Sunday, 26 April 2009


More Milk Yvette has been quiet lately, mainly because it has been off moonlighting for SPILL:OVERSPILL, a collective critical writing programme that has been taking place as part of the SPILL performance festival. The following piece first appeared on the SPILL:OVERSPILL site, and explored suggestive connections between Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's recently closed Turbine Hall installation TH.2058 and Gob Squad's, Saving the World, Greenwich Dance Agency, 9-10 April 2009.

If Gob Squad had filmed their piece Saving the World a few months earlier, then, amongst the passers-by on the South Bank, they might have encountered Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, off to Tate Modern to install her Turbine Hall installation. It would have been an intriguing encounter, for Saving the World and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's recently closed TH.2058 seem to be in conversation with one another, both through themes of archiving, saving, addressing and imagining the future, and in the boundaries they observe, re-draw and disregard between film, installation, and performance.

TH.2058 was an installation of beds, books, films, and other peoples sculptures, evoking a future when the Tate Modern turbine hall becomes a combined archive and air raid shelter. Saving the World sees Gob Squad spend a day on the South Bank, video recording passers by to create an archive of contemporary existence for some unspecified future date. Both pieces have at their core an accumulation and a saving. Both place themselves at the centre of London's diversity but are haunted by an experience, intuition, anticipation or memory of some ecological or other catastrophe. Both see the artist as a kind of fiction writer, scoring scenarios to be acted out: by sitting on the beds in the Turbine Hall and reading, or by asking passers-by for their thoughts on sex, nothingness, and the soul.

All this, no doubt, reflects different artists filtering the world around them with a somewhat shared sensibility, training and professionalism. As these processes manifest in the pieces themselves, Gob Squad foregrounds the newspapers and encounters of the world; Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster foregrounds a certain art history, an accumulation within her installation of certain art historical precursors (including several previous Turbine Hall installations). It's curious, then, that both end up in a similar place, suggesting art is the real news, and articulating this through a fluid sense of medium becoming theatrical.

For both Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Gob Squad this focusses on a sense of film. Film re-defined, partly as an event, partly as something not confined to the screen: in Saving the World people literally talk to the screen and, more theatrically, come out of and go into the screen. Entering the Greenwich Dance Agency to see the piece last week, film seemed to be becoming installation, but then revealed itself, somewhat cheekily, as theatre. One consequence of this is that the consciousness and materiality of the video itself becomes more a shared property of the whole experience than something just involving the projected image. 

Aside from the different economies and professional networks of artists working in galleries (like Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster) or performance festivals (like Gob Squad), this is also a debate about live presence, moving beyond a sense of mediated and unmediated to a more variegated sense of liveness and place. Gob Squad's search for interviewees on the South Bank, for example, is  partly a search for those open to having part of their identity mediated (via the group's video cameras) in ways beyond their control and that they might never see. Viewing Gob Squad and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster together foregrounds how, for all the ways this is a response to globalisation, media culture, non-place and instantaneous data transfer - it's also a working through of an artistic lineage with a particular sense of the possibility of the moving image. 

A longer essay than this, for example, might use Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's library of films screening in TH.2058 as a partial viewing companion for Saving the World. This wouldn't create a set of easy parallels. But, to pick only a few of the more famous examples, I think the suggestiveness of viewing Gob Squad in the light of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, or Chris Marker's La Jetée, or Alain Resnais Last Year at Marienbad, are immediately apparent.


Actually, without checking I'm not sure TH.2058 did  include the Resnais film but it certainly enters into the dialogue, as does Warhol's Screen Tests, literally re-created in the Gob Squad's Kitchen and becoming a research methodology in Saving the World, where groups of passers-by stare silent and still into Gob Squad's cameras. Gonzalez-Foerster doesn't include Warhol in her loop of films but the aesthetics of the Screen Tests can certainly be related to TH.2058's ideal of audience participation: a figure sat on the beds, as absorbed in a book as Warhol's subjects were in the 16mm camera before them. 

