Who Are You?

 Posted by at 10:55 am  Echo Effects, IN Conversation, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Dec 142014

Who Are You ? is an exhibition of 14 works of art by Grayson Perry currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery until April 2015 (NB entrance is FREE!). It is a series of portraits which take us on a journey of discovery through the peculiarities of our different ways and forms of being English – our ‘Mongrel Nation’ (No. 2, The Comfort Blanket tapestry) – and how we express our identities.


My visit was an opportunity for many peculiar conversations and negotiations. It involved a serpentine walk through the whole 1st floor of the NPG and weaving through the 16 or 17 rooms to find the exhibition works among the permanent collection of portraits there required a mix of skill and luck (I was actually unable to find two of the works, No 11, I am a man, and No 12, The Earl of Essex).

No 1. A Map of Days

Self-portrait: Grayson Perry sees himself as a walled and fortified city, within which the many different locations of his being are revealed. My dear TRIXY was dancing all over this one looking for the artist in every nook and cranny, but he was very good at hiding and she couldn’t find him anywhere.

No 2. Comfort Blanket

Anatomy of an Englishman : at the centre of the large Comfort Blanket tapestry, and ‘Fear of Embarrassment’ covers his heart (gender male by the look of the Y fronts). Grayson Perry might have used a different phrase – ‘Sense of Shame’, ‘Disgrace’ or ‘Ashamed of Ourselves’, but he is precise with his choice.


The Fear of Embarrassment covers our heart. Because this peculiar English covering is very big and heavy strong, we have constituted an authority, NANNY STRICTLY, to rule over us and keep it firmly in its place. One way of recognising NANNY STRICTLY’s presence is the large portrait of the Queen of England which fills the right of the tapestry. It is in the same place as she is found on our £ notes. In other words, she is the one who rules our credit and gives promisory (‘promise to pay’) value to our lives.

No 3. Melanie, Georgina and Sarah


Nearly a Full Moon: “Three women, big and proud, who want their size to be seen as a positive.” writes Grayson Perry. I wondered about swopping the word Age for Size: “I have portrayed as vaguely antique hieratic figures adorned with images…” Grayson Perry continued. “In history, female forms such as these were often seen as fertility goddesses to be prayed to for children and a plentiful harvest… Nowadays more likely to be seen as a growing health problem.”

No 4. Britain is Best

East Belfast: “I was fascinated how exotic it felt… (and preferred) a jolly style rather than dour and aggressive”. The tapestry was located in a room called ‘New World Britain, 1914-18′.


No 5. Modern Family

Different qualities of attention: the photograph was made from the other side through the looking glass.


No 6. The Asford Hijab

‘It’s a way they have in the Navy’: unable to see closer, I looked over a screen displaying some song sheets: one said.


No 7. Idealised Heterosexual Couple

Mummy and Daddy: divorced and living apart, the story was they came together to support their three girls getting to their dancing classes and winning competitions. It was uncanny and scary to see these three young STRICTLYs – Jenna, Amy and Charlotte – in the making.


No 8. Memory Jar

Meet ALTZY: round the front of the jar there was a portrait of husband and wife Christopher and Veronica Devas . Christopher has Alzheimers disease. Round the back of the jar there was “a demonic figure who is snipping up their family snaps”. He went by the name ALTZY, and I met him through my father’s his last years. Sometimes I can sense him stirring inside me now.

No 9. The Huhne Vase

Default Man: “I wanted to represent Chris Huhne, for he represents what I call Default Man: a white, middle class, middle aged, heterosexual man, an identity group that hides in plain sight.” Grayson Perry explained that this kind of man successfully develops and defends his ‘individualit’, but the vase has been smashed up and repaired with gold paste… (“might be an asset in relationships for such a person”).


No 10. The Line of Departure

War heros: “return to the challenges of civilian life” for three wounded veterans from the war in Afghanistan. the tapestry was located in the 1st floor room called World Power, Expansion and Empire.

No 13. Jesus Army Money Box
Yellow Chasse: Thinking of Jesus Army people as holy relics Grayson Perry “placed them on one of my favourite categories, a medieval style chasse.”


No 14. The Deaf

“A Culture not a Disability”: I wondered again about crossing out ‘The Deaf’ in the title, and putting ‘The Old’ instead, but TRIXY told me not to.

Naples, Nil Square

 Posted by at 2:50 pm  Echo Effects, Holy Fool/Hero, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Oct 022013

It is Italy, but not as we know it. Out of time and space, we’ve been some days in the city that was previously called “Nilsense” by its founders who came from Alexandria and settled here.

The story is of a credit card lost somewhere on the way to the centre of Naples, while strolling on a Sunday morning among the crowds. Theft in Naples – Nothing new about that, you think, it goes with familiar descriptions of the city; a reputation for more than its fair share of vagabonds, thieves and robbers. And it is true, the city is outlaw, anything can happen here, and it often does.

