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 391.org/manifestos/1918-dada-manifesto-tristan-tzara/
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.