Francis Als: The Clandestine Way (Pedestrian Everyday Under CCTV or How to Walk the Path of Least...

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Transcript of Francis Als: The Clandestine Way (Pedestrian Everyday Under CCTV or How to Walk the Path of Least...

Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

Francis Als: The Clandestine Way (Pedestrian everyday under CCTV or How to walk the path of least surveillance) Paula Roush

-64 Coldstream Guards walk separately in the City of London entering through different streets and


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

unaware of one anothers route. -The guards wander through the City looking for one another. -Upon meeting, they fall into step and march together looking for more guards to join up with. -When a square of 8x8 guards is built, the complete formation marches towards the closest bridge. -As they step onto the bridge, the guards break step and disperse.1

As for all cultural practices centred on the everyday, Francis Als body of work has for many years been pointing to the question of how to deal with the social. In his case, the street and the city space have become the articulating points around which aesthetic actions have been performed, residues for an archive of the daily life collected, and a critical spatial poetic developed. But if there is one site expansive enough to study the everyday practice of Francis, it is the city of London where his pedestrian production took off for a five years project entitled Seven Walks. Walking as a form of social research into the everyday is at the core of the London project, and as a strategy that allows for the mixing of fiction and empirical observation, it has the advantage of always being a work in progress. Crucially, working in the citys commercial and financial centres raises interesting issues related with the problem of the everyday, partly due to the technoscape of surveillance and partly due to residues from other urban paradigms that coexist in ways not always visible.

In this text I will focus on a selection of these walks which culminated in an exhibition of all the collected material in an empty domestic mansion at 21 Portman Square, and a video installation in the Main Hall of The National Portrait Gallery, accompanied by


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

Francis book Seven Walks London, 2004-5 published by the London-based arts agency Artangel who commissioned the project. The publication positions itself between an artists book (with its emphasis on process and emerging typologies) and an artists monograph (characterised by the addition of third-party texts attempting to elucidate such practice), but of most interest is the unfolding of Francis working methodologies.

Everyday theory

The everyday offers itself up as a problem, a contradiction, a paradox: both ordinary and extraordinary, self-evident and opaque, known and unknown, obvious and enigmatic.2

In the book Everyday Life and Cultural Theory, Ben Highmore (2002), outlines the three axes common to theoretical approaches to the everyday. These are: firstly, the development of aesthetic strategies capable to go beyond the clich of the everyday to expose/ reveal/ excavate the familiar and reveal the unfamiliar; secondly, the everydaying of the archive which consists not only in enlarging the scope of what is traditionally archivable but most crucially to keep the archive as an everyday occurrence; and thirdly, the development of a practical criticism in attending to the everyday which translates into a set of practices that somehow reverse the usually ordering of knowledge in such a way that what was background becomes foreground, and the everyday itself becomes the subject of interest.

Challenging the everyday notion of daily life as tedious and meaningless, the critical


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

approaches to the everyday embraced by authors such as Georg Simmel, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau and the cultural collectives of Surrealism and Mass-Observation, became notorious for the methodologies they developed to research the unknown, the mysterious, the resistant and the revolutionary in everyday life. From this emerged a paradoxical picture of the everyday as a site for both the familiar and the unfamiliar and a terrain for research that appears at the core of Francis interests as well.

Unfamiliar aestheticsThe first level at which this reoccurs is precisely in the deploy of aesthetic devices and representational forms to account for the common and the uncommon, the proper and the improper aspects of the everyday. Swapping the safe institutional realm of fine art and academia where questions of aesthetics have been for the most part grounded, for the uncertain terrain of daily life, art and critical theory alike need to find forms of representing the multisensorial character of the everyday, and this means moving beyond an ocularcentric and rationalist tradition to locate the experience of modernity at a sensory and non-rational level that includes the auditory, the bodily, the unconscious and the phantasmatic, the repressive as well as the transformative.

It is within this first aesthetic concern that one can view Francis use of walking as an artistic strategy that allows for unexpected juxtapositions or defamiliarising situations, for example using the outdoor railings to produce sound whilst simultaneously poetically unpacking all the spatial politics involved in the segmentation of public space and the accepted standards for proper behaviour in city squares. This happens in the work


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

Railings (2004) produced in collaboration with Rafael Ortega, presented at Portman Square as a video projection of Francis walking with a stick in his hand and running it along the rails to produce a series of accompanying five sound tracks (Fitzroy Square 330, Sample I 140, Sample II 250, Onslow Gardens 140 and Park Crescent 340.)

In Francis words: The railings function as a kind of instrument, for example, a free-standing railing gives out a richer, longer sound than one grounded in concrete. The architectural rhythms had a lot to do with the choice of locations: railings/ column/ entrance/ column/ railings etc. By just walking and drumming a stick against it, the details of the architecture automatically generate a sound pattern () The city is a kind of interlocutor. It was just about listening to the music of the cityThe second stage was to build some kind of archive of all the different sonorities that the railings and the architectural patterns could offer, a kind of repertoireOnce that had been done, the logical step was to start playing with the instrument, to improvise, to see how far this could get me. 1

Trash archives

Francis usage of archives which is introduced in this extract from a conversation between him and James Lingwood (Artangel's co-director) brings us to the second set of issues problematised by conceptual approaches to the everyday- that of a methodology to collect and select the material to include in the archive of everyday life. An archive of


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

city sound, based on Francis drumming of the railings might include, as weve seen, all the variations resulting from the interaction between the architecture and the walker. Another suggestion for what an archive of everyday life based on the act of walking might include is the project A Personal Repertoire of Possible Behaviours While Walking the Streets in London Town (July 2005) presented as panels of text and photography. Listed under major headings such as To Take, To Make, or To Alter, one can find a list of behaviours related to the totality of the psychosomatic experience:

TO TAKE -to collect, -to steal, -to name, -to document, -to attract, -to look, - to ask, -to beg, -to appropriate, -to kill, -to touch TO GIVE - to add, -to salute, -to lose, -to bring, -to name, -to insert, -to spread, -to drop, -to pee, -to sweat, -to cry, -to shit, -to smuggle, -to caress, -to die, -to leak, -to fill, -to dance, -to tag, -to laugh, -to waste TO RECEIVE: -to hear, -to feel, -to see, -to smell, -to taste.

This perspective of the artistic practice as an archive of daily life brings forward the implications of dealing with not only the totality of sensory realm, but also with the totality of the material culture, including its dejects and in a sense Francis work has been punctuated by a trash aesthetics that has a lot in common with the daily practice of the ragpicker or the homeless, characters that he has come in proximity through several of his earlier works. For example, in The Collector- a piece which resurfaced as a set of postcards in 2001 at the exhibition Walk Ways (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art)the following instructions could be read below a photo of Francis walking a magnetised collector: For an indeterminate period of time, the magnetised collector takes a walk


Roush, Paula. Francis Als: The Clandestine Way. Dardo Magazine n.4 Feb.-May (2007) 138-155

through the streets and gradually builds up a coat made of any metallic residue lying in its path. This process goes on until the collector is completely covered by its trophies. Such methodological approach to culture, through what has been discarded, approaches the artist to an historian of everyday life, looking at the leftovers from a culture to get to its core.

In London, this interest for the rejected revealed itself in the work Nightwatch (2004), twenty videos on twenty individual monitors of an urban fox walking through the paintings of the empty National Portrait Gallery at night whi