The first performance of my new work The Iris Opens / The Iris Closes: Le Silence, part of an ongoing interrogation / re-imagining of Louis Delluc’s lost film Le Silence (1920), using Delluc’s surviving scene notes, will take place on April 1st at the Future Imperfect / Imperfect Cinema Symposium at Plymouth University. This first public iteration will take the form of a hybrid screening/paper/performed screenplay, drawing on the silent film traditions of the ‘exhibitor’ (Europe / USA) and the benshi (Japan), wherein films were explained (sometimes re-ordered), or creatively narrated and interpreted by live performers. Delluc’s scene notes describe a film enacted entirely in flashbacks moving towards the recollection of a violent and traumatic event, and I propose that Delluc’s title itself, Le Silence, suggests that narratives of trauma cannot be spoken.
Ameena Anjum, Ameera Al-Aji, Andrea Berry, Emma Bolland, Luke Chapman, Helen Clarke, Louise Finney, Rebecca Jagoe, Sharon Kivland, John McDowall, Debbie Michaels, Rachel Smith, Rachel Taylor, Lunzhao Wu
130 mm x 190 mm, 148 pages, perfect-bound
£10.00 / 12 euros
‘Writing, Walking, Dreaming… Walking (literally and figuratively, one might say sleepwalking) is explored herein. Walking and dreaming provide ways of knowing a place. They lead to encounters with strangers and with ourselves. The city is the stage for autobiographical encounters; where houses and memories meet; where the uncanny is both home and away; where the stranger leads us down the rabbit hole. There are drifts through Jacques Lacan’s Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’ and Walter Benjamin’s ‘A Berlin Chronicle’; urban nightmares; the homesick child; enigmatic staircases; snapshots of the past and lost objects; reflections on writing; seeing words as images; and prophetic dreams. Amsterdam slips into a New York bar, and a dystopian group recounts its anxieties.’
The Dreamers will be available at:
PAGES Leeds | International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair
The Tetley, Leeds, 4 and 5 March 2017, 10 a.m. to p.m.
and on MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE’s table at MISS READ: Berlin Art Book Festival 2017
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 14, 15, 16 July
You can buy The Dreamers online here.
Last summer I made a body of new work for the exhibition Testing Testing whilst corresponding with the author and screenwriter Jake Arnott. Our emails were adapted as a screenplay, which we performed as a table reading at the exhibition’s accompanying symposium. This screenplay was then reworked in letter-form. This ‘letter’ appears below, interspersed with documentation of the work.
Flashback, and the Treatment of the Dream: a letter to Jake Arnott
‘[This] is the introduction. Writing one allows a writer to try to set the terms of what he will write about. Accounts, excuses, apologies designed to reframe what follows after them, designed to draw a line between deficiencies in what the author writes and deficiencies in himself, leaving him, he hopes, a little better defended than he might otherwise be.’
I frame myself within the narrative. I position the reader in relation to the script.
My dear Jake,
I set out to engage in a dialogue about a document, about the words that come before a film. I was thinking about adaptation, and asked you to be my interlocutor because you are both a novelist and a screenwriter, and therefore aware of the gaps, the moments of change, the reformulation of frames that occur between literary text, screenplay, and film. You have been an actor, and undergone direction. You have experienced the transposing and mutation, the cutting and overwriting between one thing and another. The in-between space where multiple voices are visible; the space of adaptation that might be called the space of transition. In The Intervals of Cinema Jacques Rancière outlines one conflict of adaptation, by saying that ‘literature is not simply the art of language that would need to be put into plastic images and cinematic movement. It is a practice of language that also carries a particular idea of ‘imageness’ (imagéité) and of mobility’. He is suggesting that literature itself can be cinematographic, and that, paradoxically, cinema has to ‘reduce the excess of visual imagery that literature uses to project itself in imagination beyond its powers’. Being an artist/writer I am delighted by the idea that a text may have more imagery than a picture, and that as I move between mediums, words may not always be where I think they are. But, being a writer/writer, you might experience the spaces between modes very differently.
When I asked you about this, you said that the most basic difference was a legal one. The novelist owns the novel and although a scriptwriter might own a ‘spec’ script, that is to say one they have created, as soon as they sell it they give up creative control; and credit often becomes an issue if a script is made, because it will have gone through so many hands, that no one will be quite sure who actually is the writer of this curious mutant thing.
