Monthly Archives: November 2012

Another way of saying why it’s OK in the Cancer Centre is because I do not feel like a subtraction there. And I am writing this not only to explain here the gymnastics involved in trying not to be a subtraction outside of the Cancer Centre, but also as a part of those gymnastics themselves which maybe existed already before any of this, for other reasons. But with regard to now what I mean is that if you don’t watch out there’s a default position in this game that infects your own life and the lives of others whereby:

life + cancer = —life

(as in, life plus cancer equals minus life)

Let’s not do this. For one thing, life is always lived under some condition or other. But what’s more is that this would be too much like not doing anything at all even though ‘minus life’ is no more ‘death’ than life without the minus is ‘liberation’. I am not experiencing either of these right now anyway. Rather, it will be totally familiar to anyone who has had chemotherapy that we might better call this ‘minus life’ ‘treatment’. There’s nothing new in me writing this. This treatment determines the subtraction (nausea, sleep, crash, slowness, half-days etc.) so that when you go to the place where you have the treatment this place can only and obviously be the experience of a double negative, i.e. no longer a minus. Ironically, at that moment, it is something to do, being done.

Similarly, it is exactly at this time of year when I make something physical happen to my own perception, like a jerk: because leaves change colour. Forever I have had a default position in my own mind game about this whereby:

leaf — life ≠ colour

(leaf minus life is not a colour)

But this is simply not the case and every year I remind myself of this – it takes some work  – and this reminding also feels physical because of the way it commands the eye to look, to work as a muscle, not through conjecture, fear, morbidity or by any other psychological infection. The Mind Is A Muscle. Look at the leaf. It is not dead as in nothing. It is yellow. Or red. Or even if it is brown it is still not no-colour. Look at the colour. The colour is real, it is something to do and it can be done. War is over IF YOU WANT IT. WANT IT. These are acts.

Which is like what I’ve been thinking about Robert Smithson’s model of disintegration that he uses to characterise modern life in the 1960s as an inevitable decline that might nonetheless be celebrated, his famous picture of entropy:

Picture in your mind’s eye [a] sand box divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise, but the result will not be a restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greyness and an increase of entropy. ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,’ first published as ‘The Monuments of Passaic,’ Artforum, December 1967

Seen in this way, all systems spiral degeneratively into sameness, all of life, all of production is an incremental inertia, even the act of looking and for sure making art. But we can do something about this. Move closer. Get really close. Step into the box and bend down. What is there is not what you saw before. The individual grains of sand in Smithson’s pit are not grey, but still black and white. The analogy only holds for as long as we occupy a fixed position of inviolable, immaterial perception. ‘Greyness’ is the impression of a colour from a fixed perspective. Only in this way does looking become blindness.*  The  Mind   Is    A     Muscle.       MOVE.

Not to celebrate decline and yet it is not stopped exactly either, but stayed, in/of time and space, a temporary _____, for as long as… , as a muscle moves, as something provisional but still some thing.

So, in general then removing the minus is really about whether or not there are things to do that can be done, which is also what there is to be bothered about for me in anything made and in making it. Things that take time in one way or another and please, I don’t mean craft. It is what to me is so magnetic about what these two paintings by Nicolas Poussin in the National Gallery lead me to, and the gallery itself (though I’ll write more on that place next):

Landscape with Travellers Resting, c.1638-9


Landscape with a Man Scooping Water from a Stream, c.1637

The paintings are not considered to be Poussin’s most interesting or remarkable, according to the gallery – they are non-literary, figures (primitive) popped into a landscape, not thinking, like nothing to think about, as an excuse for the particularly Roman landscape to be studied, its painting practiced for another purpose, for the benefit of another picture which would be literary. The figures are described as if they are an excuse, but they are not an excuse. They are there doing things that can be done. In relation to each other. Like sitting in a gallery.

Who wants to be trussed-up like this lot adoring the Golden Calf of their own palava just to get told off?

When one can be undone, doing things like this

and this

at the same time as each other, but without that being the motivation as such, told to us by not touching, not looking, like klar, like facts.

I am exhilarated. What is being done? We are told and then we look and this is the thing: it is not, or not only. I do not know and yet I do and these things combined are like that dead clean ravishing of Michael Clark. These paintings mobilise my desire to a regularity. They remove the minus, or they offer this as possible and how. This is not a picture but a body plotted, nothing more nor less is told than by anyone anywhere sitting or walking, framed even if only by the look as an act too: a stage space and a scene of stages. Of ours, or mine, or one that I want, or all I want, or the only one, really. That I am reading backwards and into for a purpose, to go on:

Trauerspiel 1, HAU1, Berlin, March 2012

Into/of time and space and/as the function of something done. Love and time. It is basic.

