Monday, 27 December 2010

Everything but...

I am a fairly shy and nervous individual and tend to fear being on the spot. But I have taken it upon myself to partake in ventures that take me out of my comfort zone. In the name of research and unresolved curiosities, I began to interview artists. Ian Killen is an artist who I met in 2008 during one of his artist’s lectures. I was very impressed with his work and was blown away by his lecture. I finally got the opportunity to interview him this year. Before the interview I was very nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself to make the interview a success and look as if I knew what I was doing. Lucky for me Ian Killen is a very down to earth and friendly man, who would make the most unsettled individual feel at ease. The interview took place at Ian’s home in East Yorkshire. It was a very cold day during the worst period of snow of the year so far. When me and my boyfriend (AKA. The camera man) arrived, we were warmly greeted and there was plenty of tea and banter. All the while I was trying to take the startled dear expression off of my face. 

First, we went out to his garage where he keeps a lot of his work and materials. This was quite an experience. As well as being an artist, Ian is also a husband, father, teacher and great hoarder. There were works that I had seen before and also works that I hadn’t, among boxes of weird and wonderful objects. Toys, badges, Christmas cracker figures and more than I can attempt to remember. The thing that was the most memorable was the book. 

In Ian’s garage, he keeps what started off as a small hand held scrap book that slowly built up over time to become huge 4’ x 5’ (rough estimate) book bound with thick card clear electrical tape. With no help from myself, the book was hauled into the kitchen and laid out onto the kitchen table and me and my exhausted boyfriend scoured the pages in awe. It was magnificent and in no way pompous. It was a piece of history created in the true Ian Killen style. We decided to prop the book up and use the pages as a back drop to the interview. This turned out to be slightly problematic, yet very affective.  The camera was set up and running, I had my questions ready and we were away. The interview was a success and I found out a lot about Ian and his work. After the interview, his wife and three children returned from their morning out. His wife was very pleasant and their children were very shy, excluding his daughter, who was very sociable and confident for her age. He described her as a genius. She showed me her own scrap book which was full of drawings, certificates and memories, which was wonderful. She accompanied us to the garage, where the book was returned. She routed through boxes, as fascinated as we were. It was a paradise for artists and children and a minimalist’s nightmare. 

He allowed us to take pictures of his work and materials, and he gave me a book, a printed tea towel, which were both part of his community previous community projects.  I was pleasantly surprised that he let me document his work. 

After saying our goodbyes me and my boyfriend made our journey home. I was pleased with how the day had gone but couldn’t but feel envious of Ian’s effortlessly easy going nature. His family home was a great place to hold the interview, as it provided an insight to him as an individual as well as his work. The interview would have not been quite the same if it was held in his studio (if he had one that is). It was a real experience to be able to find out about his work, and he was more than happy to discuss it. After the interview he stated that the interview had made him think about his work in a new way. 

As an artist, he does not put heavy emphasis on the context of his work, yet it appears strong within his narratives and explorations. His work has a certain innocence without being at all na├»ve. Many of his community projects involve the participation of children, either drawing or making sculptures or contributing objects. He expresses in one of his artist’s talks that he sees more passion in the drawings of children than those of art students.  If I were to try and put my reaction to his work into context I would refer to the famous quote by Picasso “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. However, if I was going to express my true thoughts, I would admit that my first reaction was much simpler. I would more accurately refer to the Jack Nicolson quote “People who talk in metaphors can shampoo my crotch”. 

Unfortunately, I looked back at the footage only to discover that there was a technical glitch and my material may have been lost. It is an on-going mission to recover this material and it will soon be revealed. Until then, I can attempt to express my thoughts, feelings and experiences. I cannot give you questions or answers and I cannot reveal his words. For now I can give you everything but…

Monday, 20 December 2010

Kenny G Interview

Emails between Me and Kenneth 

Dear Kenneth Goldsmith
I am a Fine Art student, studying in Yorkshire at The University of Leeds. For my final year dissertation, I am writing about conceptual artists and poets. Would it be possible for me to send you some questions? It would really help with my project. Thank you 

Yes. BUT, I've been interviewed extensively so much over the years that I really can't answer the same questions again. Please make sure you've combed my EPC page thoroughly to make sure I don't have to repeat myself. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Hi Mary,
Thanks for your really considered questions. I'll answer them shortly.

