Skip to main content

Joey Simons – The Fearful Part Of It Was The Absence

Life’s a riot in The Fearful Part Of It Was The Absence, Joey Simons’s new presentation, which forms the latest edition of Collective’s Satellites Programme of work by upcoming artists, provocateurs and other practitioners. Simons draws his title from the journals of Henry Cockburn, the Edinburgh born nineteenth Solicitor General for Scotland, author, conservationist and Edinburgh Royal High School graduate. 

 Cockburn wrote in his journals of a ‘terrible silence’ and ‘fearful absence of riot’ at demonstrations in Scotland in support of parliamentary reform. These protests nevertheless helped lead to the introduction of The Representation of the People Act 1832. More than a century and a half later, as riots swept across England in 2011 after Mark Duggan was shot and killed in London by police, Scotland again seemingly remained passive. 


Drawing from his observations of such apparent cross-border differences, Simons was informed in part too by artist Jimmy Cauty’s The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (2013-2016), an apocalyptic model village in the back of a shipping container, which toured sites close to where riots took place across the centuries. Venues for the tour included Platform arts centre in Glasgow, where Cauty and the tour’s producers flagged up the 1919 Battle of George Square, aka Bloody Friday; and the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, where the 1732 Porteous Riots took place. 


Simons continued his interest in Cauty’s work with SCHEMING (2021), a publication he wrote and compiled to coincide with a Platform run of Cauty’s follow up to ADP, ESTATE (2020-onwards). This followed an east coast residency at North Edinburgh Arts. 


The result of Simons’s assorted lines of inquiry is a mix of video and audio works flanked in Collective’s Hillside space by an array of photocopied historical documents laid out on tables. These are surrounded on the walls by a frieze of associated texts and images. Together, they gather up research materials for Lying Storms and Mild Storms, a forthcoming publication that aims to reflect on the significance of riots past and present, with possible nods to the future. With pencils and paper left out workshop-style for anyone wanting to take notes, the display more resembles a reading room than a formal exhibition.


Simons’s background as a Workers Educational Association tutor is telling here. On one level, this laying bare of source material is akin to DIY zines and record labels publishing how-to guides to show others how they too might seize the means of production. By juxtaposing long existing archives of hidden histories with accounts of more recent events, however, the trick is to try and work out, not just which is which, but how – if at all - things might have progressed. 


This is done in part through oral history in It was always around us: interview with Dee (2021), a thirty-eight minute recording of a conversation with a friend of Simons’s. As Dee relates her experience and observations of how “Rioting starts in the playground” through teenage gangs and territorial turf wars, her accidental soundbites point to social inequality perpetuated by a divide and rule mentality manipulated from on high. ‘The gangs hate each other far more/than they want a free pair of trainers or a telly burning’ reads a poem pinned up as part of the wall frieze. And, as Dee says, “See the effort it takes to throw a brick.”


Simons’s textual cut-ups are best expressed in The Scotch are bad mobbers (2021), a thirty-two minute twin-screen video of Simons and several of his comrades reading assorted texts in seventeen bite-size clips. These are filmed at sites of historical significance to riots in Glasgow, from Gallowgate to Govanhill to Glasgow Green and beyond. 


As filmed by photographer Jack Wrigley, these deliberately unrehearsed ad hoc presentations recall the scrapyard scenes in Jean Luc Godard’s 1968 film, One Plus One. Godard’s more artfully realised polemic features members of radical black power organisation the Black Panthers reading tracts by key players in the movement astride a mountain of rusting cars. These scenes are juxtaposed with footage of the Rolling Stones recording their song, Sympathy for the Devil, which gave the film its more commercial alternative title.


The script in hand presentation of Simons and Wrigley’s video also recalls the presentational techniques used in George Byatt’s play, The Clyde is Red(1979). Glasgow born Byatt’s dramatic meditation on what might happen if the people of Glasgow learned to walk on water. Presented by Byatt's tellingly named Theatre PkF (Peace-keeping Force) company, the play was last performed during the 1988 edition of Glasgow’s trade union backed arts festival, Mayfest. A radio version of the play was produced by BBC Scotland the year before.


With the second screen of Simons’s installation providing captions for each clip, Simons and co are effectively gathering up the unedited material of a finished article in search of itself. As they stumble over the words on the page, the performance becomes one big Brechtian device as it fuels a wilful act of self-determination and power. Where Godard’s freedom fighters toss around machine guns, Simons’ holy trinity throw stones, possibly at ghosts of barricades past. Outside Police Scotland HQ, as Simons reads a court report, a slapstick take on a police beating is acted out behind him. 


Given its Edinburgh location, Simons’s exhibition might be viewed as either infiltration, contradiction, or both. Calton Hill, after all, is an increasingly gentrified UNESCO World Heritage Site awash with monuments and follies that have become must-see stop-off points on Edinburgh’s tourist trail, as well as for more clandestine after-dark liaisons. The area around it also has a long history of insurrection. This has been the case from the Royal High School Riot of 1595, to the reconstitution in 1988 of the annual Beltane Fire Festival, which made an explicit political statement about the right to free assembly.


One theory running through The Fearful Part Of It Was The Absence regarding a lack of rioting in Glasgow points to the pacifying effect of the weather. ‘rain and radicalism cannot co-exist’ reads one quotation, captured on the wall in poster form like a leftover Situationist slogan from Paris ’68.  As true as such sentiments might be in Simons’s eternal work in progress, the winds of change sometimes blow in mysterious ways. The rain never stops.


Collective, Edinburgh until March 13th, 2022


Scottish Art News, January 2022





Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug