A Christmas Message

A Christmas message from the artist Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau (played by Daniel Oliver).

I can't stop watching

Digital video, 2016

Force Feeding and Taste - Part Three

In my last two posts I wrote about force feeding as a procedure that literally and metaphorically bypasses taste, and looked at a video of Yasiin Bey (formerly known as the rapper Mos Def) undergoing the procedure, in order to try and understand what it means to represent force feeding.

In this post I'll be talking about the technology involved in force feeding, and describing force feeding as a technologically mediated reality.

I'm using the term mediated reality with explicit reference to the Silicon Valley led idea of mediated reality as reducible to digitally augmented reality.
  Digitally augmented reality is the dominant commercial form of mediated reality, in which digital objects are overlaid onto a user's experience of the real world. Think Pokemon Go or Google Glass. But while these high profile products are worth thinking about, the attention they are given diverts us from other important forms of technologically mediated reality that exist outside of the world of tech start ups and Wired magazine.

Contemporary technology is not just digital, and mediated reality is not just augmented.

Through an examination of the technology used in force feeding, I'll lay out the possibility of negative form of mediated reality - subtractive reality. If augmented reality is a domain in which a subject’s perception of the real is overlaid with virtual sensory data, then subtractive reality is a domain in which a subject undergoes the imposition of a single technological reality onto their virtual realm of possibilities.


There are two kinds of technology used in force feeding: mechanical technology and nutritional technology.

Mechanical Technology
(Nasogastric) Feeding Tube

In the Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst's account of her force feeding from 1913, she describes the doctors 'trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat'. These days, with modern plastics allowing the creation of thinner tubes, the nose is the preferred cavity through which to administer food. In a medical setting this is for comfort, and in a prison setting such as Guantanamo Bay it reduces the ability of a hunger striker to force the tube out through coughing or gagging.

At first, Guantanamo doctors were using thick 4.8mm tubes 'to allow quicker feeding, so permitting guards to keep prisoners in their cells for more hours each day'.
  Moath al-Alwi, in US custody since 2002 and one of Guantanamo’s first prisoners wrote, 'they push a thick tube down my nose until I bleed, after which I vomit'. In 2005, there were reports that 'wardens would strap detainees to a feeding chair and violently insert feeding tubes as a form of punishment.'
  Perhaps in response to the international outcry caused by these reports, the US military eventually swapped the 4.8mm tubes for 'soft and flexible' 3mm tubes. That's almost a 40% reduction in size, so presumably the 4.8mm tubes were neither soft nor flexible.

As I wrote previously, when someone is force fed by the gavage technique in which the feeding tube goes right down to the stomach, food is administered without engaging the sense of taste. The feeding tube - and particularly the nasogastric tube used in Guantanamo Bay - creates a unique, mediated way of administering nutrition.
  The reality of the force fed subject is a mediated reality, but it is a subtractive reality, where experience is diminished by the use of technology.
  The sensual experience of eating food is complex. We taste and smell what we eat, and we sense its texture - taken together these constitute the 'mouthfeel' of the food.
  This mouthfeel is removed in force feeding and is replaced by a different sensation: a plastic tube (lubricated with a numbing agent called Lidocaine, or, until doctors pointed out that it could cause pneumonia, olive oil) moving down their nasal passage and oesophagus. You can imagine that the liquid meal replacement drink can be felt moving down the tube - a change in temperature maybe, a pulsing motion as the liquid glugs down. And as described by various prisoners, if the tube is inserted roughly, the prisoner may feel the heat of blood from their nose, and perhaps the taste of blood in their mouth. And, if they vomit while the tube is being inserted, then they will taste and smell the vomit.

Five Point Restraint Chair

The five point restraint chair, as its name suggests, holds a prisoner securely at five points across their body. The restraint chair was introduced at Guantanamo in 20015. Until then, hunger strikers had been sedated before they were force fed.
  From what I can work out, it seems that the chair was introduced to allow for the prisoner to be conscious during feeding, but importantly, it also restrains hunger strikers after the feeding to ensure that they can't vomit up the food by sticking their fingers down their throat.

This image of the chair shows it fitted with a foam head brace. This removes the need for any human restraint whilst the hunger striker is being fed - though I think the head would still have to be held by a warden or doctor while the tube was inserted in the nose.

