PRINT September 2008


Cerith Wyn Evans, Michael Clark, Steven Guff, and crew during the production of the film component of Michael Clark’s Parts I–IV, 1983. Photo: Chris Harris.

MICHAEL AND I FIRST MET a long time ago, probably in 1981, at the filmmaker Derek Jarman’s apartment on Tottenham Court Road in London. I didn’t really know his work, but then it didn’t really exist. Michael must have been a teenager at the time, just seventeen or something, an adventurous tyke with a sparkle in his eye. I wasn’t much older, actually. But there are certain people you respond to the moment you meet, and this was just kismet. The first conversation that we had, bizarrely enough, was probably about e. e. cummings; we were talking about Language poetry and Gertrude Stein. Within seconds, we were talking about, I don’t know, modernist semantics and queer culture. We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but this is exactly what we were bonded through. You see, Michael, in a sense, equivocates a kind of crazy literature that binds itself within footsteps; after Language poetry, we started talking about what it means to actually make a step. Subsequently I tried to introduce him to the writing I knew—David Antin, for example. Michael is a profoundly good reader; the conceptual aspect of our relationship and our delight in that prospect of reading has become transparent. And every year since we met he gives me a step for my birthday. Some of them are fucking difficult to do! But now I have something like my own choreography.

By the time we met, Michael had already been introduced to dancers and choreographers from New York. He’d met Karole Armitage, Merce Cunningham, and, by extension, John Cage. There was a whole community of people who were Michael’s admirers because he was so gifted—so hungry in the kind of mental state of just being, well, what he’s become. I remember dragging him to see this film by Robert Bresson, and he couldn’t stand it. After Cunningham and Cage, Michael always had a pair of dice with him, and so he stayed in the toilet the whole time, just throwing the dice, using them to come up with different choreographic solutions to a problem. Michael would be working, working, working, working.

The first time we worked together on a piece, he asked me to make the backdrop for his first choreographic event at Riverside Studios in London, called Of a Feather, Flock I [1981–82]. I took a little Cessna plane up above the clouds and shot a movie while hanging out the side. That’s as simple as it was, but I just knew that it could provide the right kind of set for Michael’s work. Since then, we’ve worked together on many things; he’s persuaded me even to take the stage. But I would like to point out how, in a radical sense, Michael is generous with anyone who collaborates with him. One of the things that I think he interrogates is the very notion of collaboration, actually. It’s not like, “I am the filmmaker” or “I am the costume designer.” It all becomes different things.

Something genius about Michael is how he ironizes certain things, or makes irony out of things that really aren’t. There are certain times when he sends secret signs and messages. Or it can be one single step at the beginning of a dance, where you have—and he used to talk about this a lot—one singular sensation. One can’t overstate the glamour of Michael in all this. I remember lunchtime once with him on a Saturday near Riverside Studios. The place is totally quiet and, all of a sudden, in walks Samuel Beckett, who’s at the studios reviewing the production of one of his plays. Now, I’m prepared to just drop dead and die, when Beckett comes over to us like a real gentleman and says, “Oh, hello. Do you know who’s won the football match?” We must have looked like total fucking fruits at the time, because I only did butch drag during the day, wearing vintage Chanel with jackboots. I’m just blinded. But Michael, he says, “We’re not interested in football.” I’m kicking his shins under the table, thinking, “Don’t be so rude! It’s fucking Samuel Beckett!” But that can’t count for nothing. Can you imagine: “We’re not interested in football.”

—As told to Tim Griffin

Cerith Wyn Evans is an artist living in London.