Harry Giles : Home

live artist, poet, and general doer of things

Keeping Faith with the Poem: Translating Faysal al-Qarqati

I’m part of the team of poets producing A Bird is Not A Stone, a new anthology of contemporary Palestinian poets translated into the languages of Scotland. I had the privilege of working on a new translation of a long Faysal al-Qarqati poem, presented in both English and Scots for the first time. Sarah Irving, one of the project editors, asked me to write a little about the experience; you can find the full blog here.

Teaching myself to write in Scots was about discovering new possibilities in language. I write in a syncretic Scots – a Scots that amalgamates dialects and resurrects words into a mongrel and magpie cornucopia – rather than a vernacular Scots, but doing so is also about diving into the archives of my vocabulary: remembering and relearning how to use the Orcadian words and grammatical forms with which I grew up. Writing in Scots makes me look at old ideas freshly, and makes me think harder about finding new expressions; I think of Scots as a contemporary, experimental poetic language rooted in history. I still write in English too, but I especially choose to write in Scots when I’m writing about home, or memory, or the land, or belonging, or longing, or when I’m dreaming, or when I’m raging.

For all those reasons, when I was asked to contribute to A Bird Is Not A Stone (a forthcoming anthology of contemporary Palestinian poets translated into the languages of Scotland), working in Scots felt like the obvious choice. The project involved working from a bridge translation in English – a literal rendering of the Arabic, often offering multiple options for each phrase – which meant that my work involved understanding, creating and recreating the poem in three different languages.

Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel: First Quarter Report

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Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel is
a year-long log of my purchases
a project to weaponize the quantified self
an auto-anthropology of the consumer subject
a self-help diary
an attempt to mine the nature of daily anxiety
a lo-res dataset about late capitalism
a car crash
a sick joke
a repetitive litany of suffering
an exploration of loser agency
a parodox of subjectivation
an exercise in hope

Download the First Quarter Report from Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel

Features
scatterplots!
pie charts!
dialogue!
low theory!
forward slashes!
the shock answer to how consumerism made me feel over the last three months!

Download the Raw Data and reach your own conclusions

and follow at

everythingibought.tumblr.com

I Want To Blow Up (a model of) The Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art): Research Day 2

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This is the auto-surveillance report of the second day of research for the performance project I Want To Blow Up (a model of) The Palace Of Holyroodhouse (for art)

On 21st March 2014, between 1800 and 2100 hours, Harry Giles did use the following Google search terms:

  • Control of Explosives Regulations 1991
  • Air Bag Inflator
  • can you blow something up with an airbag
  • Amino Dinitrophenol
  • what is Amino Dinitrophenol for
  • Ammonium Picrate
  • What is wetted ammonium picrate
  • how do theatre pyrotechnics work
  • What is UN no. 0428
  • pyrotechnics
  • pyroguide
  • what pyrotechnics are unlicensed
  • What is barium azide
  • oil well cartridge
  • oil’s well
  • “what is an oil well cartridge”
  • “CARTRIDGES, OIL WELL”
  • “explosive cable cutter”
  • “how does an explosive cable cutter work”
  • DINITROSOBENZENE
  • what is DINITROSOBENZENE
  • can you blow stuff up with emergency flares
  • emergency flare explosion
  • blowing up a model
  • minature explosion
  • small explosion

and access the following websites:

His research was retweeted or otherwise engaged with by the following people publicly on Twitter:

  • @amaenad
  • @oneferny
  • @Max_Scratchmann
  • @atarbuck
  • @kieran_hurley
  • @pennysuperdog
  • @rvwable
  • @mrjvarney
  • @lorelei_
  • @kathrynbeaumont
  • @hinesjumpedup
  • @colonpress
  • @t3xtur3
  • @AnathemaJane
  • @BexAtkinsonLord
  • @kevmcveigh
  • @hannahnicklin

and by 12 further people at the Camden People’s Theatre, whose names were unrecorded.

His research questions were:

  • Are there any UNLICENSED EXPLOSIVES which would make a SATISFYING EXPLOSION?
  • Is becoming a LICENSED EXPLOSIVES ENGINEER feasible?
  • Could AIR OR WATER be used to make a SATISFYING EXPLOSION?

His conclusions were:

The majority of my time was spent with the HSE list of unlicensed explosives, to determine whether or not any of them could satisfyingly explode a model palace. Over the course of the research, I determined that the unlicensed explosives were either (a) Chemical components or minor explosives equipment which could not make a big enough legal explosion to destroy a model palace; (b) Fireworks and pyrotechnics which I would need to consult with a pyro engineer about the use of; or (c) Airbags.

