Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Caul

Harry Caul spies on people, making a living from listening in. He is the best bugger on the west coast. He is paranoid, secretive and wears a dirty translucent rain mac. He hears but he can't always see and that leads to confusion. While we were watching Harry overhearing a murder in the adjacent hotel room my felonius neighbour was banging on his front door yelling "I kill you, I kill you". It soon went quiet. A 'caul' is a bit of amniotic sac that is sometimes present on a newborn baby. It is rare though, roughly one in a thousand people are born wearing a caul. Amongst the superstitious it is seen as lucky, as a protective charm against drowning and as a sign of greatness and clairvoyance. But in eastern Europe, backward peoples believe that a caul bearing child will become a vampire. I was born with a caul.

Francis Ford Coppola, "The Conversation" 1974

Thursday, 25 February 2010

"Dear Alex
Do I deduce from your blog that you are planning an imminent visit to Whitstable?

It would be good to meet up, and to think more about possible venues for your work (venues are not easy in Whitstable, none of the usual Biennale stock of disused warehouses and abandoned industrial areas to choose from).
Best wishes
Sue Jones"

Perhaps I have been remiss in my comunications. However I am looking forward to meeting Sue again. The vexed question of the presentation and siting of my work has been firmly at the back of my mind drily scritch scratching inside my skull. I am not fond of the idea of inflicting my work on an unwilling public and am always wary of those artists who seem happy to act like the fox who always craps in the most prominent place possible. The other side of me craves adulation and twenty foot projections. What I really need is a secret lair, a bat cave, a Graceland, a Neverland, perhaps not Neverland.

I have just found this crucifix and been sent this 1970's translation of a Vampire poem by Baudelaire:
The Metamorphoses of the Vampire
Then the woman with the strawberry mouth,
Squirming like a snake upon the coals,
Kneading her breasts against the iron of her corset,
Let flow these words scented with musk:
— "I have wet lips, and I know the art
Of losing old conscience in the depths of a bed.
I dry all tears on my triumphing breasts
And I make old men laugh with the laughter of children.
For those who see me naked, without any covering,
I am the moon and the sun and the sky and the stars!
I am so dexterous in voluptuous love, my dear, my wise one,
When I strangle a man in my dreadful arms,
Or abandon my breast to his biting,
So shy and lascivious, so frail and vigorous,
That on these cushions that swoon with passion
The powerless angels damn their souls for me!"
When she had sucked the pith from my bones
And, drooping, I turned towards her
To give her the kiss of love, I saw only
An old leather bottle with sticky sides and full of pus!
I shut both eyes in cold dismay
And when I opened them both to clear reality,
By my side, instead of that powerful puppet
Which seemed to have taken some lease of blood,
There shook vaguely the remains of a skeleton,
Which itself gave the cry of a weathercock
Or of a sign-board, at the end of a rod of iron,
Which the wind swings in winter nights.
— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

-- posted abroad

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I awoke this morning to discover one of my sideburns was shorter than the other. I remembered a strange dream with three whispering women. Then an hour ago I received the following email from my companion which explains all. I did not remember waking in the night.

Dear Alex
Below is an account of my attempts to trim your sideburns in the night.

You fell asleep quickly after our bath. You had your hand on the base of my back and then my hip which meant I couldn't turn round in case I woke you. I could feel your sideburns bristling me on the shoulder. I must have fallen asleep. I woke up needing a wee and remembering my horrible North Sea dream.

You were on your back now, prone and I got back into bed holding the scissors.

You turned away damn you and after falling asleep several times holding the scissors I crept my hands over your shoulders and holding the sideburn as I would a cats jaw pre worming I started to cut.
'Annabel' you said 'Naughty' and told me you'd been dreaming. You jerked your face to the side and I worried the spear of the scissors would pierce your cheek.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Further Sideburn Anxiety

Whilst in London we visited Dennis Severs' house a place I will not attempt to describe. It is perhaps too obvious say that it is a vampire house but it did raise questions in my mind about how I should proceed with my sideburns. It seems I should choose from four options. Firstly I could preserve them in their current bushy state at this moment of indecision. Secondly allow them to keep growing until the biennale opens by which time I estimate they will stick out a good two inches. Thirdly I could trim them back to a more accurate facsimile of Mr Cushing's in "The Bride's of Dracula" (or any other of his van Helsing roles). Or fourthly shave them off entirely and display them under glass.

My companion has made this artist's impression. The horrifying truth is recorded below.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Obediphobia clutches at my neck. I am worried about copyright, a subject upon which I am conveniently vague. Just a few days ago I cracked and gave up my plans to make a meticulous pencil drawn animation from UFO footage of a man tumbling into space and decided instead to project the original onto the wall of my lodgings; refilm it, print out the stills, reanimate them and slow it all down. Is this enough?have I made it my own? Or will the makers of UFO require payment? Will I be pursued by litiginous scifi buffs? While worrying I came across the closing soliloquy from "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and thought that in the end I don't really care.

"I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close - the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man's conception, not nature's. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist! "

Saturday, 20 February 2010

I write while watching a ridiculously over simplified facile and self contradictory documentary about homo interneticus. It has told me I am becoming more like a fox than a hedgehog. It is making me realise why I do not miss the television. I am in a hotel room, which I state by way of explanation, in London after a gruelling day trekking the streets with my companion. I am drained and weak, she seems unaffected. We have come so far. We have seen so much. One thing seen is this photograph of April Ashley Britain's pioneer of gender reassignment who in 1974 played countess Dracula at the Collegiate Theatre.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

I have received a letter from my landlord informing me that upon quitting my lodgings I must render them to their original state. After a brief survey I have come up with a list of things to do.
Lean on the bathroom shelf and towel rail until they hang limply on the wall.
Prise filler out of four large holes in the kitchen.
Tear up the sealant on the bath and encourage mold growth by rubbing yoghurt into the crack.
Kick the electrical socket by the door until it starts fizzing.
Block the sink with unnamable matter.
Place three pairs of soiled pants in the airing cupboard.
Pull the toilet roll holder out and glue it back to the wall with a clear rubbery substance.
Rub lard around the oven and bake until black smoke issues forth.
That should do it.

-- posted abroad

Lord of Misrule II

In his autobiography Christopher Lee described bursting into Peter Cushing's dressing room shouting "I have no lines!" Cushing replied "you are lucky, I've read the script". Later he mentions staying with Mr and Mrs Cushing in Whitstable where he had an "elaborate aquarium of tropical fish". Like my companion he also tells of Cushing's enormous ornithological knowledge.

I was most taken by another passage on pages 274-5

"dying as Dracula was usually worse than having a tooth out. Being struck by lightning was the least of my discomforts. The worse was the time they discovered that vampires cannot abide hawthorns. I thought the religious connotation in dubious taste, but a film studio is not the ideal setting to thrash out a theological issue. I had to crash through a tangle of hawthorn bushes with a crown of thorns on my head, with Peter Cushing on the further side waiting to impale me with a stake snatched from a fence. They lacked the foresight to provide a dummy tree and I had to tear a way through vegetation with spines two inches long, emerging for tge coup de grâce shedding genuine Lee blood like a garden sprinkler.
Bullets, daggers, paper-knives, stakes, darts and lances were embedded in me. Poison, heart failure and old age attacked me from within. I became dust - red, green or sooty. I was drowned, asphyxiated and incinerated, and three times when I was burnt, the barn or studio went up too. I always came back for more. Through clouds of nuclear waste I intoned, 'the world shall hear of me again.'".

-- posted abroad

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


I am impatient to get to Whitstable. It seems that I will not be able to truly move on until I have finally encountered Mr Bown in the act of calling. My companion has reminded me on several occassions that there is another bingo hall not two hundred yards from my lodgings but I am unwilling to dilute the experience with pale imitation. This morning I came across a page in my notebook which illustrates my current state of mind. It is illustrated and transcribed in list form below.

A matter of life and death
Standing still
Camera Obscura
Double acts
Make do
Narrative ideas for the count of monte cristo
Treasure sparkling possiblities
Disguise and revenge
Goldfinger idea
Revenge on all those people who have ever slighted me
Three girls

Last night we watched the Powell and Pressburger film "A Matter of Life and Death" I had seen it twice in the last twenty or so years. Despite this I was surprised to see that the action on Earth was in colour and Heaven in black and white. I had remembered it the other way round.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Cathy Lomax has asked me to make some work for the next edition of 'Arty' the title is to be 'magic' so I spent some time yesterday reprising my "Pepper's Ghost" illusion for the stills camera. I found a statue of the Virgin Mary to be my assistant. She seemed very comfortable in the act of appearing magically inside the studio window. Virginity is, I suppose, not a condition usually associated with magician's assistants. Though often they feign ingenuousness they know too much. They have been initiated. Though I haven't yet decided which images to send to Cathy (they must also work in black and white) I am drawn to those which reveal the illusion. It is as if knowledge of the trick has failed to diminish the magic.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Lost post

