Video blog: Benedict Phillips performing at ISEA 2009, Belfast / 21 October 2009
This 31 minute performance video introduces the world to RE:red DIV and creator Benedict Phillips.
RE:red DIV's debut took place on Friday 28th August at ISEA 2009 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) in Belfast. This work was selected and introduced by the international curator Kathy Rae Huffman
For the past 16 months Benedict Phillips has been delivering “3D thinkers in a 2D world,” his talk about his 14 years of projects about dyslexia as a performance/lecture throughout the UK at conferences and collages as professional development for academic staff (pedagogy conference Leeds, Central St Martins – London,) and for arts organisations and students (Hull college, UEL) from a number of disciplines.
Transcript of video
I’m Benedict Phillips and today, I’m in this Red suit. And this is my re-reading of DIV. And this is the first time that I’ve ever worn this particular get-up. So I’m just kind of adjusting to it.
What I’m going to do is tell you a little bit about what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years, and I’m going to try to, y’know, edit that down a little bit, so that we’re not all 40 years older when I finish. [laughs around room]
So what I wanted to do was take you through where I started out.
And when I was three. I spoke a completely invented language. And I’ve had it recalled to me by my mother, it was like a baby. “Nyep, dip, clip.” Very clipped.
And my mothers’ quite an er, creative person. And um, she doesn’t like to correct people too much. So she said, ok – we’ll leave him with that. And one day I got up and, after speaking this completely invented language, and apparently I went, “Good morning mother, what a lovely day it is.” Or words to that effect.
So I came into the world at that point, the beginning of speech, at three years old, almost fully formed. And had a fantastic time. I spent the next couple of years enjoying my life incredibly. And then I was introduced to a new context.
And this context was school. And an interesting thing was introduced to us. The pen was one of those things. And, I started having these kind of conversations. Very new kinds of conversations that didn’t quite, didn’t quite fit in my head.
It was something like this. The teacher would say: ‘I’m going to show you something. And the object of this conversation was… I’m going to show you the letter ‘I’… and now I’d like you to make me the letter ‘I’ in fact.
The teacher would be: ‘here is the letter I.’ I go: ‘thank you very much.’ The teacher would go: ‘Could I have the letter ‘I’ back?’ I go: ‘there you go.’ And he would take the ‘I’ and go: ‘NO – not right. This is the letter ‘I’. You see the letter ‘I’? See the letter?’
'Hand the letter ‘I’ over.' I take the letter ‘I’, thank you very much. And I go: 'there you go.' And I hand the letter over and he goes: 'I’m sorry, but that’s, that’s not right.'
'OK. But you just gave me that and I gave it back. I don’t understand.' And the teacher was standing there going: 'but I’ve just given you that, and I don’t understand either.'
This became the beginning of the great confusion. How did this process go on? And I’d go: 'there’s the letter ‘I’. There’s the letter ‘I’. There’s the letter ‘I’. There’s the letter ‘I’. [moves hand holding letter ‘I’ around various axes as he speaks] There’s the letter ‘I’.
'Like this?' [Ben, speaking to teacher.] Teacher: 'no, like this.' [hold the letter differently each time] 'Like this?' 'No like this.' 'Like this?' 'No like this.' 'Like this?' 'No like this.'
And, it’s only now that I understand I was talking to a flat person. [laughter in room] and I’m a rounded person. And up until that point, when I went into school, my ability to be round, my ability to exist in a three dimensional world, meant that, the more that I look at this pen, the more that I understand it as an object; it doesn’t detract.
I know more and more about it all the time as I turn it around and around. In the way that when you walk around, over here, I know more about it, because I can see the back of it.
So, when I was introduced to this strange, flat world, where my brain goes: [clicks pen, makes multiple shapes with hand, in many axes]; and I’ve kind of discovered over the years that I seem to have this brain which sees pictures. Very, very quickly, and it’s like cinema.
My brain’s taking in maybe a hundred, maybe two hundred frames per second. But we know, if you watch a film back like that, that what happens is, that you don’t see all the frames. But we also know that the brain is a very, very clever place. And it sets things off. And it returns to them. As instants, you just formulate these thoughts.
And so this was the beginning of the dark place of education. And eventually they gave me a name, and that was dyslexia. A great disease, which they were going to cure me of. And they were going to do this with lots more words, again and again and again and again and again.
They were going to do with magic glasses, and coloured paper and all sorts of very, very exciting things. But something unusual happened. My mother was having a conversation with the educational psychologist for the area of Yorkshire, which is where I was brought up. Which is an area of about five million people.
And he said, I’ve been doing this job for twenty-five years, and I have this book. And there’s this list in this book, and at the top of the list it says, this is what a dyslexic is.
Except the really interesting thing about this definition is, I’ve never met, in all my years, of doing this job; I’ve never met this person, until I met your son. This is where the seed was planted, that maybe one day I’d be the poster boy for dyslexia. [laughter in room]
So, I’ll kind of move on a little bit; so the marvellous thing about this was, with this language, it’d be very, very interesting. I would sit down, and someone would sit down next to me. And we would read this book.
