Saturday, April 29, 2006

Not a word

I haven’t been back (yet) to the ICA bookshop to buy one of Tino Sehgal’s words. Instead I went to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, for the first day of the Inner Worlds Outside exhibition of Outsider Art.

It shows the work of inspired and talented artists who weren’t part of the art world, and had never received any art training. People like Madge Gill who never sold any of her drawings in her lifetime because she didn't want to offend the guiding spirit who she said inspired them. Most of the drawings were found piled up in her bedroom when she died.

There is drawing from Gill that runs the length of one of the galleries, with the picture of the same woman appearing again and again in a swirl of shapes and colour. Apparently Gill would get a long roll of Calico and she would draw a bit, cover the drawing up and then unroll the next bit. until she had covered up the whole roll with her drawing. Must have taken months.

On the way out of the exhibition I was interviewed by the Independent on Sunday. The journalist took a photo. Might quote me in the paper this Sunday. I should have mentioned this blog, I might have got a free plug for it.

I went into the Gallery bookshop to buy an art mag. While I was there I bought, on impulse, a book by one French post-modernist philosopher (Deleuze) about another (Foucault). The reason I bought the book is that its opening sentence reads
‘a new archivist is appointed. But has anyone actually appointed him? Is he not acting rather on his own instructions?’

Its not often my proffession gets such a privileged mention in in philosophical texts. (I confess to not yet having read ‘Archive fever’ by Jacques Derrida).

So buy the time I had left I had spent £15. A tenner more and I could have had one of Sehgal’s words.

It is easy to spend money at the Whitechapel art gallery bookshop and the ICA bookshop. Sehgal is taunting me by selling his 100 words in the ICA bookshop. He is saying to me, ‘’you want to buy half the books and magazines in this shop. And yet you will end up spending £25, taking away nothing, for the sake of hearing one word’’

Maybe I should resist the Sehgal temptation, and use a line from a Smiths song instead to re-title this blog. That would be free.

Monday, April 24, 2006


On 8 April 2006 Wrights and Sites published ‘A Mis-guide to anywhere’, a book of ideas for you to try out in your City: ways of walking in your City that help you to see it differently.

In the MisGuide they develop the old situationist idea of using a map of one city to navigate around another. (a bit like the I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue game where you sing the words of one song to the tune of another).

They quote the example of a Ferris wheel moved from Paris to Birmingham in 2003. The wheel still had the French audio commentary installed. For several weeks people looked out on England’s second city whilst being told to look out for familiar Parisian landmarks.

If you are in London, Wrights and Sites suggest you get a map of Paris and use it to find where in London the Eiffel tower is. Stop along the way to enjoy the Parisian ambience, find a place for a Ricard and a croissant.

Tania and I inadvertently did something like this on our holiday in the Isle of Wight. On the bookshelf of the cottage we were staying in there was a pile of leaflets about places on the Island. The pile included a guide to Mottisfont Abbey.

The guide described the history of the Abbey. and its conversion to a manor house after the Reformation. The house has a drawing room designed by Rex Whistler. A river runs through its extensive gardens, which houses the national collection of roses.

A check of its facilities (with our hungry son in mind) revealed the existence of a café/restaurant open every day and serving hot meals.

Sounded good so we got in the car and drove over to the West of the Island. Got there at 12. Kids bored and hungry after an hour in the car. Restaurant turned out to be a tea hut, which didn’t take debit cards. No disaster, back in the car to the nearest village for an agreeable pub lunch looking towards the cliffs at Freshwater.

Should we go back? Might as well. After all, said Tania, it would be nice to see round the house. Back we go, spent an enjoyable hour helping Andrew and Anna find flowerpot men and women in the gardens.

(Here we found Dr Hoe and the Garleks)

Had a look at the house. It didn’t look much like an abbey, it didn’t look very open either. It wasn’t open.

A conversation with the Reception staff revealed that Mottisfont Abbey isn't on the Isle of Wight. We were at Mottistone Manor. The house in the gardens is a private residence which is open to the public one day per year (on the August bank holiday).

If I had known about the Mis-Guide we would have looked for the river and the rose collection.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Update on Tino Sehgal’s words

I went back to the ICA on Friday.

I asked whether Tino Sehgal had read the text out yet that contains the 100 words he has been selling for £25.

The man in the ICA bookshop said that:

  • they hadn’t sold all 100 words yet
  • Sehgal will wait until they are all sold until he reads the text
  • There is no deadline set for selling the words. If they are not all sold Sehgal may never read the text

I am sorely tempted to go back again next week, buy a word, and rename this blog with whatever Sehgal word I get.

What do you think?

