You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was written for The Kick-About No.53, and inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not.
Sometimes, it has felt as if my brain is too old or too stupid or simply too preoccupied with other more important things to even think about undertaking another creative brief ‘for the sake of it’. If I’m thinking this, the guy who sets the Kick-About prompts each fortnight, I’m pretty sure some of the regular kick-abouters have thought it too. Lives get busy. Lives get glum. Interest and energy wanes. The mood passes. Art is fart.
And yet, all that being true, now I’ve gathered here together a year’s worth of new work in a single place, I am reminded of the intrinsic value of ‘making stuff’ and of the power of community. There is little doubt, were it not for the examples set by all the other artists in The Kick-About, I wouldn’t have followed through on these various creative enquiries of my own. It’s quite unlikely I would have started them, and I certainly wouldn’t have finished them, finding a bunch of reasonable excuses to get on with more pressing stuff, or stuff I didn’t need to think about quite as much, or the stuff of watching television and eating bars of cheap chocolate on the sofa. But as it happens, I’ve inflated latex gloves with water to produce wobbling horrors, made moonscapes out of bags of flour, photographed tin-toy chickens obsessively, made short films, written a story about a woman with nasturtium seed for a head, encased a bunch of stuff in ice, and the list goes on – and largely because I wasn’t alone in my endeavours. Somewhere in New York, Kerfe was suspending paper fish inside a litter bin, and somewhere out in Brisbane, James was populating a primordial forest with bare chested brutes; meanwhile, Charly was crocheting a hat of fantastical proportions, Tom was configuring Saul Bass-inspired spirals out of code in Yokohama, and Gary was fashioning a Christmas tree out of hand-foraged willow and meticulous strips of calligraphic paper!
What I particularly enjoy, it seems, is the license to shape-shift in terms of creative work; the Kick-About encourages me to diversify, to jump about a bit. That said, there are obvious preoccupations – a love of in-camera transformations, what we might call ‘analogue magic’, and a preoccupation with the darker side of the human imagination. I blame the Pan Book of Horror and all those brave, strange, mean films of the 1970s.
‘Jumping about a bit’ can be confusing, so I decided to get my ‘art-house’ in order a bit by re-organising my personal website. It might not make a scrap of sense thematically, but at least it’s nice and tidy, right?
Thanks again to all the Kick-Abouters: we’ve been living through some strange rootless times, and your company and creativity has done much to keep my feet on the ground and my imagination a good deal higher up! Onwards…
“In the previous chapter we were immersed in scenes of devastation and horror, but things take a surprising turn in Chapter 20. We encounter a couple of the strangest characters in the book and we’re treated to some of the worst jokes ever heard. It’s quite a contrast!As many of the scenes in Chimera have been quite dark in many respects, I’ve taken the opportunity to illustrate something lighter in tone. It’s not often I get the chance to paint a blow-up flamingo, and I wasn’t going to let the chance pass me by. There’s a tube of bubblegum-pink that’s been gathering dust in my paintbox for years, but it’s time has come!” Phil Cooper, Spring 2022
It’s here, the penultimate episode of Chimera Book 1! I anticipate anyone who has listened to the last 19 chapters may be in urgent need of a recap. For others unfamiliar with my continuing collaboration with Dan Snelgrove to turn the first of my children’s adventures into an audio book, it might be a case of ‘Chimera what now?!’ Short version is Dan and I embarked on this project all the way back in October 2020, and with but one more episode to produce to complete Kyp Finnegan’s first adventure in the strange and dangerous realm of lost properties, we’re nearly there! If you go here, you can begin at the beginning, and if you go here, you can catch up on the events of the last chapter; and for a quick recap of the final moments of Chapter 19, see below.
For this week’s rummage through the archives of ‘stuff wot I’ve done’, it’s an airing for another of those sad little songs written all the way back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was licking wounds of one sort or another. I can just about recall the melody for the chorus (a few lines of it anyway), but other than that, only the words remain, and also the feelings that gave rise to them.
