Sculptures at Kingsgate Project Space

Relic, Cheetos, salt dough, hair, presentation box, 2013

Beak, clay, coconut, screws, foam wrap, bonbons, Haribo Strawbs, 2017

Upright, clay, bottle, wood, fabric, pins, foam teeth, bonbons, cable ties, 2017

Little Guy #3, tarmac, spandex, clay, wood, balloon, bonbons, 2017

Brain, clay, paint, plastic leaves, wood, salt dough, Chamallows, chewing gum, 2017

Bump, Expanding foam, wood, Chamallows, horn, foam ball, bonbons, 2017

Chode, salt dough, hair, ashtray, 2017

Little Guy #4, plastic, foam, jellybeans, pins, 2017

Cake, rice flour, salt dough, hair, marble, 2017

Ball, salt dough, hair, wood, 2017

Little Guy #1, liquorice all sorts, foam ball, pin, scaffold, masking tape, 2017

Little Guy #2, rice flour salt dough, foam, mint imperials, pins, 2017

Shoe, trainer, Chamallows, apple chews, rice paper wraps, foil blanket, 2015

Rubble, rice flour salt dough, hair, plastic petals, 2017


A performance with colours, video and sampled sound about Grenfell Tower, resentment and cruelty.

Originally given as a performance at ICA London and CCA Derry-Londonderry as part of The Bad Vibes Club's 'Feeling Bad' events in summer 2017 where Hamish McPherson, Sophie Mallett and Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau ran workshops and presented performances that looked at the power of negative emotions in political discourse and our everyday lives.

I use ideas and words from Jean Franco's book Cruel Modernity, Achille Mbembe's essay Necropolitics and Marina Warner's essay Back from the Underworld: The Liveliness of the Dead.

An audio version of the performance an be downloaded from The Bad Vibes Club podcast feed.

Force Feeding and Taste - Part Five

See the other force feeding posts here, here, here and here.

This post explores the relationship between force feeding and breathing and was originally given as a lecture as part of the Curatorial Knowledge programme at Goldsmiths in October 2017. I was invited to speak by Irit Rogoff. The theme for the year was breathing and particularly the metaphorical phrase, 'I can't breathe'.

In force feeding, a tube is pushed through the nose or mouth, down the throat and into the stomach. Some hunger strikers have died as a result of being force fed - sometimes from a violent struggle, and sometimes from the tube being forced down the windpipe and making its way into the lung rather than the stomach - if food is passed into the lungs the force fed person literally drowns. Many, if not all those who have been forced fed experience pain and discomfort including gagging, choking, vomiting, and bleeding from the nose or throat.

Today I'm going to look at some descriptions of force feeding and think about the bodily experiences of the force fed in relation to breathing.

The Suffragettes

The force feeding of the Suffragettes is well documented, not least by the Suffragettes themselves. Here is Sylvia Pankhurst's description of the experience,

'I felt a man's hands trying to force my mouth open. I set my teeth and tightened my lips over them with all my strength. My breath was coming so quickly that I felt as if I should suffocate. I felt his fingers trying to press my lips apart,—getting inside,—and I felt them and a steel gag running around my gums and feeling for gaps in my teeth. 

Then I felt a steel instrument pressing against my gums, cutting into the flesh, forcing its way in. Then it gradually prised my jaws apart as they turned a screw. It felt like having my teeth drawn; but I resisted. I held my poor bleeding gums down on the steel with all my strength. Soon they were trying to force the india-rubber tube down my throat. 

I was struggling wildly, trying to tighten the muscles and to keep my throat closed up. They got the tube down, I suppose, though I was unconscious of anything but a mad revolt of struggling, for at last I heard them say, "That's all"; and I vomited as the tube came up.'

Lilian Lenton wrote,

'They wriggled a rubber tube up your nose and poured liquid through a funnel into your stomach. I always shut my eyes during these things. But I started coughing and coughing to bring up the liquid they poured in. I suddenly experienced intolerable and intense pain. I was later told that I had pleurisy. I wrote home: “Doing well. Pleurisy. But doing well!”'

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lining of the lung. It's likely that the tube went down the trachea and damaged the lung, though the doctors can't have put food into the lung as this would have resulted in Lenton's death.

Constance Lytton wrote,

'I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth. The doctor offered me the choice of a wooden or steel gag; he explained that the steel gag would hurt and the wooden one would not. But I did not speak nor open my mouth, so after playing about for a moment or two with the wooden one he finally had recourse to the steel. The pain of it was intense; he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they could go naturally. Then he put down my throat a tube, which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet long. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had gone down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back my head and the doctor leant on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe. I had been sick over my hair, all over the wall near my bed, and my clothes seemed saturated with vomit.'

