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Live Coverage: Huw Lemmey on "A Weekend of Schizo-Culture" at SPACE, London 13-14 Dec


Installation view of “Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Street” at SPACE, London

Writer and artist Huw Lemmey will cover the symposium “A Weekend of Schizo-Culture” at SPACE, London this Saturday and Sunday. Tune into his coverage 1pm-11pm-ish Saturday; 12-6pm Sunday. A detailed schedule for the weekend can be found here. From the symposium press release:

The closing Schizo-Culture Weekend will activate many of the subjects touched on by SPACE’s current exhibition: Schizo-Culture: Cracks In The Street. Discussions ranging across themes such as anti-psychiatry, philosophy and disciplinary rationalities (and their intersection with artistic practice today) will be programmed alongside performances, screenings and more impromptu interventions. Musical performances from Saturday afternoon will re-visit the bristling energy of 70′s Schizo-anarchy and its legacies and will run into the late evening. There will be a bar throughout at SPACE and the entire weekend is free and open to all.

The event includes contributions from activists, artists, philosophers, filmmakers and musicians including (amongst others) : Sylvere Lotringer, Susan Stenger, Kodwo Eshun (The Otolith Group), Colin Gordon,Vivienne Dick, Patrick Staff, Plastique Fantastique (David Burrows & Simon O’Sullivan and collaborators), Maggie Roberts & Lendl Barcelos, Ciaran Smyth (Vagabond Reviews), Anna Hickey Moody, Hester Reeve, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Josephine Wikstrøm, Mischa Twitchin and Empty Cages Collective with additional surprise guests and contributors.

Huw Lemmey is an artist and writer based in London. He writes on digital culture, sexuality and politics for Rhizome, The New Inquiry and The White Review, amongst others, as well as writing fiction and plays. He is co-director of Limazulu Project Space, an artist-run space in North London that focuses on the intersections between art, politics and technology, and sometimes works under the name @spitzenprodukte.


Given the nature of this event, please be aware that sensitive issues such as self-harm, suicide and mental health issues will be discussed and this liveblog will reflect that.

A quick introduction by the Schizo-Culture curators Katherine Waugh and David Morris kicks off the weekend’s event. Katherine says it’s been core to the project that it has involved activists on the ground, from the very outset, and isn’t an appropriative project removed from the struggles it talks about. As such, first up is a member of the Empty Cages Collective running a participative workshop on the prison system – what it is, how it works, and what its purpose is. Empty Cages Collective is a very politically attuned prison abolition movement, and the approach of the workshop reflects that. From the outset, our speaker, herself a former prisoner, outlines the appalling statistics which illustrate the barbarity of the prison-industrial complex. For example, 1730 self-inflicted deaths in prison custody in the past 24 years. 62% of men serving prison sentences have a diagnosed personality disorder.

Prison figures are fungible; it’s not the same people who make up the prison population at any one point. People are flooding into prison and out again. It’s how the system is supposed to function. As a result, 200,000 children have had a parent in prison at some point in 2009. The effects of the prison system spread much further than even these statistics betray. The group then discusses some of the affective influences of prison; their first conscious memories of what prison might be — a vague threat from a parent, the idea that prison is where “baddies” go, an emotional sense of terror, or even the ongoing “joke” about sexual violence in prison — before tackling the structural organisation of incarceration: the prison-industrial complex. Our speaker outlines the relationship between various forms of population control, industrialisation and workhouses, and how that has transformed into the prison-industrial complex today, where large numbers of people are “warehoused” with terrible human effects, and then put to work for private industry. The knock-on effect of this is two-fold: terrible conditions adding to the struggles of prisoners, including sexual assault, violence, and drug abuse issues, and secondly increased influence through lobbying of corporations and industry on sentencing guidelines. The extraction of increased surplus value through the exploitation of the imprisoned is, today, the bread and butter of these companies. They work hand in hand with the state not to lower the prison population but to keep the labour flowing.

It’s a fascinating start to the event, not least because of the informed and passionate advocate from Empty Cages, who’s keen to present a critique really clued in to the intersecting oppressions within the prison-industrial complex — a system specifically loaded against black and minority ethnicities, working-class people and those with mental health issues. Fittingly then, at this point, the room has split into small groups to discuss psychiatry specifically within the prison system.


Discussion points come back from the groups. People discuss dominant constructions of subjectivity: the production of “prisoner” or “convict” as an identity, and, importantly, assert the fact that you have to agree with that identity, that you are a certain type of person, before you are seen as fit to be released. This becomes a key part of the debate; how prison and psychiatry coalesce to collaborate on the production of acceptable subjectivities and imprisons those who break those subjective modes. Further discussions are on how that opens up into wider society (something people have an issue with as a term), and also on the physical aspect; the control of the body, not just in terms of an absolute imprisonment of the body, but also about control of specific movements, such as repetitious movements. Certain types of repetitious movement are encouraged, whether in the workplace or at home, in non-threatening ways in terms of consumption. But repetitious movements that don’t fall within an acceptable subjective frame are medicalised and pathologised. The discussion is personal, sincere and moving; it’s interesting to hear people offer anecdotal illustrations of what sometimes become abstract discussion.

