Sunday, 16 December 2012


Notes from the introduction to a presentation by Sue Palmer and David Williams, as part of the 'Ecology and Environment' lecture series hosted by the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, Aberystwyth University, December 2012. With many thanks to Carl Lavery for inviting us ...

‘Everything’s a question of how you lean’ (John Berger)

We are ‘lean-into animals’ - that's our name for an imaginary band we have: and this is our first gig …

We've borrowed this term from Monty Roberts (the ‘horse whisperer’), who uses it to describe horses - they are also called by him ‘into pressure animals’. His core philosophy is about creating conditions for a horse’s learning, and then getting out of the way: a useful pedagogical model for us all ... 

Roberts has suggested that there are three spatial zones in our interaction with horses: (1) a zone of awareness (the furthest), in which one's presence is acknowledged, but it remains too far away to have an impact on a horse’s movements; (2) a decision-making zone (closer, although in the countryside it could still be quite a long way away), in which one can influence a horse’s movements and choices – this is the zone of most ground work and schooling with horses; and (3) an ‘into pressure zone’, also called the ‘lean-into’ zone. 

'Leaning-into' comprises a horse's leaning back into predators to protect themselves. Think of when a horse has its hoof on your foot - you push against its flank, it leans back; or if you want a horse to move away from a wall and you try to push it, it will push back. The term refers to an instinctive, passive/aggressive, defensive ‘leaning’ into the source of pressure (just as in touching the horse's flank with your heel). Of course there are many different kinds of pressure at play in working with and riding horses (from direct eye contact, to the bit), and many different kinds of responses. And this is a source of a great deal of misunderstanding and miscommunication when people start to work with horses.

Our partial understanding (and misappropriation) of this term comes from our own contact with horses, as well as dogs and cats (which we conceive of as lean-into animals too), and our own desire – for contact, meeting, sharing, and so on. I (mis)understand leaning-into as an improvised dance of responsiveness, a bit like Steve Paxton’s contact improvisation. 

For me, it is also a kind of dynamic suspension between falling and flying, an im/balance provoked that leads to adjustments in one’s default settings. It suggests following the gravitational pull of an-other - ‘what grabs you’, your interests - letting it take you to see what it does, rather than trying to explain it (away) or collapse it into some pre-existing grid of 'knowledge'. It’s related to placing attention outside of yourself there-where-you-are, giving over some of your weight to this ‘elsewhere’, meeting and riding its currents and contours. So it’s about encounter, accompaniment, and displacement off one’s own axis towards an engagement with aspects of the world: ecologies of (inter)connectedness, if you like. 

John Berger has also written about leaning, in ways that explore the relations between riding a motorbike, writing and living (in To The Wedding, Pages of the Wound and elsewhere). In these texts, he considers the relations between inertia, gravity, energy, momentum and grace:

“Everything’s a question of how you lean … If anything on wheels wants to corner or change direction, a centrifugal force comes into play. This force tries to pull us out of the bend into the straight, according to a law called the Law of Inertia, which always wants energy to save itself. In a corner situation it’s the straight that demands least energy and so our fight starts. By tipping our weight over into the bend, we shift the bike’s centre of gravity and this counteracts the centrifugal force and the Law of Inertia! … Speed has everything to do with mass and weight, and is often though of as brutal (and it can be), but it can also whisper of an extraordinary tenderness’’.

For me, as someone interested in writing - writing's difficulties and possibilities, what it can do - it is also about relations between the ‘leanings’ of lived experience/events  and writing. Berger also writes about the differences between riding a motorbike and writing a poem:

"Writing a poem is the opposite of riding a motorbike. Riding, you negotiate at high speed around every fact you meet. Body and machine follow your eyes that find their way through, untouched. Your sense of freedom comes from the fact that the wait between decision and consequence is minimal ... Poems are helpless before the facts. Helpless, but not without endurance, for everything resists them. They find names for consequences, not for decisions. Writing a poem you listen to everything save what is happening now ... On a bike the rider weaves through, and poems head in the opposite direction. Yet shared sometimes between the two, as they pass, there is the same pity of it. And in that ... the same love".

So two quite different modes of experience, usually thought of as mutually exclusive. Two different kinds of attention, intuition, embodiment, exposure, 'weaving', translation, serious play. Riding - related to speed, mechanics, a short circuiting of the time lapse between internal impulse, reflex/decision and consequence: a visual, tactile, rhythmic, intimate engagement with the outside world and its material phenomena. Writing - slow resistant work, the site of memory, association, a listening internally that removes one from the here-now. Berger endeavours to bring these two apparent 'opposites' into conjunction, suggesting the possibility of them meeting and connecting fleetingly in tenderness, compassion, love.

Maybe the notion of 'leaning-into' also relates to some texts I’m working on at the moment about falling, and the relations between adjusting balance in the orientation of ‘leaning’, the point of suspension, and the irretrievable moment(um) of falling. James Hillman writes about falling into the underworld, into psyche; Helene Cixous writes about falling into the 'school of dreams'. Falling as deepening, growth: a ‘falling into place’. 

Where do representation and writing ‘lean’ and where do they ‘fall’? Or, more broadly, to borrow a phrase from Herbert Blau, how does one navigate some ‘liveable unison between panic and grace’?

Today we are going to talk about some of our own leanings, what and where we ‘lean-into’ in recent projects we have worked on individually …

For further details of Sue Palmer's projects, with links to video materials, see here and here 

For footage of Little Tich leaning, see here (thanks to Sophie Nield for the link)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

messages in the pulse

'To be empty, free. Doing nothing. Yet not quite. Little blessings arrive which they collect. 

For the most part these blessings are memories yet it is misleading to say this, for, at the same time, they are promises. They collect the remembered pleasures of promises which cannot apply to the future which they have gladly vacated, but somehow do apply to the brief, empty present. 

The promises are wordless and physical. Some can be seen, some can be touched, some can be heard, some can be tasted. Some are no more than messages in the pulse. The taste of chocolate. The width of her hips. The splashing of water. The length of the daughter’s drenched hair. The way he laughed early this morning. The gulls above the boat. The crow’s feet by the corners of her eyes. The tattoo he made such a row about. The dog with its tongue hanging out in the heat. 

The promises in such things operate as passwords: passwords towards a previous expectancy about life. And the holidaymakers on the lakeside collect these passwords, finger them, whisper them, and are wordlessly reminded of that expectancy, which they live again surreptitiously'.

Extract from a text by John Berger, read by him at the Serpentine Gallery's Memory Marathon, London, 20 October 2012

Friday, 12 October 2012

song & dance

"Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan say the idea for The Boat Project first emerged during a cycle of performances called The Days Of The Sledgehammer Have Gone (1999-2005), in which they had explored the human body’s connections with water, and its intimate imbrication in weather systems and the hydrological cycle. In material, poetic and comic ways, these performances activated the body’s own meteorology of sweat and tears and playfully merged them in circulatory exchange with the circuits and flows of river, sea, cloud and rain. In related ways, a boat casts the body into a dynamic relational matrix of materially active elements, energies and rhythms and invites it to improvise: wave, tide, current, wind, wood, salt, sound, weather, sky". (From the introduction to David Williams (ed.), The Lone Twin Boat Project, Chiquita Books, 2012)

In the wake of a sail on Lone Twin's Collective Spirit yesterday, with Olympic yachtsman Mark Covell at the helm,
today my body still hums with sensations. In seas off Hayling Island, with the wind gusting to 20 knots, we passed through intermittent bursts of rain and sun. At speed, riding the surf, the boat itself 'sings' a particular tone, an audible vibratory hum of its own. 

On water the gravitied mass of the boat flies, it becomes all lightness and movement. Its weight is translated.

I was intrigued by how sensitively Mark reads with his peripheral vision what's at play, in particular the wind, deciphering its imminent arrival and implications on the sea's surface, its energetic trajectories. Also his reading of waves, the impact of patches of sunlight on wind ('puff'), the lightness of touch on the tiller.

