Iain Sinclair on Andrew Kötting

From the balcony, seven floors above the coast road, I watch the pepper-grey beach disdain its nuisance presences: night-fishermen, scavengers sweeping the shingle with metal detectors for small change lost in the spasms of last night’s courtship rituals. Dog valets. Tai chi soloists. Convivial drinking schools, cans raised to the world, enjoying the last cocktail party in England before being tidied away into that sinister under-promenade with its extruded viewing chapels (tidemarks of bright blue tin). In season – early June to mid-October – regulars perform stately laps across the bay, not far out, drifting with the tide. Frequently coupled for moral support, for the affirmation that the experience is survivable, they wallow and tussle, necks stiff, heads high above the tannin scum: leathery seaweed, wads of yellow paper. They tiptoe out, speeded-up Benny Hill, over sharp stones, to neat piles of folded clothes. The watched, towelled down and returned to their balconies, rusting rails and anti-gull devices, become the watchers. A slow-motion cinema of such tender boredom that they will never move again.

Along the seafront they come, the ordinary eccentrics, the premature revenants. The hoop-backed old woman with the doll-child in an ancient pram. The naked man wrapped in his inadequate eiderdown. The teetering albino-blonde lady in cylindrical black, regular as a tramcar in her solipsistic excursions; remarkable in that she doesn’t have an accompanying pet, just the feeling that one is missing, that she pauses, drops a shoulder, sets her pace to accommodate this absence. There is something schizophrenic about having the sea on one side and the road on the other; promenaders forget how to turn left or right. Unanchored thoughts and fantasies flow directly to the horizon, without ever coming into focus. In a daze of refracted marine light, they find themselves, these self-hypnotised actors, in the same De Chirico painting: interior as exterior. Sleepwalkers sunburned on one side. Magically, they avoid collisions. They float towards no particular destination, with no motive beyond movement itself; a beating of the bounds. The mirage holds until the first siren sounds, the first squad car, the first ambulance.

Until the spell is broken by a person who insists on carving through the lines of permission, the drowsy contours; a stubbly bruiser who bounds through the traffic, down to his favoured gap in the rocks, before striking off towards France; leaving his tolerant companion, a girl (his daughter), sketching on the shingle shelf. I’ve seen this man before, on film, his own film, when the pace was beginning to flag, hurling himself fully clothed into the Scottish sea. He’ll swing outside a speeding camper van, mugging like a chimpanzee, death-defying grin, before he improvises a bit of business around the act of hauling his broken leg into some nervous Highland waiting-room. I recognised this reverse asylum-seeker, at once, as the performance artist and memory-cannibal Andrew Kötting. Umlaut rising above the lunar o of his surname like a pair of ice-blue staring eyes, too mad to blink. There are only four Köttings to be found, so he tells me, in the United Kingdom phonebooks. If anyone is looking.

This stretch of the South Coast, well used to invasions, from helmeted Normans to coachloads of professionally unimpressed new Europeans, runs from the exploitable heritage set of Hastings Old Town to the surreal beach colony of Pevensey Bay. Marooned spectres of Modernism – the De La Warr Pavilion, the shell of Bulverhythe Lido, Marine Court in St Leonards – collaborate with colour unco-ordinated huts, modest hives and tottering Regency speculations in which weather-beaten old ones are grateful still to be old. Dues paid, they’re free to gaze out on grass and silver road and high, bright clouds. The derision of yellow-beaked gulls.

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