The workshop then moves on to exploring ideas of reform or abolition of the prison system. A list of resources is provided, and the ideas and campaigns of Angela Davis is invoked. Davis writes:

Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.
Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.


This is an interesting point–why is it that repetitive non-violent behavior such as rocking oneself is so threatening? Is it because it’s compulsive? They’re describing Stereotypic Movement Disorder (SMD) to at tee. From Wikipedia:

Stereotypic movement disorder (SMD) is a motor disorder with onset in childhood involving repetitive, nonfunctional motor behavior (e.g., hand waving or head banging), that markedly interferes with normal activities or results in bodily injury. The behavior must not be due to the direct effects of a substance or another medical condition. The cause of this disorder is not known.

I think the crux of this definition is that these repetitive motor behaviors are nonfunctional, and thus interfere with normal, daily activity–while they can be harmless, it must activate an image of abnormality in the “normal” observer’s mind. And if there’s anything that we as a people hate to be reminded of, it’s mental illness and homelessness.


Image courtesy The New Inquiry

Also of note is a recent essay in The New Inquiry written by artist Hannah Black. Titled “Crazy in Love,” the beautiful essay details her personal experience growing up with a schizophrenic loved one, and and the social stigmas attached to mental illness. She writes:

The schizophrenic person is a special figure, wilder than the hysteric or the depressive, more remote, certainly easier to make a metaphor of. The word implies something split or broken and lends itself to fantasies of schizophrenia sufferers as multiple, or in flight from themselves. But medically, it’s a baroque accumulation of symptoms hinging around language and relationship: hallucinations, delusions, failures of meaning. In Deleuze and Guattari, it stands for both a reaction to present brokenness and some possible future orientation to the world, where different forms of meaning will be allowed to disperse freely. The term schizo-culture is not meant to refer to the actual disease, which renders people unglamorously confused and incapable of basic self-care, but to the alluring possibility of remixing and transforming the ways we relate to each other.

Because of the many years I lived by proxy with schizophrenia, I—stubbornly, untheoretically—dislike its use as an image, even when well meaning. The idea of schizophrenia as an extreme materialization of the pain of our present social form, and therefore as perhaps its overcoming, is hard to accept because it’s also the name for a certain kind of real experience. And yet of course I also read my long encounter with it, via the person I am here calling B, as a judgment on the world, and on me.

Check out here full essay here.


Kodwo Eshun conducts a tour of the exhibition, asking a series of curatorial questions regarding Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Street. He refers to the show, which is packed full of archival material from the publishing house Semiotext(e) around their conference in 1975 Schizo-Culture: On Prisons and Madness, as a time-capsule, but, more importantly, as an active contagion of the ideas of the conference.

Eshun discusses various components of the show: vitrines which invite you to “move close, to begin to construct certain relations” between the objects they contain. He discusses the meaning of ephemera such as Ramones lyrics to “Teenage Lobotomy” and their relationship to trash cartoons at the time. Punk, he says, is about horror, about enjoying horror, indulging in it, owning the abject and especially the relationship towards owning your subjectivity. The vitrine, he says, works as something of a diagram of the role torture played in relationship between the America of the 70s and the America of today. It’s easy to draw continuities between the two times, but what is more interesting, he suggests, is “looking for the continuities that exist within discontinuities”.

Continuing by turning his attention to pages from zines, he talks a little about the history of zines of anti-psychiatry groups and democratic control of psychiatry.

What’s really interesting, however, is his discussion of the “wallpaper” of images, some from Semiotext(e) books but also assembled from general visual culture. It’s more complex than a simple timeline, he suggests; it concentrates on the simultaneity of the project, of the mesh of ideas merging. This gets to the core of what Kodwo claims is the core question the show asks: How do you exhibit a journal? How do you really demonstrate what happens with the creation of a journal - the network, the ideas, the conversation that produces it? How do you represent relationships?

This is raised in the following talk, particularly by the curators, as they wrestled with those questions. Kodwo says the issues as still so vital, and the ideas within the exhibition so critical, that the content needs to find a new audience. But what seems to be missing is a discussion around format. Why were the original ideas first presented in a journal? There seems to me to be a critical difference between how these formats disseminate that discussion. Representing the ideas in an exhibition format is perhaps a result of the way we consume information and ideas today, and the speed at which they are consumed. Whilst one of the speakers talked about how, when art arrives in a gallery, “it is somehow finished”, it’s also the case that an exhibition like this acts as an intensifier. The structures of the art world, in terms of PR and the literature around it, help turn discourses like this into a site of focus and amplify the ideas within it. That said, there’s also a sense of ossification; if not recuperation, then certainly an issue regarding the production or exploitation of nostalgia around the form. I wonder what a show such as this would look like stripped of the ephemeral object; with words themselves being the only survivor.


“Throughout the eighties, I did not want to read theory because I didn’t want to be contaminated”


Who said that? Reminds me of what Hal Foster said in his recent Interview mag interview, that he regretted being overcome by critical theory.

Also I assume the drawing is supposed to be Chris Kraus!?


After a break, the event continues with a series of performances. Mischa Twitchin opens proceedings with his performance Seeing voices: No one commits suicide alone, which Twitchin describes as a “a fairly didactic little piece. I apologise.” Comprising a series of slides of images and translations to a soundtrack of music, voices and narration, Twitchin says that the "underlying interest is this extraordinary observation that Artaud makes in 1947 in a fantastic essay about Van Gogh, that “nobody commits suicide alone.”

Artaud’s essay is, he says, about "the sense of the suicided man as emblematic as thinking about society. The narration, taken from the essay, speaks out with clear erudition

And what is an authentic lunatic? He is a man who has preferred to become what is socially understood as mad rather than forfeit a certain superior idea of human honour. In its asylums, society has managed to strangle all those it has wished to rid itself of or to defend itself from, because they refused to make themselves accomplices to various flagrant dishonesties. For a lunatic is also a man whom society has not wished to listen to, and whom it is
determined to prevent from uttering unbearable truths. But in such a case, internment is not its only weapon, and the social collectivity has other means to subdue those minds it wishes to suppress.


That was Sylvère Lotringer, who was really very clear and persuasive in his nuanced discussion of the relation between theory and art; he struck, I think, a good balance, especially when he was talking about the reticence he found in the US when returning from Italy and producing the Semiotext(e) book on the Autonomia movement, where theorists found themselves jittery around the idea of political action.


Susan Stenger give her introduction to a flute piece by John Cage, namely a solo from Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957-58)

“This piece could be played as an orchestra of solos”, she says. The performer is offered a number of choices and responsibilities, determining for herself the length of certain timeframes and components. Stenger says that “parameters are left open… it’s very important that the performer takes all these decisions seriously and takes them in the context and spirit of the piece”. Cage was disappointed with performers from the New York Philharmonic who, so used to taking strict direction, treated these responsibilities as something of a joke, and “noodled around”. This made Cage quite depressed, and for some time he didn’t allow the piece to be performed. The audience, wrapped up against the cold, are silhouetted in matt black against the red light which fills one corner of the room.


Artist Patrick Staff gives a short reading about various forms of voluntary self-medication by trans* people. It’s an interesting script, a sort of selection of overheard conversations, lists of pharmaceuticals, instructions for use, mixed with confessions, friendly advice. It talks of how people marginalised and excluded from healthcare systems experiment with designing their own courses of medication through misuse of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. At some times the testimonials of drug routines seems like a strange linguistic ritual; maybe a mnemonic, or an odd palindromic incantation. At other times they seem like sworn affidavit to an unknown committee. The incomprehensible chemical names seemed to loop around, and mixed with the affect of the personal, snatched conversation, you began, as someone removed from the discussion, to realise that each strange word held a significant material meaning for those mixing their own cocktails.


Curious to hear how this fits into the purview of Schizo-Culture… I could imagine a few different reasonings, but did the curators mention anything?


Plastique Fantastique deliver a strange, shamanic performance of Plastique Fantastique Myth-Science-Fiction Communiqué: Evolution of Neuropath TimeStretch-Tool. A series of masks and headpieces allow them to adopt a series of shifting avatars to a soundtrack of loops, synths, electronic drumpads and bass guitar. King John, Ribbonhead, Foxowl, Black-Hare: a weird England, structured by brilliant projections of hypnotic effects, disappearing points, sloganeering. And over the top, repurposed Crass vocals. Do they owe us a living? Course they fucking do. Slowly a displaced crypto-narrative emerges from the incense haze, a lost weekend in a lost rave culture, maybe. One member is wrapped in duct tape with a microphone rammed in his mouth by another in a horse’s mask resembling a steel interpretation of a terrifying prow sculpture from a Viking longship. I kind of feel I’m experiencing a day out on Summerisle, but second hand, as described by Nigel Blackwell over a crap skype line.


Vivienne Dick presents a selection of clips relating to her time in the No Wave movement in New York in the 1970s. Dick was an influential Super8 filmmaker. The first features a young woman stood in the window of her apartment, talking about her feelings. “I’m gonna fall apart” she starts. “I want to be thrown up against a wall and cry in front of people and tell them what I think and this is the preliminary moment to making that happen”. She runs through a serious of breathy, dreamlike metaphors — exploded, slipped away — before the clip cuts her short before she reaches her final demand.

