Wednesday, 13 October 2010

'Seen From A Window'

From the Light Night brochure;
40 / Seen from the Window: Henri Lefebvre and the 712th Human Performance Wing
Meet at the Town Hall Steps, LS1 3AD
End your (Light) night with a rehearsed reading, with music, of a chapter of Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis. 'Other times, there is no-one at the lights, with their alternating flashes (red, amber, green) and the signal continues to function in the void, a despairing social mechanism marching inexorably through the desert'.

Richard & I read, sang, played the following at the end of a very long day / night of fun & work. Many thanks to those of you who were there to listen along.

Seen From A Window, by Henri Lefebvre, Italo Calvino and the 712th Human Performance Wing.

Hello everyone, & thank you for coming. It has become a bit of a Light Night tradition in the last few years for those of us who have been working or enjoying the event to gather here on the Town Hall steps, at which point I usually give a bit of a speech. In fact, the second speech of the night since I will have already done one at the Civic Reception at the College of Art… six hours ago. Obviously you are largely a different bunch of people, here for different reason, & I can say different things to you.

So… this year, I wanted to put a bit more thought into it came round to the idea that I should really put Light Night to the test by putting myself to the test. If, on Light Night, anyone can be an artist, then I should force myself to do a bit of the same, to not wholly hide behind other people’s talent and events, to put myself forward. So, I wanted to read out loud to you, something that I have done before, & then, with Richard’s help, to do something that I would never even have thought to have had the courage to do in public, which is to sing. But don’t worry. If you feel like running and hiding then I can ensure that I will only be singing for less than one minute & reading for less than 10.

There are two books that I really feel are the secret bibles, instruction manuals, the real event manuals for Light Night, & which I actually carry around in my rucksack every year for strength and inspiration. They are Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino & The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre. Also it seems that every year there is a soundtrack to the planning of Light Night – one album that I get particularly into for the final month and never stop listening to. Usually it’s some kind of relatively recent album by a band from, or connected to, Leeds. This year for some reason it has been a very London album which is thirty – one years old – London Calling by The Clash and in particular one track which I think might just be the most insanely catchy song about social justice I have ever heard! What we will be performing is a mash-up, not necessarily directly lifted from those books but in every case speaking in the voices of Henri Lefebvre, Italo Calvino, Billy Boy & Stagger Lee about Paris, Venice, Beijing, Perinthia all as simulacra of the one city, Leeds at night. & as ways of thinking about why do Light Night, what Light Night is supposed to do, & more as the years go by, is it worth it? Is it worth the £25,000 of taxpayers’ money that goes into it? Is it worth all the unpaid time that artists and volunteers and venues put into it?

Now unfortunately I have become a victim of my own event management & because what was an informal tradition is now a listed event, a listed council event, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to perform on the steps of my beloved Town Hall, without keeping the building open for first aiders, & having security guards here, in case you people hurt yourselves. So, you need to follow me down off the steps, carefully, and come with me to the traffic lights, where we can get the right view, of the scene of Paris from the 94-year old Henri Lefebvre’s window.

[Walk to convenient site].

From the window opening on to Rue R... or the Headrow, facing the famous Pompidou Centre, there is no need to lean much to see into the distance. To the right, the palace-centre P., the Forum, up as far as the (central) Bank of France. To the left up as far as the Archives. Perpendicular to this direction, the Hotel de Ville and, on the other side, the Arts et Metiers. The whole of Paris, ancient and modern, traditional and creative, active and lazy.

He who walks down the street, over there, is immersed in the multiplicity of noises, murmurs, rhythms (including those of the body, but does he pay attention, except at the moment of crossing the street, when he has to calculate roughly the number of his steps?). By contrast, from the window, the noises distinguish themselves, the flows separate out, rhythms respond to one another. Towards the right, below, a traffic light. On red, cars at a standstill, the pedestrians cross, feeble murmurings, footsteps, confused voices. One does not chatter while crossing a dangerous junction under the threat of wild cats and elephants ready to charge forward, taxis, buses, lorries, various cars. Hence the relative silence in this crowd. A kind of soft murmuring, sometime a cry, sometimes a call.

Disparate crowds, yes, tourists from far away countries, Finland, Sweden, Portugal, whose cars but with difficulty find places to park, shoppers come from afar, wholesalers, lovers of art or novelties, people from the outskirts who stream in between the so-called peak hours, in such a way that everybody, the world is always there around these shopping centres and new developments, these huge metallic trinkets; boys and girls often go forth hand in hand, as if to support each other in this test of modernity, in the exploration of these meteorites fallen on old Paris, come from a planet several centuries ahead of our own, and on top of that a complete failure on the market!... Many among these young people walk, walk, without a break, do the tour of the sights, of Beaubourg, of the Forum: one sees them again and again, grouped or solitary; they walk indefatigably, chewing on gum or a sandwich. They only stop to stretch themselves out, no doubt exhausted, on the square itself, in the arcades of the Chiraquian Forum, or on the steps of the Fountain of the Innocent, which now serves only this purpose. The noise that pierces the ear comes, not from passers-by, but from the engines pushed to the limit when starting up. No ear, no piece of apparatus could grasp this whole, this flux of metallic and carnal bodies. In order to grasp the rhythms, a bit of time, a sort of meditation on time, the city, people, is required.