Relations of film and theatre is a vast topic that could be traced in essays by, amongst many others, André Bazin, and Susan Sontag. Here, I want to highlight such dialogues manifesting as uncertainty, but in different ways. TH.2058 seemed always there, its films on a loop, but then the installation closed and it vanished. Gob Squad's subjects are saved for DVD-posterity, but confined to the show's limited (and for now completed) performance times. For both artists, film promises capturing and archiving, then delivers a richer, more substantial offering of the intangible and disappearing. 

Not that these pieces are at all grim or po-faced about the apocalyptic scenarios they propose, for either London or the possibilities of film. Gob Squad's attitude to such issues is summed up in the closing party-scenes of Saving the World where they cavort in bear-clown costumes made of multiple soft toys. It reminded me of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's artists' talk at Tate Modern in March which covered the Starr Auditorium lectern in gold tinsel and had a DJ play Latin Jazz records, before ending the evening with the lights suddenly out and a soundscape of tropical rain.  

More Milk Yvette has also been writing on Pacitti Company's A Forest; Julia Bardsley's Aftermaths: A Tear in the Tear of Vision;Victoria, Tim Etchells and the Uncertain Pedagogies out of Performance in That Night Follows Day;  and Rajni Shah's Dinner with America


Filmmaker to Festival Director: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

1. In the introduction to one of her books Pauline Kael lamented that when she started writing movie reviews people used to come up to her on the street to say how lucky they thought she was to be paid to go to the cinema, but how that had changed over time and for the most part she earned only the public's sympathy for having the fortitude to endure so many crap movies. I'm paraphrasing as the internet search I did found several versions of the original text all of them a bit different and I'm too far away from my Pauline Kael library to check it now. A visit to the closest bookshop revealed that most of her books are out of print. But I feel exactly the same way about film festivals. I am about to attend my twenty-first Cannes Film Festival. I remember the feeling of elation that overcame me on my first visit and it stayed with me for about ten more. But that has now been replaced by a sense of resignation. I go for the meetings not the films which is something I never thought I would say.

2, For those of you familiar with Pauline Kael the title and form of this little jeremiad will no doubt bring to mind Kael's pull no punches Why Are Movies So Bad? or The Numbers, published originally in The New Yorker in 1980. For those of you not familiar with it forget about reading this post here. Go out and get that and don't put it down until you finish it. 

3, Who needs film festivals in 2009 ? The only viable answer I can come up with are hotel chains and airlines. When I first went to Cannes it offered an opportunity to watch many films that I knew I would never have the opportunity to find again especially with English subtitles. In 1994 I watched 53 films in Cannes, though I walked out on a few. These included films from countries who didn't make or export many back then. Nowadays there is nearly no film screened at any festival that I couldn't find on my own and in any number of ways. The few films I want to watch that are rare or hard to locate will never show up at Cannes anyway and sadly they don't find their way on to schedules in Rotterdam, Berlin, or Locarno anymore either. Sometimes if we get very lucky they do get screened at the Viennale which still seems to me a festival with a valid mission. 

4, Film festivals have turned into the Jay Leno show of the cinema circuit. Filmmaker shows up with good looking cast and somewhat less sexy crew, gets hotel room for two nights, a couple of drink vouchers, gives redundant interviews, has ass kissed for three days, and moves over on the sofa to make space for the next guest. The dirty little secret of the film festival machine is that it uses the artists to give the festival enough credibility to lure the commercial movie business into giving it A or B list films in exchange for credibility. For example Cannes opens with rubbish like DA VINCI CODE or Rotterdam gives us the world premiere of some shite directed by SOPRANOS actors who couldn't figure out where to place the camera if their lives depended on it and the respective directors get to feel like Godard for a day. Gone is the time when festivals served the purpose of shedding light on great but neglected cinematic talent. Unless you consider Ron Howard or Michael Imperioli geniuses languishing in isolation while the world looks the other way. There still might be good reasons for regional festivals to exist but the big three or four are just a marketing tool preaching to the converted.

