The Books’ were first presented as part of ‘shre(a)d(d)ing title’ in Utrecht, May 1999 – a performance installation in which the remainder of the 101 source books were shredded.
‘The Books’ next appeared as part of ‘retrospective screen’ at Dartington Gallery, March 2000 in which selected shreds were woven into a 6′ x 4′ screen
several collaborative readings have now commenced including: ‘ retrospective screed’, OURNOVEL24HRS , Norwich Gallery, April 2000, ‘Doc 1-1′, The Liminal Institute, Berlin September 2000,The Enduring Freedoms Mystik Writing Pad published Nov 2001,‘missing riddles’ website created during a residency at tEXt 2002 festival, Exeter Phoenix, May 2002 and Cork International Poetry Festival June 2003
(sources and procedures)
Selection and gifting of 101 books not worth keeping from a variety of sources, resulting in a collection of books that span a century (1897 – 1997) of publishing.
Extraction of pages 99 -100 and 101 – 102 from every book.
Chance – procedural ordering and collation of all 100 pages 99 -100 into one book and 101 pages 101-102 into another book.
Optimum positioning of pages in respect of each other within binding limitations was decided.
Binding of both books and titling them in gold lettering: ‘pp99 – 100 things not worth keeping’ and ‘pp101 – 102 things not worth keeping’.
readings of 'The Books'
By using the term ‘readings’ we refer to a process whereby we attempt to make sense of ‘The Books’ – by ‘reading’ across the double page spreads and the overlapping texts. The writing from these readings includes direct transcription from ‘The Books’ as well as writer/reader commentary and reference to the site and context in which the reading is being carried out. Early readings were carried out individually both forwards and then backwards through each book. The forwards readings are semantic and discursive ‘readings’ that include re-contextualised image files. The backwards readings were made by selecting one word to ‘represent’ each page, moving in reverse page order through each book in turn to compile a dystopian pair of bottom-up ‘gal-ed’ and ‘walls’. More recent readings have been carried out jointly and as part of of a durational or site-specific performance.
a window onto 'The Books' for Cork International Poetry Festival June 2003
live reading and video projection
“Things Not Worth Keeping (or TNWK) presented a video of ongoing performance and book projects accompanied by a reading, Kirsten and cris seeming to move back and forth between fragments narrating and describing the making and unmaking of the books and narrative suggested or generated by (or imagined beside) the books. One of the projects saw them weaving film, and the camera moving across this tapestry of film was one motif – and then they’d be on to giving us a bit of Nurse Trash when she appeared as her photo in one of the books, at other times positioning text more obliquely to what we were seeing, perhaps aware that in the sensory competition between filmic and spoken text the latter was to be a little submerged. At several moments when the film images shifted to hands writing on paper that make up the Operation Enduring Freedom performance Kirsten and cris, assisted by cues from the audience, turned and faced the film in silence. The synchronizing of reading and film was impressive. The mosaic terrain of the text(s)–the books and afterbooks and etc. as filmed– loomed above the commentary, which approached it but fixed it irregularly.”
selected stills from video screened alongside reading
“One of the most gratifying moments in the conference was when unfortunately I had to miss the leadoff reading because a couple of young women on holiday from the UK wandered in just as I was going to head in, & latched onto some of Things Not Worth Keeping’s productions–the “scrapbooks” in particular (bags of shredded books): “Oh, I know JUST who’d love that!” They weren’t even there for the festival at all & yet they came away with a bunch of scrapbooks & TNWK bags. An unscripted version of the effect they achieved at TWL* with the inscriptions facing outside: luring people in.”
*See also: we are taking these steps ….
The Books: A Description
‘The Books’ – a description – printable version
This document attempts to set out the descriptive details and chronological essentials apparent to us now (25 April 2002) particularly in terms of ‘The Books’ project.
In 1998 Kirsten Lavers and cris cheek ran a short course inset from a range of options chosen by students on an undergraduate BA degree courses at Dartington College of Arts, an ‘elective’. Bookworks ran for 5 weeks. We met several times, supplementing such face-to – face conversations with telephone exchanges, to plan the module. Through this process we decided that the first brief we would give the students was to ‘alter the object-status’ of a chosen book.
We are already using ‘we’. Neither one us made this decision. The decision
emerged from conversations that neither participant can claim ownership of. Perhaps the pronoun ‘we’ is ‘wrong’. But if it is how otherwise are the outcomes from such conversational processes to be configured in respect of any sense of attribution? Surely there is not only you and I? Especially in terms of creativity that would be an impoverished world. But so much theory of representation and identity, of the subaltern and the postcolonial diasporas has chimed with difference through an urgency around individuality. Is that all there can be, individuality and the irreducible interiorities of selves, even though they might chime with Walt Whitman’s ‘I Am A Multitude’? Things Not Worth Keeping’s writings (which others can trace as being by Kirsten Lavers and cris cheek, although we deliberately downplay that by choosing to use a name that can only be shared) problematicise every pronoun usage.
A conversation brings all of the aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication into play. It differs from debate in that positions are not so clearly predisposed. It is that moment in that place at that time and it is subject to all of the hit and miss qualities of intrapersonal communication. Within its orbit both the centripetal and centrifugal aspects of linguistic consensus are contested. Conversation residue investments of interest through states of attention. They require the advocacy of the gift, both the giving and the taking of responsibility in respect of the saying and the said. The initiation of a conversation is a revelation of longing.
So Kirsten and cris, we (how else might we figure this), talked of the fact that we both had books which for a variety of reasons we had collected (like dust) over the years that we would be happy to see the students choose to alter the object status of. These collections had accumulated through our personal histories. For example we both had books that marked particular moments in our lives (a Latin primer or an Austrian Cookbook). We both had books which we had kept with an eye to providing some source or resource for creative enquiry. Many of these books had been set aside in boxes already nominated by ourselves as possibly ‘not worth keeping’
At the initial Bookworks session we offered a tray of such books for students to ‘play’ with. One student burnt books IX and X of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ then scattered its ashes into the wind over the Dartington graveyard. Another cut ‘Science for the Citizen’ into quarters, boiled one quarter, baked another, froze another and left one quarter untouched as the control. After the ten students we were working with had performed such transformations and commentaries we were left with a tray of books that we had already committed to being used in a project in some way. There were about 80 odd books in all that nobody had even chosen to engage with, in whatever way. These were obviously either considered unpromising materials or else thought of as too difficult to tamper with or else too precious to disturb or simply not worth keeping.
At this time we also chose 2 books and followed the brief we gave to the students. One was a Pocket Oxford Dictionary which we salinated and lightly baked then exhibited in the Dartington College library reference section on a piece of eccentrically cut stainless steel. The salt sweats and initially rusts then begins to burn its way through the metal stand. This process of decay is still continuing. (see Traps on the web site)
The other was a book entitled ‘The British Constitution’ which was floated in a tureen of (PG Tips) tea and vanilla essence and likewise displayed in the library. When it began to grow mould and to smell rank, a caretaker, despite the protestations of librarians, threw it into a nearby skip. Rescued, it was dried, lightly starched, salinated and photographed in various locations including a concrete bunker; where a caretaker (wearing tea- coloured overalls) was sweeping up the autumn leaves blocking a drain. (see British Constitution on the web site)
At which point it worth noting that this ‘we’ has received personality impact from a number of others, students most prominently, whose choices inflected those available to ‘things not worth keeping’.
Kirsten and I had already made a proposal, for an Artangel commission (in fact the one eventually awarded to Michael Landy’s ‘Breakdown’), using the collaborative production company title ‘things not worth keeping’. Ultimately these ideas specifically led to The Millennium Collection project (see web site) which has run along in parallel with our subsequent work on ‘The Books’. We were already talking about making a piece of work for the 2nd Performance Writing Symposium in Utrecht, ‘In The Event of the Text’ (April 1999). We had been discussing the cultural pickling and value productions occurring in the run-up to the Millennium ‘celebrations’. These conversations came together in what happened next.
We agreed to play with the idea of the turning of the century (the turning from 99 to 100) by literally representing that turn from page 99 to page 100. We conceived of doing this with 100 books. The bulk of these would be provided by those books left over after this teaching module. We needed to buy a few more to make up the 100 books and we did so through charity shops. We decided to make our joint ‘collection’ a tad wider in its range of genres and bought to that effect. But we had no pretence to our collection being in any way a generally representational one.
The final collection of 101 books spans in itself and by chance a century a publishing – the earliest having been published in 1897 and the most recent in 1997 – there isn’t however a book for each year. It ranges from Hymns Ancient and Modern to a crossword puzzle book, from Shakespeare to Mills and Boon, from children’s nursery rhymes to the New Testament and includes texts on the Holocaust, poetry, a gardening guide, teach yourself HTML ………. a jumble sale table type collection of books. All the titles and publisher’s details were entered into a database.
The idea was to excise page 99-100 from each of 100 books and to make them into another book. This latter book would index the collection. So ‘we’ made a catalogue of the collection. To further smear the simplicity of the Millennial formulation (arguments as to when the actual turning of the Millennium occurred) we added one extra book. To move away from the uniqueness of such a cod temporal monument ‘we’ decided to produce a sibling book composed of pages 100-101 taken from all 101 books.
There was a sub-practical conversation which provoked this decision, being the fact that ‘we’ wanted to avoid there being one object that could only be amongst the possessions or under the guardianship of either one of us exclusive to the other at any time.
We made twin books effectively then. Pages 99 – 100 and pages 101 – 102 were removed from each of the now 101 books in our collection of originals/sources. But into what order would we gather and bind them? How could we decide. Well, we had a conversation about it and realised that such a decision could be subject to so many variables through time as to be irresolvable. We invoked another player, chance. Each page was assigned a number, between one and one hundred in one instance and between one and one hundred and one in another instance. A number was assigned to each page and then the numbers were pulled, literally from a woolly hat, to determine the subsequent page order. Whichever number appeared next the page which it represented was next in the book. This is a straight forward system of chance but we also chose to make it discussable, in the event that for whatever reason one or other of us felt that that the order could be
slightly toyed with. There were few such moments, but they did occur and we
concurred at every occurrence.
Now we get to one nub of this issue. On what basis did concurring take place? Well we need to emphasise how much Kirsten and cris view and experience collaborative processes of creativity as conversations. Sometimes such conversations have multiple strands running concurrently. Even within a thread there is no clearly enforceable linearity. There is a chronological flow if wanted to reduce it on a temporal banality. But such a flow includes ruptures and raptures the relevance of which within that flow might be more or less immediately cogent. However any import might not be immediately discernible. Threads within the mesh of interactions that inform and form conversations can resurface in surprising ways.
So we laid the cut pages out on a bench in the Babbage Centre on the Dartington Estate and selected the order of our pages, from the beginning of each book through to the end.
But these pages are all differing formats. What were we to do, simply knock them up and have the bottom edge level? Not that easy. The lubricity of playing with positioning using overlaps and alignments was the next obvious task. We sat for hours and played, gradually fixing pages into relative position and interrelation, marked lightly with a pencil at the corners (these marks subsequently erased after binding occurred), before they could be bound into books. Don’t forget we had two books and the page numbers were inevitably different – although consecutive pages from one of the contributory volumes do actually, by chance, appear in the same position in both of what we now refer to as ‘The Books’.
