Alice Quarterman

Untitled: Why Are You Writing That Down? I Said It’s Untitled | John Hansard Gallery, Southampton

To chew gum is to engage in a repetitive sensory activity with the element of cultural safety. The safety provided by its conventional and discreet nature is defied in this piece by bringing the action out into the open and turning up the peculiarity. At the same time as the performer chews gum, a piece of putty is ‘chewed’ by manually operating a set of broken wind-up teeth, clumsily and inaccurately trying to mirror the motions happening within the mouth.

The crude puppet employed to help peek into some of the weirdness of the world is himself a Dadaist. Affectionately known as ‘Keith’, his attitude is that of the ‘I-don’t-give-a-damn’ described by Tristan Tzara in his 1918 Dada Manifesto: he ‘minds his own business, at the same time as he knows how to respect other individualities, and even how to stand up for himself’.

As an embodiment of intense staring and chatter, Keith might represent both ourselves and the others. His duality supports the piece’s exploration of discrepancies in communication through ideas of the seen and unseen, truth and untruth, observation and perception, and trust and assumption. In particular it focuses on the nuances of the relationship between the internal and external, and how this is interpreted by onlookers.

Though the piece has been assigned a meaning of considering communication and behaviour in a neurodiverse world, it is equally welcome to be understood in the Dadaist tradition of meaninglessness. It was conceived away from meaning, by a force similar to what might compel one to chew gum or engage in any other sensory activity: a want, an itch, an impulse to do it. The work is meaningless and meaningful, and - as Dada - it performs those ‘contrary actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air’ (Tzara, 1918) Dada Manifesto. Available at

Alice Quarterman's practice has been described as doing whatever she ****ing fancies, which she tries to continue living up to. The values of awareness, responsiveness, acceptance, and accommodation in this approach are mirrored within the work itself. Her practice is proudly self-indulgent: rooted in her own experience and grounded there through the use of to-hand or domestic materials and spaces.

Instagram: @alice.quarterman

Untitled: Why Are You Writing That Down? I Said It’s Untitled - 2nd July 2022

When coming up with my proposal for the piece, one of the main ideas was that it would take place outside of the gallery, as part of looking at visibility/invisibility. This concept became even more interesting and relevant to me in practice. By being outside I was physically more visible, but functionally less so. This was demonstrated when some of my family came to see me, and I had to call to them as they had walked straight past and missed me.

Being outside also gave me a greater sense of autonomy which allowed me to do whatever I needed for myself; I could take breaks without anyone even having to know. This flexibility was also my reason for choosing a folding chair, which was quite an aesthetic departure from my original thought of using a dated,formal armchair.

The portability of my chosen chair allowed me to try out different placements within the space. My favourite place to sit was a spot a little way behind a statue of two hares. It became clear from watching people interact with it that this statue was part of an art trail, and by sitting behind it I was inserting myself into the background of their photos with it.

I also worked with photographer Abigail Tinnion for my documentation of the piece. However,I made sure that there were portions of the day where I was on my own. This created a very different feeling for me while making the piece; not only to not be recorded, but to largely not be noticed at all, shifted the meaning of my actions.


Aaron Williamson

‘Hiding in 3D’ | IKON, Birmingham

Alex Billingham

Fishwives Revenge | Tate St Ives

Alistair Gentry

25% (Rectification) | Tate Liverpool

Anahita Harding

Are You Comfortable Yet? | Tate Modern, London