October 31, 2019

A short excerpt from Chapter Three of the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


There was a moment when I was working on this book when I started to lose my mind a little bit and thought: what needs to happen is that the telepathic kittens save us from ecological collapse. I became more and more obsessed with the idea. And it wasn’t clear whether I thought the kittens needed to save us within the narrative or outside of it, in reality, which I might have been somewhat losing my grasp on. And of course this thought is yet another variation on the kinds of stories where something – some entity or ideology or technology – comes to save us from ourselves. I believe such stories basically to be a form of despair disguised as hope, a form of wishful thinking that can be surprisingly convincing when performed with the right combination of insight and craft, which this particular version of it is obviously not.


October 25, 2019

Patti Smith Quote


When I was really young and struggling, the advice that William S. Burroughs gave me was, build a good name, keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work. If you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.

– Patti Smith


October 24, 2019

In love with the movement of the world


[This text was written for Ula Sickle's project Free Gestures - Wolne Gesty presented at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. It is also published in the book of the same name.]


I raise my arm. If I were to have done this in an auction I might have just purchased something. Something I most likely can’t afford. If I were to have done this in a classroom I might have had to give the answer to a question or my thoughts on a specific topic. Answers and thoughts I might not have. I raise my hand on the street, at random, or here in the gallery and perhaps it means nothing. It is bad pantomime. I reach for something just above me, just out of reach. A metaphor or analogy. I raise my hand with an open palm or with a fist. I have to decide if I raise my right hand or my left, if it makes any difference which one I choose, or if I would prefer that someone else decide. If you have to raise your hand before you are allowed to speak, and I would prefer not to speak, nonetheless I raise my hand. In the group, at the meeting, we decided decisions would be made based on the desires of the majority. After lengthy debate and discussion, these desires would be ascertained through an open vote, your participation in each vote would be signaled by raising your hand. All in favor: I raise my hand. All against: I raise my hand. I know I am not allowed to vote twice but I raise my hand.


Across the street I see a person. They are a bit too far away. I cannot tell if they’re male or female or some other gender. They are walking along with the rest of the crowd and during this time I do not notice them, they do not stand out. But then they do the thing. I can only describe the thing as suddenly, unexpectedly raising both arms. But the thing is not raising both arms. It is something else. The arms are involved but the rest of the body is involved as well. It is always only one person who does the thing but everyone else is involved as well. Everyone on the street and everyone in their thoughts. I am watching the street and think I see them do the thing but then believe I’m mistaken, that I haven’t actually seen them do anything. I have a theory. My theory is that the thing is a small form of everyday political protest. It involves lifting both arms but also involves the entirety of the body, of the person and of the social setting that surrounds them. I have no particular evidence or reason for believing my theory to be true. It is less like a theory and more like a feeling. It is true. When I have a few hours to kill, when I’m unsure what to do next, I aimlessly stare out my window hoping by pure chance to see someone spontaneously do the thing. I think maybe I saw it yesterday. I think maybe I will see it again tomorrow.


I said: I understand that you’re angry at me. And if you want to express your anger you can punch me in the face. You have my permission. You can punch me in the face gently or with great force. This is not something I’m saying to you now. I don’t want you to punch me in the face. I’m not, I repeat, not giving you my permission to do so. This is something that happened to me many years ago. I knew she was angry at me and wanted to give her permission to express her anger. To effectively and physically express her anger. I said: I understand. And what I understood was anger. I was wondering how to give it permission to become physical. She did not punch me in the face, suspecting that I most likely didn’t actually want her too, and she was most likely right. I told myself: these are all questions of relative freedom. It is misery to possess anger and yet have absolutely nothing to do with it. If we had taken a vote, a vote as to whether or not she should punch me in the face, she would have voted no and I would have voted yes and it would be a stalemate. She said: I don’t want to punch you in the face, I want you to change your ways. I said: I don’t want to change my ways, I want you to punch me in the face. This only made her more angry. Still she didn’t punch.


I lie down, stiff as a board. You have to lie down for what you stand for. You don’t only have to stand. You can also lie down. I lie down alone in the most public of spaces. I know what it means to be tired but that is not the reason I lie down. That is never the reason. Some people think lying down has something to do with sex but I know they are wrong. I’m going to change the topic now. The new topic is looking straight ahead but at the ceiling. Looking straight ahead at the future which also happens to be the ceiling. It is not the glass ceiling most known to us through metaphors of inequality. It is the ceiling you see while you are looking straight ahead as if looking off towards the horizon. It is the ceiling one finds by lying down in public but ceilinged spaces, by lying down during a protest, by letting ones body go limp. In this position you can raise one leg as if raising an arm, as if you know the answer to a question in the classroom or wish to signal your desire to make a purchase in the auction hall. You can raise one leg as if raising an arm but the gesture is significantly different. We have all raised a hand but not all of us have necessarily raised a foot. It is not the way we vote. Not yet. A mischievous flexing of the ankle. In order to vote I lie down. I put myself in the way. I put myself in the way of those who are not lying down.


She made an obscene gesture. And because she made an obscene gesture I fell in love. It was so obscene. It made me want to take off all my clothes and raise my hand. Ask for permission. She did not make this gesture in order to impact me. She made it for herself. Of her own free will and for her own free will. She made it to piss off the world. While I stood there naked with my hand raised high, I wondered for a moment just exactly what I was voting for. If I had a choice, I think I would scream: I am voting for the obscene gesture and I am voting for love. They are one and the same thing. (Everyone can see they are one and the same thing.) But I am making this about me when really it is about her. I always do this. We all know the real question is this: how exactly do you imagine the obscene gesture? And how would you make it yourself when the time comes to do so? An obscene gesture is like an army. I am avoiding the question of how I fell in love. But what is love when placed against the strength and fortitude of the obscene gesture. I am writing this in secret. From the depth of our most secret hideout. The secret society of the obscene gesture. Raising both arms in the air. Raising both legs in the air. Arms and legs that know nothing of love. Something to do with the fingers and pelvis and muscles and blood. A small, obscene form of everyday political protest. Of social process. The obscene gesture can also fall in love. In love with its own obscenity. In love with the movement of the world.


October 10, 2019

Lindsay Nixon Quote


So it was that MDMA, and queer love, forced me into my body: my mouth, and my sweaty skin pressed against the rest of the crowd. And it was the dance floor that facilitated queer love. Every weekend, without fail, my young queer kin and I would situate ourselves on dance floors of the prairie rave scene, in an abandoned warehouse or a rented community centre, chasing feeling. We had all been dissociated from our bodies too long, told they were sick with fem mannerisms and thick thighs that were just a little too plentiful, too greedy, for public space. As queer kin, we gifted each other the ability to name desires I had been told I wasn’t worthy of, and let me believe I’m worthy of love, worthy to take up space, and worthy of being fucked, in the small-town queer communities we birthed at those seedy warehouse raves.

Was it Hollinghurst who said the gay novel is dead, even though he should have just said that the yt dude gay novel is dead?

- Lindsay Nixon, nîtisânak


October 4, 2019

Excerpt from a possible third chapter from the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


A few hours later, Petra is sitting in her office alone. As she does most days, she is trying to write. Staring down at the half-empty page in front of her, she thinks hard about just what exactly she’s working on. Deep in her heart she harbors a ridiculous secret. Although she is almost unable to admit it, even to herself, there is a part of her that feels, or hopes, you can save the world with a book, with the book she is currently working, this idea made more ridiculous by the fact that she is writing a novel. But if Ayn Rand could help ruin the world by writing those terrible right wing novels, why can’t she help save it by writing books equally compelling but politically opposite.

