Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best Wishes

Two days before Christmas I received 37 wishbones from the eponymously-named  Hilary Friends whom I had had the pleasure to meet at The Other Art Fair. She asked where I got my materials from and I suggested hillsides, museums and the dustbins of universities - and the odd person that sends me things in the post.

Thank you. And may the Odd inherit the Earth.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

J'arrive Jarry

"Perception is merely a hallucination that is true"
Gottfried Liebniz (1646-1716)

"It is conventional to call Monster any blending of dissonant elements. I call Monster every original inexhaustible beauty."
Alfred Jarry (1873-1907)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Vision and the Veil

From: The Visual and the Visionary, Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany. Jeffrey F. Hamburger 1998(Ch. 8 Vision and the Veronica)

Elaine Scarry recently observed, quoting Sartre, that "the face of a beloved friend' if imagined 'will be, by comparison with an actually present face, 'thin', 'dry', 'two-dimensional' and 'inert'". Scarry's words might work well as a description of most medieval representations of the Veronica, were it not for the fact that, at least according to visionary reports, representations of the face of Christ were anything but 'inert'. The images lent life to a face that the viewer longed to see, but had in fact never seen. The unflinching gaze of the Holy Face invited a reciprocal gaze of equal intensity: an exchange that authorised not only the object, but, by extension, empirical experience itself. Images of the Veronica contributed to a process by which vision, once cloaked in subtle distinctions between corporeal and intellectual sight intelligible only to a spiritual elite, became the standard by which all religious experience was authenticated and in which all, in turn could participate.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Written on the body

Between 1909 and 1915 mammalogist Herbert Lang (1879-1957) with assistant James P. Chapin (1889-1964) led the Congo Expedition. The two scientists collected and documented zoological, botanical, and anthropological collections and produced painted and photographic images of the natural and human environment. 

There is a fabulous collection of images here. including many references to the Azande observed by Evans-Pritchard in 'Witchcraft and Magic' and the Mbuti pygmies (who were a particular focus of the expedition) as recorded by Colin Turnbull in 1956/7. The captions appear to be the originals...

All 727 images are available simply by hitting Search.

Secrets in the Open Sea

The Atlas Group Archive
File title: Secrets in the Open Sea 

Secrets in the Open Sea consists of 6 large photographic prints that were found buried 32m under the rubble during the 1992 demolition of Beirut’s war-damaged commercial districts. The prints were different shades of blue and each measured 110x183cm. The Lebanese government entrusted the prints to The Atlas Group in early 1994 for preservation and analysis.
In late 1994, The Atlas Group sent the prints to laboratories in France and the United States for technical analysis. Remarkably, the laboratories recovered small black and white latent images from the prints, and the small images represent group portraits of men and women. The Atlas Group was able to identify all the individuals represented in the small black and white prints, and it turned out that they were all individuals who had been found dead in the Mediterranean between 1975 and 1990.

The Atlas Group published its findings in a report in December 1996. In the report, no determination was made about the size of the large prints nor about their colour.

By and/or attributed to: Anonymous.
Number of plates in file:6
Date of production 2002

From ‘Let’s be honest the rain helped’: excerpts from an interview with the Atlas Group.  

...We have never referred to the Atlas Group as a fictional foundation... Our aim with this project has never been to fool the viewers and listeners by presenting stories and documents about anything and anyone in order to ‘see what we can get away with’. Our interest is in how certain stories and situations capture the attention and belief of viewers and listeners. But we are not investigating this phenomenon in the abstract but specifically in relation to the history of Lebanon. We have always maintained that part of our interest with this project is to examine what has, is and can be said, believed and known about Lebanon, its residents, history, culture, economy and politics. This project operates between what is sayable, believable and known (as true or false). And we do not mean to imply that these terms have a negative relation to each other – that belief is the opposite of knowledge, for example. Nor that belief is a flawed cognitive relation to the world and knowledge a correct one. If we proceed from the understanding that belief is the fundamental attitude that a person has when he or she holds that a proposition is true, and that knowledge is certified true belief (by virtue of evidence), then clearly we need to ask about how any proposition becomes true or false and what constitutes evidence. In this regard and as has been argued, it is clear that what we hold to be true is not necessarily consistent with what is true at the level of the senses, reason, consciousness and discourse but also with what holds to be true at the level of the unconscious. Hence we would urge you to approach these documents we present as we do, as ‘hysterical symptoms’ based not on any one person’s actual memories but on cultural fantasies erected from the material of collective memories.

