Make Mine a Haut Medoc: Lyrical Libertine Mark Waugh
Interview by Richard Marshall.
3:AM: In your interview with Stewart Home you talk about the counter-culture milieu you were brought up in. How was it growing up with these people – was it in St Ives – and if you wanted to rebel as a youth, how do you do it when you’re already in the middle of the rebellion thing?
MW: I was brought up in West Penwith, Cornwall, a fishing and once tin mining community, which in the past was very isolated but now relies heavily on tourism. My mother was part of a wave of urban migrants from across the UK, who drifted south in the early 60s. It was a phenomena that was reported on in the news of the time. Particularly because when Donovan turned up he was a pop star. We lived in Newlyn, Carbis Bay and St Ives before settling in an old school house in Hayle.
This was converted into what we now know as a loft style living space. We had orange and purple feature walls and paisley wallpaper in the bathroom. It was counter cultural gentrification or regeneration. But it was a bubble in a still conservative county, a hubble bubble more accurately with a great bookshelf and lots of musical intruments.
To be honest it still is and my mother recently celebrated her 70th birthday with friends she has known since the 60s. Its hard to rebel against pensioners with spliffs!
I have not found anything more interesting to rebel against than the policing of ideas, pleasures and states of consciousness. At the end of the page I guess, I’m a traditional libertine.
3:AM: Donovan, Clive Palmer you mention as well as Ginsberg who of course is linked with Dylan. How far was the folk scene something that interested you and how far if at all are you tracking the new folk scene that seems to be alive and kicking now? Were you in a band? What kind of music interested you back then and now?
MW: It was great having these musicians turn up at our house and jam and exchange songs all afternoon. I have great memories of what seems an endless party. This only really changed in the later part of the 70s when I started a band make a noise that included a lot of folk influences. Lyrical quality in writing fascinates me. I think the first song I made was an electro folk version of a DH Lawrence poem, ‘Death Ship’. So at 16 I was singing, ‘Oh build your ship of death, your little ark, and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine for the dark flight down oblivion.’
I then went on to write my own material. By the 80s when I was at university I was doing quite of lot of live gigs and festival appearance with my group, the SN Ensemble. I continued to make soundtracks with collaborators on later film projects and performance works and installations. I doubt I will have time for a reunion tour in the near future.
Of the new folk material I have heard I am huge fan of Brighton singer songwriter, Mary Hampton and quite like Bat for Lashes.
3:AM: Of course Come comes out of rave and you connect it with the extreme end of performance art. Are you still part of the scene?
MW: When I graduated with a degree in Philosophy there was only one place to go. Down to the beach in Sussex. With a head full of post-modernity and a pharmacopeia of situations, there was a club called the Zap. It spawned a wild indie scene in the mid 80s and brought the world of exquisite sonic to the south coast: Live Skull, That Petrol Emotion, The Swans, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, The Happy Mondays, Laibach, Stereo MCs, Queen Latifah, Spacemen 3, A Guy Called Gerald. It was intense and personal and scene-driven by artistic passions rather than fiscal obsession. In the same dark arches beneath the road were also regular cabaret nights and festivals of Performance. It was not long before I found myself live and without clothes on stage with the Neo-Naturists at a festival called Taboo, a lot of fun.
Not only did I play at the Zap with my band SN Ensemble and put on nights with Fundamental and Pow Wow. I also curated video seasons, directed and produced performances such as Oral and PZ092 and worked on a series of club nights: Die Lieber Rausch, featuring Live Artists as diverse as: Marisa Carnesky, Bruce Gilchrist, and Tatsumi Orimoto.
In the mid 90s I got hooked into the cyber revolution, casting extracts from these nights to the Whole Wide World. For me and collaborator, Julian Weaver the web became a new territory to explore which was linked to the attitudes of club culture in terms of its absence of hierarchy and affirmation of performative identity tropes. I don’t go to clubs much now, but for some, a Saturday night version of the club scene is as close as they get to the nocturnal economy.
3:AM: What was it that led to the writing of novels?
MW: What is unique about the novel is that it tells the story of a story. It allows the reader to create paths to meander into the imagination. These detours return to idioms of subjectivity such as, ‘author’ which although empty signify an absent voice. This circulation of specters haunting a tale which has no preface or conclusion undoes the logic of commodity exchange as nobody is producing a thing, its nothing that is at stake here and although one might say that the present credit crunch is a direct result of just such a fiction, we can still affirm the pleasure of a text as this thing between us, the commodity without a future except through deferral.
I like novels that formally play with structure and narrative such as the works of BS Johnson, Thomas Pynchon, George Perec, Virginia Woolf and Italo Calvino and those who today refuse to abandon narcissistic flourishes of style such as Bridget Penney, Maxi Kim, who have also been published in the Semina series. But of course I also read many others whose writing amuses me such as Charlotte Roche, Tony White, Steve Beard, Tom McCarthy and Stewart Home to name a few.
