OK so Jean Baudrillard and John Inman arrive at the Pearly Gates at the same time, and... if you can complete that joke in 30 words or less, please let me know. There's something in there somewhere. I suppose an argument ensues as to whether Mr Humphries is actually free or whether he merely experiences a simulation of freedom whose limits are coterminous with the parameters of consumption. Drat, still can't quite get to a punchline.
What a week, my friends. On Friday afternoon I finally got to a point where I felt so exhausted and run-down that I honestly didn't know what to do with myself -- I was out and about in town, with lots to do, but I couldn't even take the decision not to do any of it and go home because I really couldn't face the journey home either. Things have been really busy from the moment I got back from Sydney and I think I've been stressed out by that more than usual because I was trying so hard to preserve a little bit of quiet time in this February / March spell, before everything kicks off in April.
I'm also sleeping really badly, which is not like me -- as Ralph Wiggum says, "Sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!" In fact it wasn't until yesterday, by which I was feeling quite a bit better, that I made the connection I'm always slow to make. Early March and early October are the two periods in the year where I'm most vulnerable in my bipolar cycle, and though I don't generally get seriously depressed now without a specific trigger (unless I don't have much else going on, in which case it's likely to seep in), I very often at these times experience sleep disturbance and fatigue and a few other dodgy signals, like a furiously short temper and a real pall of misanthropy. (As Dorothy P said of Calvin C: "How could they tell?")
Fingers crossed I'm over the worst, and if that's the case then I've got off pretty lightly. I really should try to reclaim weekends. Yesterday was the first day since January 24th that I wasn't, essentially, at work pretty much all day. I just hung out at home, perversely enjoying not making the most of the sunshine, and falling deep into a YouTube catatonia. Actually to be honest I spent quite a bit of time working on An Apparently Closed Room too, but it's hard to think of that as work.
Anyway, here are a few nutshells with bits of my past week in them. I hope you'll forgive the lack of grand narrative.
(Actually slightly more than a week ago...:) Jeppe Hein's Distance at the Barbican Curve. Hein's Appearing Rooms, his fountain installation for the South Bank Centre, was my favourite piece of public art last year, and has been frequently on my mind in thinking about rooms for AACR. I didn't enjoy Distance as much, but it's worth seeing. It's basically a big one of these (though without the music, regrettably). It takes about five minutes to follow a ball around the whole circuit, and because the course runs the length of the Curve (and back again) you can't see the whole of the thing at once, which is neat. There are some nice moments in the plot of it, delicate and funny and occasionally surprising. Honestly, I think I was expecting more, and never quite stopped wanting more, but more what?, I couldn't tell you. It runs till April 29th and it's certainly worth a quick visit; take kids if you can, but don't nick any if you haven't, it probably doesn't make that big a difference.
I spent all of Monday (and most of Tuesday) getting ready for Tuesday, giving my paper to the Research Seminar at CSSD. I'm kicking myself a bit, I kind of underestimated my audience (and kind of overestimated myself), in that I thought I might need to pitch the thing at, like, postgraduate students who might not have spent much time thinking about the territory I was exploring (liminality and, for want of a better luggage tag, post-liminality), might not even know their way around the basics terribly well. As it turned out, my audience -- I think we call this one a select gathering, it wasn't the kind of size of turnout that makes you want to bathe in its rosy glow -- were all, or very nearly all, faculty, and had mostly turned out because they're already thinking in some detail about this stuff. Everyone was very kind and courteous but during the Q&A I started to feel like a fraud, really. I know I'm not, I'm just at the edge of my thinking capacities, and I never pretended to anyone that I was an academic. But I didn't have cogent answers to most of the questions, and though it was nice to feel stretched (and friendly enough company in which to do so), I did start to hanker for the sort of reaction I normally get when I start going on about post-liminality: polite smiling and a change of subject. On the whole it was a good experience and it certainly showed up the faultlines in my thinking -- in particular, it's incredibly difficult to separate out liminal aesthetics from liminal form, and liminal form in the artwork from liminal structures at the wider cultural level. Also, the event came with a nice bonus of dinner with the brilliant Simon Shepherd and a youngish scenographer called Simon Donger who was immensely engaging and attractive company. And pretty decent food, too: starting with a beetroot tarte tatin that definitely had me at hello... -- Unfortunately I can't share the grub with you but if you want to take a look at the paper I gave, you can download it here. There'll be nothing new to most Thompson's regulars or anyone who's tried to have a conversation about theatre with me in the past four years, but if you want to take a look, be my guest. Actually, I did manage to whip up an accompanying PowerPoint presentation that was, may I say, kind of tasty. But I'll keep that to myself.
