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POST-MODERN 'EXTREMISM' BETTER THAN CRICKET! Mark Waugh interviewed by Stewart Home, London June 2008.

Mark Waugh's novel "Bubble Entendre" will be published in February 2009 in the Book Works Semina series commissioned and edited by Stewart Home. Waugh lives in Brighton on the south coast of England. He is currently Executive Director of A Foundation, producer of the International Curators Forum and chair of Spacex Gallery. He has produced and directed numerous artistic projects including: "Power of Art" (2006) "Private View" (2005) "Preset Softwar" (1998), and "die lieber rausch no.1" (1997). He has also curated various symposia, festivals and exhibitions including "Pan European Encounters: Venice" (2007), "Transmutations" (1995), "Pharmakon" (1993), "Leonardo Seduce Me" (1987), "Another Banana" (1986). His first novel "Come" was published by Pulp Faction in 1997.

In 2007 Book Works appointed Stewart Home as commissioning editor of a new series Semina. The series is publishing nine books over three years. Taking inspiration from Wallace Berman’s series of nine loose-leaf magazines, Semina aims to publish prose work that refuses to recognise differences between fiction and non-fiction, high-brow and low-brow, art and life; and that continually reforges the passage between formalism and sensuous activity. Above all Semina is looking for little known and unknown artists and writers willing to take risks with their prose. "Bubble Entendre" by Mark Waugh is Semina 4. Already published are "Index" by Bridget Penney and "One Break, A Thousand Blows" by Maxi Kim. The Semina series will conclude with "Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie" by Stewart Home to be published in 2010.

Stewart Home: Can you tell me how your cultural activitism began?

Mark Waugh: It all started in St Ives in 1968. My mother's friends would knock on the door and ask if I could come out to entertain them. I'd go and play with these beatnicks and immerse myself in story telling.

SH: Your mum's circle of friends included people like the writer Colin Wilson....

MW: Colin Wilson, Donovan. Allen Ginsberg, ... It was an eclectic mix of people who were part of a mass exodus out of London to St Ives. These ex-Soho scenesters were simultaneously luring curious international bohemians to Cornwall. So my early inspiration is not so much hippiedom, as an inkling of utopian possibility.

SH: The three figures you've specifically mentioned are beats. Colin Wilson's 1956 book "The Outsider" mapped out a lot of the territory that became the basis of hippie culture. The American poet Allen Ginsberg is a founding father of the beat generation. Even Donovan came out of the beatnik scene, and it was only later on he was identified as a hippie.

MW: Donovan was a really good friend of my mum, her boyfriend was Gipsy Dave. She used to run folk clubs and all sorts of people would come down. The poetics of these per-formers' songs was a mash up of folk's social conscience and the verbal precision and acuity of the new beats, they were all really into Ginsberg and the beat movement, which was a tearing away from conservative social structures. "Naked Lunch" sat beside "Lady Chatterley's Lover" on the bookshelves at home when I was a kid.

SH: Who else did you come across?

MW: I met a lot of folk musicians including Clive Palmer who set up The Incredible String Band. There was an extraordinary cavalcade of people who to me were just an everyday part of my childhood. Where I'm now based at the Rochelle School on Arnold Circus, the A Foundation has the "International Times" archive which A Database is currently archiving, so all that radical oppositional culture is still accumulating at the periphery of my activities. In the sixties the scene was really quite small. But nonetheless my childhood influences were sixties counterculture, then I studied philosophy at Sussex University. During my time at Sussex it was a hotbed of deconstruction, so it was a good place to explore the cultural zeitgeist and where we might be going.

SH: In the eighties you were involved with the Zap Club and ran clubs like Die Lieber Rausch and produced installations with Situation Cinema, so at that time live art was very much the focus of your practice…

MW: I was organising cultural events and festivals but with a very strong curatorial line which pushed the discourse of art into areas that demanded a bit of rigour. That art scene in Brighton at that time was really incredible because it was infused with this real passion for post-modern philosophy which was coming out of Sussex University. The first time we invited you down to Brighton from London, there was a discussion about alchemy and situationism…

SH: I still see a strong influence from Deleuze in what you do, and I feel he was far more important for you than the situationists.

