Home Biography Schedule Directory Writing Contact www.robindeacon.com


This performance was presented in several different ways, mostly as a string of non-verbal interactions with objects, but also as an academic paper with a textual element. The following is a transcript of the latter version of this piece. In all cases, the objects used were adjusted in some way.


"The first of the 'other objects' I'd like to show you today is this one..."

(Switch on hob. Reveal frying pan. Hit yourself over the head with frying pan)

"Just to allay any fears for my well being...this is not a frying pan..."

(Place pan on hob - through the next section of text, the frying pan - made of wax - begins to melt.)

"Flies in the ointment; spanners in the works; sand in the Vaseline; niggers in the woodpile. Last year, I became interested in materialising these analogies of contamination through the construction of a series of useless objects to be used in performances. The existing object is either altered in some way, or rebuilt from scratch, using materials that display different characteristics. The idea is that the raison d'ętre of the thing, whatever it is, is inverted, reversed or removed altogether, thus engendering a wholly different language of cause, effect and expectation. Today, I'm presenting these things out of context from their original performances in a sort of 'greatest hits' package. But I also want to look at this different language of cause, effect and expectation in a wider sense, beyond the confines of a performance where only I have the privilege of hitting myself over the head with a wax frying pan. So it is the metaphorical flies, spanners, niggers and sand in which I am interested."

(Put bag of groceries on table. Take out box of eggs)


"Before a magician saws his assistant in half, he will hold aloft his equipment (Hold up egg) to show that 'this is just a regular saw' - the standard issue platitudes."

(The egg has been altered by being filled with sand)

(Break egg in what remains of the melted frying pan - pause, repeat action twice. Finally, break egg onto your face - this egg has not been altered.)

"Of course, common sense would tell us that it is a mistake for the magician to take up cudgels against that which represents the aura of his practice (Attend to frying pan) debunking the art of the prestidigitator by revealing the pedestrian mechanics of this black art. However, one can deliberately introduce transparency to the proceedings; the iconoclastic idea of the magician that reveals his tricks, risking expulsion from some arcane circle, or the comedian who tells his punchlines first only to consequently die horribly on stage."

(Take off shirt and lay it on table) "Perhaps the emperor really isn't wearing any clothes. There is, suffice to say, a certain 'labour intensiveness' involved in making these things; the construction becomes a performance for which the audience is in absentia. This often happens to me. I get sucked into some incidental aspect of the work, usually an aspect that the audience is not present for. Consequently, the half an hour for which the viewers are present slips to the bottom of the hierarchy relative to the half an hour it takes to fill each of these eggs with sand."


"Away from the workshop, and within the performance, the aspiration was towards a self contained and fully unified visual pun.

1 - Desert: (Take baby cactus out of pocket and place in sand at the centre of the melted frying pan)

2 - Beach: (Knock over glass of water onto shirt laid out on the table. Break the last sand filled egg, forming a line of sand by the pool of water. Break egg shell into small pieces and arrange around it.

3 - Desert: (Take glace cherry out of pocket and place in sand at the centre of the melted frying pan)

Unfortunately, there is only so much the eye can do. Granted, if you look carefully, you'll see the holes on either side of the egg where the yolk and white have been drained out and the sand trickled in, but for me, the most interesting difference is in weight a haptic phenomenon is too subtle to be ascertained visually."

(Pick up last egg - this one has been altered by being filled with hard plaster)

"In most cases, including this one, the relationship with the viewer remains one of 'Look at this' rather than 'Hold this' or 'Feel this'."

(Pick up hammer)

The hammer has been altered by being cast in plaster and hand painted.

"Reverse alchemy. A biblical miracle going wrong. Turning wine into water. Gold into shit..."

(Hit hammer on egg - the hammer breaks, the egg remains intact)

"I was trying to recall something I read about the painter whose canvasses were so uncannily realistic, that birds would swoop down to peck at his representation of grapes, relative to Rene Magritte's written disclaimer that 'This is not a pipe' underneath his painted image of a pipe. But then again, in many situations, viewers have been drunk, or sitting at the back, or more usually, simply not paying attention."

