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In my view traditional performance art reached a dead end by the seventies, and instead of restricting myself to gallery or street actions, I have sought performativity on a wider social canvas. What interests me is not finished products, but rather the social relations among those from whom process based cultural forms emerge in new and exciting ways; and the means by which these forms can be utilized in a more general move towards disalienation. Thus I have often been engaged in acting out the role of the “total wo/man” across a range of institutional, public and private spaces. In the eighties I was immersed in the use of multiple identities whereby a network of artists to whom I was plugged in signed their diverse works with a single name, most usually Monty Cantsin or Karen Eliot; in the nineties I was from an early stage a participant in the Luther Blissett Project which took the notion of a collectively produced phantom far further than the earlier Cantsin and Eliot personas. Likewise, I have worked on my own persona as “Stewart Home” in a similar fashion, and I'm constantly seeking new ways to transform it. “Stewart Home” is a construction. The specific quality of the cultural constructs connected to me – live performances, graphics, books, gallery shows, films, multiple identities, neoism etc. – is that rather than simply being arbitrary, they are self-contained signs and everything done with them effects what they and “I” as “Stewart Home” represent. The ability of the network of cultural activists of which I am a part to constantly transform itself and social perceptions of what we do and who we are, reflect and point towards the endless possibilities for social transformation.
Clearly my sound works and films are time based, as are my live art routines and performance anti-lectures. My live art routines mix stand up, spoken word and philosophy but are generally booked as “readings”. I recite memorized passages from my novels and stories and since rhythm is important to me, audience members unfamiliar with my writing often believe they are listening to poetry. One of my intentions is to challenge arbitrary genre distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose; performance and writing, which is why in my ‘novel' Down & Out In Shoredtich & Hoxton (Do-Not Press, London 2004) every paragraph is exactly one hundred words long, a poetic device designed to force the reader to question the notion they are engaged with prose. The importance of rhythm to my ‘story telling' is also calculated to have the effect of eroding such genre distinctions. My live art routines also have the flavour of a memory act, since members of the audience can be transfixed by the spectacle of me reciting a large amount of ‘written' material without recourse to notes or books. Likewise, when I am booked to give lectures I approach them as performances and not simply because I am acting out the persona of “Stewart Home”. For example, when on 28/4/94 I gave a lecture at The Tate connected to the Flux Britannica exhibition, I dropped my notes onto the floor as I finished with each page so that my ‘lecture' might also be a ‘mono casual flux event'. In doing both my live art routines and performance anti-lectures I will often also break the rather feeble conventions associated with readings and lectures by, for example, jumping onto desks or moving about the audience.
In the summer of 2005 I took visitors from the Peacock Art Centre in Aberdeen on a guided walk to the city's red light district in the harbour, where I played back a series of prank phone calls I'd made to prostitutes in the nineties, and then discussed the action with a large and enthusiastic crowd. American writer and beat iconoclast William Burroughs claimed that if you played recordings of riots in the street, it created riots, and likewise that playing back tape recordings of other events caused them to be duplicated too. I set out to show that this doesn't apply to sex workers, since playing recordings of prostitutes in a red light district tends to repel street walkers from areas they would normally habituate. I subsequently repeated this performance at Catalyst Arts in Belfast and as part of the XXXXX Festival in London, and intend to repeat it in other locations. This is part of a broader attempt to bring my past practice back into play in the present. Likewise, in 2004 I got Chris Dorley Brown to take portraits of me imitating the poses thrown by my mother in a series of 1966 modelling portfolio photos. We then morphed these with the 1966 photos to create composite portraits. I made a 41 minute film The Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex while I was in Melbourne as visiting artist at the Victorian College of the Arts in May 2004. In the movie avant-garde techniques and the avant-garde obsession with death interweave with reflections on the life and death of my mother. Images of my mum working as a fashion model and club hostess during the sixties are cut against an at times deliberately dissociated soundtrack that uses stories about her to explore the limits of documentary cinema. This is simultaneously an expression of love and loss and an attempt to draw out the ways in which the avant-garde Lettrist cinema of the early fifties in France was commercialised in the later work of Godard, Marker and Resnais.
I used a residency at John Moores University in Liverpool in 2002 to make three feature length films which emerged from my interest in montage and detournement. I think conceptually the best of these was an English language colour remake of Guy Debord's 1952 anti-classic Screams In Favour Of De Sade. Like the original, my film has no images but whereas Debord's consisted of black stock with silence and white light with dialogue in French, mine has black with silence and TV colour bars with dialogue in English. The original dialogue is not simply translated since in a number of places it has been rewritten. However, while Debord had five voices reading his script, I have one voice with an additional spoken indication of which voice is speaking The periods of blackness and silence in Debord's film are strictly adhered to with the final twenty four minutes being entirely black and silent. Although Debord offered no fully elaborated theoretical explanation for the production of Screams In Favour Of De Sade, I believe his intention was to transform cinema in theatre, turning the audience into actors (by forcing them to react to the fact that nothing is happening on screen) rather than treating them as passive spectators. If this is the case then it should matter little to anyone whether they watch Debord's original or my remake, what's important is what happens amongst the audience, not what is on screen - which in a classical gesture of avant-garde iconoclasm is essentially nothing.
My films have a tendency to mutate over time and get remade. I did a performance anti-lecture and screened some of my movies in 2004 at The Cube in Bristol. The curator had programmed too many films to fit into the night, so instead of actually screening my re-make of Screams In Favour Of De Sade, I just played the soundtrack without the silences, which only takes twelve minutes, while randomly flicking the lights on and off in the auditorium. This greatly reduced the time required to ‘screen' Screams. Since I felt the film was a lot funnier shortened in this way, in 2004 I remake Screams yet again by playing a degenerated video copy on a TV and while holding down the fast forward button, filming the screen with a digital video camera. I then redubbed my English language soundtrack without the silences onto the digital footage. I think Screams is a film that can be endlessly remade, so I also intend at some point to do a “screening” of it where the audience is split into five sections, each being given a script with the vocal part they should read, the lights will then be turned on and off and the audience cued to do an "expanded cinema" theatrical version of the film.
More about Julia Callan-Thompson (Stewart Home's mother)
Interviews with Stewart Home
"Becoming (M)other" part of series by Stewart Home and Chris Dorley Brown (2004).
Stewart Home's mom Julia Callan-Thompson, (model) fashion shoot with Carla Hopkins (photographer) London 1966. The photo series of which this an example inspired the "Becoming (M)other" morphs.
Stewart Home imitates his mother's fashion poses so that these can be morphed with the originals to create new images. Photo by Chris Dorley-Brown.
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