Friday, 10 December 2010


On Friday 17th December I will be doing a performance with Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly, as part of GHost III, an evening of performance and film in St. John's Church, Bethnal Green. AISLE will be a ten minute performance, resonating with ideas of penance, pilgrimage and ritual.

GHost begins at 6pm - with performances from 8pm and films from 8.30pm - and ends at 10pm. More information about GHost and the other artists taking part can be found on the GHost blog. GHost III is curated by Sarah Sparkes and Ricarda Vidal, and is part of an ongoing series of exhibitions and 'hostings.'

Friday 17th December, 6pm – 10pm
Performances at 8pm
St. John's Church on Bethnal Green
200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA - next to Bethnal Green tube.

In 2009 I showed my film Crossbones as part of the GHost II evening. Click here to see more about it

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Silent Bell Ringing: ‘Remembrance’ Performance

Silent Bell Ringing performance, Gail Burton and Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly. Photo by Geraldine Ryan.

On Saturday 13th November I did a Silent Bell Ringing performance with Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly. The piece was devised for ‘Remembrance,’ a day of performance at Bitchwedge Gallery in response to Remembrance Sunday. Memory and loss are recurrent themes in my work, and in the days before the performance, which Marco had been invited to do, I had returned to a text I wrote after listening to the two minutes silence on Radio 3 last year. My writing observed my struggle to identify silence and to comprehend or accept the process of memory I was being presented with. When Marco asked me to collaborate with him on the Remembrance piece, knowing he had recently bought a bell – a beautiful, old, heavy, mottled metal bell – I suggested we perform a silent bell ringing. Marco added that we could muffle the bell’s clapper with a handkerchief, and we decided I would ‘ring’ the modified bell for two minutes, in a silent bell ringing, while he watched in stillness.

Both my and Marco’s work is concerned, at times, with endurance and repetition, often through physical movement/non-movement, e.g. crawling, staring, sitting. This was our first collaboration, and it brought together some of these interests, along with ideas of memory, memorialization and loss. The elements of the performance emerged spontaneously and naturally, embedding the work in a space of personal resonance. On the morning of the performance we searched for a suitable handkerchief in my flat, finding only two unsuitable ones. A patterned silk one which I had bought at Brompton Cemetery, in a jumble sale, and a white cotton one I was intending to embroider for my grandmother, but on which I had so far only stitched the ‘G’, the rest of her name being written in pencil only. Both were too laden with particularity of association. We cycled to Marco’s flat to collect his studio keys, and on arriving there, I noticed a white cotton handkerchief hanging from the fence by the front door. I pointed to it, and Marco lifted it from its seemingly carefully placed position. We examined the monogram in one corner, discovering it to be a ‘G.’ We then cycled to Dalston, to Marco’s studio, to collect the bell and briefly rehearse our performance.

It was now dark and we needed to hurry, to get to the gallery by ten to six, in order to do our performance at the last minute, before it closed at six. We cycled through Dalston, quick-ish, past the end of Ridley Road Market, with the bell hung from Marco’s bike. It rang intermittently, or rather he rang it, and sometimes it rang itself or bashed his leg, or overbalanced him, particularly on corners. The bell is weighty, loud, sonorous with a high pitch, which cut through the darkness. People on the streets turned to look at the sound. As I cycled behind Marco and the bell, listening and watching, I saw the journey as a procession. I felt like an envoy, a messenger, a ghost.

We arrived outside Netil Market, a small, wall enclosed space at the south end of London Fields. I had never been before. We chained our bikes in the street and carried off the bell. Bitchwedge gallery is a market stall, amongst the other stalls, containing chairs and a heater. When we arrived, just before six, most stalls had packed up, or were in the process of doing so. There were few people around, it was dark and quiet, with a feeling of calm ending. After a few moments, Geraldine Ryan, whose gallery it is, announced our performance and we began.

I held the bell, by a blue rope handle, in my right hand. I walked into the centre of the market place and stood still. It was dark, cold and quiet-ish. A few stalls and customers lingered nearby, with remnants of busy-ness. Marco walked towards me, stopped, and looked into my eyes. He drew from his pocket a white monogrammed handkerchief, knelt before me and began to tie it around the bell’s clapper. I grasped the bell in both hands, tilting it forwards and slightly upwards to expose the inside. I had a sense of physical intimacy through this gesture, of the bell as an almost organ-like or gynaecological space, connecting us in this ‘operation.’ As Marco delicately tied on the handkerchief – a process which I could not see – I thought of the dressing of wounds, and the (myth?) of tying a knot in one’s handkerchief in order to remember something, and of the white handkerchief of surrender. When Marco had finished binding the clapper he rose to his feet, again looked into my eyes, then stepped back and stood still.

