As of today, there’s another “Things” Tumblr in town.
It’s a partner piece for this one, at http://thingsbyotherpeople.tumblr.com, and it is open submission.
I “solicited” the first entry from Theo Thimo when he posted a picture on Facebook of a button badge that reminded me of the “Things” picture format.
It’s about “The Heiko Julien Button”.
To submit, go here - all you need is a picture of an object (preferably “landscape”), and a text “about” or “based around” or “related to” that object.
You can include a line of biography and a link at the end if you wish.
I really look forward to seeing your pictures and reading your texts and stories.
Thanks to Rachel Benson for the idea of opening this out. It seems like a perfect progression for the project.
And thank you for reading.
These two coat hangers are the same in design, but bear very different significances to me. The plain one has little importance - an accumulated possession with no tangible memory attached. The kind of object that nobody thinks to note the arrival of.
The ‘Sundhöllin’ one was taken from my favourite swimming hall in Reykjavik. It’s ironic that it was marked ‘Sundhöllin’ to stop it from being taken, but it was for that exact reason that I took it.
To redress the small theft, I will write ‘Sundhöllin’ on the other one in black marker, and the next time I’m in Reykjavik, I’ll take it out of my tote bag while changing and leave it hanging in one of the old fashioned booths.
Something that was mine for quite some time will be there, and something that was there for quite some time will be mine.
I’ve thought about why I attach such strong memory-importance to objects before, but it’s complex and slippery and hard to define. Perhaps it just makes the memory and the sensation of being in a place more tangible when you can touch something that was there with you; as if to prove it was all real.
This is a mug I bought in New York City in 1999, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, as a gift for my mum.
I’d applied for the trip, along with my flatmate Vi, at the last minute when we saw an ad on the Illustration course notice board, a floor below the BA Painting studios where I worked. I’d been reading obsessively about Warhol, Haring and Basquiat, and New York seemed like a mythical place to me, full of possibilities. We were told the trip was full, and put on a reserve list.
Two days before, I got a call - someone had pulled out after breaking a leg, and I had first refusal on their place. I decided to do it, despite not knowing anyone else who was going. My mum and dad said they’d help pay the £300-odd fee, agreeing that it was a good opportunity, none of us having never left Europe before.
It came at a point in my life where I had discovered a passion for art that I’d never known before. I’d been drifting through education since school - first busy being a bullied child, then an angsty art college teen, then a disaffected, listless twenty-something, struggling to find my place in the world. But lately, my paintings had started to mean more to me - I’d become absorbed in the process, and started finding artists I could relate to directly, rather than distant canonical figures that felt musty and academic. Warhol and Basquiat seemed larger than life, both through their work and as people. I was interested by the way they constructed their identities - how their individuality seemed as significant as their output.
I was reading Phoebe Hoban’s Basquiat biography on the plane. One of the Illustration tutors noticed and started chatting to me, giving me gallery tips and talking about NYC landmarks. I became a favourite amongst the tutors after that - someone genuinely into the culture and history of the city, where many were just along for the ride - and they would ask me where I’d been when they saw me each day.
They told me there was an odd number of people going, and gave me the option of having a room to myself, but I said I’d prefer to share, hoping to make a new friend from the Illustration course that I could hang out with.
The guy I was paired with was a loner by nature - quiet and introverted. We got on, and spent the whole time together, which suited both of us - I liked the company, and had a list of places to go like the Guggenheim, MoMA, the Whitney, PS1, Gagosian and Castelli, and he was happy to have a guide with a plan. It took until the third day to find out he had a wife and kid at home, and on the fourth he let slip it was his birthday. He’d told nobody else on the trip, so I hastily arranged some drinks and bought him a little cake.
New York City was a joy and a revelation. I look at the pictures now and see someone still emerging as a person and starting to come into his own. I had bright red spiked hair with a side parting at the front, polo neck jumpers and a long black leather overcoat, clean shaven and black plastic glasses. I look skinny, happy, camp and youthful.
