Fax machine, black fabric, black pens and pencils, white paper, paper fasteners, fishing wire, optional audio, presentation and performance elements.
This is a collaborative artwork that commemorates a demonstration ‘zap’ by ACT UP New York in which a mile of black paper was faxed to the New York Times to shut down communications in protest at the publication’s failure to adequately report on the AIDS crisis.
The work is comprised of a defunct fax machine on sequinned fabric, accompanied by numerous sheets of inscribed A4 paper. The sheets are individual contributions to the work, either from myself, visitors to the work in person, or from online contributions. There is a collection of audio pieces which visitors may listen to while viewing the work.
Contributors have variously written, sketched, daubed, decorated, screenshot or otherwise expressed their responses, thoughts, feelings, imagery, quotations, memories, tributes, activist slogans or any message they feel inspired to share that responds to HIV/AIDS, often following a teach-in, film screening, conversation or panel event.
‘A mile of black paper’ commemorates an act of creative/disruptive AIDS activism and serves as both a memorial site and call to action for contemporary activism. 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.
Contributions are actively sought and invited to the work. All work should be in black only and can be scanned and emailed to email@example.com for printing, or originals can be posted (address available on request).
If you would like to host the work, including exhibiting, teach-ins, workshops, talks etc., please get in touch.
To date, the work has been shown at the following events:
David Wojnarowicz: Close To The Knives, Islington Mill, Salford, 23.3.17 A celebration of the publication of a new edition of Wojnarowicz’s memoirs ‘Close To The Knives’ (with a new Introduction by Olivia Laing). Dr Monica Pearl of the University of Manchester spoke about her research into AIDS in twentieth century culture and her time as an ACT UP activist, while performance artist Matt Fennemore gave two performances which responded to the work of Wojnarowicz. We shared recitals from Cynthia Carr’s biography of Wojnarowicz, with short films, imagery and conversation throughout.
ACT UP: Thirty Years Fighting AIDS, University of York, 2.6.17 A one-day conference to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of ACT UP, bringing together academics from a variety of disciplines to reflect upon what has changed, and what has not, in the past 30 years.
The Queers Are Revolting!, People’s History Museum, Manchester, 10.8.17 A night of creative queer activism in response to the impact of austerity on the LGBTQ+ community. Part of Never Going Underground, a year-long season of exhibitions, events and programmes exploring the past, present and future of LGBT+ activism.
QUEER ART SHOW #5, The Penthouse, Manchester, 24–29.8.17 Queer Art Show 5 explored what it means to REVOKE – to invalidate, reclaim, reverse, at the anniversary of 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts. Curated by Debbie Sharp, artist/director of artist-led/dyke-led project space The Penthouse. Portions of the work were on show and I gave an alternative vigil as a performance piece to close the show. This can be viewed at the video piece alongside this text.
Men’s Group, LGBT Foundation, Manchester, 5.9.17 Conversation with service users at Manchester’s LGBT community and campaigning headquarters.
Queer Art(ists) Now, And What? Festival, Hackney, London, 12–15.10.17 Exhibition curated by And What? Festival with guest curation from Richard Dodwell, Olivia Laing and Evan Ifekoya.
Outburst Queer Arts Festival, The Green Room, Belfast, 9–18.11.17 A teach-in incorporating film, music, guest readings and group social media activism, after which the work went on show for the duration of the festival.
120 BPM Art Jam, HOME, Manchester, 10.4.18 To celebrate the release of French film 120 BPM and inspire more creative activism, Instigate Arts and Manchester’s LGBTQI film club Make A Scene hosted a pre & post-screening art jam at HOME, Manchester.
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.
Apples & Other Fruits / 'I drank everything he drank'