Category: Dan Fox

Days of Mush

An annotated playlist from Dan Fox

Listen here.


‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – Junior Parker
‘Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.’ I’m trying, believe me.


‘4 Skies’ – Arto Lindsay
The lyrics to this song describe changing meteorological moods; ‘a sky like a room’, ‘a most violent sky’, ‘one sky on stage’, ‘a seething, crumpled sky’. Lindsay’s sparse guitar reminds me of a time-lapse video of rapidly moving clouds. The clear blue opening quickly becomes overcast. Billowing white cumulus grow into dark, rain-filled towers of cumulonimbus, before dispersing and leaving only wisps of cirrus. It’s helpful to remember that for almost all of human history, news alerts on your phone did not mark time.


‘The Twilight Zone’ – The Ventures
Welcome home!


‘17 Days’ – Prince
‘Is that my echo?’ Prince describes being alone for 17 long days and nights. But as this solo piano number attests, he’s no slouch when he’s stuck at home. If Prince can do it, so can you.


‘New Number Order’ – Shellac
One million and one, twenty-two, seventy-five, eleven, eleven. This is the new number order. Tuesday, Saturday, next Wednesday, last Monday, two weeks on Sunday the 99th of Monthuary.


‘Anxiety Montage (1952–1955)’ – The Carl Stalling Project
Carl Stalling composed music for Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, which is why his music is perfect for today’s ‘run-off-a-cliff-and-your-legs-are-still-spinning-but-the-ground-has-fallen-away’ feeling.


‘Houses’ – Elyse
‘I could never make it in your house / You could never make it in mine.’ A ballad for solipsists. Or a song about the need to respect different domestic needs, even in love. He likes to get up late, but she’s an early riser. They’re minimalists, but we enjoy having things to look at on the walls. You want to watch The Tiger King, I don’t. Etc.


‘What’s He Building?’ – Tom Waits
Rear Window is widely regarded as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films because deep down, at the core of human consciousness, we are all nosy neighbours. ‘I heard he was up on the roof last night signalling with a flashlight. And what’s that tune he’s always whistling? What’s he building in there?’


‘Big Louise’ – Scott Walker
It’s fun to speculate about what your weird neighbour is doing in his garage all day, but it’s more important to keep an eye on those who are isolating alone on their ‘fire escape in the sky’.


‘Simmer Til Done’ – Maximum Joy
Research estimates that, as of April 2020, in the New York borough of Brooklyn some 15,000 personal essays were being written under the title ‘Love in the Time of Coronavirus’, and a further 7,500 crowdsourced documentary films were in pre-production, all titled ‘The Isolation Diaries’. Sources suggest that as many as 90,000 cookbooks titled ‘The Survival Kitchen’ may also have been written globally, as fears mount that a shortage of flour in grocery stores across the world may predict a steep growth in men explaining at tedious length how to make ‘like, the perfect sourdough, bro’.


‘A Letter From Home’ – ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny
My first book with Fitzcarraldo Editions, Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, began with the lyrics to another ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny song, titled ‘Leading a Double Life’. This one comes from the same haunting album, Out of the Blue, released in 1978. Tyranny described this composition as an attempt to describe ‘the development of consciousness over three “sizes” of time: (1) over thousands of years (based on the work of Julian Jaynes), (2) within a person’s lifetime from childhood to adult perceptual illusions (based on the work of Jean Piaget and others), and (3) at micro levels (eg. involuntary events, sudden feelings/thoughts)’. But it’s also simply a beautiful letter from home.


‘My Other Body’ – General Strike
The one that shares space on buses and in cafes, breathes without a mask, shakes hands. Here, Dawn Roberts sings beautifully from Michel Foucault’s ‘Mental Illness and Psychology’.


‘Behind the Door’ – Vernon Green & The Medallions
Isolation, doo-wop style. Between the 2 minute and 2 mins 20 second mark is a falsetto backing vocal that can shatter glass.


‘I Gotta Get Away From My Own Self’ – Ray Godfrey
A masterpiece of quarantine soul. It’s ambiguous whether the ‘you’ referred to in Godfrey’s lyrics is a lost lover, or the singer’s own mind.