From: The discourse on Transubstantiation by St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) c.1225-7

Whether the accidents of the bread and wine remain in this sacrament after the change? 

Objection 1. It seems that the accidents of the bread and wine do not remain in this sacrament. For when that which comes first is removed, that which follows is also taken away. But substance is naturally before accident, as is proved in Metaph. vii. Since, then, after consecration, the substance of the bread does not remain in this sacrament, it seems that its accidents cannot remain. 
Objection 2. Further, there ought not to be any deception in a sacrament of truth. But we judge of substance by accidents. It seems, then, that human judgment is deceived, if, while the accidents remain, the substance of the bread does not. Consequently this is unbecoming to this sacrament. 

Reply to Objection 1. As is said in the book De Causis, an effect depends more on the first cause than on the second. And therefore by God's power, which is the first cause of all things, it is possible for that which follows to remain, while that which is first is taken away. 
Reply to Objection 2. There is no deception in this sacrament; for the accidents which are discerned by the senses are truly present. But the intellect, whose proper object is substance as is said in De Anima iii, is preserved by faith from deception. And this serves as answer to the third argument; because faith is not contrary to the senses, but concerns things to which sense does not reach.

Secrets in the Open Sea and The Atlas Group are the work of the artist Walid Raad.
The four images above are from the StPaul archive and are opyright patrickstpaul 2011.
All rights reserved.

The Absurd Sublime

In the Arcades Project Chapter L (Dream House, Museum, Spa) Benjamin’s most striking and persistent passages concern waxworks, sewers and the dead. In particular Victor Hugo’s description of Bruneseau’s descent into the Paris sewers to undertake a survey designed to expiate the cholera epidemics then common...

‘Nothing equalled the horror of this old voiding crypt, ... cavern, grave, gulf pierced with streets, titanic molehill in which the mind seems to see prowling through the shadow... that enormous blind mole, the past.’ Victor Hugo, Oeuvres Complete vol9 1881 (Les Miserables, L’intestin de Leviathan).

In dark reflection, this is an image of the shining city of human culture, as a tamed behemoth, resting sublimely indifferent on the mountain of its excrement. The Behemoth is the primal unconquerable beast of the land (as Leviathan is that of the sea) who can only be tamed by God. Hugo’s mole is then the shadow of this golden calf as the past is the shade of the present.

As the cemetery mirrors the city so the museum mirrors the sewer - its halls awash with the detritus of civilisation, its walls encrusted with the earnest yearnings of forgotten lives: gods prayed to and died for held up at the same level of importance as the combs used to untangle the hair of our forebears and the toy carts pushed by their children. In this place the reek of the past is overwhelming and it is quite possible to drown – one turns a corner and simply disappears in the fathomless sink of human creativity.

In this place is collected the sum of human experience: from agonising death to beatific generosity; from the strictest of book-keeping to the loudest laughter; all that has been dreamed, all that has been eaten, everything built, made, worn, played and fought over is here alongside all that we know of it; all of its purposes, all of its trials and its trivialities, all of its contradictions and its repetitions. It is in effect the nearest we might get to God on Earth - unknowable in its entirety and ineffable. Too sacred to be uttered, too absurd to be reasoned with.

Monday, 12 December 2011


The creative process... consists in an unconscious activation of the archetype and in an... elaboration of this original image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist in some measure translates this image into the language of the present... Therein lies the social significance of art... it conjures up the forms in which the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, is most lacking. 

The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back into the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the... one-sidedness of the spirit of the age. This image his longing seizes on, and as he brings it to consciousness, the image changes its form until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries, according to their powers.

C.G.Jung Uber die Beziehungen der analytischen Pschologie zum dichterischen Kunstwerk, 1932

It's not that what is past

It's not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather Image is that wherein what has been comes together in the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what has been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent. - Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is Language.

