Announcements received from or on behalf of the artists Rod Dickinson and Heath Bunting in the past couple of weeks reminded me how much I like each of their work, and that for a while I’ve been meaning to do a post about a short story of mine that features both of them, or which uses each of them as a way of writing about the other. Reason being that the story is set in or after 2011, which when I wrote it seemed sufficiently like ‘the future’ (albeit a very near future) to offer some satirical advantage, so I’ve wanted to quickly mention it before that year is upon us (with the obligatory nod to that great William Gibson story of fictional futures made real, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’).
‘The Lunar House “Re-enactment”‘ was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge to form part of a report on a series of events called the Arts and the Law seminars which brought people (artists, lawyers, academics etc.) together, ‘to debate and clarify the legal and ethical implications of portraying real people through artistic representation, wider issues of freedom of speech for artists,’ and, ‘how such issues are involved in’ particular art forms: visual arts, theatre, literature etc.
I’ve known about Rod Dickinson’s work for ages, initially via Cabinet Gallery who showed his work in the early 1990s, but hadn’t met him until two or three years ago. For this new work Rod has collaborated with Steve Rushton to produce Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, a video installation which is showing at Alma Enterprises, London, until mid-January. Here is the blurb:
‘two actors deliver a simulated forty five minute press briefing […] composed solely of fragments of speeches and press statements [which] focuses on the way in which similar declarations and political rhetoric have been repeated and reused by numerous governments across continents and ideological divides to justify acts of aggression and state sanctioned violence.’
Heath Bunting‘s work also engages with the production and practice of power, amongst other things, but it is more elusive, low-level and unbounded and it has sort of crept in to my consciousness over the past decade. I think of Bunting’s work like the faint glow of a persistent beacon on the horizon — he works out of Bristol — that seems to relentlessly and doggedly illuminate contemporary practices of politics, power and identity, but which the closer I get to the more resistant to summary it becomes. Bunting is often described as a net.art pioneer, but a project might consist of a real-world action, a collaboration, a book or advice on making a day-planner that will enable you to avoid working. It could be an ‘IT COSTS MORE TO BE POOR‘ poster, or an extensive record of points of engagement (transcripts, legal documents, etc.) between the body(s) or person(s) and any one of the infinity of social, political, geographical, legal multiverses in which we find ourselves to be born and living. In all this teeming beaureaucracy and detail Bunting’s work starts to seem like Borges’s same-scale map of the territory, as if it is identical with his life.
Just so with the work announced by Bunting’s email of 21 November 2010 which — in as far as I am able to locate it, and amongst other things — is just as analytical, botanical, countercultural, dispersed, ethical, fragmented, guarded, honest, idiosyncratic, journalistic, key, labyrinthine, malcontent, networked, open, provocative, questioning, rigourous, satirical, time-consuming, unglossed, volatile, wide-ranging, X-border, yippyish and zealous as ever. The email offers ‘a spare pre-aged anonymous letter box facia’ for sale (pictured left), and lists both secondhand and ‘artist signed’ prices. The email also links to a webpage from 2005, entitled Anonymous Letter Box – Howto, which is at least partly self-explanatory dealing as it does with the siting over long periods of time of anonymous mailboxes in disused street locations around the city. The simple design and the proliferation of texts and pages found here and under the wider Status Project heading is indicative of the approach used elsewhere on the irational website. A new project, slated to run from 2010 to 2020 lists works in the Heath Bunting Collection that are, like the spare pre-aged anonymous letter box facia, available for loan or sale/exchange.
So much for a very limited introduction. With even less to go on and beneath the distracted-looking gaze of E.M. Forster, whose portrait was one of several hanging in the seminar venue, Heath Bunting’s work proved difficult to understand for many of the participants at that Arts and the Law seminar at King’s College, Cambridge. Particularly challenging was a short discussion of Bunting’s arrest in 2001 (documented on irational through a series of documents entitled ‘In defense of the tools of my trade’). In order to explore this further, and to see if fiction might offer a useful approach, I appropriated elements of Rod Dickinson’s practice (thank you Rod) to write a short story which imagined a large-scale work of participatory performance art being convened to mark the tenth anniversary of Bunting’s arrest. That story, ‘The Lunar House “Re-enactment”‘ is downloadable as a free Diffusion ebook pamphlet by clicking on the cover image (right). If you are not familiar with assembling ebooks made using the Diffusion or Bookleteer format, there are some useful how to videos on Vimeo. I have made a number of other short stories available free in this format also, which are all searchable on the Diffusion site, though I haven’t got around to listing them on this website’s Free Beer page.
Also available in the Diffusion format is Heath Bunting’s ‘Single Step Guide to Success — Day Planning’. the introduction to which reminds us that: ‘Rigorously planning your days can minimalise time spent working or waiting and maximise engagement with pleasure, happiness and growth.’
Because the Arts and the Law seminar series was conducted according to the so-called Chatham House rule (to encourage openness and the sharing of information within the group at least) I’m apparently bound not to reveal the ‘identity [or] the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant’. So it was initially a bit frustrating when the artist Manu Luksch sent a fantastic panoramic photograph of seminar participants, which I wanted to reproduce at the top of this post. Then I realised that I could comply with the Chatham House rule by anonymising everyone in the spirit of Manu’s excellent surveillance footage sci-fi film of the same year, Faceless.