Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs
IMT Unit2/210, Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9NQ
28 May – 18 July 2010
Something wordless called me to this exhibition, the dry hissing of ghost tapes echoing sibilantly around the streets. As I entered the space, a portal reached out to me, bending space with cones of acceleration and deceleration. Plastique Fantastique’s three-dimensional diagram was charged with a subliminal feline Scientology spell. It pricked my skin with a strange energy, and my brain was infected with the parasite-thought of Burroughs’ reality-changing playbacks of tapes.
His other experiments with cut-up audio techniques include combining street sounds with news reports, morse-code with adverts, his own speech spliced and looped until new meanings break through, as if from the future or outer space. 23 artists and groups were invited to create work in response to these re-edits of the world, and although there were plenty of ghosts in the walls and ceilings, there were also more visual and physical ‘recordings’.
In the centre of the main room were two buckets filled with a dark liquid that suggested oil or the blood of a giant black centipede. This piece by Alex Baker & Kit Poulson was activated when a droning buzz made the floorboards vibrate, and the liquid shivered in kaleidoscopic patterns, hypnotic eye pools drawing you into their conversation.
In the gallery setting, old tape recorders became sculptural objects, particularly the orange painted machine used to play Simon Reuben White’s found recordings of a man sending audio letters to his mother. These could have been fictional, but it was still easy to get involved in his problems through the polite intimacy of his updates.
There were also visual collages, such as Riccardo Iacono’s jumpy images scratched onto film, or the ever changing montage of images by o.blaat that reminded me of Ozymandias’ headquarters in The Watchmen, where he divines the currents of history through a giant insect-eye of screens.
This exhibition is named after a Burroughs novel that was itself a ‘cut up’ of his previous work, and the pieces resonate with each other to create a virus in the visitor’s head, that in turn leaks out to merge with the stuttering sounds of the outside world.
Originally published on Interface