The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tilda Swinton, Cornelia Parker and The Maybe

“The Maybe” was a work of art, supposedly by a collaboration of Tilda Swinton, the actress and Cornelia Parker, the artist. I say, “supposedly” because the truth of the matter is that the origin of this work lay outside the heads of both of these ladies.

In the early 1990s, I conceived a performance art work called Lord Valentine the Misplaced. This was an 18th Century dandy, living in the 20th Century world. I was fully attired in 18th Century clothes and had old world airs and mannerisms. I took this work of living art, to both London and New York and it was eventually covered on CNN in 1994, NBC News in February 1995 and Reuters on 14th February 1995. There was also coverage in the Observer newspaper in October or November 1994, and Time Out magazine, of London, in November 1994. Basically, it was quite a well known work, by the mid 1990s.

Now, an odd thing happened one night, in London. I was attired as Lord Valentine the Misplaced and was to meet a journalist (one Andrew Mosby from Time Out magazine, if I recall correctly), at Beach Blanket Babylon, a rather trendy and ornately decorated bar, in Notting Hill, West London. This was in November of 1994, after an article had come out about me, in Time Out.

As I entered Beach Blanket Babylon, I saw a familiar figure, her head laying on the shoulder of another woman: Tilda Swinton, the actress. I had seen her in person, several times before, but never really spoken to her. She had been pointed out to me, at Cambridge University, when I was there, many years before – since we both attended it, though she was rather older than me (still is!).

This pair were very interested in me. They appraised me with eager eyes, thinking thoughts that would later become clear. I did wonder at their closeness, since Tilda Swinton’s head was on the other lady’s shoulder. I did wonder at what kind of relationship they had. Then again, girls are often much more touchy-feely than guys.

Both studied my 18th Century attire carefully.

I believe that Tilda Swinton introduced her friend as Cornelia, because she became so labeled in my mind, thereafter.

“What are you doing?”, one asked – I can’t remember which, though I think it was Tilda Swinton – “Are you trying to get cast?”

“No.”, I said, for my purpose was deeper than that. I didn’t explain what I was actually doing though.

The conversation was very brief, but there was something guarded about Tilda Swinton, at the end. She suddenly tugged at her friend to come away, a thought seeming to have come to her. I passed on, seeking my contact within.

It was the following year that Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker, collaborated on The Maybe. This was a simple piece of performance art/live art, in which Tilda Swinton slept in a glass box, in everyday ordinary clothes. Now, what I found immediately interesting about this was that it was a piece of living art – which is precisely what Lord Valentine the Misplaced was. I also thought it very interesting to note, from the pictures released at the time, that Cornelia Parker had been the lady with Tilda Swinton that night, in Beach Blanket Babylon. It was immediately obvious where the “inspiration” for this work of art had come from. I had created a piece of living art. Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker met me whilst I was being Lord Valentine the Misplaced – and Tilda Swinton (it seemed) had the idea of copying my idea and embodying herself as a living work of art, too. Particularly telling was the use of unattractive everyday clothes for The Maybe. Brian Sewell, the art critic, wondered why Tilda Swinton hadn’t dressed up as some kind of Sleeping Beauty (though maybe not in those words). It is clear why not. Had Tilda Swinton dressed up in any kind of beautiful period clothes, she would have revealed the inspiration for her work. She had no choice but to be in ordinary clothes, so as to obscure the original inspiration for the work.

Later on, Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton fell out over who “thought” of the Maybe. Both claim to have conceived the idea – though Tilda Swinton makes the louder claim that the idea was hers. It is very, very clear why this argument has arisen: because BOTH ladies met me, at the moment they decided to imitate what I was doing. The reason they can’t agree on who was responsible for thinking of it, is that NEITHER was responsible for the original thought. All they decided to do was to create a “me too” art work, based on my own prior explorations of living art. It is very telling that neither can agree on who conceived it, which indicates that they have something in common, at the moment of conception: that common point was the meeting of me as Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Had only one of them met me at that time, then only one of them would be laying claim to the idea. Their very argument points to the moment of contention: the instant they both met me, and one of them (or both of them) decided to imitate my work, in their own way.

Of course, the fact that they recognized my work as living art (implicitly, since they imitated it), does go to show the success of my work.

