Here’s me in action on a panel with Sebastian Schmieg, moderated by Ben Vickers
Here’s me in action on a panel with Sebastian Schmieg, moderated by Ben Vickers
(or ❤ ❤ ❤ in a public place)
This is a kind of garbled thing about falling in love and worrying about, oh, everything and nothing. I wrote it a few weeks ago and then kind of chickened out of posting it, for no apparent reason, as it’s not particularly salacious or exciting. Well and also then I made this video, which was kind of blatant, so…whatever
It’s been a while since I’ve written, and apart from the triple whammy stresses of moving out of studio and home (to Manchester, temporarily) as well as publishing The Outage I’ve also been trying to work out what the impact of ‘meeting someone’ is having on my work. Apart from the routine worry that erotic daydreams are distracting me (and him) from work, I’ve found myself questioning how much to share about him, my feelings and our correspondence in my work. I’ve already made numerous allusions in my twitter feed, and a few on my tumblr, (ok, loads) but when I floated the idea of somehow incorporating one of our email exchanges in a piece of work, one friend suggested I had stooped to Jordan-level cynicism: pimping out my private, not to mention intimate, life for a gossip-hungry public. Obviously her media profile translates directly into hard cash/ boob jobs in a way that mine can’t, so it’s hardly a fair comparison.
But the reaction reflects maybe a wider suspicion that talking about your lover in public, or making them part of your work, is de facto careerist and shallow, evidence of a willingness to instrumentalise even romance into one’s work, and therefore, one’s cultural, if not actual, capital- particularly if, as in my case, your work is often a kind of self-performance of your life as it’s lived. As Dardot and Laval put it, the hashtag neoliberal subject must constantly think about maximizing its human capital across all areas so that “all its activities must be compared with a form of production, an investment, and a cost calculation” from which romance is not exempt. If your soul’s already on it, why not put your love life to work too? This is particularly true if the object of your affections is already somewhat implicated in a piece of your work and therefore could potentially provide some, err ‘added-value’ to it, in the time-honoured tradition of staged Hollywood flirtations orchestrated to boost weak-performing romcoms (see: the life and works of Jennifer Anniston). Funny though that milking romances for extra value always seems to fall to the female stars, suggesting they have to live their emotional, ‘off-screen’ lives as stories to be consumed in the pursuit of viewing figures much more so than their male equivalents.
But instead of calling it out as cynical, what about seeing the incorporation or reference to one’s lover as a touching public display of affection? Felix-Gonzales Torres’ clocks, ticking in time together, elegantly convey feelings of connection, similarity and companionship that love brings, though it’s an abstracted take which doesn’t divulge specific details. Also, it’s not yet another puke-inducing paen to the heterosexual coupledom we’ve had rammed down our collective throats by Hollywood, TV and the advertainment industry in general (incidentally, I am reading sexual undertones into pretty much everything at the moment, it’s making it hard to concentrate on anything…).
Despite being sold as the culmination of human (or female) happiness, the reality of the heteronormative love arrangement, as Hannah Black argues, mostly “represents an appropriation of the physical and psychic energy of women to benefit men”. It’s often a danger to them too; a woman is far more likely to be killed by her ex or even current lover than anyone else.
Work like Carolee Schneeman’s Fuses, a sensual 16mm film capturing her having sex with her partner, is a bit more explicit, specific and ‘collaborative’, in the sense that the guy is visibly, identifiably in it and doing something useful; while it’s often been read as a celebration of straight sex, Cadence Kinsey argues that the watching presence of her cat Kitch provides a more subversive take on sexuality. More recently, Frances Stark’s chatroom fling with an Italian filmmaker seems to have started off as a genuine ‘connection’, or pleasant distraction from ‘real’ work, but I’m sure it’s potential to be translated into a piece became apparent pretty soon… or maybe that’s just me. So, was she only in it for the work? Maybe it’s just good time management skillz- multi-tasking by having a fling/ fuck with half an eye on producing a piece out of it: after all, constructing and maintaining relationships can be seen as a time-heavy (yet fun) form of unpaid intimate labour, so it makes sense to generate some kind of bi-product if your practice can accommodate it…
Of course there’s a difference between setting up a sexual/ romantic situation specifically with the intention of turning it into a piece of work- like the idea I’d toyed with of using Tinder to recruit blokes to make something until someone advised me this was callous and avoidant- and drawing on your unplanned life experiences as they occur in order to attempt to reflect the way in which sociality and relationships, including romantic ones, are key value-creators in the affective economy. (though obvs romantic relationships have always been partly about value- hence power couples, arranged marriages, dowry, the history of the monarchy etc etc). But even if they are unstaged, perhaps co-opting romantic liaisons into your work is an attempt to control them- like, if I could just turn this into a ‘piece’, then I know I’m in charge, ergo I’m safe…and even if it goes wrong, it’s potentially re-coupable as work of some description somewhere down the line so no matter the pain, I’ll benefit somehow (I don’t believe this by the way, but it kind of makes sense…).
Speaking of deferred timelines, one friend worried that publicly blabbing about a budding romance while it’s still unfolding could/ would kill it, and suggested I reflect on it in 10 years- (hahahaha, 10 YEARS…?!)- when it was over (what do you mean over?!!!). I mean OBVS I will have reflected on it in 10 goddamn years, and in a way that seems like a cop out. Part of the point perhaps is the temporality- the presentness. When it’s ancient history already, what’s the risk in talking about it? Now, when things could still ‘go wrong’, there is a risk: I mean if it all goes to shit, I’ll feel pretty sheepish and sad, after proclaiming hearts and flowers to anyone who will listen. Which includes him, as he follows me, silently, on Twitter. (one friend enquired if I’d briefed him on my tweeting…umm, no).
My mum, who was also pretty nervous about The Outage, balks when I say this, asking why I’d want to put myself in a position of risk (and exposure more generally). While I think she’s more concerned about my mental/ emotional state, it’s also a good question from the perspective of the neoliberal subject that Dardot and Laval talk about, (can you tell I just read that article on e-flux?) who lives according to a new(ish) imperative to self-entrepreneurialise, which is all about taking risks to further the business, the brand. As Bob Aubrey, an ‘international consultant from California’ (nice job title) who they quote puts it, “personal enterprise is reactivity and creativity in a world where one does not know what tomorrow will bring.”
And love is certainly a massive risk: along with the awe-inspiring moments of wondering how it’s even possible to feel this strongly about another person, come fears that they might randomly drop dead, transform before into your eyes into a monster once the lust-drugs have worn off, or, perhaps most terrifying of all, stop reciprocating. Or, if they do lurve you back, that you might collapse into each other and forget that you once had a separate personality, identity and life before them. Any one of these scenarios is enough to send me into a panic right now, which shows that there is something at stake that is not, necessarily, strictly, work. Another friend exclaimed with horror that this meant I cared more about the boy than about my work- because otherwise I would be thinking purely in terms of what’s best for the work, not him, or, god forbid, me. And what sort of crap artist cares more about people/ relationships than their work?!
There’s another worry, especially for those of us (i.e. me) who treat platforms like Twitter as an imaginary boyf, a non-judgmental person we can chat random shit to as and when it appears in our heads: that they may replace our ‘audience’. I mean, what if I stop tweeting? Disaster! [this hasn’t happened btw- but I do tweet less when I’m with him and not just cos I’ve run out of my data allowance this month…] Already I’ve found myself sending him articles, stupid photos and random anecdotes instead of putting them on my blog/ twitter- or at least, sending him them first/ as well. Cary Tennis’ sanguine advice to a heartbroken writer, in love with another writer, offers a shortlist of ‘problems of the artist in relationship’ and apart from the standard artists are too egoistic/ childish/ self-absorbed to make good partners fare, he also warns that ‘another artist can seem like the ideal audience but he is not. The ideal audience is us.’ Ouch… Another potential social media pitfall is boring people with gushing on twitter, which I became momentarily paranoid about when someone mentioned that they felt knew ‘all about’ my love life …oh dear.
