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closed for renovation

In April 2006, I started this funny blog as a way to write about the process of exhibiting and venting my strong opinions about other art exhibitions I was seeing in Sydney and beyond.

It has been an amazing experience over the last 8 years and I've made friends, influenced people, made enemies and lost myself in it.

Now it's time for she sees red to grow up a little, expand, move premises and kick arse.

I'm turning the lights off, closing the shutters, putting up some scaffolding and working some magic behind the shadecloth that has an artists' impression on it.

Next year, I'll have a new domain, a new look and new focus, with more guest posts, a new podcast i'm starting, regular writing again and a cooler focus. Still all on art, music, sound, politics and general cultural critique, but with more oomph.

And it's going to look amazing.

This baby will still stay here until then, so feel free to stick-beak through the archives, search, etc.

Here's a quick shortcut to the posts you all loved the most:

Review of Zadie Smith's Collection of Essays

Confiscated Childhood: Afro Supa Hero and Confiscated Cabinet and the Museum of Childhood

Pink Bits (NSFW): Exhibition Review of Erotic Art

Obligatory Chris Brown Post

Has Conceptual Art Gone Too Far

Leigh Bowery (you guys love him too!)

London Wednesdays

Secret societies: Public or Private

For those who have hung out on this blogspot site (Hi Mum!), thanks for coming.
I promise to leave a forwarding address.

I'll be guest writing about arts and culture in some other places, so keep an eye out and you can always catch me on twitter or sheseesred.com.

Until 2015, you've all been amazing!


her footnotes are perfect: a review of zadie smith's collection of essays. yes, 6 years after it was published.

an introduction

Since taking a sabbatical from making visual work, I've been absorbed by the written word - writing more and reading like my mind is a black hole; sucking in book after book, no rest in between. Close one, open another.

I haven't read like that since I was a child; weekday afternoons in the library, reading everywhere: the toilet, the garden, the bedroom - always getting in trouble for sitting with a book instead of doing chores.

In this recent craze I read Zadie Smith's occasional essays: changing my mind. Or inhaled, rather.

I should have had an inkling that this book would be like a glorious cordless drill, boring into my life, given the way it came into it:

I read the first essay in its natural habitat - as the introduction to Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was the most intimate introduction I've ever read of a novel - like someone I was having a casual conversation with suddenly giving me a beautiful french kiss.*

I was struck.

I remembered relishing her exacting essays about art in the New Yorker - and, before I had even started the ZNH book itself, I was pining after a whole book more of Zadie Smith's essay.

The searching gods (ie: amazon) shone, there was such a book! Gasp!

Being the kind of girl I am, I tweeted about it:

A dear friend, one @purplesime responded thusly:

Arriving wrapped in gorgeous illustrated paper a few days' later, it sat in my bookshelf, waiting until The Right Time.

If you're thinking 'yeah, alright, enough about you more about the book', I'm sorry but it's not going to get all that much more objective.

My relationship to this book and to its writer has grown greater than mere critique, into some kind of literary love affair - less austen, more nabokov. It is a love affair somewhat reminiscent of the only time I have felt deep romantic love for another person (all the way from the part where my blonde and black hair meet, to the bottom of my size 37 feet.)

I have become so besotted by this book that, at one point in the middle of reading it, if I had passed her on the street, I might have had to hug a light pole in order to respect her personal space, rather than run up to hug her and not let go for a full minute.

A minute is a long time to hold onto a stranger in a fierce and loving embrace.

So that's how I feel about this book.

I would love to write a proper literary essay about it. But it's already 6 years old and all the best journalists and reviewing people in the world have written about it, so this will be for the latecomers and more along the lines of a long rambly blog post.

on y va.


so, it's about..

Broadly speaking, it's about culture.
But who wants to know about the broadly speaking. everything is, broadly speaking, about culture.

So, it's divided into four separate sections: seeing, being, feeling and remembering. Which set the architecture of the book into the human way of relating to things - especially to the kinds of things that a Zadie Smith-like human relates to. I'm sure it's not done by Zadie herself*, but it still seemed to exude her sense of a 'correct' way of these things and the best way to connect herself and the reader.

So this book of essays is also about Zadie Smith. More than just a reflection, it's like a relief mold - one gets to know her by the ways she speaks of others and who she speaks about.

Despite the humanities-like grouping or taxonomy of essay types, her real themes and methods jump and criss-cross all over the place, lovingly tangled like my headphones after a long day in my bag.
Actually, more like a rough-weave fabric. Or a drawing: the discreet and the continuous combined to create a texture.  Themes about voice (including listening) - the author's and the readers': language, cultural history, literature.

And then in between those two layers, the essays were about those things we related to in that human way: books and their authors (in which she doesn't divorce the two -  like I haven't here), film and its characters/actors, families and their characters/actors; and work.

her voice
A combination of authority and personality, she tells you something - facts, analysis, outlines - then reminds you that she's telling you these things; That she, Zadie Smith, has this understanding/experience/opinion and that you, dear reader, are part of the journey too.

Without being as obtuse as writing directly to the reader, she has a rhythm that says "stay there and listen this. Now, come and and watch it with me." Show and reveal. Authority and personality.

I don't know if, during her literature degree at Cambridge, she focused on comparitive literature, but this is the underlying form for much of her essays in this book. But rather than binary comparison, which helps no-one, she sets out with two distinct markers, but swims around them.

Even within the confines of a short essay, she is a novelist. and because of that, she makes occasional diversions, brings in extra characters or points that probably don't need to be there, but make the reading all that more gorgeous, because it is.

Endearing is a term that can be so patronising, so i'm loath to use it here, but there were some essays in which she did this, and what I felt was endearment. I felt like I was being reminded that this was a story too, not just instruction on valuable things to know.


speaking to me
The way i'm going to write about some of the specific essays is as though she wrote the book for me.

Yes, me. Personally.

