Dear Carolina, Dear Laurence and, in anticipation, Dear Sepake, Dear Françoise and Dear Reader
I remember reading your sentence Carolina about the type of programming you advocate, the longitudinal lines of enquiry activated by research questions, hosting multiple modes of address, and I was thinking a way I could respond would be to write a False Poem, and I hope your words legitimize this.
Do you remember that some of us once thought gossip could be a feminist strategy?
I remember being introduced to Joe Brainard's autobiographical poem I remember and it becoming like a mental chorus re-emerging ever since.
I remember the pandemic and the predictions of threat to someone my age and finding death lurking as if I'm in The Seventh Seal, a filmic ghost I try and erase from the scenes I'm in.
Joe Brainard's I remember (publ. 1970) doesn't give dates or ages. As if the time of a life is a single body. As if it's the external events, Marilyn Monroe's death or Frank O'Hara's death or John Kennedy's death for instance, that pin dates into the life. He would have known The Day Lady Died; a poem dated and minuted at its opening strolling towards an end when time stands still and open-mouthed, with the memory of Billie Holliday's singing, the fact of her death and eternity.
I remember introducing my friend Jonathan to my friend Rowena and feeling their shared frisson in what was then the Tate Gallery. I was falling in love with the Giacometti sculptures and Picasso's Three Dancers. I remember my desire, for Rowena, Picasso, Jonathan, Giacometti, the objects and the people. I remember J and I had walked with that Easter's CND march, and his friend had a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder playing the latest Bob Dylan, do you remember if it was Blonde on Blonde or John Wesley Harding? We could probably work it out, we were about fifteen.
I remember the clatter of typewriters stopping as Mrs Dore talked about her autistic son and it seemed the first time the class had heard of autism. I remember her standing at the front and saying, Aren't I right, girls? every day. I remember how frequently I didn't think she was and how fond I was of her.
She remembers getting a holiday job in a residential home for learning disabled children and the creeps she got from the only middle-aged man who lived and worked there. It still chills her.
I remember crying at the front of the class at the sound of all the typewriters clattering behind me and I'd missed the beat to start the test.
Do you remember when we realised that the College of Further Education in Oxford had been replaced by a shopping mall?
She remembers cycling from Hackney to Battersea to staff the Women Artists Slide Library that Annie Wright and she had set up and Annie left but by then Pauline Barrie had joined
and Pauline found the office under the stairs of the Arts Centre so that they could open to the public but she doesn't remember when it became the Women's Art Library. I remember when my sister got into astrology and told me I'd got a cosmic cross in my chart.
They remember working on reminiscence projects in old people's homes and hospitals, mostly women, but when a tall quiet man told us about seeing a Zeppelin as a boy for the first time in the First World War you could still feel the wonder, and he explained that the wristwatch was invented so that pilots could get their bearings by looking at the time, and I've treasured the memory of him reluctantly talking as precious as a timepiece.
I remember meeting Heidi Reitmaier on the stairs of the Women's Art Library in Fulham Palace when she was leaving Make magazine and I was editing a twentieth anniversary issue and I remember how I had to badger Althea Greenan to write an article and it turning out that she's a beautiful writer disguised, at that time, as a self-effacing librarian.
Do you remember when we realised that the Syrian project I developed at Tate was a part of my work as an artist? I remember how gradually the concept of the Disoeuvre came to me, the idea that as a woman artist of my generation we had always had to work socially and institutionally as well as in the studio in order to change the reception of our work. (We're not unique in this.) I remember thinking that our work was therefore perpetually educational. And so I was arguing that the work we do institutionally and socially should sometimes be considered as part of our artistic production, creating a Disoeuvre rather than the conventionally linear, visibly branded oeuvre.
She remembers sitting in the highrise bar overlooking the 405 when Toby Tanenbaum said, 'Because you talked about your failures,' about why she'd invited her to be a Getty scholar.
I remember being surprised when I found I believed my own argument writing my PhD. She remembers her sister saying her astrological chart foretold that she'd always be broke.
I remember noticing on Facebook that, as he leaves his job in MOMA's education department, Pablo Helguera suggests he's been an artist in residence there for thirteen years.
