A new piece written for the new Travelogue zine. Issue one also features contributions by Garrett Phelan, Tim Stott, Dominque Hurth, Dennis McNulty and Jessica Foley. This is a new zine edited by Ciaran Walsh, and distributed in print form in Dublin and Berlin. Available as a pdf for download here

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I like to go to conferences. I find comfort in the conflicting senses of community and anonymity that they provide, and I find the feeling of floating between bubbles pleasing. Sometimes I flirt with different disciplines; economics and comparative literature most recently (contemporary art is my home turf, though of late the nomenclature of such conferences have been scattered with the prefixes ‘multi’, ‘inter’ and ‘trans’). Moving between the bubbles can be difficult to do elegantly though, and there are sometimes awkward moments where feet get stood on.

 

 

1. Aesop’s Fable of The Bat, the Bird and the Beasts,* retold for The Surfer Academic

 

Location: Conference addressing themes of art, geography and ‘place’ (Western Europe)

 

Once at a conference there was an unusual looking academic. He bore select stylistic badges of both academia (in memory he has a tweed jacket with elbow patches) and something more visibly ‘alternative’ (long blondish hair in a scraggly ponytail). His physique, broad of shoulder and tan of face, also defied the anaemic academic stereotype. Clearly, here was an individual who did not wish to be pigeonholed.

 

This impression was reinforced, slowly and painfully, by the paper delivered by the Surfer Academic, as I came to think of him. The paper was concerned with spaces of in-betweeness, the gap between high and low tides, if you will. Images accompanying the initial part of the presentation were personal photographs of waves, unidentifiable as waves.

 

The Surfer Academic discussed the liminal areas between sea and seaside; wet and dry; hospitable and inhospitable; and (of course) nature and culture. He referred to Derrida’s example of the picture frame as a thing that resides in the place between such categories (art and the rest of the world). These were related to certain artworks, though these relationships were not that clear.

 

There was also some discussion of surf culture, particularly its commercial imagery and linguistic terminology. The enthusiasm of the Surfer Academic was apparent. He referred to Barthes, for whom the sea was semiotically blank, and to Burke’s notion of the sublime.

 

The presentation was very drawn out. The Surfer Academic was taking far too long – he was late starting and maybe twenty minutes over his running time by now – and he was delivering his paper with difficulty as his audience shifted in our seats. Perplexed though I was, I felt sympathetic towards the Surfer Academic: he was clearly a passionate, and very conflicted, individual, trying sincerely to vanquish some old Cartesian ghosts. He should have just quit the guilt and hit the beach, though I suspect he was actually a terrible surfer anyway.

 

2. Translator’s Box

 

Location: Symposium addressing ‘public art and community’ (Southeast Asia)

 

Approximate dimensions: 2 m x 2m x 3m, to hold two translators behind darkened glass. Audience hears voice of translator simultaneously with presenter onstage via supplied headset. Translation process breaks down as member of the audience storms the stage during the closing speech and verbally attacks the principal international speaker.

 

[2005 – 8; ongoing]

 


*The Bat, the Birds and the Beasts

A great conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts.  When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join.  The Birds that passed his perch said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Beast.”  Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Bird.”  Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away.  He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces.  “Ah,” said the Bat, “I see now: he that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.”

 

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