Recourses To The Rotten

Richard Crow

'As dwellers on the land, we inhabit only about a fourth part of the surface; and that proportion is almost exclusively a theatre of decay.' 1

Every house has its lost histories; journeys that were closed off before words could be found. Routes that must be barred, where the air cannot be breathed. We know these stories but we cannot speak them.

At the top of the house, the floorboards are painted red, the paint has worn unevenly like skin. A woman sits astride a chest of drawers plucking a goose. Her dress rustles as she pulls the flesh. She does not look up.

'The transmission of knowledge takes the route of the rotten; tradition takes the route of a corruption that is recognised and allows the institution to remain the same.'2

We cannot go into the next room. On the screen we see obscure objects, detritus of the obscure, shifting through the lens' focus, the offerings of dense dreams. We must listen to the rasp of Artaud's voice. Dead Artaud reanimated. Afterwards, the house fills with silence.

Obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius.

The whole house must be scoured and filled. It must reveal the spaces of its secrets. Private forming into public, and back again. In the 'age of transparency', we need 'a theatre of secrets' 3 Acts of impossible publicity.

We wait outside the kitchen. In the light between it and where we stand, a butcher from our parents' time is admiring a side of meat; stroking, not cutting it. When we go in, there is a glistening heap of roasted vegetables.

We eat them with our hands.

'Our' voice seems dispersed beyond our reach. But the boundary between where we speak and where we are addressed this must be re- imagined, re-projected.

One person (or more) stands on each stair of the house, looking up or down. There is an image of a woman on the wall above the landing. She tells the story of a long illness. Her body is bathed in blue light. She speaks so clearly, she cannot be there.

A new 'institution' of performance through confession and remembering with many forms; the spaces between our separate terminals, the corners of rooms.

'One is not allowed to enter all the rooms. Either they are too beautiful, so that one longs to return to them all one's life after having been forced to leave them or they are so revolting that the memory sticks to one like dirt. I was in a beautiful room before I came to the House of Illnesses. And when I had to leave it, I would have liked to have clung to a chair so as not to have to go. It was the room in which I fully belonged. I knew that my best energies would be liberated there, and only there.'4

Nick Couldry & Richard Crow for the Institution of Rot, June 1996.

The Institution of Rot (IOR) was founded by artist Richard Crow and writer Nick Couldry in 1992 as part of London's Secret Spaces. Situated in a Victorian House in North London, Crow's living and working space, the IOR has been (from 1992 -1996) an active artist run space dedicated to performance, audio works and site-specific installations. Rooted in a mindset of do-it-yourself production and collaboration, the IOR significantly contributed to the extraordinary dynamism of London's artist-run spaces phenomenon of the 90's documented in the "Life/Live" anthology edited by Laurence Bossé and Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1996). The IOR's specific concerns (and obsessions) were the privacy of the human body, and its public transformations (ingestion, expulsion, cleansing, confession, rituals and taboos).

This previously unpublished text 'recalls' and/or 're-visits' a series of site-specific performances that took place during The Noisiness of Bodies at the IOR in 1996. The archives (texts, images, audio) of the IOR are currently being re-activated for a future publication.


  1. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, Vol 1. 12th edn, (London, 1872)

  2. Michel de Certeau, 'The Institution of Rot', in Heterologies - Discourses on the Other (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p 46.

  3. Howard Barker, Times Literary Supplement, 28 April 1995

  4. Unica Zürn, 'Forbidden Rooms' in The House of Illnesses, (London: Atlas Press, 1994) p 33.