|Like the life in an apparently empty
drop of water which becomes visible when the microprojector is used, an
'extra-personal' point of view and a special way of observing makes seemingly
independent individuals suddenly merge to unity and appear as the cells
of an organism. Boyle is experimenting with such ways of observing, and
is also working on methods to present the Multi Human Being itself. The
programme for his Journey to the Surface of the Earth ends with instructions
pointing in this direction. In it, reference is also made to a Requiem for
an Unknown Citizen in which all of the observations on these huge biological
entities are brought together and presented as a single living, pulsating,
whole. He has provided indications for this Requiem in a separate text:
'Requiem for an Unknown Citizen is a random biological examination of any community anywhere. It is not a metaphor. It is based on the belief that the entire human race is becoming a single and enormous multi cellular animal, and on the conviction that every community, from village to metropolis, already exists as a multi cellular biological entity, with a skeletal system, a respiratory system, a digestive system, a circulatory system, a nervous system, a muscular system, an excretory system, a reproductive system, and an endocrine system. Although the Requiem is performed as a theatre piece, it is designed as a research programme to amass information on how these creatures (for example the entities Glasgow, London, or Berlin) survive, how they support themselves, breathe, feed, think, move, excrete, reproduce, and adapt.
'The performance of that piece in a theatre, a shopping precinct, or a backyard is a presentation of events that occurred in particular, randomly selected, places when the performers equipped with unobtrusive film cameras and tape recorders, visited at random times and for random durations various randomly selected houses, factories, public buildings, parks, squares and open places, canning factories, refrigerated warehouses, distilleries, shops, supermarkets, restaurants, churches, government buildings, theatres, schools, laboratories, radio stations and art centres, police stations, army barracks, junk sites, rubbish dumps, funerals, polluted localities, stations, reception centres, garages, hospitals, asylums, prisons, etc., etc., where the various biological systems of the community can clearly be seen in operation. The precise manner of performing the piece is in a detailed score, which can be obtained from the Sensual Laboratory and should reach the performers one month before the performance. But the information recorded on film and tape and video at these randomly selected places becomes the basis of a theatre presentation.
Necessarily, out of respect for the privacy of the unknown citizen, the films cannot be shown without consent, but a performance can be given based on the films. This may be a documentary presentation of the events, or an acted presentation in any style of acting. It may be a dance presentation, impressionistic or expressionistic, but it should strive to present the actual events, the mood of the events, the circumstances around the events as objectively as possible. The order and duration of the acted or dance sequences is selected at random. The intervals between are also random, thus, one night, the acted element of the Requiem could occupy the stage solidly for two or more hours and all the sequences could overlap with one another. Another night the acted element could be over in half an hour leaving the stage to the physical examination of the individual cell (i.e., the human being) and the presentation of the context of the unknown citizen, the ever changing elemental environment of earth, air, fire and water, insects, reptiles and water creatures. On another night the acted elements might each be only a few seconds duration but they might be injected, more or less evenly, throughout the show. The performance can begin before the audience arrive, continue after they have departed. It can involve the audience or ignore them. In one performance the audience might find themselves taking part in a funeral procession when they arrive, in another, as they arrive in the performance area they will see a figure on an inflated, transparent mattress set on a hospital trolley. The figure wears a mask and has an electro encephalogram attached to the brain. This person is sleeping and the breathing can just be heard. Once the audience have assembled the breathing begins to be amplified slowly as the house lights dim and spotlights isolate the head of the sleeping person with its mesh of electrode wires. On the gauze pulse the projected brain rhythms from the oscilloscope of the ECG. Gradually the various strata of the performance begin to get under way. These strata react to one another and interlock with one another, deliberately or at random, throughout the performance. They present various aspects of the unknown citizen - physical, mental, and social - in the context of his elemental environment of earth, air, fire, water, insects, reptiles, and water creatures.
The unknown citizen is a type of everyone. He can be that part of each one of us that is private, personal, unpublic, unknown. He may be the part of our minds that is unknown, even to ourselves. He could be a person alive or dead who perhaps has control or influence over our minds (maybe it could be a whole genealogy extending back into racial pre-history). The unknown citizen must also inevitably mean to many people the lonely, the depressed, the friendless. He is the man who despairs to the point of suicide. He is the unborn citizen. He is anyone whose death has caused in us a grief that for any reason we do not wish to share. Everyone is an unknown citizen and I wish to pay my respects.
'The general score may be interpreted as follows. The lines represent activities of intermediate length. The circles represent events at the beginning and end of activities. The various activities may be completely independent of one another, pursued relentlessly without any reference to other activities in the performance area, beginning, timing, ending, and ordering sequences at random. Or the performers may allow themselves to be affected by other strata, modulating and adjusting their performance accordingly. Perhaps in certain performances a director may integrate the strata, ordering, timing, and modulating them to fit his own conception. The total length of the performance is variable, depending on chance, the wishes of a director, prior agreement among the performers, the needs of the occasion, or the feeling of the participants during the piece. Any sequence may be omitted or modified. During the performance and at the preparation stage the utmost care and consideration should be shown for the feelings of others.
'One result of following the score might lead to a performance like this:
1. A stage set with three circular white screens.
2. On the right-hand screen a continuing performance of the event Son et Lumiere for Earth, Air, Fire and Water continues without reference to the other strata of the Requiem.
3. On the left-hand screen a performance of insects, reptiles, and water creatures continues throughout without reference to the rest of the performance.
4. Against the centre screen, a man and girl performing the examination of an individual cell of the animal Edinburgh for example, perform Son et Lumiere for Bodily Fluids and Functions, only relating to the acted element, when the sleeping girl is wakened as the ECG shows she's dreaming and she relates her dream into a microphone and the performers improvise variations based on her dream, while she and the man celebrate intercourse lit by the projected video image of the oscilloscopes of their heartbeats and brain rhythms.
5. A photographer, ignoring the rest of the performance, photographs the members of the audience, develops the reversal film and projects the slides on to a gauze and burns them in the projector so that the audience watch their own image appearing and disintegrating.
6. On the right-hand side of the stage with an array of chemical glassware and equipment, with various experiments going on, someone is amplifying the hissing and the blurping and maybe the occasional small explosion and with a mixer building a sound accompaniment to the performance drawn from all the strata, using the sounds of the body, of the animals, and of the elements.
7. (1) A group of actors or dancers present relationships, discoveries and events that occurred at a building (selected at random with a dart in a map) when, using some ruse, they went there and maybe the people were talking about the fabric of the house and locality. (Duration maybe 20 seconds. Followed by inactivity 7 minutes.)
(2) They present the situation at a randomly selected spot in a public park or open space, or football ground. Random. (Duration 1 1/2 minutes. Followed by 30 seconds inactivity.)
(3) They present the situation in a randomly selected restaurant, canning factory, dairy, or other food processing place in which one or more of the cast got a job for a while and selected at random the exact spot and exact time at which they recorded the presentation. (Duration maybe 4 minutes. Followed by 7 minute interval.)
(4) They present events that occurred when they selected, at random, an individual in a street and followed him with an unobtrusive film camera and tape recorder. (Duration 12 minutes. Interval 45 seconds.)
(5) (a) They present events that occurred when they selected at random from a list of many, one issue of genuine communal interest and raised the issue at local government level and followed and recorded as far as possible the progress of the issue. (Duration 7 minutes 30 seconds. Interval 11 minutes.)
(b) They run a clip from whatever film is showing at the local cinema that week. Random duration (8 minutes 15 seconds; interval 1 minute).
(c) They run a video of whatever was on TV at a randomly selected time. If there was no programme they just video the blank screen. (Duration 3 minutes 15 seconds. Interval 2 minutes 15 seconds.)
(d) They present the situation discovered at a local school, technical college, university, art school, selected at random. They selected at random a room within the building and infiltrated the building at a random selected time. (Duration 2 minutes 25 seconds. Interval 5 minutes 5 seconds.)
(6) They present events, etc., following a visit to the law court, where they selected an accused person at random and followed his case up. (Duration 15 minutes 5 seconds. Interval 2 minutes 15 seconds.)
(7) They present events that occurred at a randomly selected funeral, or the local rubbish dump, or the sewage farm or sewers. (Random duration 3 minutes 5 seconds. Random interval 1 1/2 minutes.)
(8) Events that occurred at the station, departure and arrivals, when the actors told everyone they were going away for a long time. Also the reception given to strangers. The waiting room (5 minutes 10 seconds duration; 35 seconds interval).
(9) Events that occurred at a randomly selected hospital or asylum in the district. Maybe one of the actors knew someone in there and followed up his situation with interviews etc. (15 minutes 35 seconds interval).
1. This might have been one of the results of following the score. But it should be stressed that the situation is almost totally flexible. The only absolute rule being that genuinely random procedures must be used to select the places, the times, and the durations.
2. At all times the cameras and tape recorders should be as unobtrusive as possible. Even when they aren't seen cameras tend to affect the issue, "The application of the meter affects the circuit".
3. At all times the performers observing the scene should be as unobtrusive as possible. Although if they can help, they should help, through normal channels, until all normal channels have been tried.