The five point restraint chair is used in prisons across America, though it seems it's only in Guantanamo Bay where it used for force feeding. To prison guards it's known as the 'be nice chair' or the 'we care chair'. For prisoners it has been called 'the devil's chair' and 'the slave's chair'. In Guantanamo, its Arabic name translates as 'the torture chair'.

Nutritional Technology
Meal Replacement Liquids

Nutritionally balanced replacements for food were a 20th century fascination. Before then, most cultures used preserved foods - cured meat or dried fruit for example - as 'replacements' for foods that could not be eaten fresh because of the changes in seasons. 
  After the 20th discovery of vitamins, the possibility of replacing food with its constituent chemical parts became imaginable, if not possible. The techno-futurist vision of meal replacement pills was a popular sci-fi trope in the 1920s and 30s. With the space race in the 1960s, meal replacement became a real problem to be solved - and what we know now as energy bars are the direct descendants of 'space food sticks'. Liquid nutritional supplements were developed for hospital patients who couldn't eat solid food, but in the 80s and 90s they also began to be marketed at people looking to lose weight, or build muscle. Think Slim Fast or protein shakes. 

(It's interesting to note that the meal replacement industry has had a shot in the arm from its 'techification' by start up companies like Soylent and Huel, both companies described as 'food tech start ups'. Clearly, the idea to replace meals with a nutritionally balanced substitute is not new, but looking at the history of meal replacement, it seems to me that even the idea to market them for non-medical use is an old one. At best, you could say Soylent and Huel are branding and distribution companies targeting a youth market brought up on the idea that everything is somehow related to digital technology.)

Guantanamo Bay uses a variety of meal replacement products made by the company Abbott Laboratories, a 'worldwide American healthcare company'.  Of Abbott's meal replacement products, Guantanamo feeds its hunger striking prisoners Ensure 'Meal Replacement Shakes', Jevity 'Complete, Balanced Nutrition® With Fiber', and Pulmocare 'Therapeutic Nutrition for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease'.

The particular qualities of these different products are important, and in future research I'll go into that, but they are similar enough so that I can use Ensure as the example. 
  Ensure Milk Chocolate Flavour is described as including:

'9 grams of protein
26 essential vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants
220 nutritious calories'

The bulk of the ingredients in the drinks are:

'Water, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar, Milk Protein Concentrate, Canola Oil, Soy Protein Isolate, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkali), Corn Oil concentrate'

Below 0.5% you have a large number of other flavourings and the vitamins. I'm not necessarily interested in the nutritional value of the Ensure drinks, although it does bring to mind Sidney Mintz's writing on sugar and how it went from a luxury product to a main source of calories for Europe and America. For this piece of writing, the ingredients list serves to show that the drinks are not food and they are not meant to be understood as food. Rather, they are meant to be understood as a technology, a scientific fact you can drink. The experience of consuming a bottle of Ensure, even willingly, is very different from the experience of eating food.
  The entire point of the technology is nutrition without food. When the Suffragettes were on hunger strike, they were force fed a cooled, blended mixture of boiled cabbage and water. Alongside the fact that the Suffragettes were fed through rubber tubes pushed down their throats, while being held down by nurses and doctors, you begin to get an idea of the very particular experiences of force feeding created by the technologies available at the time.
 Meal replacement drinks are presented by their makers as a 'neutral' form of nutrition (particularly the Jevity brand which is flavourless, or more correctly, it has no added flavour). With their medicinal packaging, they play an illustrative role for the US government when it describes its force feeding as lifesaving medical care or treating malnutrition in prisoners.
  But nothing is really flavourless, and even though the flavoured or unflavoured liquid travels down to the stomach in a tube, bypassing the organs of taste and removing the mouthfeel normally associated with food. I still wonder about the flavour of the materials in the prisoner's stomach. Already nauseous from the Ludocaine and from the tube pushed down their nose, I imagine them back in their cell, burping up the flavours of the liquid - the synthetic vanilla of the Ensure, or the textural oilyness of the unflavoured Jevity. This is a form of trauma - the repetition of an original experience that bypassed the body's normal processing. 
  By replacing solid food with a limited range of meal replacement liquids, the force feeding procedure bypasses the metaphorical idea of taste as an expression of preference. Like the five point restraint chair, using certain food replacement products limits the possible decisions that the prisoner can make for themselves. The range of possible experience (the virtual realm) is limited to a singular reality decided by the prison. Perhaps the prisoner can express a preference for Jevity over Ensure, or maybe even a particular flavour of Ensure - but the decision will not be based on the taste of that particular flavour as it is consumed, but on what it feels like to taste the burps they do when they're sitting red eyed and nauseous in their cell a few hours later.