And I would write in this book. As this happened I would be corrected, over and over again. It would be like no; this is not how we spell it, we spell it like this. No, this is not how we spell it we spell it like this.
And it was the teacher crossing out. And then we’d come across a word that’s printed in the book and the teacher would cross this word out. And write another spelling above it, and say 'this is not how we spell it, we spell it like this.'
And then we read a bit further and there’d be more words in the book teacher would say: 'this is not how we spell it we spell it like this.' And the interesting thing is that I was being taught to read from an American book. So at this point, this language thing seemed to be very hard. Everyone seems to be wrong, but mostly me.
And I’m not enjoying it. And so, it must have been sometime after this marvellous experience, I achieved my ambition from school, which was to leave school. I just thought you should know, this is not the Benedict that walked into school at five, this is The Benedict. It’s a very different person.
So, after I’d gone through all this marvellous art education, I changed my attitude to things, a little, and decided to say something about this dyslexic experience of mine. And so I produced a document called the 'Agenda of the Aggressive Dyslexic.'
Today, as I said, I’m re-reading, obviously spelt 'reding', my vision art document. And here I am, on a street corner, in 1996, and I’m going to give you a little taster of the agenda of the aggressive dyslexic.
“The premise that is set by education on the dyslexic only leaves one avenue to follow. This path is not the normal way, but one that you must fulfil yourself. All avenues of normalcy are closed by the bigots .” And so it begins.
“There is little doubt in my mind, that persecution will be the philosophy of your surroundings. So you must kick, and kick hard. For there is only one thing your foot will hit and that is the wall.
“You will find yourself being told you are stupid by the moron. They will smirk at you with their ignorance. They will pat you on the head for spelling in their perversely illogical way, not seeing even a gentle stroke of lateral thought will tell them that you were born with the upper hand.”
“This they will then see, and though sent to help you, they will see themselves as the missionary. They shall be so proud of themselves, when they see, that you can learn to twist your mind to the illogical, pronouncing themselves right, with the echo of your parrot spell in the background. Fuck the lot of them.”
This by the way is the only sentence in the entire thing that is standard English. Why learn to do a thing which is not your destiny? Is the bald man to be blamed for being follicly challenged? You can write, and the shock in those who read is not that they cannot understand, but yours is a more logical way.
So when we hear them say: 'I read what you have written, and though it is hard for me at first, and force me to consider the context of the prose, and the actions and to re-rede, breaking words into sound into shape to understand, I did it, and it was good.'
To this is your logical divide for every day at school every day of life, that asks me to read in your language, I have no choice but to read that way.
Taking advantage of your dyslexic respect, do not accept the translator, for this is the road to banality. But once you expect the translator as a necessity, you deny yourself the freedom of the power of your own volition as literacy is the norm to most. It is the straight jacket to you who are chosen by logic.
Do what no literate can do with it. Take the language and sign it with your own hand. Do this in your own name, and if this helps, do it for those fuckwits who let their creativity die in their literacy.”
And strange things happened. That got published. And then a sort of strange idea started to occur to me.
Then in 2001, I decided that everyone kind of needed to be dyslexic. I mean, that would sort out things. So I invented my dictionary, the Benedictionary.
And what this does, is that you go there, and you paste in your text and you press Benedictionaries and it translates the text into dyslexic. I thought this was a very good idea.
A little bit later I decided that I needed to reclaim some things. One of those things was the word DIV, which where I come from, means idiot. I also wanted to reclaim the dunce cap. And so the dunce cap became my hat of empowerment and DIV became my 'Dyslexic Intelligent Vision.'
Then I thought – well, how am I going to share this intelligent dyslexic vision with the people of the world? I thought, maybe through education? That worked for me. Lets see if it works for them. And so, this is the warning.
"It is believed that somewhere between 90 and 95% of the population of the UK are lexic. These people find it hard to spell in interesting and creative ways are generally excluded from dyslexic function ."
"It is hoped that those who suffer from this lexic problem can now be given some home support for help with their creative spelling restrictions."
So, the DIV came into view. The red bits that seem to be surrounding me at the moment, is the new front the re-reding. The white bits are someone else altogether different, something quite different.
But before the red people and the white people come and have a conversation with anybody they have to create a new base, a new beginning for their conversation, because they knew that to be dyslexic, to suffer, to suffer from dyslexia, a horrible disease, there must be someone else.
It can’t be everybody’s norm, but dyslexics. So to create a new platform, we invented the lexic. And so the opportunity to transform the lexic into the dyslexic, to free them from the constraints of this horrible rigid language, seemed a very, very good way forward for the DIV.
And so the DIV had an exam. And in this exam, about 65 people sat an exam in becoming dyslexic, which, I’ll show you some marked examples of the um, there we are - the reading, from the Aggressive Dyslexic dictionary which was very good, and the crosswords, of course, which, it being a DIV crossword, you write your crossword in, and then you fill in any holes that are left with black pen.
Here are some of the papers. This is particularly useful - the lexic to dyslexic exam, and this has some very important messages in it.
A man walks down the road towards you with a shopping back in each hand weighing seven pounds each and wearing a bobble hat. What is written on the back of the bobble hat? Now a dyslexic would know that, because obviously they function in a three-dimensional world. Which is the way they’d work it out. They’d be able to wander round the back, read the text and come back.
This is some of the art. One of the interesting things that happened during that; people discovered that they could lose control of something they’d had control of for a very, very long time.
The world was full of people who had successfully, been in exams, all their lives and the more they did this exam, the more that it fell away, the more that the words kind of began to disintegrate. There was small group of people who were dyslexic, who took part in the exam, for the first time in their lives, actually enjoyed it.
I decided to meet with some of the people and have conversations with them. Here’s one of the people I met. And he said that when he was a kid he had to use a mirror to read. And I thought this was very interesting.
I thought this was very interesting. The cross behind his head, is a symbol that describes his experience - so the same set of symbols are in each quarter. This describes 3 dimensional space
A couple of years later, I was doing a sketch, I was sat in the window discovered this drawing that I’d done, had been done from 25 feet away, 17 feet up in the air looking down onto the object I’d that been drawing. I wondered how this had happened.
Ahh, this is the exam stamp. Obviously everyone who took their place in the exam got a certificate. The grades are, dark, fantastic, stupid, genius, thick, clever and DIV, which of course means dyslexic. This exam doesn’t have a mark. You’re allowed to remark this exam every single day yourself.
The DIV went to America the following year. And I met some people there. Dave here, decided that he wanted to, write out some words he thought he wouldn’t be able to spell to express himself. But also words that expressed something about him
Dave, in fact, trained as a preacher, then as a sheriff, and is now a real estate agent. And very successful I might add. But the interesting thing is, he is clearly a verbal person.
This is a more kind of typical scenario. This person drew a moment when their life changed. Like that conversation when you realise that words don’t log it, they just disappear and twist away. When she was 9 years old the teacher said: 'come up to the front of the class, and do this sum - 12 minus 6.'
It all broke down. It all turned into ants and all the numbers started running all over the board. At which point the teacher did the most sensible thing in the world in the circumstances - which was to grab her by the scruff of the neck, drag her down the hall and put her in the stupid corner, which is where she stayed.
This is not a rule book. When I think about what resource I have in my head, I have very little resource because those are just words. I can’t see anyone. I can’t walk round it. I can’t navigate it. So for me, this is not a rulebook.
If you have a picture in your head, you can spend a long time walking round it. Talking about it. And this is the way that the DIV thinks about things.
I started to be very interested in charting things, of marking things down. I started to have conversations a couple of years ago with an architect and I decided what I needed to do was that I needed a dyslexic building. We thought this was a marvellous idea. We would put some marks down and we would write a brief.
And I wrote the 'impossible' brief. Of course the spell check turned it into the imposable brief. Which the architect loved, so we stuck with that. Then we realised we didn’t want to build it for dyslexics. We wanted a building that was dyslexic. And we were thinking, How does that evolve, how does that work? We started thinking about what sort of personality it would have.
We started thinking that when someone comes into the room it maybe, changes, not like it smells or something. Maybe this building is the building where people get lost, if they’re not dyslexic, and then it started to be a lot more like the Death Star than I expected it to.
On the surface you have surface memory, and then you go down into the space, you go down deeper and deeper into all sorts of different kinds of ideas.
I was thinking about what it means to be dyslexic; under the considerable impression that I can’t possibly be dyslexic. The reason for this is because, I can string sentences together. I can walk on my both of my feet at the same time with my hand behind my back without falling over. I seem to know what I’m doing. And surely dyslexics are strange, abnormal stupid things.
But then, I think about it and well, I graduated at 21. At 26 I learnt how to spell my own middle name, and I’ve never been quite able to balance that out.
Now the thing about this is, that, for me, being very, very good at being dyslexic, has meant that I can’t pretend. I have to be dyslexic, because that this means that well, because I’ve tried, I ‘ve tried being lexic, it’s an interesting process.
I was chatting to a friend of mine the other day, and I was going: 'did you know, I’ve been sending out emails and they’ve been saying “all the beast – Benedict Phillips.”' And she said: 'you’ve been doing that for months. I thought you were just being funny.'
This is my masterplan, er, for the DIV – this is a very, very quick introduction, the first test run of the re-reding of the DIV, as I said.
This is my masterplan which involves my investigations into web navigation systems, which are based on looking at the way that people, continually, spell words in thousands and thousands of ways. In search engines and those search engines are continually reconsidering what language means.
And that we use a tiny little database inside of our computers when we think about what language is, when have an entire world of language which is constantly shifting. Hopefully there will be a dyslexic building one day.
So, I thought I’d finish by reading you a little poem:
Changing the world
Ever since I was a small boy,
I have been changing the world.
What I would do is go into a special place,
A field, or a small wood, or a space behind a shed
There with a small shovel I would dig
When the hole in the earth was made
p>I’d put treasure in the hole
And replace it with a circle of stones
And hope that there are others like me.
Keywords: dyslexia,poetry,social model,visual art