This made me laugh, because your answer was so prosaic. When I had asked you about this in our previous correspondence, our dialogue had seemed, to me at least, much more expansive, dreamlike; a series of jump cuts as we emailed back and forth across space and time. We started by talking about the word ‘treatment’ from psychoanalytical and cinematic perspectives, and soon became caught up in a discussion of the dream sequence. I had been watching Hitchcock’s Spellbound, with its dream sets designed by Salvador Dali. I was slightly unhinged: working on the drawing that tracked the course of our emails; fretting and re-editing the short films. And throughout I was reading Rancière, who of dream sequences in general says that ‘dream images always have to be signaled as dream images’, so that ‘the dream rhetoric destroys the dream’. Your answers in that dialogue were lengthier, less guarded, and you spoke of your current screen adaptation of a playwright’s teenage diaries, of the demand for a kind of ‘biopic’, and of your feeling that the only thing that cannot not be filmed is real life, which means that you can only treat these diaries as a dream. You said that the essential reality of a film exists only in the illusion it can create: it has to be a dream that we share in a darkened room. You said that we can only project images of life that work on an imaginary level, and so any notion of ‘real life’ becomes problematic. You talked of the difference between realism and naturalism, and (rather beautifully) pointed out that the function of the lens is to distort as much as it is to focus, that we see through the glass darkly, as it were.
It is indeed a dark business. Making work always disturbs me, it lends me a heightened awareness of both fearing and desiring the critical gaze of the other, burning under ‘the solicitation of the gaze’. I steal this phrase from Lacan, who perhaps means something slightly different: the split between the ‘call and the reproach’, the needy subject and the accusing object, both of which exist within us at the same time. Close enough though, I think. The intangible spectres, the ‘I’ and the ‘eye’ for whom the work is made…
Working on the long drawing was particularly unsettling. I used the paper to free-associatively respond to our conversation, to attempt a mapping of unconscious thought. I worked in scroll form, and began to think of it as a roll of film turning in a camera, and then, moving in both directions, like editing a digital timeline. I realized how much I was relying on memory: the marks being made were haunted by the marks concealed, these in turn being reworked in an overwriting of what had already occurred. It looked a mess, was uncontrolled, did not seem like ‘my work’. And what was on the paper was in a dialogue not just with our conversation, but with the film editing, and with Rancière. I had a half-formed memory of Bergson and his idea of La Dureé, the duration, and of memory and time being a scroll that simultaneously rolls and unrolls… and I hesitate as I am not sure that I am right about Bergson: perhaps the paper (the plane of the memory) is not a scroll, but is rolled into a cone, and I am falling through its funnel: I may even have created this memory of a memory of memory. I think, my dear friend, that I have made a drawing that is enacting flashbacks, or indeed flash-forwards…
Maureen Turim describes the screenplay for Louis Delluc’s 1921 modernist film Le Silence as ‘a dramatic transformation of memory images beyond their representation as a unitary event or a coherent linear narration… [a] montage of different temporalities with minimal cues to guide the viewer. The film has not survived, so we know it only from Delluc’s scene notes. I imagine these montages as having a chaotic pathology, like the carnival scene flashbacks in Kinugasa’s 1926 film Page of Madness (Kuretta Ippei), which signify for me, the terrible, exuberant chaos of psychosis. Why am I interested only in the documents of films that no longer exist, or that were written and made before a consolidated orthodoxy of film making?
The flashback, not just as a cinematic device but also as a pathological phenomena of trauma, can operate in at least two ways. It can fulfill an informative, clarifying function: filling in gaps, explaining anomalies, shoring up a history. But equally, it might add to ambiguity, heighten a sense of narrative fragmentation and disorientation. In many screenplay writing manuals, there are often dire warnings about the overreliance on the voiceover (the acousmatic), and the flashback (the atemporal), the two devices to which I am most drawn. I asked you how used flashbacks; how you have approached the problem of memory, and I was pleased that you answered that the film acts as a kind of recovered memory, and that there should always be an element of uncertainty as to what we recall. You wrote an adaptation of your fourth novel, Johnny Come Home, which was really a series of flashbacks, and even flashbacks within flashbacks, and tried to establish a rhythm that worked with different timelines that the audience could instinctively follow. You asserted that for the script, structure is the most important thing. As an artist I might disagree, or at least have a different idea of what structure is, or does, but I am on your side when you say that you don’t think that confusion is a problem, that it just has to have some sort of consistency to it. A dream logic, you said, that’s what we want from a film.
Your Imaginary Friend,
1. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press, 1986 [London: Harper and Row, 1974] p. 16
2. Jacques Rancière, The Intervals of Cinema, trans. by John Howe, London: Verso: 2014 [Les écarts du cinéma, Paris: La fabrique éditions, 2011] p. 43
3. The Intervals of Cinema, p. 46
4. Spellbound, dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, USA: Selznick International Pictures, 1945
5. The Intervals of Cinema, p. 27
6. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI 1964, ed. by Jacques-Alain Miller, trans, by Alan Sheridan, New York: Norton 1998 [Le séminaire, Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, 1964, ed. by Jacques-Alain Miller Paris: Éditions du Seuil,1973] p. 70
7. Lacan, ibid. p.70
8. Alia Al-Saji, ‘The memory of another past: Bergson, Deleuze and a new theory of time’, Continental Philosophy Review, June 2004, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 203–239. This paper was my encounter with Bergson, and there is no scroll, only a cone. My memory had superimposed a different kind of furling…
9. Maureen Turim, Flashback in Film: memory and history, London and New York: Routledge, 1989, p. 69
10. Louis Delluc, Ecrit cinématographiques III: Drames de Cinéma, Paris: Cinématèque Française Cahier du Cinéma, 1990, [Paris: Editions du Monde nouveau, 1923] pp. 45–50
11. A Page of Madness (Kuretta Ippei), dir. by Teinosuke Kinugasa, Japan, 1926
12. Jake Arnott, Johnny Come Home, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006
This Saturday I will be telling half-truths and making auto-fictive jam: ‘Invisible Flock have invited artists to prepare dishes live from recipes based on personal stories in a Ready, Steady, Cook style set up with Terry O’Connor as master of ceremonies, during two hours of eating and sharing. Emma Bolland and Leo Kay will prepare meals that they feel represents a story from their lives – it might be to do with their artistic practice or something else entirely. Invisible Flock will help cook these dishes live while Terry leads a discussion about autobiographical practice.’
Invisible Flock are an interactive arts organisation described by the Guardian as “real innovators” of digital and interactive art. They are renowned for creating ground breaking hybrid work across forms. They create artworks that invite people to reimagin the world they live in and how they participate in it, often using technology to incite meaningful encounters. Terry O’Connor is one of the six founding members of Forced Entertainment and has also established an independent body of performance work as a performer and theatre maker. Leo Kay is a performer and Theatre Maker who’s work sits between theatre and live-art with a focus on autobiographical performance. Leo is Artistic Director of Unfinished Business, creating original work that lives between performance and everyday interaction, with an emphasis on process, ritual, intimacy, socio-political engagement and unexpected interaction between artist and audience.
Places are free but booking is essential: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/autobiographical-food-3-emma-bolland-and-leo-kay-tickets-25993399959
The event is part of Hillsfest, taking place in Sheffield on the 9th and 10th of July, with spoken word, live music, performance, lecture and film strands. All events are free: http://www.hillsfest.org/spoken-word-and-film/
Friday 15th July: The National Association for Fine Art Education
I am pleased to be presenting my research at the NAFAE Research Practice Practice Research Symposium. ‘The symposium exploring aspects of doctoral research in Fine Art practice and Fine Art pedagogy organised by NAFAE in collaboration with the University of Cumbria. We are offering an opportunity to present a paper about what you are researching, and how you are researching it or, if you are supervisor, strategies for supervision. The aim of the symposium is to explore and debate issues of fine art research. It is hoped that a broad range of approaches to fine art research may be represented, to facilitate discussion of the range of topics being researched, and the methods being used to research them.
The symposium programme is available here: http://nafae.org.uk/sites/default/files/papers/research-practice-schedule.pdf
The abstracts. biographies, and papers will be available on the NAFAE website later this week. http://nafae.org.uk/events/research-practice-practice-research
INT. EXT. explores the territory of the screenplay as a conceptual and material frame for auto-fictive practice. Video projection and an installation of specially created typographical drawing props explore the screenplay concepts of ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ in relation to Laconian ideas of the unconscious, and the ambiguities of memory. Writing within the film frame, using the video editing software as a site for producing an image-responsive text, reversing the orthodoxy of screenplay/film relations, and proposing art writing as moving image. Wild Pansy Project Space, School of Fine Art, History of Art, and Cultural Studies, Old Mining Building University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT. Monday to Thursday, 10 am to 5pm, Friday 10 am to 4pm. You can watch a trailer of the full projected film below:
ONE OR TWO THINGS THEY KNOW ABOUT HER, a play by Sharon Kivland, friday 20 may, 19.00 to 20.30 at art lacuna, 48 falcon rd, london, sw11 2lr
I am very fortunate to be one of the readers for this play, adapted for twenty-two voices for Pressure Chamber 0.5: House of Hysteria, as a read-through or table work, with the author as dramaturge. In 1999 Book Works published A Case of Hysteria, in which Sharon Kivland followed Sigmund Freud’s analysis of a young woman, ‘Dora’ (Ida Bauer). The book merges many voices and confusions of identity arise. Indeed, it turns on a matter of voice. There is a long chapter that appears to be a play, with many characters. They are those who have written about the case (a ‘fragment of an analysis a case of hysteria’), their words extracted as dialogue when they assert something – a speculation – about ‘Dora’ for which there is no textual evidence in Freud’s account or ‘fragment’. To this impossible dramatisation the author added the stage directions of a twentieth-century play, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. It has never been performed, though its performance has been imagined.