Mercurius – the quick loss, and with it the feeling of an equal loss of all reasons to have faith in the “good faith” of others. It was Sunday morning and we had been to the Chapel of San Severo. The world famous Chapel is known for its extraordinary baroque works carved in white marble, but it is not Enlightenment sculpture as we know it. The central body of Christ appears to continue to wrestle with death under a pure gossamer thin shroud.

The Christ sculpture is surrounded by other figures of a strange new wisdom. I stopped for a time before a lifesize figure of a naked man wrestling to emerge from – or is it to disappear under? – a thickly corded fishing net. A youthful naked angel holds the net’s edge, and I was unable to tell whether his purpose is it to pull back or to cover the naked man more completely. The creation is called Disignano -’disillusion’ (carved by Francesco Querilo, 1753-54) – and at the same time fills the viewer with curious illicit desires. It is no wonder the works of the Chapel’s creator Prince Raimondo di Sangro (1710-71) were called ‘a sink of all heresies’ by the 18th Century church, and he a sorcerer. I bought two postcards of this ambiguous work on the way out, but am unsure if I will ever send them, or to whom.

DCIM100MEDIAIt now feels close to, but not yet quite at the Axis Mundi, and after leaving the Chapel we made our way towards the Piazzetta Nilo (Nil Square), dawdling at several shops selling strange artefacts, and then stopping at the time-worn ancient monument, said to be more than 2000 years old and which the city’s founding colony erected as a homage to the River Nile.

We stop and stare up at the nearly naked bearded old man, wrinkled and ravaged by time, who is lying on a rock with a horn of plenty in his right hand. A broken sphinx supports his upper body, and his feet rest on the body of a crocodile, although both the heads of the sphinx and crocodile are now missing.

Having arrived at this “Nilsense” centre – afterwards the worst is the attempt to telephone the Bank and report the credit card lost or stolen. The conversation with the 24 Hour Call Centre seems to go on for ever and at the end finishes in disillusion, thwarted by the apparent parallel loss of our online identity to the Bank. There is no record of who we are, and so nothing can be done to cancel the card.

Disignano – our fear-filled imaginations are filled with pictures of a cornucopia of spending now taking place, a terrifying unstoppable wave spreading out from the crocodiled feet of the old man in Nil Square.

It is only one hour later, when we receive an email from our B&B owner. Have we lost a credit card, she asks. Somebody has found one near to a bus stop, and taped it to the outside window of a local B&B. It is a different residence to the one we are staying at, and its owner seems to have telephoned round other local places to ask if anyone with our name is staying. Later on the card is given to our B&B housekeeper who walks over to collect it, and it is returned to us at the end of another stunning weekend in Naples.

Piazzetta Nilo – showing us how happiness is lost and found in “Nilsense”. Meanwhile, back in the rest of Europe the same weekend I read that Mark Rutte, the Liberal Prime Minister of Holland has announced his new centre-right government’s intention to aboliish the welfare state. ‘The classical welfare state is slowly evolving into a “Participatory Society”, he states in the speech from the throne, ‘one, that is, where citizens will be expected to take care of themselves or create civil-society solutions for problems such as pensions, or welfare’.

The Dutch Socialist party leader Emile Roemer had the following reaction to this announcement, ‘This isn’t going to make anybody happier’, he says.

Queer Stuff (Part 2)

 Posted by at 2:57 pm  Echo Effects, IN Conversation  Comments Off
Feb 072013

I met Maurice on Friday evening. We were at the Wellcome Collection symposium on “What makes a Good Death?”, and sinking free drinks which were on offer after we had heard a literary talk about Death chaired by Prof Steven Connor. The professorial choice was mostly very polite and Anglo-dignified, but at the end (at last) there was a reading from Mallone Dies (Samuel Beckett):

“I shall soon be quite dead. I have that feeling… and I credit it. I shall be neutral and inert… almost lifeless.”

Back to Maurice. He was sitting by himself at a table so I asked if I could join him and we got talking. He told me his partner was an archivist (they both work within Manchester University). Maurice told me that his partner (the archivist) says we shouldn’t throw anything away, and that somebody will want our collections… when we are almost lifeless.

What Maurice’s partner (the archivist) said about collections gave me heart. For one thing, one day when I am almost lifeless I don’t want to be a trouble to the children, and my collection of notebooks and papers and scribblings could be a burden for them. They need to go somewhere; into the bonfire at the bottom of the garden perhaps, or somewhere. If Maurice’s partner (the archivist) wants them that would save my kids a bit of bother and worry.

Then there’s another thing: the Wordstall Collection – and the Rules of the Journey – and the queer hope that Maurice’s partner (the archivist) might also want to have these one day too. When we are both almost lifeless, and ready to switch off, or be switched off.

