breaks out. This might be considered as a confusion between outsourcing and delegation, in which the right to present the representation of a certain identity is assumed to belong only to those actors or performers who can claim the authentic possession of that identity, so that they may plausibly and perhaps legitimately make the public claim that ‘this is my story’. This confusion arises out of a misrecognition of the function of theatre — albeit a misrecognition that much theatre and theatrical criticism has sought to encourage. Even when theatre is making no claim about the authenticity of its performers in respect of the story or situation they are representing, it tends to make the implicit and inclusive claim, addressed to the audience, that ‘this is our story’: the story enacted, such as the story of the House of Atreus or the tragedy of Oedipus, is the story of the polis that is supposedly gathered in the theatre. But at one and the same time the structure of the theatre itself makes the exact opposite claim, that ‘this is not our story’. This establishment of minimal distance is, I think, one of the preconditions of theatrical representation and so pervasive that even when the performers enacting the representation really are the very people they purport to represent, they are, in the theatre, only delegates at best'


I got back to London yesterday, dropped my bags off and went straight back out to meet someone for a drink. This morning I had to go to the corner shop with a hangover to buy something for breakfast. After a really bad lunch made from things I had left in the cupboard I walked down to Sainsbury's to do a proper shop.
  I wandered slowly around the aisles, buying the same things that I normally buy, but taking a little more time than I needed to. This bit between Christmas and New Year is almost unreal, which makes me want to bask in it when I get the chance.
  I normally go to the self service tills, but I saw a short queue for a manned checkout and decided to go with it. The checkout assistant was being really nice to the man in front of me, asking him about his Christmas and that sort of thing, but when it came to my turn she was a bit less friendly.

She tried to weigh my bananas and something seemed to be wrong. She kept picking them up and putting them down again, pressing the buttons on the till. She tutted and I said, 'What's up with the bananas?' and she said, 'They won't weigh, they keep flipping between weights.'
  She called a manager over who said something like, 'Not again'. They kept weighing the bananas, moving them on and off the scales.
  I said, 'What's happening?' and the manager said, 'They won't stay still. Look.' and she span the screen around so I could see. It was true, when the bananas were on the scale they flipped rapidly between numbers, which meant that the machine wouldn't confirm a price for them. The manager took the bananas off the scales and put my leeks on. I said, 'I don't think it makes a difference what's on the scales.' I was trying to be light hearted but I think it came off as sneering because they gave each other a look. And then when the screen showed a stable weight, they both gave me a triumphant smile. I laughed and said, 'Ok good, glad it's working now' and the checkout assistant said, 'It works just fine, it's the bananas, see?' She put the bananas back on the scales and the screen showed the weight flipping back and forth. Then she put the leeks on and the screen showed the correct weight.
  'What do you want to do?' said the manager and I made a face like I had zero idea what the options might be. 'Well, we can try another bunch, but it might not be worth it. It's been happening all week. Or, you can just get a pre-priced bag of bananas.'
  In the end I just left it, I don't like the bagged bananas, they are always a bit overripe by the end of the week.


The conifer trees surrounding the house like a wall might seem like a metaphor for something but they aren't. Several reasons:

1) The conifers used to be everywhere on the housing estate. A lot of people had them at the edge of their gardens. My family’s house had two of them in the front garden, one next to the pavement and one right outside the front door. A lot of residents got rid of them in the 80s and 90s. The housing estate was built in the 70s on what was previously wooded land. They cleared the woods, built the houses, and then laid grass and planted conifers on the gardens. On some of the bigger green areas they planted other types of tree, but in the gardens it seemed to be conifers. Probably because they grew fast.
That was the problem with the conifers - they grew too fast to keep a handle on. For obvious reasons, you don’t necessarily notice the day to day growth of a tree but then suddenly it’s undermining the foundations of your house and then you have to deal with it. Or maybe you sell your house with the giant conifer, and then someone new moves in and is like what the fuck is with this giant tree? and has it cut down.
But the conifers still line their garden, not close enough to the house to be a problem for the foundations, and Ken still lives there. I guess although he knows that the trees are much bigger than they were when him and his wife and two children moved in, they aren’t shockingly big (to him) or out of proportion with the rest of the garden and the house (to him).

2) You have to remember that I’m writing this maybe 10 (?) years after she killed herself and so the trees have grown a lot higher since then. Maybe 10 years ago they wouldn’t have looked so imposing, so much like the wall of a castle or a prison. They wouldn’t have blocked out so much light, or engulfed the street light on the pavement in front of them. They still would have been tall, then. They still would have blocked the house from view. (From certain angles. Maybe half of the 180° that you can normally see a house from. The house is actually on a corner, so you should be able to see it from more than just 180°, but it has a high wall running down the alleyway beside it which blocks the view of the side and back of the house. With a wall, it’s just there and you don’t really have a choice. You could replace it with a lower wall, but who would do that? The conifers have this point of meaning for me where I know that most people on the estate have chosen to get rid of them because they block the light, and because they got so tall so quickly.)