(Reveal and lay out four more altered hammers in line. Pick up real hammer, smash plaster ones)

"Of course, this situation is different in that I'm dealing with what I'm assuming is a reasonably sober audience at 10.00 in the morning who may just be able to discern the lumpy application of paint and cracks that testify to my limited abilities in rudimentary plaster casting techniques."

(Pour water from jug into glass)

(The water has been altered by being replaced with a clear, but thickened substance, hence pouring is slowed)

(Take out smaller shirt from top pocket of shirt on table. Put on)


"In 1950 with the help of two friends, Michel Mourre dressed up as a Dominican Friar and proceeded to insinuate his way into the cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris during Easter mass. He successfully ensconced himself in the pulpit, interrupting the rarefied atmosphere of the house of god with a blasphemous stream of anti-Catholic invective masquerading as a sermon. The chagrin of the congregation was well documented. Following the arrest of the miscreants, the newspaper headline screamed this trio of questions, "Three Mental Cases? Three Boors? Three Heroes?" Nearly fifty years later, I borrowed a friend's London Underground uniform and proceeded to insinuate my way into the into the entrance hall at Surrey Quays tube station on the little used East London line."

"Having successfully ensconced myself by the ticket barriers, I interrupted the steady flow of passengers, asking people to show me their hopefully valid tickets. Tickets were dutifully shown, one traveller remarking that it made a change having his ticket checked. Perhaps this is my 'homage' to this Notre Dame prank - I say perhaps because I read about this retrospectively. Unlike Monsieur Mourre however, I didn't have the nerve to do this for longer than 10 minutes, primarily due to the wide proliferation of CCTV in the station and my plain old fashioned cowardice. There were subtle things about my appearance metaphorical to the cracks and dodgy paintwork on the plaster hammers; clues to my status as impostor. For instance, the more perspicacious travellers will have noticed my under sized hat, perched on the top of my head in a rather ridiculous manner; my trousers hitched up a little too much...also, the fact that I had just spent the evening in the club over the road. In theory, the people whose tickets I was checking I had also been rubbing shoulders with on the dancefloor. A dead give away."


"All of this may seem like a digression, but the link is interruption. The anomalous. The everyday made strange. Could the same be done using these objects taken out of the context of a performance? In the realms of fantasy, perhaps; the following are things I have thought of doing only to be precluded by possible confrontation with the law and confrontation with my own sanity. (Take out rest of groceries, lay out on table) I spoke earlier about the relationship with the viewer as being one of 'Look at this' rather than 'Hold this' or 'Feel this'. Cutting into the smooth quotidian repetitions of household drudgery would be nice. When you crack open an egg, you expect an egg to fall out. Except, you don't even think about it. After all, you trust the packaging like you trust the uniform. These are some of more 'adjusted' packaged goods. Modern packaging techniques can deal with keeping the enemy without, out; baby locks, seals, shrink wrapping, buttons on lids that tell us 'when depressed do not use'. Other than at the point of manufacture, it is not at all easy to breach these fortresses without leaving evidence of things having been tampered with. Altering the product is one thing; returning them to the supermarket shelf from whence they had come is another. Stealing in reverse. Indeed, an oxymoronic premise. The only point of reference is with the disgruntled consumer taking revenge on society - the lone male placing broken glass in baby food to attain pecuniary advantage through menaces. However, it's important to point out that I'm not suggesting or advocating any form of terrorism or blackmail plots, but rather this idea of interruption; something inexplicable, rather than dangerous; but nonetheless, probably still illegal…"

(Take off smaller shirt and place on table. Open box of washing powder and pour onto shirt.)