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, On the theory of knowledge, N2a.3

On the figure of the collector

One may start from the fact that the true collector detaches the object from its fundamental relations. But that is hardly an exhaustive description of this remarkable mode of behaviour. For this isn't the foundation (to speak with Kant and Schopenhauer) of that 'disinterested' contemplation by virtue of which the collector attains to an unequalled view of the object - a view which takes in more, and other, than that of the profane owner and which we would do best to the gaze of the great physiognomist? But how his eye comes to rest on the object is a matter elucidated much more sharply through another consideration.

Walter Benjamin, Sketches for the Arcades Project, c.1927

The Rue Legendre

In a shop in the Rue Legendre, in Batignolles, a whole series of female busts, without heads or legs, with curtain hooks in place of arms and a percaline skin of arbitrary hue – bean brown, glaring pink, hard black – are lined up like a row of onions, impaled on rods or set out on tables... 

The sight of this ebb-tide of bosoms, this Musee Curtius of breasts, puts one vaguely in mind of those vaults in the Louvre where classical sculptures are housed, where one and the same torso, eternally repeated, beguiles the time for those who look it over, with a yawn on rainy days... 

How superior to the dreary statues of Venus they are, these dressmakers’ mannequins with their lifelike comportment; how much more provocative these padded busts, which, exposed there, bring on a train of reveries: libertine reveries, inspired by ephebic nibbles and slightly bruised bubs; charitable reveries, recalling old breasts, shrivelled with chlorosis or bloated with fat.

For one thinks of the sorrows of women who... experience the growing indifference of a husband, or the imminent desertion of a lover, or the final disarming of those charms which allowed them once to conquer, in the unavoidable battles they wage for the closed-up wallet of the man.

J.K. Huysmans Croquis Parisiens, 1886

Monday, 21 November 2011

Whisper in the Midst of Silence

"Of what use are the great number of petrifactions, of different species, shape and form which are dug up by naturalists? Perhaps the collection of such specimens is sheer vanity and inquisitiveness. I do not presume to say; but we find in our mountains the rarest animals, shells, mussels, and corals embalmed in stone, as it were, living specimens of which are now being sought in vain throughout Europe. These stones alone whisper in the midst of general silence..."

Carolus Linnaeus
Philosophia Botanica, 1751

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Other Art Fair

Thou art more fair, though rough winds frieze.

STAND B11. C'est moi.
24th-27th November.
All new work. Bones in boxes, brains in jars. Lost souls and dead rabbits.

On my desk

The Imposter.

In a fiction of Istanbul, constructed inside an artificial Palazzo, in the gardens of the most serene theatre ever constructed by mankind, apparently floating on the grey Adriatic, I gathered dust.

Inside the labyrinth, my feet like all the others, scraped up motes that hovered briefly in the cloistered air before falling back to earth. And in a quiet corner I swept them into twists of paper and slipped them into my pocket.

Labyrinthine dust, Byzantine dust. The scurf of a million sandalled feet ground from the concrete floors of countless battered shops, strung out along endless narrow alleys that only lead you back to where you started. Builder’s dust, cement and earth and a fine sand apparently imported from the east. Grey like the dead. Soft and warm like the touch of skin. Dust that floats in the air like the call to prayer.

Unintentional dust.

When it began the corridors were clean, the floors swept, the benches littered with tools and work only just abandoned, apparently moments before. It was a place of echoes and reflections but of a purpose; a living space from which only the occupants were missing.

But then the visitors arrived and wandered from room to room and wondered, and left their marks. And the decay set in, the feet scratched and the dust rose, and began to settle. And now it is as if the passage of thousands of feet have accelerated time and deposited the dust of generations in only a matter of months. What was once a moment frozen in time has become Time itself – the medium in which History is enacted and all our cultures bloom like mould. 

What we see is what we are. This is the house we make believe, whose windows all face inwards. This is the house of control and construction where secret rules prompt private fantasies and all appears exactly as it might be. This world is merely a fragile shell suspended, like our disbelief, inside another fragile shell, inside another fragile shell.

Friday, 18 November 2011

La Serenissima

Christian Boltanski in the French Pavilion at the Biennale.

and A Church Of Fear v The Alien Within - Schlingensieff in the German Pavilion.

and above all Mike Nelson's I Imposter in the British Pavilion. Glorious.

I gathered some of the accidental dust from the floor in a few twists of paper. A sacred powder perhaps. With existentially medicinal properties no doubt. 

An Elixir! 
Nelson's Powders

Gregor Samsa had nothing on this.