3) As I mentioned, the conifers do block the view of the house, but only half of it. When you walk past the house from the other direction you can look straight across the front garden and into the living room. They never had net curtains and when she was alive, she was often sat on the couch, staring out of the window. You saw that the TV was on but she wasn't watching it. Or she was only half watching it, and then she noticed you walking past and she caught your eye but didn’t smile. She was a pale woman and she had glasses and short red hair. Her pupils seemed very large and black.

4) Also, when she killed herself, they’d divorced and she lived in a flat in town. She didn’t even live in that house. So when she made the decision to do what she did she was in another place, without conifers surrounding the garden.

So the conifers might seem like a good thing to write about when you are writing about her death but they aren’t. They can’t really work as a structural metaphor.

She was not a sympathetic woman. I don’t remember her being very nice or kind or beautiful. Not that women should be beautiful to be sympathetic, but I find that I’m more sympathetic toward beautiful people. It’s either a personal weakness, or one of those anti-democratic traits of being human that are occasionally flagged up by some dubious, over-reported study by psychologists or market researchers.

She had tinnitus so the TV was always on in the living room and the radio was always on in the kitchen. Quite loud. She sat in the living room, and then we arrived with Joel and took over the living room to watch MTV and play on the PC at the back of the room. She moved into the kitchen and sat at the table. She read magazines and the radio was on loud, but it wasn’t drowning out the things she needed drowning out. She got up and cleaned the house, but the house didn’t need cleaning. Or it did, but not the sort of cleaning she could face doing. Then it got later in the afternoon and it started getting dark and she started making their dinner and eventually we left.

They say our ears are good at tuning out buzzes and hums. An evolutionary response to a noisy world. We need to ignore some sounds and pick out others - the dog’s bark, the voice saying hello, the car horn, the knock at the door, the stone in the water. You tune out the noise of your own ear’s machinery, but also more importantly, you tune out the external stuff. So, the buzzing of the dimmer switch in your living room. Or the high pitched whirring of your phone charger. And a lot of the time, you tune out noises that aren’t really constant, but that you don’t need to be consciously aware of. Like your own breathing, or a distant motorway, or the soft rustling squelch of your footsteps as you walk alone across a wet field, huddling into your jacket with your arms folded across your chest, cutting a strange figure, if anyone could see you, which they can’t. Or maybe someone did see you but they disregarded you. They tuned you out.

I was the same age as one of their sons. Me and Richard were friends at primary school for a while, but never really outside of school. He played football well and I did not. At different points when growing up I was both the bullied and the bully. Children are cruel.
The other son Joel was a year older than me but because I had a neighbour who was the same age as him, we ended up being friends. More like we were in the same drifting group of children who congregated in the streets, or in one living room or another, to play computer games, make jokes and occasionally have very organised wrestling matches instigated by a boy called Omar who was fun but obviously emotionally damaged in some way.
I never really liked Joel. He was very particular. He had his own opinions, which seemed to me very uptight and pretentious. He wouldn’t wear trainers or tracksuit bottoms because he didn’t like them. He got angry when you teased him, which meant that as we got older and more vicious in our piss-taking he was often an easy target. I think he is in IT now. Spends a lot of time in America for work.

One year I came home from university and my mum told me that Richard had been hit by a motorbike on the high street and broken his neck and all I could think was that it was pathetic that Richard still lived here and hadn’t gone to university like me.

We all thought Joel was gay and I can’t remember if it turned out he was or not. Maybe he just hasn’t had a partner of either sex for a long time. Maybe there were some teenage girlfriends and then not much after that. Like, he stopped pretending he was interested.

With both of these things, by this point Cathy was dead anyway so they are, like the trees, not as relevant to the story as they might at first seem.

I just looked at Beachy Head on google maps. I switched it to the satellite view and for a second imagined that I might be able to see someone jumping from the edge of the cliff but I couldn’t.
I didn’t really know where Beachy Head was, though I knew it was famous. I thought it might have been because of a scene in a film or maybe a celebrity suicide but it’s just the numbers. The figures. The amount of people tumbling through the air down toward the sea.