I admit I’ve got some cheek and I admit I’ve got some nerve now wanting your attention after so successful a body-swerve after insisting it was over. after insisting on meaning it after announcing plain and simple, our so called-love, I’m leaving it and it’s not that I regret one word or would reverse the hands of time or contest my intuition or that common sense of mine but there’s something gone awry in our story, though still true details inadmissable because I needed to hate you so forgive me this confession. I’m not re-attaching strings when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
‘cos you were also a warmth, you were a sound in my head and you were the way particular words got said you were the smell of the soap on the palms of my hands that bemused concentration whenever I told you my plans you were pub-smoke, you were cinnamon on our one christmas eve that distraught little boy when I said I would leave you were the hand leaving mine, you put these breaks in my heart our sum sure wasn’t great, but I still love you in parts
I won’t come knocking on your door, won’t be waking you from sleep won’t be finding how to justify now some ill-advised repeat won’t make believe I was passing or stand before you wet from the rain won’t forget the whys and the reasons, won’t waste more breath trying to explain and it’s not that I’m not torn or sometimes mourn those days with you but how to even tell you and keep my promise true? I know I’m better off this way because I’m stronger now and free how I had to hurt you back this once to finally stop us from hurting me so forgive me my confusion and any grief it welcomes in when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
the point on me is lost of my simultaneous default of now confessing joy when it’s not a ploy and i’m content with our result when the way things are still suits me and I’m as pleased as punch I had my say I lie awake less, my bed emptied, no longer rueing our worst of days but it’s not that i’m at rest, I am, at best, a man who knows a little less now about love-stories, about the way they’re supposed to go but I do know you deserve somehow more now than what got said neither crumbs or guilty gifts but the truth of it instead so understand me, this annotation, around you i’m not running rings when I tell you like a thirst, I just miss the little things
On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience.
Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’.
Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. The prompt for The Kick-About No. 43, Arthur Rackham’s 1931 illustration for The Night Before Christmas, depicting three little boys heading up to bed, captures this feeling very precisely. It’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story, while also exploring a few other ideas too.
Artist Tereza Stehlikova’s Tangible Territory is ‘a platform that offers a space for various voices to meet and discuss themes relating to the role of the body, the importance of place and embodied experience, in giving meaning to our every day experience of life and art. By extension, it also reflects on some of the transformations initiated by technology, globalisation and now also the pandemic and to it related questions of embodiment versus disembodiment, being simultaneously here and elsewhere, present and absent in our bodies and our surroundings.’ The Tangible Territory Journal is a ‘celebration of power of creative process and as such, is an ongoing project of collective learning and improving, of sharing, collaboration, curiosity and open mindedness.’
Tereza Stehlikova works as ‘an artist, filmmaker and a senior lecturer. She holds a PhDfrom the Royal College of Art, where she researched the tactile language of moving image. She is currently engaged in a cross-disciplinary research, investigating how moving image can be used to communicate embodied experience. Stehlikova is a senior lecturer in still and moving image theory and practice, at the University of Westminster and also supervises PhD students at the Royal College of Art. She is a founder of Sensory Sites, an international collective based in London, generating collaborative exhibitions, installations and research projects that explore multi-sensory perception and bodily experience. She also co-founded Artesian, a journal for committed creativity, featuring the writings of John Berger, Don DeLillo amongst many others. Stehlikova has presented her research at a number of international conferences and her films and performances have been shown at a variety of film and music festivals around the world. More about her projects here: cinestheticfeasts.com‘.
Responding to Tereza’s call for submissions for the third edition of her Tangible Territory Journal, I shared Fundus, the short film made in response to The Kick-About No.30, and likewise wrote a short accompanying piece about lock-down, The Kick-About and of ‘making directly’ and ‘doing quickly:
“A few weeks back, the prompt for the Kick-About was ‘Fundus Photography’, with fundus pertaining to categories of retinal photography. Challenged to respond to imagery that was both ‘of the human body’, but also suggestive of more galaxial realms, I set about inflating a latex glove with water and floating it in a goldfish bowl filled with water coloured with some old black ink cartridges I found at the back of a drawer. As I was assembling these ad-hoc components (only let’s call it ‘playing’, for that is what it was), I had no idea I would soon be making a short experimental film in collaboration with another artist, Deanna Crisbacher. As I was holding the latex glove under the tap, I had no guarantee (or indeed much hope), that my idea would come to anything at all. Importantly, I suppose, I didn’t care. I didn’t know then, as I turned the water black with squirrelled ink, that I was in the early stages of making a strange little film offering up expansive, cosmic impressions born from a combination of domestic objects. I didn’t know then I might be writing about this project, even going as far as drawing out from it some final conclusion about the transformative and transportive power of creativity, of making directly, of doing quickly, and the value of community.”
Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story as my response to The Kick-About No.36. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistan for women and girls. Despite the story’s seemingly outlandish premise – a woman waking one morning to find her own head transformed into a vegetal ‘lump’ – it wove itself together with surprising ease, proving once again, to me at least, how genre is placed perfectly to tell the truth.
Good things come to those who wait… and I’m very happy to announce the latest chapter of Chimera Book 1 is here! With only two more instalments to go, Kyp’s adventures in the fantastical realm of lost properties continue apace. Huge thanks, as always, to Dan Snelgrove for finding the time, energy and vocal dexterity to bring another chapter so fulsomely to life – enjoy! It’s been a while, so you maybe in need of a refresher: you can listen again to Chapter 18 here.