september 2014


I found reading Kristeva like trying to grasp a half-remembered dream. You sense the meaning is there buried in the depths of her densely written abstract thoughts but the effort to retrieve it is a struggle that only seems to offer a partial reward. I wonder if this is partly to do with the fact that so much is lost in translation. But also it seems to me that the very territory Kristeva is dealing with - the libidinal, the preconscious and the void that becomes before and after meaning – are by their very nature unreachable with language alone.  At one point she says this: “the imaginative capability of Western man… is a self-illusion, nothing but dreams and words, words, words…It affirms the almightiness of temporary subjectivity.” Beauty, she says is the artifice we create to fill the void of non-meaning. A self-proclaimed atheist, Kristeva’s meta-project seems to be re-describing the God-instinct in psychoanalytical terms. I am not an atheist but I empathise with Kristeva’s project of illuminating this particular darkness along with her belief in the counter-depressant rather than the anti-depressant as treatment and cure. She dives deep and the waters are murky but hidden treasure is sensed in brief moments of shining luminosity and Black Sun has given me a challenging framework to consider melancholy and loss. Oh, and thank you B for lending me this.


My favourite psychedelic rockers from Portland rolled into town at the beginning of the month. It was a packed Monday night down at The Trades and the following day my lovely former student Claudia did a shoot with the band up on the moors near where I live. Sadly I had to miss this because I was teaching but the images have come back and they look great.


I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave from first hearing The Bad Seeds on the local radio aged 16 so I couldn’t miss 20,000 Days, the hypereal documentary about the making of his last album. I loved the elipsis between man and mask, person and performer in this film and how it documented the creation of a myth without ever de-bunking it. I particularly enjoyed Cave’s encounter with the psychoanalyst Darian Leader, of whom I am also a great fan and who very generously contributed an essay to the book I’ve recently edited on the art of Gavin Turk. For a moment Cave’s carefully constructed veneer seemed to crack with a question about his father that cut through his glass. But even then it was never clear whether Cave’s reaction was genuine or simply more clever sorcery.


So many of my favourite texts and authors are here – Angela Carter, William Blake, Leonora Carrington, Sylvia Plath, Tove Jansson  - in these densely woven essays by Ali Smith on the concepts of form, edges & reflection. The faux innocent voice of the narrator who navigates their arguments as the character of the dead essayist’s lover grated, but I loved the curious and surprising connections in the essays themselves.


Such nostalgia for me in these early and previously unpublished images of Corinne Day of the nineties and free parties and the year Spritualized brought a full orchestra to Glastonbury (which I think was when I first met Corinne) and of being so wildly, incorruptibly hungry for experience. And such sadness, too, that this fierce independent spirit is no longer here.


Here is my beautiful friend Vinca from before I knew her. The essay in this book talks about how Corinne brought a radical naturalism to her work. And there is no doubt she lived and breathed the lifestyle she documented. But it’s interesting to hear Vinca describe how much of this apparent spontaneity was art directed and staged. In this light, all of the images in this book all are of Corinne. Her muses, like Vinca, are extensions of her psyche and actors in a film in which she was always the main character. She was such a powerful force and through her photography she not only documented a world but created one that was beautiful to her and that became beautiful to others too.

august 2014

I went to see 23 year old Cali fiddler Frank Fairfield play The Monarch in Berlin. So antediluvian and yet not, his analogue rebellion is the direct product of the digital revolution and it’s in this context that his lovingly crafted old time music makes sense. The next day a crew of us went from lunch with him. We were talking about dancing and he said this: “Sometimes you’ve just got to grab a woman and move her around.”


In Berlin I was reading The Ravishing Of Lol Stein, an early novel by Marguerite Duras. A disturbing tale of voyeurism and perverse love told in clean, hard prose.


Seeing the Bowie retrospective in Berlin and then walking around the streets where he and Iggy hung out added another layer to the experience. Particularly loved his abstract expressionist paintings of Iggy in the Berlin snow.


Back in West Yorkshire and continuing the perverse love theme, I finished reading Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. Such a devastating tale of one man driven to the edge by love gone bad and extreme wealth. A real lesson in the art of creating powerful characters and pacing their unravelling.


I know Richard Linklater isn’t the first director to film a coming of age story with the same actor over a number of years but I found myself becoming emotionally involved with the character of Mason and his indie-kid outsider angst. It is both the banality and also the familiarity of the small things that make growing up what it is and this is what worked for me in Linklater’s story telling.