4. It's a multi sensual performance. It's meant to be performed in the forests of Finland and the villages west of Fez, as a means of ingratiating ourselves with everyone around. So it's meant to be a spectacular. It's not to be an arid doctinaire production. Wherever it's performed, it's meant to show the unknown citizen (and he may not be around much longer) as a vibrant being, a cell in a violently exciting animal that exists in a brilliant dynamic environment, because that's how it actually is. Therefore the actors, dancers, light shows, sound systems, etc., should come together as an accurate document and an electrifying experience because that's the kind of scene I want to know about.' (44)
What Boyle wants most to do is produce a Requiem performance for each of the thousand places of his Journey to the Surface of the Earth. That would constitute a fascinating summary of the multi sensual presentations, combining them into a single entity, a Gesamtkunstwerk, whose centre contains - as an all-fusing and all-explaining factor - the presentation of everything observed about the composite animal called the Multi Human Being in or near that place. His final note in the programme for his multi sensual presentations reads: 'Study with film and tape the nearest inhabited spot to the site. Treat this community (e.g., family, village, or city) as a biological entity. Examine the animal biologically (i.e., its skeletal system, its nervous system, its digestive system, its circulatory system, its reproductive system, its excretory system, its intelligence, and its unconscious). This material will form the basis for the performances of Requiem for an Unknown Citizen.'
The concept that humanity is developing into a single multi cellular animal and already manifests itself as such in many aspects of social organisations, forms the nucleus of Boyle's work and thus the key to an understanding of it. Only in terms of this concept do his widely varied activities acquire a natural coherence. It also in a certain sense resolves the paradox we found in his approach to reality. For the paradox of the inescapability of formulation in any attempt to impose the experience of reality itself disappears when every human being is taken as a cell of gigantic organism. On this basis external form systems are no longer needed to share subjective observations of reality with others and thus give them a universal sense. What one cell hears, feels, or sees can have an immediate effect on the other cells via the internal connections of the organism or via an internal communication system - for instance, a nervous system. When humanity becomes a multi cellular animal, even very personal experiences of reality will automatically acquire a collective meaning. Not every cell has the same function for the organism to which it belongs. Boyle sees the artist as a cell whose main function is 'to see, to feel' and 'to accept nature as he finds it', as Ruskin put it in the nineteenth century. The artist is the equivalent of an antenna of the organism. Boyle dealt with this point in connection with a request for a text from Studio International in the summer of 1967, after he had been chosen to send work to the Paris Biennial of that year. At the last minute he sent the following telegram from the south of France, where he was working with the Soft Machine:
'ANTENNAE OF THIS MULTICELLULAR ORGANISM HUMANITY PROBE THE ENVIRONMENT NOT SO MUCH ARTISTS AS FEELERS NOT SO MUCH TRANSMITTERS AS RECEIVERS COMMUNICATION IRRELEVANT THOUGH 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 BECOME ONLY 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.'(45)
According to Boyle, the multi cellular organism is now in the process of developing. Something of what can already be discerned of this development in each of the thousand places of his Journey, he attempts to record and make visible and conscious. For him, this is a way of abolishing the alienation inherent in individual existence, 'a means of ingratiating ourselves with everyone around'. He thinks it will at the same time contribute to an acceleration of the development of the multi cellular organism. He sees this development as of fundamental importance, because he has the feeling that the real meaning of human existence is manifested in it. At the end of his introductory text for the Journey he says: 'Maybe we should recognise the animal and recognise that the evolution of this animal could be the purpose that has to be discovered. Maybe we have to accelerate evolution . . .'
Now, in 1978, Boyle adds: 'I think it should be said that the feeling of optimism that emerges at the end of my introduction to the Journey concerning the evolution of the Multi Human Being is misplaced. I have no reason to believe that this development will be beneficial or harmful. Just as you can't say that the evolution of the brontosaurus or the maggot is particularly beneficial or harmful except from an anthropocentric point of view. It's not even particularly important, in my view. It happens. I believe it may be happening. Perhaps those who feel they should be alarmed, should be alarmed. Perhaps it may emerge that the most perfectly integrated Multi Human Being will be one in which the individuals or animalcules are as completely and totally individual as they can be.'
Mark Boyle was born in 1934 in Glasgow, and grew up with three brothers and three sisters. His mother was a musician. She created in her house an atmosphere that was full of music. His father was the son of working people and had worked hard to become a lawyer. In Glasgow he specialised in criminal and industrial-injury cases. He did his best to provide a good cultural education; for instance, he took a Workers Educational Association course on the history of art and passed along what he learned to his children via picture postcards. Boyle remembers liking to draw as a schoolboy, but preferred poetry, music, and drama. His mother encouraged him first in his poetry and later in all of his work. On Sunday afternoons most of the children went, rather reluctantly, to the Scottish Orchestra concert, where they sat in the Red Divans in a row near the Exit sign, which gave out just enough light for Boyle to read the book he brought with him to pass the time. The brothers and sisters were constantly putting on all kinds of plays and music at home. The performances were directed by the oldest brother John and starring roles were found for everyone. As we have seen, the theatre still has an important place in Boyle's life. In this respect his father's influence was strong. It was from him that Boyle learned how theatre and reality can coincide. His father showed his children how small intrusions can suddenly give an ordinary situation an extraordinary - actually theatrical - tension. This had great importance for the way in which Boyle came to use theatre forms. He himself narrates:
'Sometimes you'd be sitting with my father on a tram and he would start to talk about the clothing of the people opposite, or something. There would be this row of faces sitting opposite, all trying to be as blank as possible as they were jerked and rattled along. When we got on the tram I would look at them all closely, trying to guess which he would pick on. Usually it was the blankest person there - the word we used was "snooty". But sometimes it was some warm, friendly kind of person that just happened to be opposite. I suppose it didn't really happen that often, but in my memory, it was all my childhood.
'His technique was to start talking about their shoes say, or their hat, in a voice that was just loud enough for them to be sure they were meant to hear. Sometimes he would start very quietly so they really couldn't hear and then gradually get a little louder so they only very gradually realised that it was them he was actually talking about. What he used to say was whatever came into his head. All the usual things that people think sitting in buses and trams and tubes about the people opposite, but would never dream of saying. He had some theory that people became dehumanised in public transport or in big shops or big business offices and, although he never said it or explained it in any way to us, I think he felt that by teasing them the way he did, he in some way put the humanity back into them.
'It certainly used to embarrass people, and most of all it used to embarrass us. It wasn't so bad when he was talking about people's clothes, and so on. But when he was talking about some gent in an angry, black bowler and he would say, "Now there's a mean face. Don't grow up like that son. Whatever happens to you, good or bad, don't be mean in spirit. You'll get to look like that if you do. A mean face". He would go on to discuss whether it was just the expression that was mean or whether the features were inherently mean, and so on. Needless to say, inwardly we were twisted with embarrassment, though we learned to sit there as though nothing was happening. 'At the time I both hated and admired my father for doing this. The results were often extremely funny. But we though he was bullying these people. Now I realise that, from his point of view they were different from his friends and clients and these respectable sour-faced burghers were the oppressors. Probably he felt like an upstart among them and had adopted this technique so that people would never be able to make him feel inferior.
Anyway, years later, after we had studied Freud's theory of dreams, Joan and I started to create what we called "anxiety situations" on buses and tubes in London. They were very slight, just moments to put a little surge of electricity through a tiny audience. Joan, for example, pretty and petite, would lead me into a tube, a gangling, shambling monster. Sometimes I would bite a blood capsule so that after a while the blood would start to trickle from the corner of mouth and Joan would notice it and wipe it away in an embarrassed way. When the bus conductor came or the inspector on the tube and Joan paid or produced the tickets, I would explain to them and the people round about in a thick, glottal voice, "Ah'm her sick son", repeating it to anyone I though hadn't heard. Joan would then try to calm me and put her arms round me and hold me close and I, with flailing arms and legs and blood running down my chin, would gradually involve her in a passionate and torrid love scene.
'At other times I would get into a different carriage from Joan and enter her carriage a couple of stops later than she did, playing perfect strangers in which she was the respectable, petite lady and I was again a shambling monster. I would make advances to her, ogling, leering, drooling, fondling, and gradually intensifying my advances. The idea was to take it as far as we could go without provoking interference from others. But none of this was done as a conscious drama thing, more as a kind of challenge to see what would happen.
'Later, when we went to work in the restaurant, the atmosphere was very theatrical. The restaurant was right behind The Royal Court and was always full of theatre people. I was head waiter and, before the customers came in each night, the waiters would improvise a cabaret. The overtones of this would sometimes continue through the evening, so that while we were actually running a highly efficient restaurant, the jokes from the cabaret and the odd routine would continue through the night. Of course, in a way it was a self-protective routine because, when customers treated you rudely, you were able to pretend it was part of the cabaret. You would either pretend this rude customer was a stand-up comic or a member of the audience or a critic criticising your performance, or you could applaud him, feed him another line or boo and hiss. Sometimes two or more of the waiters would stand together exactly as we used to do in our cabaret show and pretend to be critical members of the audience, or actors standing in the wings passing comments on the way in which a customer went through the ritual of tasting wine, and so on. If a customer ever got angry, this was guaranteed to produce a row of waiters nodding encouragingly to him and saying to one another, audibly, but out of the side of their mouths, "He does it very well, doesn't he". Often the customers would join in. Being professionals, many of them were much better at it than we were. So you would get a situation where some actor, who only had walk-on parts at The Royal Court, was able to fit in so well with the game of shifting roles, that his arrival at the door of the restaurant would earn a round of applause from the waiters. Sometimes we would act the part of waiters, and for a night we would all by very pompous waiters, or rude waiters, or perhaps unbearably clumsy waiters, and so forth. On such a night, if a customer adopted an imperious tone, the waiter might instantly become a cringing varlet and beg the customer's tolerance. In a moment the rude customer might be surrounded by abject, obsequious, overattentive waiters hanging on his words and agreeing endlessly with everything he said. Alternatively, they might run up and drive off the waiter who originally annoyed the customer with harsh words and blows from their rolled serviettes. My particular talent, of which I was especially proud, was only used when a customer became angry. On these occasions I would stand in a position where everyone at his table could see my face while he shouted about how long the food was taking or whatever. As he yelled, I would gradually cross my eyes until I was completely cross-eyed. Usually his voice would tail away to nothing and he would leave a very large tip. But I would count it a very special victory if one of his guests would intercede don my behalf and say, "Ssh, James, I think you've made your point. Old Mac here isn't very well!" I would then fix the interceding guest with my cross-eyed stare, assure him than I was all right, and then obsequiously insist that the host was quite right to be angry and that was all I was really there for, and beg him to go on and speak his mind. This always produced a huge tip. No doubt time has exaggerated all this in my memory.
'I also had a performance I used to put on entirely by myself. It was as though I was a completely different person. I would set out to be a waiter - no - I would just not be conscious as a separate being. It was a kind of mask that I would put on, turning me from being an individual into a silent, unobtrusive presence that stood there more or less invisible among the tables and chairs. In this mood, I would fail to recognise people I knew perfectly well and would be completely impervious to attempts to involve me in anything except the efficient serving of food and wine. It is incredible to me that I still read in the restaurant columns in newspapers that this kind of waiter is regarded as giving what is recognised as ideally good service in restaurants. What the wine and food buffs actually want of a waiter is a man they never notice because he has dehumanised himself. I found it was a mask which enabled me to watch with increasing fascination the dramas that unfolded at my tables. My mind was outside the situation. I used to regard myself as a playwright and each table as a drama. The first act lasted until the food was served, the eating of the food was the second act and the rest of the evening was the third act. I found I was able to remain entirely outside the drama if I wanted to - letting the characters have their head, or I could shape and mould the show, bringing the first act to an end by serving the food at a moment when they were all cheerful, and so on. Provided I could produce, not necessarily a happy ending, but a resolved ending by the time I sent for the coats, I god a good tip. And that tip was what kept us going because the waiters, including myself, were receiving a basic wage of one pound a week each' (47)
Obeying his fathers wishes, Boyle started to read law in the University of Glasgow after finishing secondary school. When it failed to interest him during the first year, he left the university and went into the army in 1953. After two years, he signed on for another year. At the end of that year, he met Joan Hills in Harrogate. She had studied architecture, wanted to paint instead, but as a divorced woman with a child - Cameron - she had started a beauty parlour to provide herself with an income. During his time in the army, Boyle had saved some money which he hoped would permit him to do nothing but write poetry for some time, but when he left the army he went to live with Joan and put all his money into her business. He remained with her. They had two children - Sebastian and Georgia - and began to collaborate creatively. Since the early Sixties, her collaboration in his creative work has become so intense that in this respect the name Boyle must actually always be read as Mark Boyle and Joan Hills. He himself systematically says 'we'.
In the poems he wrote in this period he attempted to convey an object quality, to make impenetrable word constructions. Until, after months of studying Freud's interpretation of dreams, he could no longer set down a single word without immediately explaining the choice and meaning in relation to a self-analysis. This led him to work with series of randomly chosen words in order to restore to his poems the magic and density of things with an unknown symbolic value.
One day he borrowed Joan's paintbox and began to make paintings too, using expressionistic and surrealistic motifs. He also remembers being fascinated by what he saw on rubbish dumps, by junk, and walking these sites, looking.
In 1958, Joan had to give up her business. They took Cameron and went to Paris, where they lived for three months on the money from the sale of their furniture, Paris had attracted them because they wanted to meet Samuel Becket, whose work fascinated them. The meeting did not occur. They lived in isolation, tried in vain to find jobs, and when their money was gone had to return to England. All this time, however, Boyle had worked almost continuously on his poems. Once back in England, they found living quarters in London. Joan went to work in a restaurant as cook. After series of jobs, Boyle started to work in the same restaurant, first as dishwasher and eventually as headwaiter. It was in this restaurant that he created his absurdist events: theatre without a theatre.
At the same time he continued to write poetry and paint. In his poetry, chance structures began to predominate. When they became completely dominant, he stopped writing poems. He sought chance patterns in painting too, frequently by working with closed eyes. He became increasingly interested in the materials themselves, the palette smeared with paint, the paint tins and the brushes. These things became more important for him than the paintings he could make with them. For him they had aesthetic possibilities of their own, and he started to make assemblages with them. Joan had reached the same point in her painting. This convergence marked the beginning of their creative collaboration. In a certain sense the assemblages took the place of the poems in which Boyle had sought unceasingly for object quality without actually being able to realise it. In this respect the assemblages of painter's materials were more satisfactory. Soon he began to add all kinds of things, especially worn out and discarded objects - junk - which fascinated him as 'free, free to use'. At first, he simply nailed them to a board. Later, he used plastic glue to attach them. In the beginning he continued to make paintings with surrealistic motifs from time to time, but after a while he stopped that too.
In 1963 came the first opportunity to exhibit his assemblages. They were shown in the Woodstock Gallery in London and in the Traverse Gallery in Edinburgh. The latter exhibition formed part of the Edinburgh Festival fringe, and brought him into contact with Ken Dewey, an important figure in the world of the experiment theatre. Dewey was struck by Boyle's work, and in particularly by his ideas about reality and theatre. He proposed that they organise a performance together on the last day of the Drama Conference held at the Festival. It was a sensational performance, about which Boyle has the following to tell. Typically for him, he begins with the description of a memory from his youth, a memory on which, for himself, the performance was based: 'It was a bright day with a cold wind. I'm walking along Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Just around the corner by the Cosmo cinema I see a crowd gathered, out of the wind, around a man with the loudest voice I've every heard. This is a voice that drowns the traffic. I am twelve years old and I press into the crowed to hear what he is saying. It's the Scottish equivalent of the fascist National Front organisation. Some guy is anxious to prove his racial superiority. He is describing a bull fight. Suddenly a very small man a short way away from me, with a face like wrinkled, wee berry, shouts out a high squeak, "Have you ever been tae a bull fight?" The big man pretends that nothing has happened and continues his roaring over the trains and buses. But the little man insists. "Ah've been tae a bull fight and ah kin assure you it disnae go like that", says the wee man. "Ignore him folks, it's just a nut", roars the big man. "Naw" says the wee fellow, "Ah don't think you every hiv bin tae a bull fight because it's no like that". The big man gives a little sign and two heavies escort the wee man away. But, as the big man begins to roar his message again, I can hear the little man's voice as it fades away down the street. "Honest, I've been tae a bull fight. He disnae know whit he's talking aboot." The crowd begins to melt away soon after that, but I think that with the exception of Joan Hills and my family, that little man has been the biggest single influence on my life.
'Years later we are all sitting around in our tiny flat in Edinburgh with six eggs and a loaf of bread. We have an exhibition at the Traverse Gallery and we desperately need to sell one picture to pay our rent in London. We have been asked to put on a performance in collaboration with Ken Dewey and Charles Lewson at the McEwan Hall during the Edinburgh Festival There is a Drama Conference going on in this hall and our performance is to take place on the last day, which is devoted to questions like "Theatre in the Developing World" and "The Theatre of the Future" and so on. Many of the great figures in world theatre are present. I am very impressed to find myself standing next to Ionesco in a gents toilet. I tell him how much I have enjoyed his plays and how we record them when they are on the radio in the evenings to that we can hear them in the early morning when we get back from working at the restaurant. He is very kind. The things I have noticed mostly about the Drama Conference are the ways the organisers pretend to encourage participation by the public, but in practice prevent any member of the public from speaking. At one side of the platform there is a large blow-up of Cocteau's drawing or Orpheus, about ten feet high. Very sweet. At the back of the platform there are some blue curtains hanging under a balcony in a way that faintly resembles a proscenium. As it is a Drama Conference I feel a sense of expectation, sitting in the auditorium, that at some point these curtains will part and we shall see something extraordinary. At the lunch interval I don't have enough money to go to the restaurant and I find myself alone in the Hall. What can they be preparing behind the curtains? I find myself filled with curiosity. I get to my feet. One part of me says, "No! You may be caught and anyway it's much better to wait for the surprise". But my curiosity wins, and I find myself tip-toeing across the platform, through the confusion of chairs, TV cameras and microphone wires and finally parting the curtains. There is nothing behind, except some wooden panelling. I later discover that the curtains have been put there by the TV people for some technical reason. I feel a sense of disappointment and loss.
'Joan is heavily pregnant. She has about a month until the birth of our baby. We have Cameron (12) and Sebastian (18 months) with us. We have rented this tiny flat of the duration of the Festival. We have piled all the furniture in the little hall with the exception of one huge double bed that we all live in. As guests arrive chairs are taken from the pile in the hall. I didn't know it at the time, but some of our guests were quiet rich. They didn't look it. We thought they were the same as us. We are sitting around this one-bar electric fire thinking what to do. Joan is only able to offer them cups of tea. Ken is a wonderful person who is going to direct the performance. Charles Lewson is a brilliant actor. Ken wants the content of the show just to emerge. I want to present the Drama Conference itself as the content. Finally it is agreed that the material of the show will be the McEwan Hall and its contents, including the Drama Conference, the audience, the BBC tapes, etc. Ken decides he is going to direct using the spare channel on the simultaneous translation network. Everyone in the audience is already wearing head sets, so we won't seem remarkable. I want to include something about the lack of audience participation and the curtains. The discussions continue for several days, but eventually a pattern begins to emerge. The piece will begin before the audience realises this is it. Someone will be giving a lecture on the platform and there will be an interruption from a small man in the audience. The platform will try, as usual, to shut him up. But he will insist. We hope to get the audience behind this figure, propelling him towards the platform. Then a ritual assemblage of the Drama Conference will take place, building up to a grand climax when I will open the curtains and there will be nothing behind them. A few other decisions are taken. Alan Kaprow is to make a Happening immediately after our piece. The audience will exit from our piece straight into his. He wants us to work on the piece and he wants to work on ours. Also Carol Baker, a famous actress, has said during the debate on censorship that it is a tragedy that the censorship laws have deprived the people of the United States and Europe of the experience of seeing her in the nude. Naturally this has attracted considerable newspaper publicity. Inevitably a collage of the conference must include a reference to this. We decide to invited Carol Baker to appear nude in our assemblage. Ken has access to the BBC tapes. We decide to explore the building from top to bottom, to use everything in the building as potential material. Ken takes us all out to dinner. It's the most perfect meal of my life. The half dozen eggs and the loaf of bread have had to keep our family going for several days now. It's Thursday night and the performance is on Saturday afternoon. On Saturday night the Festival, our Exhibition at the Traverse, and our hopes of selling a picture all come to an end.
'On the Friday morning Ken sees Kaprow and Carol Baker. Carol refuses to do the nude act but agrees to take part in the show. In the afternoon and evening we explore the building. There is a kind of spiral stair up a tower, and as we climb higher and higher we begin to find plaster dust on the stairs and odd fragments of sculpture. With increasing fascination we climb the last stairs and find two large rooms at the top containing an enormous phrenology collection. Thousand of plaster head on racks, very neglected, many of them broken, cracked, or crumbling. Also there are various pieces of broken sculpture, including an enormous plaster head about six times life size standing beside a milk bottle full of urine. Someone has written in lipstick on the forehead of the state. 'BIG ED'. From then on our piece becomes known as BIG ED, and we decide to lower him from the roof on a rope during the performance so that he will look in through a window. Ken and Charles argue that we should put the entire phrenology collection behind the curtain. Joan is against this. She feels that when the curtains finally open there should be nothing behind them. I am persuaded by Ken and Charles, because in my mind I have a confused picture of the heads being a kind of audience for the audience and, at the same time, all these heads in rows at the back of the platform party that will make them all seem like relics of the past. Also I am hoping that Ken will take us out to dinner again, though I don't think he realizes our situation. A model from the Art school is going to play the Carol Baker role as the nude. Charles Marovitz from the Royal Shakespeare Company, who has an official place on the platform already, is going to do the initial lecture. We also invite him to join in the organisation. We find we can't possibly move all the statues because there are so many stairs. So we erect shelves behind the curtains and move a couple of hundred statues down. Nobody gets any dinner, but I manage to borrow four shillings so that Cameron can take Sebastian out for something. The arrangements go on most of the night because, of course, everything must look absolutely natural when the conference re-starts in the morning. On the Saturday morning I am filled with a mass of conflicting emotions. I am very tired and desperate, but also exhilarated because I want to see the performance so much. I realise that our performance is working out to be the climax of the whole Festival. In the evening there is to be a firework show and then everyone will go home. Joan Littlewood is putting on a piece in the morning and although Kaprow's piece is after ours, the fact that it's an exit piece means we should get the main reaction. Our exhibition is doing badly. No one is interested in buying pictures, though everyone says that it's the most exciting exhibition in the Festival. Nothing has been sold. As this is our first contact with people who are involved in the big-time art world, I try to conceal our situation. I tell Joan that if we let them know how things really are with us, we'll never see them again.
'The morning goes by in a whirl of activity. There is no time to eat anyway. I don't even have time to open a letter someone hand me. We have to lower BIG ED from the roof to a spot just above the big window. This window is behind the balcony which is above the curtains concealing the statues at the back of the platform. BIG ED is very heavy and, in the end, we have about ten men working on it. At the last moment Kent and Joan and I are exploring rooms in the basement of the Hall and there is one room that we can't find a light for. I reckon we should leave it, but Ken insists we should find a light. He says the darkness smells right. In the end we get a light on and we find ourselves in a fairly large cellar, one half of which is full of skeletons and other half full of extremely life-like wax casts of faces and various part of the human body in a state of disease. It is an old collection from the dermatology department of the University. We decide we have to use them.
'Quite suddenly we are performing the piece. Charles Marovitz is called to the microphone on the platform and starts to give an absurd lecture and the audience listens politely. It is no more absurd than most of the talk that has gone on during the conference, but it has the distinguishing quality that it is meant to be absurd. He is brilliant. He has captured very precisely the air of arrogance and conceit that has characterised so many of the contributions from this platform. Perhaps the serious presentation of nonsense requires such attitudes. Somewhere you can just hear someone interrupting. It is Charles Lewson affecting a high, squeaky voice, looking very diminutive in the vast sea of the audience. Marovitz ignores him and goes on with his nonsense speech. But Lewson continues interrupting with his shrill voice, and every now and then Marovitz makes little gestures to the audience as thought to say, "You see what I have to put up with". But Lewson is now standing on his chair and people round about him are shouting for Marovitz to give him a chance. But Marovitz goes on, saying he only has a few more points to make and then the audience are invited to speak. Lewson starts to climb forward through the audience, over the seats, stepping from seat-back to seat-back, supported by hands and shoulders, and all the time getting nearer to the platform and letting forth outbursts of shrill heckling, until the audience more or less lift him bodily onto the platform. Even now Marovitz, in the most overbearing way, refuses to let him speak. The audience are baying for Lewson to be given a chance. Finally, with a deep sight of bored resignation, Marovitz surrenders the microphone and, as Lewson begins to speak, the microphone goes dead and the whole hall erupts in noise and action. A shattering, cacophonic tape collage of all the speeches made during the conference, superimposed and jumbled together, blares out from all the loudspeakers with the constant refrain, " I love the theatre! I love the theatre!", as spoken by one of the aging heroines of the English stage on the opening day of the conference. But now it is repeated and repeated, fading away and returning, again and gain throughout the rest of the performance. Carol Baker and Kaprow are clambering about, doing what looks like a kind of avant garde ballet on the shoulders of the audience, and the huge plaster head of BIG ED appears looking in through the large window at the end of the hall. Shadowy figures of men appear at the roof-light windows of the hall, windows that are impossible to reach, and they knock and scratch to be let in, which no one can possibly do.
'A motorcycle and a horse are being raced round the perimeter of the audience. Across the balcony at the back of the platform a nude mounted on a trolley of one of the TV lights makes her triumphant progress across the stage, and men bring trolley loads of animal skeletons and dump them on the stage. I am so enthralled, that for some time my earphones have been off and I don't hear Ken cueing me for my next moment in the show. Then I hear his faint voice shouting in my headset, "Mark, Mark, please hear me! The collage!" Knowing there is hardly any time left, I run at top speed through the auditorium.
The people are now standing on their seats and everybody is shouting. I reach the pile of skeletons and diseased, wax human parts from the basement and start to nail them all over the ten foot high Cocteau drawing. I am so busy. I don't see what else is happening and I just get the huge panel covered when I hear Ken giving me any next cue. So I make my way to the back of the platform, the cacophonic overlaid speeches get louder and louder, the rope holding BIG ED breaks and BIG ED falls past the window to smash with a great crash far below, the audience seems to be baying and roaring and all the important theatre people turn towards me with bewildered expressions on their faces. Some are delighted, some angry. Ionesco winks at me. Then I open the curtains and reveal the row upon row of plaster heads. As I turn to the audience, I realise that they are shouting at one another. About half seem to be for us and the other half against us. Then Joan appears, heavily pregnant and serene, with Sebastian in her arms and Cameron at her side. She is pointing out to the children, the statues, a famous dramatist, Ken Tynan, the audience, a couple of critics, the TV people, and so on, as though they were all items in some museum of the future.
'As suddenly as it started the performance is over. Ken and I take part in Alan Kaprow's beautiful piece. Then I'm walking away with Joan and the children. A TV man comes up to me and says, "What does it mean?" I say, "I don't know, but I really mean it." He says, "I thought so". And the other are going to eat together. We're going up to the Traverse to try after all to borrow some money to eat with them. We desperately want to be at the celebration dinner. Just before we get to the Traverse, I open the letter I was handed earlier. It's to say that the Traverse are going to buy the largest picture in the show, 13 feet by 7 feet for £75. We all shout and cheer in the street and dance the rest of the way to the Traverse. But then we remember that the banks are all shut till Monday and we will have to touch someone for a loan anyway. No one wants to lend to us. It's not surprising, we're in rags. We go back to the McEwan Hall. They've all gone, but Ken has left a note for me saying that he's sure we must have expenses and enclosing ten pounds. I think he has known all along that we are in a very poor way, but hasn't been able to find a way of laying some money on us. It's very strange. We regard him as one of our best friends and we are hardly every going to see him again. We can't find where the others have gone, so we go, a little ruefully, to the nearest restaurant and have a feast on our own. Then we watch the fireworks and go back to our flat and fall fast asleep. 'In the morning we wake with a feeling of anti-climax. The Festival is over. The exhibition is over. We've made enough money to get back to London and to pay our debts, but no more. There is to be a film on TV about our performance, but we will probably miss it as we will be travelling. We have no food in the house, so we go out to get some breakfast. On the way up the Royal Mile we go to get the Sunday appears and I catch a glimpse of the new placards. They stretch all the way down the road. I read then in a desultory say. "SHOCK AT EDINBURGH FESTIVAL." "ROYALTY PRESENT AT NUDE SCANDAL" and so on. "Oh my God, it's us! Maybe I'll lose my job! And we might get put out of our flat in London!" We've got the main headline in every paper. Entirely without knowing it, we've started a major scandal. I begin to feel a little frightened.
'For years, the affair was to ramble on, with articles in the papers, campaigns against the Edinburgh Festival, cartoons, police prosecutions, and such like. In Scotland it was to be regarded as the beginning of the permissive society. And that seems very strange. Strip shows were fairly common in Soho, though I have no idea how far they went at that time. The nude, of course, was also well known in high art. You can't get much higher than the roof of the Sistine Chapel, where Michaelangelo refuses to conceal the genitals. The nude was also common in vaudeville at the time, provided she did not move. But there was some taboo, at least in Britain, about the appearance of the nude in what purported to be serious theatre. And I must say I am not aware of any play, ballet, film, or TV programme before 1963 which included a nude person. About a year later Peter Brook and Charles Marovitz included a nude in their famous Theatre of Cruelty, and since then the taboo has more or less disappeared. There are some desperate efforts to revive the taboo right now, and the initial enthusiasms to include an obligatory nude in every alternative theatre production and every film with any pretensions to box office success has wanted a little. But eventually the body will be naked where that is appropriate, without angst, without embarrassment, and without guilt!"
The girl who had appeared naked on the stage had to appear in court. The police notified Dewey and Boyle that if she was convicted it would be their turn. That gave them the idea for an Event for Judge, Jury, and Prisoner at the Bar:
1. The prisoner enters the witness box to give evidence.
2. He swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
3. He makes a serious and profound attempt to tell the whole truth."
However, the Edinburgh magistrate came out with a resounding judgement in the girl's favour, accusing the press of hypocrisy. So the Event for Judge, Jury, and Prisoner at the Bar was never performed.' (49)
During these years the experimentation continued with photographs, slides, film, and sound. After the restaurant job Joan worked as an editor of films, and gathered discarded segments from all the cutting rooms to combine into random films. When Boyle suddenly had to find new living quarters in 1964, they gave a final big performance in the flat in Queensgate they were leaving, presenting a whole series of experiments with combined theatre, light, and sound for an audience of friends and acquaintances. They called this performance Suddenly Last Supper. 'When were going to be evicted. At least there was no doubt about it. We had fought desperately, feeling that we had no right to expect anything marvellous to happen by chance if we were not first prepared to do everything we could to solve the problem by our own efforts. We had forced them to take us to court. Until that moment we had been model tenants, but model tenants are expected to go when they are asked. Our flat was so exciting. It was huge, it was in an exciting location. We had built a complete environment there, it was our studio, Sebastian and Georgia had been born there. They were still quite tiny. Somehow we had always managed to pay the rent on time. All our friends used to come round. Our very good friend, the actor Nicol Williamson, was staying with us learning this part for John Osborne's Inadmissable Evidence. It was thronged with people all the time. We had started to make light shows there a couple of years before. The rent was reasonable. We had been good tenants, and they had been good and unobtrusive landlords. Then shortly after we returned from the Edinburgh Festival, the landlords wrote to say they wanted to inspect the property. The man who came round was quite and nice. I took him from one beautiful room to another, I showed him my pictures with pride. He said nothing. I didn't quite like to ask him what he thought of it, but at least he didn't criticise anything. As I showed him out he turned round. He said, "I want you out!" He couldn't do that. I was breaking no law. I was entitled to make pictures there. I had been assured that the lease was renewable. I had always paid the rent. If they only knew. I had fought so hard to keep on paying it. And other people like what I did, people with good taste and influence, people that this man would respect. And what about the children? I had no money to get a new place. In fact I had no money at all. The sheer injustice of it overwhelmed me. I had thought he liked the pictures, I had actually shown them to him. It was just like being a child when my father struck me suddenly. It wasn't so much the pain - it was the surprise that got you. Michael White, a famous theatre impressario, recommended a lawyer. We went to see him. He told us he had a lot of artistic clients, including John Osborne. He said, "In fact, John Osborne has written a play based on me and this office. It's called Inadmissable Evidence". This was real shock to us. This was the play that Nicol was playing the lead in, and we knew what was going to happen. in fact he was visiting the lawyer's office to get the feel of the part. We had a very strong feeling of art and life just merging. More and more this lawyer seemed like the lawyer Nicol was to play. Maybe it was because our case was hopeless anyway, or perhaps we made it happen like it was in the play, any way that was how it seemed to us. And eventually when we turned up in court, a clerk arrived with the file and introduced us to the barrister. It was quite clear to us that he knew nothing about the case previously. In fact I believe that these are the particular skills you buy when you employ certain barristers. The skill of being able to complete the case without knowing anything about it. At all costs they avoid becoming personally involved in their clients sorrows. It's called objectivity. There were only two of three minutes before we went into court. He stood there glancing through the file and then he turned to us with a concerned expression on is smooth, porcine, shiny, pink porcelain face and said, "Why don't I try to settle this one?" I said, "How can you settle it when they want us out and we want to stay?" "Oh, I can get you a few weeks more there", he said. "But that means we lose," I said, "and the lawyer said we should win." "Well, I really think we should settle", he said. I knew he was right. This guy was never going to win the case. He clearly though that people like us ought to be grateful we were ever allowed somewhere to live. The case was resolved by the lawyers in a little huddle giving sidelong glances at us, the minor points at issue all being resolved, unjustly, in the landlord's favour. But justice has nothing to do with it. The administration of justice is conducted in the interests of the lawyers. Theoretically based on the "adversary principle", it is in practice based on the convenience of two men who are going off to have lunch together afterwards. They do one another little favours. This week one has an important client and he needs to make a good impression, the next week it will be the other's turn. So, by a process of perpetually doing favours to the one that has the important client, they ensure that the law remains firmly on the side of keeping the strong strong. So we were definitely going to be evicted.
'It was determined we should not crawl away. They might have won in the court, but I still felt that we could emerge pyschologically undefeated if we could leave the flat triumphantly. We were sitting at a table outside the Serpentine Tea House in Kensington gardens. It was very hot. Sebastian and Georgia were playing on the grass giving little cries. On the other side of the hedge a motor mower was cutting the lawn. The smell of freshly mown grass and the sunlight was intoxicating me. We just sat there, Joan and Cameron and I, and bought ourselves endless cups of tea and cokes and sticky buns and scribbled in a notebook the order of our going. The next few weeks were filled with frenzied activity. We had to find a new place to live, we had to finish all unfinished pictures, and we had to prepare the event. The piece itself was quite simple, but there were many ways in which it could go wrong. The plan was to try to get all the people that had been in the habit of dropping into our flat to feel our sense of desolation and loss at being put out. So we would tell no one that we were being put out. We would invite them all to a party. Everything in our flat would be as they remembered it. During the party they would be taken into the studio which would be cleared for a performance. They would watch the performance and when they emerged, we and the performers and all the pictures and all our furniture would have gone. They would find themselves in a dark and empty flat. That was all.
'And they came. One problem was that there were too many of them. The flat was as normal, and eventually, after they had had wine and a fish stew out of clam shells, they went into the studio where we started a performance at the door end so that they couldn't easily leave. The performance had to be strong enough to keep their attention while all our possessions were moved. The audience faced a screen made entirely of plastic shop window busts painted white. One this 8 foot screen Joan showed a random film she had made by cutting together all the junk 16 mm film we could find in the dust-blinds of Wardour Street. At the same time I was projecting slides and then burning them with acid or a blow lamp. The only lightening for the show came from projectors. Kasper ran forward and started to paint the screen black so that you couldn't see the image, then the screen was destroyed, revealing a second screen. On this I projected the Boticelli Venus. Someone was cutting the screen into long strips along the top so that they all fell away and showed the image of the Boticelli Venus projected precisely on the naked body of Anne, who was standing in the same pose as the venue except that she was smoking a cigarette. Behind her there was another screen. I started to burnt he Boticelli slide in the projector so the real girl could be seen emerging through the Venus. Kasper leapt forward and started to paint Anne black. When she was completely black, and was therefore destroyed as a screen, the burning slides and random films continued on the screen behind. Anne slipped away for a ready prepared bath. All the time the sound track was made from scratchy theatrical prop records of audience applause and screaming. When this screen was also destroyed, the last screen was a troupe of actors and dancers all white against a black wall. Lit only by the continuing projections, these actors performed variations on the theme of taking a curtain call. This was my cue to leave. When I got out of the studio found total confusion. Our pictures and belongings were piled on the pavement outside and stretch about 20 yards up the road. The show was due to last only for another minute or two.
Joan was sweeping the house out, and someone else was removing the light bulbs as she finished sweeping each room. I told the actors to keep going until they were told to stop. So they continued to canned applause, bowing and simpering, blowing kisses, curseying, receiving flowers from one another, moving off the stage and then running back on again to further canned applause. Meanwhile we were throwing our possessions furiously into the vans. Finally it was all done. Now only the actors and dancers were left. With a tremendous finale of waving goodbye, they pranced off the stage and out of the studio. The soundtrack had stopped because we had removed the sound gear. Only the film continued sliding in the gate and coming off its reel into the audience, projected out of focus onto a black wall. Outside in the hall the dancers changed out of their costumes and then discovered that someone had taken their clothes. Knowing we only had seconds now, I drove them out of the house, almost bare, clutching their costumes to themselves, across the pavement and into the last van. As we drove off I looked up and down the pavement. Everything had gone. We had to made a U turn up the road, and as we passed the house the audience were pouring out onto the pavement looking up and own the street in mystification. We resisted the temptation to hoot and wave, and disappeared unrecognised into the night.
'Since then I have heard many accounts of the event. Usually the facts are completely distorted. Maybe it was a Spanish artist or an Italian artist in Chelsea who gave a dinner with chandeliers and glittering silver, and they all went for coffee in the garden and when they came back everything had gone. But every now and then I happen to meet someone who was there that night, whom I haven't seen since and he runs forward and takes my hand and says, "Where did you go? What happened to you? I've never stopped wondering!" That's the thing that tells me the event was a success." (5)
It was also in 1964 that, in his event called Street, Boyle changed an empty shop into a theatre and used the street life as the performance. In the same year he organised, in collaboration with Ken Dewey and Charles Marovitz, a related street presentation, which was called Exit Music. ". . . the audience arrived for a performance at the Strand Electric Theatre. They were taken straight through the theatre and out the back door. There they got into buses and were taken off on a trip round London. As they drove along the road, various odd activities took place in the street and the bus stopped several times for set pieces in obscure buildings. Eventually the audience were picking out as performers the ordinary pedestrians in the street.' According to Encore Magazines, 'The audience, packed into hired buses, drove past the scene never absolutely certain where what they were seeing from their window was actual or contrived. As they continued their journeys, they discovered more and more happenings" in the street; all of these were, in fact, fortuitous. A fascinating kind of confusion ensues. Are we members of an audience watching scenes "laid on" for us or simply eye witnesses at accidental events?' (51)
In the same year, Boyle participated in the International Festival of Happenings organized by Jean Jacques Lebel:
'Our contribution went as follows. During the preceding item in the programme, porters came down through the audience wheeling trolleys loaded with what looked like sacks of potatoes. About twelve or fifteen to these were dumped off on a shadowy part of the arena. When our turn came, dim lighting came up and the pile was seen to be moving slightly but constantly. Gradually the movement became stronger until it was quite frenetic. Suddenly someone burst out of their sack. It was a girl. She was chained hand and foot. Other people began to escape from their sacks. They were struggling to free themselves from their chains. They were all in everyday clothes. The first person that freed himself from the chains immediately picked up a much longer chain. This he wound round everyone else, round and round until even he himself was hopelessly entwined. It was a heavy chain and most of us had to co-operate in twining it a couple of times loosely round our necks. At this point I noticed that one person had not yet succeeded in getting out of her sack. We had arranged that once we had the big chain round our necks, we would exit, carrying anyone who hadn't managed to get out of their sack. But, like all our pieces, it was not rehearsed; and now we discovered that, with the chains round our necks, we could hardly move without hurting ourselves and the people next to us. So then we discovered, without a word being spoken, that the only way we could perform the piece was for everyone to bend very slowly together, gather up the body in the sack, very, very slowly straighten up and then, with extreme care, taking tiny, cautious stops, edge our way towards the narrow aisle through the audience. When we reached the aisle, we had to reshape ourselves like an amoeba and then inch by inch creep out of the arena and through the auditorium. The audience was unaware that the piece had gone wrong. It ran very much over time, but somehow, perhaps because of the very real danger that someone might be throttled by the chain, it set up a tension that in some way communicated itself to the audience. Certainly they seemed to be enthralled with a piece that you would normally expect them to be bored by. I was deeply impressed by the impact that this powerful element of reality had had, not only on the audience but most of all one me." (52)
'In 1965 I gave a TV interview in a programme about theatre, in which I said, "The traditional theatre treats the audience like a prostitute. It is essential to the relationship that no real relationship exists. The audience has no say in the proceedings, it is allowed no feelings or personality. It has to take whatever you hand out." Later in the year, I was invited by Jasia Reichardt to put on a series of events at the old ICA in Dover Street. There was a huge crowd of people who turned up for the piece. We were pessimistic about the chance of involving people in the piece. At that time the English had a reputation for being extremely phlegmatic and reserved. Indeed I made a little speech to the various people who were helping to organise the piece in which I said that I was going to begin the piece in darkness by shouting into a microphone that we were not going to perform any event that might and if they wanted an event they'd have to perform it for themselves. If the audience came in, had a sniff at the various activities we had prepared, and then left, claiming that there was nothing to involve them there, then that was their decision, and that was the piece and we had to see it in those terms and most appreciate their decision not to perform. In the event, as the International Times described it, "The audience moved in and went beserk: they work projectors and tape recorders, performed on numerous plastic instruments, painted by numbers, smashed a piano, took scripts from actors, acted with them or directed the performance, danced with ballet dancers, edited films and projected them onto walls, ceiling and people, directed a film on the proceedings, controlled the lighting, jumped on trampolines, prepared a press communique. They decided to build a new type of piano out of the pieces of the old. It began to be the centre of the event. It was smashed and re-smashed, built and rebuilt as the piece developed a rhythm of its own and some hours later stopped suddenly with the gallery ankle deep in debris. The next ICA bulletin commented: "Owing to the overwhelming success of the first event, the rest of the series has been cancelled." 'I walked through life at this time in a kind of dream. The ICA was already overcrowded and there was a huge throng clamouring in the street outside to get in. Someone, I think it was that blonde guy who used to be the gallery manager, kept opening the main door to let well-known people in, but still keeping the main crowd out. In the end, they stormed the ICA. They came up fire escapes, they climbed through windows and eventually they just forced the main door and poured in. Somebody thumped the gallery manager and he fell down. The piece was now going full swing. Everything was getting smashed. A psychiatrist who was present said later that everyone went through a communal regression to infancy. They smashed the obligatory piano. Unfortunately there was someone playing the piano at the time. He had his leg broken. It was Nicholas Irving, a friend of mine. As we carried him to the lift he begged me to look after his music. He had brought one of his own compositions to play. I rushed back in. A tall, red-haired man was holding the music over his head in the throng. It was on fire. Someone had called the police. They came up the stairs, I was pushed towards them. I saw their eyes open wide as they looked into the gallery. I turned and saw it with their eyes. It was like a riot. I got them each a stiff drink and escorted them out of the ICA making jokes about modern art.
'Joan had an editing bench arranged. People from the audience were invited to select from hundreds of reels of assorted junk film, and Joan and her friends would then add them in the order decided by the audience to a film, the first part of which was soon being projected. The audience also shot their own movie of the event which went on a long, long time. Some girl was jumping on the trampoline doing a simultaneous strip.
'The rebuilding of the piano was almost exciting thing. The pieces would be put together like piece of sculpture. It didn't even remotely resemble a piano. I suppose this was the creative phase of the piece. Then a curious ritual began to develop. It is not possible to describe such a thing as having a meaning, certainly no none put a meaning into words at the time, and it's possible that my interpretation only occurred to me afterwards, thinking back. But it was as though they had communally decided that having built a new type of piano, they needed to find a new way of playing it. The sculpture/piano was at one end of the gallery. At the other end, they sat a man on a chair on a trolley. He held a long pole, like a lance. The trolley was about 3 feet hight. Everyone else formed into a corridor between the trolley and the "piano". They were all clapping and stamping rhythmically. Then about ten people would get behind the trolley, some of them holding the chair on, and it would be driven at great speed towards the "piano". When the man hit the "piano" with the pole he would go up in the air and crash among the audience and the pile of piano debris would collapse to the floor again. They would then rebuild the piano, finding every more inventive ways of assembling the rubble. Sometimes it was very beautiful. But beautiful or ingenious or whatever, the ritual would start again, the clapping and the stamping, the trolley would come hurtling down the gallery gain and the latest "piano" would be destroyed by a new "pianist". Everyone was clamouring for a turn and people from the ICA committee were trying to get me to stop the event. I said, "When you've told them they can do what they want, you can't stop them when they do". Finally one of the committee stepped out and shouted "This is a gallery".
'It stopped immediately. People appeared to be dazed and the gallery was full of smashed stuff. It was as though everyone was awakening from a dream. We put the rubbish out on the pavements for the dustmen. It stretched from the old ICA right down to the corner. Then we repainted the gallery and rehung the paintings of the current exhibition, which had been taken down for safe keeping. After that we walked home. It was about 5 a. m. . . . Somebody said, "Wasn't it a pity they had to stop it like that. Now we'll never know what would have happened in the end". I said, "That was what happened in the end". (53)
'In 1965 there was a kind of benefit put on for the ICA at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London. My piece was last on the bill.
"During the interval I had allowed a rumour to circulate through the theatre that there was going to be a party of the stage at the end of the show. At the beginning of or piece, with the curtain down, I spoke over the audience address system. "We would now be pleased if the audience address system. "We would now be pleased if the audience would join us on the stage. And to avoid confusion, would the audience in the balconies remain in their seats until the stalls audience is on the stage." When the stalls audience had all filed onto the stage, the curtains opened and I announced to the balconies, "You are now watching a performance by the stalls audience". I then went and sat in the stalls. I have to admit that it is possible, as Jasia Reichardt says, that no one was happy about it except Joan and I. But then we had the advantage that we were not expecting anything. I had thought it was possible that the audience/actor relationship was stifling for both. In the event, many people tried to get something underway, but it was always something concerned with traditional theatre. Some people painted flats like abstract paintings, other people did a bit of Spanish dancing, someone did a soft shoe shuffle at the front of the stage. Some hero even started to be a comedian. Other people just stood around looking embarrassed. As you can imagine, Joan and I found every little detail enthralling and indeed exquisite. All the attempts at action petered out because nobody know what to do next and no one wanted to be seen making a fool of himself. They were all so right, so inevitable. At one point the audience in the balconies and galleries were slow-handclapping the stalls audience. That has to be a theatrical first. Then someone on the stage took a spotlight and turned it on me sitting in the stalls. Touch.' (54)
'In February 1966 we sent our invitations asking people to attend the Annual "Dig" of the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology. They were to assemble on the steps of the ICA in Dover Street one Sunday morning. We meant the word "Dig" literally and also in its slang sense meaning "appreciate". But apparently most people had interpretated it another way which I hadn't thought of. They thought I was going "to have a dig at the ICA", which means to mount a kind of mocking attack on the ICA. most people came expected something like that, as my performances at the ICA had been banned, they also though that the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology referred to the ICA. However, we piled them all into trucks and cars and drove them off to a demolition site in Shepherd's Bush which I knew was the site of an ornamental garden statue factory that had been burnt down a short time before. We put them to work on the site digging inside a roped-off square. It was rather cold and I was fairly relived when someone found a statue after about 20 minutes. This galvanised the whole party into activity. Everybody got in then and dug with a will. To avoid police aggravation I had asked friends with film cameras to come as though it was rather cold and I was fairly relived when someone found a statue after about 20 minutes. This galvanised the whole party into activity. Everybody got in then and dug with a will. To avoid police aggravation I had asked friends with film cameras to come as though it was an episode in a picture that we were shooting. In fact, they had film in their cameras, so the whole piece was recorded. In the course of the afternoon we excavated hundreds of broken statues, moulds and tools from the ornamental garden statue factory. Also we collected a large number of other items, sinks, bottles, cans, a large collection of printing blocks used in advertising the porcelain filters that were apparently made in this factory as well, and a bundle of newspapers circa 1965 that we are only just how beginning to open and separate for examination.
'The next day a second party worked on a site selected at random in the Watford area. This turned out to be an allotment garden, where we gathered, for example, a string of cans, lampshades and rags used to keep birds off seeds, ornamental iron bedheads used for training climbing plants, a more traditional scarecrow, tins of sea-shells, broken tools, and so on. both collections were later exhibited." ((55)
In Shepherd's Bush, too, on a demolition site near the Norland Road, the first random studies of pieces of the surface of the earth were made. Boyle had begun to find his assemblages less and less satisfying. They involved too much composition and construction. He tried to find a method for pinning down things indicated by chance. One day early in 1964 he came across the empty frame of an old TV set. He started by holding this frame over different spots and discovered that each framed spot, without exception, was equally fascinating. The same thing happened when he simply threw the frame. This experience provided him with a method for making realistic random assemblages.
1. Make a frame for aboard found on the site.
2. Throw the frame across the site.
3. With a grid system, transfer and fix down on the board all material found within the frame.' (56)
The method was still primitive. Since only unattached things could be transferred, Boyle applied it on the same demolition site, which was covered with loose things, junk. This too was a drawback. When the loose surface material was fastened down it evoked associations with dadaism, from which it was already far removed because of the exact realism. For Boyle, much more than junk was involved: "I was never particularly involved with the conceptual gesture of using what others rejected. I was interested in using everything, but at that time junk was all that was materially and technically available to me." (57)
But soon he developed his specific method to take the entire surface of a spot and fix it exactly on a base. He was now no longer restricted to demolition sites, and he decided to select his places randomly by hanging a map of the Shepherd's Bush area on the wall and throwing darts at it. The size of the spots was determined by practical considerations related to transport and exhibition. At this time he also began a series of random studies at Camber beach:
'A series of studies in the Shepherd's Bush area of London, at first, transitionally on boards found near the site, eventually on square boards of pre-determined size. The size was dictated by the amount of wall space available.
This series included sites on the street, roof tops, banks of the river Thames and public parks. A further series included random sites on the beach and dunes at Camber Sands, near Rye, in Sussex. Presentations from both these series were exhibited at the Indica Gallery in London in 1966 for which the poster consisted of a sheet of white paper from which a square was cut out 13 1/2 inches by 13 1/2 inches with the words "Presentation by Mark Boyle" printed underneath. Throughout the exhibition these posters were given free to the public to put over whatever they pleased.'
In the catalogue of the Indica Gallery exhibition Boyle wrote: 'I am not trying to prove any thesis and when one is concerned with everything, nothing (or for that matter anything) is a fair sample. I have tried to cut out of my work any hint of originality, style, super-imposed design, wit, elegance, or significance. If any of these are to be discovered in the show then the credit belongs to the onlookers.'
In connection with this exhibition, Jasia Reichardt published an article on Boyle in the October, 1966, number of Studio International, in which she wrote:
'Among the manifestations based on chance during the past ten years, including those of Mathieu, Dali, Monzoni, Klein and Burroughs, the alcatory systems applied to interpretations of concrete poetry, musical composition and transformable works of art, one of the most interesting and moving solutions has been that reached by Mark Boyle. The essential attitude at the basis of his activities is the total acceptance of results which these provoke... The presentations which Boyle started working on in 1965 deal with yet another type of exploration of chance. These consist of real street, beach and bomb site surfaces, permanently fixed with plastic... and shown vertically, i.e. hanging on the wall. The only deliberate act of transformation in this procedure is the placing of a horizontal surface vertically. The presentations are made as follows: with his house as the centre, Boyle has chosen a strip of London, approximately one mile wide and extending one mile north and one mile south of Shepherd's Bush. This strip cut out of a map, scale fifteen inches to the mile, hangs on a wall in his studio. The selection of a site is made by throwing a dart at the map. When the site is located as exactly as possible, Boyle throws down a rod which represents a pre-determined side of the picture, and thus the exact area is established... Boyle aims at making as perfect a presentation of a given area as possible. Ideally there should be no difference. Several points of great interest emerge from Mark Boyle's recent work.... The viewer is presented with images which are intensely lyrical and aesthetic, although these qualities are as unintentional as any other effect which they create. The relationships of leaves, cigarette butts, bricks and shells are there by virtue of being isolated from their general environment. The process employed discards both art conditioning and anti-conditioning it runs parallel to conscious attitudes to what art is or is not, should or should not manifest. If one finds the lack of such attitudes permissive and lacking in heroic declaration, then a whole sphere of creative activity as yet unexplored will be cut off from one's experience. Seeing Boyle's presentations in a gallery, one accepts them as an art experience but what in fact happens is that the spectator is invited to look at something in a way to which he is not accustomed to respond to and examine nature in a critical way.'
As we have seen, 1966 was also the year of the first large-scale performances of Boyle's Son et Lumiere programmes in Liverpool, Bristol, and London. He had entered the world of rock culture and decided to incorporate his activities in a Sensual Laboratory.
'We had made some films and the film laboratories would find it all much easier to process our films if we were a limited company. There was some discussions about whether it should be the Sense Laboratory or the Sensual Laboratory. I finally came down on the side of Sensual. Both titles had the meaning of a laboratory of the senses, but sensual also conveyed an idea of rapture, sensuousness, and a kind of earthly carnality. It meant delicious and it was all to do with feeling. Besides it had a certain amount of razzamatazz, and I felt that if we were going to operate in this new rock culture we ought to commit ourselves to it with the name we chose. But the argument for and against Sensual is opposed to Sense Laboratory showed a dichotomy of intention, which to my mind was never really resolved in our theories, but on in our work, where it seemed to me that the more intellectually correct we were, the more I was overwhelmed with sensuous pleasure in looking at it.'
In this period Joan was not only making films and involved in all the activities but also developed a project of her own within the Sensual Laboratory: Seeds for a random garden.
Meticulously selected at random, without the slightest consideration for beauty, utility, edibility, scent, or horticultural interest, we are now able to offer from various random sites and from the Sensual laboratory's random nurseries in the Hebrides, London, Norfolk and Sussex.
Seeds for a random garden
RANDOM HARVEST. Seeds collected periodically from a series of squares selected with a dart, thrown blindfold into a large scale map, and a square frame thrown down on the spot in such a way that no personal selection, conscious or unconscious, could operate. Series Commenced 1966.
HARVEST FALLOUT. 30 empty seedboxes put out by Joan Hills in London random nursery on 1st October, 1969 were brought in, one each day throughout October. Any seeds were packeted.
BLOWN SEEDS. A fine mesh net was hung vertically in the London random garden and periodically the seeds caught in the mesh, or in the collection trough below, were collected and packeted.
WATERBOURNE SEEDS. A net of fine mesh was placed in various (randomly selected) areas of water (lake pond and sea). It was taken up at intervals and examined for seeds (Autumn 1969).
NOTTING HILL HARVEST FESTIVAL. Seeds from one of a hundred sites selected at random from the Notting Hill/Shepherds Bush area of London.
URBAN GLEANINGS. Seeds collected following various routes during which Joan Hills would stop at pre-determined intervals and gather a seed from the nearest plant (continuing series).
SEEDMANS MEDLEY. For this Medley Joan Hills bought one of each packet of seeds stocked by a local seedsman mixed them together and then divided and packeted them.
FROM THE RANDOM NURSERIES. Random selections from the Sensual Laboratory's random nurseries in London, Sussex, Norfolk and the Hebrides.
FORTHCOMING Earthprobe. Collections of seeds from each of 1000 sites selected at random from the surface of the earth.
A SEED FOR JOAN'S GARDEN. Members of the public attending the openings of Journey to the surface of the Earth exhibitions will be admitted on production of a seed for Jan's garden. These seeds will be divided randomly and packeted.
Seeds may be planted in sterilized earth in pots of seed boxes or planted out (under glass initially) in beds of sterilized earth. Seeds may be sown on a square site selected at random from any area. Seeds may be scattered at random from the air. Random seeds will be planted on each of the 1000 sites of journey to the surface of the Earth packets of seeds are available in exchange for contribution to the funds of the Sensual Laboratory. Amount to be chosen at random by donor.
In 1967 came the many performances with the Soft Machine at UFO and elsewhere. At the same time, Boyle was working very hard on his presentations of random surfaces, which in the same year received the first prize for painting at the Paris Biennial. A high point of the collaboration with the Soft Machine was the big tour of the USA and Canada in 1968. A high point of the showing of his surface presentations was a big exhibition in the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in the spring of 1969. During this exhibition he also put on several events, in one of which he attempted to approach and present the surface of the human body in the same way as the surface of the earth. He had developed a detailed programme for this purpose: Skinchart for Body work, 1969
He attempted to approach and present the surface of the human body like the surface of the earth.
1. When the audience arrives the performer is lying on the table.
2. A member of the audience is blindfolded.
3. A photograph is displayed of the naked body of the performer showing his body from the front, the back, both sides, from above, and from below.
4. The blindfolded member of the audience is incited to throw a dart at the unknown target (i.e., the photograph).
5. When the dart strikes the figure in the photograph the corresponding part of the body of the performer is exactly located.
6. Photographs, X-rays, sound recordings, and electricity readings are made of the spot.
7. A square millimetre of skin is removed from the spot. It examined in a microprojector.
8. Any blood is examined in the microprojector.'(61)
In the exhibition itself Boyle showed not only parts of his light shows but also many studies from his London series, a new project he had started that January:
'A series of 100 studies, taking the actual surface, the earth, the moss, the grit, the pebbles, the grass, the film of dust, etc. that coats everything and reproducing as exactly as possible the undersurface, in the Notting Hill/Shepherd's Bush are of London began in 1967. The sites were selected as before, but the area was a little different, so that their flat was more or less central to the area. The area was also chosen to include a very varied cross-section of London. A number of studies from this series were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, during an Exhibition to launch the Journey to the Surface of the Earth.'
The hundred randomly selected places in London were still too specific for Boyle. He realised that if he was really interested in every arbitrary place, he would have to extend his scope to include the whole world. This lead to the idea of the World Series, the thousand places of his Journey, which had been preceded by the idea of the Multi Human Being, about which he had telegraphed in the summer of 1967. Working from that central idea, he had begun to interrelate his different activities more and more closely. He now titled them as chapters of an all-embracing investigation: Mineral Solids, Mineral Liquids, Vegetable, Animal, Human Physical, Human Social, and so on. These chapters were then combined in the programme of the multi sensual presentations of his Journey, which we can see as a voyage to explore the Multi Human Being and its environment. He hoped that the results of this exploratory journey would manifest themselves not only in exhibitions but also in performances of his Requiem for an Unknown Citizen, which he had been working on since 1967 and had become performable around 1969.
November, 1969, saw the realisation of the impressive Tidal Series, and in the following December he completed two Snow Studies. 'A series of studies of snow planned when snow covered the beach at Camber while the Tidal Series was being finished in December 1969. The sites for the snow series were selected at random by Cameron Hills (Joan Hills' son) who shot six arrows across the dunes. Two of the arrows were lost and two of the sites were damaged during the process, so only the remaining pair of sites were completed. The studies were made to show the surface features, but the snow from each site was gathered and when it had melted was bottled with the idea that it would be reconstituted as snow by passing it, atomised, through liquid nitrogen and then presenting it in a thin, refrigerated compartment behind a transparent cast of surface form. Unfortunately expense has made this impracticable for the time being.'
The Tidal Series and the Snow Studies formed, together with many of the completed studies from the London Series, the main content of a big exhibition held in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague in 1970. This exhibition was of special importance, because one of the thousand darts shot at the map of the world had landed near The Hague. Just before the opening of the exhibition, the exact site was determined and an earthprobe of the surface was made. In the company of the many studies, the surface was shown in The Hague as the first concrete result of the Journey to the Surface of the Earth.
As part of the exhibition in The Hague, a book on Boyle was published by edition hansjrg mayer. This book began characteristically with a manual and atlas for the Journey and ended with a description of the Requiem for an Unknown Citizen. After a couple of abortive attempts, Boyle gave the first performance of the Requiem in a theatre called De Lantaren in Rotterdam in 1971. This performance was about the multi cellular animal London, because at the time that was the one he had accumulated the most material on:
'We were to give the first performance of this show at a festival in Berlin. We seemed to have been making preparations for years. In the first place we re-classified the Classified London Telephone Directory allocation each entry a place within the nervous system, the reproductive system, the muscular system, the digestive system and so on. Then we selected situations from each system and filmed them at 2 frames per second. At the same time we recorded the sounds being made at the time including the human speech. In this way we had 100 ft. of film on each site (shooting time 30 minutes approx., projecting time 24 frames per second approx. 2 1/2 minutes). We had a tape of 30 minutes. With an analysis film projector we were able to show the film at its original speed. So we gathered our friends and arranged for them to act 2 1/2 minutes in the time of the original events, so that we could show the speeded up film on the screen and have the actors perform in front of it a detail from the film in the time of the original events. At the same time would play the appropriate 2 1/2 minutes of the tape. Thus in one sequence you had people going in and out of a telephone kiosk on the film performed by the actors with every entrance and exit, every sigh and impatient glance and every tap of the foot accurate to the sound of a taped conversation between two girls (obtained by deciding to record the first crossed line we had). We separated and intermingled these sequences with performances of Earth, Air, Fire and Water and Bodily Fluids and Functions produced by members of the cast who were not acting in the next scene.
'We rehearsed the show at the Henie-Onstad centre in Oslo during an exhibition of ours. Because of organisational problems at the Berlin Festival the first performance took place a few days later at De Lantaren in Rotterdam. It seemed to be, as usual, a success with the audience, but not really with most of the press. One young critic however said it was most exciting to be present at the first performance of a completely new kind of theatre. The audience, to our great surprise applauded wildly. We were not accustomed to this, but felt it was probably due to the Dutch politeness. However most of the audience stayed on afterwards and the discussion raged for hours. Many people felt that the scene in the snackbar could not have been random, because it was so like the plays of Harold Pinter. We knew there was no way it could have been faked. We had been in this snackbar, filming. As a cover we had pretended to be making a film outside. Then having checked the light reading inside the snackbar and with a fixed focus lens (wide angle) we entered the snackbar and the camera down on a table already silently running at 2 frames per second. Suddenly a cup of tea with an egg roll on a plate on top of it filled the screen. An old man could be seen sitting down behind it. He took the plate off the cup and the took the roll off the plate. He squashed the roll between his hands to flatten the egg. Then he took a great bite out of the roll and began to speak "There's trouble at our place, today", he said, "All those buggers have been thieving money out of the gas meters". The he started into a fantastic Pintersque monologue. I pointed out that the graveyard scene was as remarkable. We filmed the scene from the top of a 15 storey tower block overlooking the cemetery. Some men were digging a grave. We found a way to leave a concealed microphone and when we had finished filming we went down and showed the men the film and the tape and asked their permission to use it. As usual they were pleased, but asked to hear the tape. We were very excited to hear it ourselves so we all sat down with our feet dangling in the grave and listened. It was totally Shakespearean. They were talking about their favourite TV comedians. I said I don't think this proves our show was faked. It shows that Shakespeare and Pinter are great writers.'(64)