Things Not Worth Keeping now had the assembled pages for 2 sibling books. It also had the residue, the sources, the original books from which those pages had been taken. We knew that we were going to do something with them but we didn’t yet know what. And this is how openness to possibility can inflect a procedure in a way that has far-reaching consequences. We were trying to find a way of transporting the salted dictionary, referred to earlier. We noticed a bag or box of shredded documents in the Dartington administrative offices and thought that it would provide good packing material to protect the book on a long car journey. This provoked a conversation about shredding as a feature of contemporary life. We talked about Bruce Sterling’s description of ‘trashing’ in The Hacker Crackdown and of the scrying and assembling of a picture of a subject’s lifestyle through what they throw away, the attendant dark undertones of security and surveillance procedures. During this conversation we knew what we would do with the remainder, the leftover of the collection of books – we would shred them on site in Utrecht. So we left Dartington with our emergent ‘books’ , the books which were in themselves no longer complete – awaiting shredding, the salted dictionary and the now dried book on the British Constitution.
Time and place are critical interveners into a series of interweaving conversations such as are being mapped here. At this point Kirsten kept one of the unbound ‘books’ at her house in Cambridge and cris kept one in Lowestoft. We decided to make individual readings from these unbound sequences of cut pages, retaining the order as decided and writing our readings through the sequences. Further, as the pages were still loose-leaf we each made scans of diagrams, drawings, illustrations to include in our reading/writings. This was the first of the ‘things not worth keeping’ readings and they were performed on our own in separate locations.
Both our readings were performed using a scan attention. By using the term ‘readings’ we refer to a process whereby we attempt to make sense of ‘The Books’ – by ‘reading’ across the double page spreads and the overlapping texts. The writing from these readings includes direct transcription from ‘The Books’ as well as writer/reader commentary and reference to the site and context in which the reading is being carried out. These first readings were carried out individually both forwards and then backwards through each book. The forwards readings are semantic and discursive ‘readings’ that include re-contextualised scanned image files. The backwards readings were made by selecting one word to ‘represent’ each page, moving in reverse page order through each book in turn to compile a dystopian pair of bottom-up ‘gal-ed’* .
(see selected readings reproduced as web readings on the web site – the ‘gal-ed’ were subsequently reversioned into a piece called ‘Flames’ on the web site)
*gal-ed is the hebrew word for the cairns of stones traditionally accumulated over time on each visit to a grave – the text version of the gal-ed is therefore 202 pages long beginning with a single word placed at the bottom of page 1, page 2 has the same word AND another word added and so on ending with the final page on which 202 words (one for each side of each page of ‘The Book’) have been heaped from bottom up.
This procedure and its naming was in part inspired by the thread of texts throughout the books that reference Judaism and the Holocaust and partly as an echo of our process of reading/writing the books – of scanning innumerable possibilities for meaning (a beach full of pebbles) within ‘The Books’, selecting/picking up a fragment/ pebble and placing it within/upon a new gradually emerging text/cairn/gal-ed.
There had been a gap of several weeks between excising / ordering the pages, performing these readings as writings and then deliberating over their relative spatial configurations. We had shifted from an institutional to a domestic environment. An appropriate surface was cleared, even waxed, at the top of cris’s house for the page placement to be made. We mention that it is was cris’s house as we do not live together and we make use of the differing resources and potential working environments that both of our situations afford. Not only does the work no issue from a singular unified source but it occurs through a variety of differing media and locations.
The pages were then separated from their agreed positioning in order to be hole-punched, hence the need for the aforementioned pencil markings. Subsequently they were repositioned and ring-bound into embossed leather covers. In fact, although this binding furthers the paradox in respect of value we are intent on rebinding at some point into glass covers.
We took printed versions of these first individual readings, including the ‘gal-ed’ with us to Utrecht along with the newly bound ‘Books’ and the boxes of 101 source books. There, in a classroom at the Theatre School’, over the course of two days we shredded the source books.
The organic aspects of these processes of production are worth noting here. There was not some grand plan to which ‘things not worth keeping’ was working. One occurrence* led towards, generated, another occurrence.
* It was at this time that we began to talk about the works emerging from our collaboration as being a mesh of occurrences. ‘Etymologically occur means ‘run forwards’, borrowed from the Latin occurrere , a compound verb formed from ob ‘towards’ and currere ‘run’ (source of English course, current, etc). This had the sense ‘run to meet,’ hence simply ‘meet’. But ‘meeting’ also passed into ‘presenting itself’, appearing’ and hence ‘happening’ from which the present-day meaning of English occur comes.
It was also around this time that “we” began to present ourselves as ‘things not worth keeping’ for funding and commissioning opportunities – developing a project description that reads as follows:
Why do we keep what we keep; what attachments, preferences, habits and beliefs do these ‘things’ reveal? What do we (both as individuals and social bodies) value? What do our values say about us? What do our rubbish bins (actual and virtual) say about us? Value-transitions, rather than value-fixities, are implied and intended by the project’s title, our collaborative approach, the work and the work’s frame.
Things Not Worth Keeping is realising itself through a mesh of what we have come to call ‘occurrences’; installations, works in video, book art and hypertext – still more are planned. Many of these are interactive and participatory. Aspects of occurrences to date are documented / presented on a web site at www.thingsnotworthkeeping.com.
This collaboration between Kirsten Lavers and cris cheek is a significant interweaving of their previous collaborative and individual practices; for example: curating, editing, project management, site-specific events/residencies, object making / placing, publishing and bookmaking, collecting and working with found sounds and texts, photography, video, web site design and in their engagement with the generation / transformation of material from the everyday through performances of conversation.
