More Works

This text was developed from a performance for Estovers II: Digital and Libidinal Enclosures an event organised by Emma Balkind at the CCA, Glasgow in 2013. It was then commissioned as an essay as part of the exhibition publication for To The Reader, Impakt Media festival, BAK, Utrecht, The Netherlands (2013)

Shona Macnaughton: Vanitas Link Rot

Legion TV
24 January – 23 February 2013

A work that comes to be through deletion of its image.
Concrete path, a setting for one human skull.
An image that has existed to sell.
Crepe curtain flesh, a setting for a pirate sword.
A functional image which has been taken to highlight the Object.
Soft hazy leather, a setting for a violin with flamed maple.
An image in itself not intended for consumption.
Jehovah’s friend to scale, a setting for a Corel shell.
Intended to persuade the viewer towards consumption.
Anonymous amputated jeans, a setting for fruit and bowl cracked glass.

The object is at the centre but the subject surrounds the background and the text, it
fills the void of material, and makes the act of consumption loaded.
The domesticated ownership of things is where they are held.
These accidental still lives are the opposite of the Vanitas nature, they bear no
message, their intention is bare. It is clear what they exist for, they sell, they re-sell.
They can appear on this page but their presence is absent and exists as a hole, the
substance instead is layers of subject. Their context betrays them when they
disappear, breaking the Vanitas agreement. Click through and the hole become
tangible – own-able for a finite time, their own system undermines them: when the
link is broken they go. So then the image as Vanitas background must be strong. For
to exist as pain in loss there needs to be beauty, comfort, longing, love, care,
togetherness. The art product is fleeting and determined by the market transaction, it
ceases to exist when one of its parts, its collaged parts, is sold.

A script which lets the collage know it is at the end of its life.

British library just looked at my website to validate my professionalism. LoLz.

Artist within, present with agency, not the noble invisibility of the socially engaged. The non closed legacy of APG.

Talk @ raven row Artist Placement Group, might the term for artist as ‘incidental person’ be replaced by ‘fractious node’? #notarthistory

Follow up W.A.G.E discussion @EmbassyGallery ? Let’s make us more collective.

“smell like an old theory” The reformation by Calvin. Calvinist luxury brand. theological irony.

Off to Croatia today “for a meeting” @franobilucci @mrzljak @ ana kuzmanic @ ewan sinclair @Galzenica

Statement: September 2012  (written with Eastern Surf)

Eastern Surf began two years ago when we as a group of artists working in the UK and Croatia started a conversation, following on from our MFA education together. An initially straightforward exhibition proposal has gradually formed into a ever-growing multiple collaboration and method which has now spanned across several events including public performance photoshoots, mass collated video work, ambient sound work, live online TV and gallery based installation.

The metamodel is at the centre of the body of work we have made with Eastern Surf. It is important to point out that I say ‘with’ and not ‘as’ because we started off imagining Eastern Surf as a methodology for working together rather than a name for a static collective of artists. Eastern Surf was always intended as a way of making across timezones and geographies, with any number of people. We have remained the same number for the last year but we are ideologically open to limitless collaboration, as a kind of open source franchise for making art without sole authorship.  So with that in mind the metamodel began as a way of interacting in a shared space without being physically present to one another, in a practical sense of those in Croatia being able to act on a space in Edinburgh and vice versa, without having to travel.

The centre of the model is Rhubaba gallery and studios in Edinburgh where we had our first presentation of Eastern Surf. On the walls are fragments of our posts and references, which we had shared through a facebook group as a way to find common interests and have dialogue. The way that facebook as a tool forms conversation in its limitations as well as convenience; equal precedence being given to video, image and links,  serious and light alongside in depth discussion and practical chat has allowed themes to build. The way its chronology works moves things along fast, details are lost and ideas can only be brought to the surface if reoccurring,  the private group format functions as a kind of micro crowd sourced sifting through research in order to make decisions. We feel this has had an effect on the work we have made in terms of its cyclical nature.

