Mère Ubu, the once and future Queen of Poland, is a personage loosely derived from the writings of Alfred Jarry. In the Père Ubu plays, she is something of a Lady MacBeth, pressing her ungainly and incompetent husband into ill-advised military debacles in her thirst for power and prestige.
We now live in the age of Ubu—a time when ‘truth’ is rendered irrelevant (if it ever was otherwise), and smug arrogance has become the cloying perfume of the day, arising like the stench of decay on all sides. Whether we like it or not, Mère is perpetually with us, and upon us. I, Beth E. Wilson, have simply acquiesced to this fact, and several years ago accepted the job of serving as Mère’s long-suffering amanuensis.
In the process, she has become me, and me become she: it makes no sense to sort out the alter of the ego here. The one produces the other, which in turn produces the other, and yet again the other, a sort of misery-en-abyme if you will, but one which is dedicated to locating the exceptions to whatever rules there are, to inquiring after solutions to all the imaginary problems that have been cast before us. (That, my friends, is ‘pataphysics.)
And so this virtual parking space, this digital catalogue, this, well, website has become something of a repository for traces, temporary occupations, ideas worked out and left behind. An imperfect anti-monument to an unmonumental struggle, it brings together a few things that stand as moments when the tenacious, weed-like roots of my imagination found temporary purchase in the occasional ruptures stumbled upon inside and outside of academia, the art world, and reality itself. Always on the margins, I continue to traverse this terrain vague, making it up as I go along (as we all do).
Beth E. Wilson
Amanuensis to Mère Ubu
Beautiful, gritty, complex — Marseille is my joint, my future residence, the place I feel surprisingly at home. Here are some pictures, made on various explorations there.
A public Facebook group specialising in the posting of visual puns, ‘pataphysical observations, and other exceptions to the rules.
To see the latest posts, click on the Mère Ubu Society here
A short film reflecting on the dream-like state of lost love and surreal eroticism.
With a bit of help from Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, and Thievery Corporation.
Performative ink-brush pen drawing on vellum with red rubber stamp lettering.
Made on May 19, 2018 at Garner Arts Center, Garnerville, New York, in as part of Tangled up in You, curated by Faheem Haider.
Inspired by my own youthful history working with them, and a more recent introduction to the practice of ‘horse medicine’ under the tutelage of Linda Mary Montano, I am processing the magical intersection of time, space, and energy manifested in the figure of the horse. Working with the sequential imagery of Eadweard Muybridge’s iconic images of a galloping horse, I will be repeatedly drawing horses on a long, continuous roll of paper, creating my own primitive, pre-cinematic meditation on both the ‘pataphysics of equine locomotion and the moment when these horses prepare to leap into illusionistic motion.
Mère UBU traveled on an extended sojourn in the summer of 2017...ATHENS VENICE KASSEL MUNSTER AMSTERDAM LONDON BRIGHTON PARIS MARSEILLE...
Using the tools of psychogeography, camera lucida, watercolour, smartphone, collage, 'pataphysics, and the postal service, Mère UBU produced and sent over 70 postcard-sized works of individualized response to these places.
TRAVEL DATES: JUNE 20 - AUGUST 2, 2017
Here is a sampling of the cards produced. To see the GoFundMe site, which was integral to the work, please click here.
There is a scene in Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum (from the second half of the book, which didn’t make it into the Schlöndorf film), in which we find a strange gathering, a sort of pseudo-cathartic nightclub in immediate post-World War II Germany: a group of Germans sit together in a room, peeling onions in order to cry. These onion-induced tears are, of course not quite the same as truly emotional ones, but at bare minimum the ejection of saline through the tear ducts offers the form of the process of grief.
The Janet Cardiff/George Bures Miller installation The Murder of Crows, recently on view at the Park Avenue Armory, prompted in us a remembrance of that revealing bit of literature. Entering the dark, cavernous space, one finds a cluster of people seated on wooden folding chairs, raptly staring at an old fashioned gramophone bell on a table. Arranged (mostly on other folding chairs) at various distances are a number of small, black speakers, which radiate out into the darkened corners of the room, each connected by a wire umbilical to the rafters. The central circle is illuminated by several clusters of harsh theatrical lights, creating a stark atmosphere in which this random, disconnected ‘family’ of upscale art lovers might gather ‘round the old wireless, in a postmodernly updated version of raptly following the narrative of an old serial.
