My walk home from my department building takes me about 30 minutes. Because of the geography of the city, the arrangement of its train lines and buildings it cannot be a direct route. I do enjoy the route, which involves me briefly ducking into the city and then out again. Yesterday though, I was forced to walk it differently. I often try and upset my own walking routes by making detours just for the hell of it. It is here in the moments outside of routine that we see things differently.
A few months ago one of my professors died quite suddenly and the loss is still being felt by the department. She was a keen artist and had apparently left behind some work that was freely available (and still is) to students who knew her. When I arrived at the office yesterday and was allowed access to the room I immediately saw the painting that I wanted. It was a painting that used to hang in her kitchen: a Moroccan vista of blues and yellows. I had asked her about its origins before and sadly I cannot remember her answers. Now in the room of paintings and books, I see the diversity of this person’s thoughts and feelings painted and sketched on paper. It was like being confronted with a library of someone’s life, written in a different language. Obviously personal, but at the same time indecipherable. In two weeks these paintings are all to be thrown away, and I felt a pang of sadness. I saved three paintings in total: the Moroccan vista, a colourful abstract piece and a dark gothic trip to the underworld. However, it didn’t feel right just taking the paintings. I mean, I know she wouldn’t mind me having them but I felt like I had to earn them. So I carried them home.
By the way I forgot to say that this Moroccan vista is a metre high and a metre and a half wide canvas. My journey took me about an hour. Stopping every so often to rest my shoulders, and leaning the painting up various structures in the city. A lamppost, a bus shelter, the bench outside the prison, a laundrette, traffic lights. People would walk past me keen to see what was on the canvas, others would have a look and quickly move on, worried that I might try and sell them it. This painting had been sat in a kitchen for a year and then moved to another room hidden behind other paintings. Now it had been seen by over a hundred people in an hour. People squeezing past me, children coming home from school and people in rush hour traffic queues.
When I finally got home, arms and shoulders aching, and slumped on the wall in front of my house, I felt that I had earned this painting. I had briefly shared it with others, I had proved that I wanted it, I had carried it here.
It sits behind me now as it did in that kitchen, a memory of a person and a walk.
At 2 pm in the middle of a packed city square a whistle was blown and for two minutes people froze.Conversations stopped abruptly, movements were paused and a lone saxophonist was silent.
The city streets become pedestrianised motorways on Saturday afternoons with people overtaking and being overtaken searching for places to pullover stop. Therefore the concept of a large group of people purposefully choosing to stop wherever they want is something that intrigues me. It is an idea that is not wholly new with purveyors such as Gandhi and his non-violent protests have shown. Nevertheless, what makes this particular type of protest interesting is its performativity.
I had been invited to the ‘event’ via facebook, told when and where to be and at what time. At 2pm a whistle would be blown and we would all freeze until a second whistle was heard. However, this wasn’t about all gathering together in a group and then just freezing; it was something much more subtle. It reminded me a lot of performances I had done in the past when sat camouflaged in the audience, taking pleasure from my position of temporary omniscience. However, when in public outside of the safe haven of the theatre the sense of omniscience only occurs when the ‘performance’ begins, as many of the ‘audience’ look startled and perplexed at the sight in front of them. Another reason for this is that I didn’t really know who else was taking part in this protest. According to facebook, we had over 300 people attending, and it was great fun in the lead up to the event trying to determine who was public and who was performer. We had no banners to differentiate ourselves, no snappy chants but just a shared instruction: to not move for two minutes. I was in two minds as to whether I should take part or just watch and document it. However, my performing nature won out against academic research and at 2pm I froze with the others.
This type of protest is referred to as a ‘flash mob’, due to its speedy organisation, thanks to the modern miracle of the internet with sites such as facebook and twitter acting as catalysts for the organisation of protests and rallies. The ironic thing is that the word ‘mob’ originates from the word mobile, which is exactly what we were not doing. We were the ones getting mobbed, by the perplexed members of the public walking through us. Although we were not moving, we upset their habitual perambulation prompting annoyance from some and curiosity from others. Either way, it wasn’t a routine Saturday anymore.
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“These mean grey boxes were actually erasing truth, disqualifying natural colour. And, worse than that, their interference, their unceasing attention, disturbed the time-stream, the dance of photons. Their alien
consciousness was a mortuary dream, the dream of someone left in a coma after a road accident. A dream with no rage, no anxiety, no phallic dew. A dream without symbols or archetypes. Instead of coding these images to heal, the Watchers in their Bishopgate precinct had to invent a subversive psyche to fit the crimes that trouble urban sleep. Surveillance abuses the past while fragmenting the present. The subject is split, divided from itself (Sinclair 1998: 105).”
“These attempts to displace the viewer-participant into the site have strong affinities to the Situationist International’s attempts to map the ‘psychogeographical relief’ of the city in a technique adopted from Dadaist practice (Plant 1993: 58)/ Thus, writing of ‘The Theory of the Derive’ in 1956, Guy Debord announced that ‘[a]mong the various situationist methods in the derive [literally: ‘drifting’], a technique of transient passage through various ambiences’ (Debord 1981: 50). Here, ‘one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their leisure and work activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’ (Debord 1981: 50 in Kaye 2000: 117).”
I have found numerous instances of the derive, Guy Debord and Henri Lefebvre, but as of yet, was unable to find the 'p'word. My next line of enquiry perhaps should be in Minimalism, Surrealism and Dadaism.
Just saw this at the South Bank Centre.
Ten international artists - Charles Avery, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yayoi Kusama, Bo Christian Larsson, Mark Manders, Yoshitomo Nara, Jason Rhoades, Pipilotti Rist, Chiharu Shiota and Keith Tyson - transform the Hayward Gallery's indoor galleries and outdoor sculpture terraces into a series of gigantic sculptural environments, each of which represents an individual mindscape. Interior worlds of emotions, thoughts, memories and dreams collide with exterior reality, blurring the boundaries between inner and outer space."