Bending nature’s crossbow

In his speech on the rare and remarkable objects he has brought from Mexico, which he intends to gift to the French nation so it may be seen as the greatest for the sumptuousness of the dresses ladies wear to ballets, the comedian known as Bruscambille (see previous posts, passim) lists, among other things:

  • a pair of underpants of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca that are full of moral sayings worthy of profound consideration;
  • Jupas’s lute, which produces such harmonies that whoever hears them isn’t deaf;
  • a pair of marvellous glasses that allowed Saturn to choose a white cloth with which to wipe his bottom.

For his latest print, Dominic Hills was naturally inspired by one of these Mexican objets d’art, namely:

The chamber pot used by Mars and Venus, to Vulcan’s great displeasure, of such size and perfect proportion that it inflames the hearts of its viewers with unbearable lust, and makes nature’s crossbow bend back, to fire at the deer with no nose.

[L’urinal duquel se servoient Mars et Venus, avec un grand desplaisir de Vulcan, de telle mesure et juste proportion qu’il enflamme les cœurs des regardans de luxure insupportable, et faict bander l’arbalestre de nature, pour tirer après la beste fauve qui n’a point de nez.]

Bander l’arbalestre de nature © Dominic Hills

Bander l’arbalestre de nature
© Dominic Hills

Anyone in any doubt as to what the ‘deer with no nose’ refers only needs to consult one of Bruscambille’s speeches on noses, where he establishes in Latin that while men have two noses ‘primum capiti, secundus jacet in braguibus’ [‘this first on the head, the second in the codpiece’], women on the other hand only have one nose ‘ad est capitale, sed abest bragale’ [‘one on the head, but the one in the codpiece is missing’].


Renaissance Rumours and Chinese Whispers

As part of the ‘Inside Out’ festival at King’s College this October (2014), Emily and I organised a mass game of Chinese Whispers, drawing upon some earlier experiments at the Gossip and Nonsense symposium in Exeter in July 2013, and the Gossip and Nonsense publication workshop at King’s in June 2014.

We took over the lovely back room at Fernandez and Wells in Somerset House, where Emily introduced the broader project with a talk about the French Renaissance court, libellous pamphlets, and attempts to understand a personal investment in the spread of rumour and gossip. We went on to play several games of Chinese Whispers, using quotes from Montaigne, as well as Sol LeWitt’s sentences on conceptual art.

P1020078P1020091I also talked about the use of  language, and translation, in art – which I wrote about a little in a previous blog. Our participants really enlivened the discussion with their reflections on the process – the difficulty of holding onto the words under pressure, and the intimacy of the whisper.


We experimented in English, and with some ‘live’ translation in and out of languages that were shared by members of the group.

We closed the event with an outdoor game – using the architectural space of the courtyard at Somerset House as a frame to whisper around. Our participants spread themselves in a line, and as the first person whispered to the second they left the from of the line and went to the back, waiting for their turn to come again. Using this method we created a Chinese Whispers chain that moved all of the way around the courtyard’s perimeter.



Interestingly the phrase that we whispered (Sol LeWitt’s 7th sentence on Conceptual art, contracted to ‘The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion) soon reduced to a very manageable length, and began to feel like it would not morph any further becoming rather boring to repeat over and over again… as we neared the end of the second side of the rectangular courtyard a participant took action to remedy this, with laughter breaking out along our line as the word ‘arse’ was intentionally introduced. Somehow by the time we had returned to the Fernandez and Wells doorway in the north east corner of the courtyard we were left with the phrase ‘The officer’s arse is scarier than his face which is really heavy.’



post script: sound recordings from this event featured in the Radio 4 programme ‘Something Understood’ on the 7th December 2014, entitled Gossip and Whispers.