We knew that we intended to shred these residual books, for example, but we didn’t know how they would look. This was in fact the first time that either of us had shredded an entire book and then considered the shreds as constituting in themselves another object. We found that the shredder that we had been loaned could comfortably accommodate the shreds from one book before requiring emptying. The resultant heaps each reflected the diversity of paper type and formats of the source books – so we decided to retain the integrity of each heap/ book and fill the classroom with them placed at regular intervals on a grid of 10 x 10 + 1. This two day process performance was open to visitors who often returned to check up on the progress of this emergent installation. Finally visitors were forced to tiptoe around and between the heaps in order to investigate each one retaining as they did a sense of the source book in the fragments of text that happened to remain legible through the shredding and tipping out process. Responding to the presence of a large chalk blackboard in the classroom we slightly scrambled all the words of all the titles of the source books and wrote them in chalk on the blackboard – this became the longer subtitle of the work which we called ‘shre(a)d(d)ing title’ – this scrambled subtitle also reflects the chronology of the collection starting with the oldest and ending with the most recently published and those for which a date of publication was not discernible …..
“The Services Ancient The For Use In Modern Church And Hymns Of Amateurs From And Handbook For Students A Nature Sketching And Of Of Curse Containing Thalaba The Southey Minor Select Robert Poems Kehama Poems Volume Treatise Volumes Nature In Two Human Of A 1 Savage Adrian Taride Of Paris Atlas Street Cartes Buddha Hsi Tzu Empress Old Of Overhead Lines By Electricity Distribution Their Story Children’s The Wild Flowers And Of Names Book The Of Poet’s Way The Practical Doctor Home The And Practical Make Of Things To Book Man’s The Do Human Physiology Furneaux’s Balfour’s v. People Peers Poodle Mr American Government Of System The Of Dolls House Quotations Familiar And Draftsmen Descriptive Students Direct Method For The Engineers Geometry Engineering Architects Great Tragedies Eight Chatterly’s Lover Lady Her People Her Culture Her Scenery Austria To Draw Things New New Testament Bible English The To Draw Things In Fairyland Lessons The Given On Evidence Being Extracts From Animals Committee 1921 to 1922 Select Performing Spotlights Before Of Architecture Matter Of The Tragedy Lear King Of The Blue Of Nursery Rhymes Book A Lavendar’s Facts English Of The Pan Astronomy Of Book The Time Passing Stakes Power Of The With Paper Creating Bummel On Men Men Boat And Three A In Three The Geography Students Certificate For Physical Approach Second Part Latin To The School Biology General Of Acquiescence America Growth And In Age Coming Common Science Of Sense The New Fourth Edition Chemistry Certificate A Collector The England Tudor Introduction Government American To An Dictionary Computers Of A Guinness Records Of Book The Afraid Woolf Virginia Of Who’s Cookery Fondue Pocket Teacher Yoga Eighth Crosswords Of Book The Junior Book Puzzle 5th Hamlet Relativity Spring Snow Cleaver Writings And Speeches Prison Post Eldridge And That All 1066 Irresistible Buck The Hardy’s Wessex From Tales Thomas Sundering Flood The Nibelungenlied The Trips And Space Time Through 7 Frightening Newly Discovered Novel A Talent The Encyclopaedia Fishing Baits Coarse Of Pocket Earth Colony Royal Pardon The Forest And Of Wildlife History Its Epping Batsford Sewing Of Book The 12 Manual Owners Renault A Z London Star Horror No 2 Of Book The Bazaar To Country Pleasures Handbook A Country Bionic Identity Double Woman The Bodies Women’s Health Collective Boston Ourselves Our Colour Familiar Flowering Shrubs To Guide A Ulysses H.M.S Pocket Dictionary Oxford The In Countries Four Love Vegetables Fruit And Growing Kochbuch Salzburg Aus Das Brides Book The Which Investing Of Saving And Book ? The Wives Hollywood Hardcore Bodybuilding Women’s Superpump Hawk Winter Losses Necessary Fate Decide Let Berlin Writings The Wall Peace At The On The Wall And Holocaust Story Of The The Ashes Smoke Germans They Now ? Are Who The Story The Of And Dr Josef Mengele Flames The Of Of The Children Untold Twins Auschwitz Remarkable 100 Women Artists Of Lives The Cyberspace Lexicon The From Crowd Madding The Far To 3 HTML Use How Heiress Stolen Driving First Time Pass Test The 2000 Millenium Year Guide To The Rough A The For Detailed Method The Cangjie Input Of Study A Chinese Crown Olive Wild Of The And Rose Rose Possibly Script ? Arabic Illegible”
Finally the bound books now “named” in gold lettering ‘pp99 – 100 things not worthkeeping’ and ‘pp101- 102 things not worth keeping’ were placed open for browsing on a table in the centre of the classroom with a lap top computer which was “speaking” the subtitle in the Apple Mac Simpletext voices of ‘Junior’ and ‘Cathy’. Outside the classroom were placed the printed versions of our individual readings (including the gal-ed), these could be read standing at a window which looked into the classroom. Conversation and interaction with participants in the ‘Event Of The Text” conference being held at the theatre school led to a playful conclusion of the installation when the heaps were brought together jumbled, thrown up in the air, moved around the room, jumped into and finally swept up and stuffed into 10 black plastic bags. Indeed one visitor was so insistent that we saved every remnant and every shred that he located a glass jar for the purpose of retaining the heap of book dust that remained after retrieving all the shreds. Finally the chalked subtitle was erased.
So we found ourselves returning to England in a car stuffed full of black bags of our shredded books, still provoking the question of how to deal with this material, of where the process was leading us. We talked about pulping the paper and making structures from the pulp – possibly a table and two chairs. And for nearly a year the bags of shreds remained in our respective lofts and sheds.
During that period (May 1999 – March 2000) we were mostly concentrating on the development of the Millennium Collection Project however we had swapped over books and each individually carried out a reading of the ‘other’ book from the one that we had each ‘read’ previously. These readings were carried out in a similar manner to our first readings. But inevitably the writing/reading was informed by the other’s earlier ones. The readings were also fundamentally inflected by the process of binding and fixing of potential overlaps that had occurred since our previous readings as well as the process that had occurred in Utrecht.