I got a sudden urge to see this cup again on a recent trip to my parents and went crawling on the kitchen surfaces to find it tucked away in a high cupboard. Just seeing it and touching it was enough to bring the memories and sensations of that exciting time flooding back.
“100 Things” is a blogform artwork by John Rogers that was created between March 8th-June 12th 2012. Each entry was posted on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter, allowing the work to disseminate and spread socially through retweets, reposts, “likes” and comments.
It can be described in different ways. An autobiography in objects; an exploration of how our possessions shape us, and how we create meaning in them; a toeing of the line between public and private life; an inverse critique of materialism; a way to utilise and harness online culture to make art.
The project continues, with printed formats and exhibition plans in the pipeline, and the occasional “Things Plus” post on the blog. To get news relating to the future of the project, sign up here: http://eepurl.com/kXH8P.
To start at the beginning, go here.
To read some random entries, hit the “RANDOM” button above, or click here.
Thanks for reading.
This is a Miglia USB stick, used to convert analogue TV signal into digital form.
I bought it to watch and record TV on my iMac. This was before broadband and data-intensive online TV streaming were available, and before digital stuff like Tivo and Apple TV came along, and people started using torrents to download entire series for true “on demand” viewing.
It was really useful for a while. But then iPlayer, TV Catchup and digital recording set-top boxes happened, making it more hassle than it was worth connecting the RF signal to the computer. When the analogue TV signal was finally turned off earlier this year, the Miglia stick became a defeated, anachronistic object.
There have been some odd instances of crossover between the analogue and digital worlds. I found a cassette tape that contains tracks I’d downloaded from the internet, from MP3.com, at the dawn of the online music revolution. It seems like such an odd thing to record them as audio, via a mini-jack lead from the headphone socket, onto magnetic tape, just to get them out of the computer. But at the time, it was just practical thinking - MP3 players weren’t yet invented, so music files could only be played on my desktop iMac.
Along with the battery-powered Casio pocket TV I also have somewhere, bought on eBay to watch the world cup whilst also working the door at a venue, the Miglia stick has been definitively superseded, and it doesn’t really do anything useful now.
It’s an object in limbo - there’s no signal left for it to pick up.
The Origins of Virtue is a book by biologist Matt Ridley.
This hardback copy was bought during a dramatic weekend, a few years ago, as partially described in “The Fur Collar” chapter of this blog.
I’d just said goodbye to a girlfriend for the last time at Euston station, having come clean about a second bout of infidelity, after a few months of hiding it. Afterwards, I knew it would be unsalvageable, so I’d been trying to just keep the secret rather than losing the relationship. My own emotional state had been deteriorating as a result. It weighed heavy on my conscience to the point at which it was clear something was up.
We’d just been to an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at Camber Sands. At the deafening peak of a Fuck Buttons show, I’d had a realisation that I was not truly over another love of mine, and that my repetitive negative behaviour was expression of that. It was a combination of low self worth, and strong kamikaze instincts causing me to mess up. I realised I needed to change some things in my life, to be honest with myself, and with others, instead of covering up my actions and bottling up my feelings to try and “be okay”.
One of the most memorable moments of my life came on our homeward journey. We were on a 149 bus from London Bridge back to Dalston, and I had a strange sort of epiphany. As the sun streamed through the bus windows, and with the burble of conversation around us, I suddenly felt a sensation of one-ness with everything around me. With the air I was breathing and the clothes I was wearing, with the other people on the bus; with the city, with my wonderful girlfriend, slumped on my shoulder next to me, and with the world at large. It was a moment of clarity and purity, and I had the knowledge that life would be okay again, despite the raging emotions inside of me and the fact that I was about to lose the person I cared about most.
We got home, and sat on the sofa, and I started to explain. She knew it was serious, and I remember her looking at me with dread in her eyes and saying “what have you done?” in a small, shaky voice. After I told her, she seemed defeated. I had damaged her faith in goodness winning out, and that in itself was hard to take.
