13 PIECES, 17 FEET
with Poems by Chris Sharp
Performed by Melanie Wilson
Friday 24 SEPTEMBER 2010, 8pm
Becky Beasley’s performative project, 13 pieces, 17 feet, finds its point of departure in photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s extraordinary 1878 panoramic photograph of San Francisco. The third panel of the panorama- which is comprised of 13 mammoth-plate photographs and extends to 17 feet in length- portrays the house of railroad millionaire Charles Crocker, including the infamous ‘Spite Fence’ he built around the house of his neighbour, Nicolas Yung, a German Undertaker, whom Crocker was unable to persuade to sell his land. Performed by writer, performer and sound artist Melanie Wilson, this monologue in thirteen parts and multiple voices will follow an alternating structure between historical fictions and abstract texts, and will incorporate exquisite details of archival photographs, creating an event which spirals slowly into the black hole at the centre of an extraordinary object. Incorporating Hilton Obenzinger’s vivid historical fiction, The Spite Fence- extracted and edited by Beasley with the author's permission- from, Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco, the project has been developed in close collaboration with writer Chris Sharp, and in partnership with Kingston Museum & Archive and the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University, as part of Muybridge in Kingston.
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Curator Nicola Lees
Henry Moore Institute
(Invitation by Michael Dean)
13 pieces, 17 feet was developed out of a year of research undertaken in the Eadweard Muybridge archive at Kingston Museum, England in collaboration with Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University. Muybridge was born and died in Kingston and, prior to his death in ., bequeathed all his professional materials, in perpetuity, to the nascent museum. The collection in Kingston is thus quite unique. For further reading on Muybridge’s life, I highly recommend Hollis Frampton’s exquisite, short biographical essay, Eadweard Muybridge: Fragments of a Tesseract.* Kingston owns one of the nine extant copies of Muybridge’s 360 degree panorama of 1878. I became fascinated by this incredible photograph, this unfolding object made by hinging together individual photographs, vertical yet horizontal, this mammoth-plate**,wet printed photograph of impossible space, a document of a day, the experience of what I came to call, eyeballing its details. When fully unfolded, it is a little over feet long. Panorama expert David Harris wrote that the panorama ‘represents one of the supreme conceptual and technical achievements in the history of architectural photography.’***
The Spite Fence is the one detail that always gets highlighted. It is superbly documented in Muybridge’s panoramas of 1877 and 1878. It is a strange sight, with its buttress props to keep it from falling over in high winds and chimney-tops just visible.It is undoubtedly an object, but also a structure which, although only envisaged as a temporary measure, remained in its place for over 25 years. It features from time to time in historical fictions and first person accounts of San Francisco at the time. During my research, I wondered if the Spite Fence was documented in other pictures—no photographs ever emerged in reference to the Spite Fence other than Muybridge’s— and so, over a period of months of slowly searching online picture archives, orienting myself with street maps, and with the help of a few new friends made along the way in San Francisco, we found a half dozen other photographs in which the fence appears, albeit often haunting the peripheries. During my research I discovered the writings of Hilton Obenzinger and his wonderful historical fictions, in particular, Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco. The chapter, The Spite Fence, in which the story of the fence is told from diverse points of view, coincided beautifully with my own vision and search for other photographs, and ultimately formed the main text for 13 pieces, 17 feet.
We are most grateful to Hilton for unhesitatingly giving us permission to work with this beautiful material. Chris Sharp and I edited the stories, sensitively, we hope, but we also encourage the interested reader to seek out the original texts.****
Chris Sharp, a curator, writer, co-founder of LULU, Mexico -and who now runs his own gallery in Los Angeles- is the author of the five poems which alternate with the prose sections in the live performance and which have been reproduced in full in the pamphlet.
**Mammoth plate photographs are made by contact
printing a photographic print from a large glass plate
negative, usually by inches, but may vary in size
from by inches to by inches. These large
negatives allowed photographers to produce outsized
photographic prints before the development of
***David Harris, Eadweard Muybridge and the
Photographic Panorama of San Francisco, -
(Canadian Centre for Architecture), MIT Press, .
Melanie Wilson is a U.K. based multi-disciplinary performance maker. Her acclaimed work is founded on the contemporary interplay between sound, experimental forms of composition, language, technology and live performance | www.melaniewilson.org.uk
Hilton Obenzinger was born in 1947 in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and graduating Columbia University in 1969, he has taught on the Yurok Indian Reservation, operated a community printing press in San Francisco’s Mission District, co-edited a publication devoted to Middle East peace, worked as a commercial writer and instructional designer, taught writing, comedy, and American literature at Stanford University. He received his doctorate in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford. Currently, he is Associate Director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University | www.obenzinger.com
Deepest thanks to
Chris Sharp, Melanie Wilson, Dylan Stone
Hilton Obenzinger, Rebecca Solnit, James Eason at the Bancroft Library, Annie Leuenberger,
David Falkner & Peta Cook at Kingston,
Tim Etchells for a Masterclass, and of course my curator, Nicola Lees.
Thanks also to Michael Dean for inviting us to perform the work again inside his exhibition, Government, at Henry Moore Institute.
Thanks to Yohji Yamamoto for providing the clothing for both performances.
13 Pieces, 17 Feet is available for performances internationally.
We would love to bring the work to the US, in particular to San Francisco so do write me if you would like to support this happening one day!
If you would like to make a donation to NACRO please go to www.nacro.org.uk