Frieze 2011 - Shot on the fly
(Warning: this movie really is not worth looking at)


(Murmur, murmur, murmur)
Woman: How much can you zoom in?
More Pause...
Woman: Is that as far as you can zoom in?
Man: Yeahyeahyeah
Woman: It's going to run away now.


Duration: 50secs

... Ooh look!

De profundis...

The present is a foreign country – they do things differently there - where you are. I however am some months behind. There is no time like the past. It is a territory, a terroir, a forest which can be explored. And in that forest the rotten core of events, like fallen timbers, can be turned over to show the insects that prop them up. The light can be readjusted - a low light just so, to enhance the mood, or a high shower flickering through leafless fingers to reveal the truth, a truth, or a fiction.

The roots may clutch, but time fosters fondness like a good fungus.
Decay also breeds love.

Monday, 29 August 2011

On my desk

Fairytale no1

'I put it to the enlightened rationalist: has his rational reduction led to the beneficial control of matter and spirit? He will point proudly to the advances in physics and medicine, to the freeing of the mind from medieval stupidity and - as a well-meaning Christian - to our deliverance from the fear of demons. But we continue to ask: what have all our other cultural achievements led to? The fearful answer is there before our eyes: man has been delivered from no fear, a hideous nightmare lies upon the world. So far reason has betrayed us lamentably, and the very thing that everybody wanted to avoid rolls on in ghastly progression. Man has achieved a wealth of useful gadgets, but to offset that, he has torn open the abyss, and what will become of him now - where can he make a halt?'

CGJung     The phenomenology of the spirit in fairytales, 1948

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On my desk

The remains of a rabbit-skin bag last used by Charming Baker when hunting rabbits 31 years ago. The box also contained a skull, some dried fruit, a length of brown shoe-lace, a bottle of pills, a sewing kit and a tiny pair of scissors.

There were no tattoos on the skin.

Borges' Dream

I dreamed I was awakening from another dream - an uproar of chaos and cataclysms - into an unrecognisable room. Day was dawning: light suffused the room, outlining the foot of the wrought-iron bed, the upright chair, the closed door and windows, the bare table. 
I thought fearfully, 'Where am I?' and I realised I didn't know. 
I thought 'Who am I?' and I couldn't recognise myself. 
My fear grew. 
I thought: This desolate awakening is in Hell, this eternal vigil will be my destiny. 
Then I really woke up, trembling.

JLB 1929

Fear and Trembling

If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; 
if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay beneath everything, what would life be but despair?

Soren Kirkegaard 1843

Monday, 25 July 2011

Bird without wings

As a young man Joë Bousquet came to England to study, Southampton I believe, and liked it so much he changed his name. In 1915 he was shot in the back and paralysed. Aged 19 he returned to his hometown of Carcassonne to a top-floor flat in the Rue De Verdun and, apart from a very few trips out in a wheelchair, never left it till he died 35 years later.


But he was a poet, a strange poet whose work drew the attention of people like Max Ernst, Luis Aragon and Paul Eluard who all saw in him something at once tragic and heroic. Here was an embodiment of the wounded king (or the Fisher King of the Grail legend) imprisoned by his injuries yet granted a vision of Truth witheld from ordinary mankind.

First, two rather beautiful observations (from recalltopoetry.blogspot)
"Beauty has no other origin than the singular wound, different in every case, hidden or visible, which each man bears within himself, which he preserves, and into which he withdraws when he wants to leave the world for a temporary but authentic solitude....Art seems to me determined to discover this secret wound in each being and even in each thing."
Jean Genet

"My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it."
Joe Bousquet

And now,(in rather crude translation):

The Bird Without Wings

The light glimmers in your eyes, but it is not yet day. You awoke too soon - but there you are. 
The street, the morning, the house and you; not that you care 
If this city, hauled from the fog, is yours or not.

Twelve silver bells ring out across the waters  
To the bed-steed and the bird of mercy  
And the soothing needle. Twelve iron bells ring
In the locks to open up a day filled with fallen leaves;
Ring in the rape of the sealed eyelids of the pallid sleeper.

The flotillas of day have slept beneath the snow.  
In but a few hours, with her golden buttons, her thorns and pink mayflowers,
That fresh-faced girl will wipe your face as she wipes you out.
Grasp the unseen flower, more faithful than a star. 
Carry it without looking.

