Helen Savage

For Charlotte Moorman

Charlotte Moorman


As I went around she was in my head, like a deity, someone I could not touch

I was going to write an article about her work discovered via Nam June Paik’s retrospective at Tate 

I didn’t read the book ‘Topless Cellist’

I did go back to the exhibition, I didn’t spend long engaging with her work

I watched some of her videos on you tube where she looked like she was playing but I stopped

I didn’t trust her pleasure and so I looked away

I didn’t know if she was for real and so I looked away

I feared the unknown and so I looked away

Her hair was down

She was wearing barely any clothes

She was playing the cello; Avant Guard style

Thrashing a piece of metal with her bow

I got distracted, I made new work about the gallery audience titled ‘Voyeur’ and in 

which you did not feature

I got distracted, I made a new work titled ‘the future’ inspired by the exhibition and in 

which you did not feature

I got absorbed by writing good pieces which described art-works by her male 

collaborator, Nam June Paik, the father of video art

Your image was in my head, her name was in my head,

I pushed it away

She, her, woman, away please


Listening to Charlotte Moorman


Today I am trying to listen to her as I have never listened to her before

This is not difficult because I have not ever listened to her before. I thought I had been listening but I hadn’t 

I had been listening to the voice inside of my head and not to her music

The voice inside of my head uttered her name over and over on repeat like a broken record 

She became a name like a man but was emptied out of content. I had silenced her and in 

so doing I begun to silence my interest. Her name became distant I heard it far off and far away 

The denial of my interest forged a clear and open space vulnerable to intrusion

This clearing appeared to me much like the canon, it looked much like a traditional 

narrative. It looked much like convention, it looked much like a good art review of a long and lengthy 


It had grey or white walls and a clean grey floor it appeared to me as a space of 

normality and rationality 

This gallery or institution or cannon like clearing inside of my body produced through 

the denial of my interest is where I allowed him to come in         the ‘Male Artist’             

There was no music in this room of any kind only the sound of silence, not silence like 

John Cage’s silence even – it was the silence of death

When I couldn’t go on anymore I decided it was time to leave this place

It was lucky I had the inclination or it was a miracle I did

In the distance was The Women’s Art Library, I had heard of it before and I went to it

There was nothing lucky about this place and it was not a miracle

Set up by a group of un-represented female artists in the 70’s who wanted to document 

their art, a sanctuary carved out through work

Arriving at this space is where I begun to listen and what I heard was women talking

I went on you-tube and listened to Moorman talking,

I begun to hear her Avant Guard music.

When she struck a bow on metal, she struck me inside out


A Radical Idea


Today the curatorial decisions at Tate Modern have on the one hand chosen to dedicate a whole room to Charlotte Moorman’s collaboration with Nam June Paik. (Charlotte Moorman (November 18, 1933 – November 8, 1991) was an American performance artist and musician, and a pioneer on the Avant Guard Scene. She took influence from feminist performance art at the time to produce radical work. Nam June Paik was an American Korean Artist, and the Father of Video Art.) However, although this gives her work viewing space and new audiences, it also continues a narrative whereby her practice and identity is always subordinated to a males successful artistic career. A radical idea would have been to look at the themes in American Korean artist Nam June Paik’s work, which include the manipulation and subversion of dominant forms, and use this to inform a different kind of showcase than what we see today. Through looking at Nam June Paik’s work ‘Internet Dreams’ (1994) I will demonstrate how this could be done. ‘Internet Dreams’ is a sculptural piece where 50 retro TV screens are stacked on top of each other creating a larger screen. The screens are connected to one another and play fragments of TV shows and films. The video is sped up, rewound and CUT. Kaleidoscopic images. In this piece Paik says no to conventional narrative. In George Orwells 1984, which Paik refers to in other works, telescreens are both transmitters and receptors of manipulative information- and we are taught to be cautious of TV as a ‘truth’ source. It’s the same in Paik’s work, but not only the TV, the internet too, which points towards information in general. In Paik’s retrospective there was a lot of information. If we imagine the art institution as a transmitter of narrative and of truth via the information they give us (its pasted on the walls, its handed to us as a booklet) we could say that ‘Internet Dreams’ is actually instructing us to not read it as is. So my new idea is to cut out all of the text in the exhibition and just have artworks. After that I would cut out all Paik’s work bar 2 or 3 of his impressive pieces e.g ‘TV Garden’ (1974- 1977), some of his global television works, and of course ‘Internet Dreams’. I also like his robot pieces, so I would keep them. Then, I would put Charlotte Moormans work in the centre. Its not that I don’t like Paik’s work, its just we have heard from him as a central character before. This would be a radical manipulation of the canon, of history, of the institution. What would Paik’s ‘TV Garden’ look like if it was not actually an installation but instead was filmed and played as a projection and a backdrop to Moormans performance of ‘Variation on a Theme by Saint Saens’ (1967). We could finally get around to engaging with Moormans work. In ‘Variation on a Theme by Saint Saens’ Moorman is playing the cello stood on a ladder next to a blue oil tank. She is partially undressed. Halfway through her performance she puts down the cello and climbs into the tank containing water and submerges herself. She gets out and continues playing a sentimental tune dripping wet with water. Its erotic, daring. Another thing that struck me about the retrospective was the alienating effect global communications have had. This was evident in how viewers were experiencing this exhibition, they were on their phones, drifting through, not really engaged. What would happen if the water from Moorman’s piece was real, if it splashed onto the phones of viewers and broke them.


