Sally Madge
  • Denatured Nurture Debate
    by Tom Jennings

    For over an hour in the Saltburn Gallery, Cleveland, two women methodically undertake what appear to be food-processing operations, struggling up stepladders, pouring red fruit-mash and cream into gigantic hanging muslin bags, kneading and squeezing the strained residues into jugs and buckets. This onerous task yields increasing quantities of liquids then refiltered through the system and, as time passes, the products accidentally splatter across the floor and walls and the artists themselves who become more and more bedraggled - occasionally even rinsing their heads and mouths with the juices - until the entire scene suggests a horror movie shoot. When their discomfort at the smell and feel of the sticky substances mingling and stinging eyes, filling hair and covering bodies becomes too much, the visibly tiring women abandon their travails - leaving a random mosaic of bright purples, reds and pinks among discarded containers in the once-clean white space. Nevertheless they soon reappear with only the worst of the mess washed off, in an adjacent room holding tables set with massed ranks of delicate china. Preparing cuppas and scones with blackberry and apple jam and cream, they serve the audience afternoon tea.

    Initiating Saltburn Artists Project’s live art programme, Carole Luby and Sally Madge’s Labour Intensive (12th October, 2008) condenses a whole gamut of traditional ‘women’s work’ into a simple installation. Starting from deeply personal resonances of specific domestic rituals harnessing wild food into cottage economics, the exhausting routines of housework and family sustenance take their toll inscribed on bodies and souls - the gradual saturation with vivid blood-red and off-white rotting, festering excretions connoting menstruation, maturation and childbirth, bodily care, damage and ageing, in cycles of biological and social reproduction. Pleasure and fulfilment arise from the sheer sensuality of visceral engagement and commitment to motherly objectives, but the overriding sense here is ambivalence - visually, in the grotesque beauty; and emotionally, in the artists’ abjection, pain and melancholy, wrung-out of energy from lifetimes of loving care. The manipulation of raw environmental and bodily material thus threatens to overwhelm human capacities to cope with the flow and distil the boundless potential of the world into useful, nourishing essence - with the monstrous jam-manufacturing machinery hinting at industrial alienation, and the subsequent tea-party completing the fragmentation of integrated productive activity in service-sector commodification.

    The themes tackled signal the influence of feminist art since the 1960s - for example, Judy Chicago’s celebratory The Dinner Party and Bobby Baker’s deranged renderings of respectable housewifery. Whereas if later conceptual explorations of the ideologies and stereotypes of womanhood are only implicit, another blatant precursor would be the macho provocations of the Vienna Actionists, transgressing acceptable bounds of public behaviour and encouraging extremes of fascination and disgust. Meanwhile the exaggerated dysfunctional apparatus reinforces the artifice of this situation - militating against interpretations of gender essentialism - and the art gallery setting further frames the performance within institutional discourses rather than ‘natural’ activity. Moreover the structure of the space itself prompts voyeuristic peering through a narrow doorway, placing centre-stage endeavours normally culturally hidden, socially taken for granted and politically undervalued. Thus the concealed ‘internal’ effects of this everyday hard labour are symbolically transposed: first onto the performers’ bodies; then the building’s surfaces; and finally into the reactions of viewers - who were clearly moved, even though some accepted the gift of nourishment while others preferred to pass.

    But beyond its expressive sophistication and effectiveness, Labour Intensive neatly brings together production and consumption - both in the artistic process, challenging the objectifying gaze of detached contemplation, and the culmination of its circuit of social relations implicating ‘customers’ directly in preceding events. And, of course - contrary to conservative rhetoric sanctifying isolated nuclear families and regulating and rewarding individual conduct - the complex rhythms and rites surrounding food and care-giving always were collective. Communal traditions involving highly-skilled craft originated, developed and were transmitted at the grass-roots, largely outside centralised control yet a constant source of anxiety and interference. Such stubbornly persistent patterns of basic human sociality need taming, breaking down and reconstituting if their potential utility for elite interests is to be mobilised, regimented and exploited - from the enclosures of the commons and the destruction of tribal and subsistence cultures, through mass industrial incarceration, to the soulless colonisation of ‘affective labour’ in the ‘social factory’, and now in biotechnology’s rapacious invasion of cellular life. Prevailing modes of production, reproduction and domination seem consistently to intersect most crucially and fruitfully precisely where women’s wisdom and bodily practices loom largest, and Sally Madge and Carole Luby manage artfully to expose some of the intimate resonances of this mysterious process without falling victim to its otherwise almost universal mystification.