Wednesday was the opening of the Petra's Pulse show Donkey Shadow at the Shunt Vaults, in a new reworked version featuring, for the first time in a PP show, a third performer: my old mucker Tom Lyall. I loved Donkey Shadow to bits when it was at CPT last year, though it was pretty clunky and needed a bit of further tinkering to really take off. Well it had quite a lot of tinkering (including the co-option of Tom and also of Wendy Hubbard, who turned my Kiss of Life into a functional theatre show just in time for its Australian outing), but it really struggled in a very curious and difficult performance space. (I was talking today to Shunt's Gemma Brockis about it and she said she agreed how ironic it was: Shunt held up as these exemplars of experimental practice, particularly in their use of space, and yet there in the space that Donkey Shadow was being performed, you have probably the stonkingest proscenium arch in all of London!) There was still plenty of gorgeous imagery and Selina in particular gave a beautifully nuanced performance, but the clunks were clunkier than ever, the longeurs more painful, and the ambitious length of the piece began to seem like a self-indulgent misjudgement. So it was kind of a disappointment and I also have to say I don't really care for the atmosphere of the Shunt Lounge, it's already feeling kind of cliquey and self-important, as if it no longer wants to exist in any kind of quizzical or subversive relation to the grandiosity of its surroundings. So it wasn't a fun evening. But the word from the front line is that the remaining performances of the show were way better, the clunks became clicks, the pros-arch was overwhelmed, in general everything was more tickety than boo. So, good.
Two nice items came in the mail on Thursday, both postmarked HomoLand. (You know, where the KLF were all bound for.) The new Semiotext(e) publication David Wojnarowicz: A definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side is a fascinating collection of interviews, mostly conducted by the estimable and never-less-than-shrewd Sylvère Lotringer, of Wojnarowicz's friends and collaborators (an unsustainable distinction), as well as a couple with the man himself. Wojnarowicz is a relatively recent enthusiasm of mine, partly because his work is not that widely known here -- perhaps it was more visible ten or fifteen years ago, but actually at the moment this period, the late 80s and early 90s, seems surprisingly remote; perhaps it's about now that its histories can start to be figured out -- in which case this volume has already done a fantastic job. It's a great book, an easy but by no means dumb read, with tons of great photos (including a stunning Nan Goldin pic of Rene Ricard and Jacqueline Schnabel standing either side of John Sex, which seems to say everything all by itself) and some pretty fine reproductions of DW's work. Vital stuff.
And a modest but sincere woo yay for Amnon Buchbinder's movie Whole New Thing, fairly new to DVD I think, in which a precocious hippie teenager called Emerson falls for his (male) English teacher -- a story that you'd think would have been told over and over again in queer cinema but I can't think of any other examples right now. It's a very neatly managed and sweetly pitched film and the leads, Daniel MacIvor (who also co-wrote) as the bemused and struggling teacher, and the heartstretchingly beautiful Aaron Webber as the kid, are basically perfect. Also, in line with the new generation manifesto for gay film (not so much Dogme as... no, I won't go there), the soundtrack is wall-to-wall Hidden Cameras, which always helps. I just hope all the Emersons all over the world, wherever they are tonight, get to see Whole New Thing. They're probably much too smart for it, but it would make me feel better.