5. I don't discount great filmmakers who are film festival stars like Atom Egoyan and Michael Haneke. They are among the greatest artists working in cinema today. I await their new films as previous generations waited for Ingmar Bergman to send down the next chapter of the Grail. What I do question however is the idea that these directors are guaranteed competition slots in Cannes year in and out as a matter of course. Has the film festival model just turned into a Greatest Hits collection?  Does anyone need to be reminded that Ken Loach makes brilliant and brave films ? And does anyone need to go to Cannes to watch them anyway? There was a time when distributors did need Cannes to be guided to know what to buy. These days the distributors tell the festivals what to do and make the deals. 

6. About ten years ago Rotterdam introduced an amazing strand called Exploding Cinema. They understood very early on a need to respond to new technology and, more than that, the ways cinema audiences's expectations and habits were morphing because of it. Many festivals have since introduced similar sidebars. For example at Sundance this year there was the bold and challenging New Frontier including films by Pat O'Neil and Sharon Lockhart and also installations and other film ephemera. Although this was very interesting it still offered very little that we could not find in musuems and art centers all over the globe. There was nothing cinematic about New Frontiers. I get the feeling these sidebars are now being created largely as a way to keep spectators interested as if the distraction of the laptop, phone, and whatever other popular device is selling like hotcakes these days are threatening the festival idea at its core and I suppose that's the point. They are.  For heaven's sake, Rotterdam even had a Haunted House this year. What's next? Maybe a Lego version of Chloe Sevigny's likeness at the entrance to the Berlin Film Festival's Panorama screenings ?

7. The real problem is that the model is broken and outdated and nobody has the balls to admit it. It's just another naked Emperor. For filmmakers the relationship to film festivals is the same as Oliver Twist innocently asking the orphanage "Please sir can I have some more?" after feeling less than satisfied by his first meal under their roof. Why do we feel the need to be granted the right to show our work ? Are we bought so cheaply as a plane ticket, hotel rooms, and saving a screening fee? Why do we feel blessed when second rate beurocrats and third rate academics select our work? You don't need to go to Cannes or Venice anymore to keep up with the best new work. You go only if you want to know what Monica Bellucci is wearing on the red carpet and you can read about that on a blog too pretty much in real time. Festivals have become boring largely because the people who frequent them are too willing to play by the rules. 

8. The great thing about this horrible moment we live in is that everyone is a curator, everyone is a festival director, anyone can programme pretty much anything on youtube or on their computer and can stream whatever they like out there to whoever is willing to watch it.  I don't personally feel very excited about having my work shown that way. But there are other options. Warhol told us all that anyone can do it and maybe it took fifty years for his words to be born out. Of course that doesn't mean that anyone can do it well. But surely with the bar set as low as it is right now could it really be worse?  I say this and I say it simply to my community. Show your work. Screen your films. Stop begging. Find new ways to distribute your work and create the next version of cinema.

Monday, 6 April 2009


Karl Stockhausen considers the idea that criticism is a form of performance notation...

For a presentation as part of the SPILL:OVERSPILL writer's workshop (28-29 Mar, 2009), I wanted to explore how certain forms of criticism can become a new form of performance notation. The theme emerged from looking through a range of recent texts, which have appeared on this blog and elsewhere. This included:

Texts developed in response to a range of live events, talks, and discussions.

Texts developed out of reading and research around a particular topic.

In both cases the process is often a layered one. Initial notes and transcriptions are developed later into a text resembling a performance script.  

Often this meant using such notation conventions as numbered scenes, stage directions, and the dividing of text between different voices. But such conventions were rarely utilised in the logical manner of a conventional playscript. Instead, aspects of these devices were part of a broader effort to show language existing in space, being choreographed, not summarising or interpreting an event but seeking to open out of an event into something else.  

