Failed States issue no.3: refuge

coveronbackground copy

Buy a copy here.

In the third issue, themed ‘refuge’:

Photographs by Moath Alofi documenting remote, abandoned and makeshift mosques in Saudi Arabia

An essay in words, photographs and ephemera by Felix Bazalgette on disparate lives in a village near Heathrow

An erotic prose poem by Alex Bennett

Paul Clinton considering the problem of queer ethics

Gareth Evans on the Armenian genocide, diaspora and absence

Britt Hill on the squats providing sanctuary for refugees in Athens

Every Ocean Hughes on changing her name

Stills from the Jasleen Kaur video installation I Keep Telling Them These Stories

A short story by William Kherbek from the graveyard shift at ILoveItCafe

A speculative tale by Joanne McNeil

A selection from the Sabelo Mlangeni series Country Girls depicting queer life in rural South Africa

New work by Prem Sahib documenting a derelict sauna prior to its demolition

New work from a project by Sam Williams made at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

A selection of drawings by Lucy AthertonTodd BuraColter Jacobsen and Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings

A very personal archive from the editors, recounting life in the early 2000s in San Francisco, a ‘city of refuge’, comprising photographic work by Jamie Atherton and an essay by Jeremy Atherton Lin originally published in Index magazine in 2003

The debut of our first regular column, in which Bryony Quinn examines the etymology of the issue’s theme

Publisher & Editor: Jamie Atherton
Associate Editor: Jeremy Atherton Lin
Art direction: Sandy McInnes

Published March 2019 in London
ISSN 2515-5997

Failed States issue no.2: suburb


The suburb issue of Failed States includes an original fiction by Wayne Koestenbaum; special projects on the Charles Atlas film Staten Island Sex Cult and the late South African photographer Thabiso Sekgala; a portfolio of posters for queer skate collective Unity selected by Ian Giles; and contributions from writers, artists, photographers and educators from Iceland, North America, Pakistan, South Africa, and the UK, in which…

Baneen Mirza walks the Lahore sprawl
Brian W. Ferry locates the suburban in Brooklyn
Bryony Quinn researches a divisive wall in Oxfordshire
Colter Jacobsen doesn’t remember
Daniel Callanan explores wild places in south-east London
Donal Mosher recalls the dogwood trees of North Carolina
Jack Self goes back to the beginning
Jacques Bellavance photographs Europe-inspired developments around Shanghai
Jenny Lin spends an evening in those same Shanghainese suburbs
Jeremy Atherton Lin follows the searchlights of the Silicon Valley
Josh Cheon digs up his teenage mixtapes
Justinien Tribillon undertakes an etymological adventure
Karen Tongson soundtracks her youth in the Inland Empire
KT Browne finds herself in a remote Icelandic town
Matt Wolf  hangs out in Boca Raton’s retirement communities
Nina Power contemplates the supra-rural
Olivia Laing has a phenomenological moment
Peter Nencini makes public art in Croydon
Sabelo Mlangeni ventures into a wealthy Johannesburg suburb
Tara Sinn moves to a cul-de-sac

Publisher & Editor: Jamie Atherton
Associate Editor: Jeremy Atherton Lin
Art direction: Sandy McInnes
Cover image: Sabelo Mlangeni

The second issue is larger in format, with longer texts, special projects and a greater focus on photographic essays. It will be published at the end of May 2018.

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 — — 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, the suburb issue

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

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.


Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing


This weekend (21-22 May) I’m showing the Fred Herko piece commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance for What Remains… Anatomy of an Artist: a festival of 10 new works that I’ve been working on for the past nine months or so. It includes the following essay and bibliography:


Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing

There’s a bit in the collage of texts spoken in Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing in which Donald McDonagh lists all the roles — the “job descriptions” if you like — that might be attributed to Fred Herko: “…scene designer, underground movie star, ad hoc couturier, textile designer, interior decorator, babysitter, corporation officer…”. It was an attempt, I think, at preserving for posterity the fullness of an artist’s life not quite contained by the labels “dancer” and “choreographer” (as well as to let some light in on one shadowed by the staggering monumentality of its termination).

There is scant biography within the piece — after all a life-story is like a string, bluntly cut at each end, and here we are talking traces: tangled, unravelling messes; full of promise for the forensicist — so a little background… Fred Herko (1936–64) grew up in Ossining, New York. While studying piano at the Juilliard School of Music, he discovered dance and in 1956 won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School, taking extracurricular classes with Merce Cunningham and James Waring. He was a founding member of both the New York Poets Theatre — with Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones, James Waring and Alan Marlowe — and the Judson Dance Theatre, where he contributed two original pieces to the inaugural concert alongside Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay.