In a future post I'll describe the ideological infrastructures that, alongside these technologies, shape force feeding as a contemporary practice, and how they impact on the procedure as a form of subtractive mediated reality.

Force Feeding and Taste - Part Two

In my last blog I explored the idea of force feeding as an procedure that bypasses taste, both literally and metaphorically.

Today I'm going to write about a contemporary representation of force feeding and its relationship to taste.

In this video, made by the Guardian in 2013, Yasiin Bey, formerly known as the rapper Mos Def, is filmed as he undergoes force feeding under standard Guantanamo Bay procedure.

This video was made in conjunction with, and in support of, the work of Reprieve, a group of human rights lawyers who, as their website states, 'provide free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people'. This includes Guantanamo Bay prisoners facing human rights abuses and torture practices such as force feeding.

The aim, as stated on the Guardian's article about the video, is to 'draw attention to that fact that this is happening daily to 45 hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay'. With over seven million views, the video has certainly drawn attention to itself and the issue of force feeding. But, apart from the stated aim of the makers, what might it mean to represent force feeding in this way? And what does it mean to watch it?

One immediate response that comes to mind is that this video is not a representation of force feeding, or rather, calling it a representation of force feeding is slightly misleading. In the video Bey really does undergo force feeding and experiences the physical pain of the feeding tube being forced down his nose.

But there are crucial differences to the force feeding as represented in the video compared to the force feeding experienced by Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

-Bey's force feeding takes place in a London studio with a white backdrop. There is a lighting rig in the studio and, from what I can work out from the editing, at least two cameras filming.
-Before the force feeding begins, Bey stands in the studio, states his name to camera, and explains what he is about to undergo. He then reappears in an orange jumpsuit, and is put in shackles before he sits on the chair.

-The chair itself is quite different from the standard Guantanamo force feeding chairs depicted in a number of photographs used in newspaper articles. The one in the video looks more like an old dentist's chair.
-From the video and the article, I can work out that there must be at least six other people in the room apart from Bey: at least two doctors to carry out the procedure, David Morrissey - a patron of Reprieve, the Guardian journalist Ben Ferguson and two cameramen.
-Halfway through the procedure, Bey 'free[s] one arm and writhe[s] so hard the tubes fall out' and, as the doctors are bracing themselves for a second attempt, Bey stops them by saying, "I can't do it, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." The doctors do stop, and as Bey weeps, David Morrissey rubs his back and says "It's OK, it's over now."
-After recovering his composure, Bey addresses the camera once again and states his name and what has just happened.
-From the article, it is clear that the group talk for a while before Bey puts his own clothes back on and is driven back to his hotel.

For the most part, the differences between Bey's force feeding experience and the experience of hunger strikers in Guantanamo Bay are not about the 'reality' of the procedure, Bey really is force fed - although, there is no doubt that a marked difference is that the procedure is stopped halfway through.
  I would suggest that the big differences are aesthetic - the way the video looks is not the way that force feeding in Guantanamo looks (or would look, if the U.S. government allowed the public release of 32 videos of force feeding in Guantanamo).

These aesthetic decisions on the part of the filmmaker (Asif Kapadia, whose recent work includes 'Amy' and the Oasis documentary 'Supersonic') place the video within certain cultural frameworks of taste.
  The white walls of the studio are meant to evoke 'objectivity', and though this technique has been critiqued for many years, it is still meant to imply an attempt to strip away ornament and present facts. Just imagine if Bey's force feeding had taken place in a themepark 'torture chamber' version of Guantanamo.

