All the Fantasies of the People

Plastique Fantastique All the Fantasies of the People 

Performance at Wysing Arts Centre, 31 August, 2013.


I went to Wysing Arts Centre’s festival ‘Space-Time: Convention T’ yesterday, keen to schmooze and network with some arty people from the East of England (such as Aid&Abet  and OUTPOST) and in particular because I wanted to see Simon O’Sullivan and David Burrows’s performance as Plastique Fantastique. I wasn’t the only groupie, and there were plenty of PF’s followers present at Wysing.

Before the performance we gathered by the door of the ‘Black Box’ space, lured by the smell and smoke of incense sticks burning in the drain outside. The background noise was equally enticing: a pseudo-spiritual intonation which, I saw as I entered, came from the PF accomplices, who made up a cross between the percussion section of an orchestra and a pop group, twanging sound and making rhythm fill the box-like room. Visitors walked in and seeped up the different senses: this ritualized sound, the dim lighting in the room (which added to the atmosphere), the smell of incense, the taste (of viscous air solidified with incense, ingested by breathing it down the oesophagus. It’s rather like swallowing massage oil) and touch (this malleable thickness in the air, which chafed the skin).


Suddenly Simon, who was sitting down in the corner, stood up. He positioned himself in a prominent but lop-sided position in the performing area. Upright, a firm plank amidst the groovy air-molecules that wavered with the smoke, and dressed in black, Simon gave the impression of a sage who was about to speak his aphoristic opus. Of course, this was partially comical, and yet highly serious. And we were not disappointed.

David, his accomplice, immediately began to coat Simon’s embodied clothing and any revealing bits of skin with flour, followed by sticky dollops of honey, and then black glitter. Soon Simon’s entire body, his head, and his limbs were simultaneously blackened, coated with powder and thick swashes of honey, and also shimmering as the minimal lighting (set by John Cussans a collaborator who was carefully holding a torch) reflected on the glitter.


Thus warmed up, Simon began to speak. I did not understand everything he said, until he said There is not now and never has been anything to understand. Up to this point, I had missed that point. Here were All the Fantasies of the People. Simon pronounced (slowly) ideas that seemed to play and rejig the sense of capitalist consumer conventions with a schizophrenic, dare I even say (and remember, there isn’t anything to understand) polymorphic vision of reality. His speech was set alongside the backdrop of a video projection with images, characters and words that danced and moved in synchronicity (and, obviously, divergence) with Simon’s persuasive enunciation.

So what was it about? Clearly there was a scientific theoretical hypothesis occurring (rather than being represented) in this performance. Something to do with anti-signification and the gap between signs and things. But it would be boring and imperceptive to think that PF are primarily concerned with rupturing thought à la Deleuze et Guattari (or not). Indeed, as the heat was rising in the space, the air turned into a hazy fog (that was almost a smog) of burning, choky odour. Amidst the dim there was the occasional spark of light, which glistened off the crystals of glitter that David had plastered onto Simon’s skin (particularly on his face).

Although I was not quite sure what to make of this sensuous, visionary, experimental performance, it was deeply affective, serious and amusing. Towards the end the orchestra had transposed their spiritual intonation into very loud bangs. Soon the space was throbbing. Meanwhile, Simon stood as still and stiff as a post, continuing his mantra.

All The Fantasies of the People[!]

Subkast Koffke (or Starbucks)

Altzar pop

By now Simon was shouting, even yelling. With all the banging, I could hardly hear what he was trying to say. I looked at his hands, holding his script – he was shaking. Such intensity.

Starbucks fucking

I could see wrinkles on his forehead, from cracks in the black glitter and his tight grimace (frowning) as he spoke.

Faked up crystal energy for the coffee table



All hail to the great gobbah!!

Immense intensity – I began to have deeply tactile sensations as the sound, aura, smell, and smoke reached a crescendo and pummelled my sense organs. These were quasi-synaesthetic and palpable multi-sensuous experiences.

Simon by now was practically hyperventilating, although so calmly. He was in a trance. We were all in a trance. It was epic.

Then he reached the end of his speech. Two of his accomplices put a mask with wooden branches mask on Simon’s face, covering it entirely. We couldn’t see his face. In fact, we couldn’t see anyone’s face, since they were all wearing masks. This was clearly a theoretical position, on the one hand, in relation to Deleuze’s ideas about faciality and the probe-head. In brief, faciality is all about the signifiance, subjectification, coding and totalitarianism. It’s not a good thing. But a probe-head is ‘a living block’ that dismantles nasty faciality and opens ‘a rhizomatic realm of possibility effecting the potentialization of possible.’ I think the masks of PF, and particularly Simon’s one at the end, were all probe-heads, and they were supposed to set us all free (although, Simon’s had tree branches, which is an arborial (thus teleological) rather than rhyzomatic logic, surely)…

So, did they set us free?

The video then stopped and it said on the screen:

Communiqué end

Someone opened the door, and we all went out to get some clean air, which was a relief, but also a disappointment. I wanted to see (and sense) more…


‘Plastique Fantastique is a mythopoetic fiction – an investigation of aesthetics, the sacred and politics – produced through comics, performances, text, installations and shrines and assemblages.’

Wysing Arts Centre provides alternative environments and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production, out of which emerges an ongoing programme of exhibitions, public events, family and schools activity.

Our large rural site near Cambridge includes a gallery, education and new media facilities, artists’ studios, project spaces and a 17th century farmhouse.


Making Sense with entropy: Tunisian Collaborative Painting

(for Bikram yoga, click here:


I am applying to participate in an artistic retreat at Wysing Arts Centre, in Cambridge. To make this application I need to propose a workshop. There will be a lot of brilliant applicants and I am unlikely to secure a place, although I would really like to go. The retreat is on theme of “Tracing the Tacit”. My proposed workshop needs to be on one of the sub-themes of Entropy, Chance, Disorientation or Silence. I have chosen Entropy, and propose an edition of David Black’s marvellous Tunisian Collaborative Painting workshops. Please look at my proposal and tell me how I might improve it. The deadline for applications is the end of this week. For more details, see:

  1. Workshop Proposal

This is a participatory performance exercise in which I gather individuals at ‘Escalator Retreat 13’ together as strangers who meet, collaborate and create a painting. This collaborative experience interprets the concept of entropy, meaning inherent disorder and friction, as a necessary stage in the development of a process, namely art-making, that then provides a restorative and replenishing social act.

‘Tunisian Collaborative Painting’ is an art form that was developed by Hechmi Ghachem in the 1980s, responding to the dictatorial government and oppressive political regime in Tunisia. It allows a group of people (artists or non-artists) to work simultaneously on a canvas without discussion or planning, following a simple set of predetermined rules. As a consequence, the process of painting involves strangers meeting and creating together in a way that enacts the disorder of their random alliances, as posed by their gathering at Wysing. The canvas becomes a meeting point for these public performers, who, whilst painting together, embody and situate the arguably lonesome, marginal, starving edges of a society. The canvas and its occupants become an Augusto Boal-ian Theatre of the Oppressed, where different cultures, identities, opinions and styles come together, whilst strangers meet and work through their sometimes opposing viewpoints and visions. This process then responds to divergence with an economy of contribution, rather than capitalism, and a truly democratic constitution.

This worthy political effect occurs during my workshop as a result of passing through the entropic, chaotic visual mess of individuals’ random and differing marks in the canvas. Since any person can paint over or change another’s marks and create an entirely different effect, the painting process might become a violent act, which produces disorder in the closed system of the shape of the canvas. However, as no single person is responsible for the whole composition, there is the elimination of desire in the creative act. There is no ego, and from the collaborative experience (with its necessarily entropic process) a painting created by a group of individuals resembles the work of a single artist. Thus, instead of the unravelling of the order of a system (i.e. the canvas) into inherent disorder, the expenditure of energy that occurs whilst each participant puts marks on the canvas, and their collaborative teamwork, results in a an efficiency for this system, which can now express both the individuality of each participant and their unity as a whole.

In this way my workshop will show how order can only be produced by increasing entropy; just so the final painting, with its cohesion, can only occur as a result of the chaotic, aggressive and entropic process that occurs whilst making it. As a result, we will discover that disorder is only a limited perspective of order, and vice versa, whilst passing through entropy is a necessary stage towards one and the other. Meanwhile, participants discover a new way of working together and create an artwork that testifies to their different identities and the ways that these congregate at Wysing.

  1. How this proposal within the retreat is relevant to my practice at this particular moment

The participatory workshop of ‘Tunisian Collaborative Painting’ I propose for ‘Escalator Retreat 13’ represents a timely culmination of my artistic research into Making Sense. This is an expanding collective of artists and thinkers who have gathered in response to my research and art practice, to develop an act of reflection that is at once sensual, conceptual, accessible, and interdisciplinary. I organize annual colloquia that found a junction between theory and practice, in collaboration with philosophers Jean-Luc Nancy (in Cambridge), and Bernard Stiegler (at the Centre Pompidou in Paris) with Elaine Scarry (at Yale), and this year we are holding the event at The Metropolitan Museum, New York, with Robert Storr. These colloquia draw together professionals engaged in the worlds of art, philosophy, critical theory and psychology to provide live source material for invigorating debate and creative research, forming an interface between artistic creation, theoretical debate, and academic scholarship.

At last year’s colloquium I collaborated with David Black, an American painter who highlighted the significance of Tunisian Collaborative Painting at a pivotal time in the Tunisian Revolution. We held two Tunisian Collaborative Painting workshops, where participants discovered a diplomatic sense that translated across their different, disordered and divergent ways of thinking. This experience showed me how such an activity, of directing strangers to paint together, could develop and disseminate a language and semiotics that is diverse, creative, transformative, and inclusive. This practice then demonstrates how art-making can be used as a means of responding humanely and critically to social crises and traumas – the living reality of the inherent disorder and conflict that defines the entropy that besets our very being-in-the-world. This is the mode of ‘real’ that I bring to Tracing the Tacit: my workshop of Tunisian Collaborative Painting poses a diplomatic and regenerative response to the ‘universal’ law of perpetual decline.

I need to take part in Escalator Retreat 13 to bring to fruition my ongoing artistic scholarship with Making Sense, make new connections, collaborations and prove how this is possible through the process of making art.