* this paragraph is a slightly altered version of an extract from an essay I wrote called ‘What Is Material?’ for Ruth Buchanan’s new book, The weather, a building.

We were both early for the appointment. I saw him across the foyer. He is wearing the same turquoise tie and a skinny-fitting shirt a bit more ironed than last time, a blonde flop and a really very smart leather bag. He’s sharp but messy-boy dirty and young, young, young. I am 40. Oh, come on, let’s want him.

He used the north lifts, I hid for a minute then used the south lifts. It was like this, a circling, of course as if we hadn’t really seen each other when of course we totally had and we wondered who would approach or how and when. He waited around in the chemo atrium, I checked-in, averting glances. But still it began approximately on time: Bambi L. I stumble and fall, but I give you it all; every detail I could possibly remember about every single doctor’s visit while I was in the hospital, the psychological impact, the practical implications, what time of day it happened, what time of day they said it would, how it was to wait, when it was necessary to get hysterical, what worked, what didn’t, when, which rank of doctor lied, how they did, who did the bone marrow biopsy, where did my samples go, the trundling round on a trolley when I could walk perfectly fine, energy saving tips and anti-advertising rants against the pay-for TV, and then every single detail I could muster about my own cancer, every hard fact that I am in command of about what might happen to me and an awareness of the hard facts that I am not, of how I am not, what to expect, what not, when the ifs and maybes kick in, why, actually about all cancer and its treatments. The boy couldn’t believe his luck. I mean, he’s the trainee doctor but quite what they learn at school… It really was like pouring liquid gold down his honeyed throat and he filled and filled his little reporter’s flipbook that I wondered if he’d bought specially with writing that just looked too big to be efficient.

After about an hour Bambi L. was getting twitchy at his hospital’s failure to acknowledge that I was actually there – oh the aspirations of this boy, the utopian ideas that appointments mean something, that there might be communication, oh, oh, I wish for him… But anyway, that didn’t stop me. On and on I went. Bambi’s ordered a special book from the British Library that might be the only one in the world with any information on this kind of lymphoma I have and he’s promising we sort of ‘do this together’ kind of thing. Roll over, sit, spread, grind, grind…

Bambi’s tie is too long. As Denise is prepping me and before she’s forgot to check if my injections are in the fridge (they’re not, though she never knew) which would have been before she finished her shift and goes to her Samba class without a care left in the world, and while we’re all getting frittery because I have a slight temperature and the doctor has to come etc etc I am looking at Bambi’s tie. It is flopped over his crotch, his slim-fit grey flannel trousers and he sort of fingers it from time to time. And we both know that it is too long.

His trousers are tugged-up slightly and he is wearing odd socks, each as bright as the other. One bright red, one bright purple. Intense. It reminds me of this boy who would come to a Chaucer class we had together that started at 9am and he’d always wear brightly coloured striped socks and they were always odd and somehow he came into the room with the air of a rugby pitch about him, that was simultaneously a just-lurched his rugby-wrecked torso from a bed to a shower via a sex life and a still-smelling of mud or a grass stained sock, and the underside of his hair was always wet to start with, which reminds me of… oh, oh… a kind of fantasy hybrid of one called Pablo and one called Mark and red and black football socks, and one of them wearing the other’s for a week and then me unravelling them into cut strings of sweat-soaked wool in individual zip-locked bags as a limited edition for a magazine, really for the smell, which I never did…

But back with Bambi I’m still going and I can smell my own body because I didn’t have any clean underpants to put on that morning, not having slept where my underwear drawer currently is, and if I’d seen it before I would have made a mental note at the time that I smelled like the smell of the eyelash under his foreskin that arouses the speaker in Ed Atkins’ video, like a flash of leg shot into a bright white Converse. The smell of that eyelash is a smell I know, or at least I know what smell I’d recognise privately and say that it is that smell for me. Because really I’m sitting there and of course the person I can smell is not me nor him, but Harry, after a day’s work. It’s like lying in bed in Berlin and hearing the National Anthem on Radio 4 and feeling ridiculous and lying in bed now in Dagenham and hearing it and realising that it is OK after all, because it doesn’t make me think of My Country in either place, but in both instances of Elsewhere: in Berlin of an idea about somewhere I didn’t live and here, now, of lying there in Berlin, and it’s hard, but there’s something soft in just such a split.

