We Can't Concentrate So Why Should You?
Doherty, Dogging and Fish Ovaries: A Life Through SMS
Artist, writer and radio show host Tracey Moberly has spent the last 12 years saving every text message sent to her, these are now being published in her debut book Text Me Up...
31 July 2011
Tracey Moberly is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and radio show host, and was also a co-owner of creative hub The Foundry in London. Since 1999 Tracey has been saving every text message she’s been sent and recently decided to publish them in her debut book Text Me Up.
This isn’t a coffee table book, this is a chemical generation’s pocket-bible of real stories, real visionaries, real people, from Holloway to Haiti, all documented with photographic and SMS evidence. No introduction will do justice the gravity of courage, depth, emotion, comradeship and creativity injected into each page.
The narrative is written in an anecdotal style, yet each page is a marriage of texts, imagery, memories and vision; from Pete Doherty’s days hosting poetry nights, the rise of the Libertines with Tracey deciding against managing them, Banksy’s friend receiving hundreds of unwanted Dogging texts charged at £1.50 each to Tracey appearing in Mr. Nice which leads to Howard Marks putting in requests for Puffa Fish ovaries in Haiti… there are too many surreal elements in this book to even begin to cover, each seemingly linking to another in some fatalistic path, that is Tracey Moberly’s life.
Don’t be mislead by Tracey’s work being presented in the form of a book; this is someone’s heart and soul wrapped up in paper, splashed with photographic ink with scatterings of text messages sprinkled throughout, Tracey calls them “sugar rushes of contact, postcards for the peoples’ cyberspace”, each telling a thousand different stories…
This isn’t the first time you’ve created a piece of work from your text messages is it?
No, my texts first went public on June 23rd 2000 at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. I’d come out of a marriage and following this a lot of the texts came in offering support. The exhibition was an insight into how everyone had been knitting me back together again and those people in the exhibition were creating a celebration of this. Importantly, all the texts I use are texts I have received.
How did it feel, people reading such personal messages for the first time?
What was weird was that being used to exhibition previews where you go along, have a drink, talk, meet people and then come back at a later date to properly look at the work - with this, everybody was glued to reading everything that was on the walls, spending a lot of time reading every word.
I don’t know if that was whether they were looking for the texts, in a TV soap type context or whether they were genuinely interested in them and the stories that these texts made.
Texts were displayed in the order they had come into my phone and therefore all intermittent texts from different people, so the audience would be reading between the lines and putting together their own story.
My collection is currently around 90,000 received texts so there are 87,000 texts which didn’t make it, and counting, I could write another 40 books.
Your book is filled with pictures of so many different things you’ve done with texts…
I’ve done things like work on the relaunch of buildings such as the Zion Arts Centre in Manchester where I released 1,000 balloons there, each balloon had a recycled telephone text message and they were set loose into the sky. The balloons went everywhere… over the Pennines, some ending up in Scunthorpe, York, Leeds, all over the place. For this project I did the same the following day from London, these being launched by the band members of the Libertines.
What happened then?
I started getting text replies back from people who’d found balloons in fields, gardens, schools, natural trust land, sewer plants -all sorts; it was mad. I got a reply from a couple on a first date who’d found one, the bloke thought it was destiny. I did another balloon release called ‘Love’s Dirty Habit with Band of Holy Joy’. It was on Valentine’s Day 2002, the balloons had a message on them saying ‘Love’s Dirty Habit: Text Us Yours’ but the replies became a bit too pornographic to do anything with in the end. Some really filthy stuff was texted back, a section of it is in the book.
Do you have any more exhibitions in the pipeline?
Yes quite a few projects going on. I’ve got an exhibition coming up created from celebrity texts from friends, all based around sex drugs and rock ‘n roll titled Text-Me-Up-Sex-Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll. The theme is analysing historical contexts of how we have become a nation of consumers compared to the Victorian era of manufacturing and making. I’ve been working closely with an incredible Vodou flag maker in Haiti following a project I was doing there with mobile phones and art in Haiti as part of the 1st Ghetto Biennale there in Port-Au-Prince
I think people feel a pressure to focus on one skillset/ambition/career path in life, you seemed to have broken that mould, what would you tell those who are trying to find their way?
I think it’s good to focus on what interests you and makes you tick, if it’s within the creative fields it doesn’t necessarily mean you are diluting different mediums and processes by working in more than one or two. The experience gained when you start developing more can be quite valuable in affecting the angle you’re coming from one another. For example I think most things follow the same simple structure in creating from the spinning and dyeing of thread and knitting a jumper to using clay and pigments to make a brick and building a wall. I think the same thing follows in more general creative art terms when you can cross and collate different aspects of music, art and performance.
In the book you talk about the chicken wire effect as a model for life…
Actual chicken wire features a centre piece with six strands of wire that run from it making new centre pieces – it’s these connected centres that I use to describe each piece of work as the metaphor or art piece I do. From here you have six different directions to go off in. For example, I could be doing an exhibition and someone could see a piece of art I did as part of it and say ‘You have to see this film there’s something in the film that reminds me of this piece of work…’ which would send me off in one direction. On that journey somebody might say ‘You should speak to so and so…’ and you could walk off and bump into a friend which could lead you to someone else and other happenings or in an extreme case you could walk off and get knocked over and killed. Alternatively you could bump into somebody following the person saying ‘You have to see this film…’ meet someone on route, fall in love and have several children. I have used it as a structure to make sense of my work and life. It inevitably leads on to the next piece of work and the next thing.
The breadth of people feature in your book is truly fascinating. How did you decide which ones to put in?
The texts were all randomly selected. Seventeen texts begin and end each chapter of the book. Some chapters are made up solely of texts so one year would represent seventeen texts selected for each month of that year. They were all selected randomly so this processes sorted the selection of people and the direction of the story to some degree. I’ve included about 3,000 received text messages. My collection is currently around 90,000 received texts so there are 87,000 texts which didn’t make it, and counting, I could write another 40 books.
Text Me Up is published by Beautiful Books