Readers: Jake Arnott, Emma Bolland, Marianne Chase, Simon Crump, Richard Dodwell, Steve Dutton, Bryan Eccleshall, Gavin Edmonds, Michael Hampton, Francis Haselden, Matthew King, Rosanna McNamara, Megan Nolan, Joseph Noonan-Ganley, Maggie Pettigrew, Lucy Pook, Holly Sandford, Isabella Streffen, Linda Stupart, Sam Talbot, Emmanuelle Waeckerle, Frank Wasser
Places are limited for this event, as is seating. Booking is essential. Please email or telephone Tina Jenkins to reserve: email@example.com 07786178078
Digital Re-enchantment: Place, Writing & Technology, Saturday 11th June 2016
I’m delighted to be one of the speakers at this symposium, together with Clare Archibald (Writer), David Borthwick (University of Glasgow), Sarah Cole (TIME/IMAGE & Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the British Library), David Cooper (Manchester Metropolitan University), and Brian Lewis (Longbarrow Press).
‘In Landmarks (2015) the writer Robert Macfarlane, expresses his anxiety for the way that technology “has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too”. In what ways, though, might digital technologies enhance and enrich our relationships with the places in which we live and the spaces through which we move? How have landscape writers drawn upon digital technologies in their own exploratory creative practices? This informal symposium will bring together a diverse range of speakers – including writers, literary critics, a leading publisher, and a creative entrepreneur – to explore the imaginative possibilities and problems presented by different digital technologies.’ The symposium will be followed by an evening of readings, and group walk on the following day. To find out more, and book a place, click here.
Moving Performances: a day symposium exploring the politics and spaces of voice and unruly emotions, Thursday 23rd June, Faculty of Music, St Aldates, Oxford University
I’m also delighted to be part of Moving Performances, talking about experimenting with the technologised voice as a means of voicing, and talking to, the internalised ‘other’.
‘This day symposium will bring together academics, artists, composers and other researchers who are interested in the capacities and aesthetics of the voice in performance and its spatial politics. How might affects be engineered and negotiated through the bodies of artistic and musical performances? How are passions or insanities produced – both in genres such as opera and ballet, but also in spectacles of live art? How might such performances generate space and atmospheres? How might bodies performing/experiencing emotion move/be moved through spaces? What kind of political material is the voice as a connecting medium between performer and audience? What is the impact of the mediated or technologized voice on artistic or musical performance of excessive emotion? The symposium title uses cultural theorist Jennifer Doyle¹s phrase ‘unruly emotions’ (2013) to reference a recent discussion of contemporary art’s use of emotion and affect as artistic materials, often manifested by those working in the traditions of live art and performance. Such work involves specific bodies that inhabit particular places, an understanding which chimes with both musicology’s study of performances, and also cultural geography’s recent attention to affect and spatial politics. For more information on this event click here.
My 2005 multiple work Melancholia, together with my 2015 bookwork Lectolalia have been reviewed in the March edition of Art Monthly. To buy Lectolalia from the publishers please click here. There are only a very few of the Melancholia works left. Should you be interested in buying one then please contact me direct, through my Bio / CV / Contact Me page.
The Editions at The Tetley, 5th and 6th of March
THE EDITIONS III
NORMAN ANDERSON, EMMA BOLLAND, LOUISE FINNEY, JAC LE MENS, LURDES MONTEIRO, LEA TORP NEILSON, BERNADETTE O’TOOLE, SARAH PENNINGTON, TRINITY SETT, JANINE SIDDALL BURTON, RACHEL EMILY TAYLOR, A. TENNANT, TRINITY SETT, MADELEINE WALTON, SIAN WILLIAMS, AND YUTONG ZHOU.
EDITED BY SHARON KIVLAND, CURATED BY EMMA BOLLAND AND SHARON KIVLAND
The Editions is an annual publishing project, undertaken by past and present M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. students in Fine Art, Sheffield Hallam University, working with number of constraints.
In 2015–16, over several months, the participants in The Editions III prepared their novels, following Roland Barthes, thinking about how to produce a book that while unwritten is described or figured, given form. The Editions III is the trial of writing. Material, without which the books would not be possible or which is constructed after the fact, is collected and displayed: the parts and processes of writing as terms of reference.
The participating artists in The Editions III have each produced a book in response to Roland Barthes’ text The Preparation for the Novel. This exhibition aims to recreate the artist’s /author’s moment of production, bringing together fifteen sets of preparatory material for these books – notes, drafts, crumpled sheets of paper, reference books, Post-Its, and other ephemera. Displayed as individual writing desks in the Tetley’s Boardroom, the installation will be activated by exhibiting artists taking turns to sit at their desks, writing, idling, or otherwise engaged.
EXT. INT. solo exhibition at the University of Leeds
My solo exhibition EXT. INT. at The Wild Pansy project Space, University of Leeds, curated by Simon Lewandowski and Chris Taylor, runs from Weds 20th April to Friday 20th May 2016. I will be showing new work created especially for the space: a short film, a text drawing installation, and a short text. The preview takes place on Wednesday 20th April from 6pm to 8pm. All welcome.
Micromegas: University of Lincoln Monday 11th January – Friday 5th February
Private view Tuesday 26 Jan 5-7pm – all welcome
‘Curated by Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen this exhibition/publication brings together posters and texts by a range of artists who were commissioned in response to Voltaire’s Micromégas text of 1752, a seminal work in the genre of science fiction which functions as a commentary on human foible, scientific superstitions and anti-utopias. The large-scale posters form a component of the exhibition, and when folded, an element of the publication. The exhibition and publication investigate notions of portability, reproduction, distribution and presentation in contemporary art practice and curation with reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise.’
Micromegas: Powers of 10 brings together works by Pavel Büchler, Dora Garcia, Jonathan Monk, Scott Myles, Thomson & Craighead, Marco Stout, Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen, and a text by Mark Dorrian.
A second edition: Micromegas: Vagabond Flux contains digital print posters by Bik Van der Pol, Jonn Herschend, Jacques Longuecolline, Mick Peter, Laure Provost, Stefanos Pavlakis & Tobias Kauer, Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen and booklet with essay by Emma Bolland.’
The MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall pamphlets, authored by myself, Judit Bodor and Tom Rodgers, have just been purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their Artists’ Books collection at the National Art Library. You can find out more about these publications here: http://gordianprojects.com/2016/01/05/new-year-special-offer-milkywayyouwillhearmecall/ Lectolalia, my single author pamphlet, has just been bought by the Saison Poetry Library for their collection at the Royal Festival Hall. You can find out more about the publication here: http://gordianprojects.com/lectolalia-a-romance/
Preface: What is a Book?
My short film Preface: What is a Book? remediates an academic paper about the author ego positioning the ‘book’ object as a kind of Lacanian fetish as a short film. Made with the support of Arts Council England for my exhibition Lectolalia #2 (Speak/Read) at Bank Street Arts, for their contextual exhibition programme for the Sheffield International Artist Book Prize 2015, it is now available to watch online:
I am very pleased to have commenced part-time doctoral research at Sheffield Hallam University, and am very fortunate to have Dr Sharon Kivland as Director of Studies, and Dr Peter Jones as second supervisor.
Lectolalia #2 (speak read)
My small exhibition Lectolalia #2 (speak read) is a part of Opening Up the Book, a programme of events and exhibitions run by Bank Street Arts and The School of English at The University of Sheffield, contextualised by the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize. You are warmly invited to the opening night of this and the other exhibitions at Bank Street on Thursday 12th November. My work comprises of three short films, one newly commissioned for this exhibition, a reprise of my ‘Re-Writing Lispector’ instillation, and sundry other scrawls and objects that may demand to be included. Please note that whilst the exhibitions are wheelchair accessible the rest of the building including toilets and bar, is not at all disabled friendly. Should you not be able to attend on the 12th, the exhibition fruns from the 4th of December to the 5th of December. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1680122258940594/
Cobra Res Cobra Res 1.9, the latest response by Cobra Res binds together specially commissioned flash fiction and experimental texts made in direct response to the ‘Calais crisis’ COBRA Committee meetings, and the overall crisis faced by refugees as they move towards and across Europe. Contributors include myself, Sharon Kivland, Paul O’Kane, Claire Potter, Jade Amoli-Jackson, Dragan Todorovic and many more. All the profits from the sale of this book will go to the charity CalAid who support refugees and migrants in Calais, France. You can buy the book here: http://cobrapress.bigcartel.com/product/cobra-1-9-book-of-flash-fiction
Reading at Conway Hall, London, Saturday 7th November
The Small Publishers’ Fair is an annual celebration of books by contemporary artists, poets, writers and book designers. It is held in London’s Conway Hall and takes place this year on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 November, 11am to 7pm. The fair features over 60 publishers from across the UK and around the world, and a programme of exhibitions, readings and talks. I will be reading from my text, Lectolalia (a romance) (2015), published by Gordian Projects. Details about the Fair can be found here:
GeoHumanities: a journal of the Association of American Geographers. Volume 1, Issue 1
I have a short paper, Every Place a Palimpsest: Creative Practice, Emotional Archaeology, and the Post-Traumatic Landscape in the new GeoHumanities journal, edited by Tim Cresswell, Deborah P. Dixon, Peter K. Bol and J. Nicholas Entrikin. The journal is open access and free to read online: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rgeo20/1/1
Livres D’Artistes: The Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice. Cardiff University, Friday 4th to Sunday 6th December.
I am delighted to be presenting a paper, and screening my book as film works at this conference. The full programme can be found here: http://livresdartistes.weebly.com/programme.html
This short essay was written in 2010, and was commissioned by East Street Arts for ‘Over Yonder’, their 2010 project that explored the historical context of town/region twinning. I was given free rein to interpret the idea of ‘twinning’ however I wished.