Because that's how it felt. I don't know whether that's because this book attended to my particular language, or this time in my life right now, or if I would have always have felt this way, but I was consistently saying YASSSS!!! on the inside. Sometimes on the outside, usually between stations on the tube. It was slightly embarrassing.

With a serious, critical tone - and from what i gleaned from her essays themselves - this directness of a relationship with the reader is crucial to Smith's writing. It's what drives the way she writes. And possibly the authors she reads/falls in loves with/writes essays-like-these about, so it's not just me being self-absorbed. Not entirely.

I know there are some people there for whom the paper of the book is a sacred thing.
This next section may offend:

I write notes on my books, as i engage, or read sentences that hit me in the heart. I highlight, underline, ask myself and the author questions in the columns. But for the first time ever, reading this book, i have corrected an author! *gasp*

never do that. It feels so presumptuous. I take the book as it comes and I fit myself to it for that time.

But i had such a personal connection with this book, such a way of relating, that when I read her gorgeous reflection on Katherine Hepburn and she used the word 'tomboy' to speak about Kate's childhood (one I also related to, by the way). I crossed it out and wrote 'girl'. To suit myself. Because I was so invested in this writing, in this book, in her stories, that I couldn't afford to feel the disappointment over a small thing like using language that perpetuates gendered stereotypes in girls. So I corrected it and kept reading.

Even as I write that, it seems really silly. But I also think it says something about the quality of Zadie Smith's work - that i feel so connected to it - that i have the audacity to correct her phrase. An arrogance I've never witnessed in myself with any other book. It sounds hideous, but it feels complimentary.

Less so, but along these lines, I mixed up the order in which I read.
Yup! Didn't read it from cover to cover. I cherrypicked this muhfucker.

I know, it's not particularly revolutionary - it's a collection of essays. But I am still a sucker for start-to-finish. I hate choose-your-own-adventure stories - I'm a compliant reader. But clearly, this one felt slotted into my own life enough for me to want the range of stories to be scattered around me like a shuffled deck of cards.

Perhaps i'm overstating it, but in the picking and choosing of reading the essays, according to what I felt, what I saw, how I was being - it felt like i was weaving those stories in with my life. Plaiting a little from hers, a bit from mine, left, right, under, over, until all the stories were finished and I popped my head up and out of the book and realised I was looking at it from the perspective of a Zadie Smith essay.

Not all books do that, you know. I have this romantic notion that they should. But they don't.


some specific bits that wove in
These are some of the particular parts of the book that needled into my consciousness. Not just about the what, but the how. And, again, they were areas that firmly tugged at the stitching between me as the reader and Smith as the author. They were particular times when she did that thing I mentioned earlier 'i'm writing about this in a particular way that you'll love and I know you'll love it too'.

seeing: at the multiplex, 2006. (aka comparitive literature for film)
Her short treatises on film are not initially set out as comparitive. but in this series of essays, they become comparitive through mere juxtaposition. and deliciously unlikely in their coupling: Shopgirl and Get Rich or Die Tryin'; Walk the Line and Grizzly Man; Brief Encounter and Proof.

Her language was refreshingly shorthand and removed - reminding us of the ways we approach films - interchanging characters and actors names with general descriptions - loose and personal.

seeing: katherine hepburn and greta garbo.
I held back reading this essay, because I've never understood the Garbo fascination and couldn't quite straighten myself up to a comparison between the two. I had to work up to it. Which is a shame because I love katharine hepburn, feel protective about her and was busting to read about her (altough a bit afraid of a garbo-loving view of her).

But the way Sadie wrote about Katharine was worth the wait. She highlighted all the aspects of Hepburn's character that highlighted exactly why I like her. And left out any of the ones I didn't.

Similarly, it was  Hepburn's unquite real-life position in Hollywood to chip away at some of America's more banal and oppressive received ideas. Whenever Hollywoood thought it knew what a woman was, or what a black man was, or what an intellectual might be, or what 'sexiness' amounted to, Hepburn made a move to turn the common thinking on its head, offering always something irreducibly singular.

Not only did she remind me about the parts of myself that need/needed to connect to Katharine (headstrong, determined, feminist, struggling with being understood, etc) through the choices of the way she wrote about Katherine, but in doing so Zadie showed me a bit about what she liked/needed from Katharine too. And because they were the same, she placed herself firmly in my camp, as the kind of person that values those things too. Or perhaps I did the placing, but still.

reading: nabokov and barthes
Here's another one I put off for a while, but that got to me in the end. I do love roland barthes (I think I'm the only one who actually digs his Fashion System book), but in a book of essays, I was scared of reading about him. Especially being compared to Nabokov. I didn't know that much about nabokov, but have mixed feelings about Lolita and I was imagining the worst.

But this book, unsurprisingly, was a perfect pair to another of her essays about the craft of writing (see below), in that it quickly pulled apart and organised into a loose pile the relationship between the author and the reader.

Artists quite often use barthes and his writing about this to speak of the relationship between artist and viewer, so I thought I had an understanding of his perspectives. But having read it again with the position of the actual 'author' (ie: writer) in mind, I feel like they're very, very different kinds of relationships and it does a disservice to both to use them in the way it has been. Or at least the way that some of the artists i know have used it.

As she mentions in it, zadie smith is influenced by both schools of thought, but probably more likely from a position of Nabokov. That is: in which the author is 'in control' of the story and her position is to grab the reader by the hand and lead her through the story, dragging her along behind her in a way like an overworked parent in a shopping mall.
This method doesn't really leave much room for Barthes' mentality of this relationship (and perhaps 'purpose' of authorship) in which both partners create the story - it is a the moment of the author's giving and the readers' receiving: the 'birth of the reader as the death of the author' idea.

Every writer needs to keep the faith with Nabokov and every reader with Barthes. For how can you write, believe in Barthes? Still, I'm glad I'm not the reader I was in college any more, and I'll tell you tell you why: it made me feel lonely.