When I heard she’d gone to Beachy Head I kept thinking was it not a bit far? Google says it takes about two and a half hours to drive there from the town in Essex where she lived. But maybe it was practical in other ways. Like she knew that Beachy Head was a place where she could be pretty certain that if she tried to kill herself then she would succeed. Like she did her research and she knew that there weren’t any barriers or fences. That she could drive there on a weekday in the late autumn, park at the car park, and walk huddled over the sodden grass up towards the South Downs way and then instead of walking along the footpath in one direction or another, she could just carry on walking towards the edge. Or she walked for a while along the path, looking out across the sea but also keeping an eye out for a sheer drop. Because she wanted a sheer drop. She didn’t want to stumble off the edge to be bounced and broken and split by the rocks on the way down. Into the sea at terminal velocity please. Straight in. Maybe the impact breaks her neck if she’s lucky. Hopefully it knocks her out and she drowns.

I was maybe 17 or 18 and walking to college the day after bonfire night and I saw a long blackened wound in the conifers where someone had set off a firework and it had torn straight up through the trees, burning the foliage on its way. It stayed black for longer than it seemed like it should.
I remember coming home from university one summer and it had gone brown and the branches were bare. It was like that for years. Eventually the wound scarred up. The foliage is no longer discoloured, but nothing grows in the gap.

It’s the day after Christmas. As I walked back from town towards my parents’ house I noticed that all the lights in the house were off. Ken must be at his second wife’s place for the holidays. Maybe the boys are there too, or maybe Richard has his own family now. They aren’t boys any more.

The conifers are trimmed regularly. Maybe once a year. I think the council does it. The foliage is cut away round the streetlight that would otherwise be swallowed up by the branches. They cut back the lower part of the trees so that people can use the pavement.

Photos of wrapped things near my parents' house

I've totally fallen for someone who is, consciously or unconsciously, making me lose my mind via our sporadic email/text communication. To try and stop myself checking my phone every three minutes I decided to leave the warmth of my parents' sofa and wander around their estate.

On my way back from the pub yesterday I'd seen that the Roman wall that surrounds the edge of the park was covered with white tarpaulin, probably for repairs to the stonework. In the dark it looked pretty good - like a huge ghost ship - so I thought I'd walk up there and take some photos.

As I was putting my shoes on I saw that my parents' garden table was wrapped up in black tarp.

And at the bottom of the garden, I saw that my dad had tried to wrap this palm.

In the summer my parents' estate crackles in the heat and buzzes with memories that jostle for position in my head. It's an overwhelming feeling, but exciting. In December, with the dampening drizzle under a white-grey sky it just made me despondent. The paths were covered in dead leaves, everything looked dirty and sad.

When I come home for Christmas I'm always struck by how the houses covered in Christmas lights are in little groups or huddles. A row of four houses with glowing Santas or light-up animatronic reindeer, as though they'd been inspired by each other's festive luminescence.

I'd never noticed this little cul-de-sac where four houses facing each other all had caravans sitting on their driveways. The other three had their metal tow-bars wrapped, but this one was fully covered for the winter.

Then there was this barbecue on someone's drive, packed away until summer. I know that they are covered to protect them from the weather, but there is a particular aesthetic effect delivered by these wrapped things, like they are being hidden from view and yet at the same time, brought to our attention. A ritual humiliation of the objects that remind us of another time. Or maybe it's for their own good, they've been temporarily blinded so that they shouldn't see the damp, pathetic winter that renders them useless.

I'd noticed these rose bushes last year, but they were wrapped up again this year, poking out of the ground like frozen dancers or Guantanmo'ed plants.

And then I got to the wall. There was a guy with a can of lager and a dog. He spoke to himself or the animal in a rolling, aggressive way. Like he was angry at the dog for being dependant on him to throw the tennis ball.

The wall was being repaired. It gets mossy and chunks of it occasionally break away. Every now and again they erect a fence and fix up the ancient stones with new cement and salvaged brick.

The modern repairs will eventually take over from the Roman stonework as the structural support of the wall. Then what will they be saving when they repair it? It's a question that doesn't get asked here. Things need preserving because things need preserving.

Giant Inflatable Video Dump

You can thank Chloe Cooper for this. I woke up this morning and her and Bella were sitting in the living room watching these videos.

This guy has maybe 25 different videos, all shot in the same way. He is technical - he has loads of tutorial videos about how to modify your inflatable so that it's a "single chamber", so then it can take more pressure and hold your weight. He is kind of passive as well, in the way that he lays on the animals face down as they inflate.

His garden looks nice though.

These seem to be the more typical style of video - selfied rides on big inflatable horses.

There aren't many of these - it seems like this uploader is coming from a different subculture of girls popping things by bouncing on them, but has just ticked a few boxes for a different set of viewers. One commenter says, 'She got me all hot and bothered riding that blowup zebra. Why did she have to pop it and spoil this video?'

Actually, I tell a lie. Seems like there's quite a bit of popping.