I really loved Deborah Levy’s Booker-nominated novella Swimming Home so I was especially interested to read her response to George Orwell’s Why I Write. Her essays turn out to take the form of a memoir that weaves between her experiences of being a writer and mother and what she perceives as the latent sexism of certain social expectations , through her childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa, her teenage ambition to emulate the bohemian writers of the  Left Bank and losing then finding her way with the writing of Swimming Home. I think she is a great contemporary mind and these memoir-essays observe the depths of what it is to live and write through a deceptively simple surface. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Port Eliot festival down in Cornwall where she signed my copy of the book. The note she wrote refers to a quote by Virginia Woolf; “A female writer cannot afford to feel her life too clearly. If she does she will write in a rage when she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely.She will write of herself when she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot.”


This month was the third time I’ve seen The Acid Mothers Temple. Veterans of transcendent psychedelic rock, what really struck me this time around was how, beneath the beard’s and long sage’s hair, child-like and playful they were.


It was amazing to hear Michael Chapman, who is into his seventies, play guitar which such physicality and power. His hymnal song Madrugada especially transported me to another place. I loved the stories he told, too, between songs… so many of them were homages and elegies to lost musicians and friends. I really got the impression he was living his life as fully as ever. A true inspiration.


Crafting The Look/Glasgow School Of Art

Looking forward to presenting a paper on how Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane has transformed his aesthetic into a sub culture at this conference on the creative process of styling at Glasgow School of Art in April. (Image: Sky Ferreira by Hedi Slimane).




Reclaim Beautify Create

I set my first year Fashion Styling & Image Making students the task of finding a public space in Salford and styling it based on trends on contemporary fashion. The fruits of their labours, which united regeneration, community and creativity, are on display in a photographic exhibition at the Islington Mill arts space in Regents Trading Estate, Salford, January 30th – February 3rd 2014.


LMU talk with Gavin Turk

On Thursday November 21st the artist Gavin Turk and I will be giving a talk at London Metropolitan University on the book I have edited, thanks to amazing support from Deborah Curtis, that explores Turk’s work –  “This Is Not A Book About Gavin Turk”  - to be published by Trolley in Spring 2014.


The Visit – an extract


It feels so good to be outside in the darkness, to sense the silhouettes of the hills and breathe in their sigh. It feels so good to be held fast in the shadows of their dense mass; to not feel alone, even though I am alone, but to exalt in the company of all that came before me and all that will come after. It feels so good to be lost in their alpha and omega; to look up and see more stars than it would take a lifetime to count. I lie down and the ground holds me. The wind blows over me. I could be a sheep or a clump of grass or a hollow in a black scoop of rock, it does not matter which. It’s all landscape to the wind.  (Image from Wolfgang Tillman’s Neue Welt series)

Don’t Tell Stories At Festival Number 6

Just like the briar wood in “Sleeping Beauty”, for many years the Gwyltt Woods in Portmeirion grew so thickly that its paths were swallowed beneath the undergrowth and its branches were knitted together so tightly that even the sun struggled to pass through.  Starved of light, the many Himalayan rhododendron bushes that grew in the woods wilted and died, leaving behind a tunnel of twisted dried branches with the appearance of bone.

The wildness of woods seems to have turned those who passed through it wild, also. In the 1800’s people came looking for gold in the wood’s sunken ponds, only to leave with delusion and clay. The last man in the county to be hung took refuge in the woods. Such was one Victorian botanist’s arborial obsession, that he deliberately allowed the woodland’s paths to become impassable in order to stop tourists visiting the remains of the 14thcentury castle deep inside. Not to mention the untold tales of madness incurred during long medieval winters inside the castle’s stone towers…

It was here that Don’t Tell Stories curated an interactive arts trail for Festival Number 6. Visiting the woods to plan the trail, I had a very palpable feeling among the gingkos and firs that all was not what as it first seemed, as if far away from the city, the boundaries between shade and light, real and dreamt, familiar and strange – just as in all the best fairy tale woods – had become less solid and more permeable than anywhere else. And it was this idea that you could come to the woods and somehow be transformed by it, that seemed such a powerful force for creating a space to write something, make something or simply think, dream and imagine.