Although this essay is at the beginning of the novel, and does, in a way, underlay her relationship with us as readers, I'm rather glad that I particularly left it until the end. Until after I had enjoyed her amusing stories, been taking on the journey, analysed myself and her as the writer through her personal history and through her lecture on the craft of writing. Because, in this way, it was like adding a glaze over the top of the experience - filled in some of the gaps and elevated it. Rather than it dictating from the beginning how I should read the essays. In the mode of nabakov and barthes, it was using the nabokov method of laying out and establishing the way, in a barthes-like way. Meta.

being: trip to libya
This essay is in the section on Being that cuts to the heart of language and expererience. It is balanced between a lecture on writing and a lecture on language. In that sense it feels a little like being jettisoned - suddenly being flung out of the written word into LIFE.

However, I read this essay after the movie reviews and on the back of three family-related essays in a row, including her astute wit on comedy. Instead it was a welcome travel outside London, a welcome hit to the system and with a view of NGO culture in West Africa that I hadn't quite read before.

Oxfam had sponsored zadie's trip to monrovia and the outlying areas and it was originally published in the Observer - a Sunday publication with a focus on more indepth investigations on life, rather than news.

Unlike most of her other essays, Zadie herself is quite a bit removed from this one. She presents the situation from her position, and acknowledges her light-skinned, western perspective, but that's where the Zadie-ness of the trip finishes as she takes a break from herself as novelist and goes on a trip as journalist. I got the sense that she conserved a deeper and more intense experienced for herself, giving us a unique, but well-behaved account, leaving the guts of the trip in the sun to dry and become something else, not an article.

being: that crafty feeling
As I mentioned earlier, I skipped over this essay - reading the joyful and culturally-focused ones. I must admit that the title killed me a bit. Crafty? Feeling? And the first subtitle 'macro planners and micro managers'… blah.

But I got there in the end, and oh I fell in love. I think it was the second last essay I read - before the mammoth one about David Foster Wallace.

It was this essay that prompted me to consider planning more time in my day to write. And to perhaps consider writing something more seriously.

It is clearly for creative writing students -  a frank and personal description about her craft of writing that is engaging, warm and generous. Self-deprecating and perhaps elevated by a little more confidence in the way in which she constructs a novel - is is an excellent 'example' of the theory (between Barthes/Nabokov) that she writes about earlier. It is also an extension of the personal, that we already read in previous essays.

Unlike her novels, which she says are invariably third-person, past-tense, this lecture, becoming essay, becoming book of essays is very much first-person, present-tense by a person who is used to leading a group along from the past to the present.

It is an inspiring essay about the normality of writing that isn't dripping with privilege or patronising - like those of martin amis or the other douche who was whinging about the demise of publishing recently. It is forthright, inclusive and self-actualised.

the footnote in her overview of david foster wallace.
I'm leaving this bit as a section of its own, because it literally made me squeal with excitement when i was reading it (see below).

Her essay on DFW deconstructs him as one of the most vital authors in English in contemporary times, and it's clearly borne of love and affinity and value. She speaks about his work and then, mid-essay, she speaks about his death. A suicide that happened in the middle of her writing about the work.

Anyway, as she's deconstructing his method and in the process, framing his genius for those of us who have never quite got it, she is also being methodical in the vein of DFW. she breaks his purpose down into two sections, investigating the first and presenting her case to me, the reader.

It's not an easy case for me to read and as she begins to follow this further, I find myself asking - but what about the second point. And then literally the next sentence is footnoted. With a note to the impatient ones, just like me. Not a reference for her information, but a note. Just like the ones i've included in this post. Where she speaks directly and perfectly to me and we have a brief moment - reader and author - and I trust her, implicitly, on this journey she's taking me. And so I learn.

As you can telll, I am a sucker for footnotes, afterthoughts, parentheses, appendices. probably because even the clearest storytelling needs context, underwriting and by-the-way.

Plus, my best writing has always been essays and academic investigations into blah, blah, blah, so i have a soft spot for them.  Perhaps blogging has an element of that writing too, so it feels super personal. Either way, I love a good footnote. And her footnotes are perfect*.

I don't think I've ever written about footnotes with such praise. Apart from Ginsberg's infamous footnote to Howl, they're not that well-discussed as 'literature'. Well, not in my world. But I feel like Zadie Smith's footnotes should be.  Because they're exactly how they should be: a mixture between reference: background information, fact, context, literary references; and direct addresses to the reader. she bring the reader right into the story. into her world as a writer. you become co-conspirators in this story (see above).*

As well as inspiration for this overly long and sycophantic blog about the book, I am inspired to  pick up my footnote game. That, and investigate other authors who have a good use of footnotes.

in closing
The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the person who gave them. I have no real literary wasta to cast, but I have become quasi-evangelical about this book. I keep imploring people to read it.

I don't have nearly the same talent for piquing people's interest in a writer as she does, which is a shame, because I feel like essay books get left behind in an author's oevre until far too late. And it would be a great shame if our perception of Zadie Smith was missing the ones that you get from reading her special but Occasional Essays.

UPDATE: I don't feel quite so much like a dork for reviewing (so sentimentally) something that was released in 2008, after seeing bim adewumni's rad pieces on 90s teen flicks. yes!

UPDATE 2: i've decided to find out more about the footnote in fiction, and have already found a couple of interesting posts about such thing. on fiction and  miskatonic.

*apologies for the over-familiarity - but it just felt like that.
*actually, what the hell would i know.
*and what i would easily call my biography of zadie smith. (er, lauren, wake up - Ed)
*which highlights her application of the relationship between author and reader, again.


Humiliation in small, tiny increments.

Caveat: It shits me when men get kudos for writing about the same thing (in this case rape culture) women have been doing for years, yet it gets spat back in their faces.