I remember the concept of the Disoeuvre developing from the active resistance I encountered from Tate education colleagues when I arrived determined to address the colour of the department, its work and its people. I remember meeting with four colleagues around the round table in my semi-basement office that is now a café when Heidi mentioned Richard Hylton's article in Art Monthly and said she wasn't interested in 'diversity'.
I remember that with a succession of similar moments it began to dawn on me that there was both a snobbery (white women in smart clothes won't look foolish) and perhaps, I remember sometimes thinking, a political strategy. I remember Victoria Walsh saying how intellectually vibrant the Institute of Ideas was and eventually I remember realising how
influential the Manifesto Club had been, whose ideas are filtered to government now through Johnson's sidekick Munira Mirza and the recently lorded Baroness Claire Fox.
I remember wondering if Black Lives Matter makes it any easier now and thinking probably not.
I remember the photo of Althea and me performing The Disoeuvre, a speech at the exhibition opening in Vienna when she had invited me to join her in an exhibition about the archive.
Do you remember when we had hoped art historians might situate the individual as social, possibly to research productions made as institutional employees, maybe even collaborative, as part of a wider social practice?
She remembers loving Helen Cammock's The Long Note and she even remembers Bernadette Devlin as a 21-year old MP. She remembers hearing Helen on the radio, her voice beautifully neutral, saying she'd been a social worker for ten years. Pitch, tone, clear as a bell.
She remembers a young curator claiming the Meret Oppenheim exhibition revealed that Oppenheim hadn't followed through, the fur teacup a one-hit wonder, but art, she remembers thinking, could be strengthened by sidetracks, not dissipated. Except, of course, Jeff Koons'.
I remember looking at the crossroads through the studio's bay window before I emailed Sharon Kivland with an idea for a book. I remember meeting her in the British Library cafe, The Disoeuvre a done deal, and on leaving we turned into Gower Street and I said I couldn't approach the poet she suggested for the back cover puff.
I remember realising that Sharon seemed to be simultaneously in Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Sheffield and London; making exhibitions, publishing, lecturing, running a smallholding and a studio. I remember doing a reading in Berlin with Althea and Sharon at Siddhartha Lokanandi's bookshop with its books literally stacked floor to ceiling, Althea said in the Indian way.
Do you remember when we started to realise that entering, navigating and negotiating old age is actual work? That the pension is actually a wage?
I remember going to see my dad three months before he died and his memories were tumbling out, the repressed with the already told, and I remember thinking he's entered a new phase, there's a sudden frost and all the leaves fall and the colour was autumn.
Do you remember taking boxes of files home when we left Tate because we feared the new regime would discard them and a decade passed before Joseph Dance helped me archive them and we sent them back? They were the projects closest to my heart. My work.
She remembers the day she was thinking about people working at home because of the pandemic, about 'home' and 'office', and the Home Office, and then 'Hostile Environment', indefinite detention, torture by bureaucracy, all merging into the home and homelessness, surveillant & intimate, sadistic & invasive. It was today. She remembers it was when she was thinking about what you'd written, Laurence, about the instituted, referring to the art school. She remembers thinking about translation, that Ministère de l'Intérieur could have comparably sadistic & intimate implications.
I remember the first time I said I was post-institutional. The privilege and the dispossession.
I remember smiling as I sat with Maxine Miller in the café that had been my offices when she said she'd buy for Tate's artists books collection my two-volume Begin Again, with all its discussions with and portraits of people I'd worked with. I fancied that, in the future when I exist only as memory, I might have grandchildren who'd sell Tate the original recordings, transcripts and watercolour portraits for its archive.
Do you remember the euphoria on social media with films of people toppling the slave trader Colston's statue into the Bristol dock? And do you remember decades earlier seeing Trophies of Empire at the Arnolfini, including the otherwise unsung artist Carole Drake whose work Commemoration Day critically recalled her school's annual ritual celebrating its namesake, Colston?
I remember painting the Victoria Memorial's white marble statues as an installation at the ICA, juxtaposing photos of tea and coffee advertising ephemera characterised by images of black and brown people serving drinks or working plantations. Declan McGonagle suggested the name Café Royal.
I remember Iwona Blazwick telling me, as I worked on the installation, that some black women artists had been in to the ICA to propose an exhibition, arguing that they were being repeatedly excluded, and I remember worrying that by making work as a white woman deconstructing a colonialist monument I was possibly taking the space of the black women. And I remember chatting to Lubaina Himid and Linda Bellos at the opening of The Thin Black Line the following year.