‘City’s Hospital Patients’ – Teri Summers & The Librettos
The hospital system, explained. Needs an additional verse about morgues reaching capacity, PPE shortages and struggling healthcare workers.


‘Depression’ – Sound on Sound
A song titled ‘Depression’ which features a chorus that goes ‘‘Move and jump! / Dance and funk!’ is the definition of putting on a brave face.


‘Winter’ (feat. Kathy Acker) – Peter Gordon & David Van Teighem
‘Yesterday is all I’ve got.’


‘Big Science’ – Laurie Anderson
‘You know, I think we should put some mountains here / Otherwise, what are the characters going to fall off of?’


‘Zones Without People’ – Oneohtrix Point Never
Music to look out of your window to.


‘Lonesome Town’ – The Cramps
This forms part of a tiny sub-genre of song – a favourite of mine – in which the singer imitates heavy sobbing.


‘Heartbeat’ – Wire
The kids are asleep. Your eyes will stage a sit-in at the back of your skull if you try watching anymore Netflix. The room is dark and silent. You feel icy. You feel cold. You feel old. You are mesmerised by your own beat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat…


‘The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes’ – The Very Things
As well as a good way of getting fresh air and exercise, gardening can be a therapeutic activity in difficult times such as these.


‘Zombie’ – Fela Kuti
Somehow this makes me think about joggers.


‘Running’ (feat. Congo Ashanti Roy) – Voice of Authority
Speaking of exercise.


‘Southern Nights’ – Alain Toussaint
When all this is over, we will sit outside together, watch the sun go down and drink mint juleps.


‘Suo Gân’ – arr. by John Williams
Searching for something to do under lockdown recently, I decided to learn Welsh. I do 10 or 15 minutes a day using a language app on my phone. I don’t know nearly enough to translate this Welsh lullaby, although I do recognise the word ‘cariad’, which means ‘love.’ It is my mum’s first language, although growing up in the south of England I never learned any besides a couple of basic phrases. My mum is in her 80s, and is immunocompromised as they say, not that we ever used that term before now. We are currently separated by 3500 miles of ocean, but the small part of the day I spend on my Welsh lessons is a way for me to feel closer to her.

This recording of ‘Suo Gân’ is John Williams’ arrangement from the Steven Spielberg movie Empire of the Sun. The film is an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel, based on the author’s experiences as a boy during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in World War Two, another story about families separated by powers beyond their control.

Time for bed.


‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’ (from Children’s Corner) – Claude Debussy
I learned to play this on the piano as a teenager. The piece is slow and limpid for the most part, but certain passages demand extremely quiet yet nimble playing. My rendition usually sounded like it was being performed by elephants wearing ski gloves, which is apt as the piece describes a stuffed elephant beloved of the composer’s daughter, Chouchou.


‘Celestial Nocturne’ – Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman & Les Baxter
The choral sound in this – those rousing, swooping mixed male and female ‘ahhhh’s – reminds me of old Hollywood films of the sort that only seem to materialise on dreary afternoons at home.


‘Dreaming’ – Jon Hassell
I’ve been on a film noir binge lately so all my dreams sound like this. Noir is the cinema of being stuck, unable to escape from circumstance.


‘Closed Circuit’ – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani
If you have a sleep disorder, as I do, then you’ll already be familiar with the ways in which time can stretch like long fronds of chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe. Thoughts become hard to let go of. Pacing the apartment at 3 a.m., I try to find places for my mind to travel. Listening to this piece, I like to imagine myself on a night train crossing Europe, passing through fields, mountains, towns and cities.


‘Valley of the Shadows’ – Origin Unknown
‘Felt that I was in this long, dark tunnel.’


‘Wild Dream’ – Joe Tossini
Nine times out of ten, when a friend says to you ‘I had a wild dream last night’, you just know it’s not going to be that interesting. So anyway I had a crazy dream last night that the Finnish government had issued an edict about the coronavirus crisis in the form of a poem, which they’d had translated into English and circulated internationally. I saw a verse of it spray-painted on the wall of a house, like graffiti in solidarity with a political cause. I would repeat it here but it’s too wild.


‘How Long?’ – Charlottefield
As we have stated before, indeed, that is to say, or rather let me put it another way, the issue is, if we reframe it, so as not to put too fine a point on the matter, and notwithstanding, if I may digress, while acknowledging and hearing what’s being said but instead coming back around to try and clarify this another way, we cannot answer such a question without first paying attention to the structures which allow one to query, or alternatively, and to put it in more concise terms, or to use a different terminology that’s less, arguably, with regard to your fourth question and to return to my second point, it is imperative that the transparency of our position on this with respect to viz and re and thus and a propos other positions, but not exclusive of them is, to coin a phrase, one which will, at the end of the day, bring together all sections of our community, yet offer closure without a shutting down of what is to all intents and purposes contrary to reports you may have read, which brings me back to the vital fact of the matter that, now more than ever, we cannot afford, if I can put it simply and bluntly, to take myself out of the equation for a moment here, and we have nothing but the utmost certainty that, now more than ever, the gravity of the current situation necessitates and underscores, now more than ever, both in the now but ever more with respect to the future, the vital responsibility which, now more than ever, weighs heavily upon the shoulders of every member of society to come back around to the original question.


‘Slow Down’ – The Feelies
‘Hold on / Keep on trying / Keep on trying / Slow down / You can make it / Try and make it.’


‘Thatness and Thereness’ – Ryuichi Sakamoto
A sense of which is smothered by thisness and hereness.


‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ – Charlie Megira
Charlie Megira died in 2014 aged just 44. The title of this song describes his sound perfectly. The sound of 1955, 1985 and 2025 occurring simultaneously. Time out of joint, as Philip K. Dick would have it.


‘The Carnival of the Animals: XII. Fossils’ – Camille Saint-Saëns
Camille Saint-Saëns’ suite The Carnival of the Animals is best known for ‘The Swan’, but I love the fact that the movement preceding his cygnet love song is dedicated to fossils, to deep time life.


‘Breathe’ – The Cure
‘Breathe on me / Be like you used to be.’ Almost a sick joke these days, but isn’t that proximity of one body to another what many of us are longing for? The Cure’s music suits many occasions because nobody does histrionics quite as vaguely as they do.


‘Is It All Over My Face’ and ‘Tower of Meaning’ – Blood Orange
The way Devonté Hynes’ interprets the great Arthur Russell here is to layer the downtown, experimental Russell – those yearning, arcing horn notes – on top of the disco Russell. It has the effect of replacing the innuendo and flirtatious joy of the original ‘Is it All Over My Face’ dance track with a mood of sadness and concern. This is music to sew masks and wash hands to.


‘Don’t Go’ – Awesome Three
Stay in, if you can. In any case, this one takes me where no walk outside or aeroplane trip could; England, summer of ’92.


‘Dub War (Chapter One)’ – Dance Conspiracy
Stay with me for a moment in the early 1990s rave reverie. ‘Nobody move / Nobody get hurt.’


‘The Bells’ – Billy Ward & His Dominoes
In which a man hears the sound of his own funeral. He didn’t wash his hands.


‘Breadline Britain’ – Communards
Recorded in 1986. Or yesterday. Either way, Jimmy Somerville has one of the most impressive falsettos in the business.


‘Somebody Else’s World’ – Sun Ra
‘Somebody else’s idea / Of somebody else’s world / Is not my idea of things as they are. / Somebody else’s idea things to come / Need not be the only way to vision the future.’


‘You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks’ – Funkadelic
Did you hear about the woman who began hoarding toilet paper when the Suez Crisis broke because she thought the world was on the brink of collapse, and then died years later when her ceiling collapsed under the weight of all that loo roll? This goes out to all the panic buyers out there. May your haemorrhoids be painful.


‘Chicken 80’ – Social Climbers
Remember the animals in the shade of the old oak tree, cool summer breeze, no ruffled feathers?


