David Thompson


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November 21, 2009



"About £2,000 of Arts Council funding has been provided for the 24-hour performance. The total includes £932 for medical risk assessment and support."

Screw the 24-hour medical support. Let's see her take her chances without medics on standby. If she really wants to be edgy...

Karen M

"Ah, dance, poetry and epileptic fitting. A fine night out by anyone's standards."


"Dance artists Jennifer Lynn and Rachel Dean present a structured improvisation involving hats."



Holy flying buckets of fuck me.


The Arts Council is just one big perverse incentive. Let's give idiots lots of other people's money and see how shocked everyone is.

Elrond Hubbard

If the artist doesn't have a seizure should the audience demand a refund?


They should shake her until she does.

Wm T Sherman

Hows about a production where an alcoholic goes off the wagon and ends up in a coma? Purchasable memorabilia could include little glass vials of barf.


Cull, cull, bring on the cull......2012 is too long to wait.

carbon based lifeform

But David, the Guardian thinks it's "witty":

"I think what she's doing is terrific – well-conceived, witty and thought-provoking. I love, for example, the idea that if she has a fit during the night the audience will be woken by a siren, so that they can film it on their mobile phones. Marcalo is drawing attention to the fact that on YouTube (and elsewhere) it's easy to find mobile-phone footage of people having fits – mostly taken without their consent. Curious, isn't it, that controversy should arise when a person with epilepsy consents to being filmed?"


And they're never wrong.


“And they’re never wrong.”

Heh. Sutherland also claims,

“Rita Marcalo is an artist doing what artists are supposed to do: creating work that is surprising, challenging, transgressive and exciting.”

Do these people not hear themselves? Do they never pause and think, “Oh dear, I said ‘transgressive’. I sound a bit of a prick”? And you’ll notice the idea that artists might be interested in making beautiful objects of one kind or another simply doesn’t feature. It’s all about being “thought-provoking,” “exciting” and very, very edgy. But hanging around for up to 24 hours on the off chance that a pretentious woman will start to fit isn’t my idea of gripping. Or witty, or thought-provoking. I mean, if you need a siren to wake up the audience, the word “exciting” doesn’t seem quite right somehow.

And note how Sutherland is very keen to tell us - at some length - what it is Marcalo intends and how lofty her ambitions are, even though he doesn’t actually quote her anywhere in the piece. Is he guessing on her behalf? He also makes great efforts to imply that any objections to the “performance” must be based on stuffiness and prudery. “It’s just a fit. Get over it.” The only objection Mr Sutherland can conceive is based on being shocked (and by implication unhip). How cool he must be.

In fact, most of the commentary I’ve seen so far focuses on the alleged “controversy” of the seizure itself, as if that were the only possible grounds for disapproval. But I don’t see that as the issue. I’ve seen people vomit and call it art and I’ve had to read press releases about people who were so goddamn edgy they wanted to give birth in a gallery. Is anyone actually shocked by this kind of needy, rather comical self-absorption? I mean, other than Daily Mail readers? I find it very hard to care whether Ms Marcalo fits or doesn’t, publicly or otherwise. Try as I might, I just don’t feel “transgressed”. I do, however, wish I wasn’t obliged to bankroll this kind of bollocks.


"it's interesting that an article titled Epilepsy as Live Art isn’t Controversial should in fact be arguing that, actually, it is."

Spot on. If it wasn't "controversial" how could the Guardian hack pretend to be so cool?


Indeed. It’s the standard pattern:

“I’m going to shit in a bowling alley and you’ll all be shocked. The fact that you’re so shocked – so transgressed – shows how important my work is, and how insightful, sophisticated and daring I am.”

But again, the objection isn’t to the act of public shitting itself, just the fact it’s being done at taxpayers’ expense.


"The objection isn’t to the act of public shitting itself, just the fact it’s being done at taxpayers’ expense."

Very true. Though the people who have hired that particular bowling lane may also have a legitimate grievance.


I was intrigued by the idea of "Marcalo is drawing attention to the fact that on YouTube (and elsewhere) it's easy to find mobile-phone footage of people having fits – mostly taken without their consent."

I went on Youtube and the vast majority that I found were taken with the person's consent. Here's one

Another playlist with 88 videos again mostly with consent.

Perhaps Youtube rigorously removes non-consent videos and I'm getting a false negative. Or perhaps the Guardian outrage is instinctive.


Don't the Youtube videos make Marcalo's "performance" redundant?


Oops. I mean *more* redundant.

Mary Jackson

As I said at New English Review,the sort of people who go to such "transgressive" "events" would be the first to condemn the Victorians for their freak shows. Yet how is this different from the Siamese Twins, the Elephant Man or the Hottentot Venus?


"It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that what may irritate is the presumed entitlement to public subsidy."

Funded by Arts Council England. "Because you're worth it."

R. Sherman

Um, would it be possible for someone to fund my evening of smoking cigarettes, (or perhaps a nice Monte Christo)along with a decent bottle of single malt?

Just askin'.



"Reeling, writhing and fainting in coils."


All of this preoccupation with disabled people having fits sound a bit ghoulish to me. I guess that it goes with the general media focus on people who are poor, do not have good social skills and can't get jobs, lead a life of crime, and generally are considered "victims". Who are all of these people who read this and get their kicks from reading about the ills of others? The readers are certain to sound sympathetic (the writers certainly are), but what do they get out of reading/watching this sort of stuff?

I agree with David - I would rather look at something that is pretty, such as a DaVinci painting or a Michelangelo sculpture. Maybe this all started with modern, abstract art, where the subject was not obvious, and the "experience" gave the chattering classes something to write about.



“...and the ‘experience’ gave the chattering classes something to write about.”

It seems to me there’s been a convergence of unfortunate influences. Various academic and pseudo-academic trends within art teaching and criticism, an emphasis on politics and theory rather than craft and aesthetics, all compounded by the socialised nature of much arts funding.

Once you have a publicly funded Arts Council you’ll tend to get a lot of art that’s presented as “raising awareness” or as part of some corrective social programme, with the usual woolly references to “communities” and “raising issues” of one kind or another. (Though they tend to be issues of a fairly predictable kind.) Because of the socialised nature of the funding, there’s a sense that aesthetics isn’t enough as a motive or objective. As a result, a lot of what’s produced has to sound intellectual, sociological or in some way worthy, at least on paper – and from an aesthetic point of view that rarely bodes well.

I remember an exhibition at the ICA in 2003 that pretty much typified the problem. It relied on lengthy textual and political justification and all of the usual guff about “raising issues,” etc. One piece by Jens Haaning was said to “create a one-to-one exchange between the art institution and the external environment.” How, you ask? “The work will consist of removing all the chairs from the ICA cafe and placing them in a street in Pakistan. At the ICA cafe there will be a framed photograph of the chairs in situ in Pakistan.” Why? “The work aims to question the Western world’s perception of, and relation to, the rest of the world and to raise issues around topics such as the global economy, culture and cultural exchange…”

At the time it occurred to me this might actually be an ICA insurance scam – a way to get some new furniture. And all too often, this is the result - pretension, vacuity and disappointment. And ultimately disinterest in art. As Brian Ashbee noted, “This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about. It doesn’t reward visual attention; it generates text.”



when my leftist friends got incensed at the bail-outs of dead UK banks, I told em they now knew how I felt about the Arts Council, Regional Development Agencies and most 'charities'. Maybe I could get a grant for being thought-provoking...


Will someone from the appropriate ministry be there to pull her driver's license. I don't know how it works in the UK but in Canada when you have a seizure your license is immediately suspended and remains so until you can provide medical evidence that it should be reinstated (eg. you are now on medication that will control the seizures).

Hmmm...Or will that be considered "oppression of the arts"?


Fine piece dissecting a typically narcissistic artist and the twits who support her, David.


Here’s a thing. Two, in fact.

Firstly, the total grant was £13,889. For “research,” of course.


Secondly, Dr Rita Marcalo is a lecturer in dance at York St John University. Her research interests include, “The application of post-classical theoretical physics to the articulation of artistic practice.”


Oh my.


Has the Large Hadron Collider been turned on yet? There's hopes for that black hole yet if not.Still might not be enough for the tax dollars mind.
Tis the obscenity of it all that drives the nihilism.


"The application of post-classical theoretical physics to the articulation of artistic practice."

Someone call Alan Sokal.


Someone call Rentokil.



Oh, but we shouldn’t mock. She’s bringing wisdom to the natives.


I did call them,

Pest Control Products for Professional Use
These products are designed for use by professionals only. They are available through a network of distributors.
This products range includes Phostoxin for professional rabbit, mole and rat control


In October 2002, Sir Derek Bibby, 2nd baronet and great-great-grandson of the founder and past chairman and president of the Bibby Line shipping company, committed suicide by consuming aluminium phosphide - the poison, hours later, caused his body to emit dangerous fumes forcing the evacuation of the hospital department where his body was being held.

Bugger, had hopes, I'll keep up the search.


"Is it because she's an important artist?"



I think I wet myself a little.


Here's the thing - when you protest as a beleaguered taxpayer and put-upon arts aficionado, it's because you're a conservative, prude, and philistine. When I do it as an artist, I'm all that plus a feaster upon sour grapes.

That way where one attempts to parse "surprising, challenging, transgressive and exciting" for something akin to meaning lies madness. If you'll forgive me for quoting myself, I noted once about the drivel written for another artist, "I've come to recognize this kind of infelicitous styling as the call that a certain species of art-world bird makes to signal the discovery of something important to the flock; the sound is more important than the content."


Whether the work here is "transgressive" or not is immaterial - it has to be called that, and things like it, so that Sutherland's fellow fashion victims know to coo accordingly.

Also, whenever someone compliments a work of art by calling it "thought-provoking," I wonder what he's doing with his brain before something comes along and provokes thought from it.



“Here’s the thing - when you protest as a beleaguered taxpayer and put-upon arts aficionado, it’s because you're a conservative, prude, and philistine. When I do it as an artist, I'm all that plus a feaster upon sour grapes.”

Exactly. The Arts Council, recipient artists and any number of imbecile journalists make great efforts to close off avenues of complaint by depicting disapproval as fusty, ignorant or scandalised and therefore illegitimate. As a tactic it’s quite effective, especially among those who are overly concerned with being seen as provocative and daring. (People preoccupied by such things tend to be rather credulous. Maybe that’s why they expect the same of others.) Hence much, if not most, of the coverage fails to address the most obvious basis for complaint, and the one most difficult to refute – i.e. the issue of flummery and opportunist freeloading.

Bearing in mind this is supposedly arts funding, and bearing in mind my comments of yesterday (20:42), note how the justification is essentially sociological and utilitarian rather than aesthetic. Marcalo says, “My intention is to raise awareness of the condition by making it visible.” She also says, “It is an invisible disability but most of us know someone with it.”


If true, the second statement rather diminishes the validity of the first one. If “most of us know someone with epilepsy,” exactly how much awareness can be added by a few dozen arts drones attending a 24-hour slumber party? Presumably those most eager to attend and witness first hand will already be fairly familiar with the sight they’re hoping to see. If they aren’t, YouTube would be a decent place to start. There are plenty of clips by people eager to share their condition with a much larger international audience, without invoking “art” or extracting thousands of pounds of taxpayer subsidy.


“Oh dear, I said transgressive. I sound a bit of a prick”?

You've done it again. Made me spit my tea all over my keyboard. Cracking stuff.


Guardian reader comment of the day?

"I believe that the incorporation of seizures into artwork is necessary and inevitable... The action is shockingly unattentive to social construction... I hope viewing seizures can be as enlightening for people as having them has been for me."




“I believe that the incorporation of seizures into artwork is necessary and inevitable....”

Well, whatever floats your boat, I guess. The issue is the presumption that the rest of us should be made to pay for it.

David Gillies

It's curious that these 'artists' who, one would expect, to be big on the old self-examination thing, are actually less introspective than the average Joe. None of us normals could come up with this nonsense except as an elaborate piss-take. To be serious about it one needs an almost complete lack of ability to situate oneself outside one's body and realise what an almighty prat one is being. It's very odd.

And Gadzooks, Franklin, thanks for that link to your Hernan Bas post. When did blacklight painting on velvet come back into vogue? If Rita Marcalo wants a full-on grand mal episode she could do worse than look at a few of those prints.


These people aren't Artists, their extortion funded Narcissists.



“These people aren’t artists, they’re extortion funded narcissists.”

And yet to say so might well be considered stuffy, mean or in some way unfair. But why should Mrs Smith have some of her money confiscated and handed over to someone else, who, in the guise of making art, presumes Mrs Smith needs to be informed - via “dance” - about some medical condition (or personal psychodrama) that doesn’t actually interest her or impact on her life? What’s the unassailable moral basis of this transaction?

Yet a remarkable number of people behave as if there were one.


Pity about the "their" instead of "they're". I had that "I wish retrospective grammar check existed" moment.


Don't worry we all have them. Hare today, there tomorrow.


For £14,000, you'd think the taxpayers would be the ones having a fit!

(BTW, how will we know for sure that she's not just faking it? For that kind of coin, I know I could.)

John D

David, more from Allan Sutherland:

"I don't know what it looks like when I have a fit, but most of those who know me do. So it's not really surprising that someone who is a dancer, who is in the business of presenting herself to an audience in a very controlled, rehearsed way, should be wondering about what happens in this other part of her life. What she'd doing is brave, but it's not at all pointless. If it's acceptable for people to risk life and limb in extreme sports, why should it not be open to disabled people to take such risks as they choose?"


So now Rita Marcalo's doing this so SHE can see HERSELF having a fit...



“So now Rita Marcalo’s doing this so SHE can see HERSELF having a fit...”

Yes, funny how the lofty justification seems to change from one breath to another, getting a little less lofty with each mutation. But if “most of those who know” Mr Sutherland are already aware of what a seizure looks like, that’s somewhat at odds with Marcalo’s claim that epilepsy is “an invisible disability” requiring her display. And I notice Mr Sutherland is carefully ignoring the objections raised regarding funding in the Guardian’s own comment thread.

“If it’s acceptable for people to risk life and limb in extreme sports, why should it not be open to disabled people to take such risks as they choose?”

Again, I don’t see anyone cuffing Ms Marcalo in irons and hauling her off to jail. And the point being ignored is that extreme sports enthusiasts don’t generally expect to be personally bankrolled by the taxpayer to the tune of £14,000, supposedly for “research” and to watch themselves convulse.


People are invited to record her sezure, but are people allowed to rush forward to assist her? Or would that be too... um, reactionary or whatever word the leftie-dribblers use these days?

How much better we stand and watch and record than do something. We need to be passive observers of life (or else we wouldn't buy the Guardian).

In the meantime I thought transgressive was a man in twin-set and pearls getting upset over something.

Subject of the Realm

"The issue is the presumption that the rest of us should be made to pay for it."

The rest of them paid for your fucking adventure in Iraq.

Sorry. This is a funny post, but the whinging about the cost gets a little tedious after the 43rd time.


"The rest of them paid for your fucking adventure in Iraq."

Wow. Is that Subject's dumbest and most irrelevant comment yet?


Subject of the Realm,

I didn’t realise I had my very own “fucking adventure in Iraq.” I’m guessing that’s supposed to mean you disapprove of events in Iraq *therefore* everyone else should be coerced into paying for fatuous pseudo-art. And what’s more, they should be pleased about it. Maybe you think that’s both fair and a demonstration of airtight logic. Along the lines of, “I didn’t get what I wanted, so nobody else should either.”


"Along the lines of, "I didn't get what I wanted, so nobody else should either.""

Sounds like the spirit of socialism.

J. Peden

Having been innoculated by reading what Sutherland says, watching a Marcalo fit should be child's play.


It's a good thing they have the siren. Otherwise people might not know when the dancing ended.


A quick and easy correction which should cheer you all right up - Rita's project received a grant from Grants for the Arts, which is National Lottery funding distributed by the Arts Council, NOT taxpayers' money. So it wasn't "bankrolled by the taxpayer"/"at taxpayers’ expense", "the rest of us" haven't been "made to pay for it", there is no "extracting thousands of pounds of taxpayer subsidy" and as for "wish I wasn’t obliged to bankroll this kind of bollocks", well hey, you're not. It's so much easier to be outraged when it's on "the taxpayers'" behalf isn't it? That's why the papers like to skim over the facts - it makes for a better headline, and everyone gets to enjoy a good moan.

Hope I haven't spoiled your days by introducing some facts into the debate - if you need any more info, it's here:




Thanks for that. Yes, the Times report (and those in other papers) should have made that distinction, as public funding is the most obvious basis for disapproval. That said, the flummery and presumption noted above haven’t become any less conspicuous. And the project has an inherent ridiculousness – as do the inanities mouthed in its defence. (See, for example, the question-begging commentary by Allan Sutherland.)

“It’s so much easier to be outraged when it’s on ‘the taxpayers’ behalf, isn't it?”

I don’t recall being outraged. Indeed, I pointed out the tendentious insinuation that criticism must be driven by moral outrage or prudery of some kind. Rather than by, say, a disdain for hustlers, hokum and pretentious panhandlers. Similar objections could be made regarding any number of Arts Council projects using public money, some of which can be found in the archives. And one could turn your statement around and, for instance, say,

“It’s so much easier to indulge one’s self-preoccupation and do it with someone else’s money if it’s done on behalf of art. Or laughable bollocks pretending to be art.”


Happy to be of assistance and forgive me for presuming you were outraged, but you and your commenters did sound quite cross.

I only popped by to point out to those people who seemed angry/outraged about their taxes being used to fund this work that it's ok, they weren't. I'm not trying to defend the work - some people will find it interesting, others won't. That's true of any art, and people who choose to push the boundaries are always an easy target for ridicule. I doubt they're bothered.

Personally I think the Arts Council funds some truly awesome stuff, while some of it leaves me cold. That's it. But I noticed the other day that the government spends 5 times as much on winter fuel payments as it does on the arts in total, so hopefully that's a warming bit of context to end on.

j x



“...but you and your commenters did sound quite cross.”

Well, if the tone was unflattering I suppose that’s partly because of the narcissistic drama that typically surrounds “work” of this kind. And of course there are objections to the economic inequity of the Arts Council itself. I hope you can see how one might take exception to the casual and self-serving presumption shown above – the sense of somehow being entitled to improve the population with alleged discernment and someone else’s money. Whatever its merits, the Arts Council is in effect a curatorial caste premised on extortion.

“I noticed the other day that the government spends 5 times as much on winter fuel payments as it does on the arts in total, so hopefully that’s a warming bit of context to end on.”

That the government spends more on something else doesn’t validate the funding of the Arts Council, or any of its projects.

“...people who choose to push the boundaries are always an easy target for ridicule.”

And people who are actually ridiculous even more so.

John D


So taking Lottery Money means Marcalo's vanity project is now a "good cause"?


"I noticed the other day that the government spends 5 times as much on winter fuel payments as it does on the arts in total, so hopefully that's a warming bit of context to end on."

That must be some art parasite logic. To me this "bit of context" says

(a) Slash the Arts Council budget and keep more old people warm.


(b) Slash the Arts Council budget and give taxpayers some of their own money back.



"Art parasite logic". Nice, thanks very much. I don't think I've been rude but cheers anyway.

All I meant was that arts spend per capita is a few quid - you only have to do a few arty things that you enjoy and you've got your money's worth. Maybe ignore the rest, someone else might like them.

Yes the arts are funded through the lottery as good causes, as are lots of other things. I don't really like badminton but I'm not getting my knickers in a twist about people "taking Lottery Money" to chase a shuttlecock round a sports hall.

The joy of a democracy is that if you don't like the way something's done, you get to vote for someone who might do it more the way you want it. So if you want to slash the arts budget, there's a party that will happily do that for you.

Have wonderful yuletides one and all. Peace and goodwill to all.

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