Inspired in part by Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters, Reason calls but Emotion answers. Reflections on the Industrial Revolution, also borne of that era, unspool through a mediated version of Cardiff’s narrated Unconscious (her dreams), revealing ley lines connecting that key event to the more disturbing elements of the various 20th century horrors. At the remove of the 21st century’s technologized methods of framing, here via a 98-channel audio work that sculpts the ‘viewer’s’ (for lack of a better term) consciousness.
We submit to these deeply intelligent machinations, longing for some sort of release from the entrapment of the four corners of our own skulls. Our age is defined by its hunger to connect – a process that oddly enough, seems to take place only through a variety of technical (social) media. What is this one listening to on Spotify? What is my husband feeling, as reflected in his status updates on Facebook? So much chatter pointing to the need to de-cleave the separation of subject and object. We only miss the experience of the Ding-an-sich when we have first irrevocably distanced ourselves from it. Desire continues to drive us along in our splintered form.
A tentative proximity was fashioned in the 1970s; falling out of fashion for a time, it has now returned in the form of an anti-light show, a visibly wired radio show that rehearses someone else’s memories of trauma and loss. Have you ever had a dream and you weren’t in it? In/Out, We/They, Alive/Dead. We reach vainly for the distant shore, beyond the limits of the bourgeois emotional palette.
(c) Mère Ubu/Beth E. Wilson August 2012
N.B. Video available at bottom is from a different installation of the work, at the Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, Germany in the spring of 2009.
In a short-term residency with Habitat for Artists, Mère Ubu’s amanuensis (Miss Beth E Wilson) assisted in the production of a series of limited edition prints (largely of a Phynancial nature), whilst in the shadow of the World Phynancial Centre in lower Manhattan. Housed in a shipping container, and equipped with a spirit duplicator (aka ‘ditto’ machine), a typewriter, and a variety of psychogeographical tools, Ms. WIlson entertained the public, and also improvised an afternoon of ‘pataphysical consulting, in which it was learned that the primary imaginary problem of people in Manhattan appears to be Real Estate.
25 March 2016
Safely landed in Istanbul...it's dark (11:30 at night), cold and raining, and I'm sitting in a hotel bar just off Taksim Square, drinking Johnnie Walker Black, waiting for Ilgu's friend Afsin to arrive....
26 March 2016
Slept on the Asian side of the Bosporus, in Anatolia. Ferry ride back to Europe in the morning, exploring what I could with the few hours remaining before my visa expired…
Mère (and her amanuensis Miss Wilson) originally hail from the heartlands of Pennsylvania, namely the city of Altoona. This may go far by way of explaining certain inutilious and cynical attitudes they both harbour.
Altoona was an industrial city, founded in the mid-19th century as a major railway repair works and transportation hub. As such, by the mid-20th century, it was already dedicated to the epitome of ‘pataphysical existence; this fact has driven Mère from the place definitively, as it is clear she is no longer needed there to ensure the generation of entropy. ‘An armpit is an armpit’, as she has perhaps most famously addressed the phenomenon. [For a particularly harrowing account, see the video linked at bottom.]
There is a certain literary/sociological interest to be found in the particular neighbourhood which served as the backdrop for Mère’s earliest childhood memories. Initially developed in the 1920s, this area was fancifully given the Welsh name ‘Llyswen’; in a further flight of fancy, it was decided that the streets coursing through this new neighbourhood of sturdy, decidedly middle class [in the American, not the English sense-ed.] single-family homes were to be named after renowned English Romantics.
The irony of these historically revolutionary, passionate devotees of beauty having their monikers mocked by placement in a place so painfully drab and conventional, reduced to ciphers of a real estate exclusivity that was itself illusory, was not lost on Mère.
And so, on the occasion of what will undoubtedly count as her last visit to this dubious place of her birth, Mère saw fit to commemorate that fact with this series of photographs, entirely shot from the open window of her automobile (taking the least effort possible) on a cold, gray, rainy morning just hours before her final departure on 4 January 2015.
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