Also, unlike using say, text messages with friends- a pool of quite a few, different people (cos I’m so popular, obvs), if you’re drawing on correspondence, diary entries, photos, and other media referring/ written to your lover, well, it kind of narrows it down to one specific person, who has their own public profile- and private life – to worry about, especially if they are artists or writers too. Frances Stark’s lover remained anon (from what I could tell, though he is identified as a filmmaker), but others, like Marie Calloway, whose What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life clearly refers to real people (most notably a well-known figure in literary New York and a thinly disguised Tao Lin), and Chris Kraus, especially in I Love Dick, have embraced full disclosure of the most personally excruciating and difficult kind. Tracey Emin, when challenged by a disgruntled former shag who took umbrage at being ‘reduced’ to a name on her tent, apparently retorted that he shouldn’t have fucked her, which seems fair enough.
But if you actually like the person, then I can’t help feeling they have a say in what you’re putting out into the world. When consulting the boy about this he took an amazingly open-minded attitude to my (half) joking suggestion that I publish some of our emails, saying “you’ve mentioned more than once that people you’re close to will end up in your work. I’m ok with it if you think it’s important”. Talk about passing the test with flying colours! As it happens, I didn’t do it. Although that snippet was from an email convo, so maybe I just did…
I got thinking also about Nan Goldin and her photographic recording and display of her personal life, which obviously includes the intimate lives of her friends and lovers. According to Ben Burbridge her work has been read in a remarkably constant way, in accordance mostly with the artist’s explication of her work as a fuck-you to stuffy suburban values that creates a space for the countercultural, bohemian lifestyles left out of mainstream media representations. But the mainstream/ counterculture binary doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore, or if it does it’s used to peddle ‘alternative’ as a lifestyle category, this argument doesn’t really hold; and web 2.0 actually demands and runs on the exhibitionism and display of intimacy that her work seemed so groundbreaking for, so it’s hardly subversive to share-all. Burbrigde goes so far as to argue that her strategies of self-display are partly implicated in what she sees as the shallowness and artificiality of today’s world, which, as she puts it, has been ‘completely destroyed by computers, the sensationalism of emotion in talk shows’.
And what do the blokes she’s shagging think? One of them said he tries/ tried not think about it being out there in the world- which was maybe possible in the 80s, but less so now, when images can be shared in an instant, and everyone would potentially know who the fucker who gave her a black eye was cos he’d be tagged up in previous couple pics, and, hopefully, would be getting some shit for it (although judging from the amount of abusive tossers who walk free on Facebook every day parading their new squeezes…maybe not).
Ah, Facebook. Last time I got together with anyone was a year before it took off, and multiple messaging across text, email, Skype, not to mention FB stalking of them and all their (visible/ known) exes just wasn’t an option. And hey, what’s the difference between presenting your boy in artwork and presenting them, trophy-like, in a couple profile pic? Isn’t that also an attempt, though maybe unconscious, to consolidate one’s personal value- like, get me, I’ve got a man!- in a vaguely similar way to ‘using’ them in your artwork, i.e. ‘using’ them as some form of value generation? Even if it’s not, you can be sure that Facebook, and doubtless someone else, is generating value from your ❤ ❤ interactions. Why else did they introduce that nauseating ‘couple page’ (presumably since dropped)?
Anyway I don’t know where this going, necessarily (I mean this post, not the romance), I think I just wanted to rant a bit because apart from anything else, I really do have a pressing question of how, if at all, to incorporate some of these heady mad feels into the commission I’m working on. I have some ideas- it’s somehow going to embrace the idea of huge amounts of emotional/ intimate labour involved- jeez all those emails, when you are both writing types, I can’t stop writing to him about every thing that pops into my head and have had to go airplane mode when on a late night one to stop myself pestering him with 4am text messages- and the fears of non-reciprocation, as I’m emailing all these random people as part of the piece, and mostly not hearing anything back. And also the plentitude of sexual desire and the plenitude and overflow of images online (translation: more erotic daydreams). But more on that later.