‘…and thus did nature balance one freak by another, and restore her universal equilibrium…’ Punch Magazine 1843
BuyLibriumOnline! ‘Librium: this medicine is used to treat anxiety… side effects include confusion…’ Spam email received October 2010
On October 25th 2006 the craniopagus twins Tatiana and Krista Hogan were born. Conjoined, backward facing at the head, they clearly share bone, veins and arteries. Their neurologist states that they also share a cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that is believed to play a central role in memory, language and perception. Thus, Tatiana and Krista, whilst never being able to meet each other’s eye, may share a portion of a psychic existence: ambiguously separated physical selves inhabiting ambiguously connected interior minds. The uncanny mirror of this proposition is a single physical self internally fractured by a disruptive other.
The myth of the healthy self sets up an impossible ideal of a fully integrated psyche, of an emotionally, socially and morally balanced existence that enables us to travel progressively through a life of forward looking, harmonious and meditative reflection in which we unflinchingly meet our own gaze. An industry of ‘self help’ purports to assist us in journeying towards a state where internal conflicts are seen and resolved, and a spectral subconscious of intrusive visitations and unnaturally dark desires and drives is exorcised by the light of self awareness. The contemporary use of the term ‘freak’ to describe a seemingly psychically odd individual reflects the language used to comment on the ‘sideshows of monstrosities’ of the nineteenth century. An account from 1847 informs us that ‘there seems to be a sort of fascination in the horrible; and we can only hope, as the mania has now reached its extreme, a healthy admiration for the “true and the beautiful,” as the novelists call it, will immediately begin to show itself.’
The cultural myth of the twin allows us to both explore and distance ourselves from the unsettling reality of our internal conflict, and is rich with the contradictions that feed our anxieties about the unbalanced mind. The uncanny clone-like telepathy of The Midwich Cuckoos, (John Wydham Lewis 1957), threatens the annihilation of our singular existence through the proposition of a monstrous collective psyche. In the good / evil dyad of the Hammer Horror film Twins of Evil (1971), the externally identical Maria and Frieda manifest both the pure and virtuous mind, and its perverse and libidinous opponent. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson 1886) is centered upon anxieties about the double self to the extent that the actual physiology of the subject alters to mirror its psychic state.
Much media representation of Tatiana and Krista, and other conjoined twins provide us with a dehumanised ‘spectacle’ that is profoundly unsettling and irresistibly fascinating precisely because it visually reflects both the vicious doctrine of the ‘healthy mind and healthy body’, (arguably in itself a Victorian inverse of the freak show aesthetic), and more importantly the psychic blurring of the boundaries between the healthy self and the pathological other that the concepts of the ‘normal’ and the ‘ideal’ resist. Most coverage of these twins gives us no narrative of a complex and continuing existence, and refutes any experience of an ordinarily rich life. The adult lives of these individuals are rarely portrayed, except where a ‘freakish’ gift can be posed as a melodramatic or sentimental counterpoint to their tragic disability. Lori and Reba Schappell, the most widely described adult craniopagics, are defined almost exclusively by Reba’s career as a country and western singer. The National Fairground Archive comments that in the freak shows of the nineteenth century, ‘the most popular attractions were oddities with extraordinary talents’.
The intersection at which these lives come under scrutiny, at which our viscerally anxious fascination is revealed, is at the tortuously extended moment of their dangerous surgical separation. In the case of back or side facing craniopagics this is the imagined perilous point at which they will turn and face and stare, in which each other’s eyes, the supposed windows of their souls, will either be successfully penetrated or irrevocably shattered. The ambivalence of such procedures, paradoxically posed as both vital and life threatening, reflects our own uncertainty about our wish to see ourselves, secretly fearful that the act of seeing may force us to lose a darkness for which we dare not admit our yearning. This seemingly healthy act of a psychically eugenic form of self-examination, is designed to light the path of a life without conflict, to eradicate a troublesome interior darkness in which we sometimes stumble disorientated and dreamlike: it is a cruelly lit mirror that allows the beauty of existence to have no flaws, and whose glaring shine harshly and irrevocably splits off that which intrudes upon our ideal.
A softer light upon a reflective surface might not exclude a positive and progressive psyche, but allow for fluid exchange between ourselves and our dark other that is only possible across a boundary blurred, a mirror become a mist. The clarity of a single path, which conceptually purports to steer us ever onwards through a life which begins with a hopeful birth, and ends with a satisfactorily peaceful death, in which we congratulate ourselves upon a fulfilled potential seemingly untainted by uncertainty and doubt, is in fact a narrow and prosaic road which allows for none of the creative and poetic blunders and diversions which truly illuminate our rich potential. In reality, a life defined by a cold cycle of an impenetrable rock orbiting slavishly through the vacuum of a bleak prescriptive space offers no richness. Nor does the pitiless light and the sterilising heat of a merciless sun allow for a sensual organic growth of our psychic selves. Without the blackness of night, or the liminal grey of dawn and dusk, the contemplative, creative, and conflicted luminescence of the day would not exist. The mind that does not struggle cannot prevail and the heart that does not break cannot feel love.
In August 2007, it was declared that Tatiana and Krista could not be separated, due to the likelihood of the surgery killing or paralysing one or both the girls. However, doctors stated that they are doing well in terms of health issues, and it is reported that when in distress, the soothing of one of the sisters will cause the other to cease her crying, and that when one is tickled, the other also laughs.
“Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare!” Alice Through The Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll 1871.
The following text is an extended transcript of a lecture given at L’Université Lille 3 on 19th March 2015 about the process of writing a commissioned text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux, the second in a series of 7 publishing projects and mobile exhibitions curated by Tracy Makenna and Edwin Janssenin response to Voltaire’s satirical proto-SciFi short storyMicromegas(1752),with work byBik Van Der Pol, Jacques Longuecolline,Jonn Herschend, Laure Prouvost, Mick Peter, Stefanos Pavlakis & Tobias Kauer, Tracy Makenna & Edwin Janssen, and myself. Micromegas Vagabond Flux is published byartconnexionin partnership with Ed & Ellis PS in a boxed, archival edition of 24 copies, and is supported by the University of Dundee and Fondation de France. A French translation of the lecture will be embedded here shortly. My published commissioned text Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions from a Cosmonaut Bitch will be available online later in the year.
Approaching the Dog Star*: writing for Micromegas Vagabond Flux Une conférence pour L’Université Lille 3, 19th March 2015
I thought it might be useful to start by talking about some of the ways in which an artist can write, and the possibilities of writing as part of art practice before I address the process of writing the text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux, and the challenges of responding to Voltaire in the light of recent events.
I am an artist and writer who sees the processes of making and writing as intertwined and at times inseparable. Creating boundaries between making images and objects, and writing texts is not helpful for me. Additionally, I see the act of reading and writing as performative. You will probably be familiar with the term ‘Art Writing’, which might be used to describe some of the things I do. However, I’m not yet sure what I think about this term, or whether it is of any use to me beyond that of convenience, in that it is a term one can use in a simplistic way to categorise and explain aspects of one’s practice. I wonder if, paradoxically, the term might engender a separation between written and visual practice, rather than enable integration of or discourse between the two.
What for the sake of convenience we can call my visual work has always, to one degree or another, started from the idea of text. Unwriting Lispector (2014) is an installation that is designed to sit on a bookshelf. A book, Água Viva by Clarice Lispector (which in English can be translated as ‘Living Water’ – perhaps in French it might be ‘eau vive’?) is placed next to a notebook, open at a blank page. Onto these is projected a looped video of me copying out the Lispector text into the self-same notebook. The footage is reversed so that my hand moves up the page and the words disappear – unwriting. This is a piece about writing and reading as process and performance, about an immersion in a text, and perhaps also about the limits of textual understanding. Other works have incorporated elements such as 100 crime novels which I made myself read one after the other, and a desk with a computer, its screen projected out onto the floor, where I spent periods in the gallery writing a sort of screenplay that attempted to animate the installation that surrounded me – see Sylvia Sylvia Where are You Buried? (2005). My short film The Is Of The Thing (2014) is about our relationship with books and reading. The voiceover is a cut-up / collage, of phrases taken from an email conversation between myself, and the curator who commissioned the work, David Berridge, an experimental writer. In our conversation we talked about the process of reading, and also the fear of reading that sometimes happens when one becomes overwhelmed by ones own ignorance, by the infinitesimal multitude of texts that one will never read.
In the same way that my ‘visual work’ is embedded with an experience of text, so my writing starts from the visual and the spatial. By this I don’t necessarily mean the kind of experimental typography as exemplified by Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard (1914), but more that to write I must first inhabit a visual field. Writers are so often told not to worry about layout in the first instance – told that this is procrastination. ‘Just start! Just get it down!’. However, before I can start to write on the screen, even in note form, I have to choose a font, think about spacing, set the margins, start to design the page – otherwise the words will not come. I cannot shape the piece unless I have a visual framework from which to start.
Above is a screenshot of an ongoing piece of work, an experimental translation of Freud’s Überdekkerinnerungen, translated in English as ‘Screen Memories’– in French this might be something like ‘souvenirs d’écran’ or ‘couvercle de la mémoire’? I don’t speak German, so I am translating on what the words look like and sound like, working quickly, in the style of the free association of Freudian analysis. The text is formatted so that Freud’s text and mine follow each other paragraph by paragraph, with Freud’s words minaturised and redacted, written through, impossible to read, so that although both our voices are there, visually, my words are screening his: the page is designed to echo the ideas and processes of both Freud’s text and my translation.