I began to swing the bell, making a long arc forward, then back, to move the weighty bell through the air. I articulated my whole body through the bell’s movement, bending my knee, pushing my hip, raising and extending my arm to lift the bell high, then letting its weight pull my arm down again, forcing it behind me in a long arc. I repeated this movement again and again rhythmically, forcefully. The bell did not ring. People in the market stopped to watch and listen to the non-sound. Occasionally a gasp of sound broke from the bell, as some less muffled chink of clapper struck at the bell’s body.

As I swung the bell I felt it as a part of my body, both controlled by me and controlling me. I counted the strokes, impelled to the iteration. The bell dragged on my shoulder. I grew tired, and wondered how long I had been ‘ringing,’ when the two minutes would be up, or if Marco would abandon our plan of a ‘sign’ after two minutes, and hold me here longer, silently ringing till I could continue no more and was exhausted. I felt outside of time, like a cipher, a-historical. I was a clock that did not move forward.

After seventy two strokes I glanced to Marco. He was standing motionless, erect, staring straight at me. He had stood this way throughout the silent ringing, a sentry, a guard. A witness to absence, to almost-silence. Watching stillness-in-motion – my arm’s pendulum movement, repeating, my feet rooted to the ground, the un-clanging-clapper flinging against the bell chamber, the market place of drifting, noise, activity, continuation of routine, ending. Marco stepped back, the sign that two minutes had passed, and I allowed my arm to relinquish the force of ‘ringing,’ and become still.

With Geraldine Ryan, after the performance at Bitchwedge Gallery,in Netil Market, all packing up. More about Bitchwedge Gallery here.

Here is the text which I had been pondering prior to the performance - it's an extract from my book 'Body':

Silence Sounds

Last year I decided to listen to the two minutes silence broadcast on Remembrance Sunday on Radio Three. I heard the chimes of Big Ben at eleven am and then a kind of silence ensued – but it was silence with sounds; sounds like breathing, rustling, and faint echoes, as in the interior of a church where people are actively being silent. I assumed this was the silence. Once I had identified the moment of silence, the beginning of it, my experience was then of an ambiguity over what exactly to do; of how to conduct my silence. The radio announcer had stated that there would now be ‘two minutes silence in remembrance of all those who lost their lives in the first and second world war’…or was it in all conflicts..? Without further instructions I wondered should I try to remember, to recall, specific people, historical people and their actions? or a generalized idea of those people? Should I conjure loss, in an abstracted sense, or perhaps in a personalized way? Or should I imagine the times in which historical loss occurred, its scenes, the conflicts out of which it arose? Should I recall people I have known who fought in war, though they survived? Or should I experience the silence, the emptiness, the absence of sound, the pause of activity? is the intended idea that my two minutes of silence should be an awareness of emptiness, loss and absence?

After this silence – this mentally noisy silence, these few moments elongated by super-awareness of noise and movement and expectation - there were guns, then music. I felt then, at the arrival of these ritual noises, that the time had been so short it could not possibly have been two minutes; it must not have been the silence after all, but just a prelude in the programme; and the silence was still to come. So I listened on, waiting carefully for the real silence. Eventually the radio station resumed its music programme, leaving the Remembrance Service; it was clear then that I had indeed heard the silence as I thought originally. I had spent my silence wondering how to do it, what it was or was supposed to be. Silence sounds.

Kate Kotcheff made a wonderful Remembrance Balaclava for her performance at Bitchwedge Gallery. It reminded me of a couple of my 'Balaclava Women' Rizla Drawings. You can see more of my Balaclava Women drawings here, on some of my older posts.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Dishclout, The Human Duster

My 'Dishclout' costume, before and after the performance on Primrose Hill. Photos by Matthew Cowan. And more photos of the procession, by Mat Webber, can be seen on Flickr.

On Hallowe’en, Sunday 31st October 2010, I took part in ‘The Second Annual Disguised Procession.’ It consisted of a group of disguised and costumed artists, musicians and dancers led by Matthew Cowan. The procession began from the top of Primrose Hill at 4.15 pm, moving through the park and nearby streets to end at Cecil Sharp House and the Hallowe’en Music Fair.

