Tim Etchells and the lists of impossible texts

So, as I get halfway through the book I’m reading- South of the Border, West of the Sun- (which is great by the way, but I can’t tell you about it as I’m only halfway through) I’m already itching to read another book, a book I read 3 years ago, in a dark dark place – more mentally than literally, although English winters are not necessarily known for uplifting the soul: The Raw Shark Texts. This is a book I keep going back to, I think because I love its visuals – text sharks chasing throughout the book, jaws created out of dots and dashes, type writer key bombs, the idea that with a lot of imagination you can turn a bottle full of text of water into something drinkable, and that at the core of the world there is a maze of a library books  (you can tell as a kid, I was way too immersed in my books).

But the person who pointed me towards this book, via blog, was Tim Etchells, a performance artist and writer who has for the last couple of decades created work with a seminal group called Forced Entertainment, which have been a huge influence of all of my performance work.


if you’re interested. The reason they were so influential for me, was the use of text in their work, particularly lists, which featured very heavily in their earlier work- all written by Tim Etchells. One of my favourite texts, which I felt in a  way encapsulated what Forced Entertainment were trying to do, is an essay, On Performance Writing, featured in Certain Fragments by Peggy Phelan*. Its a text describing all the texts that could possibly exist- like a list of dishes, that if you could cook up, you would have the most amazing performance ever. Not necessarily one long list, it’s an essay including lots of short lists, around the dialogue.It always make me want to start writing,

” 1. A text to be whispered by the bedside of a sleeping child

2.A text to be yelled aloud by a single performer in a car park at dawn.

3.A text to be left on the ansaphone of strangers

4.A text to be spoken while fucking secretly the partner of a good friend

5.A text for a megaphone

6.A text which could be used as a weapon”

“3. A series of texts to be written on a lover. In biro, lipstick, in permanent marker, in blood, and semen

4.An invisible text”

*(pgs 98-99, Certain Fragments, Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment, Routledge 1999)

Anyway to the point- he’s creating new text based art, and rambling back through his blog today, I found these, and they made me smile, so I thought I would share them on…


I love the neon signs, and the idea that who we are as people, is the memories that lie between these two points- things we can’t remember and things we can’t forget.

There are also things we can’t remember that we can’t forget; and things we can’t forget that we can’t remember (these are the worst…in my experience… ).  Its like that pie chart of knowledge in the world… there’s things we know, things we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know. But I digress a little.

I like the fact that these two things can define you as a person, especially things you can’t forget… things one person would happily forget, are etched on another’s brain, and I think they can say a lot about a person- one person’s memory that can’t be forgotten, that defined/ created a small moral compass- can easily be another person’s memory they can’t remember without a care.

All pictures courtesy



In true Myspace style:

listening to Clare and the Reasons


About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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