    Review published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 21, November 22nd, 2008
    For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:

  • Nature Read in Truth and Straw
    by Tom Jennings

    Entering the space containing Sally Madge's site specific installation (1) does not feel like any typical passage into an art gallery. The work engages the body immediately and directly, preempting judgment and disarming expectations. The latter will already have been modulated by the journey across or towards the North Pennines, under a broad sky of characteristically dramatic weather, to Melmerby. Amongst traditional Cumbrian village architecture is the Isis gallery, converted a few years ago from its original function as a barn. The art work inside speaks to this past, unsettling traditional associations of landscape and the rural idyll, questioning the potency and significance of such representations.

    Powerful sensations greet the visitor. First and most memorable is the strong, sweet aroma from a wall of hay just inside the door. There is a dark, heavy atmosphere, and as the eye adjusts to very low ambient light, it seems that the haystack virtually fills the space, with narrow, cramped areas to the sides. All manner of ghostly whirrings and whisperings circulate, and once accommodated to night vision, and moving further into the room, several sources of sound and light can be discriminated. Most disconcertingly, at the rear of the gallery's upper level, the flickering ghost of a gigantic barn owl emerges from the top of the end wall (2), pouncing in extreme slow motion and majestic beauty on unseen prey. From lower down, a cadence of sibilant tones recalls the sound of wind through trees, or an upland beck; resolving into the rushing, insistent rhythm of whispering voices (3). By the foot of the stairs (blocked by a 'private' sign) sits a showcase with a lightbox base. Slung from the top, a dozen tiny hammocks cradle the corpses of voles, small birds and mice. Light escaping this display guides one to the back of the haystack, which turns out to be hollow, allowing access to its calm, secluded centre.

    In the corner furthest from the ghost shines a slide projection of lines from Wordsworth onto the wall beside the haystack. The beam is interrupted by a plinth holding an empty glass dome (originally used to cage a Victorian stuffed bird), encircled at the base by a tight wreath of barbed wire. This intercepts the word 'art' from the quotation, while the plinth catches 'her' above 'worth' (4). Attached two metres up the far wall are four boxes made of lead. A warm pink light reaches the glass base of each through a nest of white downy feathers. Suspended high above, a stuffed barn owl in flight presides dolefully over these strange manifestations. By the door, leaflets parody the heritage industry's educational literature, sketching a critique of its cynical manipulation of nostalgia and the imagery and rhetoric of nature (5).

    This ambitious work examines our intimate relationships with built and natural environments, along with the cultural processes that objectify and commodify our experience of them. Ambitious, but not grandiose in the manner of the 'new museology' which intimidates and dwarfs viewers with monumental architecture and, ultimately, boast its complicity in political and economic domination. Whereas this show collapses the scale of the countryside and human institutions. The juxtaposition and cross-fertility of bodily experience and symbolic associations undercut conventions of distantiation and contemplation, of white space in an ordered cube.

    The topography also disputes claims by museums and heritage centres to a seamless integrity and neutral representational authority; a refusal flaunted by travestying Wordsworth's literature of sublime landscape. Gaps and inconsistencies between the exhibits open up conceptual space, but, obliged to observed from contrived, dimly-lit angles, spectators become part of the installation, obstructing each other's perception and movement. As with the artist's previous work, the functions of installation (6) are inflected with the intermingling of psychic, organic and constructed space, as in Gaston Bachelard's architectural phenomenology (7). The consolidation of identity is represented by the containment of bounded regions (8) of the self by the body, child by mother, individual by buildings, discourse by discipline, expressivity by art (9). Previous shows focused on the artist's personality meshing with and being shaped by discursive and institutional constraints (the home, medical, educational, etc.) (10), materialised biographically by emblems of the organism's experiences, forced together in tension at the site of exhibition (11).

    In tackling the trajectory of personal identity and its physical and bodily articulation, the artist is influenced by a generation of contemporary women artists. But her work has on the whole been darker, more fractured and clinical than that of artists such as Louise Bourgeois or Helen Chadwick (12), avoiding explicit images or fantasies of the real body. Their visceral threat and abject sensuality would tend to flood out those more subterranean and ineffable networks of desire and domination being excavated. And rather than using direct, though distorted, self-images (as do Jo Spence and Cindy Sherman, for example (13)) hybrid traces are mobilised instead: remnants of the material, visual and social that loom, condensed and displaced, in memories and dreams, and which are also resources manipulated by systems of power to subject bodies and to (under-) write histories (14).

    Closer parallells could be made with Annette Messager's work (15), whose magical collections of fetish objects and rich part-images are activated by context, guided by the manner of their framing. Sally Madge's installations crowd into and fill three dimensions, while stripping down Messager's easy profusion of objects. They also make explicit the institutional constraints operating on life and art, both in general and in (site-) specifics (16). In the present show, however, the feminist sensibility of earlier works is less evident, likewise the emphasis on biographical particulars. It would be ironic if those concerns were here generalised to a concept of abstract 'nature', given the righteous criticism that such assimilations attract. And ironies do proliferate in the Hot House - dead animals courtesy of Newcastle's Hancock Museum, and even the cowpat came from that city's Town Moor. The art's beastly content is transferred from urban to rural scene, just as the haystack is built in a time-travelling gallery-barn by a city-dweller reared in a part of rural West Cumbria that since her departure has become a world centre for radioactive waste-dumping. References escalate geometrically, inevitably overflowing the artwork.

    This collection of 'found objects' is expressly not innocent, translated into the language of valorisation using showcasing devices that both invite and complicate attention (17). The slide from gallery to museum to mausoleum is trangressed in an intense, furtive, surrealistic manner. A perverse bricolage of sculptural techniques brings alive the resonances of dead art, extinct nature and agricultural produce with living processes of unconscious dynamism - the inexorable proximity, fecundity and unruliness of emotion and signification. The barn may have lost its owl (unwittingly evicted during the building's conversion), but the art resurrects meanings that education and entertainment usually scrupulously repress.

    The installation does not patronise in the way that artistic treatment of the mundane can do. Drawing out the beauty of these familiar objects by rendering them bizarre, even sinister, seems more from a sense of wonder than pretensions of knowledge or perception. This idiosyncratic, humble statement contrasts with the arrogance of a 'civilisation' intent on annihilating the biological grounds for experiencing nature's wildness, while disciplining the wildness of expressivity and aesthetic response with heritage simulations - thus neutralising the cultural resources which might be used for contestation.

    The exhibition was appreciated irrespective of the degree of engagement with contemporary art discourse; that familiar litany of alienation and incomprehension was only rarely voiced among a range of gut reactions gathered and overheard. Children, especially, felt at home, matching their fascination at displays of fetishised death with a robust enjoyment of the paths around the haystack and its hidden core: related to, but decisively different from, the den you burrow out for yourself in a real haystack. The latter might have worked on its own as minimal art. But that would lose its powerful resonances with the surplus meanings around nature, art, institutions and the body's biography: abstracted into the same representational oblivion that the heritage commodity consigns them to.

    So the haystack is the centre of gravity for a constellation of comically foreboding part-objects busily igniting each other's symbolic and evocative potential - refusing the purity of minimalism while signalling the artist's incapacity to bring together a mythical 'unity of form'. The leaflet certainly parallells the exhibitions's failure to achieve conceptual or discursive closure - echoed by the pathos of the owl and its body, which, finally, seems the most alien object here. No longer sovereign predator signifying wisdom and death: does this make it the victim, or the incarnation, or the artist?

    But conventional formal considerations seem mean-spirited here; even precisely to miss the point. Historically, the hothouse of artistic creation and its promiscuity of meanings readily degenerates into the cold storage of bourgeois taste. Perhaps this empathic, productive loss of omnipotent control over the artwork can begin to do justice to the commonplace bewildering intensities of love and suffering that contemporary art mostly concedes to other cultural forms for mediation.

    Review published in Versus, No. 4, February 1995,
    For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:

  • Shelter
    by Tom Jennings

    The eventful life and death of an outstanding work of anonymous, autonomous public art.

    Shelter’s initial manifestation was at Sandham on the remote northern shore of Lindisfarne, a Northumberland tidal island, in the foot-and-mouth summer of 2001 with coastal clean-up operations suspended by the authorities. Enter artist Sally Madge* who, in her weekend leisure persona merely messing around on the beach, fashioned an excess of driftwood, plastic, rope and rubbish into an impressive little shack delighting passersby and reinstating the relatively pristine aspect of the vista. Sadly, the National Nature Reserve manager ordered its demolition, citing complaints of an ‘eyesore’ - ironic, since wardens admitted that the public’s responses were infinitely more complimentary than those in the official wildlife hide round the corner. Doubtless concerned about tacitly legitimising a precedent, that such transparent dishonesty was deemed expedient speaks volumes about official morality, discourses of conservation, and bureaucratic anxieties about control and participation.

    Thereafter begun in autumn 2002 - similarly whimsically, with no planning or permission - Shelter proper was a small drystone hut on the rocks even further from the village and tourist zones. Without legal impediment (despite murmurings about health and safety), it withstood eight years of batterings from winter storms, spring tides, malevolent godbotherers, and exuberant celebrants of all ages before being systematically destroyed by person or persons unknown last October. Having become increasingly elaborate and substantial, with roof, window and wooden benches plus all manner of weird and wonderful internal décor, it remained discreetly merged into the surroundings. Great renown, respect, love and affection accrued from near, far and worldwide, by word-of-mouth but also on the internet - demonstrated concretely by “the care, attention and appreciation lavished upon it by locals and visitors, with various additions, modifications and ornamentations ... [and] several comments books filled with notes, poems and sketches. A sense of community, creativity and mutuality seems to have developed completely outside of the usual artificial frameworks of ownership, egos and institutions” (in 2007 reply from to those emailing their own photographs).

    Built purely for personal pleasure, without pretensions to status or seriousness, the artist retrospectively designated the shelter a “public artwork, site specific installation, museum”, a:

    “space for reverie, play, pilgrimage, parties, sleeping and birdwatching. Over time the interior filled with a bricolage of flotsam, found objects, handmade artefacts and personal mementos ... Originally an anonymous, playful, unofficial artwork, the hut gradually became a collaborative venture with all those taking part assuming an integral role in its development. The boundaries between artist/maker and visitor/spectator became not only blurred but interchangeable. I regularly tidied, edited and rearranged the contents - and so did others, often not to my liking. The shelter became a locus for ongoing symbolic engagement between strangers (sometimes humorous, frequently poignant, occasionally unpleasant), and I found myself disoriented as well as intrigued by the fact that ownership and provenance had become such a moveable feast ... [marked by] informal, spontaneous and unmediated exchanges of ideas and practices” (Sally Madge, ‘Serious Play’, Garageland magazine, No. 11, 2011, p.67).

    Clearly, while some might baulk at recuperation into Fine Art language of their contributions, rather more was involved here than idle, inconsequential, seaside playtime.

    Plausible references for Shelter’s high cultural credentials include landscape art, characteristically flattering grandiose ownership and mastery of geography, or reinforcing pastoral nostalgia or regional or national identity; and modern environmental art’s ecological sensibilities privileging formal purity while acknowledging human agency. The sublime and picturesque, likewise, readily assimilate into heritage and tourist consumerism; in this case evoking hermit dwellings and caves as well as the ‘Holy Island’ Christian history portfolio - whereas, despite episodic evangelical colonisations, the hut remained resolutely secular. Comparable aesthetic domination appears in state-sanctioned Public Art, suffered resignedly by citizens after imperial imposition by national or local government (see ‘our’Angel of the North, rejected by half of Europe before being dumped in Gateshead). But again, hierarchical organisation is refused here - as are the patronising pitfalls of ‘community art’ and contemporary PC incarnations like ‘socially-engaged practice’ or ‘relational’ art, where professional moralisers purge creative deficits from ignorant masses.