The Future


The future didn’t arrive because we were asked to visit 12 rooms worth of Nam June Paik’s life spanning over 30 years of ephemera, sculptures, installations, documentations. The future didn’t arrive because they wanted to weigh us down with history, it didn’t arrive because the institutions insisted that the past was the past they wanted us to make the same mistakes again, to keep us in their grip. The future didn’t arrive because as far as I could see Nam Junes Paik’s career was over and so were his concerns. The future didn’t arrive because he has been historized now, dead. The future didn’t arrive because they didn’t let the dead continue living. The future didn’t arrive because they feared the dead. The future didn’t arrive because they were scared to let dead artists work keep on living, keep on telling, keep on transmitting. The future didn’t arrive because instead of allowing the artworks to breath we were given information. The future didn’t arrive because our brains couldn’t take it. The future didn’t arrive because there was so much information objects, narrative of Paik’s life, sculptures we didn’t know where to look to find the future and when we thought we had there was something else to look at. The future didn’t arrive because we were asked to look and find it, we were asked to search for it in 12 different rooms, in Paik’s desk.  The future didn’t arrive because there were too many screens next to one another, not in a cohesive way like a Paik artwork, but in a way that was distracting and more like being at a shopping centre. The future didn’t arrive because we were distracted. The future didn’t arrive because the institutions linear narrative constantly imposed upon a life did not allow for the future to arrive, it was always as if it was over and we were somewhere else.



Working in The Public Library Service Under Austerity

Looking after the matter so that any member of the public who can prove ID and a home address can borrow it. If he matters enough – that’s if he has a permanent address – he is entitled to borrow 15 items in one go and he can renew them indefinitely. If he does not matter enough he will have restrictions on the amount of matter he can borrow and 

for how long. If he matters enough he is entitled to lots of matter. If he doesn’t really matter and can only show a temporary address or no address or only has unofficial ID or no ID then he can not have much matter and that is how it works here. Looking after the public matter by ensuring that it has been entered correctly on the computer system, by checking that it has all the correct barcodes and identity papers inside to tell us where it belongs. If the matter comes apart due to wear or tear or looks as if it might begin to deteriorate due to unknown and outside forces using special tape. Opening the matter now at its seam and placing the tape along its spine to hold it together. Putting the matter on its self, shelving. Lifting the public matter. Sometimes the matter is heavy so bending the legs to pick up the matter and taking it easy whilst walking with the matter across the space. The workers who do this work care for all the matter. For what is good and what is bad and, such, their stance is outside of ‘taste’. Outside of the stylish city, on the edges, at the fringes: belief. They work for a public service and they will care for the matter in public ownership. That is until the worker is handed a gimmick. A gimmick’s favourite game is to mock the public but they forget that they mock the worker too. A gimmick has nothing to do with real matter; with dirt and mud and soil and moss and bark and water. A gimmick is a book that is against nature; is against the warming climate. A gimmick makes a mockery of the workers attention, makes a mockery out of the time spent in the office, makes a mockery of the workers hands. A example of a gimmick includes Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form. 

The matter is that the workers have low morale the workers do not have team meetings. Sometimes the matter goes missing. The material goes missing, the object goes missing and the workers marks it on the computer system as just that, missing. It is often a problem when something is missing and this is the case for the workers. For the workers what is missing is support, is a pay-rise and this is the matter. What is missing is a Christmas party, is a team meeting. Is recognition of their work, is opportunity for progress. Is a ‘well done’ from a fellow colleague, is a team meeting. The matter is that the workers are unsatisfied by their repetitive and physically straining work. The matter is that the workers’ work is not engaging, it’s that they get distracted easily. The matter is that because of this when one of the workers hands touches another of the workers hands when passing over the matter, it feels mildly erotic and this is so unusual it sends them into a state of shock for 3 days. The workers are not used to being touched. Not by their work, not by their colleagues. Not by their partners because they are always in a rush to get back to work. Their work or the object of their work does not touch the workers and this is what is the problem: the matter they are handling does not matter to the worker. The workers can order in matter that does matter to them. They aren’t given the time to pour over it. The matter is that the workers are not able to read fantasy fiction, or fiction. The matter is that the workers do not have the time or inclination to read. The matter is that there is no one in the position to say ‘well done’. There is no one to utter the words ‘well done’ when the workers have done good work. The person who used to has been erased from the workplace. Those words, erased from the memories of the workers, erased from the face of the earth. All the workers are left with is to fantasize about it inside their own heads. The workers make up scenarios in their heads in which the words ‘well done’ are uttered. How elaborate these fantasies are depends on how the workers they are feeling that day. In one such fantasy all the workers are stood around naked with placards which read ‘well done Sue’, all desiring the worker and bowing down to her.