dynamical instability


Town as stage

Monday and Tuesday 6–7 August / Days 8 and 9
180 books given away in nine days.

Tuesday was Frances’s last day as an Olympic Ambassador. I gave her a book and she told me a story about how she’d designed a jacket with a map of Portland and a bunny on the back for her London2012 volunteer interview, but was told she’d have to wear this uniform instead. And how she met the mayor of Portland, OR and got into a correspondence with him for twelve months.

Cheap / open / curious

On Sunday, when I changed the message to “Free Books,” I worried about diminishing the work. That “free” would signal “cheap.” It makes me uncomfortable to even show a photograph of the sign here. Of course lots of people are interested in free stuff and I could tell that some who approached me were primarily attracted to the idea of a bargain—a motivation at odds with the traditional art world model (rare = expensive = good).

And then I thought—so what? By giving the work a form that’s instantly recognizable (the printed book), and putting it in the street, I’ve opened it up. Not accessible like on Amazon (whoever wants a book can find it) but available and exposed to a diverse, chance-determined audience. I’ve shifted the barrier of entry from price (can I afford it) to engagement (who is this guy, what does he want). Anyone open to a 15-second diversion gains the potential, later, with the book, for some kind of discovery, big or small. Standing there on the esplanade, I witness people eyeing me, ignoring me, glancing over, looking away, smiling, stopping, nudging, whispering and pointing. For the most part they aren’t on the lookout for art—unlike some of the visitors to the bakery, who have come to see the books. With the town as my stage, standing in the street with my work, I’m coming face to face with key questions—who recognizes art? who wants it? who reads? whose eyes are open? who is curious?

Mass-transfer bursts and the superhumps in cataclysmic variables

Speaking of curiosity. On Sunday I was coming off of Town Bridge on the bicycle, headed to Hope Square. As I passed the King’s Arms pub the door swings open and Geoffrey bursts out with his arms up and a loud “PAAUL!!” Amazingly, he had spotted me from inside the tavern and said he wanted to give me a copy of his paper explaining dynamical instability. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d already found it online and linked to it here (Geoffrey doesn’t own a computer). We arranged a meeting time for Monday.

And so, on the day that Curiosity landed on Mars, I sat with Geoffrey in Hope Square and gave him a copy of Weymouths #8, about the ruins of an ancient Roman temple overlooking the sea in Weymouth. And he gave me his paper about exploding stars, rolled up in a toilet paper tube. The full title is Mass-transfer bursts and the superhumps in cataclysmic variables by Geoffrey T. Bath, published by the Royal Astronomical Society in 2004.



Dynamical instability

Friday and Saturday 3–4 August / Days 5 and 6
120 books given away in six days. 

Twice I’ve been asked to leave the esplanade by beach control, the result of local bureaucracy and a break-down in communication. After several discussions about where I’m allowed to be, I was finally told that I can be considered a busker and set up only in specially designated areas for street performers—Jubilee Clock, Hope Square, the train station and St. Mary’s Church. The irony is that this project about giving and free exchange can only be accepted into the community by mapping it back onto the familiar structure of performing for money.

I won’t pretend that this trip is easy. The performative aspect is exhausting in many ways (emotionally, physically, socially). Each time I give a book to someone there’s some kind of exchange of energy—an explanation, an acknowledgement, a conversation. In the case of beach control—confrontation.

Some of the encounters are turning into relationships—casual, public bonds, but still.

And I find myself monitoring everyone in the bakery, even if they’re not interacting with the Weymouths box. When someone does engage, they tell me stories, frequently triggered by things they see in the books. Sally said I’m sort of acting like a therapist for the town—listening to stories, associations, ideas. It’s endlessly satisfying, but draining.

Sally mentioned the phrase “live art” today. This resonates with me, as does the idea that the work is site-specific and depends on my presence and direct engagement with an audience—in this case, an entire town. Of course I think of The Artist Is Present, and while I don’t dare compare Weymouths to Marina Abramovic’s super-human feats at MoMA, both works are durational and I find myself thinking about her a lot here. What she had to give to pull that off. What she endured, how she survived (and what I’m doing here, without any training). At least once a day I think: I’m crazy. No one cares about this. Why am I bothering? Those feelings are drowned out by others (and by lots of positive feedback) so I keep going, but doubt lingers everywhere in the acting out of this work.

I’ve never done anything like this before.

Dynamical instability is as fundamental a physical process as simple harmonic motion.

I’ve had a few encounters with Geoffrey Bath, the town astrophysicist, whose reaction to the work has been immense. Something happened yesterday. I found him sitting with his morning pint and a cigarette in Hope Square, and gave him two copies of volume five. After thanking me profusely and telling me how he would give the second one as a gift to someone at dinner tonight, we somehow got into a conversation about Geoffrey’s theory of dynamical instability (published by the Royal Astronomical Society in 2004).

He started to explain it, and then I asked him to draw it. He sketched a simple experiment involving a glass of water, an elastic band and a tube. All that’s needed is a light touch to set the glass of water in motion. Geoffrey says that this particular dynamic doesn’t happen naturally anywhere on earth. But then he pointed up and smiled, and laughed. It happens all the time up there, he says—cataclysmic cosmic events. His theory explains the explosions of white dwarfs.

I love Geoffrey’s theory of dynamical instability, even though I don’t understand it. I love that these fifteen minutes he shared with me feel like they’re at the heart of the work. I’ve thought about why for a full day now. It has something to do with the banality of the everyday (the morning pint, the cigarette, the tourists in Hope Square) juxtaposed with larger things. An older man’s need to be heard. Deeper structures that are revealed at a picnic table, on cobble stones, at a pub. Someone opens a hole in the skin of a small town to reveal matter, time and light. Something about what we’re all made of, and the smallness I feel while contemplating an exploding star.

Exchange of energy.

It’s something I tried to do in Weymouths. It’s why there’s a narrative in the work, from banality to poetry, from present to past to time itself.

Daphne thanked me for creating a social networking project.

Weymouths Volume Six: Burial / Extinguished by purchase.

Too windy for the book blanket.

Pete found two women from Weymouth, MA!

A visit from Stephen Banks of Bridport.