I’ve no plans to start blogging regularly – not enough time – but I wanted to write something down regarding my performance at Poem Brut 10, because people flattered me with all their questions about it, and I’m better writing down my answers.
This is the performance I’m talking about:
To make the item that is trailing around me, I began by covering my left hand in clingfilm and tracing as much detail as I could, then folded the clingfilm down into a rectangle about 2” by 1.5”. I made 140 of these, and sewed them together to form two long ‘tentacles’ of 70 traced hands each.
Tracing has been part of my practice for a while. This is partly because it’s a way of treating found language/patterns/images that I find more flexible than cutting and sticking – you can trace one thing over another and use the same source material more than once, or you can use it to avoid damaging a source material that is too precious to cut up. It’s also perceived as a worthless, pointless type of labour, which gives me an opportunity to reflect on the various paid and unpaid labour I have undertaken, especially clerical work. Tracing is also a tangible way of expressing absence.
It was my nephew Ryleigh who inspired me to trace my hands – he likes to draw around his hands and feet. It’s a way of recording the self on paper that can be understood and executed before symbols, pictures and letter forms, which is why I thought it was relevant to Poem Brut. I included a lot more detail, such as knuckle wrinkle patterns, palm creases, and so on, because I thought those patterns in a long sequence would appear as an asemic language. The hands can also refer to the many hours of hand labour that went into making the object.
I know it sounds almost self-consciously wacky to say that you’re working with clingfilm, but it has a lot of genuinely useful properties, namely, 1) it’s an adhesive that allows for re-positioning and reworking 2) it’s completely transparent, so images can be layered over each other 3) when folded several times it is remarkably easy to sew, and quite durable 4) you can write on it with permanent markers. I could go on. It’s also cheap, and doesn’t take up space or make a mess.
When I’m making an object like this, the goal is almost always for it to be used in a live performance. The amount of visible handwork gives the object a kind of temporal heaviness, and I use materials that people are likely to want to touch. These attributes – hopefully – draw people in to the object, so that it becomes a meeting point for some kind of interaction to take place.
I have a suspicion – which may be wrong – that the bulk of live art that deals with human beings touching one another is made by people who are very comfortable with touch. I saw a vacancy for somebody who could make art about touch from a different perspective, e.g. somebody who is uncomfortable with most touch, most of the time, and I decided to appoint myself. So, in my performance, I’m thinking about touch in both paid and unpaid labour, I’m thinking about ideals of participatory art. I’m thinking about failure, as I do in most of my projects. I genuinely hadn’t foreseen that when I’d finished handing out my left tentacle, I wouldn’t be able to move to hand out my right tentacle, and the tentacles became knotted quicker than I’d thought. Also, I could barely read my poem under the dim red lighting. Honestly I had no idea what was going on most of the time, it was pure luck that I managed to time it right. Still, I think I have made progress in the field of participatory poetry and art for people who are reticent about touch, and I am proud of that.
I would also encourage you to watch all of the other videos from the night, link here.