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I gave a presentation yesterday evening at the fantastic Eastside Projects space in Birmingham, as part of their ‘Extra Special People‘ series of talks.  The occasion was in anticipation of the gallery hosting a manifestation of Maria Lind’s ‘Abstract Possible‘ project, that has been touring various parts of the world over the past few years and includes various contributions from my alter-egos goldin+senneby, including bits of Headless.  As I understand it, the Abstract Possible show in Birmingham will include the final draft of the novel ‘Looking for Headless’ which has been written serially as the project has progressed.  I have seen this final draft and without giving much away can reveal that it ends with an act of extreme violence against me.  It turns out it’s more upsetting to read about your fictional self getting stabbed than I would have imagined.

Also presenting to last night’s event was Liam Connell from Winchester University, whose fascinating presentation drew in all sorts of aspects of offshore, particularly offshore labour, and the ways it has been represented by contemporary artists.  In addition to Headless itself, Liam drew on examples such as Melanie Jackson and Ursula Biemann to illustrate how artists are finding interesting ways to overcome the inherent unrepresentability of the xenospaces of offshore.  Biemann’s videography, for example, compiles various images and sounds adjunct to such ephemeral spaces, but emphasises that the important spaces of migrancy and exploitation are those that sit in the gaps between.  Melanie Jackson found herself specifically prohibited from using film shot in British ports – British, but legally not British soil – and so developed an elaborate process of electronically redrawing her images in order to make a film about the spaces of migration.  Connell compared the results to the ghostly images produced by the x-ray machines used by border agencies to scan incoming trucks – extending this to his metaphor of ‘revenant’ or ‘ghost’ labour in the global economy.
The overall theme of the session was ‘Speaking of Abstraction’.  Although related to Lind’s ‘Abstract Possible’, it was nonetheless curious for me to think about Headless as an ‘abstract’ project.  For me Headless has always been anything but abstract in the sense of ‘formal abstraction’ used in the visual arts.  Rather, Headless is strongly representational, but of a phenomenon that defies any form  of conventional graphical representation.  The meandering complexity and indeterminacy of Headless are, therefore, perhaps its most mimetic aspects – just as we cannot ‘see’ offshore finance (which is, of course, the whole point), so we (participant, audience and artist) can never see the whole of Headless.  Liam compared it in this respect to  Mark Lombardi’s complex and dense representations of US financial institutions and organised crime in the 1980s and 1990s.

As usual on the occasions the audience was both responsive and generous and asked some interesting questions once we’d done our bit.  Great fun and  rewarding for all concerned.  The event was recorded and will be made available through the Eastside site soon.  The exhibition,  ‘Abstract Possible: The Birmingham Beat’ opens on October 6th.