Practice Event 2017 (MA interim group exhibition): Ghost Writing
“Here K moonlights as a novelist.
In her novel she is tethering out of the text a being; some sort of agent. Think of the novel then as a sort of textual artificial intelligence incubator, where she is cooking up a person.
As with any birth or instantiation, this is quite magical. From the virtual atoms accented by a field of white pixels in a digital document, it is possible to spin a web of words. Like our own, it is a world of relations: there is a house, there are corridors, there are ancient objects and hidden panels.
Imagine this house is a musical instrument. Now blow through the chimney top. What sound do you get? It is the tune of the fictional character’s being, its personality.
Because like you or me, this fictive agent that K is tethering out of the novel is constituted by its environment, an amalgam of impressions that exist within its imaginary house.
The trouble is knowing where precisely the fiction stops. At the narrator, at the author? If the pretend story starts living in our real world, dictating the writer and infecting the reader, just how separate is the virtual and the real, when writing happens?”
Health & Safety Risk Assessment
“Risk: Trip hazard due to cables on floor, connected projector and speakers to power outlet (low). Risk of fire due to wrapped cables (medium)
To avoid risk: Arrange cables to run along peripheries of space and use rubber cable covers where cables must cross the floor. Avoid wrapping cables and let hang loose inside a plinth.”
I am currently not coping well with work. As I write this my eyes are sore and my head feels drained from the exhausting sense of failure I keep experiencing. I’m having depressive episodes back to back, and it is crushing my courage to “be myself” and follow my simplest interests.
I seem to know in a vague way that what I really need to do is very simple. That if anything is expected of me at all, it is to simply give what I already have and be what I already am at the moment, and that really, that’s making art, whether it ends up being good or bad. But I find that extremely hard to believe on a day to day basis, and spend a lot of the time thinking something’s wrong with me and that I lack something; that I’m doing things wrong and am not good enough. All these complaints are very vaguely articulated in my head, probably because they are based on vague principles, but they are harshly delivered by some sort of evil me inside my mind and it hurts a lot. I feel a great deal of pain this way, and it’s chronic; ebbing at me all the time until at certain moments it grows strong and I have a breakdown.
Depression has rendered me lethargic for a good year now, although it has accompanied me and waxed and waned for years before that, but now it’s becoming particularly acute again, and distinctly painful. It weakens me to such a degree that I start feeling unworthy of the daring required of any work; a daring that is sometimes only achievable through forgetting myself and forgetting that audacity is even required; being daring by accident.
My defeatist attitude then leads me to sign out of all sorts of opportunities. The MA feels isolating to me, the dissertation a challenge I cannot rise to and have scarcely begun to address. The idea of my own work frightens me and I never open my novel document to work on it without first surpassing all sorts of trepidations.
I really want to be positive and turn all this around, look at it from a wider perspective. For example, I’ve been alarmed at how little art work I have produced, and this wrenches at me and makes me feel incredibly guilty. Putting aside the matter of why one should feel guilty about that, as people close to me rightly point out – it’s not like I’ve done nothing anyway. I have made stuff over the year. I for some reason just keep thinking my efforts are insufficient and then for some reason hate myself for it.
I’m surprised to say I am a little stunted when I do come around to ask myself: well, how much and how often ought you be making work then, for it to be acceptable? I find I have no amount in mind that might be “proper”. I am going to try to just put in words what I have done, make it concrete for myself.
During my MA Yr 1, I:
- Did the Crypt residency and came out with illustrated pages of the novel, and a little progress in the writing
- Made the NOWNESS film Art to Artillery with Tom
- Showed Rosa and Lawrence at the Tate Exchange
- Made Voxels of Truth with dad in Tate Modern
- Made Lorelai
- Made the Skype performance on How I Became a Human Radio Channel
- Made a radio program with a sequence of stories voiced by me
- Made the Refinery29 Talking Drawing live stream
- Made the Kickstarter video performance for Anomaline
- Created the Ghost Writing page
- Created readings of Anomaline
- Wrote the “The Guest”, “Rest”, “Pattern Recognition”, “Two Kinds of Lines”, “An Offering”, “The Rise and Fall of a Civilisation”, “The Tour”, “Glass Cabinet”, “Another Day” chapters in Anomaline
Even though I am not happy with everything here, particularly Lorelai and the Rosa and Lawrence lecture performance at Tate Modern, it is probably enough work for a year. I even actually like some of these. So why do I feel so overwhelmingly inadequate?
I made this much progress during a year troubled by depressive episodes. NOWNESS, the Tate Exchange, and the Laundry were all pretty demoralising experiences, particularly because of personal circumstances, but also just because I responded badly to these deadlines and higher profile opportunities (received thanks to Central Saint Martins, my college). I just made it so awful for myself! It’s so weird how I can look at my YouTube channel and acknowledge that there is so much there that I can barely recap all the ideas to my tutor through all our sessions combined, and then to nonetheless think I am absolutely and utterly idle and impotent.
