A remote and foreign cosmos

I’m honoured to have been asked to lead a workshop at De Montfort University this month. Over the course of the evening we’ll be looking at ways in which we might make portraits from the material found in queer archives. The title, A remote and foreign cosmos, is taken from Miwon Kwon’s essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce, which addresses both the archive and Gonzalez-Torres’ radical approach to portraiture.

Workshop participants are asked to choose in advance a queer figure from history and to gather fragments of text that relate — no matter how tangentially — to their life. Working from this motley crew of queer subjects, the evening will comprise discussion, group readings and short film screenings, culminating in a collaborative project of assembling and performing a text-based compound portrait.

The project’s site — www.aremoteandforeigncosmos.xyz — includes a divergent assemblage of texts and other material relevant to the topic. The workshop is open to all.

de montfort workshop flyer small


Failed States issue two: suburb

Most copies of issue one of Failed States are out in the world, and work on the second — researching ‘suburb’ — is underway.

Since beginning this project I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of artist as publisher and the possibilities this presents for researching, making and distributing work outside of more rigid, behemothic systems such as that of the gallery.

The journal, I think, is more research method than work (raising the question: what value does research have if no tangible result can be identified?). It is by no means a commercial enterprise — and indeed, it is keen to avoid many of the traditional structures of publishing (while acknowledging the time-tested usefulness of others) —meaning that the project is under no obligations, other than to the contributors whose texts and photographs are fundamental to its realisation.

Certain parameters do exist however, not least because it is interesting to work within them. Pithiness remains a constant characteristic — although this time I have upped the suggested word-count to 500. The pages of the journal also continues to be a place to experiment with form, and contributors are encouraged to take advantage of this should they feel compelled to break from the usual shape of their practice.

I have described myself previously as a “hands-off editor” in that — for the large part — I consider the pieces I’m given as complete works, almost is if they are ready to be placed into an exhibition. Nonetheless, I am keen that for issue two I assert my role as editor in such a way as to ensure a broad (though, of course, by no means definitive) approach to the theme. Meanwhile, this…


Failed States

I’m currently seeking submissions for a new publishing project: Failed States, a journal of indeterminate geographies.

For each issue contributors are asked to respond to a broad theme: one word describing a state of terrain considered to possess qualities of amorphousness, wildness, instability, collapse, liminality, peripherality and/or delineation.

The theme for the first issue, to be published September 2017, is Island.

Contributions are less than 200 words (pithiness is encouraged) and may potentially take any form: sentence, paragraph, list, recollection, anecdote, idea, proposition, biography, review, confession, cry for help, sms, email, letter, gossip, rumour, paranoia, admonishment, review, scheme, fantasy, fable, itinerary, footnote, key, instruction, script, notation, formula, score, scavenged text, etc.

Further information at failedstates.xyz

loose in the forest encircling the city and the sown land

  1. There have been periods of my life when I’ve filmed incessantly. I miss that.
  2. “It is the spirit of the unknown and the disorderly, loose in the forest encircling the city and the sown land… wildness makes of these connections spaces of darkness and light in which objects stare out of their mottled nakedness while signifiers float by. Wildness is the death space of signification.”
    —Michael Taussig
  3. Flat against the dirt of this island shivering in a northern ocean, I look for wildness in cracks.
  4. Earlier this year I spent a few days as part of a group studying with an artist in rural Cambridgeshire. Among the many things discussed — and put into practice — was the idea of body-knowledge (a topic pertinent to the work I was currently engaged in; it still is).
  5. Following a session of meditation and movement (attempts at the former never quite work out for me, but the capacity of my body for the latter regularly surprises and intrigues), I took some time to walk the perimeter of the art centre, a former farm.
  6. The dull, startling base of the bird-scarers.
  7. Utopia in intimate gesture.
  8. Utopia is wish landscapes
  9. (someone said the wooden house sculpture in the woods was built by that artist who paints on the gum stuck in the metal slats of the Millennium Bridge)
  10. “Wildness must take us into its mottled embrace and press us to stare into those places of slippage between language and experience and life and death; wildness can give us access to the unknown and the disorderly, and we will enter there at our own risk.”
    —Jack Halberstam, Wildness, Loss, Death
  11. I was given a small, cheap video camera for my birthday this year. It becomes both talisman and prosthetic.
  12. “Our machines are disturbingly lively and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”
    —Donna Haraway, The Cyborg Manifesto
  13. I remember my first weeks in England. The realisation that mud could freeze. The browns of Oxfam knits and dead leaves. Seeing my fingers change colour as I never had before. I didn’t know I’d be an alien when we got here.


a curious, chancy little solo

From a review of the What Remains festival by Guardian dance critic, Judith Mackrell:

…Warhol did, however, catch [Herko] on camera before that, in the 1963 film Roller Skate, in which Herko attempted to dance all over New York on one roller skate. The film is now lost, but Atherton reimagines it in his own 35-minute solo, dressed in the same WMCA Good Guys sweatshirt that Herko wore in the film; executing his own one-skate “dance” while simultaneously reading aloud extracts from memoirs and biography that related to Herko’s life.

It’s a curious, chancy little solo. Perhaps in tribute to Warhol’s trademark style of blurring art and life, Atherton makes no effort towards a polished performance. Hunched, wobbling and tense, he scoots aimlessly around the studio, sometimes pausing to balance awkwardly on his one skate, at one point attempting a half-baked imitation of the classical attitude in which Herko glided through New York, his leg gracefully lifted behind him, according to Warhol, his “head lifted” his “throat free.”

Atherton’s vocal delivery is just as casual as his physical style. The material he’s assembled is riveting, portraying Herko’s New York as a place of skuzzy apartments and glamorous parties, of artistic ferment and promiscuous gay sex. Yet Atherton doesn’t attempt to make any kind of theatrical impact with the story – on the contrary, he stumbles and mumbles his words and occasionally drops the paper he’s reading from.

What might seem like wilfully irksome defects in another context, however, make a kind of sense here. Herko was attempting the impossible in Warhol’s film – towards the end of his marathon performance he was apparently hobbling and bleeding, and his pain was said to have been as interesting to Warhol as his most dancerly flights. Like Warhol too, Herko identified himself with a culture that rejected the polish of high art for the novelty of the pedestrian and raw. And most interestingly, to Atherton, Herko was also part of a gay community whose history remains largely untold, so what’s known about him now has been gleaned from fragments of gossip and anecdote. Atherton’s fragmented, half-achieved solo attempts to honour all these elements. And even though, as a standalone work, it’s too awkward and tenuous to succeed in a theatre, it takes on a convincing resonance in this festival context – lodged among works exploring parallel ideas, among artists making parallel journeys.