See these (not-so-recent) articles about rape culture and the myths behind it (monster and otherwise) that are by women. One Mohadessa Najumi, Two Laurie Penny (in 2012!), Three Clementine Ford, Four Chimene Suleyman, Five Steenfox, Six Everyday Sexism.

Now that you've done that.

Read these two articles: One Musa Okwonga, Two Tom Meagher

Last week, Tom Meagher wrote about rape culture and the 'ordinary' rapist. Today, Musa Okwonga has written an even better article on it, in light of the ha-ha-funny-hip-rapist confessions of a rich street-art hipster DC.

The articles are not easy to read. But they're good.

When I was reading Musa's article, two things he alluded to jumped out at me.  I want to extend them a little here:

Where rape culture hangs out. 
Both these articles reminded me (and should remind you) that rape culture hang out where ordinary culture hangs out.

It's something that women have been saying for ages, but perhaps now that men are starting to see that there's an assumption of 'it's not men like me' - it will make sense.

The kind of mentality that Musa highlights - the silent or awkward compliance, partly what sociologists call the Spiral of Silence, and the kind of 'norm' of it all - it hangs out in the media.

On TV, radio, films, books, magazines, music, blog posts, facebook and twitter.

It's the same kind of thinking, writing, imagery (that's what culture is), that says 'tits on page 3 = ok', using women's body's to sell shit = ok. using an app to tell you when in the movie to put your arm around a girl = funny,  getting drunk at the weekend and pushing that little harder for the girl to fuck you = maate, posting pics of girl's bits on your twitter page because pussy = fine, fuck your masseuse because she got your hard, even when she didn't want it and because it's for tv = ha!, damn, fucked a woman and bashed her head in because i was horny = oops, rapist/paedophile but he makes art = ok*.

There is a reason why women have problems with page 3, FHM, lads' mags and vice. And all the ways that excuse the kind of behaviour that David Choe boasted about. Because they are stewing pots for the kind of boys will be boys, women-as-mine culture that stews this kind of mentality.

And that kind of mentality is the one that prompts men to rape women.

It's not just those mags, but the frustration is that it's that they are considered norm. Just media. Just part-of-the-wide-range-of-available-things-to-read-and-that-your-choice-is-your-choice. Fuck you and your choice.

And before you all roll your eyes at the kind of ban-everything suggestion that you've already assumed, it brings me to my second point:

You might need to give some things up.
You can't say 'I don't want women to be raped but i still them to be at my disposal.' Or 'I don't want my daughter to be raped, but I still want Terry Richardson to be photographing bitches for Vice'.
It's the slow wearing down of women's esteem and place in the world. The slow ramping up of the 'i'm a man, so i get to..'

When you buy those things. Pay money for them. Give men like this money, you are literally buying into those ideals.

It is compliance.

Guys, change means you might have to not-have some things. You might have to feel 'hard done by' for a while. You might not get to have all your toys. You might have to sulk for a while, because actually, you quite liked the occasional joke or ad at the expense of women. You didn't see the harm in it. Hey, i've got mothers, sisters, wives, female friends too. Perhaps it made you feel like part of the human race.

And this is why rape culture perpetuates. Because men confuse the right to this kind of culture with the freedom of speech: it's humiliation in small, tiny increments.


word of the day: scripturient

yes. currently at level 10.

thanks sam 'sanga' nelson!


a half thought about art and praise

on the weekend, i had an occasion to do a live drawing. as part of a thing i'm about to embark on. it doesn't matter what, really, but it involves drawing. live. listening. and people seeing it evolve. it's used as a tool for recording, really.

during the course of the afternoon, there were a range of reactions to the artwork being produced. and to us as artists working on it. apart from the initially patronising 'are you art students?', it was primarily praise.

'oh, it's amazing!', 'it's so beautiful', 'oh, i could never do that, it's so great!' - pointedly. i could hear the extra effort made to voice the praise. just in case.

most of it was genuine - i really believe that people got a lot of enjoyment from seeing the colours and the artwork as a whole, but the sheer amount of it and the sameness of its tone and timbre made me feel quite uncomfortable.

it was as if the only way to express value about art is through praise. endorsement. along the lines of 'exposure'. that if people 'like' it, it's good.

despite its first appearance, this is not a humblebrag, or some kind of dysfunction desire for hatred. it's an acknowledgment that art is rarely seen as a tool. even when it is being explicitly used as one - as illustration. there was no similar praise for the facilitators of the afternoon, or the chairs/tables one was sat around. there was no fauning (really, some people were fauning over us) over the emcee, or the event organisers.

yet all were equal to the task of conveying what had been happening during the day. to the various ways of discussion and knowledge and understanding.

again, in this reaction to art is its undoing, i think. where the link between art's value is its enjoyment, and that its means of exchange is an expression of it. rather than something else which makes it worthy or valuable, something outside taste, or awe.

perhaps i just need to go to bed and stop thinking about it.


i always cry when i hear a poem read. (1)

Damilola Odelola, 2014

as some of you will remember, I made some work with boni caincross over the last few years, which focus on voice and the spoken word.

since being in london, i have delved into the amazing spoken word/performance poetry scene here - managing to see a stack of really amazing poets that i now stalk online/call friends.

speaking of which, last night, kareem parkins-brown (no obvious relation) invited me to the showcase for this year's barbican young poets programme.

it was phenomenal.

25 poets, all under 25, all crazy skillful and electric.

i'm not versed in writing about poetry (geddit?!) - yeah, that's why - Ed. so i'm not going to do the night justice at all, because i can't write about each and every poet, nor even describe the night very well.

but i will say that it got me. i clicked and cried a lot.

i'd never seen group poetry before and some of them were phenomenal. one in particular - speaking about families and homes and using the form of the group to highlight the range of disparity in a family as in the group itself. holy shit, astounding.

some individual stand-outs included emily harrison, who spoke of falling in love with strangers in t-cut; shonshana anderson's cool american delivery that reminded me of a young patti smith mixed with a young lily tomlin; greer dewdney and her work meant to be - a cutting work a social situation, using a form invented by one of the other poets ankita saxena; kareem (yeah, so what if i'm biased - he was amazing and had people standing up for him! deservedly so) with his work about his mother and the way he described her sighs and posture of sadness; antosh wojcik with his well-crafted gonzo/surrealism and cameron brady-turner's living along: an experiment, a crushing story of OCD that had us all gasping on a bus.

