Leaving the Tower of Babel

I wander through Twitter’s alleyways like a refugee from another land. It’s vivid, disorientating, and full of drama; shouting behind doors, and worse. Strangers pass, deep in argument. I dig out my phrase book to understand what they’re saying, and why. They are at home; I am not. I’m lost. I have learned things here, and met old friends, new ones too, but they fade into the crowd. The scale is incomprehensible. I speak the language badly. More and more, I keep silence. In the distance, the world’s richest man is circling his siege engines, promising to reopen the doors to fascism with the naivety of privilege. Free speech is wonderful if you were born with a golden megaphone.

A digital detox is in order. I shall miss the postcards from friends and acquaintances, but I’ll keep in touch in other ways. It won’t be so easy to know what’s happening in my professional world, but my relationship with that is changing too. I want to be nourished by what I read. I don’t know if I’ll be back. For now, I’ll make use of this space if I have anything to share.

Above: The Tower of Babel (1563) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna


  1. Dear Francois, I hope you are well. I have followed your blog and tweets with interest. I enjoy the angle that you take when approaching a subject, the careful melding of previous experiences, new situations and pertinent questions. I enjoy your bravery.

    I too find I am increasingly silent. You may know I left Bubble at the beginning of the pandemic, (and am now student). It’s not that I have no opinions or no experience, it’s the nature of the context – the arena and who is around it – that I have lost touch with. That makes me very sad.

    I suspect we are not alone. Your book Winter Fires addressed what happens to artists when they step back, but not having experienced it, I had not fully appreciated the frustration of becoming almost invisible. That leads to self-doubt which is what I detect in your recent posts.

    I just wanted to say, that you shouldn’t feel that – your work is enormously important, you have caught more than a moment, more than a movement. You have caught an argument that at its best can be a dynamic generator of innovation, at worst a dead binary.

    It feels to me we are lacking a space to chew these things over. The tent for the older ones. The place they put the world right and behave shamelessly. Outside the young mutter – ‘at their age!’.
    Where is the space where you and I, Arti, David, Adrian from Citz, Deborah from Oval House, Theresa from Peckham Theatre – all people who either started their company or who did at least 20 years in the engine room – all who moved on recently – where is the tent?

    I place that question before you in hope and solidarity.

    All power to your elbow,


    1. Thanks for your generosity, Peth, it’s really appreciated. I’m not down (well, I am but for life reasons rather than professional ones). I don’t feeling that the art world (and the world itself) is moving on without me: on the contrary, I feel relieved of some responsibility. The next generation is making of community art what they need, and that’s as it should be. If there’s still something useful to do, it’s to open doors and provide help (where it’s asked for). I’ll tell my stories to those who want to hear them, but try not to outstay my welcome. Right now, I’m very, very tired, and that surely comes across if I write. That’s another thing that keeps me from writing too much. I’ve always tried to write in an encouraging way (the reasons for discouragement don’t need any help) and at the moment, I’m running on empty, with not much to offer.

      1. (Not for the first time, I hit return before I’d finished.) I hope you’re enjoying being a student: time to think is a gift, but not always an easy one to use, especially for someone who has been working hard for so long. As for a tent, perhaps I’ve an idea. Let me mull it over for a bit.

  2. Tell me I wasn’t the last straw yesterday!

    xx A


    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. —Voltaire ___________________________________________ Arlene Goldbard http://www.arlenegoldbard.com 415-690-9992


  3. Looking forward to hearing of your idea. Don’t over-mull – raw and timely is good.

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