This is the text I had on my iphone at the launch of The Outage, my ghostwritten memoir drawn entirely from my online presence, at Banner Repeater. I’ve resisted the temptation to modify it from it’s 10 minutes reading length, because I quite like it as a record of what I was thinking about at that moment in time, before other people had read the book, asked me questions about it and before certain other- related- life changes took place. I don’t really flesh out many of the points I mention, they’re more like starting thoughts for conversation, and there was plenty of that after I read this bit of text and myself and the writer, J. A. Harrington, read sections from the book.
In case you don’t know what this book is about, I employed a ghostwriter to write a fictional memoir based entirely on my digital footprint- everything that it’s in the gallery is also in a shared Dropbox which he had access to, plus whatever else his own research brought up. The result is, as my friend said, intentionally mimicking PR speak:
“a ghost written text that draws on the personal and practice-based online activity of its subject, with a view to performing the distance between artwork and artist” (thanks Lizzie Homersham!)
That question of distance between artist and artwork, between work and life when you use yourself in your work, is key to me and is what I probably found the hardest, and most interesting part of the project.
I wanted to start off by saying plainly that this project has had a pretty big effect on me.
When I first I read the book I freaked out. It was like reading my own obituary, written by someone pretending to me. Or seeing your reflection in a cracked mirror and not being sure if the picture still hung together as you or produced something very different.
My hands were shaking as I read it and I had to lie down and call 5 friends- I was happy and even thankful that it was exactly what I’d wanted without having realised at all that that was what I’d wanted.
At the same time I felt strangely naked, exposed and vulnerable, which, combined with the mixture of excitement and fear, was almost erotic. I felt like this person had understood something, which I’m not sure I really wanted a stranger to know, never mind the rest of the world, and yet as most of it is directly quoted off my blogs etc, the rest of the world already DID potentially know! I mean- it’s not like it was private information exactly.
There’s perhaps a playing out of the false intimacy and connection of online interaction- imagining you could know a person by trawling through their random tweets and blog posts, which is kind of what we do when we stalk people we fancy or are envious of.
Though as Rob Horning puts it, the postauthentic, mediated intimacy of today is something different- it’s “going over someone’s social media offerings and reassuring them that none of it seems much like them at all”. Or maybe I secretly thought I was a precious snowflake that someone else couldn’t suss out just from their online presence.
Of course that’s only half right since I actively use social media as a site for a certain kind of self-performance, which is nevertheless not necessarily calculated, or any more than my self-performance in general is- either way, I never imagine what I’m putting across is some authentic self- mainly because I don’t believe in such a thing anyway and see it as a historically contingent construction (to oversimplify).
The thing I’m interested in is a sort of collective or shared subjecthood, and how we can’t separate our own dreams, ideas, beliefs, desires from anyone else’s, and the role technology and consumerism plays in shaping it. If the self is performative and iterative and endless citation, then doesn’t that imply there’s no interiority to worry about, no essential me to try and guard and put limits up against? Why not make that performance of self available to some else to have a go at constructing something from- after all, it’s just fiction anyway isn’t it?
Well that’s what I thought to begin with- but there’s stuff about real people like my mum and others in the book that I felt genuinely unsure about, which then begs the question why I’d put it out there and made it public in the first place.
But things written in personal blogs, or offhand maybe even drunken tweets, or even within a project- like my #winning one, a kind of undercover one that nevertheless appears a fair bit in the book- have a completely different visibility online and weight from a carefully written artist interview on a widely-read website.
Presenting them as one coherent text, which is what this book does, erases this context specificity and confuses the line between considered and unthought out remarks, between personal experience and work, between other people’s words and my own. This points to the collective self in it’s form, in a way that I like and thought found worked- but on a personal level it was disorienting; I couldn’t work out what were my words, what were the writer’s and what was some one else’s- in some cases I had to go back over blog posts to check and was particularly disturbed to realise that one section I was sure I had written, he had written.
I also couldn’t separate myself from my work and felt self-conscious for probably the first time ever, and wondered if I had actually turned myself into something and now couldn’t work out if there was any of me left- any of me that wasn’t work.
