Preoccupations (for Coney)
I was asked by the brilliant secret agency Coney to offer a few things that have interested and inspired me over the last few years, particularly in relation to the kind of adventurous work they get up to. Here are some of the things I suggested.
Here are a few things that have preoccupied me over the last few years. Things that have shaped the contours of my work and my thinking and that I think might be useful for anyone interested in ideas around adventure and play.
I suppose I think of all these things in the context of Coney because of the way in which they unfold. They all begin with a tiny rupture in seeming normality that is slowly picked away at until it reveals something complicated and messy and beautiful that was lurking there all the time amidst the apparent stability and mundanity of the real. I like the idea that art is not a thing in its own right, but a passageway into looking at what’s already there in a different way; revealing the secrets hidden in plain sight. That is what all of this material is about – secret societies, hidden systems, secret mechanisms – all simply ways of encouraging you to look with real purpose and attentiveness at the strangeness lurking in our own quotidian reality.
I also like all of these things because without exception they present all those mysterious systems and societies and adventures in distinctive, thoughtful and resonant ways. They don’t fall back on cliché and the laboured aesthetics of cod-victoriana or balloon-obsessed whimsy that I think can sometimes predominate in the world of game-making and adventure-setting. They feel like they’re operating within a reality that means something to me, rather than trying to escape to some bourgeois wonderland. It is that crooked way of looking at reality that most excites me in the stories and projects I try to make.
Behindlings – Nicola Barker
This is a book about a group of damaged outsiders following an old man called Doc in the endless pursuit of a quasi-mythical figure responsible for a treasure hunt that no one can really remember the beginning of. Nuff said.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino
This is a brilliant, beguiling, post modern book about books and about love. It’s one of the most performative books you’ll ever read and a great example of how to create any work of art that constantly undermines its audience’s expectations.
Raw Notes – Claes Oldenburg
Essays on the blurring of art and life – Allan Kaprow
The Happenings artists of New York in the 1960s created delirious, impenetrable underground performances and playful experiences. We owe them a lot of our DNA and more people should know that.
Hiding the Elephant – Jim Steinmeyer
This is the most beautiful book you’ll ever read about the mechanics of illusion.
London: City of Disappearances – edited by Ian Sinclair
Anyone working in London, and even those who aren’t, should absolutely explore this anthology of tales from a hidden London that was gone before we even knew it was there. It is all about subcultures, myths, secret communities and apocryphal happenings. It also fuses fact and fiction quite beautifully.
D B Cooper
The Taman Shud case
These are real stories of strange things. The first I can’t remember how I found out about, but the second I was introduced to by Chris Thorpe. They speak for themselves about the delirious, discomforting strangeness of the real world. I wish I could make anything as absorbingly disturbing as either of these events.
Adam Curtis’ BBC Blog
Read everything and anything that comes up on Adam Curtis’ blog. He uses the history of television to tell us about ourselves, finding compulsively strange things in forgotten archives. Beautiful insights into our own hidden weirdness.