 (cue envelope opening)
and dami odelola, who had the line of the night in her work and the stuff that comes before a fall. seriously, all the ladies in the house were clicking and showing appreciation like mad, and probably a stack of men too. i can't quite remember because i was hit.

it was a line that hasn't left me. i couldn't really hear the three poets after that line, because my mind had  hit a glitch and was just skipping back and forth over that line.

aside from the lyricism itself, it was a line that struck me squre. and i knew from then on, for the first time in my life, that being used by men was not my fault. but it wasn't entirely theirs either - i was a solution to a gnawing hurt.

it still makes me cry.

and i'm sorry you all couldn't hear that line. because although i've posted the image of it up there, taken from the bodacious anthology that they produced, it's not the same. it's not even close to sitting in a room, hearing the energy, the timbre, rhythm; seeing the gestures and the fire inside, and being in a group of people for whom 16 words hit them behind their eyes at the same time.


Martin Creed: Pointing

A few weeks' ago, my regular art date, sitdowncomedian, and I went to the Martin Creed show at the Hayward gallery. We were both struggling a little, heavy hearts for different reasons, but found it the perfect antidote.

It was the first time I've seen the breadth and the depth of Martin Creed's practice*.

Until this point, it's only ever been catalogues, a few displays in group exhibitions/biennales/etc and a ramshackle live performance at Goldsmiths.

I think the man is pretty great, I just didn't realise how much until this show.

The thing about this show is that you just have to see it. You don't even need to know anything more about it than that.  

Which renders this post a little superfluous, really. However, i will do my best to write something about it, but still, just save up your £11and see the show.

Succinctly, it's a show about ascendence (and descendence).

In as many ways you can possibly think of.

The curators at the hayward have done a shit-hot job of taking you on a journey along that simple-but-profound-idea and it's immensely satisfying.

It is the busiet show i've seen in a while, because of the frenetic and prolific nature of his work.
Yet  because of the size and the purity of it, it's not cluttered or overstated. Which feels an odd thing to say about a show that repeatedly speaks about the same thing over and over and over again.
But because he comes at it from a variety of facets, it's clear and pure and crystalline in form.

A diamond says the same thing about carbon over and over again and is brilliant and dazzling, without being bloated or overstated.

This show is like that.

Yes, I know, I just compared Martin Creed's show to a diamond.
Perhaps I am guilty of overstating.

Anyway, without giving too much of the show away, you can look forward to highs and lows, ups and downs in a gorgeous cascade of variety, including:

Colour spectrums (ascending light/colour)
Musical scales (ascending and descending) on the piano - played by the security staff
Towers of boxes (ascending space)
Towers of other objects (ascending form and line)
Phallic cacti getting bigger/smaller (natural order)
Cocks doing the same 
A newly erected wall (it's all about getting it up)
Even the ramp was blocked off (for clear reasons to do with safety) and you had to climb up and down those stairs.

Up and down, up and down, again and again and again.

It sounds like a Doctor Seuss book in visual form.

Perhaps it's exactly like that - filled with direct poetry, profound ideas and joy joy joy for the hell of it.

A couple of nice and fitting diversions from the theme include the massive swinging MOTHERS sign. It didn't wow me that much the second time around, but it is a crowd-pleaser.

The funny film of a dog and a couple of people tracking back and forth across the screen. It could be arbitrary, but it seemed to be triggered by people crossing the space, which I liked.

And a cool trick with a car doing something similar;

The wall of tape - which was sort of like a colour spectrum, but more linear. And ridiculous. And reminded me of friends who have tape obsessions (Hi Julia, Phiroze and Gemma!);

Nipples and arseholes/ nautical installations and objects, which were lovely (although not quite as lovely as Sue Webster and Tim Noble's similar things);

The balloon room. Although I was in no state to really plunge into that fit of joy on that day, by all accounts it was pretty exciting, if not a bit claustrophobic (like the Gormley White Light room);

And, the great wall of broccoli prints, which lead me to fantasising about being Martin Creed's Broccoli Assistant:

"oh, nice to meet you, what do you do"
"I work for Martin Creed, I'm his Broccoli Assistant"

with the business card:

Lauren Brown

Broccoli Assistant
Martin Creed Studios
London, UK

See? the exhibition takes you to some absurd places, without being obtusely, or disrespectfully ironic (everyone knows how much I fucking hate irony as the core of an artwork). And because it is so generous, it also leaves plenty of room to dislike works without feeling left out or hating the whole show.

Like all good art shows should.

If you want to round out the well-rounded experience at the Hayward, pop across the way and head into the Royal Festival Hall, to the Singing Lift. It features his ascending/descending sound work, which overlooks a different perspectve of the balloon room.

In fact, this added exterior perspective of the show was great and not something I had seen in many shows at the Hayward. It was a reflection of an exhibition which concerned itself with entirety.

From the outside 'car park', you could see the image of the dogs on the side of the opposite building, and from the section with the wall, you looked towards the towers of The Shed and the Tate Modern - similar to structures seen instide. (I did have a little wish that the tower of the Tate Modern had been painted in a colour spectrum by him, so it would tie all in nicely across that southern bank.)

Anyway, you should go and see the show.  I'm going back for seconds soon.

*I always call him by his full name Martin Creed. Just Creed or just Martin seems weird to me.

image: pinched from the martin creed site itself.


work and experience, part 2: school work experience

I was recently looking for work, and I obviously had to reflect on the experiences I bring to prospective workplaces. It was an opportunity to look back at the history of my relationship with work.