She remembers when she realised that Café Royal had been historically overlooked while The Thin Black Line had become historically celebrated despite also having occupied a corridor. And she remembers when her friend Caroline Osborne, whose tireless work as a feminist art history teacher has been overshadowed by her younger brother Peter's philosophical work, emailed to say she had been mentioning Café Royal in her Kara Walker classes and asked if I had any photos.
I remember thinking again I must get digitised copies of my analogue slides.
She remembers making changing language changing landscape to be shown in Birmingham's Ikon Gallery online programme, from photos she'd made with Refugee Tales of 150 people walking for days in support of and with refugees across the southern English landscape, and wanting to connect this with the videos of people toppling the Colston statue. She was thinking about the performance of people in landscape, remembering the representationally deconstructive art of the 1980s which analysed public space, its monuments and statues; her own or Carole Drake's or John Akomfrah's Handsworth Songs or Krzysztof Wodiczko's projection on to the Nelson monument made famous by swerving the projector to shine a swastika on to apartheid's South Africa House.
She remembers she'd been there in Trafalgar Square, it was cold and Steve White the technician had given her his gleaming smile as the swastika went up. She saw that smile again when she ran into him in the car park the other day but they'd both been wearing masks.
Do you remember when we realised that contemporary art histories repeat the same artists' names over and over, which we generously interpret as art historians having to spend all their time reading and citing each others' work with no time for primary research, no time to look at art, no time to check the archives of the overlooked?
Do you remember thinking, Really? Still?, when the education curator said that the exhibition curators wouldn't consider the Syrian work if it came recommended by her.
She remembers Joana Monbaron saying that some critics were writing about Manifesta's education programme and she said it's only taken thirty years then, remembering Sue Clive standing in the doorway to her kitchen saying, What we need is people to review our work.
She remembers Sue Clive and is amazed at how she's been forgotten.
I remember setting up the journal Engage, and receiving an article written as self-branding. I remember it seemed unfamiliar then but quickly became ubiquitous.
I remember that weird thing of self-branding while self-positioning as a victim, sounding like a yapping dog.
I remember yapping like a dog.
She remembers watching the Colston-toppling films and thinking that her generation's semiotic deconstructions were performing Rudi Dutschke's long march through the institutions, and when she heard David Olusoga online describing the longwinded deliberations and vetoes on dismantling the Colston statue, she was thinking they've shifted from seeking institutional approval, whether from theorists or local councillors, to performative demonstrations. She recalls the word from Paris '68: manifestations.
She remembers discovering that David Herd who'd instigated Refugee Tales was also thinking of manifestations and when he talked about changing the landscape, changing the language, she'd quoted him.
Do you remember when we discovered that Priti Patel was considering confining refugees to remote island imprisonment?
I remember the durational Syrian project which we developed at Tate and my Syrian colleague and I continued to work together after our respective institutions had disposed of us. I remember drinking coffee with my Syrian friend on the sunny Lebanese balcony overlooking the town nestling in the mountain, and she'd told me that, when she'd been forced to quit her job running the art school, she'd been hit by someone at the Ministry of Culture and, the look in her eyes, I knew it had been worse than that. I remember there were so many reasons not to enquire further.
She remembers when she wrote about Nivek Amichund as a South African gallery assistant with visa problems and mistakenly described him as a 'security guard'. Like her, he had been an employee of Tate. Her article suggested that his contribution to the international project Nahnou-Together could be viewed as a form of performance art, 'destabilising, critiquing and varying the security guard's relation to Tate [as] an intimate form of social practice'. She was critiquing articles in Curating and the Educational Turn which, to diss gallery education, treated the American Andrea Fraser's fictional Jane Castleton as if she were not only real but also applicable to British art museums. A lesson in close and critical observation: not.
She remembers referring to Dorothee Richter, Oliver Marchart and Nora Sternfeld, and emancipatory pedagogy and deliberating whether to name the man she knew on Instagram as kevinspeltbackwards whose latest Facebook post celebrates the South African artist Zanele Muholi. She is reminded that he went on to work at the Tower of London where she remembers they used to have real in-your-face invisible performance artists / security guards called Beefeaters. Do you remember if they still do?