Friday, April 21, 2006

could you eat 24 cans of beans in half an hour?

Last night Mark McGowan and two fellow artists tried to break the world record for speed eating tins of baked beans: they were aiming to eat 24 tins in 30 minutes.

In the end Mark managed to eat 10 cans. Simon Ould won the competiton with 12 cans but was sick immediately afterwards.

There was an environmental angle to the event: Mark wants to raise awareness of the global gas crisis.

McGowan’s art mainly consist of protests. They are the type of protests that don’t hurt anyone. Sometimes they are about serious issues but the protests are never fully serious themselves.

To protest against unnecessary pollution from unnecessary car journeys he kept his Audi 80 running non stop in a car park in Peckham.

When one of his friends from Europe criticized the English breakfast he lay in a bath of baked beans, chips and sausages for a week as a gesture of solidarity with the meal.

To protest against wasted water he ran a tap non stop for days and days and hung a sign next to it saying ‘if you see this tap left off please switch it on’.

The running tap really got some people’s back’s up. The tap was in a gallery in South London. People rang in, wrote in and e-mailed in telling them to switch it off. Some people even came into the gallery and switched it off themselves. It was as though everyone in London was living in one big family: someone in the house had left a tap on and they needed to be shouted at until they turned it off.

Part of the ‘art’ in an event like that is the effect it has on people, the responses it provokes or evokes . I like art that attempts to impact on people’s lives in some ways. I know it wasted water in itself but I have definitely reduced the amount of time I spend running taps over the past two days since I read of his event.

Thank you to Russell Herron for his blogpost that alerted me to Mark McGowan: Russell described McGowan coming into the ICA bookshop and showing him a film he had made with Simon Ould.

In Russell’s words the film ''shows Simon, dressed in a black cape and crappy handmade crows beak jumping down the Duke of York Steps, then hopping around crowing while some kids point and laugh. The film ends with a rather long segment of Simon holding an umbrella made to look like a crow, again making loud squawking noises. ''

After eating 2 cans of beans in half an hour Simon really has got something to crow about now.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I’ve been reading The Phantom Tollbooth to Anna and Andrew. It was my favourite book from childhood. Milo and Tock visit the market place of Dictionopolis. The stall holders have buckets of words for you to buy. If you can’t afford a whole word (some of them are very expensive) you can go to the DIY stall which has buckets of letters which you can use to make your own words up.

‘Isn’t this market great!’ said Milo.
‘It is if you have something to say’ said Tock

Three artists have created installations in London art galleries this spring in which they present us with words: words that they have cut loose from the narrative structures (novels, books, a text) in which they had previously been combined.

  • Simon Popper has listed, in alphabetical order, all the words used by James Joyce in his novel ‘Ulysses’ (Beck’s futures 2006 , ICA, London SW1, until May 14 2006)
  • Simryn Gill has cut words out of books and sorted them into bags (Tate Modern, Level 2 Gallery, until 7 May 2006)
  • Tino Sehgal has been selling individual words at the ICA bookshop (as a spin off from his recent exhibition at the ICA)

Each of these artists has something to say, and is using words to say it. Visitors to these installations are faced with a challenge: how do we 'read' these words?

Popper’s A-Z list of the words from ‘Ulysses’

By reducing Joyce’s Ulysses to an A-Z word list, Simon Popper kills of the main character of the book, Leopold Bloom.

Bloom is no longer evoked as a living, breathing human being, walking the streets of the city of Dublin. He is no longer even named. There are many occurrences of ‘Bloom’ in the words beginning with B, and many of ‘Leopold’ in the words beginning with L, but no link is made between the two words.

We can no longer read the book. We can only look at the debris, the words strewn across the page like boulders on a beach. Like geologists we can only speculate on the creative force that could have brought this set of objects together.

Alongside the A-Z wordlist Popper exhibits a model train on a circular track. The train bears the livery of ‘Blum and Popper’, a company operating in Trieste where Joyce stayed when he wrote Ulysses. The name of the company had given Joyce the idea for the name of his main creation, Leopold Bloom. Now the same company name has given Popper the idea for a work of art that un-names and un-creates Leopold Bloom

The train shows the power of coincidence as a creative and destructive force: the coincidence of a connection between James Joyce, Leopold Bloom and Simon Popper.

Gill's bags of words

Simryn Gill’s installation 'Untitled' at the Tate Modern consists of:

  • A list of the books in the installation
  • A list of over 80 words that Gill has (literally) cut out from every book each time the word occurs
  • A set of archival quality boxes, each containing a bag of the cuttings of a particular word
  • A set of worktables and chairs at which you can sit down and open the boxes and look at the bags of words
  • A shelf of all the books. You can pick them up and browse through them. There are holes in them where the words have been cut out.

One of the words that Gill removed from the books was ‘small’ I thought it amusing that I could go and look at a bag of smalls.

The shelf contains the type of miscellaneous assortment of books you might find in a hospital waiting room. I was drawn to ‘The Bookshops of Sydney’ written in the 1970’s: a historical survey of the second hand and new bookshops of the city, with lots of black and white photographs. There are also some ‘Observer books’ that I remember loving when I was a kid.

The books are now impossible to read. When you come to a missing word you know that it might be one of the 80 or so words that Gill has raided from the books. But then again it might not. It might have been printed on the reverse side of the paper from one of the words on Gill’s list, and in that case, if you wanted to find the missing word you would have to:

  • work out which word was cut from the other side of the paper
  • go to the bag or bags for that word
  • sift through the bag until you found a piece that matched the shape of the hole
  • manoeuvre that word around inside the bag until you can read what was on the reverse side of it.

The loss of comprehensibility of these books by the actions of the artist is a key element of this work. Gill has highlighted the loss by allowing us to browse the books, to see what we are losing, to be tantalised by the information we can no longer glean.

In this installation the bags of words are more cared for than the mutilated books. They have been brought together purposefully, as though by a curator, in archival quality bags secured in archival quality boxes. The bags of words will be helped to resist the ravages of time longer than the books which brought them into existence.

Looking at a word in these bags is like looking at a roman coin in a museum. Like the coin, the word has a meaning. We can read a meaning for the word like we can read a value for the roman coin. But for both the word and the coin we can tell little or nothing of what the coin meant to the people that handled it, that wrote/read bought/sold/ with it. The words, like the museum coins, are out of circulation, reduced to being one instance of the many instances of that word/coin. The only thing that the words or the roman coins really tell us about is the collection policy of the individual/institution that brought them together.

Sehgal's £25 words

Tino Sehgal aims not to leave any traces of his work. For his latest exhibition at the ICA:

  • The publicity text didn’t tell you what the work was about or what it consisted of
  • The title of the exhibiton was simply ‘Tino Sehgal'. This was the second of three exhibitions of his at the ICA with that title.
  • There was nothing tangible in the exhibition to view, nothing on the floors, nothing on the walls.
  • The work itself consisted of the conversations that the exhibition guides have with you as you walk through the empty galleries

Tino hasn’t left any traces of his work, but the work has left traces in the world. B, Russell Heron, and Jasmine Chan are bloggers who have each attended the exhibition and described their experience of it.

As an adjunct to his ‘Tino Sehgal’ exhibition, Sehgal invited people to purchase, from the ICA bookshop, for £25, an original work of art of which the author has created a limited edition of 100. Sehgal did not leave any further trace of the work than that: no description of it, no viewing before you buy.

As luck would have it the guy in the ICA bookshop, is a blogger. his name is Russell Heron, and he has put up six interesting blog posts about people buying this work of art.

  • post 1: introduction: the work of art is a paragraph, 100 words long. You can come in and buy a word from the paragraph for £25. The word is whispered in your ear by the guy in the bookshop (our blogger). You don't get the word written down, or a receipt. Words are sold in the order they come in the paragraph. If you buy a word you are invited to come and listen to the artist read the whole paragraph
  • post 2 journalist from the Times buys a word
  • post 3 journalists from the Evening Standard and London Tonight buy a word each
  • post 4 The Evening Standard journalist tries to sell their word on e-bay for £4.99 to recoup some of the money they paid out for the word (and couldn't claim on expenses because ICA wouldn't give them a receipt)
  • post 5 Russell Heron bought the word on e-bay himself, for £5.51

Heron has not (at least not yet) posted anything about the completed paragraph: I'll do a technorati search of the blogsphere to see if anyone has written anything about it and report back to you in a later post.

Sehgal’s work works in the opposite direction to that of the other two artists. Popper and Gill took books which we know already and wrenched words out of them to force us to look at the words in a new way. Sehgal offered us the words whist delaying our access to the text which brought them together.

Seghal seems to be mocking us for our dependence on writers or artists to create meaning for us: we are so dependant on artists to create the meaning that we will even pay for words which are free (just like the shoppers at Dictionopolis). The spectators are disempowered, sepeartated and taken advantage of by the artist.

A thought on the three works

In each of these we encounter words which are objects free from the meanings that the author may have intended for them. W are invited to free ourselves from having to imagine what the author might have meant in using these words.

Instead we wonder what the artists meant by freeing us from imagining what the authors meant when using these words