Other, less lively, slower rhythms superimpose themselves on this inexorable rhythm, which hardly dies down at night: children leaving for school, some very noisy, even piercing screams of morning recognition. Then towards half past nine it’s the arrival of the shoppers, followed shortly by the tourists, in accordance with exceptions (storms or advertising promotions), with a timetable that is almost always the same; the flows and conglomerations succeed one another: they get fatter or thinner but always agglomerate at the corners in order subsequently to clear a path, tangle and disentangle themselves amongst the cars.

These last rhythms (schoolchildren, shoppers, tourists) would be more cyclical, of large and simple intervals, at the heart of livelier, alternating rhythms, at brief intervals, cars, regulars, employees, bistro clients. The interaction of diverse, repetitive and different rhythms animates, as one says, the street and the neighbourhood. The linear, which is to say, in short, succession, consists of journeys to and fro: it combines with the cyclical, the movements of long intervals. The cyclical is social organisation manifesting itself. The linear is the daily grind, the routine, therefore the perpetual, made up of chance and encounters.

The night does not interrupt the diurnal rhythms but modifies them, and above all slows them down. However, even at three or four o’clock in the morning, there are always a few cars at the red light. Sometimes one of them, whose driver is coming back from a late night, goes straight through it. Other times, there is no-one at the lights, with their alternating flashes (red, amber, green), and the signal continues to function in this void, a despairing social mechanism marching inexorably through the desert, before the facades that dramatically proclaim their vocation as ruins.

Summoned to lay down the rules for the map of Leeds, the City Architects, Aldermen, Councillors & Landlords established its two crossed streets aligned with Spirit & with Trade, the East/West Road to the Church for Spirit, & the North/South Road to the Bridge for Trade. They built their factories in the image of temples & their extractor flues in the image of bell towers. They laid three gold sovereigns beneath the foundation stone of a new church & named it Holy Trinity, after the coins, so that the house of the Spirit would be held strong, on its foundation of trade.

The City Architects & Cartographers high up in the Leonardo Building designed their map of the city by means of crosses, flowers & gold, & at its centre they attempted to set a social norm (dictated, & corrupted by conflicting influences of spirit & trade, petals of deprivation & rooms of gold…), missing the point, that their map of the city could never become the city.

Leeds, they thought, could reflect a harmony of spirit & trade. The benevolence of Spirit (entering the city by the road to the church) & the logic of globally mobile capital (entering the city by the road to the bridge) would shape the inhabitants’ destinies. True, that, but not in the way that they foresaw. Enforcing a social norm, producing space through the conflicting interests of spirit & trade is just as dangerous a control situation as is the ‘cure for difference’ implied in mental health treatment, eugenics, or genocide. Following their calculations precisely, Leeds was constructed. Various peoples came to populate it. The first generation born as free-tradesmen, burgage men, began to grow along its fields & rivers & streets & these free citizens reached the age to marry, & to have children, & to buy clothes for their children.

Outside the Town Hall, at the cross-roads between the Headrow and Calverley Streeet, on Leeds’ pedestrianised streets & in its galleries and shopping arcades this autumn night 803 years later I walk amongst fellow cripples, Jews, dwarves, chavs, hunchbacks, Bangladeshis, holocaust survivors, obese men, racist councillors, bearded women – but the worst cannot be seen!

Those families whose off-spring’s flowering deformities explicate the conflict between spirit & trade, or whose off-spring attempt to escape the control situation, are unable to give them space, or allow them to grow. I heard guttural howls from the rivers buried below the pavements & the domed rooms over the Markets, temples & campaniles, where families hide children with three heads or with six legs.

And… & the City Architects are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must admit that all their planning was wrong & their map of the city is unable to describe the city, or else they must reveal that the order of the gods is reflected exactly in the city of monsters. Ignore the map, & all that is solid will melt into air. Start again.

So, Billy Boy has been shot

& Stagger Lee’s come out on top?

(Don’t you know it is wrong)

To cheat a crying man?

(Don’t you know it is wrong)

To cheat a trying man?

You’d better stop!

It is the wrong ‘em boyo.

Well if you must start over again

Start all over again

(Don’t you know it is wrong?)

Play it Billy play

(Don’t you know it is wrong?)

Play it Billy play

And you will find

It is the right ‘em boyo.

But if you must lie and deceit

And trample people under your feet

(Don’t you know it is wrong)

To cheat a trying man?

(Don’t you know it is wrong)

To cheat a crying man?

You’d better stop!

It is the wrong ‘em boyo!

[The Internationale]…

And Marco Polo says, looking over a city which is not his city, from Henri Lefebvre’s window, remembering his home: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: to lie and deceit and trample people under your feet; to accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: to start all over again, to play it, Billy, play, to seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: to seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

Thank you.