Inbox: Tim Etchells

Feature in Issue 13-4 | Winter 2001

The first in our new series of e-mail questionnaires.

Your name?

Tim Etchells

How would you describe yourself and your occupation?

I have a tiny hesitation when faced with this question on the registration forms at hotels – sometimes I write artist. But more often I leave it blank. I think I wrote director once but I didn't like the look of it. I'm still trying to figure out why the hesitation exists and why my sense of what I do varies according to mood. A reluctance to commit to an occupation in a form or a questionnaire seems pretty reasonable to me and it seems to fit with other details – I've never filled in that part of my passport where they ask for next of kin and don't carry documentation for my cardiac pacemaker. At the airport, if they ask, they have to take the scar as evidence. ‘Look,' I said to the last security person that asked, ‘it's real. You can touch it if you like.’

What have you seen, read or experienced recently that has been an inspiration?

Performance: Jerome Bel's The Show Must Go On, Meg Stuart's choreography for Alibi, William Forsythe's Edios: Telos. Reading: a lot of interesting stuff on 'Nettime' (internet), Stephen Connor's Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, Jalal Toufic's (Vampires) and loads of kids' fiction, both with my kids and alone, especially Phillip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials and Diana Wynne Jones' Crestomanci series. Cinema: Battle Royale at the cinema, Tarkovsky's Mirror and Harmonie Korine's Julien Donkey Boy on DVD. The Sopranos, in video, live broadcast, DVD or intravenous form. Sean Logan's amazing C4 broadcasts from the Arab world, especially his piece from Afghanistan. Art: Richard Wentworth's Wentworth/Atget exhibition at the Photographers Gallery.

I love the way my youngest child Seth calls himself the 'arm-er man' when he has to get his arms out of his jumper and the 'lock-er man' when he has to unlock the door. I love the way he says ‘Dad, I don't seem to like the shop that you are talking about...' I loved learning about the events of September 11th in a short text message from a lover as she watched the first tower burning from Brooklyn Bridge. I loved one very very drunken night in Vienna in May where it seemed like everything and everyone was sexy and funny and it was dawn when we came out and I was walking along trying to sing the song by Tricky that features in the Steve McQueen installation – another inspiring thing – and I was saying goodbye to people who I hadn't seen for ages and wouldn't see for ages more and they were getting into taxis but I was in a world of my own. I loved, that same night, that a total stranger started telling me stories about a dead friend and that in the middle of his narrative he pulled out his mobile phone and said, 'Look, look, that's her number... Should erase it?' I love the internal memos and announcements we get in the building where we are based – Warnings of lift maintenance and requests for information about acts of vandalism. Even in the middle of this ugly war with its ugly consequences both short and long term there is still plenty to love.

Which of your artistic achievements are you most proud of?

I don't know. I think other people are best placed to figure out what's worth thinking about and what's worth forgetting. A woman once told me that she'd masturbated to one of my Endland short stones. She said she had waited until her boss was out, locked the door of the office she worked in and gone into the back room and lain on the floor. I was very surprised but I thought that was a really big compliment.

If you could change one thing (in yourself, your life/art or anything anywhere) what would it be?

I'd like to be able to be in two, three or maybe even four places at once. I could specify several of the places where I would like to be present but I'd like to keep at least one location floating for emergencies or whims.

What do you think was the best example of theatre in the past year (regardless of whether it defined itself as theatre)?

I don't go to see theatre and I don't like it when it appears in the world out of context.

What does the term 'Total Theatre' mean to you?

Tony Blair and George W. Bush. The idea of consensus. The idea of community. Religion, especially vapid default Christianity.

Your manifesto for theatre?

No manifesto. Follow your nose.

Forced Entertainment's First Night, directed by Tim Etchells, is on tour. Tim Etchells' new book The Dream Dictionary (for the Modem Dreamer) is published by Duckworths and is in bookshops. His older books Certain Fragments (Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment) and Endland Stories (see recommendation above) are hard, but not impossible to find. Etchells has written text for the new production by Meg Stuart's company Damaged Goods entitled Alibi which is touring all over mainland Europe but seems to be skipping England (no big surprises there then). His SMS project Surrender Control was at the ICA recently. His installation for busstops in Bradford, The 24 (a 24-hour long text unfolding at a rate of one fragment per minute and created as a collaboration between Etchells' text and a computer program), is going public in January 2002. Other projects too numerous to mention are also circulating. Etchells and Matthew Goulish (of Goat Island) are currently launching a web-based think-tank under the name The Institute of Failure

Forced Entertainment:
The Institute of Failure:
Surrender Control:

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Issue 13-4
p. 9