Sailing, one feels part of something much bigger than oneself. Dynamically transforming systems, processes, agencies, unpredictabilities. To sail is a dance of relations, response-ability and im/balance, a choreography in which one's body is all eyes and ears. 

Despite my clumsiness at trying to tie a reef knot (some lingering memory about a tree, a bunny and a hole - but no idea how to tell that story with a rope), it's a while since I felt so awake.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


I've been reading about Danilo Dolci, the remarkable Italian activist and pacifist sometimes referred to as 'Sicily's Gandhi', and his work in western Sicily from the 1950s.

In Fire Under the Ashes (1965), an early biography, James McNeish describes Dolci's state of mind when he was called up for military service in 1951. At the barracks in Siena, he refused pointblank to do 'anything soldierly', only consenting to fire drill and gymnastics: 'No shooting, no bayonet practice'.

And he filled in the regulation questionnaire as follows:

NUMBER OF BROTHERS: About a billion
PROFESSION: I'm learning to be consumed

A few years later, during one of his many hunger strikes (on this occasion to try to force political initiatives to fund a dam to help local peasants), he was asked by one of the local women: 'Child, why do you starve yourself like this?' His reply: 'Exactness and truth melt, and destroy evil'.

In the late 1950s, Dolci made a speech in Palermo: 'I believe that men will collaborate better as their thoughts, with the help of scientific analysis, are shorn of all rhetoric, superstition, complexes, dogmas of all kinds. Reality is complex. To understand it men have tried Christianity, liberalism, Gandhism, socialism. There's some truth in all these solutions, we're all mendicants of truth'.

other fires

Later that evening, a long, energising conversation in a café on via Notartbartolo near the Falcone tree, with Gianni Gebbia – the renowned Palermitan saxophonist, stalwart of a second generation of Freimusik improvisers in Europe and Japan, and the city of Palermo’s curator for music and dance over a three-year period towards the end of Leoluca Orlando’s Palermo Spring in the late 1990s (1). He groans audibly, and comically, when I tell him what I’ve been doing. “These are extraordinary people of course, and it’s essential to remember them; but a singular focus on the mafia creates a partial perspective that overlooks a great deal, and there’s a real risk of losing other memories, extinguishing other fires in this small city. We also have to look elsewhere and remember differently. Palermo may be sad and “third world”, but it is so much more. We have to give other things their rightful place too”.

Gebbia is at pains to stress Palermo’s historical importance as cultural meeting point, and his sense of the imperative to help restore that line; “for me, this is antimafia”. He reminds me that it was in this city that Lampedusa’s wife Alessandra was one of the early pioneers of psychoanalysis, and that Gruppo 63, the influential group of Italian avant garde writers, was founded in Palermo in the 1960s. He reflects on his contact with Pina Bausch and her company in the city during work on Palermo, Palermo – “such deep research on the ground, an extraordinary happy time “ – as well as visits by Kantor and other Polish artists, and a stream of young French choreographers, Butoh practitioners and experimental musicians. 

“All these forms make a significant difference in Palermo, while political forces insist on trashing the city. Here one sees the effect of political choices in such an impolite, rough way. The extreme de-culturation of Italy during the Berlusconi years means that it has to be re-invented from the ground up. And this is a new phase, the city is really broke now. I’m concerned that Sicily is unprepared psychologically and practically for the current situation, but complaining is a very low level of political action and approach. We have to do things, find new models in this time, and without art simply becoming ideology”.

Finally Gebbia describes two related video films he has made recently that propose other topographies of memory. The first film emerged from archival and field research into the first Christian missionaries to land in Japan in the 15th century: Sicilian, Portuguese and Spanish Jesuit monks trained in Sicily. The second film concerns the Japanese painter Otama Kiyohara, who worked and taught in Palermo with her husband, the sculptor Vincenzo Ragusa, from the 1880s to the 1920s. 

“Both films were triggered by Sicily’s largely overlooked historical relations with Japan. I want to break the myth of there being no connection. For me, this is also antimafia. As is my determination not to abandon Palermo. Playing in my own city has always been a mission, even if it’s difficult now; and I still try to present unusual, quality things for Palermo audiences, that’s part of its participation”.

(1) As a saxophonist, Gebbia is known for a circular breathing technique that he learnt in particular from Sardinian masters of the launedda (bagpipe) tradition. As well as programming many festivals of performance and music in Sicily, Gebbia is also a long-term practitioner of Katsugen Undo and an ordained lay Zen Buddhist monk. For further details of his many musical recordings and collaborations (with Evan Parker, Fred Frith, Butoh artists and others), and the film projects described here, Nanbanjin (2011) and O’tama monogatari (2012), see his website here

Images: (top) photograph of Gianni Gebbia by Claudio Casanova/AAJ Italia; (bottom) Otama Kiyohara self-portrait, 1884. 

gravity's pull

In a café off Via della Libertà, looking through a folder of images that have haunted me for years, taken by two of the great chroniclers of Palermo’s suffering and injustices. Firstly, Letizia Battaglia, one of Italy’s most celebrated photographers and a legendary figure in the city who, from the mid 1970s, obsessively catalogued hundreds of mafia killings, funerals, arrests, trials, chain-smoking prosecutors, illegal backstreet horse races, religious festivals, and the embattled daily lives of women and children at home and in the street. 

Shattered bodies, crumbling buildings, fragile dreams. Over 600,00 images, all in black and white: an unflinching archive of death and life in a war zone. 

Over the past 40 years, Letizia has also been a filmmaker, theatre director, writer, publisher, elected councillor, and environmentalist. As Leoluca Orlando’s combative, outspoken ‘Commissioner of Liveability’ in the heady days of the ‘Palermo Spring’, famously she took to the streets of the old city with a team of council workers to clear away rubbish and needles, replant gardens and parks, in a effort to reclaim pride in public spaces. Of the thirty-three resplendent palm trees she planted on the derelict seafront, in the site of an ancient grove, only three survive today; the others are sawn-off stumps. 

Now in her late 70s, and largely in retreat from public life, her most recent photographic projects explore a ‘working through’ of mourning by superimposing portraits of Palermitan women over her earlier images of violence: an unsettling frictional montage of bloody (masculine) past and contemplative (feminine) present that invites reflection on uncertain future possibilities.

And secondly, Shobha, Letizia’s daughter, a photographer of international reputation in her own right. She arrives for our meeting to find me looking at one of her mysterious images; it shows a young girl in a long cape with expansive wings, her back towards the camera, as if flying quietly along this shuttered backstreet in Vucciria, past a dog asleep in the gutter, towards the market stalls just visible in the distance. “Ah yes, the angel, she brings a different quality of energy. We need blessings in this city. We need imagination and poetry”. 

Since her return to Palermo in the mid 1980s, having lived and studied abroad, Shobha’s work as a photographer has complemented and developed her mother’s, her own critical rage contoured differently by living and working elsewhere for much of the year and by a determination to “pursue life rather than death. The opposite of my mother’s images, and yet exactly the same impulse. We are both on the side of life. Palermo is above all a schooling in compassion. Extreme contradictions live so closely together here. You have to pass through pain to move forward, and I’m not afraid of that. What I really fear is ignorance and forgetting, that’s the void where the mafia and other abuses of power thrive. 

"When I first came back to Palermo, I threw myself into that beautiful, optimistic movement around Falcone and Borsellino, Orlando and others. After years of terrible violence and corruption, there was a renewed sense of life, of awakening, generosity, support, a collective endeavor to make things the best they could be; and for ten years I photographed life. But since then so much of this has been compromised and destroyed, and people forget what’s possible. And once more Palermo feels like an abandoned child ... 

"There are still people of such quality here, angels who bring light, and there is always beauty to be found in everyday life; but sometimes it feels like the city’s falling backwards into the darkness again. It's not all shit of course; but I live in the moment, and this is a dark moment”.

Shobha describes her recent international projects and how they relate to her work in Palermo: women labourers in Karnataka cutting stone in caves, driving trucks; women disfigured by acid attacks in Bangladesh; refugee nuns in a temple in Cambodia. “Always the same ethic. How to use photography to give light to a person’s dignity. How to bear witness to suffering with honesty and compassion”. 

She talks animatedly about teaching photography in Sicily, working with single mothers, autistic and Down’s syndrome kids, and about the professional training workshops she runs here and internationally: “I try to teach people to be aware, to be awake and ready, here now. I try to teach attention. Attention is hope”. 

Finally, she reflects on the differences between Palermo and her other home in India, where “lightness is mixed into the gravity of everyday life, there’s a greater softness and buoyancy there that supports people’s belief in the possibility of growth and change. In Palermo gravity has such an aggressive pull, its heaviness sucks people down, eats their energy. Here we have to really struggle to react and rebel against inertia, to pull ourselves from the mess. Last year this café was firebombed three times within a month. Why? Pizzo, competition, territory. Small minds. Because it’s nice. A normal life is not possible here. It’s the Wild West”. 
For Shobha's website, and examples of her projects internationally, see here

For Letizia Battaglia, see her book Passion Justice Freedom: Photographs of Sicily, New York: Aperture (1999); and Giovanna Calvenzi's collection, Letizia Battaglia: Sulle ferrite dei suoi sogni, Milan: Mondadori (2010). For a recent Observer article by Peter Jinks about her work (4 March 2012), see here

Photograph of Letizia Battaglia and Shobha:
© Cristina Garcia Rodero 

Friday, 28 September 2012

omnia vincit amor

In a much discussed passage in his essay on the uncanny, Sigmund Freud described getting lost in Genoa and walking in circles only to return unwittingly and repeatedly to a site of the city’s (and his) repressed fears and desires, the red-light district. During my trajectories through Palermo over the years I have often returned, despite myself, to the Ucciardone prison. Looping through unfamiliar back streets near the docks and, as if sleepwalking, once more bumping into the towering pock-marked walls of this notorious early nineteenth century Bourbon institution. 
Often referred to in the past as ‘the university of the mafia’ or ‘the mafia hotel’, in recent years the Ucciardone has been largely superseded by a new complex, the Pagliarelli, out on the city’s ring road; nonetheless it still holds many prisoners. As a structure of power and site of affect-laden memory it remains unsettling and alienating. Its brutal performance of authority, the lingering spectres of those it has incarcerated, the unimaginable violence and suffering it has contained, all conspire to conjure a gravitational pull that seems to haunt and suck so much of the life out of this area of the city.

Writing in 1956, a few months after his release from the Ucciardone, the activist and pacifist Danilo Dolci remembers the “pained eager eyes” of long-term prisoners “watching intently through the bars two cats copulating in the garden below, while the prison radio blared out a boxing match; and, high on the outside wall, one could read the hypocritical carved words: Omnia vincit amor” (quoted in McNeish, Fire Under the Ashes, 1965: 134).

Today the prison somehow finds me again, but this time I determine to contest its toxic power in some pissy act of resistance by walking its circumference while wishing away its raisons d’être: lasso it within the dream of the city being able to enact a better version of itself, something like that. Years beforehand, I had found a tiny niche in the prison wall from within which a faded miniature of Santa Rosalia looked out impassively at passersby, a skull balanced on a red bible in one hand, the powdery remains of flowers at her feet. There’s no sign of her today, just an abject corridor of traffic fumes, abandoned trash, dog shit, graffiti (FORZA NUOVA CONTRA IL COMMUNISMO), gouges in the stone, bodged repairs. 

Every twenty paces or so, I take a photograph of the surface of the wall with the vague notion of reconfiguring its architectural integrity by creating a composite linear collage that could be laid out flat like a pathway, rolled into a Mobius strip or punctured with portals giving on to other vistas of love conquering all. 