One of the original source books was a photo document of the collapse of the Berlin Wall – being large and landscape format its presence dominates a significant proportion of any reading across the double page spread in both books. The image of a man taking a hammer to the Berlin Wall and the image of a woman holding a stone as if about to smash it against the wall were now inescapably affecting our readings because of the fixity of overlap created by the binding. We therefore repeated the backwards process of reading selecting a word from each side of each page as in the previous ‘gal – ed’ process but this time constructing ‘Walls’ each having 202 word bricks placed on a single landscape format A4 page.
In the September of that year we took part in ‘The Meltings’ along with a diverse group of artists and musicians at an old maltings in Halesworth, Suffolk. We worked mainly with other ‘things’ that we had accumulated/generated including the dried out British Constitution Book; with sweeping a dusty attic (now a video piece in its own right) and with an animated ‘gif’ of ‘How To Handle Things Not Worth Keeping’ (see web site) and installed Super 8mm film projections. We were working in the building’s attic and the image of Rapunzel letting down her hair and platting/weaving began to enter into our conversational territory. At one point we imagined weaving a giant rope through the building. We got to talking about the etymological proximity of text and textile. Around the same time we were developing the web versions of our readings and thinking about other digital spin-offs for our process. For example, we’d borrowed a digital camera and were using it to capture the overlaps and juxtapositions within the books, no longer possible through scanning due to the bulkiness of the binding. Sadie Plant’s sweeping study tracing the role of women in the development of digital technology ‘Zeros and Ones – digital women and the new technoculture’ was also a key point of reference and an uncanny coincidence since she focusses on the influence that Ada Lovelace had on Charles Babbage’s early pioneer work, laying the foundations for the development of the computer. Remember that we had performed the aleatoric ordering of ‘the Books’ page sequences in a building called The Babbage Centre. We later stole into the Babbage Museum in Totnes and took unauthorised photos of the dummy of Babbage at his desk apparently holding and reading from our ‘books’. Plant also examines closely the link between weaving and digital technologies. These were all just seeds or points of reference, not necessarily all neatly connected, which began to come together the following Spring when we were invited to undertake a two week open process in a gallery in Devon.
Another conversational field that we were exploring was to do with ‘performance’ and how we might begin to talk about conversational interaction between ourselves or between ourselves and viewers / audience in informal intimate one- to – one contexts as ‘performance’. The processes in both Utrecht and in Halesworth led us to want to pursue ways of working that would unfold over a protracted period of time, but to do so openly in respect of audiences / witnesses. In other words we made the whole process available to be interacted with and commented on and looked in upon at every point. We didn’t want to wait until we’d got a niftily finished product before anybody was allowed ‘in’. At this point we didn’t know what was going to happen next but we weren’t hiding that. The Books felt difficult, complicated and awkward then and sometimes they still do.
We decided to return to the shreds and to ‘The Books’ in another context. It seemed like an obvious idea to try to weave the shreds into another form and we hit on weaving a screen out of them. Whilst we wove we would be reading/writing from ‘The Books’ , co-authoring and co-interpreting for the first time in the same place at the same time simultaneously. We researched weaving looms and techniques and consulted with Esme Cooper from Exeter University’s Textile Dept. We experimented with weaving the shreds (using shreds as both warp and weft) and on a small maquette scale the results were very promising – however we wanted to make a screen suitable for the projection of slides, video or digital data approximately 4ft x 6ft. The paper shreds, whilst suitable for weaving the horizontal weft, were not strong enough or long enough to provide the warp. We had to think of something else to provide the warp and wanted whatever it was to play into the ideas that the work was exploring – particularly at this stage issues to do with shifts from analogue to digital and the ongoing debate about the place/role of the book in a digital world.
We talked about using super 8 film for the warp, originally thinking that we might shoot our own footage, but soon realised that the costs would be prohibitive. At just this moment of ‘stuckness’ cris was scanning his copy of LOOT and spotted a Super 8 enthusiast’s advert – who was wanting to sell some films from his home move collection, films that he’d decided were ‘not worth keeping’! We visited him in his warden-controlled housing estate just outside Cambridge and chose from the eclectic collection of 20th century film that he had on offer (in pre-video days edits of Hollywood films were released on Super 8 for home projection) the following films: Disney’s animation Fantasia, Stagecoach (John Wayne – John Ford cowboy classic), Earth vs the Aliens (B movie cold war sci-fi), The Detective with Frank Sinatra (Roderick Thorp’s novel inspired this account of a detective’s investigation into the brutal murder of a homosexual), Fun On The Run (Laurel & Hardy), Patton (George C scott’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the controversial World War II General, George S. Patton)*, Taste The Blood of Dracula with Christopher Lee (the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children quite literally in this Hammer House of Horror classic), a whimpering seventies Brit soft porn and a Hong Kong Kung Fu movie. Just as we left he gave us an extra film for free, an anonymous home movie which he knew nothing about. Between the books and the movies we aimed for a rich mixture of genres, not a proper representation as such but certainly a broad sweep through some dominant tropes and iconic motifs of the twentieth century and a radical intertextuality.
*1970: Calling the Oscars “a two-hour meat parade,” GEORGE C. SCOTT announced that he will refuse the Best Actor award if he wins (for playing WWII general George Patton in Patton). On the big evening, presenter Goldie Hawn rips open the Best Actor envelope and squeals, “Oh my God! The winner is George C. Scott!” True to his word, Scott is home in New York watching a hockey game on TV. He’s the first actor ever to refuse an Oscar.
