This page is my attempt to remember before I forget, to recall what will be irrecoverable before long. I've kept no diaries, taken few photographs; I've not used a camcorder, had a homepage or taken notes. The present is what's important, the past just a fax on thermal paper, yellowing in the daylight. So here's the beginning of my archiving those faxes. I don't know why.
First proposal for an installation in the tunnels below Waterloo Station, London:
The Artists known variously as Stanley Donwood, Dr Tchock, Donald Twain,
and Zachariah Wildwood would like you, the Reader, to Consider this Proposal:
Being a Spectacle Underneath the City of London.
There is, sequestered in the dank and dripping tunnels beneath Waterloo Station in London a tortuous, dilapidated labyrinth.
This labyrinth is built from battered corrugated iron, reclaimed plywood, old doors that do not open; it's the sort of wall that is hastily erected around a scrapyard. It is painted black. It is tall; it looms overhead. Several entranceways loom darkly from different directions around the labyrinth, beckoning the visitor inside.
Once inside you wander through the convoluted passageway, led inevitably to what lurks at the centre. This you are able to hear before you know what it is.
At the centre of the labyrinth is a huge transparent refrigerated cube, containing the sorts of robots that are commonly used on production lines for making cars. These robots are armed with long knives, and they slash again and again at an enormous cube of ice, reducing it slowly, over the course of several days, to nothing at all.
The labyrinth itself is roughly circular from above. The walls are too high to see over, and the tops of the walls are jagged and dangerous, and you'd have to be a real idiot to try to climb over any of them. There might be holes and gaps in the walls but they are much too small for a human to get through.
The paint job on the walls is slapped on any-old-how, and it's gloss black, matte black, different blacks, as if the only instruction for the task was 'make it black'. The lighting is pretty bad, but you can see scratches in the paintwork as if some horrible thing with terrible claws had been trying to get out. Sometimes you can see plaintive laments scratched into the paint. Written by people, or maybe by something else.
Sometimes there are fragments of broken red thread, or string, or rope caught on the walls, but it doesn't lead you anywhere. It won't get you home.
It isn't a real maze, in the sense of a trap. It is a labyrinth, which is distinguished from a maze by having a centre reached by a single path; a maze might have dead ends, branching paths and no clear centre. It's more like a convoluted processional route, a suggestion of a maze; but no-one would actually become lost within it.
The layout of a labyrinth is defined by the way that the passageway folds back on itself, continually changing direction, fills the space it takes up completely, repeatedly leads the visitor past the centre, inevitably leads to the centre, and that the single passageway is the only way in and out. This is specifically the Cretan type of labyrinth, and the first mention of one is on a clay tablet found at Knossos, which dates from about 1400 BCE. This is the labyrinth that is the basis of the legend of the Minotaur, and of the legendary Minoan labyrinth built by Dedalus to house the monster.
I had come to London to find some paintings that I dimly remembered, paintings I wanted to see again. But I didn't find them. Instead, in the dark, winter evening streets of the city I found something else.
I'd been drawn to distant landscapes in the paintings and artwork that had accompanied Radiohead's Kid A, places with wide horizons, filled with remote horror, spattered with evidence close enough to recognise. The artwork was like a scratchy message left on an answerphone cassette tape; evidence barely audible, liable to be wiped, recorded over.
My wanderings in London in search of ostensible reference material for this work had left me with an odd fascination for the place. I began to collect literature which might illuminate the leaf-carpeted stones and the blank office blocks. One of the first books I began to carry around with me was An Historical Guide To London, which began with the sentence "London is not a fit subject for a book." I read as many books which concerned London as I could; one of them, Peter Ackroyd's The House of Doctor Dee, mentioned the etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. This mention led me to the etchings themselves, and it was apparent that Piranesi had depicted a state of mind and imagination analagous to the one I found myself in as I paced the city's pavements.
Phyllis Pearsall, who from 1935 onwards walked more than 3000 miles of London streets whilst drawing up what was to become the London A - Z, had defined where everything was in London. Peter Ackroyd, along with Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock was doing something else, something akin to mapping the depraved psychology of the city, entwining history with myth and emotion. Sinclair in particular, with his staccato sentences was leading me into Piranesi's darkly-scratched imaginary prisons. I gave up any contemporary guidebooks. Armed with fiction and 1911's An Historical Guide, I followed, lost, undirectional, a maze.