In the next step we swapped 3D models of our own domestic environments and intervened virtually in the other’s space which was then realised by the inhabitant and streamed online as a live five channel video. Through amateur experiments with tools such as the Google Sketchup software, Skype, Bambuser, Dropbox, Google documents, tools common in the shared collaboration of the international creative class, Eastern Surf has taken it into a more intrusive field and is interested in how our naivety can create a positive glitch in the smooth surface world of digital culture, accentuating the miscommunication and ruptures that occur across filesharing, and between real and virtual worlds. Our position as a kind of lost generation floating between states of digital immigrant and digital native, old enough to remember lived analogue but young enough to adapt and be fascinated by ramification of the digital, also informs our work.

Interested in tactics of identification and mimicry, we looked at business models and language in terms of visual thinking and created pseudo-rational diagrams and graphic design to form a formula to predict our work. The next phase came from a logical development from domestic to semi public space, also in a reflection of the online semi publicity of our TV event. We began to look at our immediate lived environment and the meaning of semi public but privately controlled space. We identified sites where gentrification was in process and looked at the digital representation of its new architecture and lifestyle, its online and billboard identity in advertising and the stark contrast of recession reality. In mimicry of these digital representations we have recreated the “render ghosts” of their scenes, using real people in semi public space to stage an artificial reality. Through the staging of a photoshoot we also test the parameters of the “public” and how people are permitted to interact with a space. The process becomes the performance. Indicators of hyper idealised normality and the game of private control imposes the limits of the photographs. In private spaces which are represented as public and have a projected image, the intrusions we make could be seen as a reclamation of territory in the sense of consequential powerlessness rather that empowerment.

The accidental and unaware collaborator, the passerby caught on camera, or indeed the uploader of the audio or model content that we sample, is a key figure in the work, working equally with the Eastern Surf method.  We are very much embroiled with the ethics of open source and data accumulation, and how to work in the ever narrowing freedoms of the internet. An interest in levels of privacy, the function of data collection and with it the fragile yet at once infinite digital materiality of the online archive is reflected in the process of the metamodel. It has a function as documentation, as a representation of our actions and the events and exhibitions we have been part of. It also functions as documentation of the collaboration process.  Everything seems framed around the action or performance, so the filming of a billboard or the making of a photoshoot is a performance in itself as is the participation in an exhibition. The model represents these events on a level field, in a space as a whole. It is a potentially infinite growing model of the spaces we are subject to, “we” as in “you” and “I”. As a representation of Eastern Surf history the chronology is not linear, as history is not linear, consisting of competing multiple histories across cultures. As it is of events past and its architecture is unfinished it resembles a ruin but I think it can also be seen as a proposition. A proposition towards a reclaiming of space as one might experience it now; fragmented, connected, controlled, online, offline, and the line between public and private diminishing.

1st time the gentle let down has come *before* the decision 🙂

“This round of residencies has been very popular and I am sure the decisions, as always, will be difficult.”

Had a visit @theMAKLab today – great to see all the toys, totally accessible- digital fabrication is opening up to individual.

Finally a reason for  train privatisation – orchid vinyls a la Scotrail loo – obvs to the max

The un-united states of exception.

Jon Snow just said my name, swoon. It was on my name badge.

Sorry cant be there RT @a_holligan Today! 1pm Scottish Parliament, Holyrood! Lobby against the cuts to Further Education. #noFEcuts

Deadend jobs taught me that which a feminist mother did not- polishing, ironing and folding thoughts on My resignation

Publication “Jelly and ice cream when Thatcher dies?” @EmbassyGallery #Annuale .includes a bit of writing by me – for all the 80s DOBs.

My Resignation

You always seem to speak of the same digits. 1  9  6  8 . Again and again they re-occur in your speech, you repeat yourself in your old age Stepmother. You tell me I was born naturally to a digits mother after everything had been achieved. There was a woman at the top. There was warm power. In this cosy equality hole the mother no longer needed to speak from her tongue. She spoke instead from her scripted ideals. Her motherly embrace was enacted from an idea of what it should be rather than what it had always been.