She remembers to take a moment to get in touch with Nivek and he responds with his usual generosity, remembering what he calls his «'immigrant' pase». He writes, «Coming from a ghetto in South Africa I had to learn so many things, quickly, including how to speak English here» and that he is now 'doing a lot of self education around BLM … Trying to be an anti racist whilst battling with my own internal racisms inherited from apartheid South Africa.' His writing reminds her that the depths of racism's roots spares no-one.
She remembers her perpetual wish that she could get the 30 year-olds together who'd travelled on that project between Amman, Damascus and London when they were teens.
Do you remember when it became essential in whatever context to talk about border controls?
I remember the US immigration detention centre's wire mesh over every window and I remember that it was physiologically impossible to focus my eyes on the scene beyond the mesh when I was standing close enough to potentially distinguish the landscape. I remember that deliberate blinding. As if it was yesterday. The mesh's paint, cream gloss, as if innocuous, like Nurse Ratched's shoes.
She remembers how intellectually informative observational drawing can be and how rarely it is considered worthy of radical pedagogy as if close listening substituted.
I remember thinking it can't hurt when my sister said she'd massage my aura but, when she gave me healer advice, thinking the only way she could have known about that police officer was by reading my diary.
Do you remember how repeatedly our government uses shock and awe on us these days — on their «own populations» — and how frequently we are enervated in our disbelief?
She remembers anticipating that the brief Beirut residency with her Syrian friend to make a final edit from their longstanding project would be difficult. It was the first time they'd been able to meet, face to face, in eight years. All work in between had been chaotically virtual. She remembers undressing for bed one night, the dark outside the half-closed shutters, the hollow yellow light on the grey marble floor, and thinking she was glad to have been reading Anna Burns' Milkman. Reading Burns' Belfast heroine's brain's vividly convoluted apparently paranoid alertness, that develops when you're living within violently demarcated miniature geographies and the totalitarian regimes of civil war, might help her be more tolerant with her friend. She's not sure it did.
I remember how obsessed I am about borders and how this might be considered off-topic. I remember growing up being informed of the politics of imprisonment. I remember being so glad about Angela Davis' work on prisons.
I remember, once I was home from US imprisonment, wishing my dad was still alive so that I could talk to him about his own imprisonment during WWII. I remember being so grateful to Bernard Becker who talked to me about his imprisonment in 1968 as a 21-year old citizen of the GDR.
I remember seeing my dad on tv in Wandsworth, the Victorian prison, recalling every prisoner being banged up in his cell several storeys above ground during air raids and, as the sirens' started, him starting to meditate to get through the noise of all the prisoners throughout the prison shrieking and pounding their metal doors in terror.
Do you remember the archive of the Peace Pledge Union helping us understand the role of the Rowntrees, but knowing it was the Imperial War Museum that had collected tapes of pacifists giving oral histories?
I remember when my dad stuck up for paedophiles because of what he'd witnessed done to them in prison. I remember him seeming out of step; old.
Do you remember that commission when they asked you to make a mural and you said you'd make a series of paintings so that the people with learning disabilities living in the 'hospital' could choose some each to take with them as they were moved into the smaller homes under Thatcher's 'community care' policy? Do you remember when the former nurse emailed you to say he'd rescued a couple of the paintings from the skip when they'd closed the hospital? He told you the rest had been chucked. Do you remember the previous work you'd done with people leaving a residential hospital for smaller units and how they'd had
no objects to take with them and no verbal language to discuss how this felt and the good psychologist had got you in to help her work with them? Do you remember how this had informed your response to the commission and how, by the time of the nurse's email, Public Art Development Trust, the commissioning body had lost its Arts Council funding and closed down?
I remember when I found Dave Garcia working nextdoor after we'd lost touch for decades and he told me about Big Data and Long Tails.
I remember realising my punishment from the US Border Services was indefinite and wondering if, when my death is recorded in the UK, their algorithms will pick it up and delete my profile, because otherwise the US Border Services database could be infinite and eternal.
Do you remember the fashion shows Mark Miller ran in Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries with young people looked after by Social Services, designing clothes from bin bags to confront the Social Services' common practice of using bin bags to carry the young people's possessions from one 'home' to another?
She remembers working in what was called community arts, running an art project with inner city London kids (as they were called then). Josie, Betty, Jane, Sue and she were doing work that she considered politically and artistically inadequate, with their boss Owen occasionally swanning in and out. She was re-reading Janna Graham's 'Para-sites' which she likes so much, reminding her of Owen who initially she briefly fancied but she remembers becoming increasingly disaffected. Perhaps it was when a six-foot something boy pinned her five foot something self to the stock cupboard wall yelling abuse at her, two boys his props beside him, she remembers it was the first time she heard the word 'bloodclaat', and eventually Josie came in and intervened and afterwards her humiliation was so great that she doesn't remember if she ever discussed it openly with her colleagues. It takes quite a bit of writing and remembering before she remembers that he'd been holding a knife to her throat. Owen would only have known if his then-wife Sue had told him.
She remembers a manic 13-year old girl swishing a bamboo cane at her when she worked in a similar project on the council estate where she lived, when she realised she'd never been offered any form of training or reflection on working with young people for whom violence had been normalised. She remembers concluding that, as an artist, you should only make work with «communities» when you had reached a sufficient maturity in your practice that all of you could feel confident in. She remembers that she still thinks that.
I remember reading that facial recognition software in British shopping malls is used by security guards to identify and exclude former shoplifters who have already served their sentences, and that this form of perpetual futuristic social punishment is legal.
I remember realising that a shopping mall is privately owned space.
I remember when I found out that phones scrambling your words is called predictive text.
Do you remember when you were teaching on Dartington's Art & Social Context BA, encountering Owen, fleetingly a visiting lecturer promoting his book? He was wearing a pony tail and you wondered what it meant but there was no time to talk.
I remember Sally Tallant reminding me that I'd taught her at Dartington when we worked together at the Hayward Gallery. I remember the new sharp red boots and I said, yes, she should wear them to her Serpentine Gallery interview. I remember she recruited Janna Graham to work with her there. We were sitting in Carluccio's and Sally was recommending Owen Kelly's book, and I remember thinking when I re-read Para-sites, is it ever useful to identify the gossip behind chains of knowledge? Would it illuminate some difficulties and failures in our histories that might even help us now? Does the disparity matter between what Owen actually knew and did, and the experience he claimed to be informed by?
She remembers that she'd forgotten the brief moment of fancying Owen Kelly until (thinking of writing this False Poem) she'd re-read Joe Brainard, and delighted in its abundance of sexual desire, she's guessing a radical act for a gay man in 1970.
Looking at art in public spaces has been one of her favourite erotic experiences. Do you remember realising that institutions are there to move in and out of? I remember thinking there might be more honesty sometimes in gossip than in theory.
I remember thinking about the mutable power relations of traditional portraiture and wondering how we'll mutate facial recognition.
I remember when Boris Johnson started standing in our television screens talking about following the science and the more he did this the more we understood about the use of data as a predictive force.
I remember that after I'd stopped watching him and possibly after Boris Johnson had stopped standing there, I started to think about data-predictive science as cult.
Do you remember walking across the dusty dual carriageway when Osman Salih was describing the end of his long journey through many countries, and he'd leapt on to the moving Eurostar and shouted back at the police chasing him, Va t'en, Va t'en, as they'd shouted at him so many times?
She remembers his journey made her think of Edmund Hillary who her mum had told her was a hero. She'd stood at the kitchen door, just taller than its handle, asking what 'hero' meant.
I remember even after I'd experienced detention at the US border I was still dismissive of what I saw as heroic posturing when galleries worked with refugees.
I remember completely rethinking this.
I remember when Lytton Smith stood in what I recalled was originally the De La Warr Pavilion library and explained that border controls in the US are turned inwards on the people who believe themselves to be legitimate. I remember no-one mentioned that the Pavilion had been designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, one of whom had been a refugee.
She remembers that in the only two photographs of her mother abroad she's looking severe, in Leipzig in 1938, and she remembers realising decades after she'd died that maybe she'd been there to report back to refugee support groups. In any case, unsmiling was unsurprising.
I remember watching Monica Ross performing Anniversary—an act of memory at Raven Row, reciting from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I remember that today I will be walking with my friend Jiggy Bhore for Refugee Tales. I remember I've got to get on and make the placard #walking4humanrights