Tim Sandys is an artist in Glasgow, Scotland
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Commuter Transgression Protocols - A Discussion

In response to Tim Sandys' document Commuter Transgression Protocols, the artist and another artist, Adam Lewis-Jacob sat to discuss the themes covered within.

ALJ:
I guess the first thing would be the layout of everything. You've used the Network Rail logo at the top that makes it seem official as you read it it clearly isn't official. And the title; "Commuter Transgression Protocols" – why is it called that, what does that mean?

TS:
That title came about really quickly and easily. It had a kind of air of formality – a slightly corporate or emotionless 'clang' to it.

ALJ:
Like a gibber-jabber...'official' talk...

TS:
Yes, very much so.

ALJ:
What does the 'transgression' mean though?

TS:
The transgression would be any form of deviant behaviour. But the deviance doesn't necessarily mean law-breaking behaviour. It includes law-breaking behaviour but...well, hopping down the street while singing in public is deviant behaviour but you're not going to get arrested for it.

ALJ:
'Transgression Protocols' then are almost like an oxymoron - an odd couple of words. 'Protocols' would suggest an official line and a transgression would be directly against that line.

TS:
That's what I was thinking about – a deliberate muddying of the waters. The inclusion of the logo is part of that too. There's the idea that this list of deviant behaviours could in some way be formalised to the point that anyone reading this document for the first time would naturally ask who this is for? Should I watch out for a certain kind of behaviour? But I think as the nine points progress, one would think that maybe this was a set of suggested instructions for the potential saboteur, or...

ALJ:
Could it be something like The Anarchist's Cookbook and do you think that could be ridiculous because of it's contradictory nature? Because obviously you could legally buy that no matter how un-anarchistic that seems. State-regulated anarchism?

TS:
Well, there are points in it where there's a lot of talk about disguising behaviour; of blending in. Most of the points have something in there akin to instructions that advise how not to be caught, so there's an acknowledgment of their deviance.

ALJ:
Well, let's look at that. Among the selected transgressions, we have the 'Doorway Stand' I find the most striking thing about this is in the last sentence, when after explaining how you can displace the individual in inconvenient locations and also how you can 'look down' on everyone sat around you and remain in full-view to the occupants. You are in a position to pass judgments and avoid close quarter viral or bacterial exposure. Also there's the implicit 'assessment of which commuters are sexually attractive or particularly unpleasant in appearance.' I think this instantly gives it a comedic, Monty Python, even a 'Limmy' vibe to it...? Because, if someone actually thought like that it would be such a...bad thing. (laughs). Even though everybody does think like that but nobody talks about it.

TS:
Maybe that's the essence of the whole document, though. There is this insular, isolated, almost sociopathic perspective about it - a completely self-serving or selfish and brutal assessment of each given situation. I think you're right. In this first point there is the notion of being physically elevated above the other commuters. The person who stands within the doorway is somehow removed – they have removed themselves from the 'provided' context.

ALJ:
When there is an 'us and them' scenario – like the 'sleepy general public sheep and the active transgressor' or something but then it applies to the next one as well. I mean, the Doorway Stand is comedic and then the Misinformation one has a hidden camera joke vibe about it. There's a mischievous quality which is also fun. But as the document moves into Fare Avoidance it takes on a different tone. Probably most people have tried to do this. It's become harder and harder to pull off in recent years though. This point is more about the self or the individual.

TS:
Yes – I think I found it important to find a 'way in' to the work that people could relate to by easily and readily placing themselves within that context, that situation, by talking about subjects that we ar all familiar with – or at least there is an assumption that we are all to some degree familiar with all these behaviours because we've all done them or at the very least thought about them.

ALJ:
But then it takes this conscious step forward of, well, the 'partial altering of costume'. It even gets to the relative extreme of, 'The individual may find it useful to feign a sleeping condition, disability, inebriation, or mental-health disorder to discourage interaction...'

TS:
I have done these things.

ALJ:
...and that's, again – similar to the sexually attractive point – it makes it comedic. I mean, the writing has a quality that is anal, authentic and deadpan. If some one actually did that... It reminds me of a story I heard at the weekend. Someone I've never met but who knows the person I was with – they used to go out with each other. He was just a dick. He was clearly a dick and she said he was always a dick and that was my all over perception of him. They and another mutual acquaintance were in a situation where they were having to queue to use a disabled toilet because the others were fully used. Everyone had been using the disabled toilet and it was accepted, it was fine. This guy didn't like the look of the length of the queue so he feigned a physical and/or mental disability so he could get to the front. Initially I thought that was kind of funny and then I thought no it isn't. It might be funny in a sit-com or whatever but it's not funny in real life. And of course, he came out of the toilet and was like 'Ha-ha – I've just tricked you guys' and I thought, 'Whoah – you're a cunt.' It's straight up – there's no coming back from that. That's a cunt move.

TS:
Yep.

ALJ:
And then I have another friend who has a speech impediment – often gets the train on his own. Because it's just easier for people not to ask him to repeat himself more than three times, he often doesn't have to pay for stuff. I mean, he always pays for it anyway when asked but often people either don't ask or find it easier to avoid him or avoid getting into the situation of dealing with him.

TS:
Well, there's a question – how far do you go before you just want an easier life – it's hassle avoidance. We're inherently wired to avoid situations which disrupt an accepted routine. The conductors on trains have to deal with every eventuality; every possible iteration of commuter interaction there is but I'm sure they are far more disposed to dealing with the accepted ritual. They have to deal with the public every day, warts and all. Most people are very well behaved during the commuter window but of course all bets are off on a drunken Friday or Saturday night home. I would hate to be on a train trying to get money out of people on those nights when you can smell alcohol in the carriages. Still, they're not commuters. The commuter situation is something different. People then are a lot more inclined to behave like sheep. All the trappings, the dazed walk to the platform in the cold air, the uniform dress, the uniform of suits or whatever their job dictates. They're all wearing the same clothes. They're sober. They will queue in an orderly manner. They will rarely converse. They are very much involved in a ritualised behaviour. This ritual is enforced by repeating daily the same interaction at the same exact time. It is exacted to the minute. They will often stand in the same locations and sit in the same positions on the train...

ALJ:
...Bags on the seats or whatever. I've traveled on the train a lot and I know what you mean. I've seen the strange sociological politics happening. Door Jam and Ticket Disruption definitely have a marked change in tone. There's still a comedy thing happening but when it comes to putting glue on a ticket before it goes into a machine – it's slightly more malicious.

TS:
Well, it's vandalism – there's an element of vandalism. There's willful destruction starting to happen.

ALJ:
Where the previous are a lot more light-hearted. Well, they're light-hearted when you imagine them but in reality they'd actually be very disruptive. But the Ticket Disruption is more, 'we're gonna take down the Machine...' I found those two points were similar. Then the Coupling Transportation again uses the comedic thing. It's pretty brutal, the idea that someone's not just holding onto the outside of the train and it reminds me of when people did the train surfing stuff.

TS:
Well, it's commonplace in some parts of the world. Overcrowded trains in some developing nations literally can have dozens of people clinging onto the sides and the roof. They're quite well-practiced.

ALJ:
But that's from a practical or economical necessity – but you also get thrill-seekers. People who jump up and hold on to the top of trains from station to station. When I was a lot younger, I remember someone who jumped off a bridge on to the roof of a static train below and we thought, 'that's fucking insane – what happens if it drove off?' and he said, 'yeah, well – it didn't'. Luckily no-one saw it. Anyway – the end of this point closes with the individual 'would do well to continually observe the empty driver cab facing backwards in the event that a staff member enters the redundant area to masturbate.' As if that's like the one and only reason they would be in there.

TS:
Well, it's one possible reason. Still, what I was thinking was that within that document, it depends so much of you that you place yourself in the role of the individual transgressor – the first person character who is engaging with these transgressive acts. That one point is where it possibly enters the mind of another first person; another human on the other side of the divide. He happens to be the corporate man but this act happens to lower or possibly raise him to the same status as the person clinging on to the outside of the train...

ALJ:
The Everyman?

TS:
The Everyman – the self-seeking universal individual thinking about and chasing after their own little private moment.

ALJ:
But also, a sex-offender. I mean, there's no two ways about it. If you're caught, you're George Michael having a wank in the toilet. I mean, that's still kind of light-hearted in a way. It's not like someone's just a creepy man having a wank in a public park toilet because that's totally...

TS:
(laughing) The more I think about it, there is something about it that's... It wasn't intentional – I threw that line in there at the end without really thinking about it but it seemed to work. There is something about a staff member creeping into the empty back during a lull in his shift – a quiet shift at night...

ALJ:
Again, it's that sit-com territory.

TS:
...and he's secretly indulging himself only to realise that there's some rain-soaked figure peering in through the window, clutching the windscreen wipers. I like that.

ALJ:
It would be a really great scene in a film. In reality it would be something else altogether. That guy wouldn't be able to work in schools.

TS:
Well there's an interesting point. In that scenario ask yourself who the greater criminal is. Would the conductor suddenly stop what he was doing? Would he stop the train and attempt to get this guy clinging on the back to safety?

ALJ:
Or if it was in a film, would there be a sort of unknown silence or stare that was between them?

TS:
...and the conductor thinks, 'I've got nothing to lose here – I might as well just carry on. You just have to stay there and watch me.'

ALJ:
It's definitely where some extreme is happening with the commuter dynamic. I mean the next two points, the Needle Coat and the Platform Plough – it starts getting increasingly malicious and aggressive – to the extent that if you had little needles and if you were to barge into them or they were to barge into you someone could actually be properly hurt. We're relying on social etiquette to ensure that people wouldn't react to the physical pain?

TS:
Yes.

ALJ:
Also we would be relying on some kind of placebo thing that people wouldn't necessarily react to the injury because they're used to the barging.

TS:
Yes. They would be so caught up in the action of the ritual – the shoulder bumping social ritual that, when you think about it, when you boil it down to individual behaviour, it's completely out of order but is utterly accepted within the commuter context. We are prepared to tolerate massive invasions of personal space. It's an assumption but I do believe that if you were actually puncturing someone's skin because you've got secreted needles in your shoulder seams, those people injured might register a little more pain but they would still turn round and apologise as usual.

ALJ:
Unless they saw those needles sticking out of you.

TS:
Well, let's hope that they remained hidden among the fabric. I've been thinking more about rendering an artifact of this action. In the same way that I've made the two rails, the derailing equipment. I've been thinking about how or whether I would render some of the other equipment required for these protocols. I could have needles on shoulder straps or a hanging jacket with needles subtly poking through. Or I could abstract their physicality or visual presence somehow. These are what I'm thinking about. - ways of making artifacts of the protocols as if incidents had happened and I was recording them.

ALJ:
The Platform Plough is a much more aggressive artifact

TS:
That device, that object, if it were to exist I think to myself that I would like it to be clad with the livery and corporate branding of whichever rail network it should belong to.

ALJ:
That, for me, makes it practical and unfunny. It has the appropriation of the colours – the fact that... A lot of these people who go into areas where they're not allowed to, like urban explorers, they say you just need a hard hat and a luminous jacket and you can go anywhere. So having something like that would probably really work. It leads on to the final action, the most aggressive one of actually derailing a train. It's far darker. It's civil disobedience with no objective. The whole thing doesn't have a reason or a message which I think is the most frightening aspect. It's the thing people always look for when any human instigated disaster or tragedy occurs. They want a thesis or a theory behind it.

TS:
They need to have a motive – some kind of identification with the event has to happen.

ALJ:
When you hear about what appears to be a completely unmotivated attack – which I genuinely think is a really interesting thing. Most of the time, any sort of bombing or disruption. They're horrible, obviously – but they're always ruined by the political theories of whoever carried them out. I remember coming back from Norway just before that guy shot all those people...

TS:
Anders Breivik?

ALJ:
Yeah. And everybody in the British media wanted to say, for the first hour, that it was probably terrorism. Probably muslim terrorism. It was what they were suggesting. I instantly knew it was going to be a white guy from the right wing because I know what Norway is like but the media wouldn't even entertain that as an option. But of course it eventually came out. This guy is white. He has a manifesto that we're never going to let anyone read. They should let us all read it and let us make up our own mind but there's a fear that might be giving him a platform – although the suppression of that is just as bad as him writing it.

TS:
There is something pure and uncontested about the violent terrorist act prior to it's explanation – when it immediately occurs. Like you, I'm very sensitive to the immediate reactions of how the media deal with such things. The media do seem to have an accommodation of a set narrative that they're comfortable with.

ALJ:
They want to fit everything to a pattern. If there ever was any truly revolutionary civil disobedience it would have to be based around the logic of no logic?

TS:
That's what I mean. Because when you do find out the motives behind a typical event, when you're waiting for someone to say it was Al-Shabab, or it was Somali pirates, or it was christian right extremists, you're waiting for a way to demean the act. You need the invocation of an inferior mind or a deviant ideology to classify and reject the action. You understand that they're coming from a distorted or downright stupid set of ideas. When it's political or east versus west conflicts there's always the possibility that the bombing of a shopping centre might be in retaliation for two years of drone attacks. The original transgression could be lost in history.

ALJ:
It's the creation of a hostile foe. They're deliberately trying to generate an enemy,

TS:
The Breivik thing – we were quickly able to label that as the act of a lunatic because the media help us. We're quickly supplied with information from their personal life. You know, all their oddities – his conflicted sexuality, his past cosmetic surgery even though he was a young man, the amount of time he spent on the internet playing violent video games or immersed in a fantasy world.

ALJ:
Well those things I don't really care about.

TS:
Not really – but the media enforce the narrative of the perpetrator of such an aggressive act by drawing attention to his other deviant behaviours. It helps to paint the picture of an ordered world which some idiot has tragically disrupted. Anyway, I never understood the motivation – protecting Scandinavia from Islamic colonisation by killing young, indigenous white people.

ALJ:
Part of me thinks that although there is obviously no better or worse from this situation but it would have made far more sense had he targeted muslims. That's the tangent on this odd thing. It's almost like the Unabomber. As if the motive is, 'I will indiscriminately kill people until you pay attention to me'.

TS:
I think that gets into vaguely artistic territory. The ego appears and demands recognition, even if it has to commit violence to do it. Perhaps the transgressive act is merely a frustrated ego trying to be noticed. I can think of a lot of art that seems to evince that. Artwork that is high on impact and low on resonance. I wouldn't want to make work like that but I am interested in this area concerning deviance. I'm interested in the destructive act within an ordered system but yet I have no interest in committing such an act myself. I can probe around the borders of these acts but I don't want to end up in prison. I'm interested also in the structures that spring up very quickly around the perception of deviance. We have very formalised mechanisms that control how we should behave, particularly within cities. The commuter environment is a fairly quick and easy example of this so it serves as a structure from which I can 'hang' my work. We have to buy tickets, go through turnstyles, wait in queues, so in a way it's a kind of easy target in which I can project the possibility of a motiveless act.

ALJ:
It's an activity which changes the psyche of people involved, especially somewhere in a bigger population like London. Particularly in a time like, between seven to ten, people are disgruntled, they're tired. There's no sense of the community team spirit that people sometimes associate with London. It's more like, 'You're a fucking dick. You're way too close to me. All of you are dicks. I'd never help any of you.' Then you see something like seven seven happen – and everyone jumps into help mode because deep down everyone genuinely wants to help everyone, I really believe – but it needs a severe development to shake people up. Sometimes you want to help a young mother with a pram on the platform. Other times you see high-powered business suits looking down on everyone.

TS:
There are lot of complicating factors – everything from age to what they're wearing. These things cause little adjustments in social perception despite a broader norm. Even the fact that trains still have this compartmentalised class system.

ALJ:
I know. If you're in first class and everyone else is in a business suit but you aren't, you feel the resentment. I used to order train tickets off the internet and first class would sometimes weirdly be the cheaper option. I used to enjoy the looks you would get.

TS:
This document is a first stab at the broader notion of trying to determine where the art is. I can create artifacts and I can generate text. I have made these derailment devices. Obviously they are things that can be displayed as artwork – they have a formal quality coexisting with a conceptual origin. However, I don't think of them as being in anyway the totality of what this is all about. I'm curious to know what you think about this question of where the artwork lies.

ALJ:
Like what you were saying about making the jacket, the Needle Coat?

TS:
Or the People Plough – there are physical things that could be made. Does the whole thing have to exist as a unified presentable project or could it be just the texts. Should the ideas be abstracted even further. Could they be abstracted so far so that there was no easy way into them – they were remote. I mean, I don't know. I've been thinking a lot about this.

ALJ:
I'd say that it would be interesting to see how the Plough develops – if you were to give it corporate colours. Maybe the jacket too. These things could simply be illustrated. It could be like some design exhibition but then there's nothing wrong with that. It depends if you want to make something... not ubiquitous... not oblique either...or... and poetic is bad as well...

TS:
But it has a flavour of all of these things.

ALJ:
Yeah... that would be how you would move it on. An example of someone who does do that but doesn't do it very well would be Martin Boyce. I really like looking at some of his installations – some of them are beautiful things; beautiful installation but are completely devoid of meaning.

TS:
Well, he got a lot of mileage out of those tree structures – he seemed to exhaustively work through every iteration he could think of. He distilled so much to the point that the work was so far removed from it's original source that it didn't seem to matter any more. That might be what happens here. I personally would prefer to keep little elements of reality in the work here and there. Points where people can check in from time to time and connect with the origin, research and finished article in amongst a presence I've created that comes across as greater than the sum of it's parts. Still, I also like the possibility that the work could also be shunted into another parallel dimension – that the viewer could squint their eyes and just get a flavour of the deconstructed version of the work but not for long.

ALJ:
Well, this is also a narrative in a way. That's no bad thing. That's the thing with Boyce's work. It relies on the viewer projecting a possible narrative into his objects but there isn't enough of a committed position. Maybe they've just become so abstracted from their point of origin that they're self-referential illustrations of his own work so that, unless you're super-super-strong, that's just boring.


Recorded at Glasgow School of Art, 22nd November 2013

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