As the daughter of this daughter I had to learn to eat from an idea, learn to sleep from an idea, learn to write, drink, dress. This apparently was an easy life of home theatre, which sustained itself until the end event: domestic divorce.

Raised on a given, I left to join my brother and I met with the reality of you Stepmother. As a grown up daughter’s daughter I had to enter this new setting and re-adjust to a place without ideals. I know you know the script but you improvise because you are a great pragmatist, evil in a clichéd sense, estranged in an actual sense.

Your home is a place that requires skills unlearnt, but fortunately flexibility is one of those skills.

Entering your terrain as a stepdaughter, one must learn to re-identify with the female. You have taught me to carry plates for celebrations, fold napkins for marriage, wear skirts for authenticity, and dance for the privilege of serving drinks, polish glass clear for gifts. I smile in your face. Professionally. I organise. Professionally. I administrate. Professionally. I charm. –  A performing subject setting the table for your Liberal Salon.

Your efficient love has revived the things my true mother denied, but your teaching style is without the empathy of my grandmother.

And I cannot please you. You ask me constantly to prove and improve my worth; what are your personal qualities? What are your strengths and weaknesses? And I repeat myself to say I have experience of pouring wine, I can communicate, I am able to polish glass, I’m a team player, I’ve been trained in folding napkins, I can iron, I can chop, I have the necessary transferable skills you desire.

Yet I never hate you Stepmother, I welcome your presence, you have made me after all. You have let me survive, even when I show you indifference. You occupy my time and provide a reason for being post-religion, post-politics, post-society, post-history.

But what you have given me is a false liberation. Survival alongside my pale brother is not enough and now our group performance of jerky bodies is over. I want to move beyond your binary mantras, which you dress up with relative grace. I have seen you naked, accidentally and now I must go beyond the abstract and the conceptual, beyond the economic and the social, beyond the left and the right, beyond the male and the female.

I need to move without going backwards or forwards. Through Google image plans, the future has been seen in soft focus history. The event has no longer been possible. I’ve forgotten my mother’s script and my skills are performed for you automatically. I used to need drugs to make me collective but this new feeling, it’s not depression.

What I am trying to explain to you is the reason for my theft. I have continued to steal from you the things that did not need to exist, that you have not even noticed. These details have become ammunition for saline weapons, deployed with impregnating tactics for knowing you and what you represent. From your surplus I have laboured on an image of your personality and from your time I have unmasked a character that can now be made accountable.  A collective character. A capital accretion.

Someday soon you will realise you can’t ignore it anymore, so I need to confess before you take back what’s yours and my contact with you as a person is lost.

I have made an archaeological portrait of you; a plaque will explain my resignation and your home will become a museum containing the objects that you used to soften your inhumane blows. For now I am going back to my mother. This reunion will not be scripted or improvised. It will be silent. Together we will walk following each other’s movements, each having a turn to lead, until we find a luxury interior in which to squat and shatter.

This letter is to let you know I’m leaving. Although I appreciate my time with you has not been intolerable, and better than the alternative, there is a new opening. I’m taking a risk that that chink of value on the other side of the dead-end betrays a home of unspoiled and unperformed warmth.


I’ve woken up in Iceland

Meet the Locals, Artima Gallery, Reykjavik.

The new body of work presented in the exhibition is to do with walking through, digitally and touristically. The virtual walkthrough is a format used at a distance from the self, to give an illusion of physicality. As a function it is versatile, whether one is engaged in realtime shooting of enemies, presentation of property for sale or documentation of a new frontier, walking through the infinity of the present is easy.

Listen here to the News Ruin Tour.

Architecture of work #7 on my own, 0hr contract, theres stella, my name badge says rachel – anything could happen.

“We occupy everything because its already ours in common.” Jodi Dean: The Incompatible Public is Occupied

Is rehearsing in the russian woods @00arika00 @GlasgowTramway @chtodelat – come tonight at 7pm


Reflection on two learning plays, the horizontal Vs the representational – a false dichotomy:


The indignity of speaking for others was felt when whilst one person complaining about the representation of females via very obvious female stereotype of the cheerleader (ignoring the positive female representations of the play or indeed the negative male representations) then represented our experience with their own interpretation which for me was wholly inaccurate.  I was not exploited, it was fun and I made a choice to be there.

The indignation I found strange, it was after all a narrative, a construction, we were not embodying the roles in reality, it was highly theatrical. It was a performance of stereotypes that exist. You can’t deny the word ‘homo’ exists and is used negatively, what you can do is represent it out of its agency. The word ‘representation’ seemed to have been misunderstood in this context and was hijacked by the identity politicians. Perhaps I am ignorant of community and activist work, perhaps I don’t know about the specific local struggles of a certain group of people but it doesn’t mean I hold no empathy – I certainly know about the macro, I know the system we share. In this context as an observer it seemed that by certain members of the audience displaying their old school leftist hangups, we were distracted from the real issues at stake which could have been discussed. The focus was on the micro politics of our group and experience rather than the macro common ground which was unfortunate not to have been discussed; nationalism, the neo liberal cycle of discontent, the possibility for a new communism, the fears that drive prejudice, the problems of representing anyone – it felt like there was a number of things that could have opened out that were shut down.

Also it was very quick, two evenings and two afternoon rehearsals is not much and they did what they could with the time. There seemed to be a discrepancy between what was advertised initially and what they were able to do in practice, perhaps they could have been clearer on the first day that this was not a participative learning play, it was, as Dimitry emphasised on the 2nd evening, an internship. For me, having participated in a more horizontally structured learning play previously (How can you be at home in an alien world?) the distinction here was that it was being created for the audience and not the participants. This was fine by me. I know their work. I was very happy to lend my self to helping produce one of their works, and to watch the process. Perhaps I was more comfortable with this and understood it because I had worked with them before. But I think one should come to these events with an open mind, you can’t expect your expectations.

I was part of a learning play which was more participative, in that we as a group who had never met, drove the content. This was scheduled for 2 days, 9am – midnight both days, it ran onto three days, with the performance on the third evening at 8pm. It was a much more difficult experience. People argued, walked out, there was more tension, it was more terrifying in the sense that by the end of the 2nd day we had not yet agreed on any content as the discussions had taken so long, even to understand what a learning play was in the first place was difficult but key if one was going to really get to grips with the process. On the third day it came more together because the people left in the group (who had not walked out) had committed themselves or resigned themselves to being directed – someone needed in the end to take authorial responsibility although still in collaboration. And time was also needed for everybody to get past their own subject position and assume the role of a stereotype ( because thats what under developed characters are).  What I missed from the Tramway production was the opportunity to take on that character and learn from it. We also had more chance to be with each other, work through ourselves.  The group was more diverse in terms of age, background and ethnicity but was still composed of the silent, the vocal and the dominant.

But the play itself could not be compared to the quality of the work presented on Sunday. And making good art is still important, is it not? Anyway there still existed room for manoeuvre within the form the play took, with the movement especially being driven by word association and discussion, and for myself in the role of forest pathologist in the way the lines were said, how I moved and costume, these were not directed dictatorially.

From my Amsterdam notes I can see again the preoccupation with being in an institution, and with my previous experience I did feel inadequate, as if Chto Delat/Ultra red would have preferred working with other people. There was lots of talk about why are we working in this institution, why are we not at the Occupy camp etc. As with the Arika audience there was this idea of the mythical “real” person, the real community out there that we cannot coerce into the arts, the unhelpful othering that goes on and the privilege guilt on display, which seems to serve only to further entrench positions. We were a community ourselves, right there in that room, communities are not static entities. As the Russian Woods demonstrated our privilege is only relative to the next person, we all have all had our place under the Dragon, but perhaps we will realise soon that we are all hamsters.

Our staging of aspiration in so-called Public space was so awful it took security 30 mins to notice – thrown out for being hyper normal.

IF I am “enthusiastic, friendly and energetic” I may get to serve the Creative mythrical, for freeee!!! Culturomical!