Hi Mary,
Here you go. Very best of luck with the project!

As an artist would you say you are driven by curiosity? Doyou find yourself starting a new work because you want to know what something would look like or what it would be like to read it aloud to an audience?

It's often been said that a writer writes the books that s/he would like to read, that s/he wishes were in the world, but to that point, are not.

When transcribing speech, you leave in the ums and ahs etc. Do you think of words or sounds as important to language or do you think of them as negative spaces within dialogue?

Speech can be transcribed or notated in very different ways. David Antin uses blank spaces as pauses. His pieces are almost choreographed. By contrast, in my works, I only focus on the speech as quantity, not the musicality of it.

As a radio show host, you are using your voice as your main tool. People tune in both because they want to listen to what you have to say and because of how you say it. You have to be a good communicator and have a pleasant or entertaining voice. Do you think that your work would suffer if you were not as much of a skilled communicator? And do you think the books would be perceived in quite the same if you had a voice that was un-enjoyable to listen to? Do you think people associate your texts to your voice?

Most people don't want to listen to my radio show, in spite of the fact that I have a good radio voice. I use it as a kind of a weapon, seductive but saying repulsive and dull things at the same time. But that said, all those many years and many hours of being on the radio have made me very aware of the voice's role in performativity, so it does help when reading publicly. When I read, people often come up to me and tell me that they were disappointed because I wasn't more boring. On the page, my texts are really boring. But when you read them, they're very enjoyable. The voice hydrates the driest of texts.

When you wrote The Weather, Sports and Traffic, did you consider the fact that you would do readings from them? Was the fact that you would be taking the spoken word, transcribing into a written text and then taking it back to its original spoken form a consideration from the beginning?

I always assume that I'll be reading my texts, but don't write them with that in mind. I'm primarily interested in their textuality. But I enjoy the performative aspect of them.

When reporters read out the news, weather, sports etc they have their own way of communicating both linked with their specific area of work and their individual personas. Do you speak differently, as you read out different books? Are you becoming the sports reader or weather man?

Yes, I take on the characteristics of the texts that I'm ready. I definitely become the traffic, sports or weather man.

Have you ever thought about asking a local news station if you can fill in for the weather or sports reporter for a day?

That would be really fun. But I've read those texts in their entirety on WFMU. The Weather, Traffic and Sports each takes about 3 hours to read. So they have been broadcast already.

When you were going through the motions of producing the book Soliloquy, were you intending to gather natural speech? And did the fact that you were aware of these motions affect your flow of dialogue? Did it become in any way less natural? And if you were trying get natural speech, how come you didn't secretly record other people and use that footage? Was it important that it was your own voice?

I was really self-conscious of having every word I spoke recorded during the course of a week. But since you have to get on with life; you forget that you're being taped. Sometimes I would play with the mic, speak into it directly. There's a scene on late Wednesday night with my wife in bed that is completely constructed, playing with the fact that there's a mic present.

I recently read soliloquy and I couldn't help being very aware of the absence of other people. Even though their presence is made known, they no verbal input on the finished text. Was this something that you considered when writing the book?

I was only interested in how much one person spoke over the course of a week. What does it weigh? I was not curious about other people, just me.

When you read from the book Soliloquy, do you find it strange to be reading out your own words, within a different context to how they were originally spoken?

Yes, it's surreal. I try to re-speak the words as I spoke them that week, but that's impossible, so it becomes a performance based upon something that was both natural and very artificial. It's very complex.

Do you know of anyone who has created a work from transcribing either your text work or your spoken dialogue? How would you react to this happening?

Someone once took all the copies of Day that they could find and, everywhere my name appeared, they replaced it with their name. I found it to be a curious gesture, though it was very poorly done, so I didn't think too much about it. Another time, Charles Bernstein took The Weather and reprinted the whole thing on his website as "The Weather by Kenneth Goldsmith by Charles Bernstein." I thought Charles's piece was really great.

For the book Fidget, how did you record your movements? Did you film yourself?
I used a voice-activated microphone that was hooked up to a portable micro-cassette recorder.

Fidget is like a running commentary of something that is happening or has happened. Would you consider this work to be a slow motion narrative?

No. It was unfolding in real time, but it's impossible to actualize: the body makes too many moves to record them all. So I had to selectively choose and by doing so, the book is a fiction: it's not really every move my body made in a day.

