Wednesday, July 18, 1990

We circle Beograd for thirty minutes before dropping precipitously to land on the runway.

The Mission Impossible aesthetic and my lack of sleep have reinforced my nervous excitement about this grand adventure that I've undertaken and which is really about to begin soon - this final leg of the plane ride is the limits of the known - everything that happens after I step off the plane will be something else.

So, picture this:

The very instant the wheels of our airplane touch the runway, the cabin, which has been silent as an icy tomb the whole trip, now instantly FILLS UP with a loud SWELLING muzak string-orchestra version of John Lennon's "Imagine" - just a scant (but very affecting) ten seconds' worth - then the Mission Impossible PA system crackles to life as the captain announces (does he sound relieved?) that we've landed in Beograd - and as soon as his voice cuts off - immediately the cabin again SWELLS with the orchestral strains of a muzak "Amazing Grace."

I can't help helping thinking (a) about the rivets, and (b) what have I gotten myself into?

I fly to Toronto, have a few hours layover, then fly to London Heathrow for another layover, then finally I'm on a JAL (Jugoslav Air Lines) flight to Beograd.

Not counting the almost 20 hours of layovers, I am in the air a total of 17 hours.

The seats of course are cramped, my legs are sore, I'm exhausted, not sleeping well, entering into that state of hallucinatory boredom that airplane travel creates & nourishes.

The JAL plane is straight out of the 1960's Mission Impossible TV show. Service is stilted, the lighting is poor, the cabin is chilly. The engines sound different - not healthy. I can see the rivets holding the sheets of metal together to form the cabin around us.

I keep expecting Peter Graves to walk out of the cockpit door. Or the snoring bald man next to me to pull his head off like taffy to reveal Martin Landau's face.

In the darkened cabin, I keep thinking: I can see the rivets.

Tuesday, July 17, 1990

It being 1990 & me heading behind the former Iron Curtain, of course I'm reading Havel:

At times we do encounter something we might call a sectarian view of parallel culture, that is, the view that whatever does not circulate only in typescript or whatever was not recorded only privately is necessarily bad and that not being printed, publicly performed or exhibited is in itself an achievement or an honour while the reverse is always and automatically a mark of moral and spiritual decay, if not of outright treason....

Even though the 'second' or 'parallel' culture represents an important fertile ground, a catalytic agent, and often even the sole bearer of the spiritual continuity of our cultural life, like it or not, it is the 'first' culture that remains the decisive sphere. Only once the suppressed spiritual potential of our community begins more distinctly to win back this culture ... will things begin visibly to improve, not only in culture but in a broader and related social sense as well. It will be in a 'first' culture that the decision will be made about the future climate in our lives....

I cry a lot during the flight to Toronto. It's part heartbreak but mostly just release of stress of last few weeks. It's always great getting on the plane; everything that seemed so important is now irrelevant & out of your control.

During a long flight the hiss of the engines becomes its own type of silence.

Monday, July 02, 1990

Southern Exposure, San Francisco, 6.29.90

Adapting "Brief Amaze," which I had premiered at The Lab several months earlier, I created an hour-long piece using "modules" of distinct gestural activities which I hoped would be individually evocative and which could be resequenced according to the specific conditions of each site where the piece was to be performed.

I didn't want to create a performance in advance and simply present it in, say, Poland, but I did want to prepare a vocabulary of gestures for myself. I am not a good improviser, but felt that if I had the bricks ahead of time I could improvise the building of houses of different shapes when I needed to.

I was under some stress during the month prior to leaving. My lover ended her relationship with me, I was under financial pressures, was creating a performance and was of course preparing for a 3-month tour in unfamiliar territory.

The Southern Exposure performance ended up confirming the piece's ability to articulate site- and situation-specific concerns. But the embedded personal/emotional content concerning my recently-ended relationship weakened the piece and diverted the audience's attention from other themes that I'd hoped to articulate. I also bowed to some sort of inner insecurity and added a short spoken monologue section which ended up not really serving any purpose.

Major failure of this performance: as planned, I cut my arms with razorblades, not meaning to evoke emotional response but rather attempting to subsume this image within an iconography of images of pain. My technical mistake was not making it clear that I had in fact cut myself (actually more deeply than I'd intended.) My white shirt was already soaked with red paint and, since this obscured the flow of blood, everyone in the audience thought I had simply mimed the act of cutting my wrists, evoking a banal pathos which emotionalized an essentially formal performance and had a strong negative effect on the interpretation and credibility of the piece.

Major success: I managed under a lot of stress to create a performance which didn't totally embarass myself. As such it was a good rehearsal for the kinds of conditions I'd have to deal with on tour. I also liked the graphic and tactile qualities of the paint-and-blood-spattered script after the performance was over.

Saturday, April 14, 1990

The first invitation I received was to the Perfomedia Festival in Ponte Nossa in northern Italy in late July of 1990. I had been hoping to begin my tour in Moscow and work my way back into Europe from there, and in fact Italy was a bit far off the track I'd hoped to follow, but I was loathe to turn down my first invitation - for all I knew it would be my last.

As other invitations began to trickle in, I quickly realized that my hope of being paid for performing needed some adjusting. As is the case in the United States, the galleries and spaces which were most able to pay artists' fees curated performances far in advance. Even beginning nearly one year before my planned trip, I was too late to schedule myself into most of such venues. Additionally, the situation vis-a-vis the value of currency was consistent throughout eastern Europe. Even when organizations there were capable of paying me, the fees would average $10-30. An excellent sum for those locales but not very useful to me over the long haul of such a tour. The self-effacing tone of my original query letter, with its offer to make performances in return for lodging and meals and (if possible) basic expenses turned out to be well suited to the situation in eastern Europe.

After spending about $400 on photocopying and on postage for letters, videotapes etc., and after six increasingly anxious months of peering into my mailbox and attempting to piece together a semi-rational itinerary, I had arranged a tour which would begin in Beograd, Yugoslavia on July 18, 1990 and include performances in Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, and the original festival in Moscow. Two days before I left I received confirmation of a post-Moscow performance in Belgium.

Monday, April 02, 1990

I didn't get many responses but some were very enthusiastic:
Greetings from our beautiful country which is free after long and lost 40 years!!!
I hope you understand: exciting and exhausting time in our country: chaotic situation in politics / 91 parties come into existence / anarchy in public affairs, social upheavel...but the situation now has a more favourable aspect...made many changes in cultural life, in art, in literature, etc. etc. reform movement goes to better! Stalinism died! First step to democracy was made!!! Oho! It's quite "easy"! our country returned to Europe again...communist party suffers sweeping defeat!
I cannot's midnight just now...our two small girls and Ra, my wife, are sleeping...I must get up at six in the usually falls asleep after midnight...I can only work during nights when our daughters are sleeping....
-Petr Sevcík, Ostrava Czechoslovakia, March 28, 1990
While others were more guarded:
...I cannot promise you anything sure. One of the causes of this is that in Hungary now the only thing that is not uncertain is uncertainty...It is difficult to plan because of an imminent crisis and inflation in Hungary.
- Endre Szka'rosi, Budapest Hungary, April 2, 1990
Many of the early responses, whether positive or negative, provided new addresses for me to contact, which I did. In all I sent out approximately 600 letters and received about 50 responses.

Thursday, March 01, 1990

After The Infant Carlos III Dreams of the New World was over, I could again concentrate on organizing a performance tour in Eastern Europe. As I mentioned earlier, I'd sent out hundreds of letters to any & all addresses I could find for people who might be willing to help me with my project. Even though I never considered myself a mail artist, I had been in close contact with a couple of members of the vast Network of mail artists throughout Europe, and I knew they would be very helpful to me.

These Networkers engage in various activities both through the post and, more recently, through "tourism," travelling to meet one another at conferences, festivals and personal visits. Postal activities run the gamut from collecting and collaging rubber stamp images to constructing and mailing three-dimensional works of art. I had been peripherally aware of this Network since 1987 but had participated only once or twice, sending images to Ryosuke Cohen in Japan and having them returned as elements of colorful xerox collages. By 1989, when I was sending my letters of introduction to, among others, members of this Network, a fundamental change had begun within the Network. Many mail-artists had grown frustrated by the seemingly endless quantity of rubber-stamped collages and original drawings piling up in their mailboxes each day. They began feeling and writing about the need for more substantial interaction between correspondent artists. As the completely open curation of mail-art exhibitions is the most fundamental tenet of mail-art's alternative, non-commercial philosophy, the resulting high-volume of often uninteresting and derivitive work would be impossible to stem even if it were philosophically desirable to do so.

Many mail-artists simply made decisions to stop replying to most communications which they received, to curtail their own "pure" mail-art activities and to investigate other means of approaching the Network's goals of promoting peace and understanding through open and egalitarian communication. They began to organize festivals of live art, produce fanzines containing news and interviews, and generally to stress collaboration rather than individual aesthetic production. "Art-tourism" became in effect a genre/media in itself and stressed direct human contact over production.

The majority of the 50 or so responses to my query were from individuals actively involved in some way with this Network. Czech physician and poet Petr Sevcík, Endre Szka'rosi in Budapest and, in Germany, Géza Pernecky, were all complete strangers to me but quickly provided contacts which materialized into performing opportunities.

Tuesday, February 27, 1990

My second attempt at making a new style of performance wasn't very successful. I'd won a commissioning competition given by Intersection for the Arts as part of their Off-Site Spaces program. I'd proposed a 16-hour performance installation for their intended site: Justin Herman Plaza, at the foot of Market Street between the Ferry Building & the Hyatt. Intersection gave me $1000 & I ended up spending $1300 on supplies & other production costs. I spent a long time negotiating with SF Park & Rec, who had most of the jurisdiction over this "public" space. The Hyatt also had some jurisdiction. I was told I couldn't use open flames, smoke, or a tent - because they didn't allow the homeless to use them. No amount of negotiation could make them understand the difference between theatrical representations of shelter & actual shelter. I often think they were right on this score.

The plaza contains a statue of Juan Bautista de Anza, who in 1776 led an expedition from Tucson to, eventually, the San Francisco peninsula, where he laid out the future sites of both the San Francisco Presidio and Mission Dolores. I proposed to make a piece that referred to issues of space, colonization & commemoration. My "character" was, to my way of thinking, the body of de Anza and the hallucinating imagination of Carlos III, the reigning monarch of Spain. Cool idea but in practice - whatever.

I began the performance by circumnavigating the 2+ acre plaza for an hour or so, then spent about the same amount of time marking out that boundary with painter's masking tape: blue for the ocean (& passage into performativemode) I was "crossing," easily removable afterwards, and referring also to my usual occupation as a housepainter.

After ceremonially "claiming" my territory, I began to explore & shape it by laying out small installations of "raw" materials: cardboard packing squares, newspapers tied in bundles, bricks, bunches of fennel stalks, dirt, potatoes painted gold. I also built the structure that Park & Rec would allow: a three-sided tent with no roof. After setting out all these materials, I physically explored the plaza by walking for an hour semi-randonly within the border I'd taped out.

I think I took a short rest after that, though still in a performative mode, then started in on several hours of interaction with the materials I'd set out. I would tie them up, move them by carrying or dragging, untie them, move them, bundle them, move them, over & over.

Eventually as the afternoon wore down, I acted out a kind of bogus shamanic scenario with a woman whose name I am so so sorry I have hopefully only temporarily forgotten. She was dressed in twigs & stalks & burlap & I suppose she was meant to have represented some sort of indigenous anima who was to both precipitate & heal the schizophrenic breaking of my Western psyche. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. At least the images of me dressed like a bird with fennel-stalk wings & my subsequent crise de kultur look kind of cool.

After this nonsense, I collected myself again & collected all the materials I'd been working with, dragged them to the concrete bandstand at one end of the plaza, built a sort of "stage" with these materials. I disappeared for awhile, then an art audience showed up as the sun went down, mostly friends, about 20 people max. I reappeared as a court jester in tights & a little hood with bells etc., led the audience around the site, up through Vaillancourt Fountain, then to the bandstand, on the outside of which Raegan Kelly projected three or four B&W super-8 films I'd commissioned her to make for this performance. We were both pretty heavy into Abigail Child at the time. After the films were over, everyone followed me into the bandstand & sat around me as I started the culminating, climactic "theatrical" portion of the piece.

A portion which I had planned on figuring out during the 14 hours that preceded it - but I hadn't. Now, 14 hours outdoors in February doing all this stuff is a tougher go than I'd thought, and I was pretty beat by then - too beat to improvise anything sensible, too beat to care. So after a few embarrassing minutes I put on a blindfold, picked up a gold-painted golf club, a 9-iron I think, and started swinging wildly, chasing everyone out & shouting "go home!" After awhile it worked. End of story except for apologies to everyone who had to be there. Too much "story" not enough presence. I think all these pictures were taken by Raegan Kelly, including the two fennel-bird-freakout ones, which were shoot off a playback of video shot by Todd Edelman.

Friday, January 19, 1990

Christine Tamblyn wrote (privately):

The beginning movement [of “Brief Amaze” at The Lab] with the glass reminded me of old guard conceptual art pieces (Marioni, Kos, etc.) but didn’t really seem derivative. One can be in a genre without being derivative.

I like the vulnerability in your work – also a part of the charisma – ritual sacrifice to the audience. Your nudity became animal-like in a way that was quite disturbing. I found myself wondering if male nudity was more taboo than female nudity….

The face-painting was effectively visceral, and worked as a great set-up for the dopplegänger duel. I’ve always liked the way details accrue increasing significance as the piece unfolds in your work. Not really an aspect of narrative but an aspect of symbology and compression – the details like magnets attracting stray filings of meaning. The doppelgänger image continued to articulate itself (language or no) and the wrestling, strangling, etc. was wonderful – pathetic and absurd all at once, a Beckett-like clowning.

There seemed to be a string of false endings – like a box with false bottoms. First the reconciliation with the audience, then the erasure as a coda and finally the return to the beginning with the glass. It was like you were exhausting every possible stratagem of culmination.

[The title Brief Amaze was, in fact, from a section of Beckett's The Lost Ones.]

Thursday, January 18, 1990

My first real attempt at developing a [mostly] wordless, portable performance in this new [for me] style went pretty well. This was the first Brief Amaze performance, at The Lab, on October 15, 1989. I made a series of relatively simple actions. A bell would ring every three minutes & I would stop what I was doing & do something else. I stood still in my black suit, white shirt, tie, etc. I wrote text on the a blackboard. I took my clothes off & stood still. I crawled naked in a circle on the floor.

I sat at a table & covered one side of my head with white paint, one side with red.

My red side then started to pick a quarrel with my right side.

I used words here but mainly to help me raise my energy level enough to start striking myself.

My red side attacked my white side & both crashed to the floor & rolled around wrestling fiercely-

- until the bell rang & I had to do something else. I think I went & sat in the audience & looked at the empty stage for three minutes at that point. Sitting in the audience was the halfway point of the performance & I sort of did a lot of things in reverse on my way towards some kind of ending: a bell ringing.

Wednesday, January 17, 1990

People seemed to like the work, but I was increasingly dissatisfied for reasons I couldn't quite pin down, so at the beginning of 1989 I decided to seperate the textual and gestural components and to explore each apart from the other, concentrating more on the gestural, which was least familiar to me.

Luckily for me, at this crucial time, 1989, Andre Stitt, Shaun Caton & Tara Babel arrived in SF on their tour of USA. I sat mesmerized during Shaun's 12-hour performance. He stood on a small brick, one of two dozen or so scattered like stepping stones in a pool of moldy water in the basement of Artists Television Access, wearing a hood & medical facemask, white doctor coat, rubber gloves, holding a long pole of some sort like a high-wire artist. I'd stare at him for an hour, blink or turn my head & somehow he'd have moved to another brick. The whole thing was magical & dire & tedious, just like life, as I saw it. Eventually he ended up alternately standing in front of a tempera painting he was continually repainting, and lying in a pool of water, urine & tempera (dripping from the painting), his face half-submerged, blowing nose-bubbles in the nasty mixture. Brilliant. I pretty much watched the entire thing, as I think did Keith Hennessy .

So the invitation to Moscow came at an ideal time and I relished the challenge of creating a wordless performance specifically for eastern European audiences who would by & large not speak English. I began building a vocabulary of gestures & of interactions with simple objects and thinking about how the subtraction of language was going to influence the work.

Monday, January 15, 1990

More ambitious but less successful had been 1988's Necromancy, developed with Dede Puma & performed with her at The Lab on 5/19-21/88.

Saturday, January 13, 1990

I'd been working since 1982 to create a hybrid performance style combining elements of text (Beckett, Language Poetry), dance/theatre (Pina Bausch, Butoh) and performance art (Abramovic & Ulay, Joseph Beuys).

One of the most successful attempts was one of the first: 1984's Home On The Range, created with Jeanne Gallo & performed with her at Polyphonix 8 (which I co-produced) at the SF Art Institute on 11.9.84.

Jeanne Gallo & Scott MacLeod. Photo f-Stop Fitzgerald.

Monday, January 08, 1990

In October 1989 I had been invited by Alan Millar & John High of The Lab to perform the following September at the First International Festival of Contemporary Art in Moscow. Because of the relative worthlessness of the Soviet ruble after the November 89 devaluation and the lack of resources of our hosts in Moscow, the Center for Creative Initiatives for Peace, the 25 or so artists invited from San Francisco would have to pay our own travel expenses. I absolutely refused to miss out on the opportunity to visit and perform in Moscow but it made no sense to me to pay $1500 for a two-week trip. My solution was to pull every mail-art, alternative music, theatre and other magazines from my shelf and collect every address I could find for eastern Europe. I thought that if I could arrange a few paid performances here and there, I could plan an extensive tour which would justify the expense of travelling to Europe.

In many cases I had no information at all about who I was writing to, often not even knowing if I was writing to an individual or an organization. I prepared a one-page letter in which I explained who I was, what I had done, what I would like to perform and could they refer me to anyone who could help me if they could not. I also wrote to my friends in western Europe asking for help and referrals etc.

Monday, January 01, 1990


In the history of human civilization it's the Road that played the most important part in the exchange of cultural experiences. It binded people living under different civilization levels, but also created barriers between them, barriers which were impossible to cross.... The Road was, and remains till today, a mysterious and fascinating area of the human universe, where a creative thought of the human mind is to discover. The end of every Road is the goal, exposing the human aim. The Roads of mankind, the straight and the curved ones, sometimes clear and at times not, forces the man, today, to ask questions about the future, to which the world is aiming and with what heritage will it enter the XXI century....

January 1, 1991, Catalogue essay for THE WAY, an installation by Jerzy Wankiewicz & Iwona Lukawska at International Workshop, Rugia Island, Germany