November 18th 2007

Okay, so this has been far too long in coming. But I have been busy. I feel mildly embarrassed, like I’m letting the course down or something. Anyway, the time is surely nigh to begin writing this blog in earnest and ordering thoughts properly for this project.

At this stage I have many thoughts. They need ordering.

1 – What my project is about

My initial proposal was to make a history of one word. The word I have been favouring most is ‘all’. It’s a simple word; the kind of word you hear every day. It’s short and unpretentious. It’s also loaded with meaning without being too sentimental. Hopefully I’ll uncover all sorts of odd historical details about it. In fact i’m set on all. It’s a good word. I want to make the project in a few media. I think meaning and language have undergone an interesting process (particularly in the past few years) and the more slippery areas of this enquiry will be well served by using a variety of media to mirror the different purposes and forms language can take. Theoretically, though, the whole thing will be well under the shadow of digital media. though I can see it’s going to be interesting to say the least discovering just what that means.

2 – What my work is like

This is a weird question. I’ve been wondering lately what my work actually is like. Since my degree I’ve always ended up making things that feature as many media as I can fit in one space. The last proper show I did (which was three years ago now. Too long) had the working title of ‘the etymology of laughter’. I changed it to ‘a small show about laughter’ when too many people stared at me blankly. Maybe I was pronouncing it wrong. Anyway, in that show, the front room featured a monologue by a twelve-year old girl somewhere in small town America – sounds weird but the first paragraph just fell into my head. She talks about her thoughts on laughter, the fact that when she was very young, her dad told her laughter was invented in England in the 1580s, whether Neanderthals laughed, and if they did, at what. She talked about a lot of stuff. Accompanying her monologue, there were many drawings, bits cut out of magazines, photographs, faces painted on walls and whatever else seemed good to use at the time. It was an etymology of laughter in a very roundabout sense, but I liked the fact that while in a way it was her story more than anything else, it placed laughter in a very specific, personal context. I think that gave me a good way of linking between an ancient context and a familiar one. In the back room of this show I did a series of things called miniature kingdoms. These were re-imaginings of the world where most things were the same but one thing would be different. All of these were about laughter. In one of them laughter was solid matter that would slowly dissipate but leave a stain of sorts. In another it had to be bought and consumed via a can. They all had various visual aids attached to them as well. A condensed version of the words for the laughter miniature kingdom is on my website. My work tends to be quite poppy, low art. I’m not that bothered about whether you’d call it art or not. I just want people to get something out of what they’re seeing. In my case that can fly pretty close to being entertainment, whatever that is; but I like to think at least it’s thought provoking entertainment.

3 – Artists and things I’d say have influenced me

Ilya Kabakov

Check out ‘the man who’ series if you haven’t already, about a group of people living in a Communist apartment block, all spying on each other, all plotting their escape in very different ways. Sample titles include ‘The man who launched himself into space’ and ‘the man who never threw anything away’. There’s an element of really accessible and specific story telling going on that still has plenty of space for a more art theory based reading of the work. It has a strong social context too. All good.

Georgina Starr

Apparently she once said that she never wanted to use the same media twice. I really respect that. Though several fairly strong recurring motifs of sorts seem to appear in her work. She has a way of doing things. She did this great piece about ten years ago where she tries to recreate an old Jerry Lewis film she saw when she was a kid from memory. Her version is predictably nothing like the original, leading us to ponder themes of recall and nostalgia as we enjoy the approach she takes to her remake, having a conversation of sorts with her cat and so on.

Wolfgang Tillmans

I like the way he covers walls with seemingly random photographs at infrequent points in odd places (ie – an un-mounted and unframed 6×4 photograph of a building site taken from a fourth floor window over the road stuck to the wall at waist height with no immediately contiguous pictures, preceded by a clustered group of larger prints of the gay club scene in Europe and London) but together they add up to an interesting overview of the culture we’re living in.

The Usborne Book of Knowledge

I used to have this book as a child. It had a really cool bit in it that illustrated the workings of the brain. There was a dissected brain picture full of people working to make the brain function. It had divergent illustrations explaining footnotes and things. It had very little actual scientific content, as I recall, but I loved the way the page was covered with this sense of there being an exciting control room. Obviously now it doesn’t look so cool. I’m influenced by it though. I like anything that has lots of different stuff happening on a page with a vague and perhaps slightly flaky educational pretext. I loved all my Usborne books about planes, spaceships and the solar system as well. I feel like a bit of a muppet saying this but those books have been an influence on me. I think this is an influence that’s flowering more recently.

4 – snow patrol

I was listening to the most recent snow patrol album the other day. I looked through the lyrics and noticed that the word ‘all’ crops up in something like eight or nine of the eleven songs. it’s generally in a vague emotional context. the first song is called ‘all that i have’, for example. ‘It’s so clear now that you are all I have’ goes the chorus. who is this ‘you’ person? One thing that intrigues me about snow patrol and their ilk is the fact that their songs seem to take place in an emotional ‘no place’ much like the one being investigated by many other folks on the course. There’s nothing at all to locate it in any context, and as such it means whatever you want it to mean. Which is funny in part because they seem very popular with the kind of people who buy their music at tesco, which is itself a ‘no place’. Listen to them after Bob Dylan and try not to piss your pants laughing. I think I could take the words used in one of their albums and from that vocabulary create an automatic snow patrol lyrics generator with songs that made an equal amount of sense. There’s a similar thing that generates fairy tales at this link: proppian fairytale generator. While saying all this, though, I do like snow patrol. I think they’re a great band. I tend to listen to them once every six months for two days solid and then vow never ever to eat so much sugar in one go again kind of way. I think their music does something to people that makes them want to be part of something bigger than themselves. I like that.

I do think, though, that a snow patrol lyric generator is really a full on project in itself. If you even begin to look at the proppian theory behind the fairy tale generator, It’s clear there are many side avenues that would need to be explored.

5 – the trace

Derrida wrote about what he called the trace. To explain, if I write the word dog, the only reason those shapes we call letters make any sense is because they are there as part of an alphabet. The letter d’s presence in the word dog is defined by its not being any of the other letters. if it was the letter c the word would become cog instead. So in any given word, a sort of shadow of all of the letters of the alphabet is required to make the letters which are present in the word in question sensible. A letter only exists in relativity to other letters. So then we have the idea of ‘there but not there’. This is a good thing to look at when studying the word all. What is the trace for the word ‘all’ None, I guess. None is the opposite of all; but curiously, as all is all, perhaps none should be included in it.

6 – how to focus

There are many directions I can go in at this juncture. I’m a bit stumped in a sense. Part of me wants to make a full on history of all (the word, not absolutely everything). Part of me wants to focus on the inception, the dawn of its meaning. I feel a bit like the word loses some of its meaning when not explored in its common usage. I think the way to go, at least for now is to pick between about four and seven key ‘moments’ in its life span and play with those. My key task, then, is to choose the ‘moments’ I want to chase, and play with them.

Category thinking aloud | Tags: ,,,

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