Step 4, ‘You must be a poet, a lady of evil luck, desiring to be what you’re not’. Vasiliki Sifostratoudaki with Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert, Yellow Brick, Athens, October 2017

Dear Vasiliki,

I came to the discussion you had at Yellow Brick with Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert about a week and a half ago. It’s one of the first things that I went to when I arrived back in Athens and I wanted to let you know that I loved it.

It was great exercise for my brain. Since leaving university, even though I still read a lot, I don’t get to be part of, or hear discussions like that very often. I’m sure I only understood about half of it, I’m still thinking about it all now. I’m a feminist but I haven’t read much feminist theory, so it was great to get some more insight. I had a googling frenzy of the women that Federica mentioned, especially Carla Lonzi.

Apart from the discussion itself I also liked how you set everything up; that it was hospitable, that there was food and that at the end the discussion just kept on going. Eventually I had to leave so I have no idea when the discussion actually finished.

I really like the premise of Yellow Brick too. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about working with as little hierarchy as possible, in a collaborative way, somewhere between an art practice and a curatorial practice.

I have my fingers crossed that you’ll have another event before I leave Athens again.

Thanks,

Jan

p.s. I forgot to mention two of my favourite things; watching your cat’s dare devil antics and the look on Jan Verwoert’s face every time it looked like it was going to leap off the balcony. Oh yeah, and Jan Verwoert’s hand gestures while he talked.

p.p.s. Sorry I stole your event picture from facebook. I couldn’t concentrate on what everyone was saying and take a picture at the same time, I hope that’s okay?

Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent

Perfume, Somerset House, London, July 2017

Dear Curators, Claire and Lizzie,

I work as part of artist collective Sociable NonScience, as part of our practice we write love or hate letters to artists, exhibitions etc. that we have visited. As part of my personal art practice I work with smell and the senses a lot, which is why I was interested in your exhibition and am writing you this letter.

Is this a love or a hate letter? I don’t know yet. It’s not a hate letter but there are some things niggling at me. I think the root of them might be that on one hand this is an exhibition that brings together ten perfumes and looks at scent in the way a museum might, but on the other hand each perfume is presented in its own room like an art installation and this made me feel conflicted about how to read it.

You started with a room of historically significant perfumes displayed under bell jars the way that perfume gets displayed in fancy department stores. For me, this gave a nod to perfumes’ place as a highly commercial product to be consumed. It was good to get an overall sense of the history of perfumery. You had made it so that we could smell one or two of these perfumes. Part of me would like to have been able to smell them all, but maybe that would have been overwhelming, the way I find it to be in department stores. Is that why you decided to limit it?

Next – was the beginning of the series of rooms in which each perfume in the exhibition was presented individually and I wasn’t really sure what I was meant to do at that point. It isn’t a given that you can pick up or touch anything in an exhibition and so I needed some form of pointer to tell me that I could. The invigilators* didn’t feel any need to enlighten me, except one of them when I was almost half way through, who explained that it was your intention that we could sit/lie in some of the spaces and in some cases pick up the scented parts of the installation. He also explained that I could use the numbered card you had provided to note down my response to each perfume and in one case, paint it. It was interesting to realize that a lot of these cards, that people had filled in, didn’t describe peoples’ impressions of the perfumes, only labeled what they thought they smelled, which is a nice way to illustrate the lack of language we have to describe smell. I liked that you displayed them as part of the show.

You clearly put a lot of thought into how each room and according perfume was installed. I wonder how much of this came from the perfumers and how much from you, the curators? I really appreciated the effort you had gone to, to tell the story of each perfume but at the same time I found it a bit too illustrative, maybe this is because I was judging it as an art exhibition and not a museum exhibition? For me smell’s ambiguity is one of its strengths. It felt contradictory to have an exhibition about avant guard perfumes that relied heavily on visual set-ups. So I’m wondering if all your visual clues were just too much for me? If they would have worked better if they had been subtle hints that allowed more room for my brain to stretch and wander a little further?

I feel like this is a harsh criticism because there were elements of some of the set-ups that I loved, for instance; the wooden benches with the tree bark still attached, it was lovely to sit on them and rub my fingertips on the bark. The different vessels you had to contain the scents in each room were also really nice, well thought out and designed. In some cases I think these alone would have been enough of a nod to what each scent was about. They very succinctly allowed me to have a personal subjective experience between the tactility of the object and the smell it emitted.

