Ola Ståhl & Neil Chapman (2010-2012)
The Outlands is a creative critical writing project initiated by Ola Ståhl and Neil Chapman and occasionally involving other invited collaborators. Seeking to explore an expanded sense of non-literary and non-theoretical writing as a collaborative process engendering aesthetic and conceptual figurations and personae drawing upon and performing particular notions and modes of thought, the project has generated several outputs (chapbooks, artist books, published essays and performances) that may appear disparate but that can be stitched together into a twisting trajectory in which, beyond ruptures and disjunctures, environments, landscapes and characters, artefacts, objects, events and concepts appear, disappear and reappear in continuous movement.
WE WATCH THEM GOING IN A BUBBLE OF BREATH HELD
We have found a route to the Outlands. It has been not by following directions though vaguely, with their sticks, others point saying they would go too (we watch them going in a bubble of breath held). Our work on the contrary is to subsist. When abrasions of the Outlands cast us back to sanctuary, event here thin resources for life’s sustaining can be found. We practice unlikely conservations, in the end forgetting comfort to dwell with Outlanders, where the earth’s colour exhausts rods. A cone-cranial bone is motioned, three small stones placed in its dish to circulate with rhythm: it is thought. And so thinking takes place. A cut fragment of cardboard then folded, placed under the heel: our protocol. And old ways are cloths torn, wetted and packed between teeth and gums. Our devices are string wrapped polythene released to ascend over grasslands by the runway: then we will imagine our missive sent. We are students of Outnature. Of its jagged rock enclosures and ponds in the sea. There are no birds if bats are not found in the cave, still black shapes flock. Then we will walk between the bungalows in low prairie, and out onto the terrace. Aerials’ slim wires against a magnesium sky in the distance lead us to where technicians have met to converse in low voices, hands covering their mouths unless they be lip-read. And near, bright concretes are submerged in a harbour where the water is purified and turned glass-clear. It is the effect of flora and called the unlikely ecologies of Outlands. Scramble the talus; seek nacreous surfaces. Talk on these matters is conducted in voices sub-vocal, only through out-takes and obscured scenes: a child lost under the brim of a paladin hat holds a clutch of black eggs. Enigmatically, an elegy is given by the beam of a lighthouse through broken panes. Handicraft is pyramid-building on the Outlands. Under foot the boards are unstable. So an Outlander squats beneath a flower-decorated cloth held faded on four poles secured with guys, in a shallow trough, while the caustic wind makes rags whip: all dwellers in Outlands and we with them.
An inventory for the survey of Outlands reads as follows: A workshop to host researches and to facilitate the production of missives, wires from the Outlands, the grid on which its results will be hung. It might be a small space, a library with meeting room; and adjoining it a writer’s study smaller still with ‘fourth wall’ giving onto a proscenium perhaps as intimate as the study itself. In fact sizes matter little but spaces must be dark at times. At other times light from high windows will penetrate. A figure will be seated, a restless man twitching in his chair, reading but impatiently from a broadsheet publication. Another figure obscured but seen there amidst assemblages of technology (some ancient, others contemporary – piles of stone, cassette tape recorders, discarded radios and turntables, a flute, an accordion, keyboards, laptops and hard drives, a mixer and a PA, loud speakers of various styles). Amidst these technological prostheses he dwells, or as an extension of them – from his posture it is difficult to tell. On an adjacent table printers, mechanical typewriters loaded with scrolls, binders and other equipment for the wiring of missives are placed. Behind the table, on a screen, the intermittency of visual data will be presented, and presented elevated in its presentation over so-called images and the blankness of screens alike. In front of the table, a third body will squat, mirror glass leaned against the tables edge, his movements mirrored in the space and recorded, looped back into the production of texts and scores that record minute details, counter-intuitive acknowledgments of imperceptible shifts in the body’s attitude. Video technologies will be used for the recording of the body’s postures and poses, but to emphasise – and no less to elevate as said – their shifts. A fourth figure measures time and constructs devices to carry out her task with precision. Radio transmitters and receivers will pick up sine tones and layered static. With the aid of a pneumatic power source, rubber bands, plastic bags and tin foil will be assembled as listening devices.
Neither writing’s material technologies nor methods for the dissemination of missives can be divorced from this survey of Outlands. Likewise no anthropology of Outlanders can be undertaken in blindness to writing’s material impacts. Radio, live transmission. The faculty exists to be opened. Our guests will expire. What generality is there of publics? We are impromptu. And long-planned long playing. The schedule is already embarked. Others will appear or vice versa. Some might prepare to be appeared well in advance where aspens sharpen. But then they will be improvised. But in any case the situations and events will occur, will occur, will occur, will occur. And more, in different registers series. Objects and tools. Constructions made fulfilled for all practical purposes. Because on Outlands all projects are called catastrophe. Pragmatism with pegs our art: at times when they are not in us they will be stored in proximity to the faculty. White plastic conditions of nature. Copies are white plastic to be arched. For what purpose we might seek assistant scriveners, transcribers possibly also to interpret, translate and archive? We will often laff or befony even though our ambition is elsewhere.
YOU’RE DOING SOME DANGEROUS WORK, KURT STEINER
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO KURT STEINER?
(published by Publication Studio Malmö, 2011)
01 The patent office holds the published application for a mechanism that its author claims transmits radio signals. While the invention’s function is easily named, its method is unusual and not related to those on which our familiar transmitters are based. Two discs mounted with overlapping radii spin on uneven axes, coming into contact intermittently. “Misaligned high-hat cymbals” is what they are like, the description proposes, but larger. The dimensions given on a diagram specify that the two discs together add up to the size of “a man’s outstretched arms”. Other parts are described as the patent application requires. But even for someone familiar with technical descriptions and able to read circuit diagrams, on the basis of the published application alone it is difficult to understand how the device works. A further explanation would be needed. To put it this way is to speak with some irony because in fact the document has been written precisely to be insufficient for a reader’s reconstruction of the device, while at the same time answering the patent office’s requirements with perfect sufficiency.
02 A part of the day is lost, an odd time is made to inhere in it during which you are hypnotised by the dripping tap. The measure of seconds is less significant than the sense of time rid of its layering. While you listen to the sediment of background work, those things you’re conscious of working on are pushed away. You are gripped by the impression that in the sound there is a note. The dripping can be heard as the plain sound of water, but the sound has a tendency. It seems to aspires. In the chaos of shattered frequencies something is trying to come together – failing but with each new drip trying again.
03 Find a footing on the rails; prepare to address the one whose closer company you crave. Two tunnels are separated by a division of stone and brick that allows sound to pass. In the second tunnel a diminished echo from the first can be heard, but altered on account of the way that the wall absorbs some frequencies and transmits others. As the freight carrier comes, its thundering approach seems to cast before it a narrow and penetrating composition. You drift into a revere, only to be brought back by the rattle of things nearby, fixings, infrastructure in the tunnel aiding freight in its transit drawn into the composition. A portion of the tunnel is flood-lit, bulbs behind steel grills illuminate steam, water dripping with a hiss and a steady drip, drip, onto their heated casings.
04 It is a critical moment. An encounter is taking place. The one in whom you have invested is about to meet a being of mysterious and frightening origin. Part human but with a fox’s head, and with the movements of a body not subject to gravity. The other player is out of view for the moment although you know where he is, behind the screen in a space accessible through a narrow opening. The floating fox-man intends to go in that direction. Your anxiety will increase markedly if – as you suspect is about to happen – the second of the two players moves out of view. Considering the accompaniment independently, its elements are perhaps not equally successful. One component seems heavy-handed in its theatricality. Now you think about it the others had not even crossed your mind as being added sound.
05 Here the ground’s baked clay erupts into a monolith with two wide, flat sides facing to the East and West. Imagine how it has come into being. Look closer, beyond what the eye can see and into a composite of soil, masticated wood pulp and insect faeces. The microscopic dimensions of visibility hold a microbial time, a colony’s generations contributing without comprehending the whole that has brought their work so strikingly into phase with our own time. Cool air circulating in its interior gives the terminarium a breath of its own, life extended to baked clay by way of porosity, on account of involutions too intricate to observe but there in the sound when you listen.
06 This thing’s workings have been removed, separated from the casing that trivialises them with its crude representation. Some care has been taken but not enough, it seems. The plastic moulding decorated with coloured transfers is discarded now along with some other parts that should have been kept – at least so if the mechanism was worth preserving. Now a new support will have to be fabricated if it is to run independently. No matter. Such tasks if not anticipated precisely have been foreseen. They may even have been the reason for the original dismantling. A new structure will be made from sheet-aluminium, from a strip cut, scored, flexed and broken, then bent to hold the workings, to hold them free of the surface that would impede their running. Then its operation will be there to be watched, to be enjoyed for what it is, for the idea of purposes to which it might be turned if interest can be sustained long enough.
07 Visitors arriving for the first time are affected by the hanger in a way connected to the constrictions of its access route. When they step out of the buggy and climb the short rise, after an initial exclamation there is a period of extended silence, the hanger’s vastness taken in. Its size affects perception of the activities seen clearly enough at the further end before the contour of the floor puts them out of view. Those who work seem orderly in their movements. Their thoughts must be untroubled too. Lights are distributed in regiments. For the visitor to fall silent while looking on these things signals the recalibrating of time. They don’t realise their silence but we have come to recognise the response as a peculiarity of the hanger.
