New Artist Focus: Shama Khanna on Lucy Clout

by Shama Khanna

In a publication for her 2013 video Shrugging Offing, within a text shamelessly titled ‘Bratty Bratty Brat Brat’, Lucy Clout describes the power of ‘NO’ as “the beginnings of things. And the ends too. … NO is a resistance that solidifies my form into a thing that can make. … NO conjures the place where something can happen.”

As improbable a motivation aid as you can get, it offers me unparalleled relief. This NO has the effect of fogging up glass ceilings so you don’t need to keep knocking into them unaware. Together with Sara Ahmed’s Feminist Killjoy[1], Clout’s NO provides a different imperative to the multi-tasking and can-do attitudes of feminized cognitive capitalism: where a polite ‘yes’ has become so hard not to say in a reputation economy, the performative power of NO is doubled.

The counter-action in Clout’s video work (of objecting to, to avoid being objectified by) is also experienced laterally through its form. The deceptive quickness and apparent immateriality of the digital image reflects a shifting between visibility and invisibility of the gendered body. Informed by her sculptural practice, for (Buh Buh Buh). Proposal for a Collating Machine (2008) Clout effectively makes use of her own body as a filmic McGuffin – a subtly placed prop, passive but integral to the plot’s development. Clout’s attempt to make her body more object-like and obedient, however—through the body stocking pulled blankly over her clothes and the metronomic choreography of the paper collating process—is undermined by nervous coughs and the apologetic spiel of someone who is palpably resisting every minute. As she skips around the space of the machine, it emerges that Clout is describing the elephant in the room: the artist’s body held up against the image of an artist. Alongside the metaphor of a paper copying pavilion she offers her body to be consumed by the viewer in order to demonstrate what, ‘a self sufficient machine would be’ . One advantage of watching through all of Clout’s works at once for this essay is being able to appreciate the consistent inconsistency (which is closer to how we all are) she affects in in all her videos; spanning the loving humour and care of Untitled (2011), the annihilating humiliation of (Buh Buh Buh) .. or the admonishing curtness of manual non manual manual (2010).

3 (buh buh buh) proposal for a collating machine, Lucy Clout, 2008, video still
Lucy Clout, 2008, video still

Where in the past it may have been simpler to draw analogies between the body and the film medium in comparable terms of texture and physical presence, now, in its varying states of compression through to startling 4K definition, and the fact that the digital representations we encounter are more often than not complex algorithmic constructions engineered to influence our behaviours (forms which Hito Steyerl terms ‘proxies’), the contemporary digital moving image allows for a completely different set of sublimations. Grasping this post-representation distinction before many of her viewers (myself included), Clout engages instead with affect as an alternative way of perceiving the present. In her own words she is “describing thoughts in a way that’s realistic, but not necessarily real”. The Extra’s Ever Moving Lips, from 2014, and From Our Own Correspondent ,made a year later, both perform the abrupt splicing between screen media and material reality that characterises contemporary networked experience. Pixelated images brush against footage filmed in HD; smaller windows open within the video image and animated figures hack into the narrative like that geeky paper-clip in early versions of Word. We are normally supposed to feel seduced by these weightless avatars, but in this instance there’s something wrong: why is the cartoon woman with the welcoming smile wearing such unappealing sandals? Do I recognise that voice or that beach? Why can I hear the close-up sound of sheets from a bed I’m not lying in? In an interview recorded while editing The Extra’s Ever Moving Lips, Clout answered;

 These aren’t cameos, the voice and the place aren’t used to bestow status, the mild recognition is [meant] to be an experiential entry point for audience. It’s manipulative. [2]

As viewers, image and sound from the videos invade our bodies producing erotic meaning, subverting alienating processes of internalization. The uncanny mirroring Clout sets up in From Our Own Correspondent as she interviews several female interviewers about their technique with them feeding back on hers, articulates this meta conversation between body and mind during the process of externalising feelings and initiative. There is an almost sadomasochistic play between them as each aspect of consciousness, and each interviewer, argue their case. ‘I’m not trying to learn about myself’ says one of the journalists to Clout, apparently calling out the situation as well as framing it.

From Our Own Correspondent, Lucy Clout, 2015, video still
Lucy Clout, 2015, video still

Whilst it seems that no one has a good word to say about social media anymore, Clout is more sympathetic of our tendencies towards it, exploring the different ways we enact our desire to be addressed and how technology approximates responses to these feelings. Shrugging Offing uses living limbs as lifeless props and discreet clothing as a target to be killed or ‘offed’. Filmed in a working clothing­­­­ factory, the dichotomy between hard and soft labour is again reckoned with. The work appropriates an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) video of a woman demonstrating a pre-recorded facial skin assessment to an imagined customer. The voice is both softly spoken and amplified, her breath and the movement of a blusher brush across her skin creates an almost palpable sensation, the brain tingles of the ‘meridian response’. This new genre of videos exclusive to the internet, engineered to radically calm viewers, also includes 3 hour long videos of a telephone book’s pages being turned, slowly and methodically. The consistency of white noise, nothing else happens. Although for Shrugging Offing, the hypnotic intimacy created by the demonstration is orgasmically interrupted by the ecstatic shrieks of people witnessing knotted clumps of hair being pulled out of a drain  and, even further down the long-tail of the internet, videos of teenage spots being squeezed to the sound of hysterical group jeering. Whether or not Clout is suggesting spot squeezing and ASMR are updated forms of pornography, our libidinal relationship with screens and the redefinition of touch therein is made clear.

If the mothers who post videos of their teenagers’ ‘ear explosions’ on zit forums make the personal public, Clout’s sampling de-personalises it further, towards a recalibration of the form and location of such expressions of desire. At a moment where we are relearning what intimacy is, the works of Lucy Clout open out the possibilities of where or with whom and by doing what it could be found.



Shama Khanna is an independent curator, writer and educator based in London. Since 2013 she has curated Flatness, a multi-format research and commissioning project engaging in ideas around the screen-based image and culture after the internet. Khanna has presented screening and discussion events relating to Flatness at international venues including Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Chisenhale Gallery, The Showroom and Auto Italia in London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Moderna Museet, Malmö, Western Front, Vancouver, Microscope, New York, Rupert, Vilnius and warehouse, Berlin.

Khanna has curated numerous artists’ projects and commissions both independently and as part of collaborations with Jerwood Visual Arts, The Showroom, Goldsmiths, LUX/ ICA/ Tramway Biennial of Moving Images and Outpost in the UK, P.S. 1 and PERFORMA in NYC, Documenta14 in Athens and many more. Recently, she has been part of juries for the annual Koestler Trust awards, Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival and the LUX acquisitions panel. She teaches at Kingston and University of the Arts, London and co-edits the publication A-or-ist with 7 other writers.




[2] Shama Khanna, ‘Affective viewing: Interview with Lucy Clout’ March 2014, accessed November 2017 <>

Shrugging Offing, Lucy Clout, 2017. video still



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