These three descriptions of force feeding all involve moments of not breathing: suffocation, vomiting, pleurisy, gagging and choking.
  For today, lets put aside the terrible violence of these real moments of not breathing. I'd like to stay on the surface of the text of those descriptions, and understand them through the metaphor invoked by the theme of this programme: 'I can't breathe'.
  I'd like to examine the relationship between that metaphor, and the metaphor of force feeding.

First off let's examine each metaphor.

'I can't breathe'

A bodily metaphor stemming from the somatic experience of shortness of breath, a stifling atmosphere and the need to leave a space to 'get some air'. A pressured situation in which others are too close to you, monitoring you, breathing your air. A lack of freedom, an inability to move freely, or to move at all. It could be related to anticipation, to 'holding your breath'. It implies unbreathable air: air that is hot and stuffy, stale, toxic, dangerous and even deadly. If you can't breathe you eventually die, and on the specific level of the body, you can't maintain normal functioning of the vital organs. If the brain is deprived of oxygen it can be permanently damaged. To not be able to breathe is to not be able to do anything because you are not being given the air you require.

Being 'force fed'

A bodily metaphor coming from the act of food being forced down a person's throat against their will. The metaphor could be used both passively and actively - 'I'm being force fed all this information' or 'I feel like I'm force feeding them'. Either one seems most likely to come up in a training or educational context in which a lot of information is given over without much discussion or feedback from the group receiving it. There is a quantitive element to the metaphor: there is a lot of information (and perhaps this relates more to gavage, the force feeding procedure used to fatten geese's livers for foie gras, than it does to breaking a hunger strike). There is also a qualitative element to the metaphor: the information is ideologically tinged, or propaganda, or just not that well explained, but there's no opportunity for discussion and the process is absolutely one way. The process is violent - 'rammed down my throat' -  and it is performed against your will (even in the active metaphor, it is as though there is no other way to do things). There is no chance to 'digest' what you have been 'force fed', the information is likely to be homogenous and have little textural detail. Essentially, in this metaphor, if you were offered the 'food' you would not 'eat it', the organisation - the company, the university, the institution, the school - knows that the information is somehow 'unpalatable', or even just 'flavourless', and therefore delivers it via the act of force feeding rather than risk its refusal.

It seems to me that these metaphors are related in many ways. They both bring the body into situations traditionally accounted for through sociological or psychological ways of thinking. They both imply an atmosphere in which individual freedom is restricted, and there is no possibility for open discussion. They both imply a knowing authority that is aware that it is imposing itself, applying pressure. They both convey problems that can only be remedied by complete refusal: by leaving the space in which you can't breathe or are being force fed. But they also imply that there is no real solution to the problem - only temporary respite.

In the Suffragettes' descriptions of their experiences, not-breathing is a horrible result of force feeding. As I mentioned in my last blog, the painful effects of force feeding can either be understood as a side effect of force feeding as a medical intervention, or the main aim of force feeding as a punishment or act of torture. Either way, the not-breathing (the gagging, choking, vomiting, etc.) stems from the body's reflexive response to a brutal, invasive procedure.
  What about our metaphorical parallels? Is not-breathing always an effect of force feeding? Or does force feeding always lead to not-breathing? Once you recognise that you are being force fed, will you necessarily enter a state of not-breathing or can you make a change that gets you some air and allows you the chance to breathe?

Criticality and qualitative experiencing

My interest in force feeding is to do with the particularities of force feeding experiences: what materials are involved, what technologies make it possible, what legal and political infrastructures have to be navigated for force feeding to be sanctioned, and what happens to individual human bodies when they are force fed. I think force feeding is wrong, but as an artist I'm interested in an expanded aesthetics of force feeding, rather than making a judgement on it and walking away.

As metaphors, both 'I can't breathe' and 'I'm being force fed' do a lot of work, but I think they are best thought of as the beginning of an investigation into the particular qualities of a situation.
  If we find ourselves thinking 'I can't breathe' or 'I'm being force fed', then at once we think about shutting down, refusing, leaving the room, the job or the institution. But as I mentioned this only brings temporary respite: either because you have to go back to the toxic atmosphere and continue your work, or because even if you leave one job, in our current system, in the next one you are likely to experience a similar situation.
  What is required in these situations is an attempt to notice, describe and understand the particular qualities of the experience. If the thought 'I can't breathe' or 'I'm being force fed' is the end of the experience then we are in trouble, but if it is the beginning of the experience then we might have somewhere to go and some textural detail to add to what could otherwise be simply a painful experience.
  I'm going to Irit Rogoff. This from an essay called 'Exhausted Geographies and I think it's a good way to end my talk about force feeding and maybe begin a discussion about how to investigate the situations in which we feel like we can't breathe or we are being force fed.

'In this state we move beyond criticism; of regimes and players and intentions and from critique; of the underlying political and ideological structures that have captured and seized the conflict and continue to hold it ransom to their logics, and towards criticality - a condition in which we both see through the conditions of our lives while continuing to live out their difficulties.
  Criticality is at once an ability to see through the structures that we are living in and to analyse them in a theoretically informed way, while at the same time to recognise that for all of one’s critical apparatus, one is nevertheless living out those very conditions. [...] It is a conscious duality of both living out something while being able to see through it, and it requires another mode of articulation, one that cannot smugly stand outside the problems'

Force Feeding and Taste: Part Four

In my previous writing on force feeding, I have examined force feeding's relationship to taste, analysed a video of force feeding made by the Guardian newspaper and described the mechanical and nutritional technologies that make force feeding possible.

In this post I'm going to look at some of the legal and societal infrastructures that have shaped the conjoined practices of hunger striking and force feeding.

Historic Periods

From my research, it seems that the long history of abstaining from food as protest can be split into two periods:

1. Pre-judicial period
In ancient and pre-modern societies without state supported legal systems, there are examples of fasting being used as a way to protest injustice or recover debts. The practice was a public display of your hunger - you went to the home of the person who had wronged you or owed you, and fasted on their doorstep.

2. Post-mass media
Hunger strikes in modern states all took place after the advent of mass media, when newsworthy events could be conveyed to national populations and around the world: Suffragettes, Indian nationalists, Irish Republicans, Turkish political prisoners, and more recently, in an even more connected media environment, Palestinian political prisoners in Israel and prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.

I'm sure there are many examples of force feeding in between these two periods, but it seems to me that the gap between these periods can tell us something about refusing food as protest.
  In both periods, the refusal of food and the possibility of starvation is meant to arouse shame - shame from the person or organisation being petitioned, and communal shaming from those in the who witness the process.
  In the first period, the action was undertaken on a small scale, involving people who were part of the same community. The arrival of properly enforced systems of law eliminated the necessity for this kind of activity - the power to recover debts and correct injustices was passed over to the courts and there was no longer any need to starve yourself on the doorstep of a debtor.
  In the second period - from the advent of mass media until now - hunger strikes don't petition an individual person, rather they are a way of making injustices within the prison system visible to large populations via mass media. Modern hunger strikes rely on states that have a duty of care to their prisoners, and news media that can report on hunger strikes to the population of those states.
  The effectiveness of a hunger strike is proportional to the percentage of the population who are outraged or angered by witnessing the hunger strike via the news, and turn to processes of politics, law or protest in order to restore what they see as justice on behalf of the hunger strikers.
  In between these periods fasting was not an effective protest because legal systems had superseded inter-personal shaming tactics as ways of recovering debts or righting wrongs. But at the same time, prison systems had minimal duties of care to their prisoners, and there was no mass news media that would report any protest against prison conditions, to a public willing to shame their government into improving them.

Force Feeding as a State Response to Hunger Strikes

From the advent of mass media up to and including the present day, state responses to hunger strikes have varied, but have often involved attempts at force feeding. States turn to force feeding to achieve two related outcomes:

1. To neutralise the impact of the hunger strike on the bodies of the hunger strikers - in other words to stop the hunger strikers from dying.
2. To break the strike and suppress protest by showing the hunger strikers and any potential strikers that they are willing to respond to the strike with an act of aggression. Force feeding, as discussed in previous posts, is an unpleasant and uncomfortable process, and if performed in certain ways, very painful for the person being fed. It makes the strike meaningless by feeding the prisoners against their will, and it is also a punishment and a deterrent.

The second outcome is the political outcome desired by the state, but the first outcome is often played up for the legal arguments that support force feeding.

Legal and Medical Attitudes to Force Feeding

Since 1975 the World Medical Association has had a prohibition on doctors carrying out force feeding on hunger strikers or anyone whose decision to refuse food is made with 'unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment'.

In a more recent declaration, the WMA has explictly condemed force feeding. It's worth quoting this paragraph in full (my underlines):

'All kinds of interventions for enteral or parenteral feeding against the will of the mentally competent hunger striker are “to be considered as “forced feeding”. Forced feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting.'

The UN Human Rights Commission regards force-feeding as a form of torture and it has made statements to particular countries condemning their use of force feeding and asking them to stop, most recently the U.S in regards to force feeding at Guantanamo and Israel in regards to its political prisoners.

Article 3 of the Geneva Convention doesn't mention force feeding by name, but prohibits the 'humiliating and degrading treatment' of prisoners. This is the usual legal argument against force feeding and from all the descriptions of force feeding I have read, it is an accurate summary of the experience.

However, when individual courts actually make judgements on whether or not force feeding can be used in specific cases they often come down on the other side, or at least, they maintain a confusing ambiguity around force feeding.

The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled on multiple cases of force feeding. Although it is bound by the Geneva Convention's prohibition of the use of torture, it has found that, in contradiction to the UNHRC and the WMA that,

'Established principles of medicine cannot in principle be regarded as inhuman and degrading. The same can be said about force-feeding that is aimed at saving the life of a particular detainee who consciously refuses to take food.'

The judgement here is about the intention of the force feeding: if it is aimed at saving the life of a detainee, then it is legal. If the intention is anything other then that, then (it implies) it is torture. Here you see the twisting and turning required by states if they want to force feed hunger strikers. They must present their force feeding as a medical necessity and nothing more. Of course, they must only present it in this way in a legal context, in the political realm they can be more explicit in their desire to use force feeding as a form of suppressing protest.

Most recently, the Israeli Supreme Court recently upheld the new legislation which reintroduced force feeding as a legally sanctioned response to hunger strikes.
  The wording of legislation uses the usual language describing force feeding as a life saving treatment, but it also gives courts the power to recommend force feeding in cases where there is a threat to public safety.
  The legal advisor to the Ministry of Public Security explained how hunger strikes could be a threat to public safety,

'If a hunger striker dies in prison, it causes riots, in prison, in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], in Palestinian territories.'

This consideration of public safety alongside the health of the prisoner completely changes the argument for force feeding, and makes explicit the political aim of force feeding. If factors outside the health of the prisoner are used to make decisions that impact on the body of the prisoner, then that act of force feeding can no longer be described of as medical treatment, and can only be understood as punitive and therefore as torture.
  However, in this case, The Israeli Supreme court, in considering a challenge to the bill, did all the legal gymnastics on behalf of the Israeli parliament. In the court's judgement they claimed that although public safety was a driving force in the parliament's decision to originally pass the legislation, over time, the argument that force feeding is a necessary medical procedure had surpassed public safety as the primary reason that the law should be passed. The Supreme Court, therefore, were upholding it only because of the medical argument, even though the intention of the law was to prevent hunger strikes for political reasons. And, because the Supreme Court did not amend the law, it passed with the public safety element intact.

The law is also interesting in how it heads off the possible issue of doctors refusing to carry out the procedure (the Israeli Medical Association has issued a statement saying that doctors should refuse to force feed hunger strikers). The law doesn't require a doctor to perform the force feeding, any 'therapist' can do it. And a therapist can be anyone designated a therapist by the Israeli Ministry of Health.

Formal Invention

All international bodies that have examined force feeding have condemned it as an inhumane practice, but by not being named in the Geneva Convention it escapes the internationally recognised definition of torture on a technicality.
  Force feeding can be made to appear similar to consensual forms of enteral feeding - by using medical technologies and medical food replacement products, by carrying out the procedure in a hospital, and through the assumption by the general population that the procedure is normally carried out by a doctor. This similarity is exploited to mask the real intention of force feeding, making the procedure ambiguous enough for national courts to judge force feeding as though it were a medical procedure, rather than a means of political suppression.

The particular experiences of force feeding endured by different hunger strikers in prisons or detention centres around the world are shaped by international conventions that prohibit it, as much as by the national legislation that allows it. The requirement to make force feeding appear to the public (and possibly to the legislators themselves) as a legal medical procedure ensures that force feeding has become a very strange and unique form of torture.

Interruptions Talk at WRO

Sam Mercer & Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau presenting The Bad Vibes Club's project Interruptions at WRO Biennale, 2017

Freedom, looped videos with sound, 2017

First shown on the V&A Instagram as part of Mira Calix's WePortal takeover, June 2017.

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The Bad Vibes Club: Word Gulch

Images from The Bad Vibes Club: Word Gulch at the Barbican Curve as part of Bedwyr Williams' exhibition The Gulch, 2016.

Photographs by Max Colson

Sian Robinson Davies

'Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau' played by Daniel Oliver

Mr Ferris

'Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau' played by Daniel Oliver

Holly Pester and Emma Bennett

Reet Maff'l, Luke Drozd & Andy Abbott

Things, Money, Art, Work, Class

I wrote an essay for Corridor 8 based on an interview I did with Sam Venables and Joe Fletcher Orr.

We chatted about loads of stuff (you can listen to the full conversation on The Bad Vibes Club podcast), but the essay focuses in on being working class in the art world.