Friday, 5 November 2010

Walk On By

A TBC banner stands proudly before the caryatids of The Parish of St. Pancras
A year in planning and it was over a week of chills, breakdowns, walk-outs and artists' talks.

Delineation: Contemporary Dialogues with Drawing, the Collective's first show, was an exploration of contemporary drawing practice and the presence of drawing within different art forms, from video to embroidery to sculpture. Its venue was The Crypt, a cold, damp, earthy space that wouldn't at first - or indeed upon reflection - seem to lend itself to the displaying of works on paper, which made up the bulk of the show. Indeed, after only five days in the space, some of the artists involved observed slight decay in the pristine quality of their works, all of which were framed.

This was the only negative; the show was well received; it was generally accepted that TBC Artists' Collective had indeed subjected contemporary drawing practice to a rigorous interrogation, and  comments from the public largely expressed pleasure at the standard of work on show. My personal experience, however, was mixed.

Fallen autumn leaves imprinted into the road below by constant traffic makes for a beautiful, short-lived, painterly patina

First of all, the venue - not The Crypt itself, a wonderful space (and don't its management know it), but Euston, which only exists for me as the departure point from London to Birmingham and those reluctant trips back to the family that fill me with dread. (I would like to extricate the fine transparency on which only my family exists and lay it flat onto my wonderful, spectral London.) Getting off at that underground station every morning in order to open up The Crypt for 10am immediately set a tone of foreboding to each day.

Nevertheless, I sat down, and wrote, as I had proposed to do all along. I wanted to sit and write in the space for the duration of the show, but wasn't quite prepared for my distance from the generally accepted definition of 'performance', as my piece would inevitably be branded. Growing increasingly paranoid with each successive coffee and pee, I could feel that each approaching viewer would expect me to do something 'performative' in their presence. I felt like a particularly boring piece of video art, one of the many I have walked by in galleries and dismissed out of igorance of the length of the piece, or how long I would have to wait for some action. I sat in the corner of a small room in the centre of The Crypt at a fold-out table, facing a wall, writing whatever came to my head, but not what I could call 'stream of consciousness' or 'automatic' writing - although there were indeed moments of each - resolving not to interact with the public. Mostly I wrote to complain about the damp (a hindrance perpetuated sensorially by James Jeff Lindley's running-water/water-torture sound installation) and my apprehension, but it was too late. My work was public. My failure to prepare for the work, or devise a strategy for a performance, was apparent and inescapable. I improvised, but betrayed myself with a lack of ideas.

Writing in the space, coffee and Twitter never too far away. Pic by James Tuitt

Before all this, the first day and Private View were fascinating. As I sat against the wall with my back to the 'door' and an assortment of objects behind me, people still somehow seemed confident to approach me within the space, something I wasn't prepared for. I thought that they would maybe stand at the doorway quietly, peering in, and walk on by (which, again, I was unprepared for, as in the event it felt like disinterest or a rejection). One man came right into my space, took a look at the Bible, photographs and journals piled up in the corner, then came quite confidently up behind me, animating the hairs on the back of my neck, to read exactly what I was writing about him:

There is someone actually standing over my shoulder watching me as I write, and watching what I am writing, and photographing me, using flash, highly inappropriately. I didn't expect them to do that. I thought that they would walk by the doorway, act or express surprise, and carry on walking. I didn't think that they would actually come into my space, look over my shoulder and read what I was writing. That was very strange. Heat came to the surface of my skin, across my shoulders, as the man, whoever he was, the white man or the black man, came closer to my neck. I wrote and wrote as it happened, but now that he is gone, the excitement has died down again, and I should reply to the text message I received, and drink my coffee.

Not the 'invader' mentioned, but my friend Martin Knizia, who is actually allowed. Pic by James Tuitt

A close-up of some of the text written in-situ


I don't know who that was, but he came right into the space (I assume 'he' was a he) which he is encouraged to do to see what page my Bible is open at ('No part of the world'), and, in front of the Bible, the Mike Arlen pictures, both of which are two steps inside the door next to a small pile of my journals. He seemed to pore over them for a moment, before stepping around to my side, to view me in profile. Am I really the same man as in the pictures? Well, I look very different, so different he has to make quite sure. I now have hair, a big high-top fade, whereas then I had a short crop. I now have a thick, scraggly beard, whereas then I was clean-shaven and wore no glasses; now I wear huge vintage Cazals which are like a mask. And of course, I am dressed. Because the sticky label is so big they must be wondering what all the clothes I am wearing are helping to cover up, if it is indeed me in the picture. I could say it isn't. I could say that that is Paul Mendes and I am Paul Mendez. He is 22 and I am 28.

Some old journals, a Bible (my oldest possession, owned since 1994), some drawings, and pictures of 'Paul Mendes by Mike Arlen' (sic), taken in 2004 when 'Paul Mendes' first moved to London. Pic by James Tuitt

Close-up, the 'sketchiness' of my quick handwriting is emphasised
Moreover, during the private view, two women came into my space and started trying to interrupt my performance, seeing their actions as 'interactive', egging each other on to take my cup of wine away from me (I drank about six cups and was quite drunk by the evening's end). Again, one came up to the side of me and would have been rather distracting had I not been writing about her every word and action:

Left-handed. I noted four people to have remarked on this banal fact, as if there was nothing more interesting for them to comment on

People are asking me if they can interact, and are trying to do their best to distract me, but I am having none of it. They are trying to read the work in my journal and have to crouch down to the floor. They have opened themselves up to the photograph and are asking if the sticker needed to be that big... I thought they were actually going to touch me. The glands in my armpits opened up and started to itch uncomfortably. At no point did I crack facial expression or look up... I loved the way those two women commented on the fact that I am left-handed. Like that makes the blindest bit of difference to anything or anyone.

I could hear that there were lots of people in attendance, all enjoying themselves, and most importantly, the work; I regret to say that I've been to too many private views recently at which the work has been secondary, mere decoration for an evening's free drinks. Private views are the new parties. The art scene is the new society. There can be nothing better than an evening of free drinks at some cool exhibition opening, particularly during a recession.

The next day, however, to state the obvious, was the morning after the night before. Hungover and tired, I once again sat in the space, but the words failed to come to me as freely as they had done the night before. This would be the story of the next two days, fraught with insecurity and paranoia, not to mention an overbearing sense of over-exposure, that prompted me to write this letter to my colleagues:

To: TBC Members

Subject: Re: Paul Mendez: Work In Progress

After a couple of days' bedding in, I just posted this on my blog. Hopefully tomorrow will be different.



This is Not a Performance, This is Real Life

Half way through Delineation, and I have reached the depths of despair, an achievement as great as touching the stratosphere, depending on which way you look at it.

Having asserted my intention to write in the space for the duration of the show, I choked after a day, then half a second day, and four hours of a third. It is a beautiful space, of course, as almost everyone I've heard walk past and into my personal space has agreed, and it is full of neat work by members of TBC Artists' Collective, but it is a group show, not a collective articulation, and here as elsewhere, group shows elevate some members to the detriment of others. If it does what it says on the tin (of artist's shit), then all the artists involved function as one. The result should be the light work of many hands. I put my hands up and say I did not understand the brief, the space, how the space relates to drawing, how I relate to drawing, how TBC Artists' Collective and the mix of its featured artists relates to drawing, how I relate to TBC Artists' Collective. I put my hands up and say I still don't know the answers to any of these questions, and I can hear people say, 'don't try to understand, just do', but there must be a reason that I have reached the age of 28 without ever having 'done'. It is unfortunate that it is the middle of the show before I decide to be honest with myself, but next to my name on the plan it says 'performance' and so here it is, a little bit of drama, a mini-breakdown.

The decision to write in the space wasn't really a decision, but a blurt-out that I then had to stand beside like a puddle of my own vomit. As a 'writer' I felt that it was the only course of action. 'Writers' don't put things into frames, they don't visualise, they write. Any participation in this show by a writer would have to be a written 'performance', or comprise the reading of a text. Any other ideas? Perhaps I could have announced a timetable of readings of work produced in or around the show. I could have done a lot of things differently, such as refrain from taking on so many administrative duties around the organisation of the show, whether I put my hand up because nobody else did or out of flattery when someone suggested I would be the ideal person for the job. Like many men, I am vain, and embrace flattery like a bee does a rose. I therefore end up being controlled by suggestions and steered and pushed this way and that like a child's remote control car. My uncle bought me a remote control car once, when I was about seven. My mother took it away from me and told me I could have it back when I was 21. Needless to say, by then I'd forgotten about it and couldn't care less anyway. In fact, I've only just remembered it now. I wonder if they still have it? They probably gave it to my brother.

Sponsorship and fundraising: fail and an albatross called The Delineation Workshops. 12-Pages: fail – no print-run; the cover is too conceptual and in the end contains an error; the piece of work I wrote was too long and took up too much space, and in the end had to be cut so brutally only half the original story remains. I am the copy editor of the group, having put my own name forward as such due to my horror at the profound dyslexia prevalent in the group, either that or its manifestation of the decline in standards of basic education in Britain, and my wish to maintain an accurately written face on anything associated with me, Mr. Perfect. On top of all of this I had to make work for the show (having been told I had to participate, and in harnessing that other great undesirable man-trait – pride – thought, what the hell, how hard can it be to make art), reconciling myself with the visual form and its abstraction of ideas whilst developing a line of investigation, and the skills to finish, that would make me sound as clever and appear as strong as all the professors and graduates that make up the vast majority of the group. I have set myself up for an epic fail that has inevitably materialised, perpetuated by unpaid rent, strained friendships, a crisis of dignity and a constant fear of being thrown out into the street that will of course result in me being thrown out into the street like a used, worthless, toothless, filthy, diseased whore with cum and blood no longer running down her legs but crusted and sticking them together.

Yes, I feel sorry for myself; yes, I accept that, and yes, I am a fool. It is on days like this that I see my timeline in two colours: red blocks for positive times and blue for negative. Today is a blue day, obviously, and it pushes all the other blues to the surface, drowning all the reds. During the lows, you don’t remember the highs, and vice-versa. Some people say I should just snap out of it. How about: fuck off. The only way to snap out of whatever-it-is is in death, and even then, who knows?

On Tuesday I set myself up in a small mostly enclosed space within The Crypt with a foldaway table and chair. On Wednesday I introduced a few old journals, some explicit photographs of myself nude that I have censored (at least the top one), and some small sketches. I put my current journal on the table and in the afternoon, began to write belatedly. It was exciting when someone came in and peered over my shoulder at what I was writing, not that I was writing anything particularly enterprising, just a load of new shit to add to the load of old shit written in the pile of old journals in the corner behind me. I faced a brick wall, and ignored my audience. My friends came and went during the private view, without my greetings. I failed to prepare for this show and so have been inconsistent, sometimes talking to people, sometimes not, sometimes writing down what people say, and when there are no people, such as in the cold light of the morning after the private view, there is only the most depressing space imaginable. Suddenly I feel exposed, and want to get away from people and from what I set up for myself for the public to pick at, without preparation.

I have completely sacrificed myself for the group. Congratulations everyone on a good group show - sorry I spoilt it.


I hadn't meant to send this version. The version I posted here on Stillborn, and that I had meant to send out to other members of the group, ended with this key paragraph:

Because I don't know what I'm doing, because I don't have any ideas, I should have put myself up as a material, to be used however members of the group envisioned it. I should have been used as a puppet, for the work, not the administration; the former could have been a success, though the latter could only have been a failure, because I'm not a professional.

TBC. Nice show. Sorry I spoiled it.


I could do nothing right. Here is a selection of responses:

Yet somehow, in all your drama, you still manage to stay true to your honest and open style of writing.
And...question the concept of the show, which in a way all the work included does - we do
have to ask ourselves if the work is considered drawing and whether or not we align what we
have contributed as so. You are questioning this directly as a subject rather than a static object doing so.

The text is not and you are not a failure, in the way that it articulates the turmoil experienced within a group of creative people with different ambitions and ideas. You are having a critical dialogue with the group, in a passionate way. It could be read as an insult, which i lingered on at first, but one has been provoked to accept your honesty and bravery.

You are going through what every artist goes through - some crisis of confidence, but through this
(and you are already doing this) you critique your own presence in your work and life - " 
'Writers' don't put things into frames, they don't visualise, they write. Any participation in this show by a writer would have to be a written 'performance', or comprise the reading of a text. Any other ideas? Perhaps I could have announced a timetable of readings of work produced in or around the show" points towards this. I also like the imagery conjured of you, sitting in a Crypt, sacrificing yourself.

You think and you reflect and with that have confidence in yourself.

I'm probably being like proper cheesey.

Have a better day tomorrow!!!!!



i really dont think you've spoilt anything. people enjoy what you're doing, and it adds something else different and unexpected to the group/show. i'm really glad that you're part of it too, it's comforting, for me it feels as though we're both doing something different and true to us. and i think what you are doing is real. it's honest, and you've gone with what you feel or felt at the time, rather than not having a go at all and seeing where it can lead. you've been brave, and remain so, even as you leave the space to let it stand on it's own.

i dont really know what to say. you feel what you feel. but i hope in good time (soon) you come out of it happy, and proud of what you've achieved.
sorry i've been shit, and i hope we're still cool. if you ever want to talk i'm always here, even if it's just to rant.



The blank box loaded with history, its own and other people’s, is climactic in its temperament.  Wrapping you, as it does, in chill and damp without light, distraction, or for the most part attention from other people it confronts you with the voices of your head. In past and present those demons torment you: you are a failure, you are insignificant, who are you they say but a fraud, what did you think would happen shooting star, star of the show? 

In this space, you have an opportunity – those voices are not our voices, nor are they your own. Allow your mind to settle, allow it to confront you with the wall of your despair, give it and your inner self a hug. Tell yourself that you love yourself anyway, do not seek our approval or support because you can do this on your own.  This chaos, this doubt, are part of the process of creating. We have all faced this. Remember:

Your writing is a gift as is your honesty and courage.
You are powerful.
You have an enormous generosity of spirit in welcoming and accepting others- this is reflected by your friends who in turn accept and cherish you. Remember this especially.

Do not call the show a tin of artists’ shit.

Drawing is the documentation of what the eye’s mind and hand experience and try to explore or understand.  Since your eyes see only a wall in this space – do you have to remain there? Or do you have the ability to visualize, to travel, to see internally? Can you leave your space and ‘perform’ in other spaces – I think you will be welcome in them all- so move your table and travel.  The meeting ground of drawing and writing is in documentation so listen to the show, explore what you perceive to be the links between us, write our narrative and rhetoric- our failures and successes, write about why this is difficult and confront the sometimes bleak and difficult process of making something because if nothing else – I can guarantee you – you are already ‘doing it’.



Hi Paul

I'm really sorry to hear what your 'performance' has brought up for you these few days. You seem to be blaming yourself and it saddens me to hear this. Surely, in 'real' terms your contributions to TBC have been pivotal to the success of the show?  

Look, if you fancy a chat about any of this shit then I'm happy to listen. Unfortunately I can relate to some of the low self-esteem I'm gleaning from your writings and it might help you to hear yourself saying this stuff out loud to someone else rather than venting on the 'internet ether'. Don't feel obliged though ... 

Take care of yourself and see you tomorrow?


Dear Paul,

I have only just read  'This is Not a Performance, this is Real Life' and I wholeheartedly hope that this bit of pathetic, overblown, self indulgent nonsense is part of the Performance and Not Real Life.
You are an extraordinarily talented writer, and in the handwritten form displayed on the wall you have found a way of making art that fits in perfectly  with and stands up to the rest of the show. Think of it this way, Fiona Banner is an artist who uses the written word; you are a writer who makes art.

See you tomorrow,


Artist's Shit

I had left the space at 2pm, in a hurry and in a huff. I went to Tate Britain to have another look at Rachel Whiteread's beautiful drawings, and a peek at the Eadweard Muybridge show. The thing about the two Tate blockbusters this season is that they feature the first artists I ever appreciated. Gauguin was an unlikely editorial star of an issue of The Watchtower, the fortnightly study text of Jehovah's Witnesses, whom I immediately took to for his refined use of colour and the fact that I'd never seen 'black' people in 'classic' painting before; and Muybridge and his descendants, courtesy of GCSE biology text books, was my first exposure to naked men. Unsatisfied, having moved on from these early guardians, I decided to journey across town to Lisson Gallery. As I was supposed to be engaging with a performance, I thought that I should belatedly try and learn from the best. Marina Abramovic's work is hardly that of a shrinking violet, who is embarrassed what the public, and her art-world colleagues, think of her, or it. It is visceral; it interrupts the viewer and shakes him/her out of their comfort zone. People walk through art galleries and daydream. One guy, laughing with his mate in The Crypt, walked past my space and said, 'Shit! Scared the fuck out of me.' I was happy to have snapped him back to attention, something inanimate works cannot do.

Back at The Crypt, I became embarrassed about this aspect of performance art. I even started singing 'Walk On By', the Bacharach and David song released in 1964 by Dionne Warwick, although I'm more familiar with the 1990 Sybil version.

Trouble is, you cannot be blasé with a performance; people are so hell-bent on finding meaning and relevance to a piece that each and every syllable that comes out in speech, every written word, every line drawn and every second spent sat in silence will be analysed. One man whom I said 'walk on by' in the presence of promptly took his friends out of the gallery. This is why I am disappointed that the point of what I was doing had not transmitted to the public. It was there before their eyes. Not many people get to see a writer in action; should they not be curious of how the books they buy and the works they agree to canonise are made? Do they not feel privileged to participate? Do they assume that, because I do not acknowledge them and ask their name and who they are and where they are from, that I am not interested in them? Do they not glean anything from the paradigms on the floor behind me? By the end I felt like an intruder in my own space, and left, allowing the Bible, the journals, the drawings and photographs to speak for themselves in the form of an installation. My presence in the space was for my benefit, not theirs. 'Work In Progress' was about everything I am about, not the work itself.

All in all, Delineation was of course a positive experience. It was my first show, and my first piece of work. There are things I will want to do differently next time, but I doubt Fondazione Prada will be knocking on my door for a while yet.


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