Fax machine, black spray paint, black fabric, white A4 paper, black marker pens.
A collaborative artwork (contributions actively sought) commemorating a demonstration ‘zap’ by ACT UP New York City in which a mile of black paper was faxed to the New York Times to clog communications in protest at the publication’s inadequate and unfair treatment of people with AIDS. This work invites people to submit a sheet of A4 paper that they have daubed, decorated or otherwise inscribed with thoughts, feelings, imagery, statistics, quotations, activist material or any work they feel inspired to share that responds to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, yesterday, today, and always.
The first outing of the piece was at an event at Islington Mill, Salford celebrating the life and work of David Wojnarowicz and the publication of a new edition of his memoirs ‘Close To The Knives’ from Canongate (with new Introduction by Olivia Laing). Dr Monica Pearl of the University of Manchester spoke about her research into AIDS in 20th century culture and her time as an ACT UP NYC activist, while performance artist Matt Fennemore gave two performances of his work that have responded to Wojnarowicz. We shared recitals from ‘Close To The Knives’ and from Cynthia Carr’s biography of Wojnarowicz, and there were short films, imagery and conversation throughout.
These contributions to ‘A mile of black paper’ were produced at the end of the event and mark the very first additions to the work. The work commemorates both a disruptive piece of AIDS activism and serves as a memorial – black the colour of fax machine ink and mourning. The use of individual sheets of paper is also intended to reference the individual panels of the AIDS memorial quilt, the largest creative act of AIDS remembrance, while the fax machine itself is unplugged, lacquered and rendered inoperable with black spray paint, incommunicative, as are those lost to AIDS. DEATH = SILENCE, but memory lives on and revives.
Contributions are invited to this piece. All work should be in black only and can be ‘faxed’ to email@example.com or posted (address on request). If you have an event related to HIV/AIDS and would like to host the work as part of it, please get in contact. The next appearance of the work will be at the ACT UP Conference at York University on June 2nd. The first public exhibition of the work is intended to take place in Manchester on World AIDS Day, December 1st 2017.
I’m obsessed with cover versions, not just who covers which music and when and why, but what a cover version actually is: a recital, an interpretation, a reinvention, a challenge, an impersonation?
I became interested in the idea of not just covering a song, but in covering a specific live performance of a song as an historic moment in itself. In 1993 I heard the AIDS fundraiser compilation album ‘No Alternative’ which features Patti Smith singing ‘Memorial Song’, the tribute song she wrote for Robert Mapplethorpe, at an AIDS benefit concert in New York. I'd been singing the song for over twenty years and found that I always recited the spoken introduction and even the shouts from the crowd as well as the song itself. I decided to perform this as an entire ‘cover’ including the shouts, Patti's introduction, her faltering thoughts, her reference to the hot night itself, all the lived moments of the evening, and the beautiful song itself. 'Little Emerald Bird' is its opening line.
It was an experiment, and a very moving experience for me. I had never sung in front of anybody before. My friend Eoin Dara took this Instagram picture, which I think is all that remains of the performance.
Patti Smith 'Memorial Song'
‘I was never no good after that night, Charley…’
Part of Ambition by Instigate Arts, HOME, Manchester, 9.7.16.
"This is not a conventional art show, but a theatrical presentation. Like theatre, it asks questions, provokes thoughts and takes you on an emotional journey, portraying good and bad, light and dark, joy and sorrow, redemption and salvation. I do not endorse a way of life, but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments. Thank you."
'Ambition' was an evening of live performance, film and intervention that considered our insatiable struggle to succeed; from the personal to the global, the collection explored our fascination with celebrity and status and our constant search for affirmation, approval and acceptance. From our desperation to survive to our determination to thrive, no matter what the cost. Presented as part of Instigate Arts curatorial residency at HOME. Artists were: Kevin Burke, Bartosz Beda, Stefanie Elrick & Laura McGee, Michelle Hannah, Richard Hughes, Anne Louise Kershaw, Sara Minelli & Matteo Giuliani, Emily Mulenga, Greg Thorpe, Angela Readman, Louise Woodcock.
Here's an extract from an interview with my curators at Instigate Arts about my performance piece entitled ‘I was never no good after that night, Charley…’ (You can read the full interview here) :
How does your work relate to the themes of Ambition? My piece is called ‘I was never no good after that night, Charley…’ which is the line that Robert De Niro’s character ad-libs in Raging Bull when he’s covering Brando’s ‘contender’ speech from On the Waterfront, which I also do a cover version of. Both films are set-texts in disappointment and regret and lost ambition. My whole piece is me talking or singing and it’s like a collage incorporating things that are thematically connected but emotionally juxtaposed – my own writing, a press conference speech from Madonna’s ‘Blond Ambition’ tour, Victoria Wood, Frank O’Hara. Because I’m interested in memorials, I also thought about people who have had their ambitions taken away from them in death, so I’ve incorporated that too.
Ambition - Pop-up Exhibition at HOME mcr - curated by Instigate Arts
30 Days of Fin
During the final 30 days of the existence of Manchester's beloved Cornerhouse I staged a daily intervention via their Twitter account sharing random facts, images and memories about the building and its history as we counted down to its closure. The project was named #30DaysofFIN after the word 'FIN' that closed many a foreign language film there over the years.
‘In a modern library you’re just as likely to leave with a laptop full of information as a rucksack full of books. I wanted to find a way to symbolise the evolution from paper to data that emphasises the importance of both.’
The project turned into a way to showcase printed treasures from around Central Library; exciting, mundane, beautiful, forgotten, well-loved. Each book was reduced to one single image and a piece of quoted text and sent out as a Tweet – a digital artefact – to Central Library’s thirteen thousand followers.
Armistice Day fell during the residency so I opened the collection with an image from the First World War and finished with an entry from a compendium of Army names from the Second World War, a soldier named G. Thorpe.
Here are some of the images sent over the duration of the residency and the full collection of Tweets is at the Storify page here.