    Conversely, avant garde aspirations merge artistic activity with everyday life - as opposed to artificial segregation when supplicants consume spectacles of marketised genius, recapitulating capitalism’s constitutive alienations. Whereas from Dada, surrealism, situationism and Fluxus onwards, radical artists honour sensuality’s subversive potential, emphasising mundane human origins in children’s play, unconscious and bodily experience, and collective resistance to oppression. Sally Madge’s practice certainly qualifies as normal routine, evidenced in many small works following engagement with Lindisfarne. Some have been exhibited - multiples Holy Shit (necklaces of baked rabbit shit) and Holy Smoke (finger pots made of clay from the cliffs, fired on the beach); short animation Flotsam Fandango (featuring wood and bone puppets) - and countless others furnished the hut: drawings and paintings on pebbles and driftwood, sculptures of organic detritus like feathers and burrs, coloured plastic melted and welded together, fishing line and broken lobsterpots, abandoned toys and sundry interestingly deployable jetsam. A lowbrow archaeology of the island, natural and effluent, sacred and profane, thus coalesced in magical juxtaposition - which, crucially, was unconditionally available for anyone to shape.

    And authorial integrity did comprehensively erode, since so many partook of equal opportunities to reconfigure the topography. Furthermore, twentieth century conceits posit the artist imagining a ‘concept’ and pronouncing it ‘art’ - but here there was no originary revelation, just habitual creation. Only subsequent intrusion into public discourse prompts questions of artistic privilege; otherwise, perhaps, we have a glorified sandcastle. Even then, the history of ordinary folk’s workaday passage and holiday enjoyment associated with beaches cross-fertilises with traditions of workers’ self-build housing, rural craftiness, and the flouting of restrictions on the use of space. So action against enclosures of the commons throughout the centuries, not to mention ramblers’ campaigns for access and contemporary guerilla and graffiti art, also come to mind. The performative elements of Shelter therefore seem key, along with its communal ethos and the kinds and sources of value felt and ascribed. Indeed, Sally Madge’s intention now is to present visual archives of the project, so that a fullest possible account of this constellation of passionate effort properly enters posterity - and in a final humble gesture, overcoming sadness at its gratuitous destruction, she rescued what remained of the contents, rendered the site safe, and left the foundations standing for further open-ended intervention.
    Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 72, No.3, February 2011

  • Tom Jennings enjoys Sally Madge’s 2005 show;
    an art exhibition with real bite.

    Gerbil's Guide to the Galaxy

    Who thinks postmodern art is so much smug pretentious vacuous wank? Not always. Here, a pet gerbil enthusiastically munched its way through The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book - recycling via its physical labour the arrogant presumption that collections of information can encompass history and teach anything worth knowing. Who controls what goes in; what’s left out; how it’s presented and used? This rodent representative of the teeming masses followed its own universal agenda to keep warm, comfortable and secure - with no respect for the supposed wisdom and disciplining power dispensed by elites (1).

    Unfortunately far too many exponents of contemporary artistic practice prefer to pose in the safety of their self-important cliques, venturing out only occasionally to lick the recuperative arses of art’s institutional markets. However, its unique capacity to condense, explore and encapsulate ideas and feelings means that art can critique the intersections of life, culture and politics in such a way as to intrigue and affect us - rather than bludgeoning us with the preachy self-satisfied ideological bullying that politicos are occasionally (!) guilty of. In this case the deployment of ironic reflexivity also illustrates an understanding that aesthetic manipulation (as in other kinds) always entails a rhetoric of power. So, as a ‘pet’, the gerbil has no ultimate control over the contours of its lifeworld. Instead these are provided by an apparently omnipotent superior agency claiming to be well-meaning but serving its own interest... Remind you of anything?

    Footnoting the artist’s marvellous Underdog (2), this exemplary and humble bookwork straddles and references conceptual art and popular culture with more biting political pertinence than Douglas Adams’ middle class dressing-gowned slacker tourist (3) ever dreamt. Beautiful. Go gerbil!

