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Published

22 June 2024

Artist

Year

2024

Categories

Supported By

Intermedia Gallery

Introduction

Francis Jones

REVOLUTIONARY LETTER #53

SAN FRANCISCO NOTE

 

I think I’ll stay on this

earthquake fault near this

still-active volcano in this

armed fortress facing a

dying ocean &

covered w/dirt

while the

streets burn up & the

rocks fly & pepper gas

lays us out

cause

that’s where my friends are,

you bastards, not that

you know what that means

 

Ain’t gonna cop to it, ain’t gonna

be scared no more, we all

know the same songs, mushrooms, butterflies

we all

have the same babies, dig it

the woods are big.

 

Diane Di Prima, Revolutionary Letters

 


 

This book was brought together in a context of precarity, rage and disillusionment. Josie and I decided to work together in 2022, to make an exhibition of drawings and writing based on some scraps of text I’d written, which later became the long text in this book, The Thieves, and the title of the exhibition it accompanies. Josie has made a series of drawings in response to the text, some of which are portraits of writers, artists and activists who live or have lived in Glasgow: Hussein Mitha, Nat Lall, Gloria Dawson and Isaac Harris, each of whom have in turn written texts enclosed in this book. The Thieves as a text draws, at various points, on conversations and anecdotes from my own relationships with the people depicted, and so the texts and drawings are intrinsically linked to the real ways we are all friends and co-conspirators with each other.

Each person involved has reckoned with the harsh political stakes of being a writer/artist within our current reality, and understands the simultaneous need for collective action and collective thought in response/antagonism. This project encapsulates a specific instance of all of us coming together, and I am very glad to know such remarkable comrades.

These compassionate, imaginative texts deny easy categorisation, and are united in a sense of political motivation and formal experiment.

The book opens with Hussein’s “dream/prayer for palestine – an exercise in historical memory” which materialises the practice of remembrance in the beads of a rosary; each bead a new historical context overlaid on the present as a means to figure resistance and to understand cycles of power, supremacy, unbearable cruelty– and their inevitable downfall through the work of many hands. Hussein’s “secret technology” is both the rosary and their own searching mind. In their loving prayer, they use the heft of memory and the intellectual work of reading history to create resistance through private, unsurveilled reflection, as part of an interweave of many many generations.

Gloria’s set of works, a mixture of prose and poetry, similarly overlays timelines, referencing the work of action and physically showing up, a central tenet of Gloria’s politics and friendship model as facets of each other. The poems chime with tenderness and fatigue, joy in direct alliance with grief. Gloria, too, calls upon her relationship to what is real and underfoot to illustrate her mind’s resilience: “these roots are my roots. I want to know that I can lie and laugh here all summer.” It is the wanting to know that is essential for both texts, the urgent curiosity.

Nat’s text is a transcription of their film PINK EXCAVATION. It radiates with a will to explore, play and attend to the excavation of “missing secret cultures” – those histories which are excluded by systems of violent overwriting. Nat’s description of the “fragile natures, wrapped in security tapes,” is such a resonant image, and weaves together the various constants in each text, of trying to pull something out from under, and to determinedly re-find knowledge that has been withheld or destroyed.

“You woke to a dream. You woke to nothing and everything. I assume you have questions on your existence? Ask them, I will accommodate your queries as best as I can.” Isaac’s remarkable “Warstorm of the Holy Innocents in the tidewater or Nat Turners Crusade” shifts in a kind of iridescence from poetry to lyric to fiction. It pulls us into a tense micro-epic that uses cultural references alongside a glittering fantasy language to describe a miracle. This text too, plays with form, with historiography and excavated narratives which Isaac has ornately, lovingly worked into a gorgeous setpiece.

Much of the narrative of The Thieves comes specifically from how it felt to leave Dublin in 2018, to move to Glasgow, and later London. The decision was forced by what the material conditions had become. These conditions are a result of the Irish government prioritising rampant profiteering, “economic growth” an unregulated housing market and the stimulation of grotesque gentrification over making the city in any way livable. The process of making Ireland a financialised capitalist country represents a burying-deep of Ireland’s political history, as a colonised country which won (partial) independence through the revolutionary ideals and long fight of anti-imperialists who understood that the land would never be liberated as long as it was ruled by capitalism. Leaving in many ways felt like giving up. At the start of the text the narrator writes to themself “leaving is what makes you a poet.” This is intended to reflect a naive ideal, and the actual escape the poet makes to the enclave away from the city is supposed to represent a return to life; attempting to access an intellectual life against the immediate stultifying capitalist reality. Leaving to find the enclave allows for the closing of an emotional loop between the poet’s early, unclear memories and the future they want to realise, and can only realise as part of a collective undertaking similar kinds of thought-work. However the purpose of the enclave is not utopian escapism, it is concealment from power in order to plot against it.

Living as a precarious, low-waged worker is to feel wave after wave of melancholy, a general exhausted numbness. The only things that have ever pulled me out of this emotional state have been writing poetry or political organising. In the story, the thieves themselves are loosely figured as a group of comrades who live without the city and are in the process of deprogramming their minds from the grip of “told-wants” and enforced apoliticism. They are also undertaking the work of accessing involuntary memory which can only happen within dissociative time not used for the reproduction of capital. This is represented as dreaming, association, images that flood into the mind when one’s guard is down. And so there is a pointed lack of muscularity to the prose– it is held together by vague gesture and allusion. It is written in absence of adequate time and space, which is why it is so much about escape.

Working in collaboration with Josie over the last year to bring about this exhibition and book felt like a way to fend off despair and dissolve. I am trying to describe Josie’s ability to pull such thrillingly beautiful drawings from the text, structuring her visual references, memory and imagination into images that draw you into worlds of their own. The hypnotic effect of the pictures relate to the feeling the speakers in the text seek out, the yearning to access a kind of waking-dream in which one can think, plan and dissociate one’s way into a future. It was also Josie’s idea to commission the writers who have contributed remarkable texts to this book and in the process have more fully brought into focus the point of this exhibition.

The “story” of The Thieves– although it’s closer to a set of disjointed narratives mixed with poetry, is scattered with science fiction tropes. I have never really written fiction, so it’s really an attempt to put across a feeling of longing and listlessness, a description of material conditions, and what forms of resistance I have known others and myself to take, within increasingly confined political circumstances. The text especially relates to the presence of a surveillance network that is embedded not only in social life and technology but in how we live inside ourselves. The poet-worker begins to recognise the disruptive potential of their clandestine, private thoughts. In leaving to find a group of dissenters outside the city’s bounds, they are acting on their despair of the fruitlessness of political rumination without action alongside others. The conditions of the police state and consumer capitalism, as well as exhausting financial precarity, pushes our ability to articulate ourselves– our discontent, rage and longing–in and in, until we can’t seem to find it anymore. The position of the poet in The Thieves is to pull that back out if they can, to inarticulate oneself into an awkward, inadequate, confrontational articulacy. Like trying to speak in a dream and finding you’ve been talking in your sleep.

Some very special thanks are due:  to Phoebe Kerr, who designed the graphics so thoughtfully, to Annie Hazelwood and the CCA team for their support, to Hesse K., Titilayo Faruyoke and Georgie McVicar who edited and proofread various parts of the book – Georgie also generously gave their time to bring together the sound piece for the exhibition – and to Seamus Ryan, Fi Halliday, Thomas Dixon and Jonny Walker who modelled for drawings.

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