And if there was, whether I had been really stupid to give this up to someone else to represent- it could have gone very wrong. Giving up control of your work, and therefore to an extent your self if you appear within it, is inherent within the online context anyway, since you can’t determine where your stuff will end up- like footage from one of my projects being used in someone’s George Michael cover video- but to explicitly hand over the task of representing yourself to someone else, without telling them what to draw on or to make you look good, or tweaking it afterwards to reflect a more desirable version- and then putting in print a version of myself that I can’t go back and delete or modify after I grow out of my opinions- was intimidating in itself. Books have a finality and authority and I just gave that away- a gesture of negating what Brian Driotcour’s describes as “the self-important phantom self that requires consistency and autonomy, limits and boundaries”
What this project made clear to me as that no matter how in control of your online presence you think you are, you cannot control what another person will make of it. This taps into the survellient anxiety of big data that Kate Crawford, amongst others, has spoken of- the sense of being watched and parsed at all times- albeit not by humans (unless you’re someone very important or dangerous) with conclusions being drawn about you, that you’re unaware of, until you get the spot on Amazon recommendations. We don’t know what choices Google is making on our behalf based on our URL histories, when we do a search, but we know it’s ‘tailored’ to our preferences- we don’t know what they picture they have of us, but we know there’s a picture. Everyone is producing an image of themselves for an algorithmic gaze intentionally or not, and to think that because you don’t use Facebook you’re safe is wishful thinking- as the CEO of the SP-index pointed out, lack of social media presence is itself a very strong identity marker- usually that you’ve got something to hide.
This comes back to privacy- and what constitutes in the age of big data. What do we have a right to keep private- not just from other humans but from algorithms too? (as that is always the defense- no human sees it…) How are leaking ourselves into public or semi-public space without even realizing it? And how is that unconscious performance being monetised?
Ellen Feiss said recently that digital privacy is an explicitly feminist concern, continuing a project of connecting private life to public life, the personal as political; self-representation, autobiography and the confessional mode are also historically feminist concerns, and they also all come into play in various ways in this project. Female artists’ self-representation has also often been evaluated as narcissistic or vain and this project does seem kind of vain, even hubristic, at first glance- not just employing someone to do you a vanity search but getting them to construct something coherent out of the results too! Get me!
And who writes a memoir- particularly when still young-ish- if not someone who thinks they’re a special person, a celebrity? At the same time, celebs are consumable human images, branded lives, whose sell by date is surely soon coming- after all, publishers get the memoirs out quick, before the public forgets, while there is still a buck to be made. This is especially true of the reality TV star, who must endlessly perform themselves as their work until the public tires of them. Maybe there’s something of that in artists who appear as themselves too- which some sections of the book explicitly touch on, as I’ve written about this before.
There’s a lot more to say I could say about this project but I’ll shut up now and you can ask questions afterwards. We’re going to read a bit now.
I’m so excited to be able to unveil The Outage (published by Banner Repeater), a ghostwritten memoir based entirely on my digital footprint, this Friday evening 27th June. It’s been an intense project for me in many ways and has precipitated a series of crises (not necessarily a bad thing- I started drawing for the first time in 15 years, see example below), which I am going to talk about a little at the launch at Banner Repeater. I mean the crises not the drawings.
I’ll also be reading a short passage from it, as will the writer John A Harrington and then we’ll take some questions- so, do come along if you want to find out more.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then count yourself lucky as I have driven pretty much everyone who would listen insane with talking about the various stages of the book… but anyway, more informatively, here is how my friend described the project in a Facebook chat (it’s intentionally in PR speak, she had asked me how I would describe it in a press blurb and then offered up her version while I was being too dramatic to focus…)
“a ghost written text that draws on the personal and practice-based online activity of its subject, with a view to performing the distance between artwork and artist”
So come along on Friday to hear more! There’s also other new productions being launched:
colocation, time displacement, by Yuri Pattison (paperback, published by Banner Repeater)
Penetrating Squid by Anna Barham (audio presentation from the production reading groups over the exhibition period)
and a new screen print edition by Jesse Darling.
ravings of a half mad woman>> I’m leaving London for a bit so decided to creatively shred bits of stuff I’ve had lying around for ages (or ‘destroying your archive’ as Helen Kaplinsky put it) and then got quite obsessed with it