And this one won't let me embed it, but it's totally worth it, it's a guy who dresses up as a tiger and plays with inflatable animals -

Happy Christmas one and all.

Fully indulging your bourgeoisosity

I just read this book.

My Struggle 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård.

Karl Ove Knausgård is a Norwegian author and he looks like this.

Some kind of Scandinavian lion.

My Struggle is a six book series - the first one was published in Norwegian in 2008, and the last in 2011. The title is the same as Hitler's - Mein Kampf. (In Norwegian, it translates as Min Kampf.)

People are really into it. In Norway the series has sold 450,000 copies (which is a lot, and in a country of fewer than 5 million people it's loads).

More than a few people have described the writing as Proustian. This is kind of an obvious reference point because My Struggle and In Search of Lost Time are long, autobiographical works. Both writers deal with memory, time and autobiography. They both use narrative to give lived experience the quality of coherence, whilst at the same time critiquing the possibility that lives can be coherent; that they can be made sense of, or reduced to a story.

But they are similar in another way, and that's because in his writing, Knausgård, like Proust, fully indulges his bourgeoisosity.

Here is Proust, by the way.

The indulgence becomes a form of confrontation. This confrontation is not political in a traditional sense - it is not a rejection of a value system. But it is a thorough critical analysis of what it is to be bourgeois. The critical analysis emerges naturally through a patient engagement with subject matter that is necessarily narcissistic and self-indulgent to write about. (The subject matter is the writers' lives and childhoods - which in different ways, were as middle class as their respective contexts allowed.)

I've read the first book of each - Proust's Swann's Way, and Knausgård's My Struggle 1. They are structured in similar ways. The first half of each is an uninhibited meandering through childhood memories, which seem to be revealed to the authors as they write them. At points the stories overwhelm you with banal detail. Both books make you very bored, and sometimes kind of angry at the writer for even daring to write about their childhood in that kind of detail. 'Who cares?' I kept thinking. 'I don't want to read these things!'. But in both cases it turned out I did want to read those things, and in fact the reason I wanted to read those things was because of the amount of detailed attention given to uninterrupted reminiscences.

 The second half of each book deals with another person, significant for the writer. This is where the books diverge in content, but not - I think - in spirit.

The second half of Swann's Way deals with slow decline of a family friend who drifts in and out of love and high society. It is a meditation on how people become attached to each to one another, what love might be made of, and how people trick themselves into believing the stories that they tell other people.  It is a melancholic story, but it is slightly detached from Proust and his life.

The second half of My Struggle 1 is about Knausgård's father who - while we readers were indulging in the details of Knausgård's childhood - became a hopeless drunk, moving back in with Knausgård's grandmother and ruining both their lives before dying on the sofa. Knausgård goes back to where he grew up, and with his brother, cleans up the house where his grandmother now lives in total squalor because of his father's behaviour in the last years of his life. It depicts the graphic reality of what happens when someone dies, and the physical and emotional mess they leave behind.

Different vibes admittedly. Knausgård's book is written in a different time - he uses the real names of people in his life, and he exposes himself to the reader in ways that Proust could never have done. But for me, the important similarity is that both writers prepare for telling the story of another person - whose stories are more "worthwhile" or "important" or "real" - by unflinchingly telling their own.

This unflinchingness is about unapologetically exploring the details of their own lives. The unflinchingness isn't just about representing the unappealing, shameful or horrific things that happen, but also the boring, comfortable, or banal things.

The title of Knausgård's book is a joke, if you hadn't already realised, My Struggle is meant to imply a mock heroic story. "What struggle?", it seems to say.

There is no excuse for writing books like Proust's and Knausgård - who wants a 3500 page autobiography of another Medium Rich White Guy? And both writers know this. But by fully indulging their bourgeoisosity, they manage to travel through some kind of ethical wormhole and turn that indulgence into a kind of self-reckoning. Both writers manage to convince you that hyper-indulgence is the only adequate response to the question of how they might go about writing a book.

Ambient Notes #9 (Gerard Byrne)

Yesterday I went with J. and R., two friends from Open School, to a Visual Cultures Lecture at the RCA. Gerard Byrne (GB) was speaking about the work A Thing is a Hole in a Thing it is Not.


-I force J. to speed eat an apple before the lecture starts because I feel like an apple is the most disruptive food to eat in a lecture situation.

-The lecture theatre has leatherette seats. They are comfortable, but sweaty.

-According to J., GB has got 'something of the Matthew Barney about him'.

-The room is very well equipped, AV wise. There are eight speakers evenly mounted around the room. There is high quality theatre lighting, plus fluorescent strip lights mounted vertically on the sound proofed walls. (They look "cool"/"stylish".)