The function of the COER exclusion list appeared to be to make the handling and transport of the components of industrial explosives less hampered by regulation, and to support the pyrotechnics industry. A large proportion of the list defined the threshold of water suspension which made an explosive chemical unlicensed, presumably for transport and handling by uncertified engineers while in a “safe” state. This created an interesting analogue with speech acts about terrorism: there is a level of water suspension which makes nitrocellulose legal for anyone to own, but as the nitrocellulose dries out it crosses a semi-arbitrary threshold where it becomes illegal. Similarly and unsimilarly, it is possible to talk about blowing things up, but if you cross an arbitrary threshold of dangerousness or terroristishness, your speech becomes illegal. The legal water saturation level has a mathematical description, but the legal terroristishness level of speech has yet to be clearly defined by courts and is already a legal struggle.

Apart from exclusions like airbags and bolt-cutters — equipment which is technically explosive but doesn’t need regulation — the function of the COER legislation is to support industry, and make it really clear what the parameters for making a profit from explosives are. It is notable that the legislation around terrorism isn’t half so clear about what the parameters for freedom of speech are.

There are two options from the unlicensed explosives list which might feasibly blow up a model palace. An airbag explosion, as documented by many youtube videos, including a satisfying one of a pumpkin, could definitely destroy a model palace. However, it wouldn’t “look” like an explosion. It would destroy a model, but without any satisfying flames or smoke. I began to realise that the aesthetics of the explosion were important to me. I wanted the explosion to “feel” dangerous or terroristish — close enough to something illegal, without actually being illegal. This is an intractable aesthetic problem, because I want something that feels terroristish enough to scare an audience but is not terroristish enough to scare the police.

Fireworks and pyrotechnics offer another options. However, I’m reluctant to pursue this approach, because I feel some commitment to do this project DIY. Also, using shiny theatrical explosives feels like “cheating”. I want this to feel like an explosion that anyone could do at home, with enough time and budget.

I decided to shelve both the airbag and the fireworks. I then began to look at very simple homemade explosives. Three options presented themselves from cursory YouTube searches: a flour bomb, a lithium bomb, and a molotov cocktail. All would provide small, relatively-controlled but dangerous-looking explosions, and all involve very simple unlicensed ingredients. However, I’m not totally convinced that all of them are legal and safe.

My research questions for the next performance, at Glasgow Buzzcut in April, are:

  • Determine whether a flour bomb, lithium bomb or molotov cocktail would be both explosive enough and safe enough to meet my requirements.
  • Contact the police and ask if making a flour bomb, lithium bomb or molotov cocktail might be legal under controlled theatrical circumstances.
  • Research safety parameters which could control said explosions.
  • Contact fireworks and pyrotechnics engineers to see if anyone is willing to consult with me about my questions.

Legal Disclaimer:

  • All the information I am accessing is to be used only for blowing up a small scale model of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in a safe and legal manner.
  • I neither condone nor encourage the actual blowing up of actual public buildings, and will not be sharing my research with anyone who does in an encouraging way.
  • Any websites I link to here or on Twitter are for information or humour purposes only, should not be used for acts of terrorism, and can be found by a very basic Google search anyway.

I Want to Blow Up (a model of) the Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art) is a performance project about:

  • Rage and its uses
  • Free speech and its limits
  • Art and its effectiveness
  • Surveillance and the state

The performance consists of the three phases: (1) the active period of research involved in figuring out how to build a scale model of Holyroodhouse and then legally blow it up, which will take place in public, preferably in arts venues; (2) the actual blowing up of the model Palace; (3) a performance lecture about how and why I did it and what happened. If you have access to space in an arts venue and would like me to research bomb-making in your space, please get in touch.

Please note, I will be recording all documentary evidence of this project, up to and including my private thoughts on the matter, in an auto-surveillance dossier in order to spare the public purse. Please note that all comments and mentions of this post will thus be monitored for monitoring purposes.

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More Good Now: A Working Manifesto for Artist-Producers

I’m an artist who also works as a producer. I set up and still help run the spoken word organisation Inky Fingers, and I co-direct the live art series ANATOMY. The idea of artists leading artistic production – artists organising nights, festivals, buildings – seems to be taking off at the moment. At the last Buzzcut Festival (an artist-led festival), the organisers worked with the Live Art Development Agency to organise a day blether on artist-led projects around the UK. There was excitement and community and possibility. This is wonderful.

At the same time, there’s a lot of discussion happening about the issue of artists working for free, artists struggling to get paid, artists getting exploited by venues. A lot of the response has been about how artists can work together and by themselves to improve their treatment by producers and venues – like here and here (with a good critique here). This is really important. Solidarity between workers is how change happens. But I’ve also been thinking that, increasingly, artists like me are working not just as artists, but also as producers: event organisers, festival programmers, building managers, scratch night impresarios. So this manifesto is a way to start a conversation about how we can do that part of our work better.

Producers usually have more power than artists. However collaborative, innovative and loving their projects, if you set yourself up as a producer you are giving yourself power – power to access space, media, resources; power over the artists you ask to work for you. This is a manifesto about how to be responsible in that relationship, and how artist-producers – people who find themselves on both sides of the employment equation – can  make our arts ecology better.

Best kens I haven’t always done it right. I’ve asked people to work for free without proper reward, and I’ve overworked myself. I’ve done stuff when I’ve been thinking more about my own reputation than making the art happen. While this manifesto does criticise things I’ve seen other artist-producers do, I’ve done most of them myself, so I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou. We all fail and we all learn. This manifesto is not meant as a stick to beat ourselves up with, but a prod in the arse to get us moving in the right direction. It is also not a book of complete and correct answers: it’s a start.

(N.B. This is written as a UK-specific manifesto, because I don’t know other countries’ arts ecologies well enough to comment, and the “we” that occurs throughout is artist-producers in the UK. But I hope other folk might find some use in it too.)

1. Your job is to make great art happen.

Your first duty as an artist-producer is to make great art happen. Every space you create must be a space that grows, cares for and celebrates great art. This can look like a lot of different things. A good open mic is as important as a pro cabaret, because how can artists make great art if they don’t have somewhere important to learn? A good open mic is probably more important than a successful performance night that only books established artists and is only seen by established audiences, because how can a night that replicates the dominant culture create more great art? Great art means change, plurality, surprise, experiment, failure. Making great art happen means growing a healthy ecology of art.

Your first duty is not to enhance your own reputation. You must be behind the art. If you find yourself booking someone because it will enhance your standing and not because you like what they do, then stop what you’re doing right now. If you find yourself putting your name in bigger type on the posters than your artists, then stop what you’re doing right now. If you find yourself taking all the credit for a great night without first crediting your artists, then stop what you’re doing right now. The art comes first. The art needs you. Being an artist-producer who makes great art happen will already enhance your reputation – you will be more likely to get interviews from arts magazines than your artists, your name is consistently linked with the great art, your heart will bloom. So your first duty is to make the great art happen.

2. You do not get paid until the artists get paid.

If you ask people to work for free, you must work for free. If you ask people to work for expenses, you must work for expenses. In this arts ecology, arts administrators and professional producers find it easier to get stable work than artists, and tend to get paid more than artists. That is messed up. If you are an artist-producer, it is easier for you to get paid than for your artists to get paid. So make sure they get paid first.

If you work in a venue that pays its staff, there is no excuse whatever for not paying artists. If you are hiring a venue for a fee, charging the audience entry, and not paying your artists, something has gone wrong. Find a free venue instead. This includes scratch and all other development work. Adjust your budgets accordingly.

3. Free culture is not a free ride.

I believe in free culture. I believe in finding alternative forms of artistic community and artistic production to consumer capitalism. I believe in finding ways to give away art for free and for artists to still be able to survive. This sometimes means running spaces and events that let everyone in for free and don’t pay anyone. Spaces like this are laboratories of the imagination, they are ways we can experiment in doing things differently. Spaces like this are not an excuse to take artists for granted.

If you are experimenting in alternative forms of economy, then do it properly. If your free culture event expects artists to do their own publicity, find their own food, find their own accommodation, and provide their art with no support whatsoever, then your free culture event is bullshit. If you’re not paying people, work out what else you can do for people. Can you arrange a deal with a local eatery to feed them? Can you marshal a list of spare rooms? Can you get all the artists to run a free skill-sharing session? Can you provide supported and curated access to people who might pay the artists later?  Whether or not your event is free and whether or not your artists get paid in coin, you have a duty to look after them.

4. Be honest with your artists.

If you programme by open call-out, then your call-out must include all the information about what kind of money and support is available to applicants. If you programme by invitation, your first message to them must contain all this information. If you do not tell people straight up that it is a free gig, you are taking them for a ride. If you tell people it’s profitshare without including a realistic projection of profits, you are taking them for a ride. If you are not tell9ing your artists something because you’re embarrassed, you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you make artists email you with enquiries about this kind of essential detail, you are wasting the time in which they could be making great art.

If any kind of money is changing hands, your artists and all your staff should know who’s getting what. If open book accounting is at all practical, do it. If it isn’t practical, find out how it could be. Financial transparency strengthens us all, because it helps us all understand the realities of how art’s finance happens, which helps us figure out how to make it better.

5. Opportunity is a dirty word.

Artists don’t need opportunities. Artists make their own opportunities. Artists need material things. Artists need space, time, support, audiences, advice, food, shelter, ideas, community, encouragement, criticism, reviews, pay. Don’t tell your artists you are giving them an opportunity. Tell your artists what it is you’re actually giving them.

6. Diversity is not a catchphrase.

Diversity is not something you do to get funding in. Diversity does not mean making sure you programme artists of colour occasionally. Diversity does not mean putting on one BSL-described performance per year. Diversity is something which takes careful research, organisational overhaul, and material support. Diversity is something you do because you believe in it, because you should believe in it, because it makes us better and it makes the art better. If most of the art you host is by white/british/male/straight/cis/able-bodied people then your project will be boring. If all you do is reproduce dominant culture then art as a whole will suffer. If you do not take active and materially-supported steps to make your project more diverse then you will end up reproducing dominant culture, because that’s how privilege works.

Ask these questions: Who is not performing with you? Who is not coming to your show? Why? What will it take to bring marginalised groups into your project? How might their needs be different and how can you meet them? What audiences do you currently advertise to? Who gets advertising through what routes? Who are you actively excluding and how, even if you didn’t know it? Who might talk with you about how to make things better? What can you offer them?

7. Scratch is not an excuse.

Scratch is a sexy word. Scratch helps venues think they are engaging in artist development. Scratch lets producers ask people to work for free. Scratch is a necessary part of many people’s artistic process which makes it an easy way to exploit artists, like their need for space or love or food can be exploited. Scratch is an easy way to take an audience for granted. Scratch takes the pressure off programmers to make great art happen. Scratch feels like an easy event to start organising, because everyone’s doing it.

Art development is work, and should be rewarded like all other work. Scratch is as important a labour act as performance. Just because you’re running a scratch night, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take every aspect of it seriously. If you’re giving artists the “opportunity” to scratch their work, what happens to them next? If you believe in artist development, you need to support their work after they scratch it. You need to find out what happens to the work next. You need to consider funding that work.

I actually think most artists take part in scratch nights at major venues not for the chance of audience feedback, but because they want their work associated with and watched by staff at that venue. It’s not that difficult for artists to get good critical feedback – though sometimes it is, and that’s why we have scratch nights! But if venue interest is honestly what artists want, you should give them a chance to say so, and you should be finding a way to meet that need, rather than making yourself look sexy and getting free work by running a scratch night.

8. You are in an ecosystem.

Art gets made in an ecology of artists, events, spaces, venues, producers. That ecology is mostly geographically local, but extends its tendrils through communication networks, and sometimes, like fungus, what looks like two separate bloomings may be connected under the soil. If you are planning to make something happen – an event, a festival, a venue, a whatever – it should be because the ecology needs it. If there are loads of open mics, don’t run another open mic. If there are no high quality cabarets, run one of those. If there is no development space, make that happen. Don’t make something happen because it’s the sort of thing you happen to like: make it happen because artists need it, communities need it, the ecology needs it. Ecosystem collapse happens when there is a lack of species diversity, or when dominant species consume all the resources, or when some fucker comes and chops down the tree and the wind blows away the topsoil. You need to learn what ecology you are in and how to be a conscious, valuable, contributing part of it.

9. Be kind to yourself.

You are no use to anyone, least of all yourself, if you crash and burn. Working yourself into the ground, or taking on more projects than you can properly commit the time to, or starting collaborations you can’t finish, is bad for everyone else, bad for the ecosystem, and bad for you. It can also be a way for you to put yourself before other artists: while you ride on the wave of your energy, and become known as an exciting and dynamic person, and leap up from project to higher profile project, other people (often more vulnerable people) may be picking up the pieces. This will probably not make you happy. Be careful with yourself. Be honest about your capacity. Learn to say no to others and to yourself. Only do what you want to do (and what, economically, you have to do), not what you think you should be doing, and especially not what other people think you should be doing. Only take on projects that you think really need to happen, which you really care about, and which you really have the capacity to fulfil. If you do this, you will feel more fulfilled, and you will feel stronger, and so will your community.

10. Have an evil plan.

We live in unfriendly times, and in times which are unfriendly to art. Our lives are a process of constant compromise: what matters is not a puritan ethic of personal perfection, but learning to make compromises which you can live with and learning how to use them to change the times you live in.

You are very unlikely to be able to accomplish all of the demands in this manifesto, and that’s assuming that you want to. You are not superhuman, and the world will put a hundred hurdles in your way. You will be disappointed by yourself and by the world. So don’t try and do it all at once: instead, have an evil plan to take over the world.

It’s hard to get funding for an unproven project. So start out by working for free, and asking artists to give their art in exchange for food and a bed, all the while being clear that you’re doing this to build your capacity to obtain funding (and then share your good fortune with everyone who helped you along the way). It’s hard to build diverse audiences when you can’t afford to print flyers to get people in the door, so start out by bringing in an audience you know how to reach and then use your success to reach more people. It’s hard not to overwork when nobody pays you properly, so surround yourself with supportive collaborators, so you can take care of each other when you fall down. Have a plan, and tell the people you work with what your plan is.

Always be thinking about what comes next for your project. Always be thinking about how you can make it better, for yourself, for everyone else, and for art. Good luck.

Please copy and improve this manifesto.

Like all texts on this site, this manifesto is shared under a Creative Commons license. That means that you’re welcome to take the text and post it anywhere, for free, and that you can change it in any way you like. I’d like it if you linked back here because, well, credit is important to artists. But I’d like it much more if you changed it, made it better, cut bits, added bits, made it better, added seventeen new points, distilled it to a sonnet, made it better, wrote something entirely new from a completely different perspective, made it better. Thanks for your time.

What We Owe: the 2013 Report

Dear Stakeholder,

We are delighted to present the Annual Review for What We Owe, our highly unqualified debt counselling service. Offered this year at Chester Performs, Artsadmin, Forest Fringe and the New Theatre Institute of Latvia, What We Owe is a attempt to understand our many debts and make things better with colour-coded spreadsheets. This year:

  • 94 debtors were counselled
  • 582 debts were audited
  • 212 debts were actioned
  • 82 debts were forgiven
  • 409.8kg of CO2e were emitted in travelling
  • £279,900 of debt were forgiven (resulting in enormous negative financial impact)
  • £3.75 was the minimum earned by the artist per day
  • £100 was the maximum spent by a producer per debtor
  • and the modal debt monster was a large, angry manticore

Download the full report below for a comprehensive analysis of our social, environmental, financial, insubstantial and chimerical impacts!

Harry Giles
Debt Counsellor (unq.)

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(the previous report and a performance video can be viewed here)

The Drone Watches “It’s a Wonderful Life”

The Drone Watches “It’s a Wonderful Life”
a Christmas poem

She is fully prepared
for a quiet disgust

at her country’s zeal
for certain emotion,

and the opening scenes
tickle her cynicism:

she knows what it is
to be a watching angel. But

the story disarms her
as thoroughly as an electrical storm.

She falls in love
with Bailey’s smile

and with the earnest call
for co-operative finance.

She watches his family.
The drone’s microwave nut-roast

cools on her plate
and the topsoil blowing outside

could almost be mistaken
for snow.

* * *

(More poems about the drone can be found in Gutter 09, Neon 33, and Poems In Which 2. She sends you season’s greetings and holiday wishes and hopes the new year brings you everything it can.)

Launching My New Pamphlet, “Oam”, at Govanhill Baths

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Oam at Govanhill Baths
Calder St, Glasgow
November 27th, 7pm
FREE, plus refreshments!

Ah’m fair awa tae be lenchin ma new pamphlet, “Oam”, fae Stewed Rhubarb Press, at Govanhill Baths on November 27th — n hit’d be grand gin ye’d come.

The pamphlet wis wrote as pairt o a residency wi Govanhill Baths Art and Regeneration Team (GBart), the art weeng o Govanhill Baths Community Trust. The Baths is a yinst n futur sweemin puil (n steamie n slipper baths n Turkish baths n mair), closed by Glesgae Ceety Cooncil in 2001, occupeed n fendit by a strang community campaign, n nou reappent as a community centre, suin tae be a sweemin complex agin.

Ah’ve been resident at the Baths for the past five months, jynin in wi n organisin community events, interviewin volunteers, doin a bit of imaginary sweemin, gettin tae ken Govanhill, n aw in aw havin a grand time wi an amazin place n amazin fowk. This wee beuk o poems in Scots is the ootcome o that time, n Ah’d luve tae shair hit wi ye.

Thare’ll be refreshments, by which Ah mean fuid n bevvy.

See ye thare!

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