Unsurprisingly, I also had to avoid considering internship positions, which is a bit of a shame, because there are a stack of things I'd love to try out, if i had the chance (read: money).

Especially because I feel like I wasted my chances with that whole idea of gaining 'work experience' - especially when I was in school.

I have never had enough money to take a gap year, or even to do internships - I've always had to wrangle my money - so the school-based scheme was really my only chance at connecting my skills with all the possibilities of earning.

I don't know what it's like here in the UK (or anywhere else in the road), but in Melbourne, we get two weeks - one each year at 15 and 16 -  to spend in a workplace relevant to our careers.

My two weeks

At 15, I was studying Italian, German and Japanese. My mother (and probably my school) suggested that, with those language skills, perhaps I should be an interpreter or translator.

If i could advise my former self, I would suggest other things. However, time has passed.

So I spent a week in June at an interpreter's office, which turned me off the idea forever. The staff were all bored, spoke turkish to each other - a language I couldn't understand - and no-one really guided me through the process. I read a book for most of the week. Perfect experience.

I remember being really disappointed after that experience at the the interpreter's office;
I was completely lost as to how to use the obvious skills I had with languages and no-one in my family, (or seemingly in school), had any kind of understanding as to how to apply them either. I was also at an age where I was having a lot of difficulty expressing how I was feeling. So couldn't really talk about it with anyone.

So I did the best thing I knew how to do: scrapped it and changed tack. I picked up science, headed towards something that I knew I could 'use' and that has some prestige to it.
Except i'm not a scientist and I knew it.
But i didn't talk to anyone about that disappointment or lack of direction.
Not really. So i hid those skills (including my A+ skills at English) and wobbled off into the world alone.

At 16, I was working for a crook in a fucked up situation. I was getting paid and I was on a path of self-destruction. I manipulated the week so that I did 'work experience' with him and spent half the week with my boyfriend.

So those two weeks were my 'introduction to the workforce'.

I don't regret too much about the past, but in the middle of job-hunting and reconsiderations about the nature of my 'work' those lost chances are a tiny sore spot.

Lessons learned

So when David McQueen recently asked his twitter's suggestions for young students about work experience, I remembered that I had a lot of them.

So, here they are:

1. Do as much work experience as you can. We only had to do one week each. At one firm each week. We got paid $5 per day (which was more I'd ever earned before), but it's not really that much of a tester - considering how different high school or even university is from working life.

I would have spent time in a fashion house, at a funeral home, in a school, at a newspaper's office, in a factory, working for a builder or an architect, - in all kinds of places.
Give yourself some real room for real discovery and experience.

And write about it. Or blog. Tweet. Make videos, or songs or whatever it is that you do to express the deeper parts of yourself. Do that whilst you're on that journey. It will help in years to come to look back at that raw reflection and see some truth in it.

2. Play to your strengths.  Go to places not so obviously connected to what you 'want' to do, but that use your skills.

Because it's much easier to love what you do when you do it well, rather than just doing what you love. don't worry about getting it straight away - the happy accidents or the conscious changes we make as adults are invaluable. But it would be nice if you can get a bit of a head start.

3. Think laterally. Search websites for those skills from #2. And then some based on your school reports - even the bad ones will highlight the areas you are skilled at. Even if you're a pain-in-the-arse-class clown, you still hold the skills of holding people's attention, managing a room full of people, being vulnerable, witty and manipulative - skills that are great for management, public speaking, loads of areas of showbiz, teaching, etc. 

4. Actually speak with someone about it before and after. Really - do your best to get some support for it. It will stand you in good stead for speaking with recruiters, careers coaches, counsellors and other people there to help and support your growth.

Our careers counsellor at school was a little bit useless, so I got away with how shit it all was and deserved the lost chance.

But, if you can grasp the great opportunity you have, bookend it with a few different people. Especially with someone who challenges you on your shit. It should be your Mum. or your Dad. But it's also just as likely to be your older brother, or aunty, uncle, favourite teacher.

Try to properly analyse it. Don't just fill in the form (any kid can do that, jeez) - but speak to them. Tell them your expectations, hopes and fears about the job/role/experience beforehand. And then again afterwards.

And use that to create a bit of a plan of attack for the next time you do it. Because you'll do it again.

5. Be strategic. Have a plan of attack. Really think through what you're looking to understand about a workplace. Use the chats from #3.

It's not always easy or appropriate to ask questions, so be as observant as you can about things like time, goals, visions, accomplishments and relationships:

How do people organise their time? How do they treat each other? What are the ways in which they celebrate success? How do they speak about expectations.

6. Don't do the work experience where you already work. Even if my 'job' wasn't shady-as-fuck, I would suggest this. You already know how that job works. For all the reasons above - this is a chance to really research and uncover the good, teh bad and the ugly about a role.

It's better than speed dating, even.


why are black boys' ears not the same?

Last Saturday, two things happened on the same day that prompted me to write (again) about the intersection of listening and race, and sound in public.

Firstly, the Florida jury judging the murder case against Michael Dunn were unable to decide that he was guilty against jordan davis. 

They were unable to believe, without reasonable doubt, that a middle-aged white man armed with a gun did not commit murder by shooting an unarmed teenager because he felt his life threatened by the boy's loud music and defensive manner.

Jordan Davis' death is, among other things, linked to listening in public to loud music. Black music. Music that black boys listen to in cars. Loudly.

In terms of sound in public space, this is a case which sets dangerous precedent. In terms of my interest in the rise of headphones and the changing ways we listen in contemporary times, it's full of important things: It connects to the rights of the listener, who has privilege over those rights and even the racial difference between the ways of listening.

In this case, the ears of the white man are privileged over the black boys'.

Michael Dunn's ears were offended in public. So his life was threatened in public. 
His defensive actions were found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

The ears of Jordan Davis were ignored in public. So his life was ignored in public.
His death was found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

For obvious reasons this bothers me greatly.
It is racism, white privilege in the eyes of the law and the ears of the listener.
It pushes the relationship to sound into the area of law.

It is also an example of something that i'm coming to see as the dangers, the real consequences of the racial differences between listening. ie: the fact that white people don't listen*.  or actually, the way in which white people colonise listening (connected to the way in which white people colonise everything else.**)

This realisation was driven home that same day at the Pharaohe Monch gig.

I'm a hip hop fan. I've made artwork about hip-hop and I have to acknowledge the privilege and problematic aspects that puts me in. So I am not above my own criticism at all - I am part of this colonial white listening crew too.

And back to the hip-hop gig: 

The main support band were four white dudes wearing masks, with great beats (a great producer/DJ) and the same old boring shouty rhymes over the top. 

At first they seemed OK - like i said - killer soulful beats, and full of energy and crowd-pumping. But after the first 2 songs, once I realised that all the songs essentially sounded the same, I was bored, started to see a bit of a pattern, and applied it.

These four white boys took the parts of hip hop culture that they learned/borrowed/shared with their black brothers and sisters, mashed with it, applied their 'i have something to say and people need to hear it' agenda that is (we have to admit) part of the typical white-with-a-mic pattern.

They took the form of rapping/preaching over bass-heavy, soul-heavy music, without an experience of these things, or an understanding of the more subtle aspects to hip-hop. 

These guys, all four, wrote a verse, all sung four choruses together, found some phat beats and sticky taped them together - interwoven with occasional 'when i say X, you say Y: X, Y, X, Y' blah blah, and a bit of a stand against the legalisation of marijuana (because you know, white kids are crowding the UK prison system on pot charges.) just shouted at us.

Seriously, the whole set sounded exactly the same. It was cut and paste.
There was no real connection between their lyrics and the music. Just an approximation to rhythm, but no actual marriage, no understanding. No years-of-it aspect that is present in so much other music.

It was like these four white guys have never really listened to music, hip hop,  or even to the soul music they were riffing on.
Or preachers. Or performance poets. Or maybe even people in general.  Not with their hearts. Or souls.
It has never truly kept them alive.

Perhaps, as white folk, the desire to manipulate and use the material is too strong.

And the privilege is to high - like we've never really had to hold onto music, because we know that at least the jury will believe us, we'll eventually get work we qualified for, the bank will probably loan us the money eventually or we can always 'go home'.

Because the difference between their set and the Pharoahe Monch set was huge. Monche and DJ had an actual connection with the music being played, with each other, with the audience.

He has a deep connection with listening. An identification with the sounds of music, of people, of rhythm and therefore and understanding and connection.

Of course Pharoahe Monch is a high-grade professional. He's crafted and worked hard. He has been doing this a long time. But his whole community have been doing this a long time. The four boys are still just along for the ride.

it is the difference and the privilege of taking up sound space in this kind of gig, which particularly sparked the link to the jordan case. The link between the rights of the listener and the rights of the body are linked through music and a reminder that listening is a political act. 


postscript: i was also a bit sad to realise that nobody did a shout out to jordan davis that night.  nobody acknowledged the public death of a young black man in the hip-hop community and that rap, hip-hop and black music is still a site of much contest that we must all be alert to.

*which may or may not be the title of a much longer essay/book/PhD, etc.

**I would like to spend more time unpacking this case, in relation to listening as an act. It won't be in this post, but it may end up in a more academic-style of essay.

*** btw, angela corey, you have a lot to answer for at the moment.


a new/old/young sizwe banzi

It was my birthday on Saturday, so I took myself to the theatre because I love going to the theatre on my own. It was a last-minute decision after a difficult day, so I was very grateful that, when I rushed in, (late, puffed) and only had enough for a £10 ticket, the Young Vic staff were able to accommodate me. They also forgave me calling the play Banzi Sizwe is Dead. Typical wadjela.

As I was waiting for my late-comers' entrance time, I had a quick run-down: a bit of the section I'd missed - a monologue from Styles about his time at the Ford factory, but nothing I couldn't catch up on. 

And, it was explained to me, the crowd and entrances were segregated. I wasn't shocked. Perhaps I already knew from something I'd heard about last year's season. Perhaps it just made sense, being that the play was portraying South African Apartheid.

The play

Sizwe Bansi is Dead was written by South Africans Athol Furgard, Winston Ntshona and John Kani, deep into Apartheid/National Party in the 1970s. First premiering in 1972, Cape Town, its first season in London (1974) won accolades and connected English audiences to the nature of apartheid (and its UK complicity - noting the presence of Barclays in the South African City skyline at Styles' studio). It has since been performed here in 1977, 2007, 2013 and now 2014. 

The official blurb: 

It’s 1972 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and Sizwe Banzi’s passbook gives him just three days to find work. No work and he’ll be deported. That was four days ago.
So when Sizwe stumbles across a dead body with a passbook, he asks himself – does his identity card really define who he is? Could he give up his family and his name in order to survive?

Typically and misleadingly, Furgard is often touted as *the* writer of the play, however Ntshona and Kani are deeply entrenched in its dialogue - they played Styles and Bansi (Banzi) in the 1972/74 and 2007 seasons, and their names appearing as cameos in the play. Ntshona is the name of a friend of Buntu and (presumably) the "answering to 'John!'" as a subordinate term was not just about the de-nomination of Afrikans/Bantus, but also a reference to Kani.  (Who also played Happy Bapetsi's 'Dubious Daddy' in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series. Geez, Lauren, what's with that reference? - Ed. )

Background info
Port Elizabeth, the setting for the play, is a White Area on the Eastern Cape outside the sanctioned African Reserve Areas of the Ciskei/Transkei. Highly regulated. And not to be confused with even-more regulated Port St. Johns.

Africans/Bantus require a permit to be in an area outside of their 'Homeland', or another Bantu designated work area, requiring the kind of visa the Home Office dreams about.

I have a little bit more of an knowledge of Townships, Homelands and the business of the book* thanks to some reading I had done last year1, which including the restrictions for working in towns like Port Elizabeth and the legalities of why he would HAVE to go back to King William's Town. 

Of course, I have zero understanding of the system portrayed in the play, but I got a little closer with this play.

The Court Theatre study guide to the play is also an interesting accompanyment.

1. Bantustans - The Fragmentation of South Africa was a disturbing but enlightening publication from 1964 by Christopher R Hill and the Institute for Race Relations, London. I learned a lot about the specific policy of apartheid and the gross financial and econonomic destruction that was behind the ideology, sold as 'solutions' every couple of years. 

This production
Sibusiso Mamba, who plays Sizwe Banzi/Robert Zwelinzima is actually adorable. He brings to the role a solid combination of solemn, awkward and honest - pathos. And this is crucial to playing a man struggling with being turned into someone he isn't: not just his name, but someone who is twisted into dishonesty and manipulation - to fit within the white supremacist system of Apartheid - in order to continue to be something he used to be.

Although I have one disappointment. There is a section in the second half of play -  the crux of the work -  at the point in which Sizwe Bansi becomes Dead. It is where the desperation of being cut into a corner, dehumanised and bureaucratised has built to a point of such frustration, that he is willing to go to any lengths to prove that he is actually who he believes himself to be: a man.

The dialogue is full of tension. 

And, unfortunately, in the performance I saw, it lacked the conviction of that situation.
There is like a very good reason for this (see the next section), probably nothing to do with Sibusiso's acting, but it was still a little disappointing.

Tonderai Munyevu - who I had seen recently in Zhe at the Soho Theatre - is fantastic. He's such a bright light on the stage and brings that cheeky Southern African (specifically Zimbabwean) humour whilst balancing the gravitas of oppression under white supremacy and poverty. I could be making this up, but I felt like he is more Styles than Buntu - more "dapper, alert, thriving', than 'strong, compassionate, willing'  but that's just me projecting it onto him.

The Styles section of the play was exactly what I needed on my birthday: Lots of laughter, lots of humanity, lots of cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and lots of determination.

He also happened to remind me of an ex-boyfriend (also Zimbabwean, also more Styles than Buntu), so sometimes during the performance I may have been smiling when it was slightly inappropriate to be doing so. I hope it wasn't deemed as disrespectful.

Speaking of disrespectful..

The blankes/whites
Throughout the last 30 minutes of the performance, every 10 minutes or so four white, drunk, fairly-young members of the audience tramped and sloshed their way across the bench seats and out the door. Stumbling, making noise, disregarding the action on the stage and being arses. One woman falling up the stairs and clearly unable to manage anything quieter than a stage whisper when talking to the ushers.

When the first two left, I was confused. I thought the preview I was in must have been a rehearsal. And that they were crew making changes. Then when the next person left I realised that they were just being rude. And by the time the last woman left - making the most noise, I was ropable.

Of course, the disturbance was not just that of individuals or the performance itself. 

But it highlighted the disregard us blankes still have for Africans and Black British people and stories. It reminded us that, despite being at a great performance of contemporary theatre, in one of the most diverse cities in the world, racism still exists. 
Overtly. Subtly. Structurally.
Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Theatre-goers aren't some special breed, inocculated against ignorance and bad behaviour. And, in true privileged style, most of us theatre-going white folk like to think we are separate from it, so we also didn't like it when they showed us up. Me included.

And this is problematic, but it was somewhat satisfying to spy one of the girls in the foyer and express my displeasure. Not in an English, passive agressive way, but it in an overt way. As overt as her racist behaviour was. Although I didn't use the word 'racist' - because I'm still slow.  I was also slightly relieved and pleased to hear others telling her and her friends off, expressing their dissatisfaction.  It felt like maybe a step towards a desire for whiteness to not include such disgustingness. Clearly I'm still in denial.

Set for racism
The white supremacy that the characters in the play are railing against is continued in the structure of the performing of the play itself. Possibly intentionally, although given the behaviour of my four ignorant friends, here, I would suggest that it's destructive, rather than enlightening.

The fact that Furgard is still touted as THE writer of the play (especially in London), rather than as one of three equal contributors is a reflection of the way in which whites are still privileged over Africans. And that's not in South Africa, kids.

In fact, the 2013 season of Sizwe Banzi and The Island was often touted in the London press - Time Out, The Guardian, as an Athol Furgard season. Not a Furgard, Kani and Ntshona season. All three writers wrote both these books, by the way. Need I remind you that it would have been the lived experience of Ntshona and Kani that enabled Furgard to even speak of many of these actions.

And of course, with this production, teh segregation is the action of white supremacy. It may not be the intention, but the thing about racism is that it's not about intention. It's about action or effect.  

Back to our drunk mzungus, did it charge the conditions for racist behaviour? White supremacy as a system, causes racism. If the crowd has been mixed, or our differences not highlighted or enacted in such a way - if the system was not replicated, would these people have still done this? 

Probably - because they were disrespectful, drunk and consequently self-absorbed and ignorant (the breeding ground of acting out internalised racism) but I'm asking the question anyway. 

Because I think it's quite important for me to remember - especially as an intelligent, politically and racially-aware white woman - that oppression and racism (see also patriarchy/misogyny, ablism, hetero/cis-normative/homophobia) it is not about individuals and their own actions. It's the awareness that we are a group of people who contribute and that there are systems (designed) that create and perpetuate these destructive actions and beliefs.

It reminded me that it's only the privileged who get to really fuck around with paying homage to oppressive systems in art or theatre or design. It's only really those who have no clue who can cherry pick symbolism, 'reincarnate' or try to bring it to life - because we can all go home, tralalala and write a blog post about it instead of committing suicide or stealing a dead man's passport to stay alive.

image: promo shot pinched from the Young Vic website.