But anyway, if it wasn’t before then this is when it really gets like a sex date, like that moment when you think things might have been going alright but the person you’re on/in the date with suddenly really earnestly wants to know what you do and you’re in the groove and so you think you’ll give it a go and you say something earnestly like “I’m an artist, I make performances” and “I work also with artists who make film and video” and then you’re bumped – hard – at the brick wall of details that can’t explain anything and just make the chasm bigger. You’re in the cul-de-sac of a subset of a subset and all the juice drains out and you have to sort of forget that any of this was ever spoken to carry on. When you get older you can see this coming and fend it off at the pass (like, you lie, or you say “I teach”) because you can find the bothered/not-to-be-bothered-about-given-the-circumstances line…

Nonetheless, we get to generational difference because I am trying to explain to Bambi L. some of the formative political, social, cultural issues of my teenage years, artists who were heroes then etc., but the 1980s are a country to which he’s never travelled, and he never goes to art galleries now for which he berates himself (for my sake it seems, oh please, know me more) though he might have a look at the Turner Prize because I’d egged him into it with R.D. Laing and all those promises that I wasn’t sure he really knew about either. But that Bambi L., he wanted it all, despite… I mean I really think he didn’t want to disappoint.

He is looking at me now and he’s running out of words to say continue, this gracious boy, this absolutely so attentive and gentle and respectful, considerate, delicate, aspirational… and he says that by now his medical cortex is raging trying to put all this together with all that came before, and he’s mentally cross-referencing and double-checking and it’s all a-whirring and so I say “What does that feel like? What thoughts is that giving you?” and he cannot say, he really cannot, and he starts to remember that when he arrived he’d seen me with a book. It is as if he’s remembered also a strategy from a workshop on how to deal with patients in social situations and he suggests that maybe I want to read my book, which I don’t, but I know what he’s saying and there’s only so long I can not read my book for, because ultimately I’m a giver (that’s what Gary the masseur told me because of the way I gave him my hand too helpfully) and so I pull my book out of my bag and it was a few weeks ago when I thought this illness might be a chance to catch-up with the kids and so I was reading I LOVE DICK and there it is, saying that, in green block capitals on a white background.

Apparently I’m already quite a key part of his education. It’s as if his report for which he’s meant to get information from me over a 6month period is already bloody written. Well Bambi L. you are my report too, my route, let’s subject each other if we can but I’m no more me there in your flipbook than you are here. And so we’ve got a deal boy. As far as I’m concerned. And I will try to learn when to STOP TALKING so we can spread this out and to say less to you to get more, that kind of thing. To want and want and never have.

“You know my hair will fall out?”

“But your hair is really nice.”

“I know my hair is nice, but it will fall out.”

“Would you like something to drink?”

“I’d love a cup of tea.”

He’s gone for ages and when he does come back I sort of feel depleted, or muted and I’ve got I LOVE DICK in my lap and the CHOP chemotherapy is dripping into my vein and he’s been to Starbucks and here it is, another green logo on a white background, the most phallic cup of tea anyone has ever bought me, thin at the base, really really tall and expanding at the top, almost toppling over or swinging, and he gets ready to leave, but before he does he suggests not coming to the next appointment, but maybe to the one after and that’s already next week, on Monday, now and he told me by email that he’s asked his teachers to see if he’s allowed.

There are no stairs at Dagenham Heathway Station just a long cuboid ramp. Passengers are squeezed either side of a thick yellow railing from the street to the platform etc., squirted down/up the ramp, lubed by a bit of classical. Music. Blumen it comes, wafts of generic romance in gufts. On the way to meet Sandra for coffee my Mum says my Dad said it’s to stop the heroin users hanging around the ramp (not that anyone ever seems to have seen them there) because It Gets On Their Nerves, this particular kind of music. I thought at least it was for sure an exercise in control, another generous F R E E dom, both the thing and the effect of everything for which we are to be thankful: it gets on my nerves, bloody joke, therefore I am… They use music like this too at Euston Square-Alight-Here-for-University-College-Hospital. Of course they do.