The following was written whilst in London:
I'm in London, and I'm not sure what I'm doing. I've got a video camera and I'm filming nothing in particular, as is proved when I stop for a cup of coffee and look at the footage I've shot so far. It's just buildings, streets, people. It's exactly what I've seen.
The trouble is that what I think I'm seeing bears little relation to what I'm actually seeing. Fascinated by a brief mention of Piranesi in Peter Ackroyd's The House of Doctor Dee, I boarded the train to London seeking an imaginary prison, a labyrinth of half-hidden treasures, thronged with mysteries and illuminated by an invisible lace of past events. I've got my worn copy of the A-Z and a guidebook to London published in 1911, a notebook filled with mostly monosyllabic words transcribed (with some difficulty) from the tags that decorate the city, and I've got this fucking video camera.
The camera is the problem, and it takes me a day to realise it. It's not reality that I'm looking for. It goes back in my bag, and I stand at the edge of Ludgate Circus, staring at the vehicles dancing on the yellow diamonds painted on the wet tarmac.
Since I started drawing little weeping minotaurs I've been trying to find the maze. Hours of study and several journeys to famous mazes have ultimately led me here; to London. London is the labyrinth, the miz-maze, the original troy town. My 1911 guidebook takes me all over the city, seeking markers and signifiers. I'm briefly elated to find the London Stone, embedded not in a church any longer, but in the wall of a shop selling trainers. A tourist bus glides past, a phalanx of cameras recording my confusion at being surprised on my knees on the pavement, apparently worshipping the foundations of the sports shop. This isn't the last time that my secret discoveries turn out to be items on the tourist itinerary. London has been exhaustively mapped and documented many times before.
I'm trying to make work that will decribe the Radiohead record that will eventually be called 'Amnesiac'. The figure of the weeping minotaur, a cursed monster condemned to live and die in a subterranean labyrinth, is my guide. I want to make the walls of the maze, to daub and scratch the frustrations of the monster in the cage. My plotless, aimless perambulations in the city are decided by subconscious decisions; left, left, straight ahead, right...
Everywhere now I'm finding traces of the minotaur's path, from Smithfield, where the bulls were herded from Bartholemew's Fair, along Giltspur Street, past the Old Bailey, down Fleet Street, up Cornhill... The tags of grafitti writers echo in my head as I stare out at the Thames from Cousin Lane.
And I've overdone it all, as usual. I've read a lot of what's been written about London, from the history of economic systems that support the wealthy to the rumours of man-eating pigs roaming the sewers. But this time I've tried to stay out of the culture warehouses, the museums and galleries. The difficulty of working in the way I tend to is that the various fictions and theories I absorb solidify into a sort of cognitive concrete inside my skull, and after a while I can't distinguish fact from invention. They sacrifice children to stop the bridges from falling down. St Paul's stands on an ancient Druidic site. There are Underground stations far below the ones we know to service a subterranean train system in the event of nuclear war.
All I want to do is make representations of the walls that imprisoned the minotaur, the child of Queen Pasiphae and the white bull, gift of Poseidon. Also a film. I'm going to make a film of a man running through London, possessed by the spirit of the minotaur, chased by his own imagination from Smithfield to the waves lapping the tiny shore at the end of Cousin Lane...
What I don't know now is that this film will be made (one freezing winter day in the City), that I and the hastily-assembled crew will almost be arrested by the City of London's private police force (having been surveilled by CCTV since we began filming) and that the film will later be utterly lost, never to resurface. The paintings also get made, scratched and graffiti'd howls from the Minotaur's prison.
And although I run from London, it continually pulls me back. The comfort of the labyrinth. The impossibility of escape.
Plat du Jour.
