Tamarin Norwood


Genuine Smiles

Smile lines on sheet of paper.


One day I will find you standing by the door of the bathroom. You will have cupped your hands together as though you were trying to catch drips from the ceiling, but nothing will be falling. And then I’ll notice that swaying in the air inside the cup of your hands you’ll be watching the plastic end of the light cord. And as it moves back and forth through the air you’ll be moving your hands in time, so that they always contain it.

One day you’ll have gone out to work and I will still be at home. I will find all the glasses in the house, and I will get the empty jars and bottles we’ll be collecting under the sink, and I will balance them all into a wall against the kitchen window. We’ll be able to see through the window but because of the refraction of the curves there will be dozens of the house opposite.

You won’t have learnt to swim and I’ll still be getting dressed one morning. You will lie on your front across the bed with your feet hanging over one side and your head and arms hanging over the other side. You will pull your arms out in front of you and paddle your hands as though you are swimming. You will swim fast but only by paddling your hands and wrists and feet and ankles, and your arms and legs will stay straight. You will not be moving your body enough to keep you at the surface of the water.

One night we will be asleep and the doorbell will ring. It will be three in the morning. We will wake up and I will think it is finally happening and I will breathe out hard the words oh God.

One day you will be hanging the washing out to dry. It will be sunny and I’ll be sitting by the wall reading a book. Suddenly the knot at the end of the cord will snap undone and the line will capsize, and it’ll catch on the fence just short of the ground. The cord will slip sharply and form a triangle with the floor. But the pegs will hold firm, so all our clothes will end up suspended just off the ground, resting their elbows and knees against the paving as though they were having a chat.

That night you will be asleep in bed and I will still be awake. I will draw over our sheet a biro line from the page of my notebook to your mouth.

One day I will be at home and you’ll have gone to work. I will switch on the computer and press our bed sheet against the scanner and scan the line I drew on it section by section, and I will save it as a pdf. I’ll phone around for some printing quotes. I’ll put the sheet in the wash.

And then one morning I will print out several copies of the pdf and hand them out to some artists and curators at an event in a gallery, and I will be an artist too. I will say that the line is some of my art and I will start to tell them about the night I drew it and the way you didn’t wake up even when the biro from the line touched your mouth. I will hand a copy of the line to each person and they will look at them.

One evening you’ll be brushing your teeth and I’ll be standing behind you taking my eye make-up off with cotton wool. I shall notice something new on the skin of your back, a fine thread, blue and just underneath the surface of your skin. Your skin will feel smooth and warm.

I will be out late one night and waiting for the bus home on an ill-lit street by some loading bays for a supermarket. There will be some men coming towards the bus-stop and they will be laughing and I won’t be able to find my phone.

Sometimes I will release a hoard of balloons into our house. I will have them in stock and I will blow them up and you will come home from work now and again and find that it has happened. They will bloom and fade and we’ll throw away their skins after a couple of weeks.

One evening we will be sitting at the kitchen table with our plates still full. We will be talking about our plans for the summer because earlier that afternoon I’ll have booked us a holiday. We will have tomatoes in a bowl and we’ll take one or two and put them on our plates.

Suddenly there will be danger. We will hear sparks of electricity from the direction of the light, under the kitchen cupboard. We will hear the sparks fizz and crackle and catch inside the wiring and we’ll hear small contained explosions cracking the element inside the glass and firing up and down inside the casing.

We will both stand up, and approach the light, and stay back, and we will tell one other not to get too close. The light will look normal but the sound will go on for some time, shooting in all directions. It will sound boisterous and clear, then there will be irregular ticking, and then there will be nothing.

I will turn off the main light and I will go to switch off the toaster at the mains, and you will stop me, and say we oughtn’t touch it. You’ll take the tea towel from the handle of the oven door and use it to open the metal handle of the cutlery drawer. Very carefully and slowly you will extract a wooden spoon, and you will use it to click off the switch from a distance. We will stand back and look and listen.

Later on I will open the kitchen cupboard to put the biscuits away and find shallow hills of dried green lentils everywhere inside. Somehow the packet will have tipped and come open, and the lentils will have sprung and poured and pattered all over the shelf, and then cascaded onto the shelf below, and noisily clattered in all directions until they were still again.

When I show you we will laugh and laugh.

You will look around my room one day when I am not there. You will find my empty jam jars and you will pick some of them up, and after a while you will pick up one of the ones I’ll have glued to some other jars in a way that some of them rest in the air rather than on the shelf. You will not know I’ll used to have done this.

September 2009


The work uses a faint pencil line in place of writing – an attenuated, quietened form of language drawn between signified and signifier: between the thing described and the description of it. But once the line is drawn, the thing it started from isn’t there any more.

A sheet of paper of any size is attached to one internal wall of the cube, and attached just above it is a long piece of string with a sharpened pencil fixed to the other end. The length of the string will depend on the size of the cube: it must be long enough to reach to the furthest corners. Visitors are invited to hold the pencil and do whatever they need to do to muster a genuine smile. As soon as the smile is on their lips and before it vanishes, they should begin to draw a line from the smile to the piece of paper, without allowing the pencil leave the surface. This will probably mean drawing a line down a chin, perhaps down some clothing, down an arm, at some point onto the nearest wall or floor, and so on along the surface until the line from the smile reaches the most convenient edge of the paper.

The resulting line will attempt to capture on paper a smile that might have vanished as soon as pencil left lips, and was long gone by the time it reached the page. Afterwards, the line will reach down from the page to a position the drawer no longer occupies, having travelled with the line to its ending place. And the smile, after all, might never have been genuine at all.

The residue of the Genuine Smiles event will be the faint pencil lines on the walls and floor of the space and on the skin and clothing of participants, as well as the ends of the lines caught within the frame of the paper.

November 2009

This piece was performed at Stanley Picker Gallery on 28 November 2009.