Kae Tempest is a London-based artist who works with words. I first discovered their work in 2016, with the release of Let Them Eat Chaos - a conceptual spoken word album which imagines a London street at 4:18am. To be perfectly honestly I think Tempest has a well honed skill with words. Their work has spoken to me with clarity in times when not a lot else could get through. Some of Tempest's phrases and lyrics are burned, deep, into my brain and emerge with remarkable frequency when I'm just trying to live my life. So Tempest could have filled the hundred-or-so pages of this book with near nonsense and I'd still recommend it to anyone. Fortunately, they didn't do that.
In this relatively short, and surprisingly personal, essay, Tempest talks about the purpose and process of making art. Of the difficulties of creation, of the things which make watching, hearing, seeing, experiencing art interesting, and of the things you have to accept as someone who wants to make art. I was delighted to find Tempest speak of their own past, and privilege, and experience. They have historically been rather cautious about sharing personal details, which is fair, but it's nice to see and read.
The margins of this book were filled with highlights and underlines, it's a short piece and it's crammed with things I want to pay attention to, and to remember. It doesn't go on when it can be concise, but there were perhaps moments of repetition, or points which were presented and then immediately abandoned. It's a refined set of thoughts, but that doesn't mean it doesn't branch off every now and again. Which is fine, this isn't a textbook.
As the book's title suggests one of the central turning points in this book is the role of art as a tool to connect us. As a tool for empathy, to remind us of others' inner lives, to connect us to ourselves. This connection is the source of tension - around which we can hang a narrative or theme to engage the audience with our art. Tempest asks us to consider both ourselves and the subject of our art - what are the things your character is trying to say, and what are the reasons you, the artist, think this is worth saying or hearing? What does this say about the subconscious version of your self, who you can watch but only if you really try? Tempest openly draws heavily from the Jungian ideas of subconscious.
A secondary point which Tempest mentions rather nebulously throughout the first third of the book is our culture of capitalism. A good thing to be aware of, and criticise, but something which they only detail relatively shortly. Despite the brevity, it's a wonderful point: we are surrounded by notions of productivity and efficiency which value taking something, extracting it, refining it, and making something more valuable from these raw materials. We cannot view our relationships with others, or with ourselves, in this way. We cannot connect with people if we are constantly looking to extract and refine whatever we can from them or from our relationship with them, even if that thing is art.
There's a bittersweet note in this book being released during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tempest talks about the unique ability of poetry to level an audience. To connect everyone listening to one act, one narrative, one performer, one voice. The ability of us to gather, hear something, and then move apart connected more closely to the people around us, despite having nothing more in common than when we arrived. It's pretty unique in human experience. We'll get back to gathering like that in the future, but it felt so implausible in the here and now, when I have been to precisely one live music event in the last eleven months, and I don't think I'll be going to any for the foreseeable.
Tempest lives by example in this book - encouraging us to ask if there is anything unspoken or unacknowledged in our art. To consider if we the audience, or we the creator, would benefit from considering art in relation to our self. The vulnerability and open-ness they share throughout the book is encouraging, though maybe could still seem cagey if the reader isn't aware of Tempest before picking up this book. Despite that, I think anyone who loves or makes any kind of art, or who spends a lot of time working with people, will recognise the heart of this manifesto as useful.
At very least, it is a short book, even if you hate it (but still feel compelled to finish it) then it's not going to take more than a few hours of your time. Not that that should be the ultimate selling point of a book, but you get my intention. Read this book, it might help you know yourself better, and give you a way to shape or vocalise your thoughts. 4⭐