    1. The gerbil gets a second bite at the cherry throughout July when the exhibit resumes at the Waygood Gallery, High Bridge Street, Newcastle.
    2. a 1999 video installation remake, with Sam Hooper soundtrack, of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s classic surrealist film Un Chien Andalou.
    3. in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    Art review published in Freedom, Vol. 66, No. 14, July 2005

    For other essays and reviews by Tom Jennings, see:

  • Recipe
    by Tom Jennings

    A contemporary art exhibition entitled 'Resist: Protest Art' might sound like a surprising proposition in this postmodern age of cynicism, Young British Art and the death of grand narratives. And whether or not the obituaries are premature, for me the title of this show (and the clenched fist on the poster) raised the spectre of the heroic pose either as a safe veneer on liberalism, or concealing the kind of prescriptive moralising beloved of many political groups and parties on the left over the last few decades. However, this might only worry those of us jaded by the manipulation, dishonesty and/or downright betrayal by vanguards, central committees and other 'conscious minorities' - whereas perhaps concepts such as resistance and protest are more innocent for the younger anti-globalisation generations. Plus of course there is always the possibility of reclaiming the symbols and language of rebellion from the dead hands of reformist, bureaucratic, institutional or even corporate sequestration - as in the anarchist movement's persistent attempts to realign Mayday with its revolutionary grass roots origins.1 In any case, happily, the vague misgivings - in particular, the likelihood of yet another worthy middle-class, trendy-leftie, political-correctness-fest, somehow left over from the 1980s - proved unfounded here. Instead Scarborough's Crescent Arts mounted an interesting and varied collection of mainly small-scale pieces in painting, collage, photography, mixed media, sculpture and installation. The relationship of the work to either protest or resistance was tenuous, but then an exhibition entitled 'Critical reflections on what politics in art might entail these days' probably wouldn't have cut any promotional mustard. Certainly there was little sense of any politics in the formal qualities of the exhibits (beyond the ambiguities of referentiality and irony, along with texts signalling a problematization of discourse), which dealt with current real-world concerns such as the right to publicly organise, war, technology, environmentalism and consumerism. For example, while backing away from the wall-based work, viewers risked tripping over Yoke & Zoom's ammunition box 'Not In Our Name' in the centre of the main space - a more subtle and effective message about the debris and detritus of war (landmines, etc) and its mediated portrayal, than any number of celebrity charity galas could achieve. More oblique were Catherine Graham's double electrical socket and plugs joined with a short cable, 'F**k The System' - implying the possibility of shortcircuiting the rapidly closing nature of present power (and technological) relations - and George Heslop's 'Chocolate Crucifix' hinting at the religious overtones of commodity valorisation and fetishisation. Most potent was Sally Madge's installation, 'Recipe', consisting of small clinical specimen bottles containing blood and oil on a glass shelf, accompanied by short verses in the form of cookery notes.

    Blood and oil has been a potent metaphor in the context of the invasion of Iraq, as demonstrated well by the 'Recipe' text. Public outrage made an intuitive connection between powerful corporate vested interests and the actions of the governments such interests support. And it can hardly be denied that since early last century there have been consistent links between the directions followed by international politics and control over petrochemicals. The slogan 'No blood for oil' captures the widespread sense of revulsion at the cynicism and duplicity of the New World Order, even though it is generally understood that rather more is at stake than cheap crude.2 Importantly, the commonplace laments of the complacent classes about the political apathy of ordinary people are exposed as lies by the unprecedented levels of protest against this Iraq 'war' - before it had even started, and irrespective of the media circus grinding into gear and spinning the vacuous demagogy of freedom and democracy where none is (or will be, in any meaningful sense) apparent.(3)

    So, despite their oversimplifications, slogans can be very effective in mobilising people to contemplate and take action; and 'Recipe' could be interpreted as effective sloganeering in the form of a small art installation. But, whether intended or not, it also mobilised many more layers and levels of meaning and resonance than such a function would suggest. Contributing to and wholeheartedly echoing the exhortation to 'Resist', more difficult issues were also raised - of complicity, the relationship between subversion and containment, and the problem of tackling symptoms rather than causes. Deeper philosophical questions loomed underneath, of the exploitation, destruction and future of all resources (as perceived by our rulers; encapsulated in the concept of 'collateral damage') - including human bodies, consciousnesses and lifeworlds, and the material and biological environment. Most of all, implicit in this work was the challenge of where we locate ourselves in these complex processes - as viewers or makers of art, citizens or consumers in the West, and/or as subjects and objects of political or other discourses. This challenge surely started as humble and local (e.g. 'Where do I, where does my life, my art, figure here and now in this situation?'); but on reflection could hardly avoid expanding into the historical, universal and global.