Before commencing the process in the gallery we watched the movies ‘at home’. By playing around with the projection speed we quickly became fascinated with this new material and were determined not to let it go straight onto the loom before using it in some other way first. Thinking about our decision to excerpt from the original books we wanted to find a sympathetic strategy appropriate to the film stock material, as an excerpting rationale before rendering them unwatchable, much as in shredding had made the source books unreadable – at least in any conventional sense. Somehow the idea of the golden section as used in composition theory and based on the Fibonacci sequence arose. That ‘somehow’ disguises the strange thickets through which conversations move. Simply put the golden section refers to the area within a rectangular frame (calculated by using the Fibonacci sequence) that contains the centre of interest within the composition – in Renaissance painting this would be, for instance, the Mona Lisa’s smile or the infant Jesus in Madonna and Child imagery. We set up a digital video camera focussed on the golden section area of the projected image frame and invoking chance re-shot onto DV Cam whatever happened to fall within that predefined area from each of the films – also playing with the projection speed slowing the footage down into often quite elegaic sequences. We screened the rough unedited footage (about 60 minutes in all) on our first night in the gallery and at the time thought we might project it upon the completed screen at the end of the fortnight but as the footage was too detailed ultimately this idea was abandoned. (In October 2001 we returned to the Golden Section footage and have worked on an initial 20 minute edit which we intend to edit further and project onto a screen of smoke – a smoke screen).
The process in the gallery commenced with the erection of a steel loom structure in the centre of the space and the emptying of the black bags of shreds. These had become compacted and dense over the course of their storage and retained their shapes – eggs, boulders, cocoons ……. curious as the shredded books in the classroom had each resembled nests.
Ensuring that every film was represented we wound the Super 8mm film onto the frame to form the warp and commenced a daily rhythm of weaving and writing in the space – working late into the night and often projecting the days writing onto the emerging screen via a data projector. The two books were placed on lecterns in front of the screen and a writing station was constructed using a plinth to rest a laptop computer upon. We alternated roles as the weaver and the writer and worked together on the same Quark Express document having already agreed upon a double page square format document. The installation/performance event came to be called ‘Retrospective Screen’ and the text element – our first collaborative reading of ‘The Books’ – ‘Retrospective Screed’. This marked a point of departure – since when all our readings of ‘The Books’ have been collaborative or jointly authored made whilst working together on the same document within a particular context, time frame or aleatoric procedure.
We agreed that we could alter, erase, reformat and insert into each other’s writing with impunity. A rhythm established itself on swopping from the activity of weaving to writing, we would “begin” by rereading what the other had written and rewritten from our previous turn – the whole text as it emerged continually reconfigured itself in the textual/conversational exchange between us. We were randomly selecting from ‘The Books’, on this occasion not attempting to read from beginning to end, we’d also pick out fragments from the shreds and add them into the text, we’d leave messages and start structural devices for each other to pick up on (or to ignore) and because the entire process was open to the public we’d also feed in snippets of conversation and exchange between ourselves and visitors.
(excerpts from “retrospective screed’ are on the web site)
The screen took 10 full days to complete, averaging about 4 inches of weaving per day and there still remained a considerable heap of shreds. The egg like forms having gradually scrambled through our own and visitors’ rummagings. Partly as a means of addressing this and partly as a response to our observation that some visitors were taking a few shreds away with them as souvenirs – we published ‘scrapbooks one hundred’ – a limited edition of 100 sealed polythene bags with acetate label containing a random selection from the shreds. These ‘books’? were launched at the closing event of the ‘Retrospective Screen’ process and purchasers (cost £1) were able to fill their own bags with shreds from the heap. Our activities of weaving and writing continued into the closing event with the writing being projected live onto one side of the screen and the other being illuminated by a leader tape loop from a Super 8mm projector. Visitors were also invited to input into the projected text and a sound piece developed over the two weeks also played intermittently (this included samples of the squeak on our ghetto blaster’s rewind mode, the Madonna remix of American Pie – a private reference – and snippets of conversation recorded during the process …. )
(images of all the stages in ‘Retrospective Screen’ are on the web site)
Around this time, riffing on the Rumplestiltskin scenario out of Grimm, we began to develop an image of ourselves as being held hostage (the shreds had begun to seem somewhat like straw on the floor of our cell – in the gallery) and that ‘The Books’ were all that we had with us and that we had a certain time frame within which to crack their code or solve their riddle in order to secure our release. Characters had also appeared in our readings; Dorothy and The Over deconstructed one obvious reference but also Nurse Trash and the Guardsman (who later became the Guardian) and the Witness.
Shortly after the ‘Retrospective Screen’ process we were invited to participate in a 24hr writing event OURNOVEL24HRS at Norwich Art Gallery. We took both ‘The Books’ with us, this time placing them on lecterns in the gallery window. We carried out a collaborative web reading which was uploaded on a four hourly basis over the 24hrs of the event. Again we agreed a web page structure using frames to set up the sense of a double spread on the screen. We also alternated between carrying out an acrostic procedure upon the books (spelling out word pairs chosen from those that we had not used in the reversioning of the ‘gal-ed’ into the Flames web site version) and continuing with the collaborative, context-responsive and inclusive approach begun in ‘Retrospective Screed’. Some of these responses involved conversations and performative exchanges with members of the public who drifted into the gallery attracted by our concentrated activity. The resultant, effectively abandoned, web piece is called ‘Circadian Readings’ and is on the web site. The acrostic readings appear in the left hand frame and the emboldened letters spell out the word couplet sources.
Conversation between ourselves is at the centre of our collaborative approach, and many of these conversations occur whilst we are walking and travelling by train or car and would involve and include things that we notice or remark upon along the way. We’re both very interested in ideas and debates around notions of the ‘everyday’ and have previously carried out street based walks/talks/interventions in our individual practices. Our first collaborative projects which led to our developing the ‘things not worth keeping’ project were ‘Mayday 97 Mayday 98’ * a 24hr participatory web performance which was strongly influenced by Mass Observation and a vox pop audio work for TORK RADIO called ‘The Heart of Cambridge’. All through this period we were also working intensively on the Millennium Collection and particularly on the production of the catalogue, as well as starting an ongoing photographic series of what we came to call things not worth keeping monuments. (see web site)
*a web site re-evaluating one year on from the ‘sea change’ General Election through observations of everyday life. This site went on-line at 05:00hrs (BST) May 1st 1998, unfolding over the day on an hourly basis until 04:00 hrs (BST) May 2nd. It presents selected extracts from a project, initiated by cris as a nod to Mass Observation, which received a wide range of texts and images from the everyday on Mayday 97. We invited responses throughout mayday 98, and they were uploaded as they came in. The site stands now as a document of those details of their everyday lives that its contributors wished to register. Our editorial responses to the accumulating mass of observations form part of what became, for us, a ‘performance’ of ‘mayday’…..
We began photographing these things that we were noticing and remarking upon. We make extensive use of a digital stills camera. The use of digital photography has invaded our practice. It’s effectively free, in that we don’t need to be conscious of, in a hampering sense, the costs of developing images. It means that we can effectively notate our conversations and occurrences in a rangy, rather than financially constrained, manner. We are interested in the traces of people’s movements and actions within public spaces (the commons) usually ephemeral and some that might be considered as being unremarkable or even undesirable. Some examples are presented on the web site – we’re proposing them as things not worth keeping ‘monuments’ – as points of discussion regarding the value of such presences within everyday life – they include desiring paths, blankets rolled and stored next to a church door by a homeless person, traces of erased graffiti, a plastic bag caught in a tree, a teaspoon twisted and embedded in tarmac, a styrofoam cup set into a dustbin full of hardened concrete ……
In September 2001 we were invited to take part in a mini festival of work curated by Acts of Language and Dock 11 at the Liminal Institute in Berlin. It was obvious to us that this provided us with the opportunity to address the strong presence of the Berlin Wall within ‘The Books’. We also wanted to continue a way of working that included walking, talking, exploring, noting and responding. Berlin is of course now a city in which all traces of the wall have virtually disappeared and is undergoing a massive scheme of building work to reunite a formerly split territory. We had two books. We began to talk about ways in which our reading of them in Berlin might bring them together, might reunite pages that have been separated. The name of our german hosts – Dock 11 – gave us a chance-based procedure to work with in adopting a strategy. We bookmarked 11 places in each book page 1, 10, 20,30 ,40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 – these arbitrary bookmarkings completely by serendipity included the key texts on Germany, the Holocaust and the fall of the Berlin wall contained within both books. We set out to walk, wander and explore Berlin taking with us the bookmarked books, a dictaphone and a digital camera. We were looking for sites in which to perform a reading which were generic city spaces rather than specific to Berlin. Over the course of two days we carried out eleven performances in the following places: playground, cafe, tram, subway, railway station, bedroom, wasteland, basement, department store, underground train, telephone booth.
At each place/site we would take turns to observe and comment on the context/place and to read from the relevant bookmarked pages in the two books – all these spoken notes being recorded live onto dictaphone – responding also in our selections and observations to those of each other’s. We also took a series of digital photographs in each place/site.
Originally we’d thought that this material might be presented in some kind of large scale book format at the Liminal Institute but over the course of two days we were inspired by the fly posting phenomenon, particularly striking in the former East Berlin and decided that we’d version the material into 11 posters for fly posting in 11 locations between Dock 11 and the apartment where we were staying. Working rapidly (we were due to leave the next day) we allocated individual responsibilities of transcribing + formatting images in order to produce the 11 fly posters. We set up a double column A4 landscape Quark Express document into which the recordings from each site were exactly transcribed – the double column creating the potential for a rewriting/rereading of the text if read across both lines of each column. One image from each site and one image from the pages read at that site were reformatted and printed out to A5 size and flanked each side of the text panel to form a triptych structure. There was no time for editing – we took what was there and dropped it into these predetermined structures. They were printed up, photocopied, trimmed and stuck together at a late night photocopy shop and around midnight we fly posted them along the route. The following morning one of our posters was already overlapped slightly by a fly posting team that had obviously set out after we’d finished. We’ve been told that fragments of some of our posters are still visible. Playing with our host’s name we called this work Doc 1 – 1 – doc for document and 1-1 to signal both the idea of our reuniting pages in a reuniting city but also the one-to-one interaction between us as collaborating writers.
(images from this process and examples of the original fly posters are in the Doc 1-1 section of the web site)
We have subsequently worked on editing the Doc 1-1 texts and this was something that we initially carried out individually in the form of making proposals to each other before meeting, discussing and agreeing together a final edit. We each suggested an edit by changing the text colour of words or phrases that we felt should be edited/cut – this enabled us to see the affect of our edit without actually carrying it out and to prompt our telling to each other of our thought process when we met to carry out the collaborative edit . We’d decided that we wanted to keep the original document format, font size, style etc. The purpose of this edit was really to hone what was there, cut away any slack and allow what we felt was going on in each of the 11 texts to speak more profoundly. There was considerable discussion about how to deal with editing certain words or phrases – we couldn’t completely delete them because the whole text would have reshifted as a result of the delete action. The options were either to make them disappear completely by changing their colour to white (as in conventional editing processes) an erasure that left simply an absence, a space …. or to change their colour so that they receded but were still readable. We found this option more interesting both visually and conceptually. Potentially the final edit can be cross referenced with our initial individual edits (which we have each kept) and would begin to speak of the process of editorial conversation that we carried out during that meeting.
(The text element of the edited second version of Doc 1-1 is available in full in the Doc 1-1 section of the web site)
As a result of this process, we began to talk about ‘The Books’ as landscapes/spectacles that had proved their ability to opened themselves to different kinds of interpretations and journeys depending on the context in which they were referred to. We were aware of both the actual and to a certain extent undealt with material (text and images) that we had already generated as well as ‘The Books’ potential to continue generating and gathering material and meaning ad infinitum. We started talking about ways in which we might begin to start pulling all of this together without closing off to further possibilities/potentials. We were also very aware of the complicated and essentially closed nature of the intricacies of our process with ‘The Books’ thus far and wanted to find ways to present the project as a whole in a manner which was not confusing or alienating to anyone other than most committed and intimate audience/reader. For some time we’d been looking at approaches used by contemporary graphic novels particularly the work of Alan Moore and Dave Maclean. ‘The Books’ – the emergent characters and narratives alongside the story of our process thus far and yet to come as well as the highly visual nature of much of the material that we’d be gathering – seemed to suggest a graphic or word ‘n image approach. The serial aspect of many of these publications also appealed to us as a way of dealing with chunks, episodes or aspects of a multifaceted and elongated ‘occurrence’.
Autumn 2001 – Summer 2002 was almost entirely dominated by the Millennium Collection project including a national tour of the Collection and a final event of exhibition and dispersal from a street skip monitored by CCTV outside a London gallery.
The events of September 11th and its immediate aftermath and repercussions however intervened and provoked our return to ‘The Books’ . Via our involvement in e-list discussion groups we learnt that the War on Terrorism’s original operation name was INFINITE JUSTICE – this name was almost immediately withdrawn by an embarrassed American administration since within Islam only Allah can dispense infinite justice – the name would have seriously offended Islamic allied support for the campaign in Afghanistan. We imagined the scenario of a committee meeting somewhere in the Pentagon? where a group brainstorm – possibly using flip charts and pens extrapolated from INFINITE JUSTICE to the ultimate operation name of ENDURING FREEDOM (although this operation name is infrequently used it continues to be the official operation name for the more usually termed ‘War on Terror’). Around this time we had also been discussing the difficulties we’d been experiencing over issues of ‘mouse control’ when writing or working with images and layouts on the computer. We were finding it frustrating to be forced into articulating and dictating ideas particularly in terms of formatting text or cropping and placing images rather than working intuitively with the mouse to “see what happens”. We had been dreaming of a hardware/software set up that would allow us to have a mouse and keyboard each and be able to input directly and simultaneously into the same document or file much as two people can radically alter the space of a flip chart page simultaneously – if they both have a pen!
In October 2001 we carried out an acrostic reading of ‘The Books’ using the words ENDURING and FREEDOM. Kirsten read ‘pp99 – 100 things not worth keeping’ as an acrostic of the word ENDURING and cris read ‘pp101 – 102 things not worth keeping’ as an acrostic of the word FREEDOM. We assembled a text of stanzas most containing 15 words – cris’s reading was completed before Kirsten’s which means that the final sequence of stanzas are acrostics of only the word ENDURING ending with a final stanza containing one word – england. The potentials for ‘freedom’ ran out before the potential for ‘enduring’ were exhausted. A full transcript of this text will be available on the web site soon.
We have since worked on two versions of the resulting text through live writing on paper and wipe board recorded on video. The process of this live writing (informed by ‘flip chart’ and group brainstorming approaches) in itself re-versions each stanza of the acrostic text as each word is placed on the ‘page’ and consequently through the process of “crossing out” which concludes the performance of each stanza of the text.
The first version was carried out privately on paper for video only. We then selected 52 pages each containing one stanza (there are in total 60 stanzas) and published a limited edition (52) publication entitled ‘The Enduring Freedoms Mystik Writing Pad’ – a campaign organiser by things not worth keeping. Its A4 portrait format and binding being reminiscent of standard blank or lined writing pads, however in this case every page is already marked with a text that has been proposed, placed and crossed out. These choices/selections being based both on the content interest emerging from the placed and crossed out stanza and also on the compositional and mark making interest of the completed page – selecting those that seemed to us to best reflect the dynamic and mood of the our live (for camera) writing. We gave each page an operation name – a couplet of words and these are listed below* and at the beginning of the pad. The pad was published on the Day of the Dead, November 2001.
* Operations in order of appearance:
The second version of the Enduring Freedom text was presented using a wipe board and markers as a durational performance for audience and video camera as part of the Medicin sans Frontiere Benefit at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden Nov 8 2001. A third version will be presented in Performance Research Journal ‘On Fluxus’ in September 2002.
This partial description (as much as has not been mentioned or has been forgotten or not yet recognised as has been included – for the sake of brevity) is now up to date or rather has reached the point when we started conversing and making Chapter 1 of ‘The Books’ subscription series. Chapter 1 is ‘The Gathering’. All that can be said now is that “we” began by conversing a narrative which begins to tell this story in a different way – a narrative which is in part documentation/description and in part complete fiction. We brought what we called the “Bare Bones” of this narrative to our re-readings of all our images and readings of ‘The Books’ to date and we also read ‘The Books’ afresh (together) with this story on our minds. We have used The Books to tell the stories of their own making and those events which have resulted in readings from them. We created a “pot”/ folder of texts and images that seemed to speak to some aspect of the phase of the story that we’d decided would be Chapter One of ‘The Books’. Again the square format and size of ‘The Books’ series was the first thing that we decided upon – then working together we began dipping into the Chapter One pot of texts and images and interspersed with frequent walks, meals and conversations (mainly around issues of collaboration) have written/constructed the first chapter of ‘The Books’, launched at the Partly Writing II Conference on Collaboration and Translation at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford on April 13th 2002.
One final note is that we have discussed at length “who” the audience for this series might be and our decision to make the work as a subscription only publication is not only a logistic one but is in part due to our recognition that at least for now our potential audience is quite specific and yet integrally varied.