The above image is from the London Dungeon, but you get the idea... The video would have been seen as supremely distasteful by the target audience of Guardian readers - middle class, white liberals used to seeing themselves as individuals who make decisions based on facts (no offence, I read the Guardian just like you do/pretend not to). They (we) dislike the idea of spectacle or theatricality when applied to the presentation of evidence in support of a point of view.
  However, Bey is still dressed in the Guantanamo orange jumpsuit, complete with shackles. This decision may well be more about the look of the video than any kind of implied ethics - the orange jumpsuit is iconic, and, just like avocado on Instagram, the colour is so striking on camera (particularly on a white background) that even if it might seem crass, it probably contributed to the video's viral success on social media.
  The shackles are striking for a similar reason. The accounts of force feeding at Guantanamo that I have read don't mention the specifics of how they are restrained, but the images of the force feeding chairs show that they have fabric restraints built into their arms and footrests. From other images we also know that Guantanamo prisoners have their wrists bound with plastic restraints - more like cable ties than metal chains.

My aim is not to designate the video as tasteful or distasteful, or to claim that it fails as a tool for activism because of certain aesthetic decisions, but rather to use this reading of the video to show how, as a representation, it is within the bounds of discussions of taste, i.e. it can, and has been, understood as tasteful or distasteful in a way that force feeding as a procedure that takes place in Guantanamo is not.
  Because of this, discussions inspired by this video tend to focus on the cultural meaning of this video as a piece of political activism and whether or not it was a worthwhile act on the parts of the filmmaker and Yasiin Bay. The discussion stimulated by the video remains tied to the video - stuck on the representation of force feeding, rather than the raw brutality of force feeding as a procedure.

Force Feeding and Taste - Part One

Force feeding is the act of feeding someone against their will. 'Gavage' is the process of force feeding in which a tube is pushed down the nose or throat until it reaches the stomach before liquid food is passed through it.

Food has a literal and metaphorical relationship to taste. Or, more precisely, the taste of food is where we get the metaphorical meaning of the word taste.
  As one of the five bodily senses, taste is the process through which a substance in the mouth reacts with the body and produces the sensation of flavour.
  As a metaphor, the word taste refers to culturally defined patterns of choice and preference.

In societies where most people eat food that they have bought and not grown, the act of eating almost always involves the two meanings of the word taste. Eating involves tasting the food that you eat, and eating involves having chosen that food to eat in relation to culturally defined patterns.

In force feeding, both kinds of taste are bypassed.
  The organs relating to the sense of taste are bypassed by force feeding; the most common method of gavage is through the nose. The feeding tube does not pass through the mouth or over the tongue. There is no an oral sensation which can be compared to taste for the force fed subject.
  The choice or display of preference that gives taste its cultural or sociological meaning is also bypassed by force feeding. The food that is forcibly fed has been pre-selected according to the operating procedure of the institution that is carrying out the force feeding.
  For the suffragettes this meant they were fed a 'cabbage like mixture', for Guantanamo Bay prisoners, it means they are fed Ensure, a 'liquid nutritional supplement and meal replacement' made by Abbott Laboratories, a worldwide American health care company that operates in over 150 countries.

In the standard operating procedure for 'involuntary feeding' or 're-feeding' of Guantanamo Bay prisoners on hunger strike, Ensure is mentioned early on - before the document gets to force feeding - as an alternative to solid food to be offered to prisoners in the early days of a hunger strike. If a prisoner is also refusing liquids, they are offered Gatorade.

Hunger striking is itself a refusal of taste. By refusing to eat, the hunger striker cuts off the possibility of tasting food. It can also be seen as a refusal of the cultural meaning of taste; the hunger striker refuses to choose any kind of food to eat, they refuse to express a preference.

Of course, you could also read the refusal of food as a choice made by the hunger striker, and therefore within the realm of preference and choice, and readable as an expression of taste.

For the institutions that practice it, force feeding is described as a necessity not a choice. In particular, it is described as a necessity brought about by the choice of the hunger striker. Of course for the hunger striker, the refusal of food may also be seen as a necessity - a necessary protest brought about by the actions of the institution. For the hunger striker, it is the force feeding that is unnecessary; a brutal choice made by the institution.
  Since 1975, the World Medical Association has been in agreement with the prisoners. Doctors are prohibited from carrying out force feeding by the Declaration of Tokyo. According to the UN, force feeding can be described as a form of torture, which doctors are also prohibited from carrying out. So although the institutions that practice force feeding may describe it as necessary, the doctors who carry out such procedures must, much like the hunger strikers, exercise a choice that is beyond the comprehension of most individuals. And like the hunger strikers, no doubt they feel that it is not a choice.
  Within such a system, the doctors and the hunger strikers express very different preferences - the hunger striker prefers not to eat, and the doctor prefers that they do. But on a quantitative level, their choices are comparable. They are both extreme choices: hard to make and with a huge impact on the body (of the hunger striker). They are both choices that put the hunger striker and the doctor carrying out force feeding into an uncomfortable position - although for the hunger striker this discomfort (and extreme pain) is physical as well as psychological.

