Curating Commissioning Producing



Samuel Dowd, Tim Etchells, Will Holder, Karl Holmqvist, Tom McCarthy,
Francesco Pedraglio, Sue Tompkins, Tony White.

Curated by Fatima Hellberg (Electra)

Ondaatje Wing Theatre, National Portrait Gallery
17th March - 16th June 2011

From performative lectures that roam across fact and fabrication to genre-defying plays with storytelling, Dirty Literature brings together artists and writers exploring the boundaries of narrative. Here the characters in the National Portrait Gallery collection form a rich cast, portrayed yet again with the use of the spoken word. In the evocation of a person, a presence, the participating artists turn to an array of references and materials - a form of contaminated literature, unfolding at the edges of coherence. Ephemeral like a rumour, mobile like gossip this is a form of biography that escapes the weight and permanence of the published word and the painted figure alike, a real time portrait.

The series will be accompanied by a publication which brings together new contributions by the participating artists, an essay by curator Fatima Hellberg reflecting on language and latency, alongside work from the Tactile Poetry series by pioneering Austrian artist Josef Bauer.

Tim Etchells and Tony White
Thursday 17th March, 7:30PM

Tim Etchells' new text-work Eyes, Mud and Unclarity draws on texts from the National Portrait Gallery archive including portrait acquisition notes, historical guidance for invigilators and texts concerning the Gallery closure during the World Wars. Pitching these against his own fragmented notes on pictures in the collection along with badly translated internet guides on how-to-draw amongst other materials Etchells builds and dissolves worlds and pictures in language, working at the edge of narrative coherence. In the second part of his contribution Etchells will read an existing text Now Not Moving, invoking the now-familiar landscape invoked in his work with dystopian urban adventures, science fiction and distorted fairytales.

Tony White is a writer best known for his novel Foxy-T (Faber, 2003) which maps the migrant economies and street slang of contemporary Whitechapel. Responding to the 'Poll Tax riots' and recent protests in Trafalgar Square, White will read from Charlieunclenorfolktango, his satirical 1999 novel about an alienated police force, before being joined by musician Simon Edwards to exclusively preview a new short story commissioned by digital arts agency SCAN for their Digital Transformations project.

Samuel Dowd and Sue Tompkins
Thursday 14th April, 7PM

Sue Tompkins' performances unfold as a stream of consciousness, moving from personal reflections to quotations from multiple, and at times conflicting areas of life. Tompkins' new performance Hallo Welcome To Keith Street will be followed by Samuel Dowd's ambitious collaborative piece, Aphrodite's Left Turn. Realised together with four other writers, this performed screenplay evokes a forgotten moment in the life of architect and artist Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965).

Writers and readers:
Rebecca Bligh: The Young Man (Edwin Denby)
Ben Cain: Aphrodite (Elisa Landi)
NaoKo TakaHashi: The Cat ('sing-sing' the cat)
Isabel Waidner: The Choir Boy (John Latouche)

Karl Holmqvist and Will Holder
Thursday 12th May, 7PM

If one takes the act of portraiture as heresy, then surely any visit to The National Portrait Gallery must be thought to bring one to the heart of the scene of the crime. Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist's work deals with the relation between language and image, figuration and abstraction - relationships he has explored over the last twenty years. For the specifically commissioned artist's talk, 'Change Your Face' he will elaborate on his mostly language-based visual arts practice, and how elements such as repetition and rhythm in language may bring us closer to concerns more often thought of in relation to images.

The event will be followed by a new work by Will Holder. Will Holder makes publications, using conversation as a model for production and documentation. He approaches language as a ready-made, reproducing existing texts to emphasise the construction and negotiation of meaning. On May 12th, in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre, Holder continues a series of publications dedicated to single mothers. Previous readings have complicated Adam Pendleton's "Black Dada" and Alice Notley's "Dr. Williams' Heiresses", in favour of an intensified reception of the gendered subject positioned in them.

Francesco Pedraglio and Tom McCarthy
Thursday June 16th, 7PM

Francesco Pedraglio writes short stories that look at words as physical bodies inhabiting spaces that extend beyond the parameters of the page. Writing directly in a foreign language (English), he focuses his texts on straight narratives, facing frontally the basic problematics of delivering a story to an audience. On this line he will present a short story based on the idea of abstract objects and fictional characters. 'Few small stories in the shape of abstract objects' will be followed by a reading by Tom McCarthy, writer, co-founder of the semi-fictitious organisation International Necronautical Society and recently shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for his novel C. The readings of selected passages of C will reflect on the breakdown of narrative and coherence within modernity and the possibilities that might emerge, phoenix-like from such a collapse.


Image credit: Josef Bauer, Body Gallery, 1974, courtesy of the artist.

Dirty Literature Reader
Related Links
Tim Etchells & Tony White
Samuel Dowd & Sue Tompkins
Karl Holmqvist & Will Holder
Francesco Pedraglio & Tom McCarthy