-A man and his young daughter sit in front of us eating mini-muffins.

-GB has has a lot of exhibitions - that is the gist of the introduction.

-The man w/ daughter in front pulls out a one litre carton of Tropicana. Him and and the daughter start to drink directly from the carton.

-It feels like the person doing the introduction isn't really that invested in its presentation. It is a long introduction.

-The lights dim, we are expected to clap.

-GB is spotlit, the "stylish" vertical fluorescents dim slightly.

-GB says the lecture might be a bit "non-linear". Some people in the audience look at each other.

-GB says, 'detritus of the mediasphere.'

-It is warm in the lecture theatre, the sweat is flowing freely down my back.

-GB says, 'Brechtian doubling.'

-The daughter is really going for that Tropicana.

-I remove my jumper, but it doesn't help. The sweating is just more present, visible.

-I'm not having a go, but the man really shouldn't be letting the daughter drink all that juice.

-A student looks at the side of another student's face and yawns - more at the student than at the lecture.

-It's just that orange juice is mainly sugar. Just eat an orange! You know what I mean?

-One weird thing about the lighting is that GB looks like he's got a moustache even though he hasn't.

-GB says, 'temporal collapse.'

-I keep having to expend mental energy on remembering that GB doesn't have a moustache.

-GB says, 'dangerously adequate.'

-Another thing about the lighting is that it flickers ever so slightly, as though GB is just about to teleport. 

-Or, maybe, he is a hologram. Like Tupac.

-GB says, 'modularity, repetitiveness, endlessness', 'reclaiming my ancestry, for artists.'

-A film plays, but GB is still on mic - he pours some water from a glass bottle and it is relayed to us via the mic and it is a wonderful sound; close and rounded and soft.

-Like, just give the kid some water and a chocolate bar - that would be better than all this juice.

-GB's films make me really want to smoke.

-The daughter finishes the Tropicana and almost immediately tells her dad that she needs the toilet and wants to leave. They leave.

-GB talks about the resistance of the "minimalist" artists to being categorised as a movement.

-I wonder if the Open School artists will end up being categorised as a movement?

-I wonder if I will be seen as the figurehead of the movement. Who can really say? Probably.

-GB explains the theological idea that the world around us is an indexical image of the Old Testament. 

-People start leaving the lecture. People are always leaving lectures like they didn't realise it was going to be longer than 20 minutes.

-On screen: a picture of Donald Judd reading a Donald Judd book.

-GB says, 'the contemporary situation of temporality.'

-GB says, 'prop-like', 'hollowness', 'theatre'.

-The Q&A starts, the lights gently rise, people stretch and look around the room.

-GB has really enjoyed giving the talk and is really generous to the people asking questions. It's hard not to warm to him as a person. I sometimes wonder how much that has to do with success - like, just people warming to you and thinking you're nice and easy going. Probably a lot.

-Students are kind of beautiful nowadays. When I was a student everyone was a bit of a mess, but these days people are looking great. Or maybe I'm just older and I equate youth with beauty.

-There is a balcony in the lecture theatre that I didn't even realise existed until someone asks a question from it and GB's eyes are drawn up above my head.

-Oh, no. Wait. it wasn't the lights, he does have a moustache.

"The" Olive

I went out to get some food and on my way back into Open School I decided to use the toilet. I normally use the ones on the first floor near our studios, but this toilet - which I hadn't used before - is right next to the back door so it made sense to pop in before I went back upstairs.

As I turned on the tap I realised there was an olive in the sink. A black olive. I noticed it because it was positioned on the plughole, directly under the stream of water that came out of the tap. It wobbled ever so slightly as the water ran over it, and it looked shiny. It gleamed.

I thought, 'that's funny' and for a second I didn't know what to do, but then, obviously, I took the olive out of the sink and put it in the bin.


About half an hour later, Glen came upstairs and knocked on the studio door. He came in and said, 'Has anyone touched The Olive?'

and I said, '"The" Olive?'

And he said, 'Yeah, The Olive in the sink downstairs'

I told him I'd thrown it away and he asked me why, which was confusing. Eventually he asked me if I was going to go out and buy another one and I was like, 'I'm not going out to buy a jar of olives, just to put an olive in the sink of the downstairs toilet.'

And he said, 'The Olive.'

I like Glen, me and him get on, but I've got a lot of work on at the moment, so I told him to get fucked.

He's not one to make an argument so he just left and said 'Well, I'll have to tell Nick.'

Nick is alright too, actually, but he is a bit more senior than Glen and he runs the building. About half an hour later he came upstairs and told me I had to go and buy olives to replace The Olive and I didn't want to get on his bad side so I just went out and did it.

