Thursday, 17 January 2013

From an open[ed] letter to Ed Atkins

Dear Ed,

...I really only wanted to write an appreciative letter about Us Dead Talk Love, which I saw at the Chisenhale last month with my good friend H, and we sat through it twice with increasing and deepening mutual involvement, pleasure and interest, and afterwards I felt such a flush of excitement about the work and its textual skeleton, or scaffold (not quite the phrase, I'll try to articulate that better in a bit) that I wanted to let it settle before getting in touch and talking about it. I've seen some of your previous work and liked it, but this one really did it for me.

I see in this work a really crucial materialist dialectic that unravels the imprecision of hi-definition itself into the physiological task of comprehending the body image at a point in time, now, where the highest resolution it is possible to achieve is one of the more perfected practices of post-human digital barbarism. Love in this work is not given over to the faux-romantic obsession with the coils of bad irony surrounding a valorised and ubiquitous connectivity that so much otherwise attractively but desperately contemporary art is producing; instead I think that love in your work, in this work, is fundamentally concerned with articulating the severance of the labour of the body from an active eroticism as the real death of intimacy, and I think it is a beautiful and necessary caution to the types of re-production of contemporary forms of internet or digital mediation that end up celebrating those forms of mediation, rather than critiquing them, as I feel this piece does so tenderly and intensely.

The experience of the whole show was one of becoming increasingly entrenched in the contradictions of the virtually sexual and the holding of that excitement over the duration of the voiced text, so that the whole audio-visual apparatus itself acts as a kind of theatrical wish-fulfillment, "As in..." repeatedly speculating further and further along the horizontal wormhole of the time the piece takes to start and finish, the almost forgotten "I wanted to ask..." never quite being allowed to remind us that all of this was in fact never asked, that it was a withheld or repressed desire, perhaps, that the desire did not come to fruition as so much of the speech does come, to at least a giddy, imperative demand that eroticism be felt as much as practised. The reason I mention the text as a kind of scaffold, though, is only because I realise I'm perhaps reading the piece too much, instead of attending to its installed appearance: the virtual, presumably downloadable head, rotating as if on the playful axis of infantile technological curiosity, and the attendant bursts of tone or colour or text on the opposing panel. These images seemed hung on the text, for me, rather than the other way around - not necessarily that the text felt original or originary, but that in the experience of the whole audio-visual field what creates the cues for the diffusion of accumulation of intimacy are the deliciously enunciated syllables of the script, like:

"A relation to life that coerces the cadaver into a being that does not require a prior life - requires no living human to be smashed into oblivion by some high definition hammer for merely tuning fucking gods."


"I wanted to ask if love might productively be thought of as the faith that the body that formed the eyelash and...laid it, like some foetal mammal, beneath my foreskin."


"How this desire might be partially satiated at the miraculous presence of a LOVER, who bears witness to my definite, inconclusive state change; my thick faint into repugnance and mockery."

And I choose these three instances as only moments that I particularly favoured and still relish. The eyelash is not fetishised, it is made a detachable erotogenic zone, proving one of Freud's more extravagantly stupendous claims, that any part of the body may become an erotogenic zone - it seems therefore already excessive to the cock upon which it was discovered, as if suddenly dead matter attached to the genitals was new and particularly concentrated and at the same time live. This is the beautiful contradiction: between the snap and calm of the megapixel and the impossibly low-resolution grit and dust and sweat and suck and sound of sex, sex's coolness, sex's careful particularity and curious resistance to (but simultaneous comradeship with) universalism. Sex and death aren't here, as they are in Georges Battaille, the markers of a transcendence that desires as much continuity as can be gleaned form a world founded on discontinuity, but instead the reminder that real bodies desiring might always prove to be a site unobtainable by the biopolitical or the global contextualisation of every action it is possible to imagine performing, even as it acknowledges, crucially, the shift in what it means to know one has a body, what it means to discover one's own representation as flesh and blood, what it means, even more universally, for life to be determined by and understood through the "faith" in the apparatus which were designed to accommodate the ever-siwfter and unimpeded movement of capital, and only secondarily the mechanisms of the fun side of digital globalisation and the attendant "smashing into oblivion" of the interactive (read: shopping) living human under Google Earth. 

And as a love poem I think the work terrific too, reminding me of Barry MacSweeney's Odes, and more contemporaneously with the work of Timothy Thornton, whose cadences the prose of your piece reminded me so much of...

[Ed's new show WARM, WARM, WARM SPRING MOUTHS runs from the 16.01.13 to the 24.02.13 at the Jerwood Space, London]

Monday, 14 January 2013

Outward Travel Must Not Be In The Past


Friday, 11 January 2013


'Okay' by the J. Arthur Keenes Band. The really quite wonderful solo-project of Canada's Daniel McLay, whose previous album, Computer Savvy, is probably the best thing 8-bit Peoples ever put out, can also be listened to on the bandcamp linked to. Best two from Savvy are 'Water2 (wetter)' and 'Foe Paw,' whose 10-hook a minute extroversion is your new best friend you don't want to tell anyone about, but I think 2012's The World's Smallest Violin raises the stakes in terms of the songwriting and musicianship: witness the sheer clarity of cascade and interpolation in 'Okay,' the lyrical matter harmoniously orchestrated, rather than ebulliently jostled about, the nonchalant melodious enticement, it's alright. In 'Okay' the ironic affirmation of mediocrity gradually becomes the more profoundly moving affirmation of mediocrity's negation in favour, or in fact, of the slow and steady progress of happiness. Hardly the labour of the concept, but something like it, while you get yourself back together. It is a weirdly moving song; I don't hear it as supercilious, more quietly heroic, self-help for tyrants, the schizophrenic apostrophe of lyric self-regard.

Although I'm quite fond of the transcription of the words into regular quatrains, it doesn't do justice to the eerie concatenation-effect of the eponymous lyric, especially the in last two verses. There, 'Okay' shimmers in Janus-faced oscillation between lines, belligerently refusing to sound like it will start something new, but equally unwilling to mop up after itself: neither resignation nor acceptance, those syllables register the information they subsume under their own metrical progression the only way they know how, sort of gleefully wallowing in "the element of tragedy that lies in the very fact of frequency." The hanging coda of the last line's upshot sounds less hopeful, to these ears, than all those authentically disabled false starts.

Okay, I talked to you all day
The things some people say
I wish you'd go away
Find somewhere else to stay

Okay, I threw my phone away
And learned where not to lay
You just won't stow away
I have to pay and pay

Is this some fantasy of yours
Always knocking at my door
I've got things to do I swear
I have to wallow in despair
I have to shave off all my hair

Okay, I talked to you all day
The things some people say
I wish you'd go away
Find somewhere else to stay
And never meet my day

Okay, I read you loud and clear
Okay, this road is ending near
Someday, I will forget my fear
Someday, it could take years and years

Okay, I'll be the hand that steers
Away, I'm smiling ear to ear
Someday, I will forget my fear
Someday, I will get out of here