Ornamental Hermit

Our group’s abandoned practice prompt for devising our final performances was the ornamental hermit. A practice popular in England around the early 19th century an ornamental hermit was a person who was employed at the home of a lord or gentleman to reside in their garden. A kind of pre-cursor to the garden gnome, the ornamental hermit was often dressed in an approximation of a druid’s costume and was not permitted to wash, or cut their hair or fingernails. The description of the practice we received states:

“he became an original element of the natural setting, a sort of tree with moveable bark, or an animate statue. An impermanent plant, a musician of gestures, the ornamental hermit was contracted in due form, assured bed and board and a small renumeration (negotiable) by his employer, and lived his hermit life according to his own notions. His single contractual obligation required that he be there, in the garden, of which he became a rare and picturesque essence. He wasn’t under the constant obligation to remain visible […] but [his] presence, whether visible or invisible, was to form part of the landscape”

– Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London, p. 290.

According to the article on this website, the hermit was far more than a whimsical feature but an embodiment of important concepts of Georgian England; melancholy, isolation and the somberness of spirit.


John Bigg, The Dinton Hermit, 17th Century

I wrote the following phrases in response to this practice:

becoming tree – movement and stasis – motion in stillness – impermanent plant – musician of gestures – visible/invisible – becoming landscape – constant presence – ideal/impossible – ‘an original element of the natural setting’ – what would a tree with moveable bark look like?

After gathering these points of resonance I decided to focus on two phrases in Roubaud’s text for my solo and trio performance: “moveable bark” and “a musician of gestures”.

The idea of moveable bark not only conjured some evocative images in thinking through attempts to embody this non-human material in performance, but also brought to mind the concept of aparallel evolution which Deleuze and Guattari outline in A Thousand Plateaus:

“The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen. Wasp and orchid, as heterogeneous elements, form a rhizome. It could be said that the orchid imitates the wasp, reproducing its image in a signifying fashion (mimesis, mimicry, lure, etc.). But this is true only on the level of the strata—a parallelism between two strata such that a plant organization on one imitates an animal organization on the other. At the same time, something else entirely is going on: not imitation at all but a capture of code, surplus value of code, an increase in valence, a veritable becoming, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further. There is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying. Rimy Chauvin expresses it well: ‘the aparallel evolution of two beings that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.’”

Delueze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980.

My solo would be an attempt to perform moveable bark, an attempt to become an original element of the natural surroundings,

me becoming tree becoming me.

In thinking about the trio performance I was interested in exploring the idea of a musician of gestures (or an orchestra of gestures). Thinking about the Chautaqua Assembly presentational mode of “entertainment performance” in relation to this brought to mind Janice Kerbel’s series of works Remarkable in which she re-interprets Victorian side show posters with her own hyperbolic text:

Janice Kerbel, Remarkable: Three Ring, 2010

Janice Kerbel, Remarkable: Three Ring, 2010

The text I came up with to ‘announce’ the Orchestra of Gestures became part of a projected slide show in the final performance:


Presentational Modes

After our responses to the installations on Wednesday 16th July we were introduced to the final project for abandoned practices by way of a contextualising lecture from Matthew about The Chautauqua Assembly. Named after the Chautauqua Lake in New York State where the first assembly was held in 1874, the Chautauqua events were interdisciplinary educational summer camps where participants would be exposed to political lectures, scientific demonstrations, religious instruction, music and entertainment performances (including magic acts and puppet shows). The assemblies spread across rural areas of the United States and were extremely popular until about the mid-1920s. They have been attributed with being an instrumental space for the development and organisation of the woman’s suffrage movement.

This progressive, if slightly quaint, approach to interdisciplinary adult education became the context for three presentational modes that our final performances might engage with:

  1. the traveling exhibition
  2. the entertainment performance
  3. the expert demonstration

ottowa chautauqua

As a point of contrast (and in honor of the Magritte exhibition next door) Matthew also argued for surrealism as an abandoned practice therefore we could engage with “the surrealist lecture” as a mode.

To activate this presentational mode we were encouraged to engage with Dali’s concept of a paranoid critical method whereby we:

  1. gather/consolidate information or a legible image from some accidental confluence of observations.
  2. Submit the image to rigorous intellectual treatment as if it had been composed not unconsciously but deliberately.

