While You Are With Us Here Tonight (2013)
Born in 1962, Tim Etchells lives in London and Sheffield. He is an artist and writer who has worked in a wide variety of contexts, notably as the leader of the performance group Forced Entertainment and in collaboration with a range of visual artists, choreographers, and photographers. His work ranges from performance to video, photography, text projects, installation and fiction. Etchells’s artist book While You Are With Us Here Tonight can be described as a poetic and idiosyncratic reflection on questions of legacy, document and archive. It draws on aspects of his solo work and on his long-running collaboration with the other members of the performance group Forced Entertainment. As well as original writing by Etchells and images by photographer Hugo Glendinning, the book features contributions by a small number of contemporary artists and thinkers, including Adrian Heathfield, Vlatka Horvat, Janez Jansa, Kate Mcintosh and Terry O’Connor.
A starting point (and conceptual anchor) for this publication was a monologue text first performed by Terry O’Connor as part of First Night, which was developed and directed in 2001 by Tim Etchells with the Forced Entertainment group. In the text O’Connor implores the audience not to think about a long list of topics, ranging from global warming to scars and scrapes, from rope burns and badly parked cars to badly managed hospitals and badly looked after gardens. Wrapped through and around this text are strands of reflective text, memory fragments, images and quotations provided by both Etchells and his invited contributors in the form of footnotes.
The book transforms one text into a series of others through the playful, disruptive and illuminating enterprise of footnoting.
In a footnote to While You Are With Us Here Tonight Etchells wrote:
It’s an irony perhaps that in choosing a ground for this work on the trail and trace of my practice over some thirty years, I would select a central strand in which my presence is already in any case liminal. The text which forms the body of this book, spoken by Terry O’Connor in the performance First Night – a project created in 2001, now twelve years in the past – is a text made emphatically in the creative frame of Forced Entertainment, for a work directed by me, a work that grew largely in the context of performer improvisation, and in which my input was (as it so often is in those processes) also made live and on the fly during rehearsal. In the making of the show, and of this text, I took the role of an off-stage prompter, an editor-cum-author via hand signals, single word interventions, whispered instructions, nods or shakes of the head […] Perhaps it’s also worth noting that in approaching this roadside moment of reflection on my work, I’ve opted to do so in a structure of multiple perspectives, tracks and traces. Working with Forced Entertainment, we often speak of both the working process and the stage itself, as meeting (or collision) points of different internationalities. Neither the work nor the company are spaces of utopian agreement; they are better understood as zones of permanent conflict and dynamic (if sometimes grinding slow motion) contestation in which meaning only emerges thanks to the sparks, frictions and confrontations which stem from each of our different approaches to the same emerging tasks or questions. The passages and fragments footnoting the text at the heart of this book, running parallel alongside it, invite a related friction, whereby the possibility of a unified voice, history or interpretation in relation to the central text from First Night, is implicitly undone from the outset. The First Night text, already a polyvalent object, with its origin between Terry and me within the frame of the group process, in the context of endless improvisations (in rehearsal and then in performance), is here circled, repeatedly interrupted, re-versioned and repurposed by a small group of invited writers, each arriving (or returning) to it years after the initial speech-act, each bringing his or her own memories, narratives and agendas, their own strategies for texturing, pointing, spinning and distorting the text in new directions or shapes.1
- 1. Tim Etchells, While You Are With Us Here Tonight, Live Art Development Agency, London 2013, p.135.