A visual articulation of different voices is also used in the text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux– to position the reader within the different narratives at the point of reading, and to enable me to inhabit the voices during the process of writing. Laika (the eponymous cosmonaut bitch) is italicized, Voltaire is diminished in size, and the deliberate use of symbols rather than numbers for the footnotes meant that a visual star could orbit the written Star of the title. I cannot tell you how much this pleases me!
So how did I write it? On the 6th January I received an email from Tracy and Edwin kindly inviting me to write the text in response to Voltaire’s Micromegas. They give me free rein, whilst indicating areas of my practice that might offer starting points: the arena of the ambiguous memoir, the relationships between word and image, the positioning of site and landscape as a repository for personal and collective memory, and walking as a tool for teaching, learning and research. This all seemed good to me, and I think that in the first instance I imagined writing quite an abstract, cerebral sort of piece, probably around place and imagined sites. But then the next day, January 7th, there came the attack upon the offices of the ‘satirical’ magazine Charlie Hebdo, and suddenly Voltaire was everywhere: the poster boy for free speech. It seemed inconceivable that I could write the piece without talking about Hebdo. But the more I tried, the more impossible it became. I talk about these impossibilities at length in the postscript of Dog Star (so in a way I do write about it), but for the purposes of this presentation I’m more interested in how what was impossible shaped what was possible. Thinking through these impossibilities made me angry, angry at the hypocrisy & laziness around the uses and definitions of the term free speech, and the uncritical trumpeting of vague Enlightenment values. What is free speech exactly? Where do its boundaries lie? If, as a feminist activist I receive what I experience as misogynist and intimidating Tweets, should I tolerate them because of the sanctity of ‘free speech’? Is the reason I find them distressing because I am not rational? When I saw the picture of world leaders marching for Hebdo in the newspapers I started counting the number of countries represented wherein its citizens are either locked up, punished, or murdered for ‘free speech’. There were many, including my own. I found Voltaire’s story fascinating and ingenious: but the character of Micromegas paradoxical. In some senses written to be a listener, an observer, a wonderer, he also read as privileged, pompous and self-satisfied. I wouldn’t want to sit next to him at dinner.
So what shaped the piece in the end was anger. I needed a voice that could be angry, that could disrupt the flow of the writing, that could shout at Voltaire and shout at Micromegas, and shout at the violence committed on both sides of any war. I also needed a voice with which I could be playful, a foil for the serious politicised narrative that I wanted to construct around the moon landings. As I read and reread Micromegas I found myself becoming more and more murderous in my mind – I saw myself following him around, muttering and cursing, and I was muttering and cursing and walking around my studio as I read. We have a phrase in English that is to be ‘dogged by’, which is to be cursed by and bound to – as in ‘he was dogged by misfortune’. We also use the description ‘dogged’, to be dogged is to be persistent, stubborn, determined, to keep at it. It was during the process of these cross and grumbling readings that Laika the space dog, the creature betrayed by science and rationality, came to mind – she would follow Micromegas from planet to planet, snapping at his heels and sniffing him out. I wanted allow Laika’s voice to become more and more feral as the piece went on. I was trying to write growls and howls but they looked unconvincing as words – contrived and inauthentic, and read as whimsical rather than fierce. A solution to this was to record myself being a dog, snapping and barking, and then to transcribe the sounds I made onto the page. (At the time of recording I had very bad flu, with fluid filling up my lungs – the recording is interspersed with much coughing and cursing).
In the process of writing there are many influences and desires that shape our texts. The ones that I can consciously acknowledge in Dog Star* include a wish to try to write in different and dialectical voices and the deliberate juxtaposition of personal memory (particularly my memories of watching the moon landings as a very small child) with historical research, political analysis, and fictional narratives, and the use of a postscript to anchor the present with the past. I tried to situate wonder and reality side by side and let them both retain an integrity whilst avoiding the polarities of whimsy and didacticism. And there were other, more sentimental indulgences, for instance – my partner’s fascination with and imaginative love for the outer reaches of our solar system, so when in the first paragraph I write ‘I slipped the leash and spiralled past the pewter planets of the Kuiper belt, through the fractoluminescence of the asteroids, and the comet clouds of icy moons to sail far, far out into the starry deeps’, I am writing for them.
I cannot end without mentioning that most useful of creative tools: serendipity. As I was struggling to finish the main body of the piece I was contacted by the journalist Cath Murray of DIVA magazine who were planning an article about the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, at the RAF Greenham Common military base in Kent, set up in response to the British government’s decision to allow the US Air Force to site Cruise nuclear missiles there. I had been there as a very young woman, and they wanted to interview me about my memories of that time. Suddenly and unexpectedly I had the ending for Dog Star, for here in those memories was Laika embodied. Feral, stubborn, and uncompromising: not pontificating about the sanctity of free speech, but getting dirty and speaking truth to power.
The full text of Dog Star* – dreaming transmissions from a cosmonaut bitch will be available on line later this year.