At what point do you really feel like a project is finished? Do your works generally get resolved?

Oh, it's very simple. I make up my mind before they are done. The Weather was every weather report once a day for a year; Traffic was the traffic reports every ten minutes for 24 hours; Sports was the complete transcription of a baseball game from the beginning of a broadcast to the end. The works always get resolved because their ending is pre-ordained.

Do you like Star Wars?

No. I saw it when it first came out in 1977 in Salt Lake City, stoned out of my mind on the most powerful sinsemilla available at the time. I went into the theater and immediately fell asleep. I never looked back.

Dear Kenneth
Thank you so much for all your help. It is much appreciated.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


After going to a conceptual literary exhibition I was very keen to make conceptual books as part of my practice. However, I would not label myself as an artist book maker. It would be more accurate to categorise my books as one of the many form of documentation for my information and props for other aspects of my practice. I encountered several of Kenneth Goldsmith’s books at the exhibition, among many other artist books. The layout for my books was heavily inspired by Kenneth Goldsmith’s Soliloquy; the minimalistic style, the cleanness of the design. Soliloquy is an unedited transcription of every word that Goldsmith spoke for a week, from the moment he got up to the moment he went to bed at night. I wouldn’t say that my books were direct copies of the book in terms of visual layout, but there are several aspects that I have imitated for various reasons. I wanted my books to be a set, using a uniform design, so they would have a visual as well as conceptual link.  

The first books that I produced were ‘24 Hours of News’ (a book of my 24 hour news filler word transcription), ’The Tarantino Collection’ ( a book containing the transcriptions of the filler words from Tarantino’s six main existent movies that he wrote and directed; Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill (part I &II), Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds). After these books were complete, I then decided to produce a work more directly linked with the work of Kenneth Goldsmith. I transcribed all of the filler words from his book Soliloquy, and kept them laid in their different sections in a similar way to the book itself. As I said before, this was not an imitation of goldsmith’s work but rather the use of my own systematic method of dealing with literary information applied to the work of another artist. This act of using my own processes on the work of others was inspired by a particular text piece that I came across at the Perverse Library exhibition; Parse (2008) by Craig Dworkin. For this work, Dworkin took a copy of Edward Abbott’s ‘How to Parse: An attempt to apply the principles of scholarship to English grammar; with appendixes on analysis, spelling, and punctuation’ (1883) and used the text as a guide to parse the book itself. Although I didn’t look into the act of parsing in any great detail, I appreciated act of Dworkin taking this text and creating something new, while using the book as it was intended to be used. Seeing this work made me want to branch out and produce broader range of works. I didn’t want to imitate the acts of others artists, but I wanted to follow their example. 

I then went on to produce other transcription books, which are all part of a collection as a whole. I began to think about particular elements of certain texts and films that have affected me. One example that came to mind was the movie Pulp Fiction, which is heavily dialogue based. In Pulp Fiction, dialogue is important and to me the questions are the most interesting and amusing part. When I looked at the questions away from the rest of the films dialogue, I was pleasantly surprised to see elements of narrative still present; It still seemed to tell a story through questions alone. It led onto to other works, created in a similar way. Through these works I wanted to identify traits within films and publication that are very much part of modern culture, and provide some sort of running commentary. Instead of creating something totally new, I wanted to work with that what is already in existence. 

I then produced a work titled ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, which is a transcription of a Spider-Man comic book. Banner used contemporary war films as her source material, as they rely heavily on action and visuals. I chose to transcribe a comic book, because of its obvious reliance on images, to provide narrative. There is no descriptive text, only images and dialogue. I wanted to produce a book from the comic’s narrative, without including images. After seeing my completed comic book, I wanted to produce more books that focused on the physical layout of text. At the same time, I had been looking at the phonetic alphabet because of its visual qualities. I liked using the filler words because they are a way of not saying much but at the same time saying a lot and once they were used in this way they formed quite interesting patterns. By converting some of my books into phonetics I wanted to different patterns using the same words. This led me onto the translation of words into symbols and I converted the same books into Morse code, which also gave a very different pattern using the same starting material.

My Transcritpions and More...