‘Television’ – The Beatnigs
I came across this on YouTube the other day while nostalgia-bingeing episodes of the early 1990s music programme Snub TV, a show which made a big impression on the adolescent me. The clip captures the band – fronted by Michael Franti and Rono Tse – playing this song live in San Francisco, using power tools and multiple drummers. I imagine the TV-is-government-propaganda message of this song would have felt dated for a long time (and their bike-messenger-hiphop style certainly pins it to a bygone era) but it resonates again under a president obsessed with Fox News and ‘the ratings’.


‘Sinister Exaggerator’ – The Residents
Fitzcarraldo Editions is an anagram of ‘Act Lizard For Sedition’, and everyone knows that the Earth is run by a secret cabal of space lizards who govern using 5G mind control transmitters implanted in the wings of crows, ravens, jackdaws and other corvidae birds. If you remove the ‘r’ from ‘corvid’ you get ‘Covid’. ‘R’ is the 18th letter of the alphabet. Add 1 to 18 – 1 being a close homophone for ‘won’, meaning success or victory – and you get 19, hence ‘Covid-19’, a disease which will bring ‘victory’ to the evil reptile overlords. One plus 9 equals 10 ie. a one and a zero ie. binary code ie. all computer devices are infected and must be destroyed. The only way that the human race is going to survive the pandemic is to ‘act lizard’ which will scramble the corvid/covid mind control messages, a strategy ‘for sedition’ which can be augmented by protecting oneself using the same blue and white colour combinations that are used on the covers of all Fitzcarraldo Editions aka Act Lizard For Sedition books. The wavelengths of these colours on the visible light spectrum have, according to resistance operatives planted deep within the Military-Indie-Publishing-Complex, been proven to jam reptilian communication frequencies.


‘Gospel for a New Century’ – Yves Tumor
‘On that summer, but I can’t be there / And this ain’t by design… / How much longer ’til December?’


‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ – Bill Frisell
Frisell’s guitar style sounds like cautious optimism.


‘Bob the Bob Home’ – Lounge Lizards
Each time I hear this song, I think of my adopted home, New York City. Maybe it’s John Lurie’s sax playing that sets me off, I have no idea. I also have no idea what the title refers to. Is Bob the Bob Home an instruction? ‘Hey pal, why don’t you just bob the bob home, huh?’ A game? ‘Balance the ball on your nose, then Bob the Bob Home into the net!’ Maybe it’s about someone called Bob. Not just any Bob, but the Bob. Bob, The Bob. The Ur-Bob. Original Bob. First and last Bob. Or there may be a comma missing after that first ‘Bob’: Bob, the Bob Home. Bob, Home of the Bobs.


Theme from ‘Escape from New York’ – John Carpenter
‘In the City’ (from The Warriors) – Joe Walsh
New York City action movie themes are currently filed under ‘songs of lamentation’.


‘An Open Letter to NYC’ – Beastie Boys
Staying with New York, this one is pure cheese. A real stinky camembert. Honking stilton melted over corn and dipped in syrup. But when I heard it the other day – beamed from the shuffle subconscious to the epidemic epicentre – it brought a lump to my throat.


‘Les Fleurs’ – Minnie Riperton
The Earth abides.


‘Hsaing Kyaik De Maung’ – Kyaw Kyaw Naing & Bang On a Can
Naing is master of the pat waing, a set of 20-plus tuned drums, arranged in a circle around the performer. This piece begins sedately, then around 1 minute 20 seconds, Naing lets rip. A joyous noise. The title roughly translates from Burmese as ‘the man who loved music’.


‘Healing Song’ – Pharoah Sanders
About five years ago I saw the elderly Sanders play for three hours straight in a small Brooklyn club. It’s one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever seen. It took me an hour to get home afterwards. I floated the entire way.


In C – Invisible Polytechnic
(The original recording was released on vinyl, and is split in two: Side A and Side B.)

Five years before attending that Pharoah Sanders show, I helped make this recording of Terry Riley’s landmark composition, In C. We released our version on the Junior Aspirin Records label I run with my friends Andy Cooke and Nathaniel Mellors. There are many things about In C that I find beautiful, from its elegant interlocking structure to the latitude it allows for improvisation. Yet the quality that resonates strongest for me is Riley’s generous insistence that any group can have a go at playing it, amateur or professional, and that anyone can find something to enjoy in performing it, no matter what standard of musician they are. Every version of In C is different, and there are many interpretations of it from musical cultures across the world. Our version features some twenty professional and amateur musicians. It puts Western instruments alongside Eastern, electronic sounds next to acoustic. Each time I listen to it I think of how music is an excuse to be social, to be in a room with other people, a rare thing right now.

At the end of the ‘Side B’ half of the piece, you will hear an exchange between two people. This was recorded at a yoga centre on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, which used to the location of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. In C premiered here in 1964. I had asked a friend who lived in the city, Ben, to go there and record the ‘room tone’ of the space. We originally thought we’d use this ambient sound as a subtle background colour, a secret homage to the composition’s history. What Ben ended up capturing was an awkward exchange he had with a woman about to attend yoga class. She had never heard of Terry Riley or the Tape Music Center, and judging by the recording, Ben was unable to convince her that either was of interest. The room’s history had gone, its past was of no consequence. All that remained were two people trying, and perhaps failing, to communicate. For a work of music about improvisation and listening to those around you, it seemed more fitting to use this bathetic conversation than our initial, more dry and conceptual idea.

Some years later, Ben abruptly ended our friendship for reasons I never understood. I was hurt, but today that friendship feels like an old dusty venue, a place in which memorable things happened that cannot be recreated.

One review of our recording of In C described it as sounding ‘autumnal,’ and that adjective has always felt accurate.


‘Lost in the Stars’ – Kurt Weill, performed by Lotte Lenya
‘And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away / Forgetting His promise that we heard Him say / And we’re lost out here in the stars. / Little stars, big stars, blowing through the night / And we’re lost out here in the stars.’


Alternatively, you can skip this playlist and go straight to Dick Slessig Combo’s 42-minute version of ‘Wichita Lineman’. Repeat as necessary.


Dan Fox reads LIMBO

An audio recording of Fox’s essay on the role that fallow periods and states of inbetween play in art and life, produced from his home in New York, and with a short introduction

Listen to Dan Fox’s recording of Limbo on Soundcloud.

I wrote Limbo a couple of years ago now. It was a way to process some feelings and ideas I’d had around feeling stuck, both creatively and personally. The book was hard to write, despite its brevity, and as a result I felt the finished manuscript possessed a rough, awkward quality. Like a book that was interrupted on the way towards becoming another, less ungainly book, with better lines and nicer proportions. Perhaps, in retrospect, that feeling was what the project was trying to describe in the first place.

In the first chapter, I wrote about how works of art resonate over time. How they can be zeitgeist-y in the moment they first come into the world, then lose their buzz and get put on the shelf to gather dust. The world continues to turn, until eventually something happens which allows the art work to fall in sync again, rediscovered by someone who will ‘blow off the cobwebs and in doing so find something altogether new to appreciate in it.’

In March 2020, under orders to stay at home in pandemic-stricken New York City, I picked Limbo off the shelf. I was surprised at how different the tone of certain passages seemed under these new circumstances. I decided to set myself the task of turning it into an audiobook, to see how else it might change in the re-reading, and to more easily share it with others.

As audiobooks go, this is a domestic-sounding one. A recording which might not be smooth enough to pass muster for a commercial release, but which nonetheless has qualities that pin it to this unsettling moment in time. I built a little vocal recording booth in the bedroom, suspending blankets across the gap between two doors in order to absorb and dampen the background noise as I read the book aloud. You can still hear subway trains rattling past. Also next door’s kids watching TV, my partner making coffee in the kitchen, and my apartment’s old radiators, which sound like a whistling stove-top kettle. At the same time you might note that New York never usually affords this much quiet either.

A major theme of Limbo concerns my older brother, Karl. As he’s also currently stuck at home, in another city, I invited him to record his own words from the book, which you’ll hear at points along the way. Karl – who in Limbo discusses his years as a professional sailor – has recently been working as a voice over artist, and was able to help a great deal with the sound production. The process of making this impromptu audiobook together has added a happy new layer to Limbo’s story of our long-distance fraternal relationship.