MW: In terms of situationism as a form of Marxism, I was thinking about Marx as a cultural hieroglyph and the textuality involved in expanded and more culturally orientated readings of "Capital". So while I was attracted to Debord and the situationists, I was even more excited by Deleuze, Guattari and Derrida, and the way they pushed our understanding of "Capital" into entirely new areas. My approach to "Capital" was a post-modern reading that assumed the revolutionary moment was a perpetual sense of becoming with a view of the text as a cultural interface.

SH: Your first book "Come" was published more than a decade ago by Pulp Faction, could you outline your cultural activities since then and what happened with that book?

MW: "Come" came out of a lot of work I did with club culture and performance art. In my curating I'd been thinking about creating interfaces between mainstream rave culture and the more excessive ends of performance art. I was looking to articulate philosophical ideas in party spaces. It was the resultant series of performances that provided the genesis for "Come". We've mentioned Situation Cinema, and with that I was using text to form a space around which live actions could evolve. I worked on and remixed the texts that became "Come" from the mid-eighties right through to the publication of the novel in 1997, it was a good decade's worth of writing and re-writing. Coming out of my engagement with club culture, I got very excited about the relationships between an original and its simulations and derivations. When "Come" was published it got great reviews in magazines like "Sleazenation" and was celebrated as being a part of club culture, which was thrilling because a lot of the ideas in the book were quite philosophical. I really enjoyed moving between those spaces and doing readings in clubs to audiences that had no idea about the theoretical underpinnings of "Come".

After "Come" was published I continued working both as an artist and in curational roles. I did a project for "Organic Cities" in 1998 which evolved into parts of "Bubble Entendre". I made "Psychostasia" with Bluntcut which was a kind of topology of exchange practices that weren't covered by traditional economic theory. One of the points of departure was Andrzej Wajda's film "Kanal", which I found really delirious. It explored how you'd evacuate a city if it got invaded. I started with the idea there might be a drug cult the state wanted to stamp out. I was interested in very powerful hallucinogens derived from the Datura and Brugmansia plants. In parts of South America these are used to create zombie-like states. They make people highly suggestible. You give someone a small bit of powder and walk them to a cash point and tell them nicely to take out all their money and they oblige; I found this an interesting synergy.

SH: In the eighties and nineties you were involved in a lot of film-making…

MW: "Psychostasia" was an interactive CD-Rom that incorporated a film. You could try to engage with the movie for an hour or two but that wasn't really the point. The work was in a game format which only allowed you to get to the textual core if you played the game. If you engaged with it as a game, you were given a text and a whole series of compositional musical tools. I made other movies as well. I made a promotional film to go with "Come". A lot of the club installations and performances I did involved original and remixed found film footage.

SH: Tell me a little more about "Bubble Entendre".

MW: "Bubble Entendre" is in triptych form now. So at the back we have an edited remix of "Come", which is a meditation on the smile of the Mona Lisa and all the alchemical histories that are secreted within this particular icon. I'm dealing with the Derridean issue of what's within and what’s outside the frame of a work of art. That book is informed by Freud and his essay "Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood", the idea that our notions of autobiography are collapsed inside the cultural construction of genius figures. I try to engage with the discourse of genius, to go in and take it over. Genius for someone like Kant is a proximity to the feeling of God, and there's nothing wrong with that....

SH: Except that God doesn't exist...

MW: But you can take over and occupy the illusion... The middle section of the new book looks at money laundering and economics in the context of art. Practices like digital media can accelerate beyond the market and all forms of rational comprehension to such a degree that it doesn't really matter if you are the most interesting artist on the planet, you still won't get any attention because there is no one to sell the work. So I'm playing with notions about the extreme edges of culture.

SH: I was aware of you working on both "Come" and "Bubble Entendre" for a very long time, and yet they are clearly informed by and emerge from notions of post-modern acceleration.

MW: The evolution of "Come" was necessarily fragmented; it was a series of explorations that grew over ten years. "Bubble Entendre" emerged in a similar fashion. When you asked me to write an additional section dealing with the near future, the request made perfect sense. It is set in 2012 and plays back from that time. If you reach into a future that hasn't occurred yet, you don't have to engage with all the baggage of a past that has hap-pened and which drags you down, so I wrote it quickly. This section is called "Untitled (Pa-per & Ink)", and it uses the London Olympics and a siege in Claridges Hotel as its starting points. From the eighties onwards I've been immersed in discourse about the margins and the centre, and I'm taking that up again here. One consequence of hysteria about terrorism and policing the social is that somewhere like Claridges won’t be as heavily protected as the Olympic stadium. As we saw with the Beijing flame coming through London, during the 2012 Olympics the British state will have an acute sense of what spaces it wants to control, with a strong focus on the games and their immediate peripheries. Locations considered low priorities in terms of a need for armed protection will become the most likely settings of terrorist activity.

SH: Do you think "Bubble Entendre" raises historical issues?

MW: "Come" was written within the context of acid house. I was writing a contemporary history with all the unformed and soft borders there on the page. The middle section of this new book takes that moment forward into the nineties and explores a culture that is more paranoid and less ecstatic than the late-eighties. The "Untitled" section goes absolutely into the space of media paranoia and breakdown. The historical material I'm using for this is mainly from YouTube. I was looking at things like footage of the Moscow State Theatre siege. If you mix that up with YouPorn, you've got some really interesting cultural collisions.

SH: So where does this take us?

MW: "Bubble Entendre" is obviously about the end of the novel. That's also what's exciting about reading Maxi Kim's Semina book because he's also inspired by this issue. I can't quite see what the end of the novel will be, but we are shuffling towards it even if we never actually get there... The physical manifestation you are left with is all of this stuff that has just got caught in the net, and I think in the future that's what will be found most interesting. Despite a broader contemporary culture that has no sense of irony around the repetitions of the conventional novel, and that is still prepared to reward the ability of writers to texture their landscapes sympathetically, it is just much more interesting to rush through that and explore its failures. And with the different Semina books I get the sense that if I personally – or even you - grow weary of doing this, then someone else like Maxi Kim is there taking it up with incredible insight and volition….

Interview with Semina author Bridget Penney

Books & Writing



Photo portrait of Mark Waugh by Julia Waugh
Portrait of Mark Waugh (photo Julia Waugh).

cover of Come 1997 novel by Mark Waugh
Mark Waugh's 1997 novel Come (CD limited edition).

Index by Bridget Penney cover
Semina 1: Bridget Penny's "Index"

One Break, A Thousand Blows! by Maxi Kim cover
Semina 2: Maxi Kim's "One Break, A Thousand Blows!"

"Bubble Entendre" by Mark Waugh is Semina 4. 1. A terrorist siege at Claridges in 2012 replaces the Olympics as end of the world TV spectacle. An en suite novel is curated around a series of subjects forced to strip naked and perform like porn stars for a watching world. 2. Hardboiled noir meets classic French theory as a zombie author transgresses the outer limits of post-modern fiction. The warped narrative plunges from art house to grindhouse and back again. 3. An insanely unofficial fictional updating of Derrida's "Of Grammatology". Think "24 Hour Party People" as directed by Kenneth Anger after he'd croaked and crawled on all fours through the furthest recesses of hell. Brazen sadists, high-flying hop heads, invisible strippers and the destiny of objects are just some of the themes tackled by Mark Waugh in "Bubble Entendre", a tripartite, literary bender. Dirty, dingy and drug fuelled, Willhelm Reich might have penned this book if he'd been force-fed LSD and subjected to a steady diet of dub-step and grime.