Over the last two months, I have been transcribing filler words from recordings of dialogue, TV and films. I started by recording people talking with a Dictaphone, instructing them to talk with no topic or guidance given. This was a way of getting recordings of natural dialogue, from which I could later extract filler words. I also recorded presentations and meetings etc. to capture individuals talking in front of an audience and also group discussions. I then started to transcribe footage of celebrities in interviews and documentaries. Some of the most interesting pieces of footage I transcribed were interviews with Quentin Tarantino. I chose to transcribe footage of him, firstly because of my respect for him as a writer and director and secondly because of his mannerisms. I have always noticed that he is a very fast and expressive talker, using lots of physical gestures and filler words. After transcribing footage of him, I decided to transcribe one of his movies. At this point I drew up a list of filler words that I would transcribe from all of my found footage (oh, ah, uh, um, erm, er, mm and hmm). I set myself certain words, to keep things simple and to allow patterns to form in my transcriptions. I transcribed the listed filler words from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (results below).

Pulp Fiction
Oh mm hmm oh oh uh mm hmm uh uh uh uh oh oh oh hmm uh uh uh uh uh oh oh oh oh er  oh uh oh mm hmm um ah mm uh uh uh mm mm uh uh uh oh oh oh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh oh  mm hmm uh uh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh mm oh oh oh mm hmm mm hmm mm hmm uh uh uh uh uh oh uh um mm uh uh uh uh er uh uh oh oh oh oh uh um ah um mm hmm.

Although I was happy with my results, I wanted to capture more natural dialogue. As movies are generally script based, I decided to look for something with more improvisation. This is when I decided to transcribe news programmes. News programmes do not follow scripts in the typical sense and are mainly made up of live footage, interviews and updates. I transcribed a one hour news programme to see what results I would get (results below). 

One hour of news (Channel 4 news)
Er, erm, er, er, er, um, um, um, erm, er, er, erm, er, er, er, er, er, erm, erm, er, erm, erm, er, uh, uh.
After this I decided to take it up a notch, and following Kenneth Goldsmith’s example, I transcribed 24 hours of news from the digital BBC news channel. Until this point I was using my information to produce short readings and was unsure of what I would do with the information, but after I got my results from the 24 hour news project I decided to start producing books.

After this I decided to take it up a notch, and I transcribed all of the spoken filler words from twenty four hours of news from the digital BBC news channel. As well as wanting the information; I wanted to use this as an experience. I was curious about what it would be like to undertake the task of transcribing twenty four hours of news. This was a way to gather data and also a create act and a kind of endurance test. Until this point I was using my information to produce short readings, resemblant of abstract poems. After I got my results from the 24 hour news project I decided to start producing books, as I wanted to undertake longer projects and produce bigger, more complex works. I would consider the medium of the handmade book to the most efficient and appropriate way of containing and presenting my text works, because books can be used in various different ways and are accessible to most audiences. I aimed to produce simple, cheaply made paperback books, that are fairly uniform in style to encourage the spectator to handle them and not treat them as artefacts.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Short Intro to My Work

I have a keen interest in language, or rather the particularities of what gives language its meaning and how it affects the intended audience. My practice involves the dissecting of audio-visual material, or their transcripts, and exploring the breaks and the fillers within rehearsed and live dialogue. I concatenate and repackage these aspects in various forms such as hand-made books, performances and sound works. I have been strongly influenced by a number of conceptual artists, writers, and poets; in particular those who follow the notion of ‘Information as Material’.

People generally write very differently to the way they speak. We cut out all the ums and ahs and repeated words to create smooth, flowing texts. Contemporary writers and artists are now going against this and creating works that question language and present words and dialogue in new ways. The identity of the writer is forever changing and too is the role of the reader. We are all aware of how speech is padded out or even aided by filler words and noises and physical gestures. As a fairly socially awkward individual I have always been consciously aware of these traits in myself. I became more critically aware of these traits in others when attempting to transcribe speech. I found it hard to transcribe live TV and interview footage because I wanted to keep people's words intact, while creating a text that would flow and read well. This is what first sparked the initial ideas and concepts behind my work. Once it was in the forefront of my mind I found it hard to have conversations, or attend lectures or watch others speak without picking out their use of filler words. As an artist I want to take this concept further and create a critical and thoughtful responses which will make those who engage with the work more consciously aware of these traits in language and question their perception of language as a whole.