New York was half abandoned, she says: “parts of New York looked like Berlin after the war”. A clip from her film shows the rear view of an enormous city block, maybe 10 stories high, totally gutted. One fallen wall reveals nothing but a burnt-out shell. Still, she says, New York felt very safe. “It felt like home”. One evening she was followed home late at night. Realising this, she picked up her pace to reach her door. She felt the footsteps gather speed behind her. Fumbling for her keys, she felt the man leapt for her. Turning, she pulled out her umbrella, screaming. Within seconds, she says, her neighbour, a drug dealer, leapt from his door, naked, brandishing a shotgun. All down the street windows opened to see if she needed help. The attacker fled.

The place was alive. It was cheap to live there, and people had the time to work. It was culture produced for the joy of it. The clips she shows are wonderful; women dancing, one in a leather jacket and the other dressed as in a chic black dress is particularly lively. Vivienne talks further about what No Wave is, or maybe was thought to be. She talks particularly of the influence of Suicide. She ends by playing music from the era over more clips.


I’m not entirely sure myself. It wasn’t mentioned, other than, I think the idea of changing the relationship between composer and performer, foregrounding the creativity of the latter in decisionmaking?


Sunday at the Schizo-Culture Weekend will feature a series of film screenings.

First up is Chris Kraus’ 1987 film How to Shoot a Crime. It’s a densely packed, didactic short film; a series of shots of murder scenes, dead bodies and chalk circles around spent ammunition casings is interspersed with interviews with women about violence and crime. There’s a clear relationship between the two; the entire tone of the film is deeply interrogative. One woman reflects upon her time as a dominatrix in relation to murder victims. Talking about the pain she inflicts and the pain which leads to murder, she says- “it’s the same pain. The pain that I inflict to 50%, they inflict to 100%”.

These sections are in contrast to shots of New York; New York crumbling, a ruin, and New York on the cusp of rehabilitation or regeneration. Crime, murder and sex are played out on this framework of the city. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the ideas explored in Jana Leo’s book Rape New York, a profoundly thoughtful and moving account of the relationship between the authors’ sexual assault at the hands of a home intruder, and how it relates to the changing urban geography, in terms of development policy and economic changes.


Using much of the same footage as Chris Krauss’ How to Shoot a Crime, Sylvère Lotringer’s Violent Femmes is a simple conceit: two women talk about sex. The two women are dominatrices; one, in fact, is writer Catherine Robbe-Grillet, the other, an unnamed American woman. “For a woman to have sex is S&M”, the American claims. Robbe-Grillet presents her interlocutor as more ambivalent, too ambivalent. “She responds to men’s desire”, she says.

The film is fascinating; the clear descriptions of practices and desires make it read almost as a workers’ inquiry, a sex workers’ inquiry. But then, famously, Robbe-Grillet doesn’t accept money for her services. So it’s not a sex workers’ inquiry; it’s an investigation in building subjectivity through physical action, and investigating power relations through sex.


Vivienne Dick’s She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) really makes me think back on what she was saying yesterday about how community could somehow thrive in a decrepit city, a city supposedly failing, but actually providing what many people needed; cheap accommodation, a sense of community, and time and space to be creative without it necessarily falling under the rubric of “art”. There’s something remarkable and immensely disorientating in watching how people in the film use their city; the casual ease with which their bodies inhabit the space. I guess, in an abstract sense, what we’re watching in these shots of women walking around Coney Island in the late 70s is ownership. Ownership in a sense that the space belongs to the subject and is made by the subject. It’s verging on a nostalgic reading of a city struck by social problems — unemployment, racism, police violence and more — but it leaves me feeling very restricted today.


The Vivienne Dick films continue. For 5 minutes, a woman on pinball machine smokes a fag. A kid is peering over, watching. The pinball machine is Evil Knievel themed.

In another film, a woman smokes a fag and hammers a nail. Her friend, lying on a bed, reads from a card. She plays with a water-pistol, holds a lamp in the air. These are studies in people being watched and being filmed.

A woman in a strapless top in bold glitter make-up and long gloves pulls a fag from a packet and smokes it with a studied grace. The soundtrack ends in a crackle. The woman gets up, as if to turn over the record.

In Staten Island (1978), a protopunk with bleached blonde cropped hair dressed in a silver jump suit picks around the rubbish on the beach. In the background there are the smokestacks of New York’s industrial zones. These are odd films made within the world they depict; the artifice is somehow a genuine artifice. The films remind me of the work of Nelson Sullivan; films from streets about the relationships formed within this unique urban space.