Whatever your views on force feeding, there is no doubt that it is a distasteful subject - in the sense of being unpleasant to discuss. In this way, the US Government's legal battle to stop the release of 'disturbing' video documentation of their Guantanamo force feeding procedure could be understood as an extreme form of politeness - an attempt to avoid a conversation that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

You Are Worthless

You are worthless.
You are a piece of shit.
You are a worthless piece of shit.
You suck life and energy from everyone and everything around you.
You are a black hole.
You are a shitty black hole.
You are a black hole that smells of shit.
You are a black hole that smells of shit so strongly that the shit smell manages to escape your infinite black hole gravity and wafts around the universe, alerting all the other galactical objects and events to your shitty black hole presence.
You are a void, a nothing, a shit smelling nothing whose presence is an absence, a minus, a removal, a weight, a load, something to bear, something to grimace through, something to endure.
You are an endurance, your smell we endure, your sucky, needy, absent presence we endure, your eternal, pathetic infinite dense darkness we endure.
You are a shitty black hole that smells of shit and forces us to smell your shitty black hole shit smell by continuing to absently exist.
You are a shitty black hole that sucks everything into you, a needy, greedy point of infinite density.
Your density is metaphorically valid in a  number of ways, you are dense like a black hole i.e. in that you suck energy and light and life towards you in a way that is frighteningly sad for everyone around you, but also you’re dense on a human scale, i.e. like an idiot is dense.
Therefore you are doubly dense - intergalactically dense and also humanly, stupidly, idiotically, dense.
You are a stupid idiot.
You are a shitty dense stupid idiot.
You are a stupid idiot and a worthless piece of shit and a black hole.
You are a stupid idiot worthless piece of shit, shit smelling black hole and I wish you all the best in your new job.

Avocado #1

Digital drawing, 2016


Gifs and HD video installation, 2016

Performed by Daniel Oliver, camera by Tim Bowditch.

Gettin' the Heart Ready

I'm exhibiting as part of 'Gettin' the Heart Ready' at The Royal Standard in July.

Gettin’ the Heart Ready is a group exhibition celebrating The Royal Standard’s coming of age. The 23 artist-strong retrospective will showcase artists that have been collaboratively nominated by our directors past and present, in recognition of their previous work for The Royal Standard and their career as a practitioner.

Opening night 29 July 6–9pm
30 July — 11 September 2016

The Bad Vibes Club in Art Licks Magazine

The Bad Vibes Club provide the reading list for issue 19 of Art Licks magazine. With suggestions from me, Tessa Norton and Debra Shaw. You can buy it on their website.

Interview with Doggerland

Doggerland have published an interview with me in their latest magazine. Me and Tom Prater had a good chat and the interview covers The Bad Vibes Club, the ARKA group and my solo work.


just testing something for the interruptions app. if u want to be notified on when u can download it then email field@fieldbroadcast.org and tell them u want to be on their mailing list

Holding Room #1

Digital drawing, 2016

Tropes from Pre-Renaissance Painting - Image Dump

Big baby Jesus

Sheer fabrics

People serenely watching killings

Parallel projection

Horse anuses

De Chirico landscapes (anachronistic interpretation)

Man of Sorrows (sad Jesus)

Guy in a big cup

Parallel projection (also, clean urban spaces - walls etc.)

Jesus with a flag

Scaling issues, particularly with people (normally hierarchical based on importance to narrative)

Big ol baby.

Symbolic props.

Narrative space > 3D space

Weird animals.

Installation pics from Pangaea Sculptors' Centre

Abs are made in the kitchenscaffold, food stuffs, printed lycra, modifed found and bought materials, 2015

Eat Clean, scaffold, food stuffs, printed lycra, modified found and bought materials, 2015

Yoga Everywhere, scaffold, food stuffs, printed lycra, modified found and bought materials, 2015