The book is abridged; some passages work better sitting on the page than coming out of the mouth. And because I can’t resist over-egging the pudding, I decided to write some music for it too.

Given the circumstances we all find ourselves in, I imagine you are also at home, with other kinds of noises in the background. You might listen to this on the couch, or in the bath. Maybe you’re able to leave the house and listen whilst out walking the dog. Perhaps you have no choice but to go out to work. Some of us might feel as if we’re in limbo right now, while others are in the fight of their lives. Wherever you are, stay safe, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

Dan Fox is the author of Pretentiousness and Limbo.

An excerpt: Limbo by Dan Fox

An excerpt from Limbo by Dan Fox, published this week:


I imagine limbo as an extraterritoriality without walls, without corners, windows, entrances or exits. I can also cast it as ocean and desert wilderness. Or a blind-black void that has swallowed all light and matter and threatens a sublime death. ‘’Tis a strange place, this Limbo!’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge imagines ‘Time and weary Space / Fettered from flight, with night- mare sense of fleeing / Strive for their last crepuscular half-being.’ (As Ridley Scott’s Alien warned audiences: ‘In space no one can hear you scream.’) Limbo might bring to mind a zone of white nothingness. A space of minimalist perfection that looks like a giant infinity curve or the interior of a contemporary art museum. In his essay ‘Inside the White Cube’, the artist and critic Brian O’Doherty describes the effects of the ‘unshadowed, white, clean, artificial’ spaces of the art gallery, in which art ‘exists in a kind of eternity of display, and though there is lots of “period” (late modern), there is no time. This eternity gives the gallery a limbo-like status: one has to have died already to be there.’ Limbo is at the apex of visual sophistication: an extra-dimensional loft done out in luxury-plain Jil Sander grey. Empty and placid, with not even a reproduction Eames chair to interrupt the anodyne tastefulness. No mess, no colour, no life. No hint of recidivist ornament – Adolf Loos would have loved limbo. In Harold Pinter’s words, a ‘No man’s land, which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, which remains forever icy and silent.’ (And full of dread: ‘Nomaneslond’ was the fourteenth-century name for execution sites to the north of London’s city walls.) No day, no night, no seasons. ‘Lank space,’ Coleridge called it. Or is it? By definition it stands for an in-between space. Limbo appears at the edge of daybreak and at dusk. It’s a cusp word used for conversations held in the golden hour.

Limbo; that corporeal first consonant, the symbolic, annular nothing at the end of its second, the deliciously dumb sound that both sing together. How do you define a secular nothing into which you can drop anything? This green zone’s permutations are many. For comics fans, Comic Book Limbo is where old or unwanted characters are dumped by their publisher, DC: Animal Man, Merryman, Ace the Bat-Hound, The Gay Ghost. In the final instalment of The Wachowski Sisters’ Matrix trilogy, limbo is anagrammatized into Mobil Avenue subway station, and in Christopher Nolan’s action flick Inception, it’s the name of an ‘unreconstructed dreamspace’ into which a pair of lovers retreat. The titular free spirit in Andre Breton’s 1928 surrealist novel, Nadja, announces: ‘I am the soul in limbo.’ When she is committed to the Vaucluse sanitorium, the narrator observes: ‘The essential thing is that I do not suppose there can be much difference for Nadja between the inside of a sanitarium and the outside.’ The Man From Limbo is a novel written in 1930 by Hollywood screenwriter Guy Endore, later blacklisted as a Communist; limbo is the poverty from which the book’s hero tries to escape, and where Endore later found his career had slipped. The Man From Limbo is also the title of a 1950s noir detective story by John D. MacDonald in which a damaged army veteran on his uppers, coerced by his shrink to become a salesman, gets caught up in a political corruption scandal – limbo is where the anti-hero’s war trauma has consigned his dignity.

For the Danish game developers Playdead, Limbo is a quiet, puzzle-solving videogame about loss. In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 film After Life, a drab administrative centre-cum-film studio processes dead souls on their way to heaven. Here, social workers help the souls identify their happiest memory. The dead wait patiently in limbo as this memory is recreated for them to experience for the rest of eternity. The subtitle to John Wallace Spencer’s Limbo of the Lost, written in 1969, promises ‘Actual Stories of Sea Mysteries’. Limbo District was the name of a a short-lived but influential band in Athens, Georgia, during the 1990s. I am told that in Marseille there is a neighbourhood bar with a sign in the window which declares: ‘Bienvenue dans les limbes.’ For the Long Trail Brewing Company in the US state of Vermont, Limbo is the name of an India pale ale. On the bottle’s label a skeleton sits beneath a blood-red tree, bringing to mind the one about the skeleton who walks into a bar and orders a pint of lager and a mop.


Know Your Place

Dan Fox writing for Frieze

From blue collar to new affluence, Dan Fox tackles the issue of social class in the art world, for Frieze magazine:

Hyde Park, London. It’s 5 July 1969 and the artists Gilbert & George are walking through the crowd at the Rolling Stones’ concert in tribute to band member Brian Jones, found dead in his swimming pool two days earlier. In a photograph taken for the Daily Mirror newspaper, the artists are captured wearing light-toned suits, shirts and patterned ties, with carnation buttonholes, as if they are attending a society wedding. Yet, they look uncharacteristically dishevelled: ties askew, hair blowing in the breeze. Leslie Woodhead and Jo Durden-Smith’s documentary of the day’s concert, The Stones in the Park (1969), shows hundreds of flower children basking in the sunshine under the fractious eyes of the Hell’s Angels security detail. Amongst them, Gilbert & George look like bankers from an alien planet, there to out-freak the underground freak scene. One detail makes them fit in: metallic body paint on their faces and hands, which looks like badly applied fake tan. Yet, their mimicry of conservative British masculinity still manages to wrong-foot expectations of how artists or other creative types associated with old-fashioned avant-gardism should present themselves.

Gilbert & George costumed themselves as urbane gentlemen of the upper classes, but lived in a then-run-down area of east London. Their suits afforded them invisibility: a cloak of conformity that allowed them to forge ahead with their extraordinary project to make their lives into a total artwork. It was a look that, paradoxically, made them stand out amongst their peers in Swinging London because it suggested that nothing could be more conformist than growing your hair and slipping on a kaftan. But, more to the point, in class-neurotic Britain, their appearance gave the lie to assumptions as to which social bracket artists should dress for. Gilbert & George punctured a self-flattering affectation of blue-collar solidarity that persists amongst certain artists: the fantasy that artists are workers in the same way builders, firemen or mechanics are. (In her 1977 essay ‘The Pink Glass Swan’, Lucy Lippard describes artists who are ‘persistently working “up” to be accepted, not only by other artists, but also by the hierarchy that exhibits, writes about and buys her/his work. At the same time, s/he is often ideologically working “down” in an attempt to identify with the workers outside of the art context.’) Were Gilbert & George rich or poor? Upper-class toffs on the skids or lower-middle-class clerks on the rise? It was hard to tell.

That was, I suspect, the point. George was brought up by a single mother and worked a number of jobs in London – in Selfridges department store, as a barman at the Players’ Theatre Club – before meeting Gilbert at Central St Martin’s School of Art in 1967. Gilbert came from a family of shoemakers in a village in the Italian Dolomites. Did that matter? Certainly, gaming the visual codes of the British class system was folded deep into their artistic strategies. It was a way of making us laugh when they called themselves George the Cunt and Gilbert the Shit for their 1970 ‘magazine sculpture’, or when we watched them get tight on gin to the music of Edvard Grieg in their 1972 video Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk. For many artists from the UK, class is inescapable – a facet of work and identity. In 1990s Britain, artists such as Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas actively played up their backgrounds. Tabloid headlines were appropriated to redefine conversations around female sexuality. The British working-class seaside holiday or the souvenir shop were used as tropes to talk about ownership and independence: in 1992, Emin and Lucas bought a beach hut in Whitstable and, the following year, they ran a shop together.


Dan Fox’s 2014 Highlights

In frieze magazine

frieze co-editor Dan Fox, who is currently writing a book for Fitzcarraldo Editions, rounds up this year’s highlights in film, art, music, etc.:

As far as disgraceful social injustice and disgusting political corruption go, 2014 was a vintage year. So for me, two of the most significant works made by artists in 2014 were not artworks. The first of these, Laura Poitras’s film CITIZENFOUR, is an astonishing historical document, recording the days and weeks during which Edward Snowden’s revelations about electronic government surveillance became one of the defining political stories of our age. Whether or not CITIZENFOUR is a ‘good’ documentary in the aesthetic sense is neither here nor there. Since the film’s release in October, I’ve had numerous arguments with people who think that Poitras could have ‘done more’ with her footage. I think they are missing the point. (What do you want? A nine-channel HD video installation featuring the complexities of electronic surveillance explained through a Judson Church-influenced dance sequence, sound-tracked by Miley Cyrus, and accompanied by a collateral programme of talks and film screenings?) What CITIZENFOUR makes clear is how few documentary films actually record a story of global proportions unfolding in front of the director’s camera. Here is a subject that needs no embellishment, no artistic lace doilies. CITIZENFOUR will be seen in the future as an exceptional piece of primary historical evidence. I left the cinema stunned by the courage of those involved in breaking the story, and in the production of this film.

Perhaps CITIZENFOUR felt all the more urgent because 2014 was a miserably grim year in world news, and Poitras’s film was just one particularly explicit expression of our frustration at the current shape of power. Which brings me to the second notable non-artwork by artists this year: The W.A.G.E. Certification campaign by New York-based artist group Working Artists for the Greater Economy. In the organization’s own words, ‘Certification is a voluntary program initiated and operated by W.A.G.E. that publicly recognizes non-profit arts organizations demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet a minimum payment standard.’ In October, New York’s Artists Space was the first non-profit gallery to sign up to the scheme, an important gesture in a town held in the vice-grip of unchecked real estate greed and increasing economic disparity. (‘People like you lose all claim to respect the first time they pay anybody rent,’ remarks Crocker Fenway, a ruthless businessman in Paul Thomas Anderson’sInherent Vice. Both the film and the Thomas Pynchon novel it is based on are set in 1970, but that’s a line aimed right between the eyes of 2014.)

‘But c’mon Fox,’ I hear you cry, ‘we’re here to read about art not the price of eggs!’ OK, fair enough. 2014, for me, often seemed to have its gaze fixed on the past rather than the present, and notable retrospectives and surveys were thick on the ground. ‘The Heart is Not a Metaphor’, Robert Gober’s ‘this is your life’ moment at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, may not have been quite the immersive experience as his 2007 career overview at Basel’s Schaulager was, but I rarely tire of seeing his sculptures and installations. Gober’s work serves as a gentle and often moving reminder that Surrealism is the one art movement that never really disappeared or lost its power to disturb and entrance. I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed ‘Night and Day’, Chris Ofili’s victory lap at the New Museum, New York. In Britain during the 1990s heyday of Young British Art, Ofili’s work was so often reproduced in the media that it lost some of its pizzazz through overfamiliarity, so perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder. (Protests erupted in New York when his 1996 painting The Holy Virgin Mary was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. In 2014, we’ve got far bigger problems to worry about than offending the sensibilities of a few iconodule Catholics.) Amy Sillman’s survey show ‘One Lump or Two’ at the Hessel Museum of Art/CCS Bard (which toured from the ICA Boston) was not just funny and imaginative, but a testament to the possibilities of painting, and ‘The Production Line of Happiness’ – a wonderfully titled retrospective of Christopher Williams’ photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA, New York – was as crisply milled as the glass on a Leica lens.

Many of the past year’s retrospectives were dedicated to the sadly departed. We had Sigmar Polke’s inventive mischief at MoMA, New York and Tate Modern, London; Sturtevant’s pioneering work in the field of appropriation – also at MoMA – and a moving exhibition of painting by Leonilsson at the Pinacoteca do Estado São Paulo. And I mustn’t forget the small but knockout selection of small paintings by US artist Albert York at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; bucolic landscapes, still lifes and allegorical works suggesting what Giorgio Morandi and Odilon Redon might have painted had they lived on Long Island.


Fitz Carraldo Editions