Micro-trauma #2: Dead Pets and Detachable Ears

For me, everything is synecdochal - parts of a thing can stand for the whole of a thing, and the whole of a thing refers to its parts.

In this way, an ethics of negativity can be drawn from tiny moments of local trauma, just as it can from recognisable, large scale crises.

And that's why yesterday, I wandered down to a small, unlovely patch of concrete and haphazardly trimmed greenery called Ufton Gardens to search for evidence of death.

I found the story on the Hackney Post and thought it looked interesting. The picture explains the story quite succinctly, but to summarise: someone had been leaving poisoned meat in Ufton Gardens in an attempt to kill off the local foxes. Unfortunately for local pet owners, two cats and a dog had died from eating the meat. The story didn't say how the fox population had been affected.

According to the story, a man living on Ufton Road had 'openly confessed to setting out poisoned meat, after he caught foxes eating carp from his pond'.

I couldn't find Ufton Gardens on google maps, so I put on my coat and went out to find it. It took two minutes to get there, and after walking around the small patch of concrete and finding no meat and no dead animals, I realised there wasn't much to research. The laminated sign that features in the photo was nowhere to be seen.

From across the road, three teenagers standing outside the off licence watched me with little to no interest as I circled the non-space trying to think what could be gained from being there.

I wanted to speak the man with the carp. I wanted to see where the pets had been buried. I wanted to know what sort of meat was used for bait. This was the location where the meaning of those things converged, but no meaning could be squeezed from this place today.

So I went into the off licence and bought some chocolate.

When I went back into the building, Glen had a trolley full of stuff that he was taking out of an upstairs cupboard and moving into storage.

He showed us a sports bag full of someone's eraser collection.

I have vague memories of school friends who "collected" stuff like this. I collected cereal box toys for a while, in the mistaken belief that they would accrue some material value. I have the box at my parents' house, I never quite manage to throw it out.

We searched through the bag, picking out erasers shaped like vinyl records, animals, a lip balm. Cultural detritus of the lowest order. 

We found this rubber bust of Van Gogh. He was depicted with one ear, but on the wrong side of his head. (He - or Gaugin, according to the latest theories - cut off his left ear, not his right.) It was nice to think of this tiny piece of kitsch interfering with the reception of a historical narrative.

Glen said that he'd seen Van Gogh doll with a detachable ear.

The label says, 'I'm Van Gogh, my ear comes off!', which presumes the British pronunciation of Van Gogh ('goff', rather than 'goh'), if it's meant to rhyme.

At least it's the correct ear.

Micro-trauma #1: De Beauvoir Crash

On Monday morning I walked up towards Open School from Haggerston station. As I approached our building, which is on the corner of De Beauvoir Road and Downham Road, I realised that police tape was blocking the entrance to the building, and policemen were blocking off De Beauvoir Road.

At first I thought there had been a murder, but then as I passed the police tape, I could see a smashed up car in the middle of the road. I couldn't go through the front doors of the building as they were taped off so I went round to the back entrance.


E. arrived for rehearsals and I told her about what I'd seen and she told me what she had seen and we spoke about it for a bit and then stopped speaking about it. We were rehearsing and writing for this thing we're doing in Wales in November.


At about 3pm we weren't getting anywhere with writing the thing and E. suggested we go for a walk. We came out of the back doors and saw G. and M. the two guys who manage our building in the day. G. told us that the crash had happened late the previous night. The car had been travelling at 50mph in a 30mph zone, hit ten different cars, thrown the passenger through the front window and spun around into the middle of the road. The driver, realising that he had killed his friend, fled from the scene, and threw his jacket down the stairs to our building's basement, which was why the front of the building had been taped off. G. said that the forensics team had taken hours to do their work, much longer than they'd said they would.

We walked around to the front of the building. The policemen were gone, and the police tape had been taken down, with just a few remaining strands fluttering from a lamppost. We walked along De Beauvoir road. Down each side of the road, all the cars that had been hit were lined up nose to tail, very close to each other - wing mirrors hanging off, dents in the side, wheel arches crumpled. A big Turkish guy was talking to a small audience on the pavement, claiming to have seen the whole thing. He said that there had only been the driver, and that the driver had died, but that he hadn't come through the windscreen. A woman said that she'd heard different, but the guy was sure he'd seen it. A thin man complained and pointed at one of the cars that had been hit. It was his car. It didn't look too badly damaged, but I nodded and made appropriate noises. As we made to leave a young white guy with a nice camera turned up on a bike, he looked sheepishly at us and the group we were with. I kept expecting him to ask something, but he didn't and we walked on.

We stopped for a minute to look at the patterns made on the road by the forensics team: yellow chalk ovals surrounding vague skid marks. The ovals all sort of pointed up the road, towards where I'd seen the smashed car that morning. The car was gone now. Everyone and everything was gesturing to something that was no longer there.


Yesterday, while waiting to meet a friend outside school, I saw a roadside memorial to the guy who died in the crash: Anthony "Tony" Clarke. There were flowers and messages on bits of A4 paper in plastic wallets. The messages had that slightly impersonal feel of a public declaration and it was sad to think of his family and friends not knowing what else to do. A violent death.


Today I looked at the news stories written about the crash. It seems like the Turkish guy was right, the police believe Anthony had been driving the car alone. All the news stories were based on the same information from the police. No one had printed any interviews. Only the Hackney Gazette had bothered to get any photos, and the photographer must have arrived after the car had been taken away because the pictures were of nothing.

The Embeddedness of Being Robbed

Yesterday, Maria Lind, Director of the Tensta Konsthall gave a public talk at Open School East.

She spoke about the Konsthall's process of 'becoming an institution'. The Tensta Konsthall is already an institution in a few obvious ways: it's a contemporary art centre in a poor suburb of Stockholm that opened in 1998 and gets most of its funding from the Swedish Government. But Maria spoke about the need to become something more like a 'local player'- an institution more like a school, or a sports centre, or a local restaurant - that is woven into the social fabric of the area and has enough stability to make long term planning possible. She said the three things she wanted for the Konsthall were embeddedness, inhabitation (of the local area) and autonomy.

One part of the talk particularly interested me. Maria was speaking about the Tensta Konsthall's café which opened in 2011, when she took over as director. It provides coffee and food at reasonable prices and to enter the exhibition spaces you have to walk through the café . There is a market on the same square as the Konsthall and many of the market traders get their hot drinks from the café   It gives the Konsthall visibility and presence in an area where it might otherwise seem quite alien.

And then she mentioned that since the café had opened, the Konsthall had been robbed twice, and they'd had several attempted break ins. The way she spoke, it sounded like she was talking about the robberies as part of the same process of becoming a "local player". Like, they started the café and only when people started robbing them did they know that the café was doing its job.

This made total sense to me - if the café was well known enough for people to rob it, then it was doing its job of providing the gallery with local visibility. It was kind of an impressive commitment to the idea of being part of a local community: the idea that to be embedded is to be robbed.

The reason you can rob a café is because it has cash and to enter it you just walk in the door. Imagine a commercial gallery in West London. Opaque windows and a buzzer entry system with a single intern on the front desk. Who has cash there? Probably no one. Maybe just the intern actually, when they get sent for coffee.

To even have a café to be robbed is to define yourself in very different terms to the model of the private, commercial gallery.

I spoke to a friend about it and he said someone he knew in New York spoke about being mugged as a rite of passage. It's crass - being mugged is totally shit and traumatic - but it's true in a way. It's only tourists who "worry" about being mugged in New York. A bit like how in London its hard to find someone who worries about getting burgled. You live in a city, it will happen at some point.

Bad things are necessary, not because they are part of a process, or that experiencing them makes you stronger, but because bad things exist. For bad things not to happen to you, you have repress or ignore a certain section of reality. A public institution should be embedded in reality as much as it should be embedded in the community.

Two things

BELLYFLOP published my review of two Dance Umbrella FRINGE events: Road Postures by Roberta Jean, and the FRINGE Cabaret.

You can read it here.


And, tomorrow - Saturday 12th October - ACKROYD (Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau & Andrew Sunderland) are exhibiting a new installation called MEAT-PARTY, comprising new sound/sculptural/video works at Fly Me Through the Night, a one night show at Pilot in Primrose Hill.

Here is a sneak peek at a new ACKROYD video which will be part of the installation.

Field Broadcast: Asterix & Obelix & a Menhir

Click the link. Download the software.

Tonight at 8pm, I'll be broadcasting a new work called Asterix & Obelix & a Menhir.

The ARKA group: Talks about dreams

On Thursday 12th September, the ARKA group held an evening of talks and discussion about dreams and dreaming as part of our exhibition at Baltic 39, Rapid Eye Movement (Paradoxical Sleep).

Images from the talk are below the soundcloud player.

Low-Probability High-Impact (The Black Swan)

In autumn I will be hosting a dinner event at Rhubaba in Edinburgh. I'm here right now for the festival, and so me and the directors are going to have a meeting tonight and talk about what's going to happen at the dinner event.

I thought I'd try and get it all clear in my head before then.


A while back a friend told me about a traumatic event that happened to him when he was young. He was in the high street of the town where he lived, in the middle of the afternoon, when a man attacked him with a knife and stabbed him in the back 17 times. By chance, none of his internal organs had been damaged by the attack and my friend survived. The attacker was a man with severe mental health problems who had escaped from a secure facility in the midst of a psychotic episode. He handed himself in to a police station later in the afternoon.

My friend went on to speak about some counselling or therapy he had received. As I understood it at the time, the therapist was a specialist in the psychological trauma caused by low-probability, high-impact events such as the random violent attack my friend had experienced. Other such events included being struck by lightning, surviving a plane crash or winning the lottery.

Part of the problem, according to his therapist, is that experiencing such unlikely events skews our already limited understanding of probability. I'd read about the human mind's limitations when it came to probability, for example, the fear of hypothetical terrorist attacks far outweighs the fear of being hit by a car, despite the mathematical probabilities of being affected by either event.

According to the therapist, the stress caused by experiencing such an unlikely event could manifest itself in several ways; you might believe that you were unlucky and that more of these unlikely events could happen to you, or you might believe that you were now invincible because you had survived something that very few people have ever experienced. Both of these ideas are a kind of psychosis - a misunderstanding of the real probability of events, but then our everyday understanding of probability is already psychotic in that sense.

I was fascinated by the idea that such different events as winning the lottery or surviving a plane crash were united by the psychological trauma that they could cause. And I was particularly fascinated by the interplay of abstract and empirical understanding. Experiencing a low-probability event gave the human mind an empirical insight into a reality where such things were possible, and yet the mind did not have the capacity to successfully abstract that knowledge into a rational understanding of probability.


When Rhubaba asked me to host a dinner event, I decided that I'd ask my friend to attend, along with some other people who had experienced low-probability, high-impact events. I would also ask a psychologist, or maybe a specialist counsellor of the sort my friend had spoken about, and maybe a mathematician who could speak about probability.

I spoke to my friend again, and it turned out that I'd got some of the details a bit wrong: the counselling wasn't specific to the kind of low-probability event that he had experienced, and the anxiety could be described as a form of Post Traumatic Stress which can be caused by many different kinds of events, not just unlikely ones. Also, my friend couldn't remember the term used by a psychiatrist to describe low probability events. The term I have been using - "low-probability high-impact" - is a bit unwieldy, so I'm trying to find something better.

Sian, one of Rhubaba's directors, suggested the term "Black Swan", taken from the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

A Black Swan event, according the wikipedia page, can be identified in three ways:

"1. The event is a surprise [...].
2. The event has a major effect.
3. [The event] is rationalized by hindsight [...]"

Taleb's writing is more concerned with economics and history - large scale, unpredictable events like the recent global recession, or the fall of Communism. Things that define the way the world is now, but that we could never have predicted. We rationalise them in retrospect - claiming them to be articulable in terms of cause and effect, but Taleb believes that their essence is in their unpredictability.

Although he is writing about things of a very different scale, the events I have been thinking about are similar in quality, and the post-rationalisation process is linked to the Post Traumatic Stress response. The inability of the human mind to adequately comprehend low-probability events causes a pathological rationalisation of the experience of such events.


So, although we have lots of work to do, maybe we have a title for the event. The Black Swan Dinner.

Stewart Lee on Writing

I'm in Edinburgh, watching a load of shows. More performance than I've ever seen in such a short amount of time.

It's making me think about how I'm going to write my performance (in collaboration with Eleanor Sikorski) for Experimentica13.

What I've noticed in the stuff I've seen is that the presentation of a show can often sublimate the content it is attempting to present.

Sometimes a lack of content is masked with complex presentation. And, a few times, great content is ruined by its presentation.


The above lecture by Stewart Lee on writing is great, just generally, but this section

is particularly good on the importance of good writing, presented simply and directly.

It's reminded me that I'm not one for staging, and also, it's reminded me that Stewart Lee's laugh is brilliant.

Implausible Imposters Installation Shots

All images by Anna Arca, courtesy of Ceri Hand Gallery

Object with Hair #1 (with bag) and Object with Hair #3 (balanced), home made play doh, found synthetic hair, plastic bag, spray adhesive, wood and gaffa tape, ~150cm x 50cm x 40cm, 2013

Object with Hair #2 (hanging), home made play doh, synthetic hair, food colouring, glue, wood, string, tape, nails, ~150cm x 50cm x 40cm, 2013

Object with Hair #4 (on plinth), home made play doh, human hair, wood, synthetic hair, cardboard, paint, nails, ~150cm x 50cm x 40cm, 2013

Three Drawings from An Infinitely Ongoing Series Cataloguing Every Object, Both Real and Imaginary, in the Entire Universe, all pen on paper, oak frame, 39.7cm x 31cm framed, 2013

Wholegrain Object

 Lars von Trier Object

Magnets Object