But I had turned a corner at least, realising how very damaged I was, and I felt like at least I could get a grip on my problems. I hoped she’d stay with me through the process, but her trust was broken, and her patience gone. We spent an emotional last night and morning together, then I took her to the station. After our goodbye, I wandered away from Euston in a heartbroken daze, not sure exactly where I was going, or why. After a while I found myself in a network of cobbled streets full of little shops, and wandered aimlessly into a second hand bookshop.
This lept out at me - a biological treatise on how social behaviour occurs naturally in animals, and how different species have a sense of “the greater good”. It was just what I needed, being full of worry about even being able to override the instincts that had got me into this mess; instincts that seemed undeniable, almost automatic, like there was no choice, or like the choice was already made at some deep level. I’d literally felt like I was on rails, unable to say no, driven to cheating by some psychological compulsion.
In the end, I did break that needy, destructive, compulsive pattern. I haven’t cheated since, and won’t again. So although there are seriously regrettable things in that passage of my history, at least there’s something to be grateful for. And proud of, too.
This is a double-vinyl copy of the most recent album by Gus Gus, Arabian Horse, bought last week from the 12 Tónar record shop in Reykjavík’s Harpa concert hall. I bought it from my friend Árni, a member of the group Rökkurró, who also works there part-time. It’s a techno record at it’s heart, released on the German Kompakt label - but it humanises the genre with very soulful interweaving vocal melodies and warm, pulsing tones.
Gus Gus have been going since the 1990s, through various incarnations; from a sprawling trip-hop collective that included their visual artist and accountant, right down to a dance music duo, and back up to their current five-piece setup. They’ve explored many different types of electronic music, hitting the finest form of their career in the last few years.
At Iceland Airwaves festival 2009, I was curious to see their retooled and reconfigured live show, as a minimal techno three-piece and fronted once more by their original singer Daniel Agúst. They played at the height of the festival in a late-night slot. As we approached the Nasa venue in a big group, I realised I’d forgotten my press pass and would have no chance of gaining entry without it. I sent the others on ahead, and hung out by the stage door, hoping for a friendly face to pop out. Sure enough, someone did, and after a little bit of persuasion I was ushered inside. It turned out there was practically a riot happening out front as people tried to rush the security guards to get in, and by forgetting my pass, I was the only one of us who’d made it.
The concert was a complete performance of 24/7, the album before this one. As the lights went down, and the pulsing intro of Thin Ice oozed through the space like tendrils of warm electronic fog. The bass came up through the legs of the crowd, setting people swaying, and when the beat kicked in people went batshit crazy. The synth stabs at the start of Hateful seemed to make my skull shake; by the time Gus Gus closed with Add This Song, everyone in the room had their hands in the air, twisting and shaking and whirling around in euphoria. Daniel gripped the mic and dropped his head a second early as the song finished, waiting for the sound of the crowd to hit him, and then vanished as the stage lights blinked out in a deafening roar.
Their recent gigs are a flawless soulful techno show with three vocalists, each like a pop star in their own right, improvising and crooning, dancing freely or visibly getting into what the others are doing. I’ve seen them perform this album live three times, and it’s an immersive experience. At Bootshaus in Cologne they played in front of a vast digital screen that started off with constantly falling snow and ended in a blaze of lights and lasers in front of two thousand ecstatic Germans; in England they made a pounding dance party out of a regular Wednesday night at 93 Ft East.
But the most memorable time by far was in Reykjavík’s Art Museum. It was Airwaves, again. I’d met a girl I liked a few days earlier in Kaffibarinn, and after a long chat and some drinks we’d arranged to meet inside the museum. Again, I had to cheekily talk my way inside to skip a monstrous static queue, this time using an invalid Reykjavík Grapevine wristband as credentials. I found her in the bar, looking spectacular in skinny jeans and a slashed black vest, with her long chestnut hair all mussed up and a stoned and dreamy look in her eyes.