Then a sudden shout in Italian from above:
- ‘Ey Americano! Buon giorno!’
Looking up over the wall, the grilled window of one end-of-block cell is just visible from the street, sun-bleached rags and old clothing hanging from the metal bars. Two pairs of hands wave enthusiastically, a tiny flutter of humanity, and I wave back.
- ‘Hello hello! What are you doing?’
It’s a young man’s voice. His face remains invisible, just his hands and those of a silent cellmate in the afternoon light. I cup my hands to my mouth and shout back:
- ‘I’m walking and looking’.
- ‘A posto! Great! … Will you walk and look for me?’

do something

On foot to Brancaccio, a notoriously disaffected suburb just south of the old city of Palermo, towards the church of Padre Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Puglisi: a Roman Catholic priest who in the early 1990s was outspoken in his criticism of the church for its silence towards organized crime, and openly confronted the pervasive mafia presence in his San Gaetano parish. 

As a community priest renowned for his patience and good humour, Puglisi focused on trying to foster the cultural and social conditions for a gradual erosion of fearful acquiescence and omertà, establishing recreational facilities and educational support for young people that affirmed possibilities other than that of criminality, and, from the pulpit, quietly insisting on the incompatibility of Christian values with criminal activity. 

Provocatively in this context, he marked the anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death with a commemorative mass, and invited members of the Antimafia Commission to a school debate. In the face of repeated threats, he refused donations for religious festivals from those in odore di mafia, and rejected a mafia construction contract for church repairs; the doors of the church were firebombed. 

Finally, on the morning of 15 September 1993, his 56th birthday, the embattled priest was shot at close range outside his home beside the church. According to one of his killers who turned state witness after arrest, as they approached him he smiled and said, “I have been expecting you” ('Me lo aspettavo’). His well-known rhetorical question, an interrogative challenge to inertia, passivity and tacit complicity that is still associated with him, was taken up and echoed in graffiti around Brancaccio and elsewhere: “E sé qualcuno fa qualche cosa?” ('And what if someone were to do something?')

In the summer of 2012, the Vatican formally recognised Puglisi’s ‘martyrdom’, and set in motion the process of his beatification as a saint.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Thursday, 7 June 2012

dad (6): crawl

I enjoyed your little film, Dad. Thought you were great! It's hilarious.

Which film?

You know, the village cricket film. It's lovely. I saw it on YouTube. (49-51 secs.)

Oh yes.

Fine bit of eye acting on your part, it's brilliant.

Oh good. Blink and you'll miss it.

I thought you stole the show!

Most of me is on the cutting room floor, as they say. He was here for hours.

It's a nice film, really well made.

Yes he's very good. Very professional.

Yes, you can tell. We both really liked it ... I'm in a couple of performances in coming weeks, weirdly. First one's on the main stage at the Barbican next weekend. Quite daunting.

Oh, what's that?

It's a Pina Bausch performance.


Pina Bausch. You know, you sent me a cutting once saying, 'This is the sort of thing you'd like'. German choreographer, one of my favorite artists ever, really. She died a couple of years ago.

Oh. B.A.U ...

... S.C.H. Bausch.

Thought so. I'll look her up. Do you have to dance?

Not really. The dancers dance, and do all sorts of things; they're astonishing. I'm in a kind of chorus of men, twenty of us. Extras, really. An odd mixed bunch. We do bits and pieces. I get my shirt off and iron it. I crawl. I polish my shoes ...

You crawl ...

Yes, I love that bit. It's very immersive.


It's a huge event, Dad. There's forty something people in it. It's part of a cycle of ten performances, all made by the Bausch company in different cities around the world. Santiago, Rome, Japan, India, Palermo - this one was first made in Lost Angeles, it's sort of a response to California. She was my favorite choreographer, beautiful. It's extraordinary to see them at work. They're super nice.

Oh good. What's it called?

'Nur Du', 'only you'.

N.O ...

N.U.R. new word D.U: it means 'only you' in German.

Oh yes. 'Nur Du'.

It's part of the programme of cultural events for the Olympics.