I spent twenty minutes writing a post about my visit to Islington Mill today. Just as I added the last picture the screen went blank. All was lost. Too tired now to write more. I am left with a list of people mentioned seen and met.
Messrs Dave Griffiths & Andy Bracey (many thanks for everything)
Young Master Bracey and his car
Tomas Harold (thanks for lunch)
Jeremy Deller (nice jumper)
Lesley Young (I think)
Rachel Goodyear
Deaf taxi driver
Blind taxi driver

-- posted abroad

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


My always knowledgeable companion has just informed me that in all of Powell & Pressburger's films they fiddled the colours when the Technicolour technicians weren't looking.

-- posted abroad

The Count of Monte Cristo

At 1130 four artists (Annabel Dover, Hayley Lock, Mimei Thompson and I) were huddled together in the V&A café scribbling things and talking. Being largely from the country we had barely managed to negotiate the new multi-queue system unharmed. In actual fact one of our number had managed to drop their tray, cake, cups and all onto a (luckily) booted foot. We had wrangled with the hard-faced waitresses (clearly used to more vociferous complainers than we) but without satisfaction. So in a none too secret (or dark) corner we began our meeting. We were there to put together ideas for a new show, to come up with a title and a rough plan outlining how we should proceed. I began with what I hoped would be a rousing speech outlining the great obstacles ahead, the enemies we must overcome and the weapons at our disposal. We discussed many things: possible venues for our work (mostly linked to places each of us would like to visit); people who could help us (some practical, mostly fanciful), but most importantly what the show would "be about". This is a nasty phrase but as each of us hedged around our interests we came up with much common ground. Tales of Darkness, treasure, boyish adventure, secrecy and revenge seemed favourite.

This hopelessly un-cabal-like meeting was hours ago. Now I am thinking of Lubinville on a Virgin train travelling north. It is painfully over heated in carriage C. The passengers slump flushed and languid and I find it hard to concentrate. I have been watching a BBC3 documentary on the Vampire and have decided that this is definitely the final nail in the coffin for the genre.

-- posted abroad
'Gone With The Wind' is a colourful film. The overture, a painted intertitle, is resolutely still for an absurd length of time. So still in fact that I twice checked the DVD for scratches.
I can't recall the plot this morning only the painted backdrops, flounces and the colour, too much colour, colour so dark and rich it tired my eyes and I thought of Des Esseintes' bejewelled tortoise. Here I have to admit this surfeit of polychromasic sensation was at least partially self inflicted as I had been fiddling with my projector and had managed to boost all channels to ridiculous levels.

This morning the road to London seems bloodless in comparison.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

"Lord of Misrule"

Christopher Lee notes that he was conceived at the same time that Murnau was making "Nosferatu". He describes "The Scars of Dracula" (the only Hammer Dracula I haven't seen) as "truly feeble" and a quick flick through the illustrations remind me that, like his dear friend Mr Cushing, he too was in a "Star Wars" film titled "The Phantom Menace". Closing my eyes In langourous ecstasy I enjoy this toothsome serendipity.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Letter recieved regarding sideburns and performance art

Hi Alex,

I was just watching a really bad vampire film called Vlad on Zone Horror, but I've turned it off now, supposedly in favour of sleep.
Been enjoying your blog, though sorry to hear you're not well, hope you feel better soon! I've finally started making myself keep one, in the hope it will better enable me to string a sentence together when people ask me what I've been working on... thought my latest entry might appeal to your dislike of performance art:
While I tried to be suitably diplomatic in my blog about it, I actually found myself reminded of why I hate art sometimes! There was plenty of very dislikeable performance art there, including one extremely cringey piece involving a naked man psychoanalysing himself in a mirror. There was some stuff that was ok, but it was generally not the happiest occasion for me!
There is at least one other performance art thing i've agreed to take part in coming up, but that should be more fun. I hope so anyway!

Oh, I was also going to tell you, I went to a birthday party where it was obligatory to wear sideburns, as the host's impressive sideburns are his trademark. Mine were made of card and stuck on.