As the excitement for the show mounted, we edged closer and closer to the front, losing the group behind us. When Gus Gus took the stage, the crowd lunged forward, crushing us together. We started dancing, my hands suddenly on her sides and her hair in my face. She looked at me over her shoulder with gleaming eyes and leaned back into me. After a couple of the elegant, improvised, drawn-out songs on this record, she turned around and put her arms around my neck, looked into my eyes with a broad, gentle smile, and we kissed, finally.
Sometimes music gets bad memories attached to it, and sometimes good. In this instance, these memories makes a great album even better.
Aside from a handful of flyers and stuff like that, this comments book is the main remnant of a piece of live art called Stare.
It was a performance that happened five times in total. The first time was in York at the Impressions Gallery - I had just moved back to the West Midlands, and so travelled up from Wolverhampton with a couple of friends. It took place at the opening of a show of wall-based work by another artist - two chairs were arranged in the middle of the space, a few feet apart and facing one another, with me in one chair, and the participant in the other. A helper went around asking people if they wanted to take part, and explaining the rules: namely, for me and them to maintain eye contact for three minutes without speaking, or looking away.
It was designed to be an experiential piece in nature, and so there was little documentation. Pictures and videos didn’t feel like the right media to represent the piece. Instead, each participant was asked to write in this comments book.
There is a little bit of video, however. The third time this piece happened was at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, and Central News called them up about the press release for Stare. They were interested in running an item about it, so a camera crew and newscaster came down to the gallery to shoot something. I explained a bit about the piece; about how it was about holding someone’s attention, offering an intimate first-hand experience, and stripping away all of the obstacles that traditionally lie between artists and their audience. Then, the news lady sat down to do a three minute Stare with me. She found it very difficult, and jumped up out of the chair squealing after less than a minute - the only person who failed to carry out the piece in it’s entirety. I think perhaps that she was very much about cultivating a professional, breezy facade or persona - but staring into someone’s eyes is very personal and revealing. She couldn’t enter into that quite genuine, intense moment of connection by letting her guard down on camera.
The same happened in New York at the D.UM.B.O. Arts Festival, where a boisterous American chap insisted on talking at me throughout, sarcastically saying things like “yeah I see what you’re doing here - very clever. You must think you’re very, very clever”. I looked back blankly, tilting my head at him, just taking in his response. Afterwards, I felt a bit sorry for him, because the level on which he decided to engage with me was hostile and suspicious. On one level, the piece acts as a kind of mirror by making the participant notice their own responses.
It was a different experience with every single person. Sometimes, they would start off laughing, from embarrassment or nerves, before sinking into a kind of restful trance, then start smiling again. Some people were so shy they could barely keep eye contact, and seemed to fear my gaze as if they might give away some secret without meaning to; some people seemed to see me as an opponent, and leaned in aggressively as if trying to “win”, once or twice to point where I felt quite threatened. Some looked on, calm and open, gazing happily into my eyes, and it often felt like there was a mutual and subtle psychological probing taking place. Sometimes, the air seemed to fill with sexual tension, with both me and the participant smiling and blushing.
With every single person, there was a connection. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone from looking at them and gauging their unspoken responses, actions and reactions, facial expressions and physical tics. It felt like a huge amount of communication was occurring without using a single word.
After a couple of hours of staring into people’s eyes, moods and minds, I felt oddly calm, but often mentally exhausted. It took a lot of emotional and psychological energy to engage with so many strangers in that quite intense way. I love looking back at the comments now - from “that was weird” to “a beautiful experience” to “it’s amazing how long three minutes can seem” to “any longer and I think I would have fallen in love”. It forged a direct and unusual connection with another person in a way I’d found frustratingly difficult via object-based arts practise.
Since then, the work that’s had the most genuine audience involvement and feedback is this blog, via social media. Tweets, “likes”, messages, comments, online chats and Tumblr re-blogs all feed into what the piece is, and how it lives and grows. “Things” tries to forge a different but equally direct type of intimacy, using personal experiences and the internet instead of eye contact.