Ah, the Cultural Olympiad. What do they call this kind of thing - is it dance theatre?

Yes, exactly. I guess Pina Bausch was the core figure in dance theatre in Europe. 'Tanz theater'. It's a fantastic thing to do, I'm really excited. Just have to make sure I don't collide with some long-limbed dancer in full flight. Or fall off the front of the stage.

No, you don't want to do that.

There's a dangerous drop at the front lip. And it's quite dark. It would make for a spectacular one-off performance, a dive into the lap of someone in the front row.

What do you mean, you crawl? Is there a story?

Not a story as such, it's a sequence of images really. Some of it's like Surrealist painting, maybe. The crawling happens in front of these giant sequoia trees, there's a kind of forest onstage. All of us crawl - the people in the chorus, most of the Bausch dancers, in suits or frocks - very slowly through the space, with our heads down, while three or so of the dancers dance. There's music. It's like a dream image ... 

Oh. Do you have to rehearse?

Yes. Yes, of course.

And do you get paid?

Yes, I do, it's a proper performance. They're really well known, she's probably one of the most famous choreographers of the past 30 years or so. All sorts of people will be in the audience, she has serious fans: Alan Rickman, Wim Wenders ...

Bim who?

... you know, the director of 'Paris Texas'. Fiona Shaw, Antony Gormley. 

Antony Gormley. Oh.

I don't do much, probably 15 to 20 minutes out of three hours - it's a bit blink and you'll miss it too - but I'm really chuffed to be involved. 

Oh good. I'll look her up.

And then I'm supposed to be in another performance over the summer, at the Tate. It's a piece made by a young guy called Tino Sehgal.

Tina who?


Tina Seagull. Never heard of her.

Him. Tino. S.E.H.G.A.L. 

S.E.H ...

... G.A.L. He's half German.


You know the big entrance hall, the giant space on the way in to Tate Modern?

Yes, I've been there.

Well they've had a series of large scale commissions over the years for that space. Called the Unilever Commissions. You know, that guy who created the weather system, with a giant sun and clouds ...

Mmm, no.

Anyway, it's part of that series. Tino Sehgal has the commission to make something that runs throughout the summer. Starts in July. Three months.

And what do you have to do?

Well I'm not exactly sure as yet. I'll found out more next week, there's some meetings, I'll let you know. But he's a conceptual artist. He doesn't make things, objects; he makes events, encounters. He calls them 'constructed situations'. A while ago he took all of the art objects out of the Guggenheim in New York, and people walked up the spiral slope, one by one, led by a child, then someone slightly older, and so on all the way to someone really quite old at the top - the conversations there were about progress.


For the piece at the Tate there's a big group of us, and I think we meet people who come in to the gallery and talk with them. It's structured at some level, but inevitably different depending on who you actually meet and how they engage, what they do.

So you talk to people.


About what?

Well, I'll let you know more about it once I know a bit more. There are themes, topics, but a lot of it's improvised.

What do they call that kind of thing?

Mmm, I guess it's performance. Or probably conceptual art.


He studied dance when he was younger, and something of that remains. But it's not really dance.

Oh. Do you crawl? (chortle)

No, I don't crawl ...

You'll have to be careful who you engage in conversation, you don't want to get involved with a psychopath.

A psychopath?

He might punch you in the nose.

What? How many psychopaths have you ever met in the Tate?

Well, judging by some of the art in there, there's quite a few around. Some of the art's psychopathetic.

Blimey. Just because you don't much like it - that's a preposterous thing to say. So because you don't like Mark Rothko's paintings does that mean he was a psychopath?

Oh, just trying to bring a bit of levity to the conversation.

Oh, right.

And I don't always understand the words you use. Your words mean different things. I have to use a dictionary.


You'll need to be careful who you talk to.

Have you not understood this conversation?

Yes yes, this sort of thing is fine.

Well then I can talk with people. I can talk with you.

Yes, but I have to analyse your writing.

Oh ... Oh dear. It's just a conversation, Dad.


And do you get paid?