Matthew Herbert made a record about food; really, about the food industry. His themes ranged from a meal that was cooked for George W. Bush when he came to the UK to thank Tony Blair for his support during the invasion of Iraq to the fact that Ricetec, a Texan agribusiness firm has attempted to patent basmati rice. Matthew made the music with food; shaking it, melting it, scorching it, toasting it, driving over it in a tank.
He asked if I'd like to do the artwork for the record, which he had called Plat du Jour, and I said I would, but it might take a little time. I had to read a number of books on the subject first. The only clear idea I had for the record was this; I wanted to make artwork that was like walking into a supermarket, our modern cathedrals of light, cleanliness and purity. I wanted to make something beautiful, seductive and entrancing, but which became slightly repellant when examined closely. Like a supermarket; where the alluring first impressions are slowly dispelled as you start to read the ingredients lists, countries of origin, the names of the transnational conglomerates who own the brands.
I obtained a quantity of chromatography paper from various sources, and small bottles of food colourings from catering suppliers and supermarkets, where I found myself gazing blankly down the aisles, muttering to myself, toying with bottles of scarlet, raspberry red and cochineal. As far as I could tell, modern food colouring is predominately petrochemical in origin; there are two main groups of dyes, coal tar dyes and azo dyes.
At home I rigged up a ramshackle laboratory in my kitchen. I used a teat pipette to drip food colouring onto the chromatography paper, which I suspended from a wire strung above the washing-up bowl which I filled with clean water. The results were spectacular. The food dyes separated and bled across the paper, merging with or repelling each other, drifting against gravity towards the wire. The experiment required careful monitoring; one evening I forgot about my laboratory and the next morning I had no colours, just a weird dark line right across the very top of the paper.
After scanning the results at high resolution I researched the chemical details of the dyes, the contraindications and possible side-effects of ingestion. This information I edited and presented it in small type adjacent to and over the smeared and blurred dye chromatography.
As in a supermarket, the viewer was forced to look closely in order to see the truth about what they are buying. The small print is where the sense of beauty falters, the sense of purity stumbles into the disconcerting idea that this bright, colourful world is made possible by the manifold use of oil; that black ooze composed of millions upon millions of long-dead organisms. There is death in our food. None of the dyes I researched were considered suitable for children. Most were banned in many countries, whilst being commonly used in the UK.
Towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century the hallucinated economy of the 'globalised' world suffered a serious fracture. This economy, built on imaginary assets and predicated entirely on the erroneous supposition that there will be a reliable supply of cheap oil, gas and coal forever, collapsed after imbibing a dangerous cocktail of greed, lies, mendacity and corruption.
The patient is now in a critical condition, a state which is certainly not helped by the continual injection of more of the same. I remember watching Warner Brothers cartoons, in which it was possible for crazy characters to run straight off a cliff, and then hover in mid-air for a time, whilst still frantically running. Before falling a very long way.
By coincidence, at around the time that coverage of all this reached the popular press I had been spending time making large pictures of what, for convenience's sake I was calling 'Pandemons'; horned creatures, animals that were a composite of goat (herbivore) lion/tiger/shark etc (carnivore) and businessman (omnivore). I have always been fascinated by the horned gods, by the Minotaur in the darkness, by the beast that lurks in the shadows, by the presence that waits in the maze.
I've got nothing against goats. I've got nothing against tigers, or sharks. I simply discovered that if I drew a goat, gave it the mouth of a rapacious carnivore and then dressed it in the suit and tie of a disgraced banker (or politician) it looked fucking evil.
Bankers and politicians wear suits and ties so they don't look like criminals. The Pandemons are horrible, feral, carnivorous lupine beasts, consumed by a naked, guiltless, ravening greed. They are partly the faces you fear you'll see when you pull open the curtains at night, partly the laughing visage of decaying Western capitalism, they are the draught created by the vast movements of cash into the off-shore bank accounts of the despicable, the stench of bonuses, payoffs and bribes; they are incompetant, parasitic vampires.
There were thirteen Pandemons in the show I did in Bristol called 'El Chupacabra'. Thirteen ghosts at the funeral. Thirteen spectres at the feast of the goat. Loitering on the blackened cliffs of free-market economics, cackling as they raise a glass to toast Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet.