The work speaks and thus silences the artist’s voice. There is only solidarity in silence it seems.

The work sits in a blank space at one with itself, a genius dropping from the intuitive hand linked to an unconscious mind. It needs no introduction nor development. It does not embody anything other than its beauty. It has no relevance outside this space.

The artist who has defecated is understandably angsty. Why should I have to explain my shit?


You must compete to win in this world. An artist statement is a positive promotional tool, necessarily affected. Your career will go nowhere without your personal identity yarn. One needs ones neo-liberal soundbites, others seek to neatly place your droppings within a marketplace, you must help them consume your shit.


A manifesto on the other hand is a declaration which won’t get you anywhere, it contains pointless unmarketable things such as principles, values, ideals, politics.

Criticality and complexity are not realistic in this climate.

Andrew Dixon is positioned as a figurehead for Creative Scotland, when there was none in such a way before. So we must deal with what he represents as his opinions. He appears careful to say appropriately inclusive things but he displays the qualities of a politician and therein lies the spin. Once the image fades there are many issues and contradictions that become apparent, specifically the gap between the rhetoric and the examples he uses. There is little room here to analyse his proposed exemplary culture(s) but I can present the immediate issues as I see them and talk of what I would delve further into.

The language used by Creative Scotland (CS), which Dixon is the mouthpiece for, seems to have changed from that of the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) with a number of distinctions being made about the value of culture. I would like to point to a number of assumptions that have been made and how his/ its position is symptomatic of a general neo-liberal turn in the meaning of the word ‘value’ from social to economic worth.

A personal example I could give is my experience in the last couple of years as a committee member of an artist run space. One which had survived on SAC funding for several years but, being outside of the flexi-funded loop, completely ignored strategically since CS took over. Why is that? Quality? No, that doesn’t seem a consideration. Reduction of budget? No, following his/ its new logic those whom you would think CS get most value from, a wealth of production on a minuscule budget and voluntary ‘CV-building’ labour, have been confusingly missed out. Or is it more to do with surface visibility and an old fashioned ideals system that is not profit making or cannot be presented as such. The message is that you were lucky to receive it in the first place and if you want to do it you should be self-sustaining because it is self-indulgent, only of relevance to yourselves. But this seemingly ignores the symbolic: you take away that level of activity and you are left with a gap, no space outwith the commercial or the instrumentalised for contemporary practice(s).

There is also the problem of the concoction of ‘partnership’ working as innately positive, and in general of culture as a positive force, for if everything has to be wonderful then the space for critical discourse is narrowed, the assumption being that critique is of detriment to…something. The use of the words ‘creative’ and ‘talent’ have connotations which cannot be ignored as they reduce the work of artists to hobby and innate ability, placing less emphasis on the work put into the practices of artists and groups, reducing its potential for agency, and demanding usefulness as a ‘value’. The language used is important not because he might mean what he says, but rather as an important signifier because it normalises a rhetoric that submits culture to singularly economic purposes. For example, the deeply problematic, if also totally vague, idea of the ‘franchise’, which seems to centralise power in organisations with their own non-neutral agendas, is something that needs analysis.
Also, as an artist who had moved back North, holding a naïve view of the values of public funding and believing I could better survive within the Scottish environment, I did receive one of the last SAC grants and I would like to reflect on that process as it was and how it has changed. Since, I have not heard of one person who has actually applied as an individual artist, most sighting option paralysis – a difficulty in categorising themselves from what’s discernible. I would like to look into it further to see what the facts are, who has been able to apply in the last year.

I have joked with people about the ultimate CS ‘commission’. It is easy to be cynical about it. But I would not propose that we regress into or reminisce about a former system, one in which over the past decade neo-liberal pragmatics were more hidden but nevertheless in evidence, but that we don’t close off the options either; don’t reject that there might be a possible space outside ‘entrepreneurialism’ for anything other than ‘Traditional Arts’.

I would like to be able to write a response which was thoroughly researched, in depth and was able to reach a wider audience, but unfortunately there are few spaces left for dissenting, questioning voices and little time.

Originally published here