Thank you to my (very) old friend The “Lady” Bunny for having me on the podcast to discuss many aspects and politics surrounding the big farewell to Queen Elizabeth II. The good, the shady and everything in-between.
So when I was in my thirties, before 2001 (and the culture-shift after 9.11) in New York city, I went back to night school at SUNY Empire State College (the place for late-bloomers, dreamers and thinkers) in Manhattan and pursued a degree that I had always lied about having on my resumés.
When I arrived in New York in the late eighties, I was fast with my hands (in a lot of ways). One way was on boards in the ad agencies doing production design: “The client called, we need it yesterday!”. I could work quickly (I’d done a few years production training with the fine folks at Central Piedmont Community College in my hometown, Charlotte). Next I jumped on the burgeoning computerization of the production studios, and became a bit of a geek developer. Again, in those days if you were fast with your hands (if all else failed, I knew I could at least drive a taxi), you didn’t need a university degree.
So, I decided to go back to night school and there, I met some wonderful advisors who introduced me to the art of writing, the art of the personal essay, proper theatre, philosophy and world history. That would be Mary Folliet and. Other lecturers, like the philosopher, Bernard Flynn and others. And there I iscovered ethnography (study the entirety of people’s lives: their work, family relations, religion and habits) and anthropology (study of human societies in order to understand what it means to be human) as it pertains to how we gather, ritual, Happenings, and especially: theatre (all kinds).
I fell in love and remain obsessed with the work of Glaswegian anthropologist Victor Turner and his wife Edith — who championed the notion of the liminal space. Now, I’ve continued that throughout my academic career and placed the archives of a man called Jim Haynes at Napier university in Edinburgh. Jim was part of a vast group of people in Edinburgh who formed the 1950s-60s counterculture.
They founded what is now the current Edinburgh Fringe (largest performing arts festival in the world), theatres, held writers conferences and put on an enormous amount of new work challenging the status-quo. I am looking at what they did and how they did it.
I’m developing a practice-pattern to brings forth new creative work in a non-commercial way. This does not mean that creative work cannot earn money — I’m not big on the fetishized myth of ‘starving artists’. What it means is is that we start with the pen, the paper, paintbrush camera or prose — not spreadsheets, funding applications or budgets — to create the world we wish to live in.
2015, a hot July afternoon in Portugal, my longtime friend Marcus Leatherdale and I were digging for memories in some of his old boxes — packed away many moons ago in New York City. Invitations to parties from Andy Warhol, notebooks with appointments to shoot everyone from Keith Haring to Debbie Harry for the original (and cool) Details Magazine emerged — all great fodder for the new biography of Marcus we’ve begun: What’s Left of Leatherdale.
As the afternoon waned and the arid heat started to mix with a protracted silence and many nose-fuls of New York City dust, we reached the bottom of the last box to find a crumpled envelope containing some kind of plastic sleeves and colour transparencies. We took the mangled stack to the window, and there he was — a young Robert Mappelthorpe, the same one from Marcus’s infamous black and white, in living colour, looking straight at us.
Meticulously conserved, restored and now printed larger than life — these never-before-seen images are available to see (and buy) at Roman Zangief – 40 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10010 • 28 March – 7 April, 2017.
Oscar Wilde’s lost years in Reading Gaol are currently brought to light by the fantastic ArtAngel project. Having connections via my prison writing programme for young men, I attempted to gain access to the prison before it closed in 2013. It wasn’t to be. Now, thanks to some very sophisticated creatives, for a short time everyone has a chance to enter the dark world where Wilde composed his last great work. I visited on Saturday, 10 September 2016.
My bag was filled with Wilde for the trip — an early copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, and The Decay of Lying — along with some memorabilia & notes from my correspondence & friendship a few years back with Gawain Douglas, Lord Alfred’s great-nephew (and contemporary expert on his family’s long legacy of being known as ‘The Black Douglasses’ – “The mad, bad line from which you are come”).
Back in 1999 or so, I met Oscar’s only grandson, Merlin Holland in New York City, when he launched the publication of the real trial transcripts – the first look at a more accurate account, taken by privately-hired stenographers who sat in the gallery. Holland stated that the texts, owing to possible controversy and political upheaval, had been hidden for almost a century until being dropped off anonymously at the British Museum, who in turn, contacted him.
As we drove the long road to Reading, the rain blew in waves sideways, and I wondered how on earth Wilde — trial over, sentence passed, public humiliation at its peak — survived even the long dreadful journey from London to this place of lost souls.
The main thing about Victorian justice: you are removed.
Once inside the fortified wall, the newbie makes the first-timer mistake: to study the area leading to the belly of the giant beast. In most cases, the only other time, if one is lucky enough, to see this area is after completing his sentence and earning a cautious liberation.
Shortly thereafter, reality sets in. The only thing missing on this visit were the eery hums, bangs and clangings — and loud exclamations from excited inmates of a working jail. Life inside is never silent.
Because the places are designed with deep designs to prevent escape, they deceive, as if something interesting or fantastic will be revealed once inside. The inner circle, the A-list, the private rooms of members-only clubs. Perhaps not deceiving at all.
This exhibition, important (imho) for the artists like Steve McQueen, Ai Weiwei and NYC’s Nan Goldin to participate, is even more significant for the demonstration of the use of such a fantastically macabre space. We pay large sums for the ballet or opera to accomplish the nonfiction contained in these walls, and the realities of the lives that echo in the bricks and mortar.
Jonny & I took our time making our way to the infamous cell “C 3.3.3” – which, according to the plethora of ArtAngel experts on hand for our questions, after several numerical reassignments and reshuffles since 1897 (Wilde’s release), is now “C 2.2” .
Jonathan & I, along with my dear friends Mary, Geraldine and Gaya saw the BAM NYC production of The Judas Kiss by David hare back in May. Although I’d enjoyed it very much, Wilde & Bosie’s written work, and even the poigniant Wilde references in Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, it was not until I spent a while in C.3.3.3 that I fully understood the mood of De Profundis, and what little we know of Wilde’s final years upon release.
Then there’s the last thing, the thing that dare not speak its truths: the hanging gardens. In almost every jail in Britain will be the gory legacy of capital punishment. A colleague David Graham Scott, produced a dark documentary short, Hanging With Frank, featuring Frank McKue — one of the last executioners in the UK — who takes us on a tour of the execution chamber, and secret burial places at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow, in 1995 just before the whole thing was dismantled. It would be very similar to the type of thing which occurred at Reading, and certainly while Oscar Wilde was resident. Even the bodies of executed prisoners were not allowed to be returned to their families for burial. Property of the Royal state.
One of the ArtAngel guides pointed out the areas likely to be the walking grounds of spirits past. The strangest part, to me, is these usually seem to be the most well-groomed areas in a jail. Albeit I’ve never seen a bird flying near them. While there are some resources on the history of Reading executions, it seems Her Majesty’s government is still timid about facing the past, just like it’s still timid about issuing a complete apology to Wilde, Alan Turing and others who were imprisoned, and even tortured for being queer — which was part of Nan Goldin’s creative exhibit, featuring an interview 93 year old man convicted of the same ‘gross indecency’ as Wilde who is still campaigning for vindication.
Point of redemption: the victory of the books. The layers of entendre within this journey were not lost on me. Only recently, Her Majesty’s government attempted to ban books in prisons. It didn’t work. So, a cell of an unjustifiably infamous homosexual and justifiably famous writer, displaying the books he was allowed to read as a window on the outside world was particularly tasty to me.
What I found fantastic about this well informed-yet-renegade exhibition and use of space was how tactile it was allowed to be. Pieces and parts, signs and significant bits of the jail remain in tact. The odor of damp which permeates most public buildings has not been eradicated. The scrapes and scratches, and remnants of posters and blue tack a public craves to investigate invites the curious to observe at will.
While we learned the facility has an uncertain future, it does enjoy Grade II listed status. However, the word down the corridors was fearful that it may be quickly offloaded to the cult of luxury developers, or relegated to the committees for further study.
Personally, I’d rather they raise the place to the ground before allowing some wealthy Philistine who couldn’t recite one line of Oscar Wilde’s work, to rent C.3.3.3, or any other room, for some perverted sense of privilege.
See this exhibition now, while the prison doors are open.
-MLB London 11 September 2016
Thanks to my dear friend Jay Blotcher, for hipping me to this!
all images ©Martin Belk
After three long years of packing, taping, boxing, crating and shipping ver 130 crates of materials from Paris – letters from David Bowie’s people, Sylvia Beach, Alex Trocchi – to miles of taped conversations with the likes of John Lennon & James Baldwin – to name a very few – I’ve finally managed to get a significant part of Edinburgh & Paris literary/theatre history housed at Edinburgh Napier University.
We’ve set up a web site: ChezJimHaynes.com and just had a sold-out launch at the Edinburgh Book Festival. We’ll be curating events as we actively bring this amazing trove of history forward for online access and public display.
Phew. Stay tuned.
August 2016 • Martin Belk launches the Jim Haynes Living Archive
and Haynes’ new book World Citizen at home in Paris at the
Edinburgh International Book Festival
and Edinburgh Napier University.
Belk continues as editor/publisher for Haynes’ entire back catalogue,
including ‘Handshake Editions’ as well.