But enough, enough, enough of these false starts from places I or anyone else found ourselves in against our will. Let’s START:

First up I can say that I wished I was in the room when, FINALLY, A Gay won the Jarman Award. He is A Gay I love like how on ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ when after the room was lit by e-lec-tric lights I am the artificial sound of smashing bulbs. I was happy to have seen Michael Clark at the Barbican with this Gay and other Gays, and others of course. Because there was also love, which wasn’t really because of The Gays, or not all of them, my point perhaps is that it so rarely is, but when it’s shored is when it is… lit… so, there we were and there it was… shattered…

Which could be read as:

I’m not a Michael Clark veteran. I am a fan. I stood and clapped for this work and I was not alone. Its clarity was a dead clean ravishing. No faff, just the most astonishing establishing of a vocabulary in its own time that of course was always there but I never saw it like I saw it. Like all that work with Stravinsky was necessary to get to this that looked independently neo-classical. It was not apologising.

What move can be made, what cannot, which line, who is together, how, why march, what must be stopped, what dragged, drawn, sucked, statued, fucked, what must be spoken, that being strong enough is worth it. I mean, some of these dancers were bionic, like the past to look at with a mesmeric sort of buzz around their edge.

And then this vocabulary explodes, implodes, it is yours, you are the imploding, being thrown out, the whole place is emptied by a screen that’s lifted for the inside, the reflection of mirrors and every gag that would have been a gag was so absolutely, so unapologetically nothing to do with stand-up but so clear and assured to be nothing other than something much more there, totally on it, stark in space, as any body CAN BE. Because we are there. I mean, the gag with a prop was no more the ha-ha toilet seat around Someone’s neck of old, but so straightforwardly the means and the mechanism for a movement to happen that it was, well, just straightforward and there is thanks, there is my body too, here. Maybe it always was but I saw it and it was massive, getting that.

We will not apologise. And we can say this precisely. We are people. There are things. There are things that we want, there are things that we are subjected to. There is resistance, form. It can be strict – must, even. There are places you can go to and you can come back with stuff. To make. It is strength. Yeh. Backing dancers. And? Come on. Roll over, sit, spread, grind, grind, fall. Stand up. Stand up. Stand up.

Now, another place I don’t mind being is the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre and the reasons aren’t that complicated. It’s an alright place to sit. By which you might have already guessed that the flooring on chemotherapy level 2 isn’t designed by Antony Gormley. A Gormley hangs on the wall. Just for us we can call it Gormley’s Balls and put an end to that gag [on the statues he makes which are based on a cast of his own naked body, they say that the older he’s got the bigger he’s told his assistants to make his cock, though I never measured it myself]:

The floor on chemo 2 is by Rob Ryan. I don’t mind it, I sort of knew him once, though I’d say pretty much for sure that I don’t need to be told anything by any bloody paper doily style faux cut-out bells framed by hetero-normative love birds, flowers and vines on one of which it is written THIS BELL WILL RING… and on its partner WHEN WE DREAM A DREAM OF GOOD. Where exactly do they think they are, these bells? Who do they think they are talking to? Everyone here has cancer. What dreams do you think we are dreaming exactly? Oh yeh, that’s it, it’s just that we need to change our dreams. It’s not you, cancer, it’s us, dreams. Of course. On the one hand the bell is not going to ring. On the other if it did then it wouldn’t be for fear of death that we’d stop ourselves from asking for whom, because we don’t fear death and that, Rob Ryan has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Rather, the reason for this is that whatever void you walk into this clinic from, whatever kind of stuff or nothing is outside of this building, it is left there. Here is the present tense that is not there outside; the body as a fact and it is something like definite and these other things/nothings dissolve. Massive amounts of void become entirely irrelevant. There is not only your own body there are the bodies of everyone else too, and you see them, these others also having stepped out of the voids from where they’ve also come into this building, to where their body and your body are equal facts and it is on this level that you can feel them, information to information. And there are many – it’s, like, really busy this place, really busy, my god it’s busy – and here is like absolutely everyone. Everyone’s got cancer. And I have this feeling that between us it is just direct. There is something like a clarity that does not need to be spoken, but that can be and to speak is a simple, physical relief such that even scant words waiting for the lift cut through the bloody flesh that ordinarily pads us out as spongey egos. Which is another way of saying that it’s a leveller and that I like it, so (as) to speak. Ha. Is this what they call institutionalised?!

Or the reason for this, on top of this, of course, is that someone might turn up to keep you company there like Bambi L. the Student Doctor. Oh Bambi, Bambi L.! Let’s greet him. Bambi!, oh Bambi! BAMBI L.! BAMBI L. IS HERE!!!