Herko is all over early 1960s New York. At the Factory he could be found among the “mole people” — the subterranean speedfreak superstars burrowing down at the back — and starred in a handful of early Warhol films. So although he left virtually no written records, echoes of him resound widely, so much so that amid nine months of research I came to realise that the piece might exist without significant reference to the part of Herko’s life for which he has become most famous: his death, the moment from which his story is often told. Unsurprisingly so — it is dramatic: in 1964, following a rapid decline in physical and mental health, Herko danced out of a fifth-storey window. Whether this was the staged suicide performance he’d often spoken of, or the unwitting final act of someone who believed he could fly, no one can be certain. Addressing the way in which traces form strata of significance in varying widths prompted me to place my focus elsewhere, on a by-all-accounts more “positive” event: the making of Roller Skate, a now lost Warhol film from 1963.

Working outward from an absence — that of the original artefact — through descriptions of the film, poems, essays, articles, other films, accounts from those who knew Herko intimately and those whose lives brushed his only fleetingly, the process of confronting a queer archive became an integral part of the work. In lieu of an official record, ingrained perceptions, fuzzy memories and fealties come into play, all telling tales that slip around each other, never quite settling; gossip, rumour and speculation take on new value here and omissions reveal greater truths about the shape of queer history more broadly.

For Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, I collaged fragments pulled from the pile of amassed material to create a text oscillating, I think, between lecture and poem. To make this physical I wanted to attempt something Herko excelled in: roller skating on a single skate. As a non-performer — challenged by tasks requiring dexterity and balance — the possibility of foundering seemed high, but I was interested in an idea that this failure might somehow provide a strategy with which to engage with Freddie, whose transgressions, unprofessionalism and self-destruction might commonly be perceived as failures, creating a sort of transtemporal dialogue. In turn, the texture of the language, the play with gravity and a tuning into phenomenological readings of a space thickly charged with its own traces of professionalism, skill and ability, has opened up my body to another language, one which has required trust, if not understanding.

Jamie Atherton, 2016



The spoken part of Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing consists entirely of text gleaned from a wide array of sources, cut-up, stitched together and occasionally slightly modified.

Douglas Crimp, “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol, 2012

John Daley, ‘Billy Linich’s Party’, The Floating Bear, issue 27, November, 1963

John Daley, letter published in The Floating Bear, October 1963, quoted in Reva Wolf, Andy Warhol, Poetry, and Gossip in the 1960s, 1997

Samuel R. Delany, ‘Coming/Out’, Shorter Views, 2000

Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren, 1975

Edwin Denby, letter published in The Floating Bear, issue 19, 1962

Diane di Prima, ‘For Freddie, Fucking Again’, December 1959, Freddie Poems, 1974

Diane di Prima, ‘Formal Birthday Poem’, February 1964, Freddie Poems, 1974

Diane di Prima, ‘Freddie’s Monologue’, January 1965, Freddie Poems, 1974

Diane di Prima, ‘Invocation, a Birthday Poem for Freddi-O, February 23, 1957’, Freddie Poems, 1974

Diane di Prima, ‘Pome About Freddie’ 1958, Freddie Poems, 1974

Diane di Prima, Memoirs of my Life as a Woman, 2001

Grace Glueck, ‘Art Notes’, The New York Times, 26 January 1964

Fred Herko, Resume

Jill Johnston quoted in Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962-1964, 1983

Ray Johnston, ‘Review by Ray Johnston (In the Style of Floating Bear)’, The Floating Bear, issue 27, November, 1963

Stephen Koch, Stargazer: The Life, World and Films of Andy Warhol, 1991

Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘Mechanical Ballets: Light, Motion Theatre’, 1977, from Dance (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art), 2012

Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967

Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967

Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959

Steve Paxton, quoted in Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962-1964, 1983

Yvonne Rainer, Feelings Are Facts, 2006

Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea, 1962

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 3rd century BC

Susan Sontag, Notes on “Camp”, 1964

Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover, 1992

Amy Taubin quoted in Thomas Waugh, ‘Cockteaser’, from Doyle, Flatley, & Muñoz (editors), Pop Out: Queer Warhol, 1996

Unidentified author, ‘Rollerskate’, poem published in The Floating Bear, issue 29, 1964

Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980

James Waring, ‘Untitled poem’, c.1960


A selection of other texts — not sourced from directly — that have informed the work:


Paisid Aramphongphan, Real Professionals? Andy Warhol, Fred Herko, and Dance,

Gavin Butt, Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948–1963, 2005

Roger Copeland, Seeing without participating: Andy Warhol’s unshakeable determination not to be moved,

Leanne Gilbertson, Theatre Quote Unquote:* The Expansive Gestures of the New York Poets Theatre (American Theatre for Poets, Inc.),

Jack Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure, 2011

Joshua Lubin-Levy (editor), Fred Herko: A Course Packet, Part 2,

José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 2009 (Specifically chapter 9, A Jeté Out the Window: Fred Herko’s Incandescent Illumination)

Cameron Williams, Reading Frank O’Hara’s Loves Labor: an eclogue, an elegy for the New York Poets Theatre,