08 Four sticks and a tarpaulin. When we say ‘sticks’ we mean poles, like tent-poles, but of the old kind disassembled for storage and transport. By ‘tarpaulin’ we mean green, not canvas but a plastic weave, waterproof all the same. Such fabrics are noisy. The wind looses their cacophony; rain is amplified making it all the more surprising to see it used here – unless of course the weather has been anticipated to be part of the composition. Our performer works intensely. Meanwhile a steady trickle of water finds its way over the edge of the tarpaulin from a reservoir collecting there, which will have to be attended to soon. When a convenient moment presents itself the tarpaulin will be prodded from below. Even if the water is expected to go the other way a warning will be issued to those nearby since bodies of water liberated from canopies are known to be unpredictable.
09 It’s an old-fashioned technique but works surprisingly here to evoke what’s mysterious in thought’s process. The screen’s image is split in two with a blurry division down the centre. On the left, a scene from the park. By a combination of density and the colour of its foliage the Copper Beech bring darkness to the picture. On the right, the character’s profile is made to be the tree’s double by the shot’s composition, which persists only for a moment but long enough for the division to be is registered as the kind usually signifying the collapse of space, the extremes of a telephone line for instance, showing simultaneous expressions on the faces of two speakers. (Why do they not say goodbye politely, the last to speak simply finishing her sentence and with a secret smile putting the receiver down?) If it were reproduced exactly, the effect would be comedic. Instead the dissolve, and the pan that comes round more squarely onto the dense foliage, gives the mind in revere – not a vacant mind but thought resolving, intuiting the effect of events to come which cannot be evaded – which would not be evaded even if they could – because there are things more important than to find the least resistant path through the events of ones life.
10 An aerial positioned on the bungalow’s roof is the older of two devices. More recently, to extend the range of broadcasting operations, a new aerial has been erected within the bungalow’s fenced enclosure. Its main upright portion is a ‘box’ structure in anodised steel bolted to concrete foundations. Cables tied to four outlying foundations protect it from strong winds. For the aerial to be installed a portion of the perimeter fence had to be taken down. A temporary road surface was laid but the contractors’ vehicles churned up the turf all the same, making the corner of the enclosure into a muddy building site. Above the slim structure two rods extend from a cream-coloured housing. One is longer than the other. At its tip is a more slender rod still that flexes in the wind. A red light on the housing indicates broadcast operations in progress.
11 The tube has a rib that runs in a helical path around its circumference, which is in fact a v-shaped profile pressed into the structure for increased rigidity. Leaning into the opening you must be careful not to catch your clothes on its rough edge. With your head, arms and shoulders now inside the tube, experience the different acoustics. The voices of colleagues are still audible, but muffled. At the same time sound from the other chamber, visible clearly as a disc of light, is amplified. What’s given is a selection of sound, a representation of that other space’s activity based on the tube’s direction – at least, that’s what you imagine. And whatever sounds you make – for instance, as you run your finger over the tube’s internal profile to feel the v-shaped dent pressed into it for rigidity – is amplified and added. There might be time to experiment some more, to try out a couple of different movements with the hand over metal, or to breath differently and to listen to that effect too amplified or bounced from one surface to another before you are required to return and give your assessment about matters that have nothing to do with sound inside the tube.
12 In fact neither men are supposed to be here in the deserted stadium. One gets in first to greet the other with the accusatory question – let’s call them A and B. A gets in first with the question that B himself might have been well set to present. Should you be here? Do you have authorisation? What are you looking for? Or more euphemistically: can I help you? B’s response is quick enough, evasive and latent with accusation. If A was truly carrying out the terms of his employment and doing nothing else, B’s presence would be of no concern. But the obverse is true too. It’s the frisson of trespass that’s brought B here, and now it’s in his manner in the form of guilt. In A’s case something more indictable is being hidden, B thinks, an extra-curricular programme. On the table there is a cloth of green fabric, on the cloth a container, on the container a lid that, when B caught a glimpse of him first, A was lifting. Now A lowers the lid and lifts it again, lowers it and lifts it. The box is empty. When a person knows he is being watched, everything that followed is diversion. B should think back to what was unresolved in A’s gesture just at the moment he realised he was being watched. The answer is there.
13 An odd brightness is visible in rings that show each exhaust. It’s odd to see a brightness in the sky at midday which is not the sun. The two bright rings are matched by intense and directional sound, not loud – at least not yet. You can hear the peculiarity that tells what’s coming. Look at the portion of sky through which the aircraft has just flown. There loudness is located. When the plane banks, when for a moment your standing position on the railway platform corresponds with its forward vector, at that moment the sound will achieve its magnitude. It will shatter the peace that reigned over farm lands and you will be struck again by the complicity that must exist between the Air Force base and the town nearby from which it takes its name.
