NOW U C ME, NOW U DON'T

SEXCENTENARY GOES EX-SEX (IN THE CITY)




I'm Duncan McLaren, Kate Clayton's partner, and I've been asked (by Kate, amongst others) to write something about the activities of Sexcentenary at this important stage in their development. OK, I'm writing something. Sexcentenary may be dead, now that three members have jumped ship and set up 'The Three Graces', but another sub-set of Sexcentenary lives on as EX-SEXCENTENARY, though the new group's name is provisional.

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From left to right: Sarah Kent (who hopes, by invitation, to float between the two groups), Kate Clayton, Norma D Hunter and Wanda Zyborska, standing in the graveyard at Govan in Glasgow. It's the Saturday afternoon of April 8, 2017, and BUZZCUT is in full swing. It's the biggest live art festival in Scotland and Sexcentenary was delighted to be one of 50-odd acts to be selected from the 500-odd that sent in proposals.

This first piece, 'NOT DEAD YET' was supposed to showcase one of Sexcentenary's main themes. That older women tend to be ignored. That they deserve to be given more attention by other segments of society, full of experience, wisdom, rock-star glamour and stand-up humour as they so clearly are.

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Sarah Kent and Kate Clayton stand on either side of a monument to a dead man. Glasgow is heaving with monuments to dead men. Walking round the necropolis in the centre of the city one could get the impression that only men had ever lived and died in this city. Well, there are women a-plenty walking the streets right now: alive, alive-oh.

The first piece that Ex-Sex did today was a version of their trademark 'drape'. In the image below, that's the four of them lying together on the sofa up on the stage of the McLeod Hall inside Govan's Pearce Institute. They're old and they're tired, don't you know. Having been around so long and accomplished so much.

I'm placing this photo here, because to the right in the middle ground you can see the back of the other member of Ex-Sexcentenary, together with her own solo team and members of the Buzzcut team.

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I mean Katherine Araniello, she with the shock of orange hair, sitting in the wheelchair. She's performing tonight and I know that's a show that will blaze with life. She has a severe physical handicap, but does that hold Katherine back?

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Well, of course, it many ways it does. Does being an older women hold back Sarah Kent, Kate Clayton, Norma Hunter and Wanda Zyborska? Very different questions, but I can sense that there are strong bonds between all these women. I suspect that something special could come out of it.

Reverting to the first image on this page, I'm envisaging Katherine in her chair. Her orange hair lighting up the green grass like a van Gogh. Which VG? How about
Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear? And from that orange-red/green masterpiece, let our eyes switch to Katherine in the graveyard. But where would we have her be?...

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Perhaps her wheelchair would slowly be going from left to right in the foreground. Would she be wearing a white cardigan and pearls? Course she would! She'd be miked up so that her whispered words "MIRACLE OF LIFE... NOT DEAD YET... MIRACLE OF LIFE... NOT DEAD YET..." would seem to set fire to the cemetery. Set flaming red-orange fire to the once-green grass and blacken the stones that have never yet managed to tell the whole story.

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Actually, the story today is that there is a funeral taking place within the church and when the mourners come out, on setting eyes on the Ex-Sexcentenary tableau, they may well get the wrong end of the stick! Their loved one may indeed be as dead as a dodo, Ex-Sexcentenary is not in the business of giving false hope to anyone. Only true hopes. It looks to me that Norma Hunter may be feeling uncomfortable with this perspective. Uncomfortable but steadfast. It seems to me also that Wanda Zyborska is using her awareness of the bad timing to add an edge to her performance.

It's unanimously decided to wrap it up after just five minutes of the planned 15. Still, that's long enough for my mind's eye to firmly engrave SEXCENTENARY, NOVEMBER 2015 - APRIL 2017, on the cracked gravestone between Norma and Wanda.

Out of the graveyard then, and on to the next Sexcentenary site, not far away. God they look purposeful and cool in their black and white uniforms. Pearls, handbags, stools: what every woman needs to earn a little street cred. Plus an over-60 bus pass, of course. Plus about four vests to keep out the April cold.

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Can I see Katherine Araniello as part of this troop? I can indeed, though she would have no need of the stool: have wheelchair will travel.

Ex-Sex go to the other side of the Pearce Institute (that's a corner of it in the background of the image below) to where a bear stands chained to a post. (Typical old-Govan, you might say.) A market stall holder saw them in rehearsal and has told others what's happening. That the women are "being the bear". That's dead right, they feel empathy for the dignified-nay-superb old she-bear and so they're siding with her. Tethered to their handbags, as it were. Against the world? Against that part of the patriarchal world that would put a fellow creature in chains.

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A man and a woman have got into their car, behind Ex-Sexcentenary. They toot once. When the Buzzcut volunteer explains to them that their patience would be appreciated for a few minutes while the performance proceeds, the folk in the car accept with good grace. Very new-Govan.