Finally, in honour of some of the discussions emanating from visiting scholars Augusto Corrieri and Jane Blocker’s papers we were to think about the final mode of “a non-human performance”.

Following this introduction we were split into groups of 6 using a chance operation of selecting an abandoned practice card from a box. Our group received the “Ornamental Hermit” card which I will explain in a separate post.

Our task for the final performance presentation of this three week course was to devise a 2 minute solo and a 3 minute trio in response to this abandoned practice that will then become part of an 18 minute piece within our group of 6. We were asked to pick one presentational mode to engage with for our solo and one for our trio.

Rainbow Wheel of Death

I have not posted in a while as the final week of the course has been particularly busy. In addition to this my laptop has been playing up so that every couple of minutes the thing freezes and this appears:

rainbow wheel

Anyway, as a result my last few posts on the course will be retrospective but I will still split them into sub-headed entries as a way to organise my thoughts and hopefully make them more accessible.

Project 2 – Installations

Here are some pictures of my final installation from yesterday afternoon (my installation is outlined by the yellow tape). As you can see, I was working in very close proximity to George who made the silver and pink installation. Although there was no explicit collaboration involved in these two pieces, it is interesting to note the inevitable dialogue that occurs when two works of a similar shape are placed in close proximity to each other:

abandoned installation_Page_1abandoned installation_Page_2

The installations were viewed in 3×20 minute blocks of 8 students at a time. This process of viewing the work was stimulating and at times overwhelming. With each of the works lined up in the relatively small gallery space the images did not always get a chance to breath. However, the productive affect of this was a kind of semiotic assault, where particular words, images or objects jumped out with a beguiling resonance. Here are just three images from some of the other students’ work that particularly stood out for me:

abandoned installation 2

We followed this work with a series of reflection and response exercises introduced by Lin. The first was to make a score that documented our process of making the work and to instal it on the site where our installation had been. I presented this on 12 titled luggage tags with the following hand written content:

Pattern Recognition: This perceptual frame was useful in both determining what observations to document and how to realise this in the work (3 orange cones, a perfect line of ‘segway tourists’, bright yellow road markings etc…)

Colour(s): I was trying to think of ways to translate the visual aspects of my site beyond literal representation. The colour yellow became important as did diagonal lines.

Lines: I really enjoy the lines that can be made through space using wool. This is something I have explored in previous works and I was pleased that it could be incorporated here.

Perspective: I started to think of my installation space as a conflation of the time that I was at my site and the space of the site itself – hence ‘12.30’ was also my vantage point.

Serial: I took great inspiration from Bernd and Hiller Becher’s Gable-Sided Houses in terms of a methodical and detailed approach to documentation. This led to my decision to mark off 12 distinct areas for my observations.

Titling: The act of titling became an important way to organise my thoughts around 12 observations, these titles then fed into the text of the piece – albeit in a changed or abbreviated way.

Photographic Documentation: 9 out of 12 of my observations were documented using photographs (which I then titled). This gave me a rich aesthetic prompt for the work. Looking to these images for colours/shapes etc.

On Materiality: I was worried that the text in the piece would restrict the potential for the materials to be a ‘self-creative’ force. I was therefore interested in exploring text as texture through the use of stick-on letters and luggage tags.

The Phantom Landscape: In Magritte’s 1928 painting The Phantom Landscape the word montagne (mountain) is written in front of a fairly classic portrait of a woman. I wanted to explore a playful discrepancy between words and images.

Stakes: The wooden stakes were accidental. They were fortuitously found on the wrong shelf in Home Depot. The arrow like form seemed to speak to aspects of time and perspective that I was interested in.

Cones: I had originally planned to paint my ice-cream cones orange to look like traffic cones. However, once they were in the space I enjoyed their dual (or even confusing) representational capabilities.

Skewers: I wish I was more competent at making geometrical constructions from kebab skewers…

12 luggage tags on the site of my original installation.

12 luggage tags on the site of my original installation.

This method of scoring the process on the location of the original work was fascinating to me. It allowed for the work to be in dialogue with its documentation. The marks and traces of the original installation still visible on the site of its reflection

We were also asked to write a series of questions that came up as a result of making these installations. We would then pick one of these questions for our partner to attempt to answer. This was an extremely useful prompt to encourage self reflection, criticality and ideas for further development. My questions were:

  • How do words function as material?
  • Do they (words) restrict the possibility of ‘self-creative’ materiality?
  • How can I explore the concept of projective geometry further?
  • Was this work a series of abstracted shapes, colours and lines or a miniature representation of the site?
  • To what extent is the site still present in the work?
  • How did the floor plan inform the installation?

My initial worry about my lack of skills and experience working with and installing materials in this way eventually gave way to a realisation that my aesthetic concerns and influences when working on this piece were similar to when I am developing performance. I thought carefully about the function of text, the use of colour and the shapes and images created by the relation of things in space.


Another consideration offered by Lin when thinking about our installations:

“Materiality is always something more than ‘mere’ matter: an excess force, vitality, relationality, or difference that renders matter active, self-creative, productive and unpredictable”

-Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, 2010.

The Phantom Landscape

Yesterday I visited the Rene Magritte exhibition The Mystery of the Ordinary at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was excellent. Aside from feeling particularly overwhelmed from seeing The Treachery of Images ‘live’, another image stood out.

Magritte’s painting The Phantom Landscape from 1928 is in many ways a classic portrait, yet the painting bears the word montagne (mountain) written in front of the woman’s face as if on a different plane to the three dimensional lifelike portrait. This discrepancy between word and image invites us to be creative in how we interpret meaning in the work. It is a tactic that has been employed by many artists since (particularly in contemporary performance practices) and it reminded me of the potential in playfully exploring the discord between words and images.


Rene Magritte: The Phantom Landscape, 1928

Serial and Parallel

On Friday Matthew outlined two different ways to conceptualise the structure of a work using the terms serial and parallel. He described serial as a series of unbroken or uninterrupted sequences following each other in a singular linear fashion and, by contrast, parallel is two (or more) sequences that are folded in on each other, they are multi linear and exist simultaneously.

Out of the examples Matthew gave to demonstrate serial, I found Bernd and Hilla Becher’s serial photographs of gable ended houses particularly useful.


Bernd and Hiller Becher, Fachwerkhauser (Gable Sided Houses) 1974

And Idris Khan’s playful layering of the Becher images from 2004 does a good job of demonstrating the concept of parallel:


Idris Khan: Every… Bernd and Hiller Becher Gable Sided Houses, 2004

It could be said that the kind of layering that occurs in Khan’s work is a key characteristic of contemporary performance dramaturgies. Matthew argued that due to the popularity of the parallel in contemporary practices, serial structures have been abandoned. Therefore our task for project 2 of this summer school is to engage with this abandoned practice and create an installation with the serial in mind.

To provide us with a serial set of stimuli to create our installations, Matthew, Lin and Mark led us each to a specific site and asked us to make 12 observations about that site over the course of an hour (or approximately one every 5 minutes). The hope being that the serial nature of the task informs the serial nature of the installation work. I was placed on a bridge overlooking Monroe Avenue and documented most of my observations with the following photographs:

Abondoned installation images_Page_1Abondoned installation images_Page_2

We have until Tuesday afternoon to install our works in a small space 12 foot long and only 1 foot wide. This task feels far out of my comfort zone. With a background in theatre and performance my default response is to think of my installation as a miniature stage set of Monroe. However, I am trying to challenge myself to think more conceptually about these images, to recognise their patterns, colours, lines, shapes and to transpose this into space in a more abstracted way.

I will post images of the installation as it progresses.

Munich is Munich again

The title to this post is the slogan of the city of Munich’s 800 year anniversary which took place in 1958. The phrase was quoted by Augusto Corrieri during his compelling and provocative performative lecture today. 1958 also marked the (re)opening of Munich’s Residenz Theater after it was painstakingly disassembled and reassembled for fear that the building would be bombed during WWII.

Augusto presented us with two images of the theatre (before and after) and suggested that in the city’s act of claiming this space as an authentic 250 year old auditorium they effectively wrote out the devastation that was inflicted upon the city during the war. According to Corrieri the white space in between the two images invokes the words of W.G. Sebald, in that it signifies ‘life at the terrible moment of its disintegration’.



More information about Augusto Corrieri’s 4 part performance lecture series In Place of A Show can be found on his website alongside published writing and information about other performances: http://www.augustocorrieri.com/eng/inplaceofashow.html

Creative Restraints


Some Instructions from Matthew today:

1. You will devise a 2 minute conclusion to add to the end of your 3 minute material – a coda.

2. Select one action or gesture from your material that is emblematic of the piece. Make sure it is repeatable.

3. Devise your conclusion as a winding down, arriving at stillness and silence by the end of the 2 minutes.

4. This winding down must happen in one spot.

5. Consider the swerve (Lucretius’ idea of clinamen), a turn, a twist, a bias in your winding down.

you have 10 minutes to devise your winding down.

Commonplace Book


This morning we had a 3 hour lecture from Matthew about abandoned practices and endangered uses and how these ideas might be useful lenses through which to think about creative (or performance) practice.

In the course of the lecture Matthew introduced the idea of the commonplace book, a scrapbook of sorts where writers would keep a note of quotations that interested them from a variety of different sources (an abandoned practice in a sense, although bookmarking websites and Pinterest seem to bear some resemblance to this idea).

I was particularly interested in the idea of commonplace books as thought rehearsals. Perhaps I can think of the writing that exists on this blog as a similar exercise, a chance for my reflections to chart a process or learning and practise the thinking that I might engage with once this process is complete.

So in the spirit of the commonplace book here is a list of questions and quotations that stood out for me today:

our response to what stops us is our responsibility
has the floor become endangered?
practice is a negotiation between beliefs and action
how might we avoid the dangers of prohibitive thought and allow experience to take the lead?
to what extent does intellect prohibit creative action?
how can we observe from within?
all particles tend to fall
they swerve a little, not much, but just enough for us to say they change direction
winding down is endangered
the way things stop has changed
thought rehearsal as preparation


Acoustic Jars

acoustic jars

Day 1 of the abandoned practices institute is complete and for the first time in a few years I had that nervous first day of class feeling. A room of new faces in a city I have been in for less than 24 hours. I felt welcomed by Matthew, Lin and Mark, and the few students out of the class of 21 that I have had one on one encounters with today are equally friendly.

We developed 3 minute performance sequences over the course of the day in response to a randomly selected abandoned practice. My prompt was from a book called Antiquities and Curiosities of the Church and described an archeological discovery of acoustic jars (or pots) in English churches. These jars were buried in trenches underneath the choir stalls and were thought to have amplified the sound. We worked with responses to these prompts throughout the day and honed the material by performing it in repetition and transposing the actions through a series of rules, instructions, limitations.

I have done similar exercises with students of mine at the University of Glasgow, yet it feels important to be on the other side of the (imaginary) lectern, to embody and experiment with the practices and pedagogies that I have only ever encountered in writing. I am feeling excited about the depth with which we will be able to explore within the next three weeks.

I also managed to find my first piece of Queer performance art tonight at Defibrillator Gallery. A night of performance from Bruno Isakovic, Joseph Ravens and Tavia David. The venue is an old shop space on N Milwaukee Avenue that hosts performance art from around the world. Last month they hosted a performance festival called Rapid Pulse, which among many US names, included UK artists Kira O’Reilly and Alastair MacLennan reminding me that the performance art community extends far and wide (http://www.dfbrl8r.org).


My name is Harry Wilson and I am a performance maker and researcher based in Glasgow, Scotland. This July 2014, with professional development support from Creative Scotland, I will be taking part in a 3-week summer institute at the School of Art Institute of Chicago where I will be participating in the Abandoned Practices course.

The course is led by ex-Goat Island founders/members Lin Hixson, Matthew Goulish and Mark Jeffery and will explore a series of abandoned working practices through writing, documentation, performance and installation (more information here abandonedpractices.org).

I will be using this blog to reflect on the process of the institute and how it relates to my practice and development as a performance maker and thinker.