You kept the identity of each perfume/r secret until a room after the installations that gave information about each perfume and the perfumer who made it. I’m not sure that keeping this piece of information back made so much sense when you were already giving a variety of visual clues as to the components of each perfume and had the voices of the perfumers talking about their perfume in each room too.

I did like that you had the voice of each perfumer talking about the perfume in the respective rooms, except that the sound carried between the space making it hard to focus on just one voice at a time. Again, I thought maybe you’d done this on purpose as after all, who gets to use only one sense at a time or smell only one thing at a time in daily life? But, trying to concentrate on what I could smell whilst having layers of sound to deal with and then the elaborate set-ups of the rooms just made it harder to concentrate on the scents. It would have been okay if it was a sound installation but in this instance it became too distracting for me.

Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind on the day I visited to settle enough to appreciate what you had done. You did get me thinking again about how and why I use smell in my own work and all the issues around that. So thanks and sorry for not being able to say I loved it, even though there were lots of things I loved about it,

Jan

* This is just F.Y.I. but I need to mention your invigilators (except the aforementioned helpful one.) They seemed to be on a mission to disrupt all your efforts to create a different ambience in each space. I got to listen to them have discussions about whose break was when and who would cover which room, twice. They also had personal conversations across the gallery and marched about from space to space disrupting the flow of the gallery space and squeezing in between the walls you had built to create the rooms within the space. They also had the windows open because it was a warm day, which let in a lot of noise from outside. This was a shame because it undid all the work you had done and made it hard to be in the space and contemplate what for me are some of the really interesting ideas and premises about working with smell; it’s ability to take us directly to another place/time, its invisibility and the lack of language to describe it. Sorry for moaning, but in this instance I was annoyed for you.

Runes or Rhubarb, Damian Magee, Platform, Belfast, 2017.

Runes or Rhubarb, Platform, Belfast 7/08/17

Dear Damian,

I went to see your show at Platform while I was at home last week, a friend had recommended it to me.

I loved it.

I think I probably liked it so much because it’s very similar to my own work;

  • I make hand bound books, and you make hand bound books.
  • The content for my books is derived from obsessive reading, notating and dissecting of other people’s words (books) in an attempt to reduce them to their base elements and to find out how language works. You also obsessively dissect other people’s words and pull them apart to find out how they work.
  • I show this process as part of my work, you show this process as part of your work. (I really liked how in ‘Build Babel’ you blew up what looked like an A4 sheet of text with all your notations on it from google translate). 

    Sorry, this is a terrible picture I took with my phone.
  • I tried to translate these dissected bits of language into images, sounds and smells to bypass language, or textual language at least, and so did you with ‘Logos’.

I liked that you use spoken language and vernacular with its ability to morph and change shape quickly over time as your starting point. I don’t do that, I use ‘literary classics’ or sometimes episodes of Casualty (I don’t recommend that). I’ve been thinking a lot about rhythm in my work recently. Language has rhythm especially when it’s spoken but good writers seem to be able to create it too. Sorry I have no idea where I’m going with this, it’s because your work has got me thinking, thanks for that. I think that’s probably the biggest compliment I could give anyone about their work.

After I visited your exhibition I went to my old studio to visit my friend Lisa and do a bit of work of my own there while I was visiting. I told her about your show and she said that she knew you and that you normally have a studio there too (Cathedral Studios). Maybe we’re studio twins who were separated at birth?

Next time I’m home or if you’re in London (I live near there), can we meet up? It might be awkward as fuck* because we don’t actually know each other but I’m willing to take the risk,

Jan

*I just read an article online that said it wasn’t cool to use the prefix ‘super’ anymore and that now we should all be saying ‘as fuck’ instead.

Unite Against Dividers

Dear Unite Against Dividers,

I was really keen to come and be part of this event because I loved the spirit of it. After all the bitterness and gloom triggered by Brexit among other things it felt good to take part in an event that wanted to inspire positive action. Looking at all the issues we face as artists and human beings head on and trying to find practical ways to deal with them together.

It was great that you began by feeding us, generously! Generosity of spirit ran throughout the whole weekend. I liked that everyone was equal and differences welcomed/accepted, that there was a sense of togetherness, with a free flow of information running between people leading the workshops and the participants.

The 2 workshops that I attended on Saturday were, ‘A Solution Lies in Salt & Spice’ and ‘How to talk to people you disagree with’. My decision to join the ‘A Solution lies in salt & Spice – How does a person of colour navigate through a world dominated by white centric thought and action?’ was a last minute one. If I’m honest I was doing that cop-out thing of thinking it wasn’t for me because I’m not a person of colour. So I decided on the spur of the moment I should give it a try. I’m really glad I did, not just because I got to try to make and eat Sambusa (Somali samosas), but because it challenged me to think outside of my own experience, to decolonialise my thought process. Listening to Fozia and Edwina, who ran the workshop, talking two questions formed in my head around when people talk about making Britain great again; Firstly, when was it great before and secondly, who was it great for? I’m thinking it was never that great for most people and especially for the people living in its colonies. Also that for many people living in the U.K. the notion of a Great Britain is a remnant of greener grass from the past, something that was/is fed into a national psyche that ends in people being stuck in a cycle of negativity.

Fozia and Edwina’s answer to this was through food, how exchange, dialogue and understanding can come through preparing, eating and talking about food. They took a heavy subject and found a way to create a space of lightness to talk about it without losing any of its weight.

This letter’s gotten a bit longer than I meant, I’ll try and be more snappy.

The second workshop I went to was about how to talk to people you disagree with, and probably in brackets, without losing your rag, becoming incoherent or being labelled a. a silly little girl b. a hysterical woman or c. a crackpot. This was very useful, I hate confrontation and especially with aggressive people, I’m likely to sidle quietly into the background while trying not to make eye contact. Maybe next time I find myself trying to talk about weighty issues I’ll be a bit braver. It’ll probably be with my Mum.

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I also loved the info. guide/brochure you gave us all, it was great that you shared the budget for the event, who got paid and the cost of everything. It gives a very real guide to how events like this happen, and how you were able to make it happen. It made it feel a bit less daunting to anyone who has never organised an event or done something activist before (I don’t think I’ve used the word activist correctly there). The bingo game of phrases you might say or overhear during the day that you included on the back brought some self-deprecating humour that was nice, (I found a few of the phrases in this letter and changed them to make myself feel like less of a cliché).

The sharing and openness of information was again a generous gesture, that ran throughout not just the event but also your website http://makeitclear.eu/ with the sharing of things like reading lists and links to other organisations. This shows a very simple way of unlocking a door to information about lots of the subjects that you dealt with. I think for me it was the lack of competitiveness and willingness to be open about what you thought and to learn from other people that made this such a refreshing event to be at.

Thanks,

Jan

Ps on the Sunday I went to The Walking Reading Group on Commons. I went to one of these walks before and bored Bee & Sinead to tears with how much I loved it, so I’m going to do a separate letter for that too, sometime soon.

Mary Conroy’s plant pots at Ormston House Sept. 16

Mary Conroy at Ormston House, Limerick September 2016
Mary Conroy at Ormston House, Limerick September 2016
Mary,
It was a Monday and we had forgotten that the gallery would be closed, so we gawped in the window instead. I had seen them before at the Ursula Burke opening, but this was my first proper look.
I liked the snaky trails. Like dream-time song-line maps. Where are you going? The green is really nice as well, the different types of green, especially the long one that leans to the left at the top. The planters are grey and earthy, but dryer than that. Their solidness is calming, even with their wheels. Wheely good! How many sides do they have? I forget! Is it 8? They don’t look like a “display” display, and I like that. Because we were peering in the window, I enjoyed the added extra of the faint film of me reflected over it all. Jan looked quite funny at the window taking photos of inside. Inside is careful and clear, and there she was lined up in the rain and the wind beside the posters for shows and plays. I wonder what we looked like to the planters. 🙂
B.

 

Dear Mary Conroy’s Plant Pots at Ormston House,

I visited Ormston House with Bee Carroll a few days ago to see the opening of a show there. I walked in the door and immediately noticed that they had really nice plant pots in the entrance. (I love any kind of plants inside). I got rushed past them to where the free beer was, Mary you where there too.

