What are you working on now? What are you thinking of making? I'm working on a piece which (at the moment) has a performance as its primary outcome. The heart of the piece is a text I have been writing and rewriting on and off for about a year which is told from the point of view of a man who has become trapped in the chimney of a Georgian house in Dublin which he has inherited. He begins by recounting how and why he climbed up the chimney and got stuck, and then moves into a garbled and misremembered pseudo-academic account of the history of the domestic chimney and western industrialised society. This account mixes fact with metaphor and conjecture and wilfully confuses time periods. He concludes by noting that he will probably die in the chimney but he says he doesn't mind because the responsibility of living in the world as it actually is is very stressful.
I've been tinkering with the text for a long time and feel that I've reached the limit of the improvements I can make from my desk so in the last week I've got up and started moving about thinking about how to embody it. This presents an especial challenge because the work is largely concerned with men's (as in males, not humans) relationships to their bodies and the forms they inhabit (more on this anon). The moving about that I've been doing has so far involved trying to stretch and compress my body in various ways and experimenting with how this affects my voice (timbre, tone, breath/how long I can speak for etc). So far a lot of this has been just stuffing myself into various small spaces in the studio. I've also begun to make some cardboard models of fireplaces. The plan is shaping up to be a performance in which I dress in black (the uniform of experimental theatre, but also the colour of soot) and wear these fireplaces at the end of my limbs and a chimney pot on my head and try to arrange my body into the shape of a chimney network. I will orally deliver the text as a monologue from this position. Whether I will perform the whole thing from this one position or move between various iterations and solutions is an open question.
However the project is also generating a lot of drawings, existing on a spectrum from the diagrammatic to the self contained, and I am also interested in finding an outlet or a context for these to become visible.
The work is tentatively titled Feeling as big as a house or maybe something similar but a bit less clunky.
Why do you want to make it? In conceptual terms I'm interested in the project because it takes a number of voices which are presumed to be authoritative (primarily those of men and those of academics) and confronts the fact that these voices partly acquire this authority through expoliting a dualism which associates them entirely with the mental and intellectual rather than the bodily. I want to embody these voices in a way that also highlights the ludicrousness of their attempts to disembody themselves, to obscure or disavow their own bodies. To this end the text presents the narrator as a frantic and entirely unreliable character whose neutrality is undermined by the bizarre primal drama he is enacting while trying to be intellectual or scholarly. The manner of performance is also intended to efface, degrade and discomfit my own body which (not entirely incidentally) is slim, white skinned and fairly muscular.
In pedagogical terms I'm interested in making work which uses a greater range of performative techniques and a greater degree of discipline than I have employed before. In previous performances I have usually devised characters or systems that only really require me to adopt one pose and one vocal register, so I am interested in attempting something that is more technically challenging.
Who can help you and how? What I'm interested in now is broadening my knowledge of the praxis and history of forms and practices that involve bodily discipline. This could include but may not be limited to dance, choreography, contortionism, martial arts, yoga, various kinds of gallery-based performance and body art, oratorship.
Bernd has given me a few pointers on people from dance/experimental theatre fields to look into and I know there are plenty of people at the Piet who know a lot about this stuff so I'm excited to get recommendations and get stuck in.
Relation to previous practice My work has always borrowed forms and ideas from the history of design and mixed them up with fiction and intentional misunderstanding so this isn't a break in that sense. I've also previously played on and parodied the trope of the black clad performer (as well as my own habit of dressing all in black which is obviously part of a history of artists and designers doing this to make them look serious and austere - as David Byrne puts it "a monk in the artistic order") by giving this outfit a much more literal or pictorial purpose - casting myself as a ninja, stagehand etc. Being a sooty chimney isn't such a leap from this.
The work also relates quite directly to a previous work I made about Georgian houses, which was a film shot in my parents' house with a narration written by me and read by my father. This work also explored this architectural style and the deep male voice as resevoirs of authority, but I think it did so in a less biting and angry way. The previous work was the one of the first "mature" works that I made which I regard as part of my practice so it's probably also made with a little less finesse and thought than I hope this one will be.
In the past I've also made works where there is an object which is consistently referred to but is never shown/doesn't exist, which I have employed as a strategy of decentring and confusing the stability of the art object. I suppose now I'm applying a similar formula by creating a confusion about the relationship between the narrator's body (hidden, stuffed up a chimney, invisible) and my own.
Relation to a larger context I guess in a contemporary art context this work (and my practice generally) has a relationship to a lot of established artists (Tris Vonna Michell, Simon Fujiwara, Frances Stark, Hedwig Houben etc) who embed "art objects" in performative or narrative contexts in order to destabilise them or maybe just examine how stable a concept they are, and also create more ephemeral and slippery art objects.
I suppose it's also relevant to point out that this work is very specifically "set in Dublin" - that is to say it refers to an architectural history that is quite specific to a European capital which has so far escaped being bombed, and is narrated by a subject who has a specific and explicit set of privileges but is also a post-colonial subject from the post-colonised side. These assumptions about the generic nature of this architectural style and embattled intellectual Irishness are ones which have never before been so explicit in my work and which now need particularly careful unpacking since this is the first work I've made since moving to a country where they are not shared assumptions.
Discipline and Punish (obviously things about physical discipline, but also the style of academic analysis that the narrator is attempting and failing at is basically Foucauldian)
Pale Fire (insane academic as unreliable narrator)
Lots of Beckett plays (especially ones that involve physically restricted characters: Play, Happy Days, Endgame)
Gender Trouble (parodying masculinity as a strategy of resistance, foregrounding the gendered nature of dualism)
Lacan on the Purloined Letter (kind of, the jokey Freudian thing about the chimney as a birth canal/vagina/anus probably originally had its seed planted by this)
Orlando (getting history wrong in a way that is partly a lark and partly a serious critique and insists these aren't mutually exclusive)
Not really a specific reference but I guess the clue as to how to set up and briefly maintain the internal consistency of this unlikely scenario came from reading Kafka stories