(The washing powder has been altered by replacing contents of box with earth)

(Knock over glass of thickened water onto shirt. Scrub. Reveal jug of ice and try to pour. Pull out second even smaller shirt from pocket. Put on)


"Hard water - frozen water, ice; or hard water as in the deposits that build up on the element of a kettle. This is also called scale, thus suggestive of size. Or weight in the sense of weighing scales. Think about scale relative to water, the cartoon logic of shrinkage; clothes shrink in the washing machine."

(Take off shirt and place on table. Pull out smallest shirt. Try to put on)

(The shirts have become progressively smaller throughout)

(Pick up light bulb box. Take out bulb)

(The bulb has been altered by being filled with matches)

(Lift bulb over 'desert'. Smash onto table - matches revealed. Open toilet paper roll)

(The toilet roll paper has been replaced with sandpaper)

(Strike matches on sandpaper)


CODA: The following panel discussion took place after the presentation of Hard Water and Other Objects at the PS7 Conference, Mainz, Germany.

Laurie Beth Clarke (University of Wisconsin, Madison): You talked about the rupture of the everyday, like what would happen if you did actually put that on a supermarket shelf. I'm interested in discomfort that's created in me right here...this making of surreal art objects has a whole history in the art world, and the objects were then treated very preciously. Like you would make the object and then put it into a museum and display it in a context where it's made precious. So the rupture that's happening for me today is when you tear open that box, and I know the labour that went into making that box...so there's another rupture going on in terms of rupturing the art world treatment of the precious surreal object.

RD: It's strange because I'm working at the Tate Modern at the moment...and it's quite interesting there's certain galleries that are looking at artwork that supposedly had some sort of tactile reference to it...a lot of the Fluxus things, with objects presented in boxes that were supposed to handed out, or the mail art things, but again they just end up behind glass vitrines, and I've thought about how I would show these things other than in a performance, and it's coming to the conclusion that you can't touch things in a gallery, whereas I would want to 'please touch' rather than 'don't touch'. And then...are they worthless after they've been broken? I don't know, it's another sort of thing...a huge amount of Joseph Beuys stuff of his old bits of detritus from his performances being shown probably still have a tremendous amount of value, certainly within the art market.

Sally Banes (University of Wisconsin, Madison): I think what's wonderful about these objects is that their surrealism can't be detected until they are opened up or destroyed in some way, so that's part of their surrealism...they are not already open to seeing the fur inside the teacup or whatever...it looks like a normal egg or a normal hammer, until it's destroyed, or opened up.

RD: The concern I have is when you take a closer look, if you have it in your hand, it becomes quite obvious what it is, so it's like when I was talking about where people are sitting at the back, or when I've done performances with these in very crowded rooms, or in club like environments, then you can get away with a lot more, but that's not necessarily that challenging...I could make the objects more shoddy...I don't know, maybe it was quite obvious.

Richard Gough (CPR, Aberystwyth): I was with you when you were unpacking this stuff, and I was thinking, what on earth is he going to do with these six hammers? I had no idea that they were...whatever they are. I also quite like the idea that objects have their own life too...the broken jug and your hard water eventually took over you...

RD: I do feel precious about these things, and they're quite specific to me performing with them, or me demonstrating them to you...and I don't know how I'd feel about just handing them over, or giving them to other people or placing them, to see how other people would use them, because I still feel like I'd be standing over them going 'no, no, don't do it that way, do it this way, it works better'...I'm still wanting to cling onto them.

Juanita Incognita (5 Cities Project): Another thought I had was that usually performers transform themselves...so it's kind of refreshing.

RD: But it's strange because...sometimes these things misbehave, and they don't act the way I expect them to...and you have to deal with it, and that can be quite fun from my point of view. I had terrible fears about getting through customs with stuff, certainly with eggs...with the situation at the moment in England, (the foot and mouth disease outbreak) but I managed to somehow.

Richard Gough: When you said at the beginning that this was highlights from performances, do many of these have their origins in performance projects that you have done?

