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Love Witch Cinematic Happening (Nottingham Contemporary Playlist, 27 Oct 2017)

29 Oct

LW

On Friday I put together a loop of cut-up visual footage and played records for the Nottingham Contemporary Halloween party, this year built around a screening of Anna Biller’s The Love Witch and live music performances by Cacator & The Sirens (a first outing for the all-new, and excellent, ‘haunted radiophonic girl group’ project of Louise O’Connor, Aimee Neat & Rosanna Gould) and Toy. Decor was by Kashif Nadim Chaudry. The track-list that follows is as complete as I can remember. The only record that wasn’t actually played (but is included here anyway) is the final one: it was all cued up to be the night’s final flourish but the closing time overtook it. A few songs can be heard, accompanied by some of the visuals used on the night, in the playlist here.

Nina Simone: I Put A Spell On You
Rosemary Nichols: Once Upon A Time
Dick Hyman & Mary Mayo: Moon Gas
Frog: Witch Hunt
Don Ralke: Black Panther
Nina & Frederik: Elizabeth I & II
Lake Ruth: The Inconsolable Jean-Claude
Dana Gillespie: Foolish Seasons
Margo Guryan: Love
United States of America: Coming Down
Bob Stone: Hang Cool Teddybear
Vampire’s Sound Incorporation: The Lions & The Cucumber
Brigitte Bardot: Saint Tropez
Birds’n’Brass: Fritzy Baby
Tina Harvey: Nowhere To Run
Crystal Fountain (Wendy & Bonnie): The Night Behind Us
The Lollipop Shoppe: You Must Be A Witch
Fuzz Against Junk: Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess
Proud Mary: Follow Me
Eclection: Violet Dew
Chiyo Okumura: Love Thief
Happy Day Choir: California Dreaming
Margo: The Spark That Lights The Flame
Leslie-Ann Beldamme: The One I Love
Francoise Hardy: Le Temps Des Souvenirs
Joan Baez: The Magic Wood
Sounds Inc: Taboo
John Barry: Vendetta
Dick Hyman & Mary Mayo: Space Reflex
Poppy Family: No Blood In Bone
Buffy Sainte-Marie: He’s A Keeper Of The Fire
Francoise Legrand: Attends Moi
Susan Aviles: Eine Schone Welt
Carolyn Hester Coalition: The Journey
Julie Felix: Snakeskin
Sarofeen & Smoke: Witch
Melanie: People In The Front Row
Jun Mayuzumi: You And The Sun
Graham Bond: The Magician
The Felines: The Sneak
Pandoras: Haunted Beach Party
April March: Sugar
Poppy Family: Free From The City
Alan Tew Orchestra: Light Flight
Baker Street Philharmonic: Daydream
Shocking Blue: Love Buzz
Pete Moore Orchestra: Catwalk
Martin Denny: Incense & Peppermints
Ennio Morricone: Svolta Definitiva
Mandingo: Black Rite
Rafaella Carra: Rumore
Demis Roussos: Let It Happen
Donna Summer: I Feel Love
Jane Weaver: I Need A Connection
Belbury Poly: Scarlet Ceremony
The Soundcarriers: This Is Normal
Lal & Mike Waterson: Bright Phoebus

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Shorts and Found Footage with Crate Diggin’: Fridays at Rough Trade (Dec 19 – Jan 16)

20 Dec

CRATE DIGGIN FRIDAYS

Some short films and related found footage will be showing alongside the Truth & Lies nights upstairs at Rough Trade, Nottingham, over the next few weeks. The first selection, themed around the Cold War, screened on Friday 19th Dec, the second – films linked by an interest in Exotica – is on Jan 9th, and the final set of films, built around Disturbances and Design – plays on Jan 16. Crate Diggin‘ is a regular slot hosted by Joff & Ex-Friendly at Rough Trade and covers soul, funk, jazz and anything else the DJs feel like spinning from 7 – 11pm every Friday. The following post offers a few comments on the material selected (note that films are screened at Crate Diggin’ without sound, for obvious reasons, so I will add links to versions with their original scores and soundtracks intact to this post after each event).

Moscow 1972 (Kino)

Part 1: The Serendipity Loops and the Cold War (19 December 2014)

The Serendipity Loops (Wayne Burrows, 2012)

This film runs in six sections, made up entirely of still images, and draws on a large archive of print material produced on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War period, sequencing Western and Eastern Bloc material in ways that emphasise their essential similarities. Each section is edited to accompany a piece of music, ranging from Tom Dissevelt’s ‘Whirling’ and Dick Mills’ ‘Purple Space & White Coronas’, early experiments in sequenced and atmospheric electronic music; to the late Graham Dalley’s ‘Pacifico’ and ‘Surf Ride’ (both from his privately pressed 1966 LP ‘Graham Dalley At The Barn Restaurant, Solihull’); ‘Elusive’, a Studio G production for an Avon marketing flexi-disc narrated by Patrick Allen (who also did voice-overs for the British Government’s notorious ‘Protect and Survive’ series of 1970s Nuclear fall-out public information films); and the anonymously produced Radiophonic Workshop alien invasion scenario of The Cimex Corporations’s advertising 7” extolling the value of their industrial cleaning services. The introductory sequence, built around machine-like heartbeats and Andre Bazin’s 1946 comment about cinema returning to its origins, reflects this film’s own status as a kind of digital magic-lantern slideshow.

Out Of This World (General Motors, 1964)

A beautifully made commercial film produced by the Frigidaire division of General Motors and based on their exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York – a piece of corporate Cold War marketing that seems to echo the identical tendency in the Soviet Union at the same moment to promise a utopian future. Its vision is – as such visions usually are – both seductive and slightly terrifying.

Village Sunday (Stewart Wilensky, 1961)

In contrast to General Motors’ corporate and technological vision of the future, another strand of the Cold War narrative is seen in an early form here, as Jean Shepherd narrates a whimsical portrait of New York’s Greenwich Village, just on the cusp of its decisive transformation into a counter-cultural byword. Painters, small theatres, musicians, beatniks and drop-outs – all ending with some great footage of the Beatnik/Surrealist poet Ted Joans giving a recital with free improvised jazz-flute accompaniment at a Greenwich Village artists’ hang-out.

Biological Camouflage (New Zealand) [1978]

Part 2: Entropicalia and Exotica (09 Jan 2015)

Biological Camouflage: Entropicalia (Wayne Burrows/The Soundcarriers, 2013)

Something of an experiment, this film is made up of still collages from various iterations of the ‘Biological Camouflage’ series, made by fictional British artist Robert Holcombe between 1974 and 1978, set to music by The Soundcarriers, then punctuated with a short, repeated animated photo-sequence of a sleeping woman. The song – to whose propulsive rhythm the images are cut – is ‘Entropicalia’ from ‘The Other World of The Soundcarriers’, issued on The Great Pop Supplement during 2013 (a vocal version is available as the title track on the band’s first release on the Ghost Box label, released in May 2014).

Afro Mood (Unknown Director, c.1947)

A short burlesque film in which the dancer Amalia Aguilar pulls some incredible moves to some hot Afro-Cuban jazz. ‘Afro Mood’ is one of two numbers that she also performed in a movie entitled ‘A Night at the Follies’ (1947) which perhaps helps to date this particular clip, which was produced as part of an ‘exotic’ series, ‘Joe Bonica presents the Movie of the Month’, possibly intended for viewing as individual segments on reels sold for private entertainment and parties.

Exotica Fragment (Wayne Burrows/Paul Isherwood, 2014)

A very short loop of re-edited footage from a variety of public domain sources, ranging from a 1920s adaptation of The Lost World to undersea documentaries, Cheerios commercials, burlesque films, a study of ants and an advertisement for a wall street consultancy. The score includes an incantation from an Egyptian son-et-lumiere recording of the 1960s and an early sketch of a track made by Paul Isherwood for a forthcoming project, Exotica Suite, set to be released as a book, vinyl LP and series of films in late June 2015, financially supported by New Art Exchange and Arts Council England.

Disturbances (still) [2010]

Disturbances and Design (16 January 2015)

Disturbances (Wayne Burrows/Jon Brooks, 2010)

‘Disturbances’ is a short film compiled from found 35mm slides and it was originally screened with a recorded score made for the purpose by Jon Brooks, then narrated with a live voice-over as part of an Annexinema event at a disused cinema. Brooks is best known for his work with Ghost Box records, under the identity The Advisory Circle, though he has also released two LPs – ‘Shapwick’ and ‘52’ – on Frances Castle’s Clay Pipe imprint under his own name.

Design For Dreaming (General Motors, 1956)

A visually incredible long-form musical commercial advertising the General Motors Motorama of 1956, presenting consumerism as a fabulous dream world. It’s likely that this was exactly the kind of film that inspired the early days of British pop and youth culture, as seen in exhibitions like the Independent Group’s ‘This Is Tomorrow’, staged at the Whitechapel Gallery the same year.

Film Strip: 1966 (Wayne Burrows, 2012)

A digital reconstruction of a sequence of still images compiled in a concertina book by the fictional British artist Robert Holcombe in 1966, with a score by British electronics pioneer F.C. Castle.

Bonus Programme: the Beats, Smoke & Pickles New Year’s Eve party at Rough Trade, Nottingham, will involve a further set of films, 35mm transparencies and more screenings alongside music from Truth & Lies, Dealmaker & Can’t Stop Won’t Stop DJs and street food by Kimberley Bell (Small Food Bakery). All free, from 8pm till 2.30am.

Robert Holcombe as Fiction at Nottingham Writers’ Studio (October 6th, 2014)

11 Oct

Immersion (Milk Capital III) [1970]

On October 6th 2014 I was invited by NWS director Pippa Hennessy to deliver a short talk about the origins of the fictional artist Robert Holcombe, and the shift in my general approach to writing since around 2010, as part of the regular ‘social’ event held every month at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. As I’d got the notes already written down and the images gathered for the slides used on the night, it seemed worth preserving an outline of the talk here, if only because it might help to explain what it is I think I’m doing and how I ended up doing it…

Wood & Ink (Shoestring Press) (545x800)

At the start, writing poetry for the most part, I worked in the generally accepted way. That is, I mostly did things other than writing for a living (in my case, working in retail, picture framing and other similar trades) and sometimes got to write things in my spare time. I sent these things out to the magazines I knew about, who would sometimes publish them. At a certain point I had gathered a book’s worth of poetry that seemed both OK in itself, and gave an impression of coherence, so this was sent out to publishers. Marginalia appeared from Peterloo in 2001, and after several years focused on a day job in freelance journalism, compiling a fragmentary book about money called Shrapnel and developing projects like a sequence about genetics written for a dance company in 2005, a second short poetry collection, Emblems, emerged in 2009.

The Apple Sequence (Orchard Editions, 2011)

It’s worth noting that I still work this way, though I’ll admit that I’ve been negligent about sending things to magazines since 2010, perhaps because I edited one, called Staple, between 2007 and 2011, and needed a very long break from the endless round of envelopes, stamps and emails by the time its natural life-span expired. Even so, a series of poems written in response to woodcuts by Alan Dixon were included in the anthology Wood & Ink last year, and a body of new work, including the sequence A Cycle Of Songs From The Body’s Interior, will feature in Black Glass: New & Selected Poems, which is forthcoming from Shoestring in March 2015. But there was also a turning point, where a new way of working became possible, and this was probably a 2010 commission to work with Neville Gabie on a project built around the redevelopment of Sneinton Square, a historic fruit and vegetable market on the Eastside of Nottingham.

Sneinton Square by Patel Taylor Architects

This project became known as Orchard  and my contribution to it was a book-length series of poems called The Apple Sequence, a 64 page publication distributed free to an audience not usually engaged with the arts, but with a stake in the future of the site: market traders and their customers, activists involved in urban food production on the many allotments and city farm nearby, tenants and residents of the Sneinton and St Ann’s areas more widely. The commission included money to cover production of an artwork, so I used this to create a book from scratch – designing, typesetting and writing it simultaneously, to a tight deadline and with a definite public purpose. This seemed a more interesting way of working than the standard literary and publishing industry model. More to the point, it seemed to work, with The Apple Sequence widely read by those we’d hoped to reach.

Robert Holcombe: Marine (1955)

Yet the fact that this book was directed not at the poetry world in the standard way, but addressed to a very different readership, seemed to mean that as far as conventional literary acknowledgement went The Apple Sequence barely existed. Perhaps this was partly delayed response: no reviews, for example, but one of the few literary events the Apple Sequence poems were presented at was a Nine Arches Press reading in Leicester soon after publication – so the apple-themed anthology that appeared from Nine Arches this year may not be entirely unrelated to the 2011 project. At any rate, The Apple Sequence proved liberating in terms of the control it allowed over the design, format and speed at which the book could appear, and for the readership it was able to find while by-passing the usual literary channels. It is probably not insignificant, either, that the work of writing poems was, for once, reasonably well paid upfront.

WayneBurrows_Robert_Holcombe_The_Modernists_Diptych_I_(Primal)_[1972]_(2014)

I’ve been exploring the possibilities of this way of working ever since, in poetry and various kinds of non-mainstream fiction, the resulting work mostly distributed outside the channels of traditional publishing. A couple of these later projects might include Spirit Wrappings (2012), which was produced as a short, beautifully designed fiction chapbook by Nottingham Contemporary, commissioned in response to an exhibition about a collector named Rashleigh Jackson by visual artist Simon Withers and curator Abi Spinks, and The Disappearances/The Peel Street Codex, commissioned by Jo Dacombe and Laura Jade Klee of Sidelong to be performed in caves, then made into booklets for A Box Of Things (2014), a limited edition publication documenting a project based on the myths and legends of Nottingham’s cave network.

Robert Holcombe: Biological Camouflage (Les Chateaux de la Loire I) [1977]

The creation of Robert Holcombe, an alter-ego who could be put to many different uses, was almost accidental. He first appeared in a novel I’d been writing, Albany 6, which traced an alternative history of the late 20th century, where he was the author of a handful of pulp science-fiction stories that had shaped the obsessions of the book’s main protagonist, a Chicago musician named Thomas Satz, and grew from there. His public debut was as the subject of a fictional lecture during 2010, expanding on one of those pulp stories, Not smoking can seriously damage your health (1976). More fake lectures have been delivered since, among them a fabricated paper exploring the invented connections between Holcombe and the post-war Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow, presented at a Nottingham Contemporary symposium on the meaning of disgust in November 2013.

The Modernists: Portal (1967)

So who is Robert Holcombe? An exhibition hand-out written in early 2014 gives the basic facts of his fictional biography:

“Robert Holcombe is an entirely fictional British artist (b. Leeds 1923 – d. Exeter 2003) whose fascination with collage was first discovered when he began cutting up magazines and rearranging the parts whilst convalescing from injuries sustained in 1944, during active service in Malaya. He was a radio engineer, a contemporary of Richard Hamilton at the Slade School of Art  and, from 1955 until 1988, a planning officer in Leeds. He maintained a long correspondence with Eduardo Paolozzi, whose interest in elaborate fictions and alternate realities he shared. Although Holcombe did not exhibit publicly during his lifetime, he made most of his work under two pseudonyms – Gene and Michael Harrison. It’s also notable that many of his images, particularly those featuring material rooted in fashion, advertising and technology, show a more ambiguous enthusiasm for the world of the Post-War era than was usual at the time. His works are marked by a fascination with consumerist excess, inscrutable apparitions of surgical, sexual and folkloric symbols inside modernist interiors, and unsettling disturbances of ordinary space”.

From The Holcombe Family Bible [Apocrypha - The Appearing of Three Angels to Abraham] (1967)

Another lecture on Holcombe’s work was improvised at a closing event for the fictional retrospective exhibitionThe Family Bible & Other Fables: Works From The Holcombe Collection 1948 – 1978, staged at Syson Gallery in January 2014. This outlined links between the fabricated collages on the gallery walls and their literary sources, some fictional, like Holcombe’s own pulp SF writings and letters, others, like Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines Of Dr Hoffmann and JG Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, very real. A quote from Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition perhaps gives a flavour of the literary origins of Robert Holcombe: “These mental polaroids form a large part of our library of affections”, writes Ballard. “Carried around in our heads, they touch our memories like albums of family photographs. Turning their pages, we see what seems to be a ghostly and alternative version of our own past, filled with shadowy figures as formalized as Egyptian tomb-reliefs.”  

Marine - A Story in Eight Objects (Nottingham Castle, 2013) Cover design by Joff + Ollie.

The first time all of these literary, historical and visual threads had come together in a single place was in Marine: A Story in Eight Objects, commissioned by Nottingham Castle and Fermynwoods Contemporary Art to be part of Make Believe, a series of interventions in the collections and grounds of Nottingham Castle during 2013. The exhibition explored the blurring of fact and fiction in the site’s real and legendary histories and Marine combined a 30-page print publication, tracing the actual and imaginary resonances of a sea voyage from England to Hawaii aboard HMS Blonde in 1824; a film remix setting fragments of that published text to 1950s ‘exotica’ music and sequences of still visual images; and an installation featuring a Holcombe work inside a high security case (another collage appeared as the book’s frontispiece and the opening image of the film).

Make believe -7560

The Marine film and publication were also presented at two venues during the inaugural Pilot Festival in Brightlingsea, suggesting that they did not depend on the site specific context they were devised for. Site specificity could also arise by accident: with Holcombe having been at least partly inspired by JG Ballard, it seemed a good omen that the second fictional retrospective – Folklore, Ritual and The Modern Interior: 1955 – 1975 – was shown at a London gallery named (by the curators, Pil & Galia Kollectiv) after three ‘psychic projections’, Xero, Kline & Coma, who appear in several of Ballard’s books. Even more pertinently, the exhibition accidentally coincided with a major Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern and Hannah Hoch’s work just down the road at the Whitechapel, both of which added a certain additional resonance to the work on display.

XeroKline&Coma

Holcombe’s Performing The Curtain Rituals series, supposedly made in 1966, directly referenced work by both these neighbouring artists, a fact that earned the show a small place in a dissertation on the politics of parafictional art published by Keren Goldberg at the RCA in summer 2014. This seems apt, as chance meanings were the subject of The Holcombe Tarot, a series of 78 collages made between 2011 and 2014 in which a few classic Tarot symbols, like Death, The Tower, The Lovers and The Priestess, were vastly outnumbered by such oblique images as The Mirage (some banknotes hovering above a glacier), The Source (a gigantic chrome tap standing in a ruined abbey), The Purge (a burning rice field, suggestive of the late Vietnam War context in which the cards were made) and The Nest (a classical column protruding from a birds’ nest). Devised to appear meaningful, while remaining open-ended, the curious thing is how the drawing of one of these cards can still feel significant.

Tarot Series (The Mirage)

These cards were first shown (as a selection of 12 collages) at Xero, Kline & Coma and have since been prototyped as a working Tarot pack and launched on Kickstarter, so a limited edition of 100 packs of The Holcombe Tarot will be produced in November 2014. The Holcombe Tarot also, I suppose, works as a kind of mutated poetry collection: a gathering of images that seem to relate to one another, can be ‘read’ in sequence or dipped into at will, each card freestanding but dependent on the others. Perhaps this is the thread connecting these bodies of written and visual work. Collage and poetry, after all, both operate through the selection and recombination of images and details from multiple sources. In a poem it might be a written recollection or voicing where a view of an apple orchard merges with a memory of factory machinery; in a collage it might be some photographic combination or overlay of the two things. The effect, either way, is similar.

GBX020 CD 800

A project currently in its early stages of development is Exotica Suite, a collaboration with the musician Paul Isherwood (look up The Soundcarriers’ back catalogue for some examples of his work). At this point Exotica Suite is not planned as a Holcombe project but a sequence of new texts exploring identity as something constructed, both for us, socially, and by us, in response to assumptions made by others. Inspirations are figures like Sun Ra, Yma Sumac and Jack Bilbo, who each in some way refused or complicated authenticity and rebuilt reality around themselves (as Holcombe notes in a 1984 letter: “We resist the effort to shape us by a refusal to accept the stifling conformity of being ourselves.”). Where all this will lead is not yet known, but the results will be released as a vinyl LP and download and a print publication. There will be events at New Art Exchange to introduce the ideas and influences behind the project and discuss the issues it raises. I think it is going to be interesting.

Writing Objects Part II: Incantation and Ritual (Primary, May 21 2014)

23 May
Portrait of Maya Deren (c.1950s)

Portrait of Maya Deren (c.1950s)

For our second Writing Objects session at Primary, using text to create responses to Jonathan Baldock‘s commissioned installation, we looked at the various ways in which the sound and rhythm of language can be used to create an illusion of almost magical power or authority: the realm of the incantation, the chant, prayer and spell. These, after all, are the kinds of texts used in anything from a horror film to a stage magician’s act, and from a Church to a coven, to imply that words possess the power to bring objects to life and influence nature.

We began with Marie Osmond, specifically her 1980s appearance in an episode of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, in which she introduces and then memorably recites Hugo Ball’s Dada sound-poem Karawane (1916). Ball’s text implies meaning through its imitation of some of the expected patterns of spoken language, from which all familiar syntax and vocabulary has been erased to replace comprehension with patterns of repetition and verbal sound to generate an air of impenetrable significance. In this, the sound-poem echoes much that is commonly found in the form of the incantation.

Looking at the traditions of Biblical or Oral song-texts, the way these patterns work emerges more clearly. In The Song of Solomon the effect lies in the repetition of sentence structures, of patterns of concrete nouns and vivid images shaped by rhythmic variations. A text that imitates the more sinister possibilities of this kind of incantation is The Peel Street Codex (2013), commissioned to be performed in a (supposedly haunted) cave underneath the Salutation Inn in Nottingham during a series of walks curated by Sidelong. Although contradictory when examined, and designed to expose its own fakeness, when recited it creates a ritualistic, if theatrical, intensity.

The real thing can be experienced in the work of American poet and musician Jayne Cortez: looking at her 1980s piece New York’s Bullfighter Gums on the page clearly implies the presence of this kind of ritualistic tone:

New York’s bullfighter gums
mashed up like red bananas
fiery sauce caked on
its rocket-shaped head
E train eyes rolling like
some big time frog from Uruguay
& I say
it’s not impossible
to find deep fried romance
in this concrete ocean
of marinated snake juice…

The real impact of the piece, however, emerges when it is heard in Cortez’s own voice, and while this particular poem isn’t available online, re-reading it after listening to the author’s rendition of I See Chano Pozo (an incantation to the spirit of the musician who fused Cuban music with Be-Bop jazz in the 1940s as part of Dizzy Gillespie’s band) transforms the way we read the text of Cortez’s poem. With the drums and rhythms of her voice planted in our minds, the logic behind the construction of the initially baffling but powerfully vivid images of New York’s Bullfighter Gums sharply clarifies. Cortez uses concrete nouns, repeated sentence structures and rhythmic patterns to give shape to a series of images that follow no ordinary or everyday logic, but instead by-pass conscious reasoning and aim to find echoes in the unconscious.

Jayne Cortez: Everywhere Drums

Jayne Cortez: Everywhere Drums

It’s a patterning used everywhere in political slogans, advertising catchphrases and management mantras – from the French Revolution’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity to the striking Miners’ Maggie Maggie Maggie, Out Out Out; from Just Do It to Gotta Lotta Bottle; from Education Education Education to Hard-Working Families. Stringing a catchy threesome of words together has long been known to be memorable and devices like this have been rhetorically exploited for the purpose of persuasion for centuries – a secular form of spell casting and ritual speech, even if it rarely acknowledges that it is.

Used to very different purposes, in Maya Deren’s silent and self-consciously ritualistic film Witch’s Cradle (1943, partly a documentation of a Marcel Duchamp string installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) or Kenneth Anger’s (equally self-consciously ritualistic) Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), fragmentary images develop coherence through the use of repetition and visual rhythm. Just as Hugo Ball’s Karawane created an illusion of potential meaning from seemingly arbitrary sounds, Deren and Anger’s disjunctive edits develop their own elusive sense and operate like languages whose precise meanings lie only slightly beyond our grasp.

Eva Svankmajerova’s Baradla Cave uses similar methods, sometimes reading like ordinary fiction, but swerving between genres and forms from one sentence or paragraph to the next. Baradla herself is the cave setting of the book and its female heroine: sometimes one, sometimes the other, and occasionally both. But then, if Baradla Cave is anything, it is a satirical parody of narrative sense that holds its reader’s attention with the patterns of its language, which is full of lists, jokes, factual commentary and arbitrary sequences that deliberately refuse to add up. Its real aim, like any good incantation, is to imply sense while purposefully defying logic, and at its most nonsensical reveals some of its deepest and most intriguing truths.

Eva Svankmajerova: Illustration from Baradla Cave

Eva Svankmajerova: Illustration from Baradla Cave

Writing Objects session three, on masks and unstable identities, is at Primary on 4 June (7 – 9pm, free). All welcome.

Notes from session one, looking at actors as objects and objects as actors, are here.

A Very Unreliable Tour of Primary (Nov 30)

30 Nov

This 30 minute ‘fake tour’ of the Grade II listed Primary building was written quickly, delivered off the cuff, and was intent on little more than being vaguely entertaining and drawing the many artworks around the various parts of the old school to participants’ attention. It is part of Primary is Open 2013, a three day programme of open studios, events, exhibitions and performances that still has one day to run, on Sunday December 1. See the link for details:

http://www.weareprimary.org/2013/11/primary-is-open-programme-2013/

Primary (Exterior View)

Primary (Exterior View)

Welcome to this short tour of the Primary building, in which almost everything you will hear is false. But stay alert, as a very few things might turn out to be true. We’ll begin with the display you can see here in Project Space One of work from all the artists now based at this former school.

Mik Godley (Hanebu in America)

Mik Godley (Hanebu in America)

As you can see, Mik Godley has painted an image from an old photograph, now lost, of one of the mysterious aircraft reputedly captured in Lenton during World War Two, and brought here for study in 1943. We aren’t sure of the exact details, but believe that the school’s science teachers – particularly Mr Jonathan Wright, of whom little is known apart from the fact that everyone who encountered him commented on the green corduroy suit he wore long before such garments became fashionable – worked with the children on dismantling the gyroscopes and other mechanisms found inside the technologically advanced craft, which had been involved in a bombing raid on the old Player’s factory, and forwarding their findings to the MoD. It was disassembled in the playground outside and slowly pieced together again in this very room, where it made – we’re told – for a very stimulating science project that summer.

Basement (Image May Be Incorrect)

Basement (Image May Be Incorrect)

It is worth taking a brief look at the basement. We will not spend long here: all I can tell you is that this cellar may once have been connected to the caves network under the city, and is reputedly the haunt of a red-haired lady in an elaborate dress who is predicted to appear here on the first of December, between the hours of around five and eight pm. Nothing more is known about this so-called ‘red lady’, but I believe a group are gathering here tomorrow to await her appearance and you are all welcome to join them.

Primary Project Space One Display

Primary Project Space One Display

As we return to Project Space One, it is clear that not everything in the hang here is quite as it seems. You may note that statements made by the Primary staff suggest there is at least one work by each of the artists based here, but this is only partly true. At least three artists have mysteriously disappeared since the building opened, and while Andy Lock’s whereabouts are not known, I met Matt Hawthorn in a pub over by Mansfield Road only recently, so can confirm that he has fled to Yorkshire for reasons he won’t discuss: he is not buried in the school grounds as some rumours in circulation have suggested. But the mystery of Frank Kent’s disappearance remains unsolved. Two months ago we were told he had “gone to take up a place at the Royal Academy”, but this news followed a prolonged and increasingly virulent dispute with Mik Godley and Niki Russell over the exact shade of grey that the wall you see here should be painted. As the disputes escalated, it seemed that only once Kent had vanished was the shade you now see chosen. Things like this can be troublesome and dangerous in any group situation, always threatening to erupt in some new round of reprisals and vendettas. Most of us avoid getting involved in the violent arguments that regularly erupt over paints and tools and get on with our work as best we can.

Michael Pinchbeck - The Drawing Board [Photo by Simon Withers]

Michael Pinchbeck – The Drawing Board [Photo by Simon Withers]

We’ll now go to the second Project Space upstairs. On the stairs, note that Mr Michael Pinchbeck’s plea for help, written in chalk the night he vanished, a few days ago, remains visible. We are trying to crack the code he’s using to cry for assistance and still have hopes he might safely return. If you wish to take a few moments to study the text, or notice anything that might assist us in our efforts to find him, please talk to someone. Time may now be short.

Suspiria (aka Project Space Two)

Suspiria (aka Project Space Two)

As we enter Project Space Two, you will observe that it was once a dance school. Now, I don’t know how many of you have seen Dario Argento’s giallo classic, Suspiria, a baroque Italian horror film set in a dance academy isolated deep inside a mysterious forest?  A little known fact is that much of the footage in which the students rehearse their stretches and pirouettes under the stern gaze of the powerful witches who murder anyone who proves too curious or disobedient were filmed in this very room, now stripped down from the sumptuous excesses seen in Argento’s film to this rather plainer set-up but still, I believe, more or less as it was. It’s thought that the filming of Suspiria here may have unsettled the ghosts and spirits that had formerly been quiet and this might help to explain the prevalence of unexplained incidents that have since taken place within these walls.

Blue Building Interior [Photo by Niki Russell]

Blue Building Interior [Photo by Niki Russell]

We don’t know if this is true or not, of course, but if we look out of the windows and survey the playground we can see the abandoned Blue Building opposite. Disturbances there have coincided with Primary Open Studios events in both the years we’ve been active: last year, a pumpkin-headed figure appeared to perform rituals there, trapping an audience inside for six hours before they were (thankfully) safely released. Last night, ghostly figures were seen moving about inside. If anyone knows what these apparitions might mean, do talk to one of Primary’s staff in confidence. Exorcisms may be possible as part of the Studio Development Programme.

Speaking in Tongues by Simon Withers

Speaking in Tongues by Simon Withers

Coming back downstairs, you will notice these ritual ceramic stones made by resident artist Simon Withers dotted around the building. Withers explained that he has placed the ‘stones’ onto key points – the buildings own ‘ley-lines’ – where they act as control points for the chaotic energies all around us. They are also, Withers once confided, not real works of his own at all – that is just a pretext. They are actually Hydra’s teeth, bought from a very distant descendent of Jason of Argo, who you may know for his adventures in pursuit of the Golden Fleece in ancient times – his family now live on an estate in New Basford and like to keep a low profile, it seems – and should some final apocalypse occur, then the display cases can be broken (like fire alarms) and the teeth thrown to the playground. Each fragment when they shatter becomes an armed skeleton capable of fighting any undead or spectral hordes that may appear, under the command of a head of Zardoz. I don’t know if Mr Withers is prepared to discuss these things or not, but you may find him about the building, disguised as a gardener or photographer, measuring the energies of the  old school for reasons best known to himself.

Tent by Louisa Chambers (2013)

Tent by Louisa Chambers (2013)

The board of Primary tells us that these mysteries are being investigated: apparently only the other day, the school was visited by a painted VW camper van called the Mystery Mobile, and two women, Daphne and Velma, and their male and canine accomplices, Fred, Shaggy and Scooby, have built this outpost on the Mezzanine with the aid of Craig Fisher as a base for their explorations of the mysteries of the building. They have told us that they believe the old caretaker may be implicated: his house is now a gallery, but his former secret closet – known as Mrs Ricks’ Cupboard – remains full of mysterious, slightly occult drawings, credited to Louisa Chambers – and the group, known as ‘Mystery Incorporated’, believe the caretaker, Mr Hopgood, may still be living on the premises, trying to frighten away the artists and public who are now here.

Liam Aitken's Portal at Caretaker's House

Liam Aitken’s Portal at Caretaker’s House

He may, of course, be wearing a mask that makes him look like one of us – indeed he may very well be one of us – so do keep your eyes open, in case his mask slips and we are finally able to expose him. In the meantime, I can only direct you to the signs of his continued presence… Before you go on to search this caretaker’s house, and just to add a final safety note, please be aware that the portal in Liam Aitken’s room inside this house is thought to require some particular care as you pass. Last night three people appear to have fallen into it and their voices have been heard this morning inside Michelle Arieu’s porcelain pyramid downstairs, begging for release from their entrapment.

Michelle Arieu's Pyramid at Caretaker's House

Michelle Arieu’s Pyramid at Caretaker’s House

You may also observe that Simon Withers has clearly been performing rituals in the room next to Arieu’s in an effort to free them. So do take care as you explore, but be assured that Mystery Incorporated have told us all this will soon be solved…in the meantime, thank you for your attention on this brief tour and do enjoy the rest of your day’s exploration of the building.

Simon Withers at Caretaker's House [Photo by Simon Withers]

Simon Withers at Caretaker’s House [Photo by Simon Withers]

Street Dance

21 Jan

Street Dance (Sneinton, 2009) [image credit Julian Hughes for Home Live Art)

Choreography Text: Instructions for Street Dance (Lone Twin with Jane Mason, Nottingham 2009)

Cue: There is someone at the door. Three raps of the cast-iron knocker. A policeman’s knock.

She counts slowly to fifteen under her breath –  one… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve …thirteen… fourteen…

Fifteen. She opens the door, leans out, disappears into the street.

He waits. Counts five long beats on his fingers, out of sight. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

He picks up a white chair, descends the steps with it, carefully, then raises it above his head.

Walks slowly downhill, balancing the chair. Places the chair with its back against the bay window.

He retraces his steps – slowly, slightly exaggerated – back to the doorway.

On the doorstep, he braces one hand against the doorframe, stretches out, one arm forward, one leg back.

Holds.

Moves one hand to the stone, edges back. Stretches again, arm out, lower, closer to the ground.

Holds.

Draws his body upright, walks – still slowly, slightly exaggerated – to the kerb, hands together behind his back.

Moving his weight from foot to foot, kerbstone to road, he writes, tightrope-walks, plays, placing his feet at angles, echoing her pauses and turns as she dances, but only occasionally.

He is marking time.

After a moment or two, she goes back inside the house, is out of sight.

He turns, watches the door without breaking the marking sequence on the kerb.

She reappears with a pair of blue glittery high-heeled shoes in one hand. Shoes too impractical to walk in. He watches her step towards him, place them on the ground, watches as her eyes scan the street, her hand on the heels of the shoes.

He keeps marking time, pauses only when her eyes meet his.

They hold – a beat. Two. Three…

Then they both run, very fast, in opposite directions.

He tears downhill, running hard and fast. Taking a marker at the first car on the opposite side of the road, he skids to a halt, switches direction, runs uphill, finding whatever path is open to make a route.

He keeps on, vanishes briefly from sight on the corner, slows, loops back, then – once in sight – accelerates to the bay window, leaping onto the white chair to throw the window wide open.

A Jacques Brel song, previously quiet, already halfway through, is suddenly loud and clear.

She dances, but he sees her only in his peripheral vision.

Out of breath, he walks slowly towards a particular spot in the road, steps from the kerb, assumes his position.

He stops. Draws himself upright, breathing hard, still slightly breathless. He pauses. A beat, two.

He extends one hand behind his shoulder, looks back. Holds.

He turns around three points of a finger at twelve, nine, six o’clock, until he faces the road.

He closes his hand.

Considers – a beat – then makes two marks in the air with the curved side of his hand: one, two.

He motions as though drawing back a curtain with the same hand, squints in the light.

He makes karate chops, twice: an edit, turning on the second cut to face uphill.

He reaches up, his arm outstretched, fingers hooked, as though taking a book from a high shelf.

Holds. Holds longer…

He drops to a crouch, passes his hand over the ground with a low sweep, fingers outstretched.

Pauses.

He rises, moves one outstretched finger across the air, left to right.

He moves into a position with leg back, arm outstretched, echoing the first position in the doorframe.

Holds.

He steps back, stretches the arm again, lower. Finger and thumb move, very deliberately, one then the other, as though turning a light switch on and off.

Holds.

Rises to his feet, turns to the kerb, hands behind his back, leaning forward.

Brings the hands round, makes two spider-webs with his fingers.

Turns, glances at the blue shoes on the pavement, then turns again, to face the road.

He repeats the sequence, with variations.

He extends one hand behind his shoulder, looks back. Holds.

He turns around three points of a finger at twelve, three, six o’clock, until he faces the road. The opposite hand to the earlier turn.

He closes his hand. Considers – one beat – then makes two marks with the curved side of his hand.

He motions as though drawing back a curtain, squints in the light.

He makes karate chops, twice: an edit, turning on the second cut to face uphill.

He stretches up, as though taking a book from a high shelf.

Holds.

Moves his hands towards his body, opening them out, then letting them fall like pages from a binding.

He drops to a crouch, moves his hand in the air, fingers hooked, reaches for something that he draws to his lap.

His hands open like the wings of a Bible on a lectern, palms up.

He turns one palm downward, measuring the weight of an unseen object.

His hands come together, remain clasped as he rises from the knee.

He parts his hands, moves one outstretched finger through the air, left to right, draws something unseen to chest height.

His hands fall open, wide.

He folds his hands behind his back, turns to the kerb, leaning forward.

Brings the hands round, makes spider webs, fireworks, with his fingers: one, two, three, four, five.

He returns his hands to the small of his back, turns, steps forward, glances at the shoes, holds the glance.

Holds it longer…

Continues on, a slow deliberate walk back to the chair beneath the bay window.

He picks up the chair in the silence – Jacques Brel’s song has long since ended – lifts it above his head and walks slowly, deliberately towards the door.

He goes inside, taking the chair with him.

The door remains open.