    In practice, the blood and oil resisted being mixed; they could be juxtaposed, but remained separate. Just as seawater is hidden from the sun underneath oil slicks, this mammalian blood (a phylogenetic analogue of seawater) was sealed in from the atmosphere by exhaust oil rendered thicker and darker with immersed particles picked up from the internal surface of the ailing engine. The blood was itself heavy with waste products and exhausted of oxygen and nutrients after its passage around the tired body's machine. Over its lifetime as an exhibit, the components sedimented into plasma and corpuscles; and the engine oil's components might do something comparable given geological time.

    Fossil fuels represent prehistoric generations of lifeforms fixed in their strata by the natural disasters of planetary biography. Over many millennia they become instrumental in cycles just as arbitrary and destructive, but made to appear similarly inevitable by the rhetoric of neo-liberal economics - which also conveniently offers a revisionist Darwinism in which biological entities compete as capitalists, and only the most evolutionarily profitable survive. If the destiny of the losers is to become the ideological fossil fuel of the future, then blood and oil are both biologically and discursively related, but dislocated in time; and time is running out for both. Extracted from their natural habitats, they enjoyed here the temporary reprieve of suspended artistic animation in an exhibition which was their memorial service.

    However, this was not just any old blood and oil, but that which had circulated around the body and accoutrements of the artist in the service of her life. To keep us all in the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed, oil and human bodies are likewise basic raw materials of the lifeblood of the global machinery of capitalism. Both must be produced and reproduced for money to flow. We imagine and contrive our integrity and our purposes in life - including our freewill, individuality, expressivity and desire - according to and in between the demands this system makes upon us, in the interstices of its networks of subjugation, seduction and sedation. And the 'good life', for those who have one, has always required the devastation, exploitation and destruction of colonised lands and dominated peoples - now, it seems, more than ever (that's progress). What, then, does it mean to 'resist' one isolated symptom of this disease? Why here and now if not always and everywhere else? By mobilising the artist's own body, daily life, and sense of self in the equation of blood for oil, 'Recipe' pondered such questions intimately and personally, asking viewers to do the same. Left to its own devices blood has a cycle. Blood flows, changes, grows, differentiates, mingles, heals, reproduces, degenerates. Blood organises itself over time. Time may also fossilise the body and its blood into oil - it depends upon how it is contained (what is done to it, where, by whom and for what purpose). One of these bottles of blood (in its 'universal container') clotted and developed imperceptibly into other modes of being; with the potential for strange beauty, fascinating and interesting shapes, colours, dynamics. Or, if tainted with anti-clotting agent, it could be maintained in an artificial state. This had a certain minimalist aesthetic quality, one might suppose, but was rather sterile - not only that, but it required the dead density of the oil for the effect to work. For my part, in art as in politics, I prefer the self-determination of the human element, which in both spheres has the additional capacity to not need the oil at all. And, when organised political resistance does finally return to the agenda, if an 'artificial State' is deemed to be oxymoronic as well as moronic - so much the better.

    'Resist: Protest Art', Crescent Arts, The Crescent, Scarborough, May 13th to June 28th 2003

    1. See Freedom magazine, 14th June 2003, for a discussion of Mayday as well as coverage of the latest round of anti-globalisation protest in Evian, Lake Geneva, from 29th May-3rd June; and the subsequent issue (Freedom, 28th June) for a recent example of the machinations of Leninist would-be leaders - in this case the SWP - in the Stop The War Coalition.
    2. See Variant No. 17 for a range of perspectives.
    3. As in any other country the Western 'democracies' have blundered into over the past few centuries - so it can hardly always be a case of unintended consequences of 'good intentions'. See Noam Chomsky's work for detailed accounts.

    Review published in Variant, No. 18, September 2003,
    For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see: