Saturday night (7 March 2009) in the city of the dead and I’m part of the small team organising Fiona’s Shoe; __an evening of music, poetry and film at the South London Gallery. We’d obviously created a buzz coz we’d sold out three days before the event and on the night we were turning people away. Those that got in found themselves in a darkened room with a large DVD projection of a Jud Yalkut snippet. Next up was a 16mm print of Wholly Communion directed by Peter Whitehead, a half-hour documentary about the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in 1965.
This was followed by a recreation of John Latham’s Juliet & Romeo, a piece of expanded cinema he’d intended to debut at the International Poetry Incarnation but didn’t because he passed out and missed his cue. The work takes the form of a battle between two figures, dressed head to toe in books and printed papers, to represent the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the classical and the romantic, hardback and softback books. The action takes place before a backdrop of two of Latham’s Force Field (1963–1967) – or blind – paintings. It begins with Latham’s film Unedited Material from the Star (1960) projected over the two figures and this backdrop. The work was performed once at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East towards the end of 1965, then twice during the Destruction in Art Symposium of 1966. Its final presentation during Latham’s life was at the Exprmntl 4 festival of expanded cinema in Knokke-Le-Zoute, Belgium, over New Year 1967-8.
Tom Marshman and Clare Thornton took the Apollonian and Dionysian roles at the South London Gallery and the piece still looked fresh and contemporary more than 40 years on from its last public airing. It’s a slow ballet, with each figure stripping the other, resulting in body painted nudity. Under the books, Marshman had been rendered in blue and Thornton red. Finally, Thornton decapitated Marshman, or at least his hardback headdress. The two figures then exited the stage and the abstract short Unedited Material from the Star ran again. The event was largely silent except for the rustle of paper, a loud pop when a balloon burst, and at the end some vicious amplified clicks from a pair of scissors. The movements of the figures were exaggeratedly male and female, with a subtle erotic charge between them. Much of the audience was mesmerised, a few seemed unsure what to make of it, and Richard DeDomenici told me he “was disappointed not to see Tom Marshman’s cock.”
The evening proceeded in an informal manner precisely because I didn’t want Latham’s work to come across as a museum piece. Works were not introduced, they simply unfolded. The audience had notes to assist them identify the pieces, but no running order or schedule. They could come and go but didn’t know what they’d see or miss if they chose to do that. A reading from an abridgement of the 1704 text The Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift followed Juliet and Romeo. The text is a satire on post-Renaissance disputes about the relative merits of ancient and modern authors. It was read by actress Birgit Ludwig who had difficulty projecting to the large crowd, who nonetheless listened attentively despite the unsuitability of her breathy presentation to the acoustics of the space. I’d asked for a professional actress to read the piece because I’d wanted clarity; and I’d assumed that an actress would adapt what they did to the audience and the night. Ludwig trooped valiantly to the end of the text without altering her unsuitability ethereal approach to the space. It was impossible to follow the satire and many audience members assumed they were being bombarded with thirty minutes of random words as a demonstration of John Latham’s theory that the most basic component of reality is not the particle – as in classical physics – but the least-event. So although the performance was a failure from the perspective of what I’d wanted, it successfully kept to the spirit of the night.
Towards the end of Ludwig’s reading, free jazz legend Lol Coxhill came in underneath her on saxophone. He continued when she finished. The lights dimmed and Jud Yalkut’s 21 minute 8mm film diary of the Exprmntl 4 festival was screened from DVD. This included footage of a previous performance of Juliet & Romeo in 1967, and various audience members commented that from it they could see that our recreation of the piece was remarkably true to the original; this was down to hard work, with all available photos, film and and text consulted – alongside personal coaching for Thornton and Marshman from Latham’s partner Barbara Steveni, who’d performed the piece in the 60s. Our setting was informal and only a few chairs were scattered about the South London Gallery. To see the Yalkut film diary which was screened on a side wall, many members of the audience had to move from their previous positions. As they did so, some started talking. The intention had been for Coxhill to play throughout the film, and then continue on his own when the lights came up, with Ulli Freer eventually joining him for a combination of sax and poetry. Instead Coxhill announced it was pointless for him to play while people were talking. I was at the other end of the room from Coxhill but could hear him well enough despite the noise, and I wasn’t the only one listening, so it was a shame he stopped.
After the event one audience member emailed the following observation, which is fairly typical of what I heard from others: “really enjoyed last night, despite truncated Lol C set, was talking on the way home about how unmediated events, i.e. not MC’d, can create really good atmosphere of uncertainty and excitement. It felt very relevant to these times, nice one. The Whitehead film was beautifully presented with big sound. Maybe Mr Coxhill ain’t hip to his texting acronym type first name: laugh out loud, yeah but not while I’m playing…” That said, Coxhill’s reactions beautifully mirrored poet Harry Fainlight’s difficulties with the crowd at the International Poetry Incarnation as documented in Wholly Communion, so despite the fact he didn’t play for nearly as long as I’d have liked, his decision to throw in the towel did carry with it a sense of repetitive and ontological right-onness.
Coxhill did come back on with Ulli Freer after the Yalkut diary film, playing a few notes but mainly sitting with his sax across his knees. Freer impressed the predominantly art crowd both with both his conviction and the content of his poetry. He understood that to get across in the space he had to be loud and put a lot of work into projecting himself. That said, his use of words is actually very subtle! By this time the free drinks were all gone but we were still giving out free bagels. After Freer, the lights went down and the shorts Towers Open Fire (1963) and The Cut-Ups (1966) directed by Antony Balch and starring beat writer William Burroughs (who’d contributed a tape piece to the International Poetry Incarnation) were screened from DVD.
The last screening of the night was a 16mm projection of John Latham’s extraordinary coloured-disc animation Speak (1962), which anticipates the psychedelics of the high sixties. It is an 11 minute retinal assault with a circular saw soundtrack. Whenever I’d seen the film projected before the sound had been too low, but we had it jacked right up for maximum effect and the experience of watching it this way was a real groove sensation! The night ended with music from a CD I’d burnt of some of my favourite soul tunes of the 1960s: All Of A Sudden by The Incredibles, So Far Away by Hank Jacobs, New Breed by Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm, At The Woodchoppers Ball by Willie Mitchell, Everybody’s Going To A Love In by Bob Brady & The Conchords, Karate Boogaloo by Jerry O, Think About The Good Times by The Soul Sisters etc. etc.
Aside from the above, there were a few other things going on during the night, like Brion Gysin Dream Machines in a back room for further drugless hallucinogenic highs. So all in all I was extremely pleased with the night. While not everything went as planned, that is in the nature of type of event I’d set out to create, within which discrete pieces also become an integral part of a larger ‘happening’. So to finish off, a big shout out to Elisa Kay and Anne-Sophie Dinant who invited me in to organise the night with them.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomescociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense.
Comment by Paul St John on 2009-03-10 12:15:35 +0000
Flying saucers have landed all over the world!
Comment by biotron on 2009-03-10 12:37:24 +0000
sounds absolutely fantastic… wish i’d been able to come – you know where you could do a future variant if necessary…
Comment by Mark R Hancock on 2009-03-10 13:39:29 +0000
Sounds like it was a great event, disappointed I missed it. I love the Peter Whitehead film, and have it on DVD. but it would have been great to watch it with other like-minded souls. How about a touring show throughout the UK? LOL (Lazy Ontological Linkage)!
Comment by Freewheelin' Franklin on 2009-03-10 15:16:52 +0000
Oh my gosh, Freddy had so many beers he wasn’t able to walk home and we didn’t have the money for a cab. So we left him in the gutter and came back for him the next morning. But you know it was a top night when your pal ends it in the gutter!
Comment by Fat Freddy Freekowtski on 2009-03-10 15:49:00 +0000
Drunk I wasn’t, the dealer who sold me ecstasy must have slipped me a Tuinal instead!
Comment by Ian Breakwell on 2009-03-10 19:23:53 +0000
A top night, but surely a video diary would have been more appropriate than a written blog!