Friday, as I say, I felt terrible, but I still hauled myself not-unhappily around the Gilbert & George show at Tate Modern. The only big surprise is early on -- I never realised how big those early charcoal drawings (sorry, "sculptures on paper") are. Wow, they're really terrible at that size. All the reproductions I've ever seen really don't do them justice. Or rather, what they do is extend them clemency. After that, it's pretty much what I've always thought: they had a fantastic decade, from 1975 to 85, but there's basically nothing here that's useful or interesting or even attractive to look at after that point, with the exception of the lovely and quite anomalous THERE (1987). The performance and film works are underrepresented and badly staged, which makes a really accurate assessment of their development immensely hard. I also don't honestly know how reliable is my judgement of their early/mid 80s work: I love the double bind of social realist and homoerotic iconographies all through that period, but I suspect that's as much my sentimentality dovetailing with theirs, as a sober assessment of their work of that period. Certainly all through that time, though, they come across as genuine visionaries, and as much more tender and more engaged than they are sometimes credited for. At any rate, it doesn't last. You can more or less see the exact moment where they lose the plot: it's pretty much the moment when the heart finally went out of the 80s, round about 1986, when the promise of post-punk and the widescreen posturing of New Romanticism finally capitulated under the weight of Thatcherite ugliness and the chronic depletion of the left. After that, there was nothing for it but the hell-for-leather retreat into the liminal self-sufficiency of Acid House and what Baudrillard certainly would have recognized as an entirely simulated and self-regarding fiction of social desire in absentia. The sole cultural carriers of the 80s qua 80s after that point were the Pet Shop Boys. Gilbert & George meanwhile sunk into a depressing and turgid series of as-new executions, which were now about nothing more than refreshing the brand. It's like looking at a series of Guinness commercials. There are still moments of very fine commercial design, as in the series NINETEEN NINETY NINE which I hadn't seen before, but nothing that looks like or resounds like art. Still, the first half of the exhibition is worth the admission price on its own -- I think if I hadn't been feeling so lousy I might have experienced an odd frisson or two of actual rapture. The CHERRY BLOSSOM pictures from 1975 are a particular revelation, and the DUSTY CORNERS series from around the same time. And LIFE WITHOUT END is clearly the work of artists -- sorry, an artist (I still have, and treasure, the letter G&G sent me, declining to take part in a symposium on collaboration because "we are two people but one artist") -- at the zenith of their/his powers.
I nearly didn't make it, physically, to the last appointment of the week, but I'm so glad I did, it was the most restorative event I've been to in ages. This was 'if the route: the great learning of london', a collaboration between the artist Beatrice Gibson and the musician Jamie McCarthy, at
Studio Voltaire in Clapham. An ensemble comprising four improvising string players (including my friend Susanna Ferrar, holidaying on viola) and ten trainee black cab drivers, all testing each other on 'The Knowledge'. This was an obvious (stated) homage to Cardew, and its proximity on every level to its grateful audience would surely have tickled C.C. no end. Beardy improv types (and the epically clean-shaven but honorary-beardy Peter Blegvad) mingled happily with the excited cheerleading families of the participating cabbies; I bet ACE are pretty chuffed with it too. I think it was being recorded for Resonance -- not sure of the details but keep an eye out: it was good to see the performance (and great theatre in some ways), but interesting also to shut the eyes and just listen, so I should think a radio version would work well. -- Also I ran into good folks: the brilliant young live artist Tim Jeeves, full of the loveliest ideas as always; Viv Corringham, not often seen in London these days and much-missed, but on good form; and Elizabeth James, who had a CD for me, Adam Bohman and Roger Smith's Reality Fandango, new out on Emanem, for which she's written some gorgeous sleeve notes. A quite astonishing album, thrilling and exactly matching my mood. (Which is, roughly, Septimus in Mrs Dalloway.)
So, yknow, in summary it doesn't sound like the listless and fractious week it felt like. I suppose that's a good sign. It's not that everything is all right, but it is that everything is all right enough, except, for the moment, me. Which is an old song to sing, in Klaus Nomi register and, ideally, at the top of one's voice. There's a lot to be said for basic, unglamorous persistence, sometimes.
I'm off to bed; if you read this in the next 24 hours it may be mostly hyperlink-free: I can't face that slog now, I'll do it tomorrow. Check back in after Monday night and, hopefully, the appertaining exits will be here, here, here, and here.