This project began with a transcript I made of a Richard Foreman talk at the ICA in May 2008. This was appropriate because Foreman's own scripts and poetics are a key source for this kind of work, not just in themselves but in their indebtedness to open field poetics. For my SPILL: OVERSPILL presentation I showed the following images of Richard Foreman's 1972 essay:  

For a second example I outlined my research into Robert Smithson's Cavern Cinema. This began with Smithson's own diagram-score-drawing-proposal for the project. I talked of how this had connected to Stockhausen's notations, through an interest in his own underground concert at the Jeita Caves in Lebanon in 1971, and also to the underground cinema events in the catacombs of Paris

Robert Smithson, Towards the Development of a "Cinema Cavern" (1971) Pencil, photography, tape.

Working with these different histories - and the different texts through which these events become present - I showed my play script You Don't Know What's Down There:  A Fantasia for the Cavern Cinema, recently published as part of the soanyway project. This, again, was an example of curating or choreographing material, and of writing involving a working in space with existing texts rather than the generation of large amounts of new material. Although, of course, the loss of such boundaries is often part of such texts.   

Karl Stockhausen, score for Stimmung (1966). 

Having looked at these different examples I drew up a short list of what characterised such pieces of writing:



shifts in register

word as object

quotation (real/ misremembered/ invented)

associative thought


use of white space


loss of attribution

choreographic listening

Several of these statements prompted questions from other members of the group. I described choreographic listening as a process of watching or reading an event with an awareness of translating it into typographic space and also into a series of language-gestures. The loss of attribution point prompted questions about plagiarism. This made me realise how one of the tensions in this form of writing is a reconsideration of the notion of voice. 

So what is the result and rewards of such writing? I am interested in how  it produces exciting and engaging texts alert to a certain reciprocity between the space of an event and the space of the page and its constituent tools of letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and punctuation marks. On a level that is less explored as yet I am interested in texts as literal scores, generators of new events, and as literal embodiments - and exaggerations - of the processes whereby ideas and events become transmitted.  

The notational possibilities of Black Mountain College...

A longer workshop could have moved into an exploration of this next stage. As, too, it could have considered a broader history of notation, moving from fluxus scores, experimental music, and Richard Kostelanetz's book Scenarios: The Right to Perform (1980), through to the more contemporary work of the journal Play: A Journal of Plays, the scripts of Mac Wellman and Erik Ehn, and the collaborations of Will Holder and Alex Waterman (captured in two excellent exhibition catalogues of music notation, Agapē and Between Thought and Sound). 

It could, too, have explored interconnections with certain strands of experimental poetry, from the open-field poetics of Charles Olson that informed Foreman, to the LANGUAGE poetics of Bruce Andrews who, to a degree, summarises the concerns of this presentation when he observes in The Poetics of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E:

The page, like the windowed computer screen, can encourage a LOOKING THROUGH or a LOOKING AT approach -

Looking through: as a transparent, dematerialized virtuality, cinema-style), 

or a LOOKING AT (as an opaque, action-oriented, control-panelled material reality). 

As, too, to link back to where the presentation began, the notebooks of Richard Foreman - available online for others to make performances from - are a reminder of the reciprocity between writing and performance in relation to event, space and interpretation.  

This essay - and the presentation it summarises - ends with several possibilities:

(1)An interchangeability between critical text and performance notation, where each becomes the other.

(2)A sharing of categories on a practical (use of stage directions and scenes) and conceptual level, but a maintaining of difference in how such scripts are read. 

(3)A combination of criticism and notation pursued to the level of uncertainty, where the precise character and demands of the text remains mysterious, dependent on  context, delivery, intention, and/or whim. 


So for the workshop I thought it would be interesting to respond to a piece of work, thinking through this connection of criticism and performance notation emerging from the experience of a particular event.  So this is the film _______ by the artist ______ which I chose for the way it engages a certain sense of _________ ,________ and ________.  