Gallons of paint I've poured over them to drown their snickering. But still they laugh.
At an unspecified date when I was in my mid-thirties I gathered together my equipment; large bottles of black ink, hypodermic needles, large syringes, and a paint-ball gun. I loaded these items into my bicycle saddlebags and boarded the train to a small village in the Chiltern Hills. It crossed my mind that in those days of 'heightened security' and 'terror alerts' that if my bags were to be searched by one of the now-ubiquitous British Transport Police I would probably be in an amount of trouble.
Never mind, never mind. The innocent have nothing to fear, and I was innocent of everything. Naturally. I was simply interested in what happens to ink when fired at great velocity at unyielding surfaces. When I arrived at my destination I planned to empty the paintball gun ammunition balls of the viscous red fluid they contained (using the syringe and a needle), re-inject the empty balls with black ink, load the gun and fire the ink-filled balls at sheets of white-painted MDF.
My destination was a house in the depths of the woods of the Chiltern Hills, a place I had never visited before. The Chilterns rise above Oxfordshire, a strange zone of tatty wealth and dark woodland. I arrived at the railway station of Goring and cycled with some effort uphill into this oddly quiet quarter; not thirty miles from London but far divorced from the twenty-first century.
I was supposed to be working with Radiohead; they had some roughly-shaped ideas about making a record but nothing was very easy. Perhaps most paths petered out, deep in the woods, just when it was getting too dark to see. I intended to produce the artwork to accompany the music, and my own paths were approximately the same.
I think it was early autumn, although the time of day rarely altered from early evening. It didn't take me long to begin my experiments with the needles, the gun, and the ink; however, failure was practically immediate.
The balls which the gun was designed to fire were small, about a centimetre and a half in diameter, and they gave slightly when sqeezed between the finger and thumb. I discovered that the red, revoltingly plasma-like matter inside the balls was almost impossible to extract with the hypodermic needle. The stuff was the consistency of mucus.
When I finally managed to empty a few of the balls I attempted to refill them with black ink. To my inky horror, shortly after I had achieved this the balls began to deliquesce, flooding my hands and the gun with indelible black liquid. The sheets of white-painted MDF I had lined up along the wall stayed white as I frantically attempted to eject the mess of melting plastic from the gun.
I think I spent about two weeks in those woods. Most of the time I rode my bicycle through the staring trees; other times I concentrated on painting an enormous canvas with an equally enormous downward-pointing arrow. Eventually I rode back down the hill to Goring and the railway, and went home.
Me and Doktor Tchock had this idea. It was about a book that was filled with vital information, incredibly important texts, diagrams and pictures. The book that could explain everything. But this book had been forgotten; it now lay, dusty, yellowed, in an old desk drawer in a locked attic that no-one could find. The book had frayed red cloth covers, fragile, brittle pages; the desk had flaking varnish, scratched graffiti from children now old, now dead; the attic had dust, cobwebs, ghosts, a nailed-shut trapdoor.
We reconstructed the contents of the book, piecing together all the fragments, stitching a thread through the loose leaves. From second-hand bookshops came textures, colours, title pages, frayed spines, worn gilt.
I was still obsessively drawing the figure of the weeping minotaur, finding references to bulls and horned gods everywhere, tracing the temples of Mithras the Roman legionaries had left behind. Mithras Tauroctonos. The Doktor was still drawing twisted woods, tangled pathways. We discovered new constellations, temporary bursts in the cold skies, and catachresis, the misuse of words. And drawing, drawing, writing and typing on an old typewriter; eventually, we were able to remake the forgotten book; at least, a simulcrum of it, an imagined version of what it might be.
This was the 'special packaging' for Radiohead's Amnesiac, or this was a stolen library book, or this was ridiculously overblown wrapping for a compact disc. It was an encrypted file, but not in the sense that the record label understood. It was encoded with hidden meaning; everything really did mean something. But what?
There was an image of the same book, but older, tattered, on the front of the regular CD release. There were many dates stamped onto the 'library card', and words and phrases dredged from London's silt and Kernow's coombes. And it was very important, even if it was just an approximation of a forgotten book in a desk in a dusty attic.