Anyway, I went back to look at the plant pots because I liked them so much. I liked that they are hexagonal (?) and dark grey, and that it looks a bit like they have fossils in them. They are sort of Giant’s Causeway-like, or at least they remind me of that bit of coastline, I used to go fossil hunting round there when I was a kid. If I’m honest I still do, there’s a pile of them on my kitchen windowsill now.

Getting back to your pots, the dark grey colour looked really great with the plants. It was also nice that they were at different heights, so it felt more like how you would see them in nature. The stands that you made for them where really nice, it was great that they matched the hexagonal shape of the pots and are on those tiny wheels. It’s nice that the stands are smooth and shiny with the heavier and rougher texture of the pots.

Best,

Jan

Michael Rowsome’s Instagram (foxyrobber)

Michael Rowsome's (foxyrobber) Instagram Feed
Michael Rowsome’s (foxyrobber) Instagram Feed

I was in the Tate Modern on the opening weekend of the new building, and stood there in the middle of All The Art and All The People, showing my friends your Instagram feed. You have an interesting Instagram account with posts of funny things, pretty things and thoughtful things. You have lots of photos of clouds, and the cloud photo I was showing my friends was the one you took when your mother woke you up at 5am, terrified. She was looking for her mother, who had passed away four years previously, and you both went outside for a walk and let nature transport you away from it all. You wrote a piece about what you were both going through, with the hashtags #nature #healing #escapism #hope #dementia #sky. .

I also showed them some of your singing videos. They had the same WTF reaction I had when I first saw them, and then wanted to watch some more just like I also did when I first watched them. They have evolved since then to incorporate dance and facial contortions, and one amazing one with a purple smoothie leaking out of your mouth. Sometimes you can be claustrophobicly close, your face right up to the screen, like you are pressed into a little box. Other times you are flying about your kitchen. I feel a little voyeuristic in staring into your life, but then you stare right back at me, into mine, into me.

Luckily there are cloud photos in between videos to break it up.

B.

 

Dear Micheal Rowsome’s Instagram Account,

When I first looked at your Instagram account I wasn’t sure what to make of it, or how to look at it (maybe I mean judge it, is it an art work or a notebook full of interesting thoughts etc.?). I spoke to my friend Bee who had recommended that we (Sociable NonScience) should write a love or hate letter to it.

To be clear this is a love letter.

From my perspective it feels like an artwork on its own terms, whether you mean for it to be or not. Maybe defining it as an artwork is only important to me?

But setting that aside, I really liked the honesty and sincerity of the images and videos you post. I was going to say naivety but that’s not it at all. It feels like you’ve made a conscious choice not to fit into a genre or idea of what’s cool or not. For me that’s a massive positive.

I love that you post images of the sky at different times / places, it’s totally relatable without being trite. I especially like the videos of you dancing in your kitchen, they have an infectious sense of joy and you sharing it with us is really generous.

More personally they remind me of the aforementioned Bee. She chooses houses to live in based on the kitchen’s capacity for dancing.

A recurring theme that I keep coming back to is a need for self care, by which I mean not only looking after ourselves but each-other in the same way that trees all work together, sharing root systems etc. for the good of the forest as a whole. It feels like you’ve taken the medium of a social media platform like Instagram, that is so often a place for individualistic showing off and made it a place for sharing something positive which is what all these social media sites profess to be. 

Thanks, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you post next ,

Jan

https://www.instagram.com/foxyrobber/

Unknown Taxi Driver’s car

Dear Taxi-Driver,

I can’t stop thinking about your taxi. It was a couple of weeks ago and you were taking us to paint a mural, but bloody hell your car was a work of art. Everything was covered in tape, but not just simply tape, shredded tape, patched tape, black tape, colourful stripes inside and outside the vehicle. I am curious what will happen when you start exploring the 3D options that can arise with tape. The seats had a large square pattern, speaking nicely to the squares on the doors. I loved the steering wheel the most, I think, tiny strips of torn tape of multiple colours. And the sign – Taxi was in tape. You were so big in the little car. To my foreignness you looked like a Mongolian film-star-warrior-poet, though I am pretty sure you are a Nepali taxi driver. I saw you just a couple of days ago driving to Jawalakhel, and I went to wave, then caught myself when I remembered that we never even spoke.

Well, I love your car.

Bernardine

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