Artist & photographer Vinca Petersen brought a vast bag of wool blankets to the woods alongside crocheted patches her sister had made with her geriatric patients. Vinca spent ten years living with travellers and her art is about reclaiming under-used or over-looked public spaces and re-purposing them to create community. Her charity, Future Youth Project, like Don’t Tell Stories, is founded on the belief that every human being is creative. Throughout the festival, Vinca, who has a very special mischievous energy, had dozens of people stitching the blanket as it grew and grew into a giant picnic blanket. People came to sit down on her blanket and didn’t seem to want to leave. At one point she had twenty five family groups all merrily stitching away. Another time, Vinca was to be found holding court to a stag do.

picnic blanket

Poet Lucy Lepchani created a word installation with poems conjured from her audience. This is what Lucy said: “While some children wrote their poems, I spoke to their parents who did not want to participate because they were ‘no good’ at poems. During this time, I also spoke with two other people who came by, about ‘stream of consciousness’ poems – how these are done, how they open up the unconscious creative mind. The woman I had previously been conversing with took interest, and then decided she would like to try one. What she wrote, I read back aloud to her (she wouldn’t read aloud) and she had tears of pride in her eyes. I hung her poem alongside her children’s.”

your poems 2013

Artist Rose Pomeroy and her team created an interactive visual installation inspired by the early work of Japanese artist Yoyoi Kusama. Said Rose; “As a group of 4, we set out to create a site specific interaction with festival participants and our woodland environment, using a variety of visual materials based around the ‘circle’, spot or dot. The emphasis was on everyone involved to have the freedom to actively get involved and be part of an artwork.The audience response was overwhelmingly positive. People enjoyed it, were happy to have us stick stickers on them and generally get involved. People asked questions, and stayed for conversation. Participants also took photographs, talked about their own experiences with art, community art and art education, positive and negative experiences they had had. It was a good opportunity to talk to lots of different people, who all had their own take on it and I think people in general felt comfortable getting involved even on a basic level of having a coloured sticker stuck on them. Some people spent up to half an hour with us. One nice moment was when a Mum asked if we could paint her child in their clothes. She didn’t mind that her jumper would get covered in paint. Another instance was people asking for random things, like hair bands. Also people who volunteered to wear the paper suits and get painted and seeing them at the festival later on.

dots 2

Daniel Weaver’s zylophone made from spanners echoed around the Chinese Lake and created a mysterious landscape filled with strange, arcane sounds and invited the audience to perform with a series of hand-made instruments created from re-cycled objects inspired by early African percussion. Said Daniel; “The curiousness of the instruments drew people in alongside the physical accessibility. Because there was no stage people could completely surround me and felt very comfortable to just ask me questions about the music. Several people said it was the best thing in the festival. For me personally, it was an opportunity to discover new sounds and new ways of playing. I found a willingness in the audience to engage with the sounds which iwas incredibly rewarding.”

daniel 1

Troubadours We Make Hay performed songs about the woods co-written with the audience with a boundless enthusiasm that infected everyone. As the weekend wore on, they began to invite people from the audience to be their “guest” drummer or guitarist. One man asked if he could join in and promptly drew a trumpet from his bag. Later, the same trumpeter was spotted on the main stage playing with Gruff Rhys and his band.

This is what troubadour leader Hugh Nankivell said: “Whenever we met someone who had been making a song with us later in the festival, we were able to smile at them as if we shared a secret together (which I suppose we did). The practice is changing all the time. It was great to experiment with setting up a soundcloud account for instantly putting up songs and we are thinking further about how to both make ourselves more visually interesting so the opportunity to try this was great.”

we make hay 2013

Artist Ian Thompson created a carnivalesque sonic installation of haunting fairground and circus sounds which changed into response to the movement of people in the space, evoking an invisible double world amidst the fir and oak. Said Ian; “The audience had to proactively engage with piece to work out what was going on. Some were more confident than others. Under 25s got it immediately as soon as they saw the kinect sensor. Intrigue drew people in. Once the interactivity had been worked out, audiences were dancing and engaging with altering audio effects in real time with the Kinect.”

ian 1

Legendary DJ, producer and Faber artist-in-residence Andrew Weatherall read a phantasmagorical story about an actor who plays the devil by the bohemian French novelist Theophile Gautier. The stage was art directed with a riot of over grown plaits by stylist Jade Neale.

andrew 1

Author John-Paul Pryor read from his Baudelaire-esque novel “Spectacles”, while I read a disturbing tale about a glamorous party and a dark secret.

rn 1

This is what the audience said about the trail:

“The readings were great.The setting made it completely different to a conventional reading; along with the art direction of the stage. The whole experience of the trail is brilliantly interactive -with members of the audience getting involved in the writing of songs with the musicians, for example.”