I created my costume for the procession entirely from dusters, dish cloths and dirty rags. I processed, and later performed, as 'Dishclout, The Human Duster'. My garment was inspired by my collected pile of old cleaning cloths, and also by the people I’ve seen on the streets dressed in clothing they’ve cobbled together from scraps, rags, plastic bags and other found remnants. These people can be seen on the streets of London, and elsewhere, often ignored, invisible, detoured around – or moved on. They are a locus for our fears of dirt and the abject. Their clothing is an abhorrent and dejected vestment, which manifests and is expressive and absorbent of the deprivations, resources and particularity of the wearer. These ‘dirty people’ make the fissures of society tangible; they and their clothing live in the cracks: for which they are deplored or ignored. I created a persona and costume which took on the role of ‘the dirty,’ in which I literally took on the dirt – confronted it, absorbed it, carried it – I was a vessel for the absorption of dust, filth and distress. My intention was to ‘be the dirty’, but reveal the dirty as the cleanser, as the necessary or inevitable counterpoint to the clean. I appropriated the name ‘Dishclout,’ an old insult for a female servant, as a character who performed a function, a ritual, of accepting dirt, of taking it, revelling in it, of bearing its burden – and of cleansing – a function on behalf of ‘the clean,’ however separate or incomprehensible they might see me as.

I stitched together dozens of yellow dusters, blue jay cloths, white dish cloths and thick white floor cloths to create a dress-come-coat-come-cloak, of draped, striated, folded and layered pieces. Each stitch was a cross, like a suture, a crossing-out, a kiss, or the most basic element in the sewing-mending-making repertoire. I added a head dress, of the same draped cloths, flowing into my shoulders, hanging about my face like a semi-religous or antique costume. A dust mask across my face completed the disguise and held the head dress in place. The garment had arms like wings, wide and flowing, with feathery ends. It was soft, warm and comforting. I thought of the homeless people I’ve seen in their creations, and the rationale of their construction, the living that caused and allowed such garments to come into being, and wondered how the people thought and felt about wearing their clothing.

The procession-proper did not begin until all the disguised participants reached the top of Primrose Hill. But to reach that point we walked from Cecil Sharp House, through the streets and park to the waiting audience. This was an opportunity to inhabit the clean, soft, flowing garment. I walked in time to the ringing of ‘The Bell Man,’ my arm-wings swooshing beside me as I stepped slowly, and enjoyed the anonymity of my entirely concealing costume. I had already been asked ‘Are you a cleaning monster?’ replying ‘No. I am a human duster.’ The procession included a man dressed in a suit covered in bells, even his face; a woman dressed in dead flowers; a trio of female Morris dancers with a gallows held aloft, upon which several Goth-Barbie Dolls were hung; a Knight/Butcher; and a couple in stately Victorian attire with a platter of Black Pudding carried before them...amongst others.

At the top of Primrose Hill is a small round, flat, summit, tarmacced, and edged with muddy puddles and strips of mud, after the recent rain, before the grass begins again and rolls away down the hill. The view looks over all of London, spectacularly laid out before you, with a sense of air and separateness from the city; a perfect place for the Hallowe’en procession to begin. After a couple of performances by other participants of the procession, I began my performance. I walked to the edge of the tarmacced summit and found the first puddle. I dropped to my knees and crawled straight into it. I crawled through it and out the other side. My knees and hands were immediately wet and dirty. I felt the wetness of the dusters and dish cloths as they began to absorb water and dirt, and cling to my body. I noticed the change in temperature as I was exposed to the substances of dirt, the substances close to the ground. Immediately that I began my performance, as I was told later, all the dogs stopped moving and stared at me, then all the people too - wondering what was going on, what was wrong. I crawled a little along the grass, following the circular edge of the summit, and found the next, and deeper, murkier puddle. I realised before plunging in my hands that the dark colour of this puddle would disguise any shit or sharp objects within it; and surely with all these dogs and people there could be all manner of vile content? I placed my hands in, dragged my legs and the wettening costume with me, and squirmed onto my belly, full front into the dirty water. I dragged myself out of the other side, pulling with my hands.

