Jonathan Wateridge interviewed for FAD:
I started the paintings in February of this year but prior to that there’s the whole process of conceiving the project and then set building; casting actors; doing the shoot etc. Once that’s all completed, I then edit through reference material before making a number of studies. So all in all, from conception, I guess the project has taken around 18 months so far. … My process for each project has been pretty similar for a number of years now. After a period of research and reflection on what it is that I’m trying to address with the work, I choose the location in which to set the paintings. That site is then constructed as a large scale set inside my studio. Actors are cast, costumes sourced and a film shoot is organised so that I can stage the performers or improvise with them in order to build up a body of reference imagery, from which the paintings are then developed. … I’ve never been particularly interested in addressing my own biography but I found myself thinking more and more about this connection.
The other factor was the growing tragedy of the migrant crisis over the last couple of years, and more specifically the sense of collective amnesia in the UK as to how these issues had reached this point. I realised that depicting elements of my own past could become a way of tangentially dealing with a wider set of issues concerning the west’s relationship to the post-colonial world. … Memory isn’t necessarily false but it’s certainly constructed. The idea of ‘constructedness’, of things being fabricated or somehow false, is a crucial part of my process.’
Keats longed to find beauty in what was often an ugly and terrible world. He was an admirer of Shakespeare, and his reading of the Bard is insightful and intriguing, illustrating the genius of Shakespeare’s creativity. In a letter to his brothers, Keats describes this genius as ‘Negative Capability’:
‘At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’
Quotes attributed to Morris Zapp in Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language:
The root of critical error is a naive confusion of literature with life.
Hamlet is not about a man who wants to kill his uncle, it’s about something else.
Understanding a message involves decoding it because language is a code. And ‘all decoding is a new encoding’.
‘Of course, I don’t believe this, but I like to tell these stories. I liked it when they were told to me, and it would be a shame if they were lost. In any case, I won’t guarantee that I myself didn’t add something, and perhaps all who tell them add something: and that’s how stories are born.’
– Tischler, in Primo Levi’s Moments of Reprieve
On the one hand, these photographs sear us with the promise of their accuracy — as Barthes says, photographs are astonishing because they ‘attest that what I see has existed’: ‘In photography, the presence of the thing (at a certain past moment) is never metaphoric.’
– James Woods, in his introduction to W.G Sebald’s Austerlitz
I recently was handed a collection of photographs taken by my father — dead now for over fifty years. I looked at it, somewhat confused. I suppose saddened by the passage of time. Even though I am in the photographs, the people in them are mysterious, inherently foreign. […]
Who are these people? Do they have anything to do with me? Do I really know them? […]
In discussing truth and photography, we are asking whether a caption or a belief — whether a statement about a photograph — is true or false about (the things depicted in) the photograph. A caption is like a statement. It trumpets the claim, “This is the Lusitania.” And when we wonder “Is this a photograph of the Lusitania?” we are wondering whether the claim is true or false. The issue of the truth or falsity of a photograph is only meaningful with respect to statements about the photograph. Truth or falsity “adheres” not to the photograph itself but to the statements we make about a photograph. Depending on the statements, our answers change. All alone — shorn of context, without captions — a photograph is neither true nor false. […]
For truth, properly considered, is about the relationship between language and the world, not about photographs and the world.
– Errol Morris, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Now … that story about Richard Hammond is not true. But I feel that what it tells us about Richard Hammond is true.
– Stewart Lee, If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One
Her consciousness, at this point — she was forty-three years old — was so crammed full not just of her own memories, obligations, dreams, knowledge and the plethora of her day-to-day responsibilities, but also of other people’s — gleaned over years of listening, talking, empathising, worrying — that she was frightened most of all of the boundaries separating these numerous types of mental freight, the distinction between them, crumbling away until she was no longer certain what had happened to her and what to other people she knew, or sometimes even what was or was not real.
– Rachel Cusk, Outline
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster Chaunticleer dreams of a threatening fox invading the barnyard, whose “color was betwixe yelow and reed.” The fox was orange, but in the 1390s Chaucer didn’t have a word for it. He had to mix it verbally. He wasn’t the first to do so. In Old English, the form of the language spoken between the 5th and 12th centuries, well before Chaucer’s Middle English, there was a word geoluhread (yellow-red). Orange could be seen, but the compound was the only word there was for it in English for almost 1,000 years. […]
But none of this actually gets us to color. Only the fruit does that. Only when the sweet oranges began to arrive in Europe and became visible on market stalls and kitchen tables did the name of the fruit provide the name for the color. No more “yellow-red.” Now there was orange. And, remarkably, within a few hundred years it was possible to forget in which direction the naming went. People could imagine that the fruit was called an orange simply because it was.
This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline — the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realised. They offer a just-so story to explain with hindsight why that outcome was inevitable. Those more deeply informed about the period are much more cognisant of the roads not taken.
– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
On a sort of landscaped proscenium, immediately below the wooden rail amidst tree-stumps and undergrowth in the blood-stained sand, lie lifesize horses and cutdown infantrymen, hussars and chevaux-légers, eyes rolling in pain or already extinguished. Their faces are moulded from wax but the boots, the leather belts, the weapons, the cuirasses, and the splendidly coloured uniforms, probably stuffed with eelgrass, rags and the like, are to all appearances authentic. Across this horrific three-dimensional scene, on which the cold dust of time has settled, one’s gaze is drawn to the horizon, to the enormous mural, one hundred and ten yards by twelve, painted in 1912 by the French marine artist Louis Dumontin on the inner wall of the circus-like structure. This then, I thought, as I looked round about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.
