Duncan McLaren

I've been asked by Kate Clayton and Wanda Zyborska to write something about the activities of Sexcentenary at this important stage in their development. It will be an absolute pleasure to do that. Formalities first: Sexcentenary may be a closed chapter now that three members have jumped ship and set up a new group, but the original group lives on as EX-SEXCENTENARY.


From left to right: Sarah Kent (who, as an independent performer, prefers not to align herself to any particular group), 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 performance art festival in Scotland, spanning five days, and Sexcentenary was delighted to be selected.

The plan is for them to be presenting nine more-or-less static tableaux over three hours. This first set-up, 'NOT DEAD YET' is 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 sections of society, full of experience, professorial wisdom and rock-star glamour as they so clearly are.


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 previous incarnation's trademark 'sleeping'. 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 Katherine Araniello, the other member of Ex-Sexcentenary, together with her own solo team and members of the Buzzcut team.


Katherine Araniello is the one with the shock of orange hair. She's performing tonight and I know that's a show that will blaze with life.


Reverting to the first image on this page, I'm envisaging Katherine being there. 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/green masterpiece, let our eyes switch to Katherine in the graveyard. But where would we have her be?...


Perhaps she would be moving 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.


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 D 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. Norma has gone from being a Sexcentenary Associate to a fully fledged member of Ex-Sexcentenary. Wanda, Kate and Sarah are all founder members of
Sexcentenary, the collective of women artists that emerged from a performance workshop run for LADA (Live Art Development Agency) by the Mexican artist, Rocio Boliver, in 2015. What was that workshop called again? Ah yes, 'Between Menopause and Old Age - Alternative Beauty'.

Out of the graveyard then, and on to the next Ex-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.


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. And against anyone who wants to drive down the lane right now, for this is also a 'blocking' performance, which was a particularly assertive part of Sexcentenary's repertoire.


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. Though I don't think Ex-Sexcentenary would have moved until they were ready anyway. Tether them to the spot and then tell them to get out of the way? Fuck off. Though that's a woman in the driving seat, so the situation is complicated.


Again, I wish Katherine Arianello was here. Maybe, in a way, she is. 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 brilliant, resilient person. Actually, she's not like the bear at all, which is rooted to the spot and cracked from head to paws. And that's what Sarah, Wanda, Norma and Kate have in mind. Being rooted to the spot. Being cracked from head to paws. Having to stand there and bare it...


What a group portrait! They keep it up for twenty minutes. The intensity of their expressions comes and goes a bit as they drift in and out of character. The bear is the least bad for that. Perhaps she has had the most practise in baring up for long periods of time. Under pressure.

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


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 is a London-based art critic, a dancer and a singer. And seeing Sarah helps me to see the woman waiting at the bus stop.


Do I see
Norma D Hunter? I do see Norma D 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.


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 in Edinburgh and Glasgow, respectively. And seeing Kate helps me see the woman who is also looking at her.


The observer's 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...


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.


Locals passing by The Magpie's Nest do a double-take when they glimpse the seated figures in the window.
The women grab their attention. Vintage or what? Those that stop to talk, or enter the charity shop, may get told about the performance, and the building across the road that is hosting a live arts festival. Those that don't, maybe just stay with their own thoughts.


In the above case, the onlooker is Derek Read, who Kate met when, as part of LGBT month, a dozen emerging older artists met up weekly for twelve weeks and put together 'Cabaret' . It made for a warm, eclectic and 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
et al, as supported by Dive, Luminate and LGBT Age. So many organisations that are supporting queerness. All good.

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-one has gone before.


Each member of Ex-Sex has a bell and she rings it from time to time.

A young teenager gets down onto the tarmac pavement,
stretches himself out insouciantly in the middle of the space between Ex-Sexcentenary and the rest of the audience, head supported by arm bent at elbow, and smokes. Smokes and wisecracks. 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 pavement and sauntered back to his group.


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. The pic below shows about half of the onlookers.


Oh, but I wish I'd got the picture of the kid lying down in the sun.
Wearing shades, blowing smoke and being a bit lippy. Chirpy, chirpy cheek cheek. I can imagine that Norma tried to communicate with him. Five sharp rings of her bell.


Which translates as:


Off they go again. Followed by we, an engaged audience.


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 in the Pearce Institute, the other making things happen in the care home.
That's all said better here.

Back outside, 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? The piece is called 'Man Sitting', so I think my first impression is the one they intend to communicate.


Or maybe it's more to do with public transport. Men sitting opposite - or alongside - women on the bus or train taking up most of the leg room. Do the men know what they're doing or are they oblivious to the situation? Is it a semi-conscious aggressive assertion of power?

I would ponder that for longer, but 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...


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 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.


"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
Carry the news."


"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."

Next time I'm in a tube sitting next to - or opposite - Wanda, Kate, Sarah or Norma (or indeed any woman) I'll make sure to keep my knees together and my wits about me. As if I don't do that at the moment. 'Man Sitting' pisses off a proportion of sitting men just as much as it does women, I would suggest.

Nevertheless, right at this moment, respect due:

"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, which he'd seen mentioned in Personal Delivery. It's a deal, Dave. It will always be a big deal between us as far as I'm concerned.

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


The laminated images are of the only known photo of Lady Dinah Pearce. It was this Lady Di 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. She introduced 'Fresh Air Fortnight' for convalescent children. She fought to ensure women were represented on school boards. The statue is of her shipbuilding husband, a philanderer who died at the age of 55, while Lady Di herself lived on until she was 82.


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 Di would show her sitting down in a composed, dignified and resolute way.

The Buzzcut volunteer (sorry, I don't know her name) distributes a leaflet informing the audience about Lady Di, Lady Dinah, Lady Pearce (sorry, I don't know her preferred title either). It tells us:

Sexcentenary is a collective of women, who identify as older, committed to the collaborative performance of gender, feminism and ageing. We are concerned with the relationship between how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves – as generators of ideas and acts of interpretation, as artists, and as critics. We are tired of the underexplored, undervalued and underrepresented nature of the older woman in all aspects of the art world, in museum collections, in funding opportunities and in public art. We are tired of institutions that exclude others—especially based on gender. We want to be inclusive and collectively engage the power of older women in live art.


The feminist and ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, said ageing, “makes women invisible, on the street and in the boardroom, and being invisible sucks.”

One of our Sexcentenary Associate Members, Terri Bell-Halliwell, has set up a
website called inVISIBLEwomen as a catalyst for changing the gender imbalance in public monuments in the UK.

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 a cultural myth?

I offer the Govan woman my leaflet.
She takes it with thanks and says she will be reading it, but first she must pop into the bookies to place a bet on the Grand National which is about to get underway. She tells me she wants to change, but the 'new her' will have to be a little patient with her old self. I feel sure Lady Di would have understood.

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


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 ever-giving Buzzcut team has kindly 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.


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 and fists 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 charity shop. Not to mention the community. Not to mention Buzzcut. Of course, if I try and assert myself here it will be bad news for me too.



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' 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 spreading. 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 (calm but 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 intention and impact of the performance.

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


In the evening, we take our places in the McLeod Gallery for The Araniello Show. Katherine is as uncompromising, rude, challenging, political, patient, precise, engaging, brave 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 put on sale to the highest bidder in the audience. A bidding frenzy ensues. 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 yet another member of the consistently supportive Buzzcut team.


One of Katherine's assistants is the artist
Laura Dee Milnes, 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.


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.

I don't count the number of times the wheel of Katherine's chair crushes the image of the cock, 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.


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 KA 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 like to think that Katherine will enjoy perusing this photo-text. Not just because it's primarily about her talented and reality-challenging Ex-Sex colleagues and chums, but because when one dude loves another dude's work, that love is so often reciprocated.

April 8-22, 2017