I am so tired, and will hopefully start treatment soon for a depression that has plagued me on and off for almost a decade. Meanwhile I’d really like to simply rediscover my interests (which basically means, just acknowledging the fact that they are already there instead of being convinced that I am disinterested in everything).
I’m just so put out and disoriented by the depression that it feels like some severe and enduring sort of jet lag in the aftermath of each breakdown. I feel I can’t “think straight” and have become almost expectant that I will say, feel and do things of a radically different nature every 30 minutes.
Yesterday for instance, I almost conceded to the idea, in a tutorial, that the MA Fine Art course isn’t for me and the tutor and I even broached the subject of me leaving it. This was based on the fact that she said it was necessary to ascertain whether Anomaline was a work of literature or a work of art.
For me these have never been segregated. There are works of literature that are works of art, and artworks that really aren’t works of art. There is also literature that isn’t art. It has to some degree more to do with the craft/art divide for me, rather than a medium or genre divide. I think this book, at least what I am going for, is an artwork. But I told the tutor it was literature. What I meant was that the output will be in simple, conventional text form, that it will be a narrative spanning about 300 book pages, that it is intended for print and ebook distribution, that it will be read within the conventional framework of a novel. Just like I like presenting my videos in the conventional setting of YouTube, perhaps even more than in a gallery. All of a sudden we were talking about the incompatibility of this project with the course and potentially approaching a creative writing course!
The latter by the way, is for sure something I don’t want to do. I don’t want someone to come and dismantle the careful disobedience to the form that I’ve employed in the writing so far, only to structure it into a story only concerned with its inner arc and craftsmanship of delivery (I must admit I am probably making gross assumptions about creative writing courses). I appreciate storytelling craft, I do, and would hope I could be something like a Dario Fo jongleur some day, telling stories off the bat, mystically conjuring immersive images in words. But after letting it sink in a while, I really don’t see how the novel is incompatible with the course, and am disappointed that the tutor participated in making me feel that way. It is a literary art work, and why can’t it be a book, and why can’t it be my degree show piece?
Then again, why am I so hellbent on that being my final piece? The MA Degree Show is just any other show, and will still be one of the earliest in my career, hopefully. The novel might not be ready by then, why try rush the work of writing to coincide with May 2018?
Despite all my preaching in seminars about embracing the unknown, I am only now considering the idea of not designating what will be my degree show piece, and not planning what art I am going to make.
I have to feel what I already am, and let that take its course instead of imposing on myself ideas about what I ought to be. That’s just getting me nowhere and making my brain explode in the process.
“Feel what I am” sounds esoteric and begging for cynical shrug-offs, but what I mean is something very simple that I am finding extraordinarily difficult: to believe that nothing terrible is happening, that I am not bad, and that the best thing I can give at any time is what I already have.
My mum, upon hearing that I have been gruelling over books I felt ought to resonate with me but whose language I struggle to comprehend (Blanchot, Derrida), suggested a simple thing that nonetheless I find difficult and feel distrustful towards. She pretended she was looking at a bookcase in a library, and said, “when you are looking for a book, and have found it, and are about to reach for it, take instead the book that is dragging your attention out of the corner of your eye, and read that one”. Of course, this could apply to any researching activity; films, exhibitions, art, talks.
I know that feeling, and am always too cowardly to obey it. But I want to take her advice and at least make a note of these tickling instances, that sometimes brush the subconscious so discreetly that they are almost impossible to acknowledge.
- Books by Fitzcarraldo Editions intrigue me. I really liked Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond, and am always eyeing up Mathias Enard’s Compass on the corner of my desk as I run my desk errands.
- I do like the idea of imitating Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo style, and being able to conjure some of my characters again, live, with room for improvisation even. How could it be minimal and yet phantom-like, particularly the transitions between characters? I’d like this to be something strange; not quite theatre, more like sci-fi, melancholic stand-up comedy performed by a ghost. I like also the connection to the jongleurs of old that in turn tickle Fo’s fancy: transportation through mere telling.
- Dad mentioned that I am interested in the “quiver” of a person. I like this idea of a quiver as a person.
- What kind of agency does fiction have (fictional characters, fictional events). If agency is the power to affect other agents then it seems to me that fictional agents have an agency comparable to that of human beings, because we are so affected by them.
- The idea that something new is always something actually very very old (genealogy)
Week 3 Struggles
Christ, on the day I write this, I feel like crap again. It’s been two weeks since I wrote about my destitute feelings and the defeatist tutorial I had, whereby it seems the tutor understood I wanted to be a fiction writer, which is not the case.
But I’m embracing the idea that it might not be necessary for me to like my work or think my art is of any value in order to keep up my practice. I have my practice, I do my thing, and basically what an art practice is for me, is coping. Just pure and simple bearing life.
To sum up the objective activities in which I engaged these couple of weeks, in spite of my utter dejection and volatile mood, might prove it to be a perfectly worthy use of time. I will then once again try to write down the things I have done, to persuade myself of the substance of my life, and hopefully go some way to soothing my suffering mind.
- On Thursday and Friday I tried making some performances in the mornings, when the college studio tends to be empty
- I edited these, and came out with 4 stories (20 Percent, The Room, Floating and Long-term Ethics. Note: this sort of productivity is not a common occurrence.
- I looked back and found I did some recordings in the early summer that I’d totally forgotten about and edited two new audio stories (The Catastrophe, The Ovine Principle). I won’t lie, sitting at the computer I smirked at certain things I heard myself say. It’s quite funny.
- I went to a talk by Philipp Ekardt that traced an aesthetic lineage through fashion and art that disguises itself as something commodified, which I quite liked actually (Kenzo ’Watermarked’, DisImages). He thought this artistic spin or reappropriation of the catalogue, commodity, corporation used the gendered body (however confusingly gendered) not erotically but to thematise communality (in what seem to me ways that satirise their own utopia) – a focus he thinks comes with the advent of digital technologies and their reform of and emphasis on community
- I wrote the ‘Another Day’ chapters of my novel and had actually a good spurt of writing throughout the night and early morning hours one night where I went back to some of my influences (Domenico Gnoli’s fantastical drawings, bizarre Courage the Cowardly dog scenes, Wistera Szymborska poems etc)
- I went to Slavoj Zizek masterclasses on subjectivity at Birkbeck University and sort of understood 5% of what was said
- I was reading Enard’s Compass and Austin’s How to Do Things with Words a bit
- I showed my Anomaline writing video in a practice event and engaged in a crit whose effect on me, if it had one, I can’t quite determine as I struggled to interpret the response of the group
- I saw Blade Runner 2049 and Daphne at the movies
- I gave a go at writing my research paper. Recently I reread it and found it to be a mess and not very enticing to work on further
- I went to Genealogies of Visual Cultures, a discussion at Goldsmiths, and realised it was not at all what I thought it was. I was anticipating an exciting art history lesson basically, and personally I like tracing lineages in the visual disciplines and literature. It was actually, less excitingly, intended as ‘genealogies of the Visual Cultures programme at Goldsmiths’. Nonetheless, it struck me that the department seemed quite open to interdisciplinary, quirky subjects and I liked the most senior academic on the panel as a character; something like Irit is her name.
This sort of weekly accounting may become necessary for my sanity. It seems I usually believe I do absolutely nothing and have zero interest in things, but clearly I am doing something. And so I am trying to do it justice otherwise I’ve observed I start beating myself up about it.
I feel I’m deliberately avoiding what I really want to talk about when I write my research paper (on the 3 measly occasions I’ve given it a go). So I want to take a shot at explaining my research more straightforwardly.
Imagine a novel; one winding string of text ricocheting back and forth between the margins of its first and last page, tempered by the box of the book’s quadrilateral design. But the book’s aesthetically deceptive contentedness is only a container to the extent of a Pandora’s box, recklessly liable to contaminate the ‘real world’ far beyond the reaches of its fiction; so vaguely delineated are these boundaries when inspected.
Now place a person in this novel, and it’s already a matter of consequence. The book is haunted by some presence, and as writers nor as readers are we safe from the extent of its (typically deemed inferior) form of agency; this fictive person can move us, it can do things to us.
This research paper has eloped with one such novel I am still in the process of writing; it runs away with it in order to stay with, give time to, and examine the fictional text as an event; an unravelling, durational happening that takes place in writing and in reading, and even in being left alone on a shelf or in a computer file and not paid direct attention to.
The death of authorship, and conversely, the rise of ‘authored others’ as veritable agents (to varying degrees, e.g. different forms of emerging artificial intelligence) suggests the novel as an apt place to probe the 20th century’s changing notions about the relationship between creativity, agency and origination – it implies both authors and authored others. In practice I have explored the medium’s potential to set up experiments that test aspects of modern theories of subjectivity and authorship within the arena of an artwork.
As in a Turing test, which evaluates an AI on the basis of whether it comes close enough to passing as human, the petri dish of my unfinished novel is busy incubating a single character designed to exacerbate the fiction’s escapist potency. Indeed, the unsuspecting, recreational reader seeking refuge from their daily life may often overlook that in so doing, they permit the fiction too to escape through them and into the reality it is supposedly segregated from.
I am happy where this is going. It feels more straightforwardly linked to what I am trying to do with the novel, and so I will relocate the writing to another document!
I am thinking about the possibility of continuing on to a PhD after the MA, and looking into application processes. Right now, I’m going to give a go at gathering in one place the things I love doing and researching, even if that means pretending slightly about what I’ve read; curating a nice cacophony of research activity.
- Maurice Blanchot, the Book to Come
- Derrida, Specters of Marx
- Cally Spooner, Scripts (?)
- Numerous novels
Week 4 Struggles
October is coming to a close and all I can say is that I find serenity in tapping here on my keyboard about to say I don’t know what-