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Cara Tolmie, ‘Room Studies’, 2010, performance and video. Courtesy the artist. Photo Rodger Woolridge

Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had .’

One must force the frozen circumstances to dance, by singing to them their own melody .’

(Disclaimer: any attempt to do the artist’s work justice in print would have to acknowledge the impossibility of print’s ability to recall the nature of the moment of delivery [vernacular, accent, song, body, distortion etc.]. For this reason,
a bias has been made in favour of the formalisation of the artist’s written output.
‘We know we are without a text, and
must discover one.’ Carolyn G Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life, 1989)

Recently asked to respond to the work of Meredith Monk, Cara Tolmie got up on stage, armed with her voice, a microphone and a loop-pedal, and leisurely walked in circles, adding, over wordless harmonies [1]:

‘Proceed, proceed and commence’ to

‘We hear, not steer’, and

‘We do not stand but we float’ and

‘The story we endure knows nothing of us ’.

Each technologised, virtuous voice responds to the previous by virtue of the time Cara takes to produce a choir, a larger mass, that for better or worse, will become nonsensical.

Looking back to Gertrude Stein’s ‘continuous present’, or Barack Obama’s inaugural ‘Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America’: two points, at either end of a century that produced a self-propelling world, that Cara walks through, as stand-in for all of us looking forward.

Cara smiles to herself as she assembles her canon, performing a perhaps solipsistic logic, happily stuck in its own knowing loop, perhaps. Her smile could be read in this way, or another: responding to those that others hold for too long while being recorded for the sake of others. Something like hearing 12-beat cycles of a drum machine, of which every fifth beat is slightly too early  [2]. Or the way Cara’s metronomic stride stutters (she wanders, she definitely doesn’t march) as she comes back round to the pedal to introduce another voice—and her microphone lead slowly winds into a tangled knot. And so on.

The 20th century produced a broad set of objective conditions for us to work with. We proceeded to pass these around, in the hope of creating a group [ 3], over time, that will share common values and belong together. On closer inspection of said conditions, Cara prompts us into wondering what it is that binds us emotionally, whether the passing round is not simply a formal ritual. ‘In the same way, this notion of the objective correlative reduces the emotional experience in the reader to something incredibly crass like the word ‘blood’ repeated in Macbeth, it’s a simple trick, a manipulation. We have invented these structural rules in an attempt to understand phenomena which connect us to the sentimental side of our human existence. However, in doing this we have also created a force which can obliterate the legitimacy of that human experi-ence, making us feel ashamed of our naivety.

I am interested in their potential as weapons of destruction!’  [4]

Using ‘Room Studies’  [5] as a backdrop to account for the pros and cons of a tireless response to our formalised avant-garde inheritance—seen from the hierarchised perspectives of middle class parents and children (though not quite playschool)—it seems that Cara is asking us to unravel the conditions by way of a production of fictional applications—used one after the other, to great effect. ‘Find a way to describe this room so you can tell your friends when you get home. Go!’

Singling out her singing as exemplary, the addition of ‘virtuous’ is not only complementary but useful, in Paolo Virno’s sense of the word in relation to speech and utterance. ‘Language is without end product’, he says. ‘Every utterance is a virtuosic performance. And this is so, also because, obviously, utterance is connected (directly or indirectly) to the presence of others.’ This is so, also because, obviously, Cara’s work is not only assembled in such a conversational way (John Cage remarks, ‘I think conversation works best when the second thing that is said is not in the mind of the person who said the first thing.’). It is clearly underpinned by a (linguistic) logic, yet informal enough not to get tied in knots; but also seems to be preoccupied with a more musical approach to production ‘without end product’, sentences without full-stops.

After her own words:

The maker of leisure

and the bearer of recreation:

He makes leisure,

she constructs leisure,

They, collectively,

form leisure:

It (the object) solidifies recreation.

Recreation belongs

to him,

and to her

and to it

and to us

and to them.


made leisure

and we made recreation

And now we and they,


Monitor and sustain it. ’  [6]

Will Holder is a writer and curator

End Notes:
[1] ‘The end is a tumultuous noise’, performance and text as part of the exhibition The Voice is a Language, 15 April 2010, Tramway, Glasgow
[2] ‘The Pace of Recreation’, 2008, video
[3] ‘An Evening Group and the Faceless Forefathers’, 2009, video
[4] Author interview with artist, 2010
[5] ‘Room Studies’, 2010, video
[6] ‘The Pace of Recreation’, 2008, video at Cove Park, Bute, summer 2010