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I am on my way to Warsaw this morning, once again to put my identity through the wringer in the name of Headless. The event is a symposium on the phenomenon of the ‘artists novel’ being hosted by the The Book Lovers project and Cricoteka, based in Warsaw.

The Book Lovers (Joanna Zielinska and David Maroto) have spent the past couple of years building up a collection of around 160 artists novels produced at an accelerating pace over the past century or so. This weekend’s symposium brings together a range of artists, writers, curators and other interested parties to discuss the art form and to exchange ideas. As far as I know, I think I am the only person present who is a character in an artists novel* – Goldin+Senneby’s ongoing Looking for Headless. For this reason my talk to the symposium will focus on the experience of having bits of one’s life written up in fictional form, and more generally will reflect on the nature and function of the paradox.

My title, Being Nothing, comes from a  famous speech in Shakespeare’s Richard II, where the eponymous king agonises over the shifting nature of his identity. He concludes that no one will ever find peace that cannot be satisfied with ‘being nothing’, which is, of course, a profoundly paradoxical notion.

Artists novels (i.e. novels produced as art objects and/or performances rather than simply as novels) seem to me to strongly embody the sort of paradoxy that had an early and exhilarating ‘moment’ during the European Renaissance when it’s use allowed topics that were politically or doctrinally dangerous, even fatal, to be discussed without direct reference. Today’s topics may not be quite so life threatening, but the paradox still affords artists and writers the opportunity to analyse contemporary phenomena outside of the constraints of mainstream media, political and economic discourses. It also, importantly for me, allows topics that are normally expected to be the preserve of arcane academic discourse, to emerge in a very different, and less prescriptive, public form.

The Prezi for my talk can be found here:  



* Having met all the lovely people also presenting and otherwise participating in the Warsaw event, I now know this definitely NOT to be true.  One of the nicest aspects of the two or so days we spent together was finding that we’re not the only ones doing these often very strange things.  A very eclectic group of people, but all with one thing in common.