Cornelia Parker has gone on to produce other pieces of work, though Tilda Swinton hasn’t. Evidence of the influence of my work on Cornelia Parker can be seen in another of her proposed works. My art work was called Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Interestingly, Cornelia Parker wanted to put a meteorite back into space and used the term “misplaced” to describe this action – so the meteorite would now become a misplaced object. This seems to be a clear adaptation of the idea of misplacement as art. Lord Valentine the Misplaced, was misplaced in time – Cornelia Parker’s meteorite would have been misplaced in space. It is an analogy of my prior work.

We can see here, how Cornelia Parker conceives some of her works. They are adaptations or analogies to other people’s work. She is translating other people’s ideas into a different setting. Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe is a sleeping piece of living art, dressed in everyday clothes. Lord Valentine the Misplaced was a waking piece of living art, dressed in 18th Century clothes. Cornelia Parker’s proposed meteorite project was a rock misplaced in space. My Lord Valentine project, was a human misplaced in time. These are both analogous to each other, adaptations of the same idea in a different context.

It is important that the true origins of the work of artists and supposed artists, like Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton – because the art, in these cases, lies in the idea, for they are conceptual works. If the idea is not truly theirs – as it is not, in both cases, here – then the work of art is not truly theirs either. The history of art is being defrauded if we are led to believe that the origin of these works lay in either of these ladies minds. The history of art deserves better than that. The true background to each conceived work should be known – and the “inspiration” that gave rise to them, should be appreciated.

This blog is but one page in an internet Universe of trillions of pages, thus, very few people will read it. So, please help spread the word about the origin of The Maybe, as an adaptation of the ideas behind Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Tell the story of how Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker met me at Beach Blanket Babylon in November 1994 and recognized the artistry in Lord Valentine the Misplaced, enough to want to steal it for themselves. If you have a blog, or other website, please post a link to this article, to help people become aware of it. Thank you.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

(If you would like to support my continued writing of this blog and my ongoing campaign to raise awareness about giftedness and all issues pertaining to it, please donate, by clicking on the gold button to the left of the page.

To read about my fundraising campaign, please go to: here:

If you would like to read any of our scientific research papers, there are links to some of them, here:

If you would like to see an online summary of my academic achievements to date, please go here:

To learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 and Tiarnan, 5, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

There is a review of my blog, on the respected The Kindle Report here:

Please have a read, if you would like a critic's view of this blog. Thanks.

You can get my blog on your Kindle, for easy reading, wherever you are, by going to:

Please let all your fellow Kindlers know about my blog availability - and if you know my blog well enough, please be so kind as to write a thoughtful review of what you like about it. Thanks.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:

Ainan's IMDB listing is at

Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:46 PM 


Blogger EH said...

At least from your description, this comparison seems a bit thin. In fact, it's hard to see much at all in common between your work and Tilda Swinton's, though perhaps the parallel would be clearer if I had seen either first hand.

Lord Valentine the Misplaced was not completely original, either by the standard you have applied to others' works. Performance art had its roots in the 60s, well before you work and of course this had relations to the ancient art of acting, which always used characters from even earlier history. Live-action role playing, historical reenactment, and costume parties had been done long before, and often by people who stayed in character while surrounded by modernity.

In fiction, ideas very similar can be found, such as Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land", Valentine Michael Smith, the prototypical Man from Mars, raised as an orphan by aliens with a time sense and culture far removed from his surroundings in the book. He is even something like a Lord as the ostensible head of state for Mars, and also "Lord" in the messianic sense. Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" deals with the confusion of a man displaced forward from his own time. The theme of a protagonist displaced from the audience's milieu into a strange reflection or parody of that milieu so that it can be seen by the audience with the eyes of an outsider is a staple of Swift and Voltaire.

The idea of a man outside his own time is an old one in science fiction - an example near the period juxtaposition of Lord Valentine in 1990s London is "Mozart in Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner. Many works by H. Beam Piper have characters accidentally misplaced in time both ahead and behind their own, as well as into alternate histories.

Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" was perhaps the first of the genre using the reverse of the displacement of Lord Valentine, but a properly historical approach was likely first published by L. Sprague de Camp in "Lest Darkness Fall" (1939). The protagonist finds himself inexplicably transported from 1938 to Ostrogothic Rome of 535. Any SF convention since the 1930s also has costumed people playing the roles of future characters cast back to the present day.

Many other works have a man from the past cast forward to the present, often a Neanderthal, but many other eras as well - WWII, the Edwardian era, the 1960s, and even people from many different eras at once. Gene Wolfe's "The Book of the New Sun" had modern people unknowingly trapped in exhibits in a sort of zoo in a future so far ahead it seems to the reader like a fantasy of a decadent alien planet, and features a protagonist who is himself in some respects entirely outside of time.

Ideas are for playing with, for sharing and recombining, not for owning, clutching in a misers grip, or legally claiming anything beyond the original details of a particular expression of the idea recorded in a tangible form. Any completely new idea will likely be either bad, or incomprehensible - or far more likely not really new, a combination of parts taken from others who have shared and borrowed in turn. This sharing, borrowing and recombination is culture itself. If you want to keep ideas for yourself, keep them private, but even if you do, don't be surprised when it turns out that others have had similar ideas before and will have similar ideas again. If you do share ideas, recognize that they mostly belong to the culture, expect aspects of them to return reflected in the ideas others share. You may point out such bits with pride, and expect some admiration for the ideas, and your taste. Claiming that your idea was stolen is usually inaccurate and runs the risk of making you seem churlish.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You have missed the essential nature of my work, and that of Tilda Swinton/Cornelia Parker, if you cannot see the commonality. Your thinking process is hung up on detail, and does not see the “bigger picture” – at least in this case – and overlooks the true nature of the works.
My work was original – and still is, of course. No-one had actually embodied a living work in the way I had, for the purposes I had. It was not an “historical re-enactment”…for you to think so, is to appraise it in a superficial manner. Then again, you are not personally acquainted with the work.
You accuse of me of making a “thin” comparison – but then make a large number of thin comparisons yourself. All of the examples you give, exist in stories, but not in life. Mine was a living work, in the real world. It was conceived independently of the works you address.
The distinction between my work and the ones you bring up is as marked as that between life itself and a book. If you cannot tell the difference, you have been spending too much time in libraries.
It is clear that you think like a critic and not a creator. A critic is very quick to source comparisons and draw relationships that may not exist in the real work of the creator at all. They are seen only by the critic. So it is with you and your observations.
I note a number of peculiarities about your comments on my blog. It seems that you registered an identity especially to comment here since I was the first person to link through to your id page on blogger. Furthermore, and rather oddly, your IP address does not appear to have registered with my sitemeter. I don’t know how this could be. You seem to be cloaked in some way. Though whether this is your doing or the function of some concomitant accident, I am not sure.
You have a critic’s view of culture. I am sure that many artists are not so happy about the constant borrowing you refer to. Those “artists” who incessantly borrow en masse are not, in my view, artists at all. Those artists who are borrowed from, on a regular basis, probably don’t have such a contented view of it, as you do. I wouldn’t accuse any of them as being “churlish”.
Another key aspect you have overlooked is the courage necessary to embody Lord Valentine the Misplaced. It took a lot of guts to dress up as an 18th Century dandy in 20th Century London. Indeed, I once almost got mugged/beaten up for doing so (a policeman intervened). There is so much to my work and what was needed to do it, that you are seemingly unable to appreciate.
You have a strange idea that an artist can only be credited with one embodiment of a work. Not so. All the other “artists” that they influence are in some way indebted to them, for creating their work. Thus, some portion of the credit for their works, too, should accumulate with the first creator.
It is clear that my work was regarded as original – because it was. That is why CNN, Reuter s and NBC News picked up on it. They were quite startled by it. If you can’t see that now, like I said, you have been spending too much time in libraries.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your final paragraph amounts to a defense of plagiarism. It is curious, indeed, that you characterize artists who are not happy about being plagiarized as “miserly”. This seems to indicate that your sympathies are with the plagiarists. Generally speaking, only plagiarists are sympathetic to plagiarists.
There are artists who introduce new concepts into art – and there are artists who imitate them. The latter are not equivalent to the former in any way. An artist who generally creates without borrowing would be a greater artist than someone (not an artist) who borrows without creating. I am surprised you cannot see the difference.

Ideas do not belong to the culture once they are created by an artist. They are still the property of the artist who created them, in any moral sense. Anyone who uses those ideas without permission is being imitative and plagiaristic. There is no doubt about that. Also the credit for the original creation should accrue to the original artist.

It is clear from your comments that you didn’t really understand my work – nor that of Tilda Swinton/Cornelia Parker. You do, however, have a great range of references to hand. If these come from your personal knowledge, then you are erudite indeed.

Thanks for your thoughts.

12:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape