Xiu Xiu: The polaroid project: The Book
It must be tough, being a rock star on tour. After being cheered on stage by adoring fans night after night, the requirement to strip naked and thrash your guitar wildly (not a euphemism) on the motel bed or to climb inside the toilet bowl in order to urinate must become a little de trop at times. The reality of life on the road, one suspects, is rather more mundane, and it is this overriding sense of boredom, as well as the ker-ay-zee moments described above, that underpins Xiu Xiu, The Polaroid Project.
Ex-roadie David Horvitz conceived the idea to invite indie-band Xiu Xiu’s fans to bring a box of Polaroid film and an SAE to gigs. Horvitz, or band members, would then shoot the film and post off the results. Some 1,800 Polaroids, a selection of which make up the book of the project described here, exist “somewhere in the world” as Horvitz describes it. This sense of randomness is replicated in the disparate images included, from infinite horizons to signs in the landscape, more of which shortly.
The space of a Polaroid is an especially intimate one. While it is possible to stage a scene, we think of the Polaroid as the ultimate snapshot. It’s as close as most fans are going to get to the antics of the motel room. As well as the nudity and “golden showers” described earlier, the fans, and now the wider public, get to witness the band sporting cosmetic face masks, jumping up and down with a pillow stuffed down their fronts or wearing a polythene bag on their head (don’t try this at home, kidz). And though it is easy to sound dismissive of such horseplay (and the resulting photographs), there is no reason why a field study of a band on tour is any less interesting than a thousand other photographic documentary proposals. Also, there is something appealing about this inclusive use of photographs, as a means to create a network of people who collectively own a complete body of work. In this case the sum of the parts is probably greater than the whole, but that’s not such a bad thing (it just contradicts the habitual locution).
Boredom as an art form has its own charm, however. Strange tubular shapes in the sand, animalistic outlines in the bushes, liminal shadows on parched earth: all provide a welcome distraction for the bored. Likewise, signs in the landscape take on a new and special significance. Does the Zoning Law signposted in the village of Champlain directly result in Slow Children, as the welcoming side-by-side signs would suggest? Are we really only allowed to be Happy for one Hour between 5 and 6?
The surreal quality of everyday life is rightly highlighted in Boredom Art; as is the ubiquity of the Golden Arches, and the nowhereness of the sky. Photographs of people – presumably band members, though uncaptioned: we can never be sure – punctuate the listless landscapes: people drinking, eating, staring out to sea.
The whole project recalled Douglas Copeland’s novel Polaroids from the Edge, a similarly lacklustre, yet quietly persistent work. This one comes with a free CD, though, which I confess I expected to be a total abomination. With its odd (as in peculiar) cello solos, urban street chatter and ambient electronica, it was actually quite haunting, interesting, and intelligent. For me, this was a neat lesson in why spending time with low-key publications from smaller publishing houses is rarely a totally boring exercise.