Rolling papers on the desk
"To know of some is good; but for the rest, silence is to be praised; "
Ser Brunetto speaking of his fellow sodomites to Dante in the Inferno 1
Rolling papers on the desk is a title composed by John Cage and I have adopted it as the title of my project in response to his work.. The central threads of my own practice are that of sexuality and authority so naturaly the starting point of my research for this project was John Cage's private and personal life. I discovered early on about his relationship with the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham during the cold war era. Their lives and relationship were kept very secret and hidden within mainstream society however Jonathan Katz talking about Cage and Merce said “His sexuality was a kind of open secret within the avant-garde, and, as his fame spread, so too did knowledge of his personal life. Still, direct public acknowledgement of Cage's sexuality was, until quite recently, hard to find, consigned to the realm of gossip and understood to be tangential to his historical import and achievements. Cage himself, while never denying his sexuality, preferred instead to duck the question: when asked to characterize his relationship with Merce, he would say, "I cook and Merce does the dishes."3 During my research I felt that it was because of this subversive and secretive behaviour that he developed his anarchic attitude to Authority. He seemed to devise his systems of random chance and repetition in his work as an antidote to the cultural conventions, just as his sexual behaviour was flying in the face of normality. I therefore wanted to suggest these connections between sexuality, anarchy and authority in my work
My starting point was to understand the relation ship between the space (the room in which I was working), my own personal human biography and that of John Cage. My actions required me to take a stance and perform in a way that was opposite to any suggested authority or system.
I brought some material from my own studio space to this other place: rolls of paper, glue gun, cotton, snooker balls and some gay magazines. I first placed rolls of paper in the middle of the room, cotton thread to the corner, and played with these materials to create the accidental chance that comes with spontaneous making and combining this with ideas of relationships, vulnerability, sexuality and fear of authority and between people in society.
On other days I continued this process, I brought more plain paper, coins, and playing cards and still with the notion of chance, I used some of his ideas of interpretation , indeterminacy, tossing coins, finger prints etc. to create a variety of different installations within the space. I made thumb prints on paper and tossed coins around the floor and made some coin prints on paper by rubbing them with graphite. I placed rolled paper around the floor and placed playing cards on the top of them and they reminded me of people marching or dancing through the space. I drew around them with cotton thread, allowing the drawing to wander freely.
This process was working well but the space still dominated the work and had an authority. It was indeterminate but I decided to respond to this context. The discovery of a very formal looking desk in the building inspired me to think that all the disordered components I had been using should be brought together with a counterpoint of the desk and the space. The desk in the space alone has authority and is severe. I cut pictures from gay magazines and used them like pin up boys, pinning the rolls of paper together like formal documents. By placing these rolls of paper on the table and giving each the face of a playing card my desire was to give each individual one a sense of freedom.
They were not any more silent rolls of paper, they were more powerful on the desk than on the floor.
I propose to perform in the space: every 4 minutes and 33 seconds I will sit in chairs on opposite sides of the desk, changing every 4 min and 33 seconds so that the total performance will be 9 min and 6 seconds in duration.
Please donate your thumbprint – I would like to liberate them
1Dante Alighieri, trans. Allen Mandelbaum. The Divine Comedy, Inferno, (Berkeley: University of California Press,1987), Canto XV: 137. Interestingly, when Cage's friend Robert Rauschenberg illustrated this passage in his Dante Drawings he uncharacteristically opted out of the prescribed silence-- identifying himself as among the sodomites sentenced to wander over burning sands by outlining his own foot in red at the top of the page.