Lately she has not been making much progress. If she ever manages to finish it, this will be her eighteenth book. Does any writer really need to write eighteen books? She imagines a different model, a different world, in which instead of some people writing twenty plus books and others writing none, everyone gets to write exactly one book and therefore has to make it count. She loves to read, sometimes she loves to write, and more than anything she loves books, but increasingly she has to admit to herself that books seem just as much a part of the problem as everything else in this world. It was the way they accumulated, every year more and more books filling the bookstores and libraries, more than anyone could ever possibly read. But not only that, there was also the strange way they seemed to cancel each other out. So many people writing books documenting all the violent and devastating ways that ecological breakdown is real and getting worse, and yet then all the opposing corporate interests need to do is covertly (or not so covertly) commission an equal number of books that in blatant or subtle ways call such scientific facts into question. And of course not even an equal amount, just a small number of carefully argued counter-factual books can do the job, making it ever more unclear to the undiscerning reader what is real and what is fiction. In such matters books weren’t anywhere near the most guilty culprit. In newspapers, movies, television and most noticeably online, facts and fictions could scroll by indiscernibly, but the idea that it happens even with books, even with that beloved object, brought along with it a palatable sadness that at times made it difficult to continue writing. And she loved to write. Or at least sometimes she loved to write. If it didn’t do any good, did it really do any harm?

She was getting nowhere with the page in front of her so instead let her mind wander, starting to imagine who Veronika might be meeting and what they might be saying to each other. And then she started to do more than just imagine, she started writing it down:

V was late again. She was always late. The front door of the innocuous looking building had a two-step security protocol: first her fingerprint then her iris, then down the long hallway, through a secret panel in the wall, impossible to identify if you don’t start counting the panels from the very first one, and into a completely unlit elevator which takes you down into the earth the equivalent of a thirty story building. Why all this security every single time, she thinks to herself, but of course she knows why as the familiar elevator sinking feeling lodges in her stomach and she counts the minutes in complete darkness it takes to reach the bottom. Eight minutes. Always exactly eight minutes. For the uninitiated, eight minutes in pitch black freefall might induce panic, but no one was more initiated than V. The elevator smoothly reaches bottom where a second iris scan opens the doors and she’s back in the place she feels most at home, most vital. A long, calmly lit room where they meet at scheduled intervals and effectively work. To the best of her knowledge they are not under surveillance here, though the possibility always exists they might be someday soon. 
– You’re late. 
– I’m always late. 
– That doesn’t make it unworthy of comment. 
– Repetition is the soul of pedagogy. 
Y is staring at a large computer monitor. He has been staring at this computer screen, off and on, for a long as she can remember. On it is the magnification of a single drop of liquid. The liquid they have also been working on for as long as she can remember, still not knowing if it is only scientific fantasy or it might eventually be possible. And yet just a few drops of this fantasy liquid into a tanker full of oil would rapidly transform the oil into a clear, harmless, non-combustible substance, making it financially worthless. (Or at least that’s the hope.) A slight variation might also work on natural gas. And yet it never quite works. Is this the fantasy worth having? Is Y any more convinced it will eventually work than she is? Devoting oneself so fully to the potential of fantasies can also be a backhanded form of despair. 
– Any progress? 
– I don’t know. I haven’t tried it yet. I was waiting for you 
Together they walk to the far end of the room where they can watch the experiment through several panes of thick glass. A few times in the past the experiment has rather violently exploded so they no longer take any risks. Y sits down at the other computer and begins typing the exact same commands he has already typed so many times. As he does so a robot arm carefully positions itself over a petri dish of oil, dropping a single drop of their ongoing experiment directly into the center of it. As it gently ripples outward the darkly viscous liquid gradually turns clear. They’ve seen this happen before, each time getting their hopes up and being disappointed in turn, but this time it looks different. As it is programed to do, the petri dish automatically rolls into a slot in the wall and they both walk back to the large computer screen at the other end of the room. Immediately they can see that something is different, different in a good way. Y is smiling like she’s never seen him smile before. 
– I want to try. 
– Don’t you want to do the rest of the tests first? 
– This looks promising. I want to try. 
– All right. It’s your money. 
Together they walk back to the large rectangular window as the petri dish slides back into its former position. The robot arm lights a single match, dropping it directly into the middle of the petri dish and the flame is completely extinguished as if it had been dropped into a glass of cold water. This has never happened before. Y begins to smile and then laugh. 
– I think that’s it. 
– Are you sure. 
– I’m definitely not sure. But you saw it too. 
– I definitely saw it. 
– I think that’s it. 
Of course there’s also a problem. This liquid is exorbitantly expensive to produce, even a few drops. But there must be a way to keep that information secret. To transform the largest quantity of oil they can find and then simply threaten that they will also transform the rest. To hold that blade over the neck of the fossil fuel industry in order to find out what concessions they can wring out once they have them in a compromised position. But is it really the best strategy? Because once they reveal their hand they will be hunted mercilessly and their days will be numbered. Might it not be better to covertly transform a few carefully chosen oil supplies, leading those in charge to suspect it’s a naturally occurring phenomena, placing every aspect of their self-understanding of their world into question? 
They were now one step closer to obtaining a weapon but what strategy might put it to best use? This was a question to be analyzed and debated for many months to come. Tonight they would celebrate. Y had already sent out the message and the others would be here soon. V couldn’t quite believe it. She now realizes she had never completely believed it would work and perhaps she was wrong. Hadn’t she just seen it with her own eyes? The oil had turned clear and extinguished the flame.