I encourage you to watch _______ and develop and improvise a _________ in response, writing down any thoughts, ideas, drawings, diagrams and _________'s whilst thinking of the idea of criticism as a score AT ALL TIMES. 

When _______ is finished we will have ten minutes to work those pieces of writing into an example of critical writing as performance notation.  The film is intended to be shown on a loop so I will let it run through twice. Let's go...


Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas at home, in 1923, pre-twitter. 

Gertrude Stein uses Twitter. She doesn't call it that. 

Gertrude Stein lost the continuous present. Then she found it again. She called it twitter.

Alice B Toklas thinks the whole thing is ridiculous. She sends the occasional e-mail, but nothing more.

Gertrude Stein twitters all day and night. 

Gertrude Stein twitters in the park the park.

Twitter twitters twitters twitters twitters.

Gertrude Stein says a text is a text but twitter.

She is aware that it is easy to parody what one is parodying.

That it is not necessarily funny to be funny when one is being funny or not being.

Gertrude Stein knows the limits of twitter.

And all those who twitter in 2009 are being Gertrude Stein.

They are not being Alice B Toklas of that Alice B Toklas is very clear.

And so is Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein is very clear.

And to say "I am eating my lunch" is to be Alice B Toklas.

But to say "I am eating my lunch and it is a brown cow" that is Gertrude Stein.

And it is Twitter if it is 140 characters or less.

Which it is. And 2009 is. And Gertrude is but not Alice. 

Gertrude Stein is so into twitter that she has terminated her MySpace profile. 

Gertrude Stein still uses Google Chat but only practically.

It is twitter that offers Gertrude Stein the chance to connect to her earliest work such as Tender Buttons.

The space of the rectangle and the character limit define a space the mind can move through writing

The space defines and the space is to be filled and in so doing it is defined

Which is like a city or a global economy and Gertrude Stein knows it.

Gertrude Stein knows it is also the war.

She knows it is it when it is and Twitter is isn't it.

Gertrude Stein has many followers on Twitter although not Ernest Hemingway who is dead.

Gertrude Stein follows nobody.

Some suspect that Gertrude Stein might not be Gertrude Stein.

Some suspect that Gertrude Stein is Penelope Cruz.

Gertrude Stein knows that she is Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein knows that she has always been Gertrude Stein and that the accumulated mass of her tweets proves it.

Gertrude Stein says you can always tell a true Mondrian from a copy and hence she is Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein knows that Twitter proves she was right all along.

Alice B Toklas thinks most of Gertrude Steins followers look like idiots.

Gertrude Stein agrees but only looked very quickly.

Gertrude Stein is twittering now and has twittered and is.

Gertrude Stein and the twitter rectangle right now.

Twitter twitter twitter twitter twitter twitter.

Gertrude Stein would like to tell Picasso about twitter but he has most fortunately.

Thanks to Mary Paterson, who commissioned this piece last week as part of the Critical Communities project, organised by New Work Network and Open Dialogues. Following on from a series of micro-presentations where each member had two minutes to showcase their work and interests, we have been responding to issues raised by commissioning small pieces of writing from one another. 

Sunday, 5 April 2009


Ulla Von Brandenburg at Chisenhale Gallery, 19 Feb - 5 Apr, 2009.

Look at the Chisenhale website and the only image of Ulla Von Brandenburg's new show, is a paint-sample like grid of coloured squares. It doesn't actually feature in the show, but how it appears instead says something about what is going on in this thoughtful installation. 

Walk into the space and the grid is present as a maze of coloured screens, hanging down in a manner quite loose and shower curtain like. It's possible to walk through most of the walls, although there are also clear paths that reveal an interlocked grid of small "rooms." In a couple there are a benches, and in one a projector showing a continuous 16mm film on a screen of purple cloth.

Given the noise and the attraction - and given how the screens aren't really immersive - it's tempting to head straight for the image, seeing it first from behind and then heading into its little cloth walled room. But the space is a lot of this piece: a structure definite but fluid, open but closed, finished but forever temporary, definite but vague. 

Read the press release and there is a connection to psychological theories linking colour and personality. It's curious how these manifest, because it seems posited on a certain immersion whilst the installation remains functionally constructivist and more an idea than an environment. As rooms, too, each small chambre is uncertain of its function, its level of comfort, the demands it makes or the opportunities offered to those within it... 

You woke me to show me the colours. Is this some kind of Josef Albers homage? Is the arrangement of colours systematic or intuitive? I sensed and responded, experiencing the later, sensing the former. It was before sunrise. A bench that doesn't look like it is for sitting on. I sit on it. Real enough, but still like a mock-up, an indication of possible experiences, a memory map, a trail of hidden symptoms, ideas and spaces tested with casualness, echoes in wood of what...

The film, too, seems be testing or exploring something, comprising a long continuous and looping take around a stately home. Serenely steadicaming down corridors, forever interrupting its flow to encounter posed individuals or groups. A woman looks in a mirror seeing, Magritte like, the back of her head. A tableau of a man dying in bed evokes a certain art history, but a small audience, dressed casually sit on fold down chairs like this is an impromptu art class. But they have no art materials...

Or two women stand static, holding a large plan flat against the wall. A man with his hands bound in some sort of cats cradle. Phone me. A man checking the corner of his eye in a mirror. Von Brandenberg writes how these are combinations of scenes from art history and personal memories. 

Perhaps personal memories become art history and vice versa. Perhaps in certain light, memory resembles a forever new edition of E.H.Gombrich's A History of Art....

What motivates this camera? On the one hand it is a space explorer. Practically and poetically, the human subjects are often in light: looking out of windows, in pools of daylight. Or there are mirrors opening up the space, or keeping the present in the past. Sometimes the camera seems to be searching for human presences within the Marienbad-like building, holding to a scene or figure. Other times it goes up close to the figure only to brush past, continuing inexorably on its way, as if its (non-) interests are elsewhere.

There is, of course, the contrast between the coloured screens and the black and white chiarascuro of the film. Compared to the airy installation, the black and white appears a more solid, concrete world of forms, mass and light. 

But Von Brandenberg's subjects are also frozen and artificial, somehow hesitant in the flow of life, whilst the coloured screens move and shift at the slightest breath or passing movement, not particularly gracefully but with a certain authenticity. 

Let's seek an equilibrium between these two aesthetics, film and cloth, black and white and colour. A Building Echoes workshop. Look for moments of transportation: two walking sticks in the film are propped up in the corner of the Chisenhale gallery. A screen reappears over the hot face of a sleeping figure and someone - I missed it the first time - totally wrapped in a sheet. 

I must say more to you about the act of projecting on the cloth-screen itself, where all the black and white certainty of the stately home becomes dependent on the fragility of the cloth screen itself. Similarly, the cloth hangings, for all their tentative fragility, emerge through such an act as a kind of ground, a support, upon which worlds - well, films - can be constructed. 

I also thought a lot today about teeth. Goodnight.


In the Chisenhale Gallery foyer Von Brandenberg has painted the walls black, with a pattern of white splashes. It appears like woodland, as too it evokes a certain history of formalism, as too it evokes the light in the stately home, or marks scratched into film emulsion. It, too, like the screens, combines its careful specificity with a certain casualness: it tends to be almost missed in the dark of entering the Chisenhale space anyway, literalising and transforming the experience of entry into any exhibition here. 

... different spaces... leaking into the others... colour become screen become film become cloth become effort... not to understand, but to equalise and keep diverse... I am moving out and moving in.. the same gesture... not going to feel completely comfortable... because uncontainable... this unstable lexicon of... you...