The winged cherry-picker returns, with hair flying, and feet of clay.

His last years were spent surrounded by great art and books in a room whose curtains were never opened, and a fever of morphine, opium and poetry.

The room has been preserved exactly as he left it, smoke-stains and all, save for the pale impressions of paintings that have been sold to pay for its upkeep. La Maison des Memoires.

Maison des Mémoires
Esprits Nomades

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Of stray dogs and fossils...

Spot the difference: On the left a sea-creature sighted between Antibes and Nice in 1562 as reported by the naturalist Conrad Gesner; on the right Jorges Luis Borges, unsighted since 1986.

In The Analytical Language of John Wilkins Borges mentions 'a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into 
a) those that belong to the emperor; 
b) embalmed ones; 
c) those that are trained; 
d) suckling pigs; 
e) mermaids; 
f) fabulous ones; 
g) stray dogs; 
h) those that are included in this classification; 
i) those that tremble as if they were mad; 
j) innumerable ones; 
k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s-hair brush; 
l) etcetera; 
m) those that have just broken the flower vase; 
n) those that at a distance resemble flies. 
The Bibliographical Institute of Brussels also exercises chaos: it has parcelled the universe into 1,000 subdivisions…”

In A Book on Fossil Objects, Chiefly Stones and Gems, their Shapes and Appearances, Conrad Gesner classified fossils into:.

  1. Those whose forms are based upon, have some relation to, or suggest the geometrical conception of points, lines or angles
  2. Those which resemble or derive their name from some heavenly body or from on of the Aristotelian elements
  3. Those which take their name from something in the sky
  4. Those which are named after inanimate terrestrial objects
  5. Those which bear a resemblance to certain artificial things
  6. Things made artificially out of metals, stones, or gems
  7. Those which resemble plants or herbs
  8. Those which have the form of shrubs
  9. Those which resemble trees or portions of trees
  10. Corals
  11. Other sea plants which have a stony nature
  12. Those which have some resemblance to men or to four-footed animals, or are found within these
  13. Stones which derive their names from birds
  14. Those which have a resemblance to things which live in the sea
  15. Those which resemble insects or serpents

F is for Feeble-minded

Charles Davenport (1866-1944), American eugenicist, produced this diagram to illustrate how all sorts of defects can be attributed to inheritance. His abbreviations include N for normal, A for alcoholic, E for epileptic, F for feeble-minded and I for insane. 
I would add B for beauty.
Happily Mr Davenport died of pneumonia, though he left it rather late.

Site for sore eyes: 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Deane's Electro Spoons and Forks

I was given these two packets a while back when some friends came for dinner. I was told they came from the dump by the river down in Woolwich where Bottle-bitch gets her stuff. The paper is the Times, Wednesday May 4th 1870.

Amongst the small ads for books are:
THE CRUISE of the KATE; or, a Single-handed Voyage Round Great Britain. By EMPSON EDWARD MIDDLETON, Author of "The First Two Books of the Aenid of Virgil in Rhymed Verse." Price 6s.
New Edition, much enlarged, with Engravings, by post 3s 8d.,
STRICTURE of the URETHRA; its Causes, Symptoms and Successful Treatment...


8:50 Monday morning, I found this under a pile of papers in a knackered folder at the back of my laptop marked 'The day is bright'. The disturbing thing is that I have forgotten when and why, but not whether I wrote it.


A fine rain of brick-dust and plaster falls continually from the dense cloud that hangs above the streets. It sparkles softly in the pale filtered light and trembles with the shock of each explosion. Despite the endless roar of collapsing buildings and the scream of falling shells one can still hear footsteps on the pavement: their urgent tapping bounces back off the smothering cloud of dust.

The street is a trench cut into the city, a grave without end whose five-storey sides are belching gouts of smoke and spattered with shrapnel flowers. Heaps of rubble lie forced to the roadside, burying the pavement but for a thin, strangled rat-run.

In an agonising pocket of silence, clenched about with the endless fists of detonations, two blurred and bundled figures stumble this way, whimpering. Two women, a mother and daughter perhaps, clutching their family relics. They scuttle past the boarded shops and toothless doorways propelled by the violent wind.