As I am writing… I am sitting under another quote from Malone Dies up on the wall of the Bike Shop (Exeter), waiting to get a ticket for Endgame tonight. It is fully booked but who knows I might get lucky – or not. It is Ok to be waiting:

“Decidedly it will never have been given to me to finish anything, except perhaps breathing. One must not be greedy”. Yes, we could use that principle for the Rules for the Journey too.

So did you listen to Will Self last 4th Feb on BBC Radio 3 Modernism Redux? It is a Podcast and you will be able to ‘catch up’ and listen to it for ever. That is the point of collections isn’t it? That they are there for ever. And it was also the idea which Will Self was exploring with the help of a BBC radio engineer: the creation of ‘remitter machine’ for the task of recovering of everything ever broadcast (everything since radio transmission began in the 20th century). You see – we are not alone in realising that not only will never finish anything, but also there will now never be time for us to re-enact everything either. We will never ‘catch up’ and… when we are almost lifeless, we will have been broadcast everywhere.

Jan 292013
Kiosk 4

The installation:

It is a discomfort zone (an installation. Or a room. In a Zone).

It is a polyphonic installation and there are vocal variants.

In the case of a room or installation, there is a lot of waiting to come in, a kind of discomfort that is easily mistaken for boredom.

In the context of any actual place or location, access to the room or installation follows  the principles of  contagious fiction and contested fact (Tarkovsky’s Principle).

Take sides. In our opinion, it is better to be partisan: our gaze always falls to one side or the other, and we are learning to shout more loudly.

It has been said*  that three kinds of space are woven together in the journey crossing the zone: nature, home, and a shrine . In other words it is a pilgrimage.
(* Building with Wood. Gilberto Perez – LRB (31): 4, 26th Feb 2009, Pp 27-29)

Slavov Zizek reads the zone in which the room or installation are located differently. In The Thing from Inner Space he sees it as a ‘post industrial wasteland’. However, the choice between a classical zone (‘wilderness’), a zone of modernity (as for Zizek), and a meteorite zone (or any other) is mainly one of stylistic preference in our opinion.

An aesthetic for access to the room or installation can be expressed mathematically as: N+2. This should probably be (… ) bracketed indicating its presence within an incomplete formula, ie – It is a broken off  fragment.

Entry into the room or installation is at walking pace. Time however may be running swiftly, like a yellow brown torrent of flowing water.

In order to picture or place ourseves in the room or installation: Watch; Read; Listen; Write; Talk back.

Another word for installation or room is kiosk.

Jan 292013
Guest Kiosk 2, Izmir station

The Rules. For the journey. Across the threshold; a moment of absolute transition.

I am reading Geoff Dyers: Zone: a Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room (2012). This may already have been obvious to everyone.

The film is Stalker (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky.

The book is a kind of summary: “Do you think I would be spending my time summarising the action of a film almost devoid of action…  if I was capable of writing anything else?”, Geoff Dyer writes. He says he saw the film when he was in his 20′s, and that he thinks about it a great deal.

The Trolley Sequence:  is an examplar of the “(N+2) aesthetic. “A long magical sequence of three men clanking towards the zone” is described at length by Geoff Dyers from Pp 44 – 56. I have not seen the film and have to rely on his  words for this.

The “clanking” denotes their particular kind of extended horizontal journey required to enter the zone. Dyer describes the room or installation as a “refuge” or “sanctuary”, and he may also employ the word “pilgrimage” – I cannot recall.

As for older men travelling on this kind of horizontal journey there are memory gaps and natural pauses – “sites of decayed meaning” as described by Geoff Dyer (P 45). These are not the same gaps as occur due to the flicking of a reduced attention span. They should equally not be thought of as heightened experiences.

On our timeline of “(N+2)”, it was the strong horizontality of the train journey we made in October 2006 across the Great Alföld  from Bucharest to Novosad and then to Belgrade. In the book/film/journey the Writer also takes a plastic bag with him.

Stalker, Writer, and Philospher… are the names given for the three travellers in the film/book/journey. The place or position of Stalker is ambiguous, although to Dyer his vulnerable presence is always deeply affecting . For any number (“N”) watchers or readers of this “(N+2)” aesthetic the spectacle requires at least these two: The Philosopher and the Writer. The Philosopher carries a backpack. It is his collection of everything (after all these digital days a backpack is good for the entire contents of the British Museum, Library and much, much more). It is his collection of everything, and like all Collectors he hates to be parted from it. When he loses his backpack, he insists on going back for it (which is not permitted: no going back is allowed in the zone). Nevertheless he is reunited with his backpack later as if by a miracle.

The Philosopher holds on to his collection. By contrast the Writer is always trying to get rid of his. He gives away his books and throws away his bag in the book/film/journey, but again it returns to him mysteriously later. In other words, these two, who are both strangely familiar to us, are men who in their different ways are required to hold on to their collections.