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Again, I wish Katherine Arianello was here. Maybe, in a way, she is here. It strikes me that the bear is a very flexible and powerful symbol, as is Katherine herself. Only she's not a symbol. Or at least not just a symbol. She's a super-brilliant, super-resilient person. Physically cracked though she may be from head to paws.

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What a group portrait! They keep it up for fifteen minutes. The intensity of their expressions comes and goes a bit as they drift in and out of character. The bear is the worst for that. But then all five are only sentient beings!

Off again with silent purpose. But first a group huddle. It looks mysterious. What are they doing in there - swopping pearls of wisdom, or turds of bearshit, or what?

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I think they might just be sharing a 'glad to be alive' feeling. Breathing in and out, in time with each other. In goes the good air, brightening the brain; out goes the bad air, warming the planet.

The group splits up in front of the sub-way. Do I see Sarah Kent? I do see Sarah Kent. She was the most prominent writer about visual art in London for over ten years and now regularly performs as a dancer and a singer. And seeing Sarah helps me to see the woman waiting at the bus stop.

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Do I see Norma Hunter? I do see Norma Hunter. Based in the North East of Scotland, much of her art involves walking and all the good that particular activity brings to the individual. And seeing Norma helps me to see the woman walking with her bags to the bus station. Which is fine as long as there's nothing patronising going on here: writer, artist and citizen is - and always should be - a triangle of equals.

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Do I see Kate Clayton? I do see Kate Clayton whose current personas include Silver Swimmer and Art Scrubber, both of whom will be appearing in public later this month at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and the Reid Gallery at Glasgow School of Art, respectively. And seeing Kate helps me see the trendy young woman walking by.

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Her cool look is so orange-based (orange is the new black, notwithstanding that a white cardi and sunglasses combo never goes out of fashion) that I suspect she's here for The Araniello Show. "That's not until later, sunshine," I almost say aloud. For now she can hang around with the other members of Ex-Sexcentenary, surely.

Do I see Wanda Zyborska? Yes, I see Wanda Zyborska. She contributed to the setting up of fine art courses at Bangor University in North Wales and is currently protesting against the plan to close them down. And seeing Wanda helps me see the man who is collecting for charity. Back and forward he walks at a snail's pace...

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I would give him some pound coins but I don't want to weigh him down any further. That is a sick joke. There will be plenty sick jokes in The Araniello Show this evening. The trick is to ensure that the sick joke - or series of sick jokes - leads to a new (non-sick) kind of enlightenment: that we are all vulnerable, transient creatures on the one hand; that we are NOT DEAD YET on the other.

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Next stop is a local charity shop. Kate negotiated permission for Ex-Sexcentenary (Sexcentenary as it then was) to make use of the window. The manager was fine about it because last year's Buzzcut Festival put a lot of business her way.

Locals passing by do a double-take when they glimpse the seated figures in the window. Or is it because they see the Pearce Institute reflected? No, it is the women that grab their attention. Vintage or what? But those that stop to talk, get told by me about Buzzcut and the building across the road, the building that is hosting a live arts festival (see the yellow banner!).

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In the above case, the onlooker is Derek
Surname, who Kate met when, as part of LGBT month, a dozen emerging older artists met up every week for twelve weeks and put together 'Cabaret' . It made for a warm, eclectic and utterly beguiling evening of entertainment in the Vic Bar at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow this February. That performance was sold out. But there is to be another performance at the Traverse in Edinburgh on April 30. I'm going again. To see Derek, Kate and the others, as supported by Dive, Luminate and LGBT Age.

I get talking to Derek and almost lose touch with Ex-Sexcentenary. By the time I catch up they're in position in front of a disused bingo hall. Great old flying saucer of a building. TO LET, if anyone with cultural ambitions is interested in boldly going where no man/woman has gone before.

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Each member of Ex-Sex has a bell and she rings it from time to time. Kate blatantly tries to catch the eyes of passers by when she rings hers.

A young teenager gets down onto the tarmac pavement, stretches himself out comfortably, and smokes. I want to take a photo of the conjunction of older and younger posturing, but by the time I'm in position to do so, the youth has jumped back up from the tar onto his feet and sauntered back to his group.

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That's him wearing the grey-blue hoodie above. Just a kid. With panache. Grooving with the oldsters.

I've just noticed that Ex-Sexcentenary has a decent audience now. Things started off quiet but interest has gathered momentum.

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Oh, but I wish I'd got the picture of the kid lying down in the sun. I can imagine that Norma tried to communicate with him. Five sharp rings of her bell.

"PING."
"PING."
"PING."
"PING."
"PING."

Which translates as:

"STOP."
"SMOKING."
"U"
"LOVELY"
"LAD."

Off they go again. Followed by we, the audience.

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I'm reminded of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road in the sixties. No Zebra Crossings that I'm aware of in Govan, though. And did the Beatles have handbags hanging from that near-exclusively female body-part - the inside of the elbow?

I nip into the Pearce Institute to see if Katherine Araniello might want to see what her colleagues are up to at this juncture. Unfortunately for that scenario, she's in the front row of a performance that's linked to a care home in England. On a screen I can see elderly people making movements where they are, which surely means that the residents of the care home can see the movements being made by an arts audience in the Pearce Institute on an equivalent screen in their own room. How inclusive is that! Odd Comic is the artist, being Dot Howard and Holly Bodmer, one of whom is here, the other making things happen in the care home.

Back outside the Pearce Institute, Ex-Centenary (woops! - mustn't miss out the Sex) sit down on their stools. Something about the way they sit in a line, dominating the space, reminds me of big-bollocked men, sitting in a pub. Or is that my imagination?

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As well as the 'unselfconscious men dominating the public bar' theme, this is the second time today I've been put in mind of a rock band. The first time was when the group lined up in the cemetery. This time the link seems more insistent...

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In my inner ear, I can hear Ex-Sex's version of 'All the Young Dudes'. For me (maybe because this photo-text is intended for Kate Clayton's website!) it's Kate that's the vocalist, Though if Katherine Araniello was in the line-up she might have something to say about that. Anyway, take it away, Kate:

"Sarah rapped all night 'bout her suicide
How she'd kick it in the head when she was 25
Don't wanna stay alive, when you're 25."

Even as I think through this conceit, I'm conscious that this passage of text will only stay online if all the members of Ex-Sexcentenary are comfortable with it. Sure, I'm a viewer and am entitled to my own response to the art. But I've privileged access to the group, and it could seem that I'm abusing that privilege in the bit of playful nonsense that follows.

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"Wanda's stealing clothes from unlocked cars
Norma's got spots from ripping off stars from her face
Funky little boat race!
The television man is crazy
Saying we're pensioner delinquent wrecks
Man, I need a TV, when I've got T. Rex.
Hey sister, you guessed: I'm a dude."

"All the old dudes
Carry the news
Bollock-free dudes
(edit: 'Boogaloo 'is the original first word in this line. What do you prefer? That is, if this whole scenario is OK at all!)
Carry the news."

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"Now Sarah's looking sweet, though she dresses like a queen
She can kick like a mule
It's a real mean team
We can love...
Oh, yes we can love.
And my brother's back at home
With his Beatles and his Stones
We never got if off on
that revolution stuff
What a drag
Too many stags.
Well, I drunk a lot of wine
And I'm feeling fine
Gonna race some cat to bed
Is this concrete all around?
Or is it in my head?
Oh sister, you guessed: I'm a dude."

"All the old dudes
Carry the news
Bollock-free dudes
Carry the news."


David Bowie wrote that song, pre-amendments. I spoke to him once (when he was NOT DEAD YET) and he told me I could do anything I liked with his lyrics as long as his '21' company could publish my book,
Chinese Illustrations of the Path to Immortality. It's a deal, Dave. It will always be a big deal between us.

But I shouldn't be putting David Bowie on a pedestal, not given what Ex-Sexcentenary are up to next.

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The laminated images are of the only known photo of Lady Dinah Pearce. It was her who presented the Pearce Institute to the people of Govan. Apparently, she did a lot for the poor of the parish as she thought the industrialisation process had let down the working class. The statue is of her shipbuilding husband, a philanderer who died young.

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Clearly, Ex-Sexcentenary feel that this is one Glasgow statue that should have been of a woman. Why are they not standing on their stools? Well, they have been out and about for over two hours now, and perhaps one or more of them wouldn't have felt safe. Besides, I think the statue of Lady Dinah would show her sitting down in a composed, dignified and resolute way.

The Buzzcut volunteer distributes a leaflet informing the audience about Lady Pearce. It contains the suggestion that women are too often invisible - whether in the boardroom or elsewhere - and that being invisible sucks.

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As Ex-Sexcentenary moves away, a local woman asks me about what she's just seen the tail end of. I tell her what I've gleaned from the performance and the leaflet. She tells me that her brother is a historian but that she has never taken forward her tentative interest in history. I suggest there is still time to do that, but suggest also that role models for so many jobs were exclusively male during our formative years. I'm guessing that the woman I'm talking to is about my age, and this is confirmed when she says that even the cartoons back then were almost all male orientated.
Captain Pugwash, she cites. Yes, dear old Captain Pugwash and his crew members, who included Seaman Staines. Or is that just an urban myth?

Anyway, I offer the Govan woman my leaflet (hence I can't quote from it here). She takes it with thanks and says she will be following up her interest in local history, but first she must pop into the bookies to place a bet on the Grand National which is about to get underway. She wants to change, but the 'new her' will have to be a little patient with her old self. I feel sure Lady Dinah would have understood.

Ex-Sex has returned to its starting point for a closing drape. Norma seems to have drawn the short straw re positioning. Yes, she appears to be 'taking one for the team'.

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It turns out that they're not finished yet. Though collectively tired, they also want to try out some mannequin poses in the window of the charity shop, especially since a member of the Buzzcut team has offered to film the event.

Not long after they begin, a group of lads who are passing by takes an interest. They seem to think it's hilarious what they're seeing. They can't believe their eyes.
Older women! Dressed up! Posing! And the lads are constantly looking into each others eyes for reassurance that the world as they know it has not been stood on its head. Christ, it's like something out of a Martin Amis novel! From left to right of the foreground, John Self, Keith Talent and Lionel Asbo.

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To say the least, the lads get a bit over-excited. Soon about 20 of them are crammed round the window. A football chant is started up and hands are then banging against the window.

I think it's just high spirits. But what is it that has set them off like this? And at what point do I try and intervene? Is the glass in danger of breaking? Because if it does that will be bad news for Kate, Norma, Wanda and Sarah, not to mention the Pearce Institute. Of course, if I try and assert myself here it will be bad news for me too.

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"HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO.
HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO-O-O-O
HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO, HERE WE GO.
HERE WE GO-O, HERE WE GO...."

Actually, it's not that chant it's something similar. Anyway, I move towards the glass, getting between some of the guys and right up to the glass. Jesus...

They stop singing and banging the glass as soon as the manageress of the local pub they've been drinking in intervenes by shouting at them from some distance away. The boys (oops!) move off laughing and joking. The managers of both the charity shop and the pub explain that there is something called a 'sub crawl' that goes on, especially on Saturdays. Groups of youths stop for a drink at a bar close to all the dozen or so stops on Glasgow's subway. I'm told that the young men are relatively well-behaved and often live in the fashionable West End of Glasgow.

That doesn't make sense to me. What explains their astonishing behaviour when confronted with four women posing as mannequins in a shop window? Are they so unused to older women asserting themselves in any way to find the evidence of it impossibly absurd? That is scary.

I can't help wondering what would have happened if the group of youths - all young men, needless to say - had come across Ex-Sexcentenary doing their man sitting. They would have found that even more astonishing. But the assertiveness in the pose may have given them pause for thought. I don't think they would have been quite so gung-ho in their reaction. But I don't know.

As I mentioned a (calmly taken aback) woman from Buzzcut filmed the whole incident on Ex-Sexcentenary's behalf. I'll put a link to the video
here as soon as it's available online, so you can judge for yourself the point and maybe some of the social purpose of the women's collective.

For now, all's well that ends well. The pearl necklace surrounds the phallic symbol, keeping it under control. Ex-Sex rules.

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In the evening, we take our places in the McLeod Gallery for The Araniello Show. Katherine is as uncompromising, rude, challenging, political, engaging and funny as the videos she regularly posts on Facebook. At one stage she has two facilitators help her produce a work of art. That daubing is then sold to the highest bidder in the audience. The idea being that the £200 will help Katherine live a 'normal' life. But then Katherine decides she doesn't want to sell her work to the highest bidder and that it should be given instead to someone who really wants it - which turns out to be "Mark", a director of Buzzcut.

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One of Katherine's assistants is the artist Laura Dee Milne, and Laura reckons that Katherine should sign her work - which the audience now sees is a pre-painted penis that they've observed getting spattered with black marks by Katherine Araniello. The artist is only too pleased to 'sign' her work. She makes her wheelchair run over the sheet of paper, again and again.

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(Sorry about the quality of these final photos, the MacLeod gallery seems to be filled with air from a red planet tonight, but I want to keep them in this piece, if I can. Which means if Katherine Araniello gives it the go-ahead.)

I don't count the number of times the wheel of Katherine's chair crushes the image of the penis, but I reckon it amounts to the number of young men that were banging on the window in front of the faces of the other members of Ex-Sexcentenary. Ha-ha.

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After The Araniello Show, I wonder if Katherine is going to put any money in 'David Bowie's Bucket'. He sings to us all:

"Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now..."


I don't think Katherine does add to dear DB's bucket, possibly because the money won't be much use to him up in Heaven. Besides, she needs as much as she can get to keep her life
Jean Genie-esque down here on Earth.

I suspect that Katherine Araniello will enjoy perusing this photo-text. Not just because it's primarily about her talented and switched-on and reality-changing Ex-Sex colleagues and chums, but because when one dude loves another dude's work, that love is so often reciprocated.



April 8-11, 2017