– W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt. … It’s very good that you write through another text, a foil, so that you write out of it and make your work a palimpsest. You don’t have to declare it or tell where it’s from.
More and more, it had felt to me that in the things I wrote, the degree of artifice was greater than the degree of truth, that the cost of administering a form to what was essentially formless was akin to the cost of breaking the spirit of an animal that is otherwise too dangerous to live with.
– Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark
In 2008, I came across a small graffiti in my neighbourhood in Cardiff, and it spelt Go home Polish. I dwelt on it for a while, unsure whether I really should be going anywhere or whether I already was home.
– Michal Iwanowski, introducing his Go home, Polish project.
Far from home, at a video rental shop, rummaging around the shelves, I swear in Polish. And suddenly an average-sized woman who looks to be about fifty years old stops beside me and awkwardly says in my language: ‘Is that Polish? Do you speak Polish? Hello.’
Here, alas, her stock of Polish sentences is at an end. And now she tells me in English that she came here when she was seventeen, with her parents; here she shows off with the Polish word for ‘mummy’. Much to my dismay she then begins to cry, indicating her arm, her forearm, and talks about blood, that this is where her whole soul is, her blood is Polish. This hapless gesture reminds me of an addict’s gesture, her index finger showing veins, the place to stick a needle in. She says she married a Hungarian and forgot her Polish. She squeezes my shoulder and leaves, disappearing between shelves labelled ‘Drama’ and ‘Action’.
It’s hard for me to believe that you could forget the language thanks to which the maps of the world were drawn. She must have simply mislaid it somewhere. Maybe it lies wadded up and dusty in a drawer of bras and knickers, squeezed into a corner like sexy thongs acquired once in a fit of enthusiasm that there was never really an occasion to wear.
— Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
This is the thing about poetry. You don’t have to understand it. And this is, I think, what a lot of teachers get wrong. They think that poetry is a fancy way of saying something that’s really quite ordinary, and once you’ve translated it into simple English you’ve done the poem. But of course you haven’t, you’ve killed it, you’ve tortured it to death. Poetry communicates before it’s understood — I think TS Eliot said that.
— Philip Pullman, speaking on the podcast How I found my voice
Cockle. The word rolled about in my head: round, hinged, opening and closing like the creature it described.
— George Monbiot, Feral
Sometimes when there would be some interruption in their travel […] she would have to entertain her clients somehow. That was when she started telling stories. They expected her to. She took some from Borges and embellished them a little, dramatised them. Others came from the Thousand and One Nights, although even then she always added a little something of her own. […] They must not have listened to her too attentively because on the occasions when she would mix up some historical fact, no one ever pointed it out to her, until in the end she simply stopped bothering about the facts.
— Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
They say, how does he dream, how does he think
When he can’t even speak, and he can’t even blink?
We’re all lost in the wilderness, we’re blind as can be
He came down to teach us how to really see
— Tom Waits, Eyeball Kid
It’s hard to believe that parts of one’s own body are discovered as though one were forging one’s way upriver in search of sources. In the same way one follows with a scalpel along some blood vessel and establishes its start. White patches get covered with the network of a drawing.
One discovers, and names. Conquers and civilises. A piece of white cartilage will from now on be subject to our laws, we’ll do with it what we will now.
— Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
It’s not so much being seduced by a story. It’s the thrill of seeing in itself. […] No narrative continuity whatsoever, just the novelty of seeing these images moving. […] There’s an ontological impact, a reality to these images, that I still find tremendously moving.
— Dave Kehr, speaking in a Museum of Modern Art film about the early films of the Biograph Company
I’ve touched a kidney and a liver that had been prepared in this way — they were like toys made out of tough rubber, the kinds of balls you throw for a dog to play fetch with. And the line between what is fake and what is real suddenly became very fine. I also had the rather unnerving suspicion that this technique could permanently transform original into copy.
So I also get out my notebook and start to write about this man writing down. Chances are he’s now writing: ‘Woman writing something down. She’s taken off her shoes and placed her backpack at her feet…’
Don’t be shy, I think to the rest, all waiting for our gate to open — take your notebooks out too, and write. For in fact there are lots of us who write things down. We don’t let on we’re looking at each other; we don’t take our eyes off our shoes. We will simply write each other down, which is the safest form of communication and of transit; we will reciprocally transform each other into letters and initials, immortalize each other, plastinate each other, submerge each other in formaldehyde phrases and pages.
When we get home we’ll put our written-in notebooks with all the rest — there’s a box for them behind the wardrobe, or the bottom desk drawer, or the shelf on the nightstand. Here we have chronicled our other journeys already, our preparations, our happy returns. […]
Who will read it?
— Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
Hence the need for preservation. For by the time I reached my mid-twenties — though I never clearly articulated this at the time — I was coming to realise certain key things. I was starting to accept that ‘my’ Japan perhaps didn’t much correspond to any place I could go to on a plane; that the way of life of which my parents talked, that I remembered from my early childhood, had largely vanished during the 1960s and 1970s; that in any case, the Japan that existed in my head might always have been an emotional construct put together by a child out of memory, imagination and speculation. And perhaps most significantly, I’d come to realise that with each year I grew older, this Japan of mine — this precious place I’d grown up with — was getting fainter and fainter.
– Kazuo Ishiguro, from his Nobel lecture