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Feature: Alexander Hetherington - The season begins with a terrible thud

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

By Alexander Hetherington

The season begins with a terrible thud, and the smell of haste and rejections.

Fantasy in the Hold, by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney HAPTICALITY, OR LOVE

“Hapticality, the capacity to feel though others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you, this feel of the shipped is not regulated, at least not successfully, by a state, a religion, a people, an empire, a piece of land, a totem.” (No date from PDF file)

Haytham El-Wardany’s How to Disappear, 2014 and The Book of Sleep, 2017 (delayed in its re-publishing at least six times since January 1 2020)

How to Change Your Frequency, page 36 from How to Disappear. “Changing your frequency means repositioning the point that represents your natural state on a tuner for which the spontaneity of the present moment forms one extreme and the poeticism of daydreams forms the other. The key to doing this lies in adjusting your distance from non-present interlocutors. The stronger your connection with them, the weaker your frequency, the more tenuous your attention, and the closer your speech to the domain of dreams. The weaker your response to them and the more you focus on the present moment, the stronger your frequency and the more your speech is conjoined to the reality of the present.”

The work is Untitled (Eclectic poison), 2020, which refers to “the experience of the unseen listener", but also to a queer and trans hapticality. Intermission, 16mm, colour, silent, 5 mins 39 secs but which also includes double-exposed colour 35mm, colour 35mm reversal and 35mm 500T motion picture stock images. Thank you to artist Morwenna Grace Kearsley. Dedicated to the San Francisco based artist Cheryl Meeker.

Placeholders, a proxy, a substitution, many delays.

An awareness of sound and vivid dreams. Now Eleanor’s Idea by Robert Ashley, The Airline Ticket Counter (Scene 2) from Improvement, 1985 by Robert Ashley and Tap Dancing in the Sand, 2007 by Robert Ashley. She Was A Visitor, 1967 appears on this collection, it is also the name of a work by Gail Pickering from the installation Near Real Time presented at BALTIC in 2014, I think, or thereabouts and which I screened as part of my performative screening/reading: “The singer has once more risen above the object of his song”, 2017 as part of Ulay’s retrospective at Cooper Gallery, curated and organized by Sophia Hao. (“A tap dancer stands in for Giordano Bruno”)

Daisies. Sedmikrásky, 1966. Věra Chytilová. Flowers. Using flowers as way to misbehave. A final set of images for IG, produced during the circumstance of lockdown, now that we are all pretending everything has gone back to normal, so thoughts on poisoned margins, infiltrated edges, inescapable penetration, succumbing, contamination on the periphery, tinted by illness, I thought about the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957 and the strange, glittery mist that consumes him as he begins to disappear: rings, clothes, voices, all evidence, all materials become burdens. I really like working with 35mm motion picture stock this way and its resilience to generate such delicate images. #16mm #35mm #daisies #incredibleshrinkingman #glitterasaprotest #allowyourselftodisappear #habits

- a massive thanks to Nik and Trick Photography in Folkestone who help me process and scan these images, a dirty chemical process that removes the RemJet, a backing to support the film to transport through the gate at speed. A backing like a spine. 35mm motion picture stock rolled off from a short end from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015, I tell filmmaker Holly Antrum that it is a weird artifact to be working with. #starwars #howtodisappear #200T

Chinese smoke cake camera test. Vapours. Filming on 16mm on 250D tomorrow in better light. For the Tiresias film, filming smoke, water, the behaviour of animals, dreaming, sleeping, optics, blindness, other sight, other seeing. #tiresias #16mm #smoke #vapours thank you to Cath Whippey for allowing me to fill her garden with blooms of powdery haze, coloured vapours. Tiresias, a blind prophet is transformed into a woman for seven years. Blind actions in 16mm film (shooting blind, loading the camera blind), and gender on an incremental array of, a mist of imperceptible transformations. They “see” visions in smoke and water.

Last of the red flowers images, and thank you to artist Morweena Kearsley, for inspiration for this, also to Keith Edmier, and his work Victoria Regia, pink and white, first and second night blooms, a flower which blooms at night, in moonlight, and changes sex in the process, which I originally saw in the exhibition Abracadabra at the Tate in 1999, looking at the idea of magic making an appearance in everyday life (curated by Catherine Kinley, Catherine Grenier, Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen). These red images were taken at the same time as a 16mm collaborative action of hybrid flowers made with artist and filmmaker Wendy Kirkup, and using a “score” of blinking to narrate the structure of the film, more documentation and a detailed description of that soon when this experiment in disruption and remote connectivity returns from the lab. Double-exposed Ektar 35mm. Details. #victoriaregia #addendum #talkingcountingblinkingnoting #ektar #abracadabra

An artwork of red queer flowers in isolation, named after moons in our universe, revolving in retrograde and a reminder that the Tory government are now reinstating benefit sanctions, because this poverty cruelty will never end. Film diary notes, dates and emulsions. Camera, film, air. Untitled (queer shrine, Chirologia or the Natural Language of the Hand, and Chironomia or the Art of Manual Rhetoric, queer psychic actions to manifest queer company, red powder flowers, voice and recruitment)


















A Domestic Queer shrine, “red has its way", life is timeless, for Florian, pencil drawings of marbled papers, recruiting Yohji Yamamoto and Margaret Salmon and wide angle lenses, “On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, fierce gusts of gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens... Prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths… And everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers…” Angels in America, 1991, Tony Kushner... and Ron Vawter’s Roy Cohn/Jack Smith from 1992. End Tory Violence.

Third frame from the 120mm film test, with Brian Eno peering out behind a mirror. Before and After Science, 1977. Second still from birthday present on the video and filmmakers Alexandre Estrela + João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva’s Lua Cão, 2018, La Casa Encendida in Madrid and third a page from Gusmão and Paiva's Camden Arts Center show: a description of the film Beneguelino putting a spell on the camera, 2017.  Also, Olho Ciclopico, 2008. I re-arranged this title for a 16mm film I made with Michelle Hannah: Anonymous Writes A Spell for the Camera, 2019, which has a subtitle: Marisa’s High, where actor Marisa Berenson talks about the high she felt when Stanley Kubrick touched her hand at the end of shooting her scenes for Barry Lyndon, 1975. Anonymous… also refers to a work by Yvonne Rainer, Hand Film, from 1968, about small choreographies and gestures from improvisation and impulse and the magic embodied in ANY action of the hand.

Mirrors, flowers, movement (Riddles of the Sphinx, 1977 by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen), frame by frame collages and tulips, falling out of synchronicity, finger nails and waffle fabrics from Suspiria, 1977 and 2018, among other moments of lonely habits, isolation and unfamiliarity. 6 HD frames from the film Simon in available light, Bitten By Witch Fever, 2020 shot at Simon and Sergio's flat in Edinburgh. “Hapticality, the capacity to feel though others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you…" The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Minor Compositions, 2013. B/w reversal. Thank you to James Holcombe. A queer & trans hapticality.

Favourite moment from the end of Dear Ghost, 2018 trying to shoot the Nefertiti at Neues Museum, Berlin, which as it turns out is the only object you cannot photograph, I can understand that. Photographing a postcard outside in lieu of the portrait a small bird flew through the shot twice, it's on the roll of film for four frames each time, but I think the mind sees its wings, body and beak in their entirety, there is no mistaking this is a small bird. Stay Safe. 16mm with masking, 2018, silent, shot on location in Berlin.  “Dear Ghost” comes from a poem by CA CONRAD — MOUNT MONADNOCK


“Dear Ghost flickering with

flames that no longer hurt

deflated lungs expanding…”

It’s filmed using a square gate insertion meaning there a lot of film which was never exposed. A margin of redundancy and spectres. #16mm #stayhome #supporttheselfemployed #staysafe #selfisolation #kickthetoriesout

I worry about all this distancing and the fear of the hand or touch, I think about a developing sense of agoraphobia, and then how to keep connected and keeping in touch but not through touch. Artist filmmaker Helen McCrorie looking (TOUCHING) at the loans ledger on a shoot at Innerpeffray Library by Crieff, Scotland's oldest lending library, now a working museum. I think too about artist Zoë Fothergill's Can I see that? 2013, project about the interconnectedness of touch and sight, seeing meaning to hold, and her work about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which is about the voice as touch, and Allison Gibbs's A Development Circle for Radical Subjectivity, ongoing, especially its exploration of psychometry, extrasensory perception through physical contact with an object. #16mm #stayhome #stayconnected #helenmccrorie #talkingcountingblinkingnoting #touch #theresalwaysamachinebetweenus #allisongibbs

A Copy of Sleep, double exposed 25iso Rollei, Xeroxes from 3 Women, 1977 by Robert Altman, the screenplay of which came to him in a dream, and rooms full of houseplants for sleep and queer spirits; masked and double exposed camera and film test with artist filmmaker Wendy Kirkup, including a scene lit with the strobe on my bike light, “Frances”, 2008 from artwork by Trisha Donnelly, the film has lots of folds (and blurred interference). I describe shooting these scenes in lighting akin to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977: “Do you wish to report a UF0?”

8 frames from a film called Ik Zeg Niets, 2018. I shot this on ORWO UN54, a stock I was recommended to use by the artist filmmaker Bea Haut, who with Karl Doing ran the Film in Process lab at the Film Department at University of East London, the department John Smith set up. I was amazed by how quickly Bea got to know my style or aesthetic after she was processing some of my black and white films. She mentioned a deep black and a real sense of dimension in the stock and I think some of these images testify to her description and why she suggested I try it out. The film itself is a bit of a chain reaction where one thing sets off another, and part of it too was inspired by something Margaret Salmon said about having a technical question and a subject range in mind when assembling something like this, the film often then looks at one subject or thing in a collection of things: sculptures of women in museums, glass objects and weights, bones and skulls, cacti (a companion film The Sea, At Land, 2018 looks to find objects from the sea, now deprived of a liquid life, in the National Museum of Scotland). In the middle of this shoot, which took place at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow (and bumping into Sarah Tripp there) and Edinburgh, Portobello Beach, Museum of Religion, the Necropolis, I came across the work I Say Nothing, 2018 by Christine Borland installed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which acts in the film as a bridge between “glass objects” and “broken objects”, my focus though was on the reflection on the vitrine that held the work that seemed to somehow erase it, so “mended objects”. The remainder of the film references Olho Ciclopico, (cyclops eye) 2008 by film makers João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva (which I think, in their work, refers to an idea of what some people say about having eyes in the back of your head). Trepanation or trepidation or paranoia. #16mmfilm #eyes #broken #orwo #nonreflex - I think Laura Mulvey talks a lot about “asymmetry" applied to moving image work.

I understand why I have been using double-exposures a lot recently, about this being about an image and personal productivity, which also allows paradoxically things to be erased and reduced and folded over and disrupted or collapsed. It makes for unproductive images that nonetheless appear disrupted by the hand and not the eye.

An email from an astrological readings newsletter that I signed up for tells me a friend is “desperate to get in touch.”



Alexander Hetherington is a visual artist who works with 16mm film, writing and performance. Recent films and performances include Talking, Counting, Blinking, Noting; 16mm film as a collaborative action (2019-2020), Anonymous Writes A Spell for the Camera (2019) screened at Anxiety & Invocation at Experiments in Cinema V.15, Albuquerque, US and Twin Eye presented at Studio Jamming, Cooper Galley, Dundee September 2019. Forthcoming includes a 16mm film screening to accompany the launch of Rosie Roberts book portals with readings from Rosie Roberts, Lotte L.S. and Daisy Lafarge, an essay commissioned by Collective, Edinburgh to accompany artist Karen Cunningham’s new moving image work, September 2020 and a Creative Lab, CCA, Glasgow, December 2020 to research a 16mm film describing liminal figure Tiresias, on their blindness, clairvoyance and gender mutability, employing sources including Haytham El-Wardany, Catherine Sullivan and Robert Ashley.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects in their own words. It is also part of invert/extantTransmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter


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