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Madison Bycroft

In conversation with
Lisa Robertson

As part of the exhibition: Going Farmer, Shit Stirrer And The Maiden Of Grief
This took place before the opening on 25/01/2019

The artists invited to realize a project at 1646 are asked to engage in conversation with a correspondent via email or DM, be it someone previously unknown to them or whom they’re already familiar with.

This conversation spans the period before an exhibition is completed. 1646 invites the correspondent at the other end of this exchange to ask questions so they may be guided through the artist’s decision-making process and how their initial ideas develop toward completion. It provides insight into the artist’s body of work and is intended to paint a picture of the otherwise untraceable choices that constitute the artist’s practice.

DEC 7: Madison Bycroft [MB] to Lisa Robertson [LR]

I just bought your book R’s Boat. It should arrive today or tomorrow.

I’d be interested in hearing a little bit more about your territory

and recent experiments, in which ways the indexical method developed.

One film for the show is finished. Jolly Roger & Friends. It is 60 min-

utes long – so it’s movement and looping becomes a clock. TIME PASSES.

It is kind of ‘about’ not being about Mary Read and Anne Bonny, and

thus is implicitly about them, somehow, anyway. Anne and Mary were

two pirates who lived in the 18th century, who had to pass and were

read as men for most of their lives. There is a lot of historical ma-

terial that focussed on this, their sexuality, were they in a secret

relationship? who knew the “truth”, blah blah blah… I wanted to make

a work that wasn’t about revealing them yet stayed with them, and at

the same time questioning the idea of ‘them’, their identities, as

something that can be revealed at all.

I grapple a lot with ideas of form and content and surface and inte-

rior, and even though I know that these things fold into each oth-

er still feel that they are useful, strategic terms. The Jolly Roger

(the pirate ship flag) could be read as a kind of surface to gather

under. Those gathered de-individuate into a temporary solidarity –

the flag becomes a sack or veil in which pirates, or now, anarchists,

anti-fascists, anti-capitalists, and/or anti-racists could/can meet.

Each scene in the Jolly Roger starts “on deck”, “in the frame”, “on

stage” and then moves into the cabin, “below deck”, “outside the

frame”, “below the stage” or in the wings.

I am looking at Novalis’ Hymns to the Night, Medieval bestiaries, and

my diaries that have been sent from Australia.

Much love, and so glad Holly and Anna can help. They are totally won-

derful. X

DEC 20: LR – MB

Madi, could you send a link to the finished film? It would

be useful for me to see. But what you say about loop-

ing parallels my own treatment of my indexical materi-

als. (I was working on this in 2003, so my account of the pro-

cess will be pretty stylized, exaggerated, what have you… )

The R’s Boat project started when I was asked by the special col-

lections at my old University, Simon Fraser, for my archive, which

is to say a load of paper ephemera, left-overs. Which I agreed

to. You make deposits of drafts and notes every few years. It’s a

strange contract, and very much so back when they first asked me,

since I was still a pretty young writer. I was about to move to

France so it seemed like a lucky opportunity to have safekeeping

for my papers. I decided to include my writing notebooks, then

about 15 years worth of them. First I thought I should

reread them, in order to cull out anything too person-

al or intimate for the archive, and also as a kind of

leave-taking of the material. So I read through the heap

of them, using a simple reading screen— to transcribe

all sentences written in the 1st person. Afterwards

I had a long, fairly interesting but not super inter-

esting list. What I liked about it was the mediocrity

of much of it. Purple, self-pitying, bored, everything

was there. These were not “literary” sentences. So I

wanted to find a way to use them leaving in everything

that was bad— I looked for a structure that could in-

clude everything. First I alphabetized them. It was im-

mediately better to read. I wanted to add some differ-

ent material, interrupt the list with something else.

I tried many things and nothing worked. Then I had a

dream one night that I should interrupt the list with

itself. So I did. I spliced in the list in its original

sequence, be-tween the alphabetized sequence. So then

I had a text that rhymed with itself, a loop. Everything

was doubled, but in a sequence difficult to pick up on

since it was pretty long. Sentences spoke among them-

selves. So that’s the loop I invented.

I actually started typing this in an airport on the way

to Scotland a solid week ago. Then I forgot it. Now pick-

ing up, suddenly startled— we must get this underway!

I have not read Novalis. Do you know Djuna Barnes’ bes-

tiary, Creatures in an Alphabet? (you probably know her

novel Nightwood, with the famous chapter Doctor, What

of the Night?) Once I tried to memorize it. Creatures,

that is. I also tried to memorize Young’s Night Thoughts,

another strange text about insomnia, melancholy and the

night… Those were both projects I was obsessed with be-

fore abandoning. What about the life of abandoned pro-

jects? Another sort of night… which is maybe a kind of

awning?

xox Lisa

tomorrow of course is the longest night…

DEC 25: MB- LR

Hi Lisa.

When I received your last email I was in London, shooting

for the new film (tentatively titled Night Soil, or Go,Going,

GONG!!). Over the past year I have started working with

younger people. Paul, a ten year old piano accordionist

and I composed an unmetered, un-scored “song of revolu-

tion” for a performance (the song culminated in an abrupt

dismemberment of my clarinet with an exhale/cry from the

accordion). Also, in Jolly Roger and Friends, Marguerite

Porete is played by a 14 year old person.

Which discourses enter aging, and which ones exit? Dragon

discourse, for example, thrived, but then was hidden for

a while, and now returns. As I have aged I have felt the

pressure to become something more concrete. I wanted to

work again with younger performers, contra the maturity

of “enlightenment”. I advertised five roles (Nyx, Shadow,

Larva volta, the furies, the vigil) but had too many en-

thusiastic responses and couldn’t say “no” enough. Now,

there are eight characters of a night, undefined.

Script taken from my diary:

Tonight there was an answer on the answering machine that

said that one of the goats had fallen in the well. Well, now

we will have to get rid of them.

I’m sad about the goats.

We shot on the Hackney Marshes with puddles, mud, fog,

coloured smoke, full moon, the longest night! And an ab-

sence of the HD that light gives. The sun set quickly, and

so there wasn’t any time for second takes – discouraging

through denial the whole, the closed, cured, or complete.

Reading my teenage diaries, I was surprised by their pre-

tence. Even though they announced themselves as ‘secret’

or ‘private’, they were clearly written to be read by some-

one other than me, (or maybe then I knew it would me, re-

turning later, a different person), a kind of performed

confessional that tried to self-fashion in the most amiable

light. Mostly, I am written the hero, and yet now I read the

same character as a blank canvas reflecting alignment to

the plot designed to gather applause from others. Sad face.

I am thinking about your use of the word cull and wonder-

ing about the relationship of censorship to the illegi-

ble or delegitimate, or further, its relationship to shit

or excrement or night soil. As a sanitation practice. What

surfaces? (Shit floats). I read that Marguerite Duras

used to work for a board of literary censorship for the

Vichy regime – a position that became a platform for her

own writing!

The diaries follow a strange devotional style, dear Bob,

dear George, dear Roger, a phase of dear God… my purple

diary of 2001 went as far as providing an appendix of per-

sons. “If you haven’t read my previous diaries, and come

across a name you haven’t heard of before, check the ap-

pendix at the back”. (note: intended audience confirmed.

But then again private is seldom carried out in isolation).

Derrida too, wrote somewhere that the auto-affective is

always hetero-affective, the “I” is always more than it-

self. I infected in anticipation of an outside. It is a

body of writing that protrudes out of itself, overhangs,

sags. It is its own muffin top. Maybe all “self” writing is.

I like that a dream hinted to your method. Helene Cixous

wrote, ‘To go off writing, I must escape from the broad

daylight… I do not want to see what is shown. I want to see

what is secret. What is hidden amongst the visible….I cannot

write without distracting my gaze from capturing. I write by

distraction.’ This resonates with me again and again. I of-

ten put things together out of a sort of sympathy. I feel

they are similar, and yet don’t know why, unable to artic-

ulate a likeness lying outside cognition. Like a pun that

doesn’t recognise itself in the mirror.

I am not sure about abandoned works. But I am sure that

abandon is one of my favourite words, with its relation-

ship to the banner that bans, the proclamation and the

outlaw, who I would say is definitely a figure of the night.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read Djuna Barnes’ Bestiaries. I

tried to find it with no luck. I went to Chantilly house

North of Paris though and looked at a different besti-

ary, The Liber Floridus, by Lambert of St. Omer. The pag-

es were made of animal skin and were heavy but transpar-

ent, rips were stitched together. Diaries and bestiaries

share an iterative format, a certain linear order, and a

kind of magic masquerading as truth, where masquerading

is its own truth.

The Bonnacon is a beast, like a bull, that uses its dung

as a weapon

The owl is a dirty animal that prefers darkness to light

The beaver is hunted for its testicles; it castrates it-

self to escape.

The he-goat is a lascivious beast, known for its lusty na-

ture. This nature makes the he-goat so hot that its blood

can dissolve diamond.

I have revisited Nightwood though… it is incredible! Thank

You:

Yes, we who are full to the gorge with misery, should look

well around, doubting everything seen, done, spoken, pre-

cisely because we have a word for it, and not its alchemy

I read this as I read in R’s Boat:

C Bergvall says space is doubt

– what emerges then?

Much warmth en route to Isle of Skye – where I hope to film

final scenes with fake nose wax and a score of grunting.

JAN 4: LR – MB

Last night I had a dream in which I had “finished” a

“manuscript” which meant I had bundled together a thick

sheaf of paper. I was to deliver it to you. The “man-

uscript” had been “corrected”- there were many addi-

tions, hand written tightly in black ink on oval shaped

The day before in the garden at dusk I had seen a huge

mushroom, in appearance a meaty mauvish cloudy ruffle,

like an oyster mushroom, growing from the low scar of a

severed branch of a large Berlin poplar, perhaps eighty

years old, which had been hit by lightening in a summer

storm some 5 months before. I wondered if I could eat

it. I saw a glowing orange mushroom growing from leaf

mould. It took the shape of a crooked sphere of knot-

ted twine, hollow inside, like a web.

panty-liners, which were attached by their adhesive

backings to the edges of the rectangular pages. The ef-

fect of the written-upon oval panty-liners, ruffling

outwards in many uneven spongy layers from the edges of

the paper, was to transform the appearance of the “man-

uscript” into a large, whiter, oyster mushroom whose

spores were a writing.

One “chapter” of this “manuscript” was a short “vid-

eo”, filmed in brilliant sunlight. In the video I was a

“younger” “woman” sailing a sleek wooden sailing boat

which had in place of a fabric or canvas sail a glitter-

ing row of long translucent green kelp ribbons dangling

from their onion-shaped bulbs. The sea was very blue. I

departed from a curve of a shell or white pebble beach.

The kelp coiled and fluttered in the brisk wind, and

propelled the boat swiftly. This voyage was “mentored”

or “aided” or “guided” from the shore by two “older”

“women”. Only one was visible, with curling platinum hair,

maybe like Donatello Versace, but a little more butch or

at least androgynous. The other one, invisible, was as

adamant in her directions and opinions as the platinum

blonde one. To-wards these two I was neither resent-

ful nor appreciative. I just accepted them. The gener-

al tone of the “dream”, or the “voyage”, or the “chap-

ter”, was light and swift and witty.

The day before in the garden at dusk I had seen a huge

mushroom, in appearance a meaty mauvish cloudy ruffle,

like an oyster mushroom, growing from the low scar of a

severed branch of a large Berlin poplar, perhaps eighty years

old, which had been hit by lightening in a summer storm

some 5 months before. I wondered if I could eat it.

I saw a glowing orange mushroom growing from leaf mould.

It took the shape of a crooked sphere of knotted twine,

hollow inside, like a web.

JAN 5: MB – LR

Mushrooms don’t need light. Their spores are night writing.

I remember collecting spores on a piece of aluminium foil once

(mycologist phase, check diary, appendix of persons). They fell

without urge, settling strangely into a reenactment of their symmetrical gills.

I hoped that more mushrooms would grow from the spores, but they

grew a strange white pus instead. I had maybe five or six jars of irregular

pus. I could have used it as an invisible ink, like I used to do with milk

(detective phase). I wrote with wet-white onto dry-white, then waited,

and rubbed pencil shavings over it. Tiny pieces of colour would attach

themselves, or absorb themselves, differently into the parts of the page

that had a memory of clamminess. Some sea cucumbers produce a kind

of mucus that they coat their attackers with. The mucus glows, and is

semantically in the field of “burglar alarm”. It writes a kletic invocation

calling for the “police”: any attacker that is bigger than the first, now

re-named and dressed as prey.

I am writing a fantasy novel (six years has produced five pages, a set of characters or species, an architecture and a map). Writing again the first chapter this morning, in “Arquien”, ambience was added to The Tower’s list of censored words.

JAN 16: LR – MB

An owl

Dear Madi,

First I want to tell you what I know about owls, that is, from experience. About 8 years ago I moved into a country house whose chimney had not been used for a very long time, since the house had been abandoned to fall into ruin, then bought by my landlords to renovate for rental. So I was the first in many years—maybe even decades—to re-inaugurate the chimney, which had been occupied for all that time by an owl, or more likely a lineage of owls, an owl dynasty.(I do not know the lifespan of an owl.) The fireplace had been boarded up, and from time to time the summer I moved in, a heard a sort of dull clattering then a small thunk, as something ricocheted to the hearth through the chimney. When in autumn I took down the board to install a wood stove for my winter heat, I found a copious pile of tidy, round, dry brownish or soot-toned balls—they were what the owls had vomited up. They were regular in form, stuck together I’m not sure how, but visible on the surface of each walnut-sized sphere was a mash-up of fine fur and tiny bones. They were surprisingly light. It was a very beautiful thing to see this transformation of years of house and field rodents into an earthily minimalist installation work, and to think of the house as the ruinous constraint which framed this beautiful expression, a sort of mildewed anti-cube.

That winter, my first in that house, was extremely cold and long. The owl gone from my now smoky chimney, the rodents moved back in. They were large rodents—apples would go missing from my fruit bowl at night. They made a racket above the rafters. I told myself they were dormice, but in fact they were rats. I leaned this when after finally putting out poison—after trying spearmint oil on my table legs, pungent purple incense at night, and various other pacifist solutions— I found the corpse of the Mother Rat beneath my kitchen sideboard. She had begun to decay and the sweetish heavy odour was seeping into the room. I no longer shared my apples. I took her outside with a garden shovel, and flung her from the shovel as far as I could over the fence and into the frozen field behind the house. Afterwards I felt that I had poisoned the soul of the house, flung out its soul on a garden shovel.

That is what I know about the dark work of owls. I wish I understood how the pellets stuck together—maybe the owls made a special mucous for their art? And how does an owl swallow a rat? Does she only eat infants?

The other thing I’ve learned about mysterious biological fluid is this—Nicole Brossard, the Quebecois poet, coined a term for the sexual fluid of female arousal. Cyprine was her word. I imagine it as an alternate term for soul. I consider that Soul or Cyprine is what holds the world together, the world, this hacked-up bony hairy pellet. Cyprine, or syntax. Maybe Cyprine, or syntax is the fifth element. There are the four cosmic elements that we are familiar with—earth, fire, air and water— each with a corresponding fluid or humour in the human body, (blood, spittle, bile, and lymph) and then there is, in Plato’s estimation, according to his cosmology, the Timaeus, a fifth element which he says is the necessary context for the cohesion of all the others. He calls it space, and its geometrical shape is the wild polyhedron we see in Dürer’s etching Melencolia. But I think Plato is wrong. The glowing fifth element is Cyprine. What if Cyprine holds the universe together? What specifically is the oozing desire of Melancholy? What if Mother Rat was the soul of my house?

Six pages in five years seems to me a perfect  pace for the making of a novel, since this way the inevitable and sparkling decay of all things will enter the composition unbidden. Just as in the body. There’s no enlightenment in aging! Only an extreme and misshapen aesthetics of obscenely accelerated mutability and its humours, (you know Barnes’ Book of Repulsive Women?) a sort of Baroque geriatrics.

JAN 19: MB – LR

Dear Lisa Soon we are at something like a word count, but I do not want to stop receiving emails from you.

I am now installing for the exhibition, and trying my hardest not to sink into panic mode. It is an intense, distilled time –here is my favourite kind of thinking.

I have just discovered this thing called the book of hours, I wonder if you too heard of this “best seller”, a popular devotional medieval manuscript which included certain prayers and psalms. Many readers decorated the margins of  their personal copy, their decorations often encroaching or perforating the sacred texts. The margins of an illuminated manuscript are themselves a space of dusk, or night. I have taken much pleasure in seeing some of these private images, diary-doodle spaces of self-writing, writing oneself against what is already written. Often the images are cheeky, profane, pornographic. They are referred to as babewyn: monkey business, shit stirring, an-tics, havoc wreaking… and it is from here that our term baboon is born. I decided to build a baboon that farts smoke. It seemed essential. I have created a beast.

Maybe shitting is a kind of marginal decoration. Looping back to looping, I wonder if reading on the toilet whilst shitting is a kind of loop, an ingestion, digestion, and egestion. I wonder where shit fits within the cosmology of fluids and humours.

To make the baboon, I moulded a cast in my own image. I had to use a mirror, and sort of squat for long enough for the plaster to dry. My legs and coccyx bone have since been sore, and I think I must have “missed”, because the exercise has brought on an untimely bout of thrush. Thrush oozes, like badly farmed mushrooms, happening of its own accord.

I lived in Tamil Nadu for a year and met a girl who was fasting. She hadn’t eaten for 25 days, only liquids. I remember being fascinated to learn that after so much time, of only drinking and using an enema, she had nonetheless shat out two or three rock hard spheres. This is how I imagined your rat-balls.

What is the syntax of a sentence that extricates/frees itself from itself. Maybe it has many “Oh’s”, or “o’s”, which is also how I would like to notate the song of the owl. With different font sizes, of course. But, then again, I have never, IRL, come close to an owl or its life.

JAN 23 (1 hour ago): LR- M

a note on turds

this is along the lines of a quick interjection, or a moody flourish— but it feels imperative to say that owl pellets are very light-weight— rather like holding a resting hummingbird in one’s hand. In this way they are very dissimilar to the compacted turdlets of a fasting puritan.

I myself was once that puritan, so I ought to know. They are coughed up, rather than shat out, I believe. Like a more baroque hairball.”

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