Comment by Marshall Anderson on 2009-03-10 21:24:28 +0000
Enjoyed Saturday night, got down in time to see the Peter Whitehead film, which I really enjoyed, the Latham, Swift reading and a bit of Lol Coxhill. Actually didn’t think the reading was so bad, tho’ heard that some people did. Most enjoyed the Dream Machines in the back room fantastic. Looked all over for you but only saw you in the guise of Ben Watson, Clive Philpot, Peter Suchin, Clunie Reed and Esther Leslie. but you must have been disguised as couldn¹t see you in the crowd. Anyway, a good night, with a hugely impressive turnout.
Comment by Jim Seventies on 2009-03-10 21:40:10 +0000
really good night – hope it’s just the start
Comment by Shy Guy on 2009-03-10 22:03:43 +0000
I wanted to thank you for Fiona’s Shoe event – that was awesome! I am now thinking of making a Dream Machine for myself =) I wanted to come up to say Hi and thank you personally, but every time I intended you were busy or talking to someone, so I didn’t want to intrude. Erm… and I am quite a shy person myself so both factors combined. Anyway, it was really awesome, so Thank You a lot.
Comment by Graham Stack on 2009-03-10 22:32:34 +0000
Don’t know what I thought of the reenactment, Wholly Communion was great.
Comment by the devil’s knob on 2009-03-10 22:51:05 +0000
thanks, congrats and well done. hopefully it becomes a legend – with people claiming they were there -and regretting not going.
when next free, will look up / check out some of the names (yalkut and freer are new on me).
i noticed philida bloom’s name there. no idea if you know her or at least of her, but i have met her. she was the 1st person to appear nude on t.v (dutch) in the 60’s. she lives in antwerp now. she and her partner martin run a space called ‘de branderij’ (where ‘the bastard remixes’, an event i was involved with ended up taking place there). martin (uit den something or other?) makes work using stillborn critters and roadkill, wired up to generate power (in sealed off glass tanks). people had to walk through his studio (or alchemist’s lab / den) to get to the toilet.
Comment by Msmarmitelover on 2009-03-10 23:53:28 +0000
Oh lala yet another thing I missed! Let me know when the next fabbo night happens Mr Trippy.
Comment by peter whitehead on 2009-03-11 01:31:33 +0000
So sorry I am unwell these days – can’t walk! – and had to miss this great-sounding night out. Well done. Very gratifying to read so many people saying they enjoyed the film. I don’t think I really made it. It just happened to me and I found it the next day, in six cans of film. What a night that was!!
best peter w.
Comment by Victoria on 2009-03-11 04:00:53 +0000
Amazing, sorry to have missed it!
Comment by shrieking toad howling wizard on 2009-03-11 04:46:46 +0000
Comment by Ray ‘The Cat’ Jones on 2009-03-13 16:10:31 +0000
I was there on Saturday night after a successful gold bullion snatch from a house just up the street opposite. All I can say is I’d prefer a good night in with my feet up watching telly than this art-muck! But then I always thought that The Beatles ruined rock’n’roll just as it was getting started. Give me a Johnny Ray LP any time of the week!
Comment by Vivian Kilbride on 2009-03-21 06:13:39 +0000
I think everyone wants you to do it again…
Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-03-21 19:37:24 +0000
Oh but I want to do a re-enactment of Mary Millington’s suicide next time!
Comment by Vivian Kilbride on 2009-03-24 16:40:22 +0000
Good idea. Just on it’s own or juxtaposed with some other things? I’m a bit like Mary but you probably wanted that role for yourself. Let me know if you want to improvise.
Comment by Johnathan Pruiss on 2009-04-17 10:26:26 +0000
Loved the evening, Wonderful costumes, Brilliant reading by Birgit Ludwig, i thought it was subtle and interesting, shame people couldn’t hear better at the back due to bad acoustics. Fantastic films (Wholly Communion esp.)… and the general chaotic feel of the night, it had to be! Looking forward to the next one… Credits to all who made it happen!