It is late at night when Veronika arrives home and, though she doesn’t completely know why, Petra feels slightly guilty. Guilty for writing about Veronika behind her back. (But, then again, if Veronika is having secret political meetings behind Petra’s back maybe it’s only fair.) And was she really writing about Veronika? Could such a magical and far-fetched story actually be said to be based on anyone from real life? Also there was something undeniably exciting about it, about imagining the love of her life battling corporations and saving the world. In the imagination of literature anything was possible, but was this literature or just some doodle in the corner of a page whose sole purpose was to procrastinate the book she was actually supposed to be working on. (Or could such a doodle eventually become part of the book, be folded back into it.) Petra then wonders if it’s politically irresponsible to write this way, suggesting a few drops of magical scientific liquid can solve the world’s problems, rather than the long, hard toil of activism, dismantling capitalism and collectively finding some other way for humanity to organize itself. She had never thought of it as her job to offer up solutions. And yet, in the current predicament, shouldn’t everyone be working toward a solution, doing whatever they could practically all of the time. (Then again, we’re surrounded by capitalist fantasies. Why not have a few gloriously anti-capitalist fantasies as well.)


As well, you can find my first attempt at a preface here.


October 1, 2019

An excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling


[What follows is an excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART from the chapter concerning The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information:]

There are a few stories we tell (and don’t tell) in The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information that so clearly resonate with my own ongoing struggles with collaboration:

A story about the Fall. About how the Fall had over sixty members, and the reason there were so many is that Mark E. Smith kept firing them. It goes without saying that many former members were less than happy about this situation. Mark E. Smith didn’t write any music and didn’t play an instrument. He only wrote the (generally brilliant) lyrics and spoke/sang them, and also gave commands in the studio and onstage as to how precisely the songs should be played. (In general he wanted them played with greater simplicity and more ferocity.) So members who were no longer with the Fall had written all of their best-known riffs and melodies, and then were later replaced with others who did the same. But Mark E. Smith said they shouldn’t complain, that if past members were all so great then why hadn’t they done anything as great after they left. For Mark E. Smith, himself plus anyone was the Fall. Or as he once notoriously put it: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.”

I believe, or at least hope, that I’m a much gentler soul than Mark E. Smith was. (Or at least more Canadian. And I’m certain that I drink exponentially less.) But the evidence on the table shows that there are many who have worked with PME-ART in the past who no longer work with us. I certainly didn’t fire them, but perhaps there were some who wanted to continue further than they did. Or maybe, on the other hand, they really, really didn’t. I don’t actually know. Over the years there have not been many conversations along these lines. In one sense, this is simply our roots showing: we are structured like an (experimental) theatre company that works with creator/performers on a project-to-project basis. We invite people to work with us on a specific project and then see how it goes. But most of the work is so highly collaborative that this way of explaining the structure never feels completely right to me. I do gravitate toward the idea of “projects,” artistic endeavours with a beginning, middle, and end (as one can see from the way this book is structured). And, at times, I have also felt that me and anyone (and yer granny on bongos) is PME-ART. But most of the time I realize just how untrue this actually is.

(Perhaps all of this also reflects a decision semi-made all those years ago, after sitting in on the Forced Entertainment rehearsals, when I asked them if we should stick with the same people or open up to new collaborators. But it also seems to be a decision I am continuously making and unmaking. I can’t quite let it rest one way or the other.)

