Intimate fragments of language

Live Writing: Alice Butler feels vulnerable and on show as she responds to our exhibition. Focusing on a photograph by Emma Charles, she unpicks her own performance

Am I visibly writing, or writing visibly? What’s the difference? The cursor shakes: as does my body, open, vulnerable and thinking, in the space in which I have been invited

to write;

to wait for something to happen.

I am going to write a document of visibility, and intimacy – also speed – that will attempt to get up close and personal with the works on display. One of them stopped working last night – faulty and fragmented – like the feeling of writing contemporaneous with the clock. A lot and a little can happen in an hour. I am tapping the keys to the sound of a broken heartbeat. Pen and paper would be less synthetically noisy, more of a subtle scratch, slowly working itself into the grain of the parchment. I am creating phonetic loops instantaneously, my corporeal shadow looming across the screen. Ghostly.

No-one is here but I am on display. Visible words; vulnerable syntax: public body.


No-one is here but I am on display. Visible words; vulnerable syntax: public body.


This document is going to run in fragments, akin to the way I experience an exhibition first: in bits and pieces, and fleeting thoughts. Things will emerge to then get erased out.

Waiting for something to happen, an event in language, perhaps? A performance?


Palm trees are dotted about the room, anchored in plastic terracotta pots, as artificial and staged as the artists’ interpretations of digital landscape that are being presented. I think of Orwell’s aspidistras, savage and satirical.


The projector is running again, its analogue spasms a haunting soundscape to the twenty-four images that document an anonymous American landscape of mountains, caravans, meat plants and trees: on the face of it, it is autumnal and calm, seemingly pastoral, but beneath what is visible, it has been scarred and permanently changed by the presence of a private fibre-optic cable line – designed to speed up trading times between New York and Chicago. I decide to linger on an image, even though it is but a frame in the system. Time, like writing, is rarely linear, even if it seems that way in public.


Time, like writing, is rarely linear, even if it seems that way in public.



I feel like I am cheating, but then again, intimacy is more straightforward when it’s directed to one thing: be it person, object or image: fewer distractions.


Fibre optic cable: A technology that uses glass (or plastic) threads (fibres) to transmit data. A fibre optic cable consists of a bundle of glass threads, each of which is capable of transmitting messages modulated onto light waves. Fibre optics has several advantages over traditional metal communications lines…


The screen has an orange glow, like the cable pole that sticks out of the ground at different points in the Pennsylvanian landscape. If not quite sepia, then sort of a burnt sunshine, the glass threads making themselves felt above ground. The light waves sending messages on and amidst the landscape in which it has occupied and trespassed – violently invaded – like an assault on a communal body.


A man and a woman have just walked in; my body is merging into the studio’s equipment. The gallery is now OPEN. This is OPEN writing. I move about the space, hanging onto the keyboard; hanging onto the speed of language. (Not as fast as a fibre optic.)


The gallery is now OPEN. This is OPEN writing.



I am staying with the image in the middle of the sequence (a moving image of sorts) – and feel like I am in the room in which it documents. A dark border hugs the limits of the picture, the plastered insides of someone's home, that now I am occupying. I look out the window that dominates the middle of the image, a rectangle of natural light, which lies beyond the red glare of the room's glass nightshade.

This picture sums up what I am doing and what the artist is looking to document: the shifting tensions between what is visible and invisible, inside and outside, public and private.

The window looks out onto a seemingly banal landscape that flows from a slither of road to a football field to a line of trees to a grey shimmer of distant hills; it flows like the cable line that runs beneath it all, placing money on the mountains. There is no wind to make the American flag fly, but it is visible all the same, making its presence felt.


Alice Butler is a writer based in London, and a PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. She writes regularly for art publications including Cabinet, Art Monthly, gorse and frieze. In 2012, she was the winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize. These intimate fragments were written by her in response to the POSTmatter exhibition at fig-2 in the ICA studio, in a little over 60 minutes on the morning of Friday 24 July.

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