“There was something particularly well thought out in the curation of the space.The people with the dots came and stuck stuff on you, whether or not individuals were looking to participate it made me feel part of it from the off.The poetry was good because it/she encouraged me to share a real story. I guess I was already preceptive to being open in that setting.Having shared on that activity I felt more (not sure whether it’s emotionally or sentimentally engaged).It helped with breaking the ice so to speak.As for the band it was more the spectacle of participation in writing the song, playing an instrument and then listening to it back. I enjoyed the whole creative process spelt out to children, which made it fun because it took away the burden of having to do it by ones self.”

“The trail really was great; inspiring and thoughtful.”

This is what Luke Bainbridge, Head of Art & Culture at Festival Number 6 said about the Don’t Tell Stories trail: “The Don’t Tell Stories trail was a huge success with the audience and we have received lots of feedback from people saying it was their favourite thing about the festival. People enjoyed the opportunity to be actively creative in a non-threatening environment, sometimes discovering a latent creativity they didn’t realise was there. The trail has helped solidify the reputation of Festival Number 6 as an innovative arts & culture festival for its imaginative scope, originality and innovation and we are looking forward to having it back in 2014.”

There was a part of me that struggled to believe how much people seemed to enjoy participating in the trail – especially when the great British public, as a whole, does not tend to go in for audience participation. But the energy and expertise and sense of enchantment that each artist brought to the experience, in the end, turned out to be such a gentle but powerful force that people seemed unusually and unexpectedly open. But most of all, I think everyone was affected by being in the woods, as if all of us – artists & audience – had been ever so slightly touched by its wildness

photography thanks to Becky Maynard & Tim Newsome.

The Occult Wound – an extract


I was walking across a plain in the southern region of the country as night was beginning to fall. It had not rained all season and the ground was barren and hard. All around me nothing grew besides starved patches of scrub and everything was covered in a layer of dust. It bloomed upon the contours of the plain as if it were a microbial life form belonging to another hidden world, similar to this but governed by a different set of laws.

There was nothing to break the horizon and no sign of the plain ever coming to an end. The only thing to interrupt the monotony was a low, intense hum like that of an electricity pylon,  so barely perceptible that had it been register or two lower, it would have been audible only to animals. As I walked on, however, the hum became louder and louder until it grew into a high-pitched screech which swooped from the sky with an arrow-like precision that set my pulse racing. Half expecting to see a cloud of bats, I looked up but the inky expanse was as empty as the plain. It was then that I heard another noise which I was immediately able to identify as a human cry.

Don’t Tell Stories comes to Festival No. 6


The Rain Is My Rescue


The rain is so light at first that I only notice it from the tiny shivers on the skin of the canal. By the time I reach the clough, though, it is lashing down, a heavy jungle rain drumming a driving tribal rhythm onto the leaves. The air is suddenly cold with the ice melt of clouds. At the entrance to the woods, everything glistens. Behind me is the Bacup road, traffic, my house. I begin climbing  the steep incline up through a corridor of oaks and turn a corner onto a steep drop. Cascading into a deep cut between hills, the rain reflects the light in a million tiny mirrors. For I am in the dripping, limpid mirror of the woods, fringe flattened to forehead and feeling light-headed. I watch the rain drip from a clump of ferns on a bank overhanging the narrow wood path. It runs through the liverwort in a single silver thread that cannot be woven or sewn. I breathe in the sweet damp and stare into the tiny stream coming from its feathery leaves and wonder how long it will take to forget.

I look up and there is a redstart in the upper branches of a cherry tree. I have never seen one before and it feels like I have been let in on a secret or that a very particular configuration of events have coalesced for me to look up at this precise moment as if me seeing the bird has meant some kind of magic has occurred. Or so I think. But I am trying not to think. I am trying to empty my head of everything in order to be closer to the truth of the woods, to be closer to God.

I cross a small stream. Then I am thinking again about what to cook for tea, the book I am editing, what I will do on Friday.

The rain is my rescue. It begins falling so hard that it is impossible to think of anything else. There is no sound except the sound of water falling, of waterfalls, of the stream that runs through the woods in a single rust-coloured vein. There is no outside of the woods, only inside. There is no place on earth except this place where I have come looking for God in the silence of the trees and the song of the waters. I start to feel a softness in the place where I had been angry with myself. It is a peaceful feeling. In the shadows of the woods, it gently flickers as if the trees themselves had cupped their branches around it to stop any wind from blowing it out.

The path is a circular one and I come back out along the Bacup road. Here are cars and commuters on their way home. A man winds down his window and looks at me. The rain has stopped and the sun is out and the sky over the moors is a bright Titian blue. It feels very hot and I take my kagoule off.