3:AM: You take a refreshingly oppositional stance to culture in certain respects? Has the ‘credit-crunch’ moment helped or hindered the oppositional stance being heard?
MW: Reading philosophers such as Nietzsche helped focus perspectives. We are it is obvious in an era in which ideological apparatus are highly evolved. It is tragic that the state in some situations might allow it’s officials to try and occlude their identity whilst inflicting violence on the public, but is this a measure of its contempt and abuse of power that has also been played out in international situations?
The credit crunch is fascinating from the point of view of affirming that there is no outside of the text and that fiction is the most devastating mechanism for creating hallucinatory futures. Suddenly half the world looks like a mediated version of Second Life!
3:AM: Film is an obvious influence on your work – both as a writer and curator and you’ve worked in film too. You talk about dub installations and performances involving original and found film footage. What found film footage did you use?
MW: As the French theorist Deleuze argues in Cinema 1 and 2, film as a technology has been central to the evolution of the human condition. If we are to move beyond essentialist and ethnocentric versions of subjectivity, the ubiquity of images moving on a screen is likely to play a significant part. Artists such as Steve McQueen exemplify the ways in which sophisticated and nuanced visions of the world are becoming more commonplace. The economic transformation of the tools of production and distribution also signify a massive shift in the convergence of media space and simultaneously the growth of audiences unrestricted by broadcast regulators.
The films that have influenced me most are many and varied. The Wizard of Oz, which is one of the most exquisitely coloured masterworks, that I still can enjoy. Pasolini is always a favourite, as are contemporary filmmakers like Harmony Korine. I watch films very indiscriminately and enjoy things I probably shouldn’t. I have worked with film as a medium since the 80s. I was part of a group called small group called Situation Cinema. We worked with 16-mm and Super 8 and made large scale installations. I also used film and video for installation in clubs using found footage such as the Ascot and 50s wrestlers cut up with a bit of porn and war crimes and original material shot specifically for special events like, Destroy Perspective. I have buried these works in a cellar in Brighton but they will be up on Youtube shortly along with the original promo film for Come and works my partner Julia and I have made such as Psychostasia.
I have not worked on film much recently although I did shoot our International Curators Forum interview with Robert Storr and Simon Njami in Venice in 2007. I also have commissioned a lot of works for BBC and Art Council England as part of Shooting Live Artists, Private View and finally the Power of Art. Most recently I have written about work of film maker Ben Rivers latest works THIS IS MY LAND, ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES and SØRDAL. We will be showing a retrospective of his works at the A Foundation, Liverpool in the fall.
3:AM: Can you say more about Bubble Entendre – especially its triptych structure? The third section was at the request of Stewart? Can you say more about the relationship between you and Home when writing and editing the book?
MW: Stewart knew that I had a draft novel ready for publishing which followed Come. He read this with Gavin and they both thought it would work well in the Semina series but was too short. Stewart was also keen to blow a bit on Dolly and inflate her story for a grindhouse version of the original. The last step in the equation was for me to do something based in the near future. So the structure evolved in response to the desire to present a trilogy of works that span a series of historical moments, the resurgence of underground culture through the rave scene, the millenium and the supposed, end of the world in 2012.
Stewart and Gavin were great to work with. Stewart has always been clean and efficient and stripped down Come in an interesting way – its like a radio edit of a pop song, but with all the rude bits amped up. Likewise with the other two sections he brought a precise ear to the line of narration.
For me what is critical is that the book opens in the future and recedes into the past. This allows the works to build on each other. In was very conscious of dropping this idea into the opening story. I erase a lot of my work to create a short but layered experience which means that three works can easily fit within the bind of single novel. Moreover like Malcolm Lowery my works are full of stratagems that migrate across the borders of each work, such as the characters working for SERIAL. The triptych like a Bacon painting allows the three stories to occupy a single event horizon in which the reader generates perspective and the tonality of voices.
3:AM: There are two discourses you take as central to the novel – genius and margins/centre. Can you say where you are with your thinking on these – they seem to be hugely important especially when thinking about the role of the counter-culture (does it/can it exist,) authenticity and the role of artists/individuals/collectives etc?
MW: The idea of modern genius is central as it is key to the Kantian conception of the artist. I was inspired by Freud’s psycho-biography of Leonardo Da Vinci because it was reading in which Freud transfers his fantasy of the genius artist into the figure of the dead renaissance artist. It is this merging of subjects which for me undermines the notion of singular. Genius in short must be perceived by another, if we take Beuys’ maxim that we are all artists then we are all capable of genius, as defined as a poetic proximity to the apprehension of the world as if by God. As a good Nietzschian I travel with this maxim in my pocket and believe others do likewise; although to flash it about in public would run the risk of losing it. “I have nothing to declare…” etc.
The figure of genius is also shorthand for a state of consciousness that is expandable and this is at the heart of the 60s Counter Culture, the opening of the Doors of Perception and exploring an “erotic sense of reality” proposed by Herbert Marcuse. I am a product of these cultures and believe my work to be an archeology of their margins. In this sense I do believe that there are networks of ideas which are occulted and only revealed with delicate patience. That Stewart Home’s mother, Julia, was a friend of Alexander Trocchi and others and that I was taken over to Colin Wilson’s house and others is not chance in my book but a convergence of energy and information. An Outsider culture in England exists because it is deeply scared of desire and ideas that liberate people from the conformity to be well behaved consumers. The A Foundation has recently completed the digitization of the International Times archive and the complete history of the Counter Culture remains to be written.
Stocking this paper in St Ives in the 60s was enough to get the café owned by friends of my mother’s tarred and feathered.
3:AM: Bubble Entendre incorporates a take on Come plus part of an unfinished project. How far has the text being a whole more than and less than its parts influenced both how it was written, conceived and read?
MW: The double take or reading that moves in more than one direction at the same time, is what binds the reader with Bubble Entendre. The idea that a text is complete is not one that appeals to me and is why I celebrate the remix as a theme within my work, signifying a demand that technically, the structure of a novel must open itself to the theoretical models inherited from modernism rather than occupy a simulation of writing which is purely beholden to a literary style. The fragments that have been cut from the novel, can appear like a purloined letter in future spaces, – “The story starts with a dot on the horizon. There in the centre of the screen, a black howling chasm spinning into itself.”‘ The reader must decide whether this fragment is lost or forgotten. The story starts when the reader starts to imagine things.
3:AM: Cultural collision is something else that you discuss briefly – you take this as being particularly fertile at the moment – Youporn and Seiges etc but isn’t there a danger that this post-modern attitude might end up trivialising issues, culture and artists?
MW: Absolutely, I understand the gravity of the issues Bubble Entendre address’. There are and must be substantial risks involved in occupying a position. we live in an era in which the performance of celebrity for example is a serious business. One cannot critique culture without risking collapsing into ridiculed, superficial abyss that is presented to us on a daily basis in the media. However, as Warhol said in From A to B, artistic risk is nothing compared to the daily risks of those working in hospitals, education etc. The artist has the privilege of sharing risk with others. After 9/11 and Big Brother, we have moved beyond the easily conceivable into an era of mediated narratives which are almost unbelievable. Perhaps, it’s time for a negotiation of the borders between truth and fiction. As a philosopher it is these ideas about culture, that interests me.
3:AM: Utopian thinking allows us to think that a future world without art would be better than the present, or a future with art. What do you think?
MW: My interest is in the aesthetic experience and I think that my Utopia would be organised around an intensification of aesthetic sensibilities. Whether art as we know it is what is needed to achieve this is uncertain but art can make manifest feelings that are otherwise difficult to imagine.
3:AM: John Cage talks about making art that’s like weather. This sounds interesting but what do you think he means and what do you think?
MW: Well there is a lot of space in his notebooks and compositions and you can’t have metrology without space?
But he is exciting for letting go and letting the world into the work of art.
3:AM: Who are the philosophers and writers and cultural makers who are most influential on you today?
MW: Today I read nothing but emails. I feel that increasingly we are not influenced so much by single figures but by the diffusion of ideas. Its not just the original idea but the way its distorted remix comes back to us. Still however I have always space for Philosophers such as Jacques Ranciere or Stuart Hall or even Jalal Toufic. I am also lucky to work with thinkers such as David A Bailey and Gilane Tawadros. I am very lucky to live with an artist/photographer and we share an interest in lots of artists. At the Sharjah Biennial I was most impressed by the works by Hamra Abbas, Tarek Atoul, Sophie Ernst, Lara Favaretto, Jose Luis Martinat and Agnes Janich.
3:AM: Home drinks whiskies – a good scotch. What’s your drink and sigue to drugs, fags and drink and writing/work and hipster cool image etc – what are the hip cats doing now?
MW: I am well disposed for gallery openings, as I like red wine. If I am buying I prefer a Haut Medoc but otherwise as long as its wet I don’t moan. I enjoy my Lucky’s but I don’t like losing things like keys so I am wary of relaxing technologies. The hep cats I see about are concentrating on their pose, which is how it should be.
3AM: And finally – other than 3:AM of course, what are the best web spaces…?
MW: Well of course there’s The A Foundation website…
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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, April 26th, 2009.