14 Sometimes the Sea King can be spotted flying low, following the coast on a training exercise. Walkers are lucky and find themselves close to the spot where it comes to hover. As it rotates its position carefully to face the mid-afternoon sun it shows one flank and its open door, a dark interior, two men wearing helmets preparing to descend on a rope into a weather system made by the aircraft’s own blades.
THE EXECUTION OF KURT STEINER
EARTH MOTIFS, SHALLOW DESIGNS, OUTLANDS
(published by Valeveil, Stockholm and Publication Studio Malmö, 2013)
A desert sun behind the haar, defined, it lights the water with white glare. But the elegant veneer has come off at the flat surface’s edge revealing the desk’s chipboard interior. Light before eleven scandalous when it penetrates these interiors with their carelessness lavished, that the rooms should be lit by a view so placid, undisturbed by lethargic breaths, sighs, hushed mumbling, the result of a common disinterestedness not yet articulated, at the back of the minds of those present (present, yet not quite there). To peel absent-mindedly at veneer’s lose corners, where the glue no longer binds it to the chipboard, and to do so knowing that there is a risk that a splinter of veneer will break off and get lodged under the fingernail, and to do so entirely absent-mindedly, vacously, without thought. At this hour it is not early – none of morning’s clarity of mind – nor late – mind not yet rigid but settled comfortably limp. Its idea is hardly perceptible, not yet quite an image rather an image unformed still to form, a disturbance on the edge of thought it will continue its turbulence quietly and may reappear, as the sun reappears, in looped intervals which may at first seem to follow an erratic pattern but will eventually prove to abide by the logic of an altogether different duration.
Meanwhile to persist with paucity, a sheet too white, too large for the mark. To impose upon it nevertheless marks to then catalogue by criteria ill understood. The fleeting satisfaction they offer is of a realm other than thought, they can be ordered into comprehensible categories only once the sensation has passed and the necessary dissociation has been restored. Then to wait for the mind to go limp once again. For something other to enter through its vacuous repose. But for that to come about, the posture must be right, the conditions must be such that it can come to pass: feet planted firmly on floorboards, head held high but tilted, chin tipped toward sternum, work surface adjusted for a seated position, seat’s curve perfect for spine’s bend not to relax but to offer just the right amount of support, folded piece of corrugated cardboard, ripped from a larger segment earlier in the morning, wedged beneath the sole of the right foot giving it an upward angle noticeable but slight; an unusual posture to carve out a fine period of the morning before stiffness in the thighs sets in. Then acknowledge the others in a way not done before, it having been too early, converse in low voice, subdued, beneath breath but not without excitement, feel the silence of the room unnoticed during work’s first concentration, unimposing yet pregnant with a peculiar expectation, before walking out for recreation.
Persist with the scriber’s point though it is sharp enough to damage the paper, rasping it, cutting into the fibrinous sheet, and too narrow, too faint for the sheet’s area. Do it out of arrogance. Or as an experiment to test the status of experimentation itself. Or its limits. Do it as a protest against the futility of instruction. Do it for the sensation itself. The brief pleasure, first of the movement, then upon inspection, the movement’s trace upon the sheet. Do it as a reprieve from thought. Ask not of the mind to understand the meaning of the faint line, the line nor its faintness. Ask instead of the hand to carry it out, carry it on, and to carry it further yet. Do it in spite and because of the faintness of its trace and its destructive impact on the sheet’s untarnished surface. Do it precisely because of the preposterous coupling of the scriber’s faint whisper and the indelible destruction contained by its trace. After all the sought hemisphere is immaterial. With an instrument too sharp, too hard, that in damaging forbids erasure, graphited indentation. The pantograph is designed for a softer tip, but persist nevertheless. Although the instrument’s movements cannot be said to be graceful, they are executed with an ungainly precision, paced with the mechanism’s unorthodox sound – one worth hearing – a precision which to the casual observer might first appear awkward and gauche, but which will soon show itself to involve a certain elegance all the same, what might be called the instrument’s grace.
Even with an incision the hemisphere is drawn with resolve. Because it falls short of what’s been asked, because it can barely be seen (either in the common sense or within the task’s frame) it’s like no other drawing. From an odd angle as the door opens and the low light hits the page a shadow picks up the mark’s profile and its quality is made evident, a line inscribed in dust.
Four roles – Gesture, Duration, Mode and Action – have been written for four performers. The score is composed of instructions for movements and acts, use of props and speech; the outcome of the piece will be determined by the performers’ interpretation.
Performed by Plastique Fantastique, ASC Gallery, London, UK and published as a performance score / scroll by Scenesadventures, 2012
A DAY (IN THE OUTLANDS)
(published in A Poem A Day, eds. Nico Dockx and Clara Meister, Curious, 2014)