I have only one objective, overarching, imperative, and unequivocal: to create a book. 
The physical book is a haptic seduction. Its material presence offers a fragile promise of a literal and psychic binding; an ordered narrative of a secure creative self.
It is (for the subject) the object that performs the act of what Lacan described in relation to the mirror phase as ‘imaginary capture’. The image I wish to capture is the image outside of myself: the image of an artist / author as an object-fetish validated by an internalized external gaze: the image that I see in the mirror of fulfillment, not that which is reflected by the mirror of lack.
Inside of myself there is an un-writable absence, but if I look at a book and see that I have created it, then I will know that I can create it, and that the words I cannot write can be, and have been, and therefore will be written. I attribute to the object – ‘Le petit objet d’autre’ – those qualities, which I imagine I desire, but which I fear to attribute to myself. The book is the fetish-commodity through which, by proxy, I relate my value as an artist to myself and to the world.
I knew what my book would be.
Everything would make sense. And all my actions would be the size of pages.
But the material will not obey, resisting linear narrative, insisting on an aberrant and scattered codex.
Both in the studio and in gallery, scraps and scrawls and fragments intrude upon considered aesthetics of drawings, essays and photographs, in a re-enactment of the unpredictable process of research.
The work that had started with a book, that was to become a book, will not be a book.
I might adopt the strategy of the boxed codex as used by B S Johnson for The Unfortunates, which, in theory, would seem to offer freedom and fluidity of content that the material requires, and a level of agency which a viewer / reader might require to experience it. The reader is instructed:
This novel has twenty-seven sections, temporarily held together by a removable wrapper. Apart from the first and last sections (which are marked as such) the other twenty-five sections are intended to be read in random order. If readers prefer not to accept the random order in which they receive the novel, then they may re-arrange the sections into any other random order before reading.
But I find this codex forbiddingly fixed, its impenetrability increasing with each physical encounter. Despite its intention of openness, when I hold it, I feel only a sense that it is locked.
And so I am ambivalent. I cannot bear the thought of completion. The box or indeed any material constraint (for perhaps in a Lacanian sense all books, for me, are boxes) is too much a symbol of putting a lid on things, of putting things away. A house with bricked up windows. That which I imagine I desire is that which I most fear. That which I imagine I fear is that which I most desire.
I will still make a book; or I will make work about becoming a book.
Imagine a space as a book, turning walls into indices, appendices and covers.
What is a book if it will not be a book?
 ‘The relation to the image, will be structured by the language.’ Jacques Lacan
 ‘At the level of the scopic, we are no longer at the level of demand, but of desire.’ Jacques Lacan
 A book is a sequence of spaces – Ulises Carrión
 The laws of language are not the sequential laws of books – Ulises Carrión
Photographs by Emma Bolland or Tom Rodgers for Milky Way You Will Hear Me Call.
Posts Tagged ‘VSK project’
I might begin with the children, or rather the many sets of children, that have bred in the dust that many things begin from. Raymond, Germaine, and George. Raymond, Suzanne, Gaston (Jacques, of course), Yvonne, Magdeleine, and Marcel. Marcel D. Etc. Etc. As M. Cabanne has noted, their births were ‘spaced out in a surprising regularity’, as if organization in such matters was unlikely to the point of improbability.
Or it could begin with the other Marcel, Marcel P., and his brother Robert. Or the mothers of either Marcel, indeed, whose wombs were salons and whose salons were wombs. Or, forgetting families and biological beginnings entirely, I could just as easily begin with Michel, the young man politely waiting for the bookseller and I to finish speaking. He didn’t know who I was, of course.
Any of these tidy little stories (they are not even tidy. They are filled with mess) might begin the altogether less tidy one they are part of, where puzzles within puzzles make a solution all the less likely with every passing word and line, and where lines themselves are corrupted in their mirror-images.
In dust free rooms, I am forced to concede, there is very often dust breeding; and the most perfidious form of dust at that. The dust of suns and of sons, and of the sons of suns, in ever more obscure and deformed generations.
I could, indeed, begin with myself, and with the arrival of Jonathan G., covered in another kind of dust – the charred air-born debris of a fire. Fire, fed by air, and its arial distribution of charred messages, the broadcast of ashes.
The secret is altogether more twisted than games such as these.
I need not excuse the ellipses that so quickly form in recounting even the beginnings of this greater ellipse.
I need not excuse the fact that whilst concealing certain truths so many words have been spent in misinterpretation.
I need not feel compelled to give up these secrets easily, without paying respect to the forms that grant them secrecy.
I need not fear speaking the native tongue of secrecy in revealing secrets.
The end of my account will be its end, irrefutable and terminated. I have set my claims and my intentions out quite clearly, I think. Air has seeped in. I will begin, after all, with a beginning of the usual kind.
The founding members of the coven of papers that bury the secret were contained within a box, and remained so until I opened that box. I was, I admit, surprised to discover that the box was not locked.
There is a great dishonesty in leaving things to a chosen kind of chance. