Post-pandemic and looking back: performance artist and sound-maker FK Alexander reflects on what matters most in her work
Five years ago, I spent a week – awake and asleep – in one small exhibition space, in a gallery in Glasgow. I titled the performance-installation: I CANNOT COPE WITH THE FUTURE.
The seven-day thing wasn’t particularly about me being alone; and for insurance reasons, my dear friend and colleague Sian stayed with me. I welcomed visitors into the space at various times. Other times, I sat in the window, in a grubby white outfit and really good posture, at a desk that rested in a pile of coal, soil and wood: materials I had gathered from woods and carried to various performances and spaces.
Elsewhere in the gallery I made collages from copies of the National Enquirer; old newspapers featuring Ian Brady or Columbine or the woman with the world’s largest tits. I projected rolling footage of the Twin Towers and adverts and pop music videos. I laid out some bones – animal and human – on the window sill.
I played the same sounds over and over: some kind of drone music or slightly trippy woozy noise.
The main ‘exhibition’ section, contained a series of mismatched canvases and boards painted white with lyrics and lines from books or films, drawn using my dripping blood. They were all written out with carefully written capital-letter text.
Things like :
IF EVERYTHING YOU EVER RUINED FELL FROM THE SKY IN THIS MINUTE THE WORLD WOULD BE COVERED IN DARKNESS. – Richard Jobson
I KNEW THAT SOMEDAY I WAS GOING TO DIE. AND JUST BEFORE I DIED TWO THINGS WOULD HAPPEN; NUMBER 1: I WOULD REGRET MY ENTIRE LIFE. NUMBER TWO: I WOULD WANT TO LIVE MY LIFE OVER AGAIN. – Hubert Selby Jr
‘WHAT’S THE BRAVEST THING YOU EVER DID?’ HE SPAT IN THE ROAD A BLOODY PHLEGM. ‘GETTING UP THIS MORNING.’ – Cormac Mc Carthy, The Road
One of my main tasks was to type out the whole of Not I by Beckett on an old typewriter on the desk in the soil. I did this… a lot.
Everything in the room came from my house. Came from my life. Came from my blood. Collaging and cataloguing the large box of newspaper clippings I’d saved for decades – of serial killer stories, 9/11, Iraq, Tammy Faye Baker, Lockerbie, Hillsborough, Jamie Bulger, Marilyn Mansion, self-mutilation, stock markets, 24-hour TV, video nasties.
Rapists and rockstars.
Everything I piled in each small square came from my home: the words, the blood, the wood, the images, the sounds.
Samples from a very particular time – the end of the century, and the decline of western civilisation (the metal years).
The blood paintings were in a way a homage to the Manic Street Preachers, probably my truest sweetest and longest love of a band. The only reason I ever read Sylvia Plath or Harold Pinter or Primo Levi; or looked at paintings by Jenny Saville, was due to that band.
I wanted to spew everything up, roll around in it, try to make sense, and ultimately realise, like everything else, it makes no sense at all. And it really doesn’t matter.
I was pawing at something in this gallery – something about silence and culture. About overwhelm and numbness. About repetition and work. About channelling some of my confusion and torment of modern living into a small square of space.
I feel I have always used my work to collage and sample the – my – sensorial experience of Trying To Cope With Being Alive.
My process most of the time was to observe obsession until obsession reveals her secrets to the unconscious mind. Then I could translate myself into actions and materials within a live art work
That has led to being dragged through a corridor of fire, taking a hammer to my record collection, setting fire to oil drums full of childhood stuffed toys, or singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ literally hundreds and hundreds of times.
Now, five years later, I’m thinking so much more about sensation (and laughing at the irony).
About the internet. Power. Industrial music. Posture in high heels. The sky.
I think about places. How buildings change name and decor. How the story of myself is the story of places, and times. How every place is invisible when you’re not in it.
How many places I have been to. How many rooms, how many door handles, toilets, good spots to do drugs.
I think about silence. About how I once spent two weeks in a buddhist retreat: 26 people, full silence the whole two weeks. No talking. About the way you get to know someone without talking. The way they make eye contact. The way they spend their time. The routines. But the best bit – not knowing their names, what they do, where they’re from, what they think about the government, war, car insurance. It is incredible to, with love, not care about what others think. Because I don’t want to care about opinions. Least of all mine.
I think about sound. More about volume: whole spaces full of sound.
About night clubs. And darkness. And neon lights. and really heavy music. The kind of music it’s impossible to think over. Standing in a small dark room, my brain being washed from the inside. About how fortunate and beautiful a gift it was to find sound that could dilate my thinking. Complete sensation. Total.
I think about performances and the feeling of entering someones else’s mind. The electricity: many people in one place watching one thing. Lights going down, and attention. Everyone having an experience but all different. How many times have I felt a very specific part of myself being reflected back at me by another person’s art?
How many times has my temperature dropped when someone, without speaking (crucially) opens a portal in my subconscious, into my body, allowing me to feel pain, gratitude, wisdom, ugliness, conflict, something about my dad, whatever?
I think about how it’s going to feel in summer, how it will feel in my chest when I walk from bed to garden first thing. To drink cold water from a long glass. To lay down on the warm earth and breathe. So deeply.
I made work about the things that obsess me. I let my obsessions take control: dead people, the future, anxiety, music, the atoms that made me, about photographs. About the images on my walls, late night TV and suburban horrors.
I think these things are important. I know they are. My body told me.
All photographs of FK Alexander and her work courtesy of the artist.
FK Alexander is a Scottish performance artist who works with noise music to make action-based live art. The pieces are often durational, site responsive or unrepeatable. This work frequently involves hammers, strobes, volume, sensation, destruction, and Judy Garland. FK has gratefully received various awards, and has toured extensively across the UK, Europe and America.
FK Alexander took part in the Total Theatre Artists as Writers programme 2021-2022.