Moving across the grass, I reached an open area of mud, where I dug in my nails and dragged the heavy weight of myself and the soiled costume through the dirt. A man’s boot protruded near my face, and his voice said ‘Lick my filthy boot, you slime.’ I continued. I saw the hill dropping away, and realised the city vista was now to my right. I continued in my circle, glimpsing only feet and catching scraps of sound. I was isolated from the group of the procession and its audience, not knowing if I was watched, unwanted, unseen, ignored or rejected. I was below the level of eyes and engagement, in my own world.

Half way through my performance I began to feel a sense of the weight of dirt, of my dirt, of others’ dirt. The garment was fulfilling its role; it was mopping up, rubbing down, gathering the dust and dirt. And it hurt me, I felt tired and heavy and drained. Yet I also felt a sense of indulgence, of a kind of filth laden ecstasy. I revelled in the freedom to be dirty, to soak it all up. I rolled over, from my front onto my back and onto my front again. I began to enjoy, or if not enjoy, to accept the dirt. My costume flapped and slapped and dragged and clung to me. It was being transformed by the performing process. Its wearing was fulfilling the Dishclout role. I wondered, who am I? What am I underneath? Am I abject? I paused to adjust the head dress, to brush hair and mud from my eye. It was still a dress, and dirty as I was I wanted to look my best. A pair of feet arrived suddenly in view, handing me a small object and saying ‘You dropped this’: my asthma inhaler, secreted in the waistband of my undergarment I had thought. With that gesture I realised – I am a person, not just a garment.

I continued slithering, then more crawling, and found myself at eye level with a crouching photographer. I was aware of the cameras around me, pointing, looking, capturing, and assumed a level of interest and focus upon my actions. It reinforced my sense of separateness: inside the face-covering garment, the layer of grime and weight of wetness, I was hidden, absent perhaps – only the external, the dirt absorbing dress, was present to the world. I completed a circuit of the muddy perimeter of the top of Primrose Hill, inhabiting every movement of the crawl, drag, slither, flap, tangle, dust and clean. I rose to my feet, the garment soiled and heavy with it, draped and clinging to my body, and walked back into the assembled crowd.

The procession then began from Primrose Hill, downwards to Cecil Sharp House. I wanted to whirl and twirl like a dervish, a dusting machine, in my newly transformed dirt-laden-duster-dress. I restrained myself and walked and swished to the clanging of The Bell Man, stepping slowly with the rest of the procession. I wanted also to walk all the way home in my garment, through the city, unknown and unrecognizable, to see how I was seen or unseen. But the wet, cold and weight of the garment drew me to stay at the procession’s destination, Cecil Sharp House, for warmth, hot water and comfort. When I washed I found mud all over the front of my body, right through to my belly, face and finger nails, despite the covering of the costume. I was loath to relinquish the freedom of ‘Dishclout,’ my anonymity and permission to be in the dirt – but felt too the tiredness and strain of bearing the weight of the dirt, and a strong impulse to be clean.

Dishclout, The Human Duster crawled on her hands and knees before slithering on her belly in the puddles and mud around the top of Primrose Hill.

The Bell Man, a performance by Matthew Cowan, took place at the top of Primrose Hill.

The disguised processioners circuited the summit of Primrose Hill, then walked off down the hill in single file.

Photos by Mat Webber

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Hallowe'en Disguised Procession

On Sunday 31st October I will be taking part in 'The Second Annual Disguised Hallowe'en Procession,' beginning from the top of Primrose Hill at 4.15 pm and ending at Cecil Sharp House. The procession will consist of a group of disguised and costumed artists, musicians and dancers led by Matthew Cowan, and will lead to the Hallowe'en Music Fair at Cecil Sharp House.

I will be processing as 'Dishclout, The Human Duster'. I will be wearing a garment made entirely of dusters, dish cloths and dirty rags. The garment is inspired by my collected pile of old cleaning cloths and by the cobbled together clothing of the people who dress in plastic bags, rags and remnants, the dirtiest people who take on the dirt and fall through the cracks.

I will soak up the dirt
Rub it off, wipe it down
I will carry the dust
Dish the must
Miss the dust
Dish the must

Please feel free to come and join the beginning of the procession, in costume if you feel inclined, at 4.15pm (it's the first sunset after the clocks go back).

The procession is free and open to the public. To gain access to the music fair at Cecil Sharp House, you will need a ticket, available via the following websites:

The Wheel: Hallowe'en Music Fair


Over a period of several days I heard and read various reports about an incident where a Member of the European Parliament, Nigel Farage, insulted the President of the European Council.  The reports converged on their facts, and did not generally go into great detail or analysis, merely reiterating the same basic points.  The reports detailed that Mr Farage was the former leader of the UK Independance Party, and the man he insulted, Herman Van Rompuy, was formerly the Belgian Prime Minister; his nationality being a fact which featured in the specific attacks Mr Farage made.  The incident occurred in the Chamber of the European Council on the occasion of the new, and first ever, Permanent President's inaugural appearance.   Mr Farage made a speech in the Chamber to the assembled European Council members during which he directly addressed the President and made a series of personal and political attacks upon him.   This event has been reported as 'an attention grabbing outburst'  and an attempt by Mr Farage to get thrown out of the European Parliament, thereby martyring himself and garnering press coverage to raise his profile before standing as an MP in the forthcoming UK general election.  Whether or not this is true is unclear, but it was reported that previously Mr Farage had made other outrageous comments in his speaches, which did attract extensive press coverage.  Snippets of the speach were replayed on the radio, internet and television, and transcribed in the newspapers.  The portion of his speach which particularly caught my attention was the opening tirade, which prefaced a slew of more general and perhaps predictable personal insults and criticisms around Mr Van Rompuy's alleged lack of identity or substance.  The insults began thus: 'I don't want to be rude, but really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk.  And the question that I want to ask, the question that we're all going to ask, is, who are you?'  
    A BBC radio correspondent, Jonny Dymond, reported that at this point in the speach there was an audible pause as the numerous interpreters at the council attempted to translate the word 'damp dish rag' into the twenty or so official languages spoken there.  Being an unexpected and unorthodox word in that context, and one which did not necessarily have a direct equivalent in every language, this translation took some moments.  Having listened carefully, however, to that section of the speach, I cannot hear the phrase 'damp dish rag', nor the pause for translation; what I do hear is the words 'damp rag' and some muffled background noises of possible dissaproval and confusion.  I presume that the journalist deliberately creatively mis-reported the phrase and its reception in order to better facilitate his story.   The correspondent used the occurrence as a basis for a lighthearted and mildly humourous investigation of various translations of the phrase - into French, Spanish and Dutch, (taking the opportunity to insult the Dutch language along the way for its unpleasing sound.)  His translations, and their lack of complete fit to the English, revealed how the particular cleaning ritual and purpose of a cloth in a particular country frames the word for it - thus in Dutch the translation he offered, and the closest he could find, was for an all purpose cleaning cloth, which would encompass cleaning of the floors.  Of course in English no one would use the same cloth  - a dish cloth - for cleaning both dishes and floors.  And I presume nor would they in the Netherlands; so here is a problem with how to translate the word, or, of how dirt and cleaning is demarcated by language. 
    I looked up the translation of dish rag in German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Swedish and Dutch; or rather of dish cloth as that was the less exaggerated version of the word, and was the one Mr Dymond seemed to be talking about - and I discovered there are variants of the translations within many languages.  These variations are consistent with the slippery idea of what a dish cloth is that the correspondent had highlighted; even in English the meaning of the phrase is open to shifts and misplacement.  Interpreting the phrase revealed concepts about the performance of various domestic tasks, how a cloth may be used, whether that equipment merits a name of its own, and which practices have the overtone or common usage of an insult.  When I had first listened to the correspondent's story a damp rag had meant a 'dish cloth' to me, but one which, by the subtle alteration of its name, had been made more sullied and limp for the purpose of an insult.  I had in mind an ordinary dish cloth, of the kind with which one would 'do the dishes', (somewhat anachonystically, as these days people tend to ‘do the washing up' and use a sponge or a brush of some kind - only the older generation use a dish cloth); I thought too that the word might also, mistakenly, refer to a tea towel for drying the dishes, with which a dish cloth could be confused.   I had been led by the story to interpret damp rag as damp dish rag.  Without this prompting I would have understood damp rag as literally a damp rag, and meaning something more along the lines of any cloth used for the purposes of cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, a cloth that is greyed and worn with use, possibly having been cut from a piece of old clothing in the first place, and which is used primarily for cleaning the floors, though also for any other eclectic household need, but not for the jobs that require a more hygienic finish, such as cleaning dishes or eating surfaces.  Such a cloth is likely to be found in a cupboard under the kitchen sink, and to be left there in a dampened state.  Plain damp rag, it seems to me, is a far more insulting insult to be levied at the President than damp dish rag, or dish cloth; it is a dirtier and more limpid cloth, used for ill-defined and fouler tasks.  The correspondent’s interpretation and flight of whimsy, constructing the rag as more of a genteel article for doing the washing up, at least in English, had perhaps lessened the impact of Nigel Farage’s attack.  Either way, damp, dirty, or less so, the correspondent’s interpretation of the rag had led to the meaning of Mr Farage's specific insult being filtered, skewed and altered.
    Lavette; torchon (French)
    Bayeta (Spanish)
    Keukenhannoek; vaatdoek; droogdoek; theedoek (Dutch)
    Geschirrtuch (German)
    Strofinaccio (Italian)
    Pano de prato (Portugeuse)
    Disktrasa (Swedish)
*NB. Dishclout: a derogatory name for servant girls in the eighteenth century.

East End Promise: AGAIN

My painting 'AGAIN' was recently exhibited in the exhibition 'East End Promise: A Story of Cultural Migrants,' a huge collection of work made in and about the East End from 1985 to 2000. The exhibition was curated by Paul Sakoilsky and Ernesto Leal, and took place in LondonNewcastle Project Space, Redchurch Street, from 9th to 24th October 2010. A limited edition catalogue was produced, which included a new text by me.

More information about East End Promise here

Douglas Park performed one of his texts, in front of 'East End Shit Hole,' by Marco Vaulbert de Chantilly.

Photos by Marco.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Digging Performance

On Saturday 11th September 2010 I performed a ritual of reading, digging and burying. The performance took place in Queen’s Wood, London, as part of ‘Cut Back,’ an exhibition of site specific and performance art.

At 5pm I began the ritual, starting in the main clearing of the wood. I walked out of the clearing followed by a small group of people. I walked slowly but purposefully to discover the first site where I would dig. I took with me a pamphlet which I had made - A pamphlet of extracts from ‘Body’ A Book about the Traces and Manifestations of Time, Memory and Loss. It contained a selection of texts from my book, Body, which I had chosen specially for the digging performance.

Queen’s Wood is covered by a thick spread of tall, mature trees, as well as shorter scrubbier bushes and foliage. The ground is therefore mostly plant-less soil, topped with tree debris or sprinkles of grass. It has denser more impenetrable areas of shrubbery and trees, as well as more stately or preened areas. It is criss-crossed with managed tarmacced paths, as well as foot worn paths made by human traversal.

I chose a spot of ground beneath a canopy of large trees. The ground at this first spot had a light surface covering of shards of bark – I tested it with my toe to see how hard the surface was. I read aloud from the first page of my pamphlet – the passages were Re-Use, The Other Jonah and the Real Marion, Eveline Wesson, and A Solid Piece of Geography. I read volubly, looking at the page, and only occasionally glancing to catch a glimpse of whether anyone was listening or standing nearby. I had the sense of being watched. A small group of people stood close to me, quietly listening and watching. At the end of the passage of text I bent down to the ground, crouching, then kneeling, and began to dig with my bare hands. I scraped into the soil, which was cool and moist. After a few scrapings the black soil was pushed deep under the plates of my nails. I continued digging until I had created a shallow hole. Then, I tore off the first page of the pamphlet, from which I had just read; I folded it twice and placed it in the hole. I then covered over the hole and formed a small mound on the site with the loose earth. Excavated earth never exactly fits back into the hole from which it came; it always has a slightly larger volume. Thus I was able to create a marking mound on the site of the buried page of text, to which I added a few leaves and a small stick, stuck upright on the top, to mark the spot. On leaving the place, the mound became almost invisible amongst the wood’s floor.

Reading and digging at the first site...

From the first site I progressed further along a path, then veered off into a copse covered by a lighter canopy of trees, an area less walked through, and requiring deliberate action to access. Again, I stopped. I had found a place next to a large stone slab laid flat in the ground. It was like an oversized and industrial gravestone, but blank faced. I read passages from the next page – Boab’s Nutrients, Geologies, I Am, Chips And Ham, Punishment, Dust Tea, A Sign, The Dust Destructor, O, Portents and Coming. I stooped, crouched and dug. The soil pushed hard under my nails. Every site had a slightly different texture, and at this one I encountered tendrils of tree roots, which ripped pleasingly as I scraped downwards. The group of people watched silently as I found my way through the soil, noticing as I picked out small obstacles, such as a shard of broken pottery, and a still wriggling worm. My knees were now muddy, though imperceptibly so as I was wearing brown corduroy trousers. The remaining pages of the pamphlet were smeared with soil.

...and at the second site...

I continued through this off-the path part of the wood, leading the group through a scrubby bit which had the sense of being behind the paths which circled the clumps of woodland. The wood is hilly in all directions, with continual ups and downs. We now went up the hillside and I struggled to find a suitable next location. I wondered who might be following me, and what the threshold of their interest or boredom might be. I caught glimpses of their figures and faces. They followed at a slight distance, catching glimpses of me amongst and between and behind bushes and groups of trees. Ahead were traces of other artists’ site specific work – sheets of paper hung from trees with names, glowing white in the near-evening wood-gloom; a washing line of grey ‘smalls’, and the strain of George Formby. These slightly absurd additions to the context drew me to cross a path and over into a densely darkly wooded area with a musty smell, where the music could be just heard. The next text, about my Grandmother, felt it could sit easily with these oddities. I crouched facing downhill where the group were standing. They had listened attentively as I spoke of my Grandmother and her ‘Penelopes.’ I scraped away with increasing frenzy at the somewhat hard ground, trying to reach a deeper layer. I was a small and furtive figure, intent and labouring. Passersby who did not know of the performance, but were simply encountering us upon their walk, paused on hearing fragments of declamatory text, carried on the wind; or at the sight of a small group of stock-still watchers in a section of wood away from the path, their eyes then drawn to a crouching scrabbling figure.

As the number of digging sites increased the pages of the pamphlet diminished, until its pages were held together only by by a loosened thread of white cotton - the spine’s stitching - now coming free like a crochet edging, leaving the book like fragile dry leaves, or fancy lace doilies. But smeared with dirt.

I continued, repeating this process of walking and searching, moving through the woods, looking for suitable digging and burial sites, with the small trail of people following me at a slight distance. We were glimpsed by others, and glimpsed each other through branches, foliage and tree trunks; part obscured by these objects and by the shifting patches of sparkling evening light, and encroaching darkness. Though the evening grew darker, it remained warm; and the digging made me warmer. After the first couple of diggings I had removed my jacket, down to a sleeveless top, and as I dug in the crepuscular light my flesh could be seen to glow white, contrasting with the darkness of the tree branches and earth; a busy spectral creature.

Finally, after seven sites of reading, digging and burying, taking an hour, the entire pamphlet was committed to the soil, covered over and the performance ended.

My readings spoke of incidents with my Grandmother and her dementia, thoughts of my mother summoned by dust in an old library book, histories of dirt, waste and power generation, idiosyncrasies of funerary practices and architectural embodiments of time. Each page of fragments was staged in its own dell or copse or canopied segment of wood, with particular acoustics, fragrances and phenomena of light. The woods had a mushroomy smell, clearly perceptible on passing fungussy growths. The trees provided privacy and cover; the meandering walk into the woods and away from the fixed paths converged privacy with intimacy and potential uneasiness and resonances of danger – further from safety and known pathways, uncertain routes, obscured visibility. The audience placed trust in the ritual, tramping into unknown and muddy, obscure sections of the wood. The text mingled with these places and processes, resonating and finding anchor points. An unfixed, de-limited environment within which to speak and listen, for words to be heard, or missed. Thoughts of ‘the trace,’ ‘the fragment,’ memory, uncertainty, repetition, revision, the obscure (of vision and recall), loss and remains were manifested in the treatment of the text – torn, buried, dirtied, read – and the procession through the woods. Subjecting words to a physical process – of burial, of looking, walking, staging – imparted something of the physicality and experiential history from which they were inspired. The intimacy and absurdity of the repeated digging, the physical effort at something so small, feral, and odd, its furtive quality witnessed through tree branches in half-light, conjured ideas of the darkness and desperation of memory, its struggles and uncertainties, its losses or lacunae. And, more simply, was a set of actions: private, imperative, obscure, using the body as a tool, in direct connection with dirt, in the subversive act of engaging with soil, rooting, rummaging, picking over, secreting. Even in this natural and rarified dirt, environment of animal foraging, traces of the human were ever present – shards of broken glass mixed with soil reminded me that people were here – remembering the performance my mind turns to thoughts of the Victorian dust heap and its coterie of workers, sorting, searching, categorising its contents; and their modern day descendants, rustling, scraping, seeking in the night through the bins and skips of the East End.