Take care,

Sonya x

Miss Brown and the Phantom

Miss Brown spends the morning cleaning her rooms. Below I lie in bed thinking about yesterday's events. In Ipswich returning to unlock my bicycle, I came across a man admiring it. It is true that the Phantom takes on new life in the sunlight, it is a handsome creature. The man, in his late thirties, with a Canadian accent asked me if I would consider selling it. I replied that in all conscience I could not as I loved it too dearly. For his part he seemed to take my answer well and wished me good fortune. My companion informed me that she had observed a great number of men of varying ages looking longingly at my bicycle.

Today in my reverie, I have begun to think about the need for profit. Perhaps I shall make some brothers and sisters for the Phantom.

In the evening my companion and I went to the Town Hall Galleries to see a show by Simon Liddiment and a fabulous display of work by some of my students from Suffolk New College. I smiled with surprise upon entering the gallery as the redoubtable Mr Liddiment had produced a show of what looked like East Anglian landscapes; some snowy, some ploughed even one which appeared tinct with a ruddy evening light. Ofcourse they were no such thing, it was all very interesting. I am sorry to report that, as usual, I had soon drunk too much and was reclining on a fortuitous sofa answering questions about the intended extent of my sideburns.

Location:St George's St,Ipswich,United Kingdom

Friday, 5 February 2010

The virgin, the glass and the glitterball

Last night I went through the footage of my Pepper's Ghost experiment projecting it on the wall of my lodgings. Luckily it was a silent version a boon which enabled us to listen in on the activities of my upstairs neighbour. Miss Brown had another visitor last night, another heavy footed male this time with a propensity for loud television programmes. I was nearly on the point of getting annoyed at the interruption when there was a scream, silence and some furniture moving. After that, all was mercifully quiet. I made my companion sit through the screening several times to ascertain its effect leaving her to watch it alone while I bathed. After returning from my ablutions (a long restorative bath and a little detective fiction) I found her asleep with the film still playing. I hope this is a good sign. In anticipation that it is I have included a few stills below.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

After many a hiatus I made it to my studio today for a serious day's work. I made a tiny lit sculpture of a scooter stuck on some flowing stuff and another of a young woman sinking into glowing stuff. The Pepper's Ghost films also went surprisingly well although I do manage to get into some painful positions while filming. This time I was in a tight crouch, my knee burning with strain, holding an aged and very hot slide projector at an awkward angle. After some minutes however I forgot the pain in my knee as I was momentarily distracted by my smouldering leg. The films seemed to turn out tolerably well.

-- posted abroad

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


It has been a long battle but now, thankfully, both my companion and myself seem to be out of danger. Barring another dreadful relapse we should soon be ready to resume our adventures. While bedridden I have been taking stock of my unfulfilled ideas and have resolved to spend some time at my new studio finally making some work. I am aware that my plans may come to nothing and many of the ideas feel to me weak and abortive but if allow my inertia to go on much longer there will be no films for Whitstable at all.

The animation of the dead spaceman is going very slowly, I find myself daunted by the mountain of drawing needed for an animation that may not satisfy. The original footage which I filmed from a projection on my bedroom wall is so beautiful I am finding it hard to believe that animating it has any value. I have never previously presented ‘found’ footage as my own and as I have in the past had great trouble with music copyright I am concerned about the legalities of doing so. I have resolved to make a small test animation of a few repeating frames which should at least nip my worries in the bud.

But this piece is not for Whitstable. The Vampire film I have been making in my lodgings seems lifeless and beyond hope; I do not have the energy to go on with it at present. Instead I have instructed my companion to attempt some magic tricks which will be performed at secret locations in Whitstable upon our visit in March. In my studio I also intend to make a number of short films of objects using the “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion. So far I have chosen, water pouring into a glass, a glitter ball (such a common object in contemporary art) and a religious icon. Hopefully these and my putative film of the enigmatic Mr Bown will produce at least one worthwhile piece.

Then there is this blog. I have in the past turned these writings into books, cheaply produced populist fictions with shiny covers. My companion recently told me of a book bound in a murder’s skin; his ear protruding from its front cover, this idea excites me. However, I am uncertain as to how I might locate a bookbinder who works with such materials. Craftsmen are so hard to find these days. This also brings up the vexing problem of cost, how much would a run of a hundred say skin bound books be?