The story we tell in The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information about Pavement has to do with their final concert before they broke up (and also a few years before they once again reformed). The lead singer, Stephen Malkmus, walked onstage wearing handcuffs, holding his cuffed hands high above his head, and said: “If you want to know what it feels like to be in a band, this is what it feels like to be in a band.”

But there are also two stories about Pavement that I’ve never told in the show. The first is about how, after Pavement broke up, I read an interview with Malkmus in which he said that Pavement was basically all him: he wrote all the songs, wrote all the guitar parts, and often had to teach the rest of the band the songs several times before they were able to properly play them. (In their early days Pavement recorded a number of songs that were a bit too obviously influenced by the Fall.) Malkmus has now released a number of solo albums (some with his new band, the Jicks) that, in my humble opinion, are nowhere near as good as anything he made with Pavement. So the other members of Pavement clearly must have been contributing a great deal. (Also, to give Malkmus the benefit of the doubt, that was just one interview, maybe he was having a bad day.)

The second untold Pavement story is more apocryphal. I believe my favourite Pavement record is Wowee Zowee, made while they were still high off their first somewhat mainstream success, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and its single “Cut Your Hair.” Wowee Zowee was their most experimental and adventurous album, pushing in different directions with every track while still holding it all together. It was also a relative flop. And I feel they were overly stung by its reception. After that they were less likely to take risks, more likely to play it safe. Somehow I’ve had analogous experiences with PME- ART. Some of our most adventurous works (Unrehearsed Beauty-Le Génie des autres, HOSPITALITY 3: Individualism Was A Mistake) have also been the hardest to tour. I always need to push myself back toward taking artistic risks again. To remember that Wowee Zowee is still the best Pavement record and the world just needs to catch up.

These stories about Pavement and the Fall are perhaps ways for me to reflect on my different position within the group, within any given PME-ART creation process. How I am both one of the gang and the boss, and I suppose it’s not really possible to be both. And yet that is the struggle of the work. The ethical/artistic struggle that can never entirely be solved. Since, at the same time, I’m never only in charge. Within a PME-ART process it is always possible for me to be outvoted or to change course based on the desires of the group. It’s happened often. How to be transparent about my role within the collaborative dynamic? I often hate the lived experience of collaboration but somehow still so fiercely believe in it, knowing it would be so much better if it was the opposite: if I loved collaboration then I wouldn’t even particularly need to believe in it.

(Marie Claire writes that, yes, within PME-ART the leadership is pretty clear, even though it is subject to discussion. But also, it was only through her learning The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information that she came to understand just how much Claudia and Caroline hold and lead the work with me. For the HOSPITALITY/HOSPITALITÉ series, this has been absolutely true.)

The story about Parenthetical Girls is one we used to tell in the show but for some reason don’t anymore. When I saw the Parenthetical Girls play in Berlin there was one moment that will always stick with me. During a split-second pause in a song (I no longer remember which one) they all smoothly and effortlessly switched instruments. The drummer stepped over his drum kit and slid into the guitar strap that was held open for him, as the guitarist stepped over to the keyboard, the keyboard player was handed the bass, and the bass player sat down behind the drums without missing a beat. Or at least that’s how I remember it. This is also a story about collaboration, about those ecstatic moments when it really works, all the pieces sliding together without a hitch. I wonder how many times they had to rehearse it before it worked, or if it happened that smoothly every night. A moment of grace that can only be achieved through fully working together. (This actually isn’t the kind of thing I usually like in performance. Too virtuosic for my tastes. But in this case it caught me off guard and lodged in my memory accordingly.)

Another story about Parenthetical Girls. In 2016 I had a residency in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. And, while there, I would tell everyone I met that I loved the band. And everyone responded that they knew frontman Zac Pennington, or one of the other members, but no one had ever seen them live or listened to any of their records. (Parenthetical Girls put on a phenomenal live show.) As someone said to me: “Of course I know Zac. He’s really good at karaoke. Is his band any good?” As the French expression goes: you can never be a prophet in your own village.