Boyle's notes to accompany the text
(1) Telegram to Mike Jeffries (August 1967).
ANTENNAE OF THIS MULTICELLULAR ORGANISM HUMANITY PROBE THE ENVIRONMENT NOT
SO MUCH ARTISTS AS FEELERS NOT SO MUCH TRANSMITTERS AS RECEIVERS COMMUNICATION
IRRELEVANT THROUGH INEVITABLE THE SENSUAL LABORATORY THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY
ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE RANDOM SAMPLES WE TAKE OF OUR ENVIRONMENT ARE DEVICES
TO EXPAND OUR ABILITY TO ABSORB BECOMING INCREASINGLY UNNECESSARY UNTIL
IF WE'VE THE CAPACITY WE BECOM EONLY SENSITIVE BEINGS TOTALLY PERMANENTLY
OPEN TO EVERYTHING WITHOUT THE FILTERING OF PHYSCHOLOGICAL SHOCK BARRIERS
OR THE DISTORTIONS OF INTELLIGENCE OR DRUGS DISCOVERING JUST HOW MUCH REALITY
HUMAN KIND CAN BEAR = MARK BOYLE =
(2) Article in Studio International by David Thompson
Mark Boyle examines in order to experience. The results are often exhibited
as art-works, which he calls 'presentations', or participated in by others
as a kind of performance, which he calls 'events', but that is more or less
incidental. He anatomizes experience, but not so much in the way of the
scientist or the philosopher or even the metaphysician (who examine in order
to understand or to systematize) as in the way of the mystic; to contemplate
and perhaps identify with it. Mysticism is such an abused and misunderstood
attitude to life that one hesitates to use the word. But it is the only
serious word that adequately covers the aim and the activity. The aim is
not to 'create' something, to communicate, to demonstrate, to define or
to discover. It is to isolate for examination. Boyle's activities touch
many areas where the principles involved - aesthetic or philosophical -
are familiar enough; notably those concerned with random processes, happenings,
environments, light shows. What is much less familiar is the way every activity
becomes part of a cumulative mental, or one might say spiritual, dossier
about experience as such. It is a gradual amassing of evidence about what
it involves to be a sentient being, evidence which is selective only to
the extent that it is impossible to examine everything, at least all at
once (Boyle's Sensual Laboratory, which is now a registered company, is
not only a kind of stepping-up of activity by expansion into group research;
it is an organization for keeping track of the activity). The aim, in practical
terms, is vast, quixotic and unrealizable, but it is the only meaningful
justification of the activity. The aim is a view, or an experience, of totality,
which (as I understand the word in its non-debased sense) represents the
romantic stance to the world - the stance which does not recognize boundaries,
which embraces rather than divides, which accepts but does not abstract.
It is bound, in the nature of things, to involve moments of heroic naivete
(the classic is never caught looking foolish). This is one of the essential
points (and I am beginning at the end rather than the beginning; it is not
one of the first points one experiences in the work) about Boyle's attitude
to his own procedures and the effect they can have on others. Being committed
to 'everything' means being honest enough to avoid self-censorship. He practises
an openness of response so lacking in self-consciousness (or perhaps so
conscious of the need to preserve unself-consciousness - we are all human)
that it is capable on occasion of shocking the unsophisticate and embarrassing
the sophisticate. I am not talking primarily of the kind of reactions aroused
by performances of the 1966 Son et lumiere for bodily fluids & functions
(microprojector images of specimens as per title, necessarily including
such items as nose-snot, sperm and vomit - disturbing less in themselves
than in the fact that they were supplied by the presenter of the performance).
There are subtler affronts to decorum. Total acceptance of experience or
of the results of experience can suggest such blanketing permissiveness
that values lose their value; alternatively, if all values are rated equally
high (as they tend to be: Boyle is an enthusiast), the promotion of them
could lie wide open to charges of sentimentality or suspect emotionalism.
It is because I do not believe either of these things happens that I talk
of the aim validating the activity. To practise any form of discrimination
in the activity would instantly be to sentimentalize the work, and the attempt
to avoid such discrimination is not only an intellectual and aesthetic decision,
it represents the profounder meaning of acceptance. Hence the fact, conspicuously
unusual in the 1960s, of a 'creative' activity which is almost entirely
about recording and experiencing, not about 'creating', and which takes
virtually undiluted, as it were unprocessed, natural phenomena as its material.
One of Boyle's simplest and most aesthetically satisfying 'events', in 1964,
was called Street. A party of people were taken down Pottery Lane, London
W11, one Sunday afternoon. 'The party arrived at a dirty back entrance marked
"Theatre". They made their way along a dark corridor to a room where a row
of kitchen chairs faced some blue plush curtains. Eventually the curtains
opened and the audience found themselves looking through a shop window into
the street'. Characteristically, this event not only punctures the expectation
of a 'performance' in order to direct attention to a perfectly good non-stop
performance to be enjoyed any time for the looking if only the mental set
is adjusted; it also begins to cancel out the artist as performer. Street
was a live-action readymade to the extent that the setting was a record
of the artist's selection. Boyle's eagerness to direct attention outwards,
away from the traces of his own decisions towards a larger, more compendious
and immediate experience of reality, has led him both to procedures of random
selection and to his reliance on natural phenomena. The way of finally 'presenting'
the results is still, as often as not, in the form of a performance. The
Son et lumiere for earth, air, fire & water (1966) consisted mainly of representative
chemical and physical reactions projected on to a screen with amplification
of the sounds made. (A development from this and earlier performances is
the now complex technique for the breath-takingly inventive and beautiful
light shows which Boyle has performed both by himself and in collaboration
with pop musicians such as The Soft Machine, The Cream and Jimi Hendrix,
and with the dancer Graziella Martinez.) The Son et lumiere for insects
& water creatures which opened the Destruction in Art Symposium in London,
also in 1966, joined a similar method of presentation to the idea of 'examining'
material from a randomly selected site, as had been tried out with serendipitous
results earlier in the year at the Shepherd's Bush Dig (circumstances conspired
in the Dig to emphasize that the spectacular as well as the nondescript
qualifies for the benefits of non-discrimination: random selection had lighted
on the site of a factory for garden statues). All the methods so far used
for selecting sites and then examining them (including digging, collecting
live specimens, taking surface casts and recording by photography and film)
will be brought together on a literally global scale, the ultimate in territorial
non-discrimination, in the project Journey to the surface of the earth launched
with the I.C.A. exhibition this year. The taking of surface casts is the
most remarkable of these examination procedures, and the only one completely
free of any subsequent need for performance. The results are not only beautiful
as aesthetic objects, as fragments of natural texture are almost bound to
be. The fact that the process removes and retains the actual surface film
at the moment of casting makes them particularly moving witnesses to the
role of the two elements out of which they have been lifted - time and change.
Inasmuch as they are simultaneously frozen images of reality and fragments
of that reality itself, they enforce Boyle's constant preoccupation with
a need to look beyond and experience more than just the image in isolation.
Avoiding any of the arbitrary fantasies of image-association that cling
to the objet trouve, these records of actuality, by the very scrupulousness
of their detachment and objectivity, start inching towards the opposite
of what they appear to record - not an objective but a subjective experience.
Boyle would not admit in fact that an opposition was involved. Experience,
or heightened perception and awareness, of the sort his activity sets out
to chart is necessarily a seamless garment in which all so-called opposites
are woven of the same fabric. Hence the ease with which his best work absorbs
in practise what can appear to be contradictions, or at any rate somewhat
ingenuous disclaimers, in his theory: disclaimers, for example, about the
role of wit, elegance, style and so on in what he does. Wit is a recurring
element in most of his work, not merely verbally, in the matter of titles,
but in the controlled effectiveness of certain of his methods of presentation.
It can, on occasion, trip him up, but elegance as well as wit in the idea
was paramount in his 1963 Queensgate event Suddenly Last Supper (an invited
group was given a performance, in Boyle's own flat, of projections playing
on a variety of surfaces, among them a slide of Botticelli's Birth of Venus
which was deliberately burned in the projector to reveal itself as having
been projected on to an actual nude in the Botticelli pose. At the end of
the performance, the audience found they were alone in the room, and on
emerging from it, alone in an empty flat from which the owner had moved
out, taking ev ery trace of his occupancy with him.) Boyle has in fact said
'I don't discard arrangement', any more than he consciously discards anything,
and he uses it particularly as a kind of instinctive expertise in handling
his material when he is involved with a sequence in time - that is to say,
in performance. The brilliance of his light shows is partly due to his skill
in the manipulation of climax, contrast and even the repetition, as in musical
form, of certain 'themes'. The ideal being total inclusiveness, formal procedures
are as admissible as informal ones.
(3) A machine invented by the Sensual Laboratory and patented in 1967 involving
a light sensitive screen that would do a three colour separation on anything
projected on to it and translate it into corresponding sounds, so that a
red shape travelling upwards would trigger a series of sounds entirely different
from the series triggered by a blue shape following the same path. However
the group were never able to raise the money to develop the idea and the
patent lapsed. They would be very glad to pass the technical drawings and
prototypes of the machine to anyone interested, especially if it meant they
might have the chance to use one from time to time.
(4) My ultimate object is to include everything. In the end the only medium
in which it will be possible to say everything will be reality. I mean that
each thing, each view, each smell, each experience is material I want to
work with. Even the phoney is real. I approve completely of the girl in
Lyons who insists that it's real artificial cream. There are patterns that
form continuously and dissolve; and these are not just patterns of line
shape colour texture, but patterns of experience, pain, laughter, deliberate
or haphazard associations of objects, words, silences, on infinite levels
over many years; so that a smell can relate to a sound in the street to
an atmosphere noticed in a room many years ago. I believe that the electric
stimulus given to the brain by these interlocking patterns of reality is
the same impulse - though for me by comparison they are luminous and strong
- as the aesthetic pleasures generated by brilliant beautiful works in other
media. I feel I must feed the concentration; that it is necessary to "dig"
reality, to uncover its infinite layers and variations, to juxtapose, to
superimpose, to use random techniques, to use emotions, even those that
are critically unacceptable such as nostalgia, to use them knowingly and
unknowingly, also to refrain from using them, to accept, to be open, to
classify and evaluate pain, to make a fool of myself, to laugh, to weep,
to glory in the strength of the strong, to appreciate the weakness of the
weak, to love my enemies.
ICA Bulletin June 1965
(5) The most complete change an individual can effect in his environment,
short of destroying it, is to change his attitude to it. This is my objective
. . . From the beginning we are taught to choose, to select, to separate
good from bad, best from better: our entire upbringing and education are
directed towards planting the proper snobberies, the right preferences.
I believe it is important to accept everything and beyond that to "dig"
everything with the same concentrated attention that we devote to what we
consider to be a good painting or a good film . . . I am certain that, as
a result, we will go about so alert that we will discover the excitement
of continuously "digging" our environment as an object/experience/drama
from which we can extract an aesthetic impulse so brilliant and strong that
the environment itself is transformed.
Control Magazine 1966
(6) cf. Appendix 20 Human, Social "Requiem for an Unknown Citizen."
(7) How can you ever stop, leaving so much unsaid? Maybe we have to stop
discriminating in favour of beautiful people, industrious people, intelligent
people, acquisitive people etc. etc. Maybe its natural selection to do so,
or maybe its censorship. But if we're to accelerate evolution, maybe we
have to stop discriminating altogether.
(8) Cf. Appendices 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 Mineral, Solids
(9) Cf. Appendices 4 & 5 Mineral Solids (The Tidal Series and the Snow Series.)
(10) Cf. Appendix 6 Mineral, Liquids.
(11) Cf. Appendix 7 Vegetable.
(12) Cf. Appendix 8 Animal.
(13) Cf. Appendices 9 & 10 Human, Physical
(14) Cf. Appendices 14, 16 & 17 Human, Social.
(15) Cf. Telegram to Mike Jeffries.
(16) Appendix 20 Human, Social "Requiem for an Unknown Citizen."