RD: They're from about three separate performances. The frying pan was from a separate thing, the hammers are actually new...and the sand and the cactus, that came from something I did years ago. And then the egg, washing powder, toilet paper and matches in lightbulbs came from a specific piece of work that was called 'Hard Water and Other Objects'. And the word 'Acme' came from another performance where I was thinking of the Roadrunner cartoons where you have these products made by 'Acme'...that don't work.

Richard Gough: So you're working as a performance artist, they're all made for performance, so how do you feel now, working in the Tate where many objects are being placed in a glass vitrine?

RD: I'm ambivalent about it because part of my job is telling people not to touch things. There's several different kinds of touching though...there's the swathes of school children, just going...urghh...on a painting. Then in some other cases where you get certain people who want to...I mean I've felt tempted to touch things, but it's difficult trying to discern between the people who you think, that touching is legitimate, and the other people who are just touching it for the hell of it.

Liz Tomlin (Manchester Metropolitan University): It was just in the introduction when you were introducing it, and you were using phrases like 'niggers in the woodpile' and I just wondered is there a wider political implication to the work? Is that something you'd want people to take away from it, or is it more just about the fun and surprise element and skill that goes into it?

RD: It depends what performance you're talking about really, because as I said, bits of text have been culled from particular things which I used with the objects. It may be, I don't know really...there's lots of things going on. I think you could probably use it as a wider analogy for things being out of place...but if you start going down that road it sounds a bit cheesy. But maybe.

Richard Gough: And why haven't you had the courage?

RD: Because I'd get in trouble! I don't know. They'd probably bang me up for doing that wouldn't they? I really don't know how I'd do that...putting something back on a shelf...

Richard Gough: They might well...but there is quite a tradition of artists who have...a very famous Copenhagen group in the 70's and 80's who did a lot of very anarchic things...One of the things they did was to dress up as Father Christmas (this was around Christmas time) and go into the department stores...take things off the counters and give them to children. The store detectives began to realise there were more Father Christmas's in the store than there should have been, and then of course, which were the real Father Christmas's? This was all part of their intended project, but the real intent of their project was the final moment when the stores would telephone the police, and the police came to arrest the Father Christmas's, but they were very sharp because they had informed the press that this would be happening, so the next day, front of the newspaper, is Father Christmas being arrested for giving gifts away...and a lot of them did end up in prison...and they were very much playing on that border line...but something like the lightbulb with the hundred matches coming out of it...if I bought that, I'd be delighted.

RD: But if you were making an omelette and you opened one of those eggs...or doing your washing, maybe you wouldn't be so...I suppose it's quite non-specific if we were talking about targeting specific people who maybe I would feel deserved that...I don't know if that's fair on the general populace...maybe I need to be specific if I want to go further with that.

Unknown: I don't know if it's a universal holiday but April 1st in the States is April Fools Day. I would pay a dollar ninety-eight for a hammer that would fall apart in someone's hands...because then you could say April Fool which allows you to do any darn thing you want. So maybe the idea is to do everything on April 1st.

RD: It's still being responsible for your actions, and I still find that's a big question and whether or not I want to make the distinction between the sort of person who would do something to hurt someone...there's no agenda, it's just wanting to see what would happen. I haven't even thought about why I would want to do that...why I want to put this on a supermarket shelf. I just wonder. What would happen?

Eleanor Margolies: I liked the question about the weight of the egg, the caution about whether the hammer is going to smash, and I just wondered if you're more cautious about the everyday things of the world?

RD: I'm always finding myself thinking, how can I change this? How could I take this object and...adjust it?And how subtle you could make that...thinking about if you could arrange some kind of time thing on it so it could act absolutely perfectly for a certain length of time, and then...

Richard Gough: I think that's what manufacturing does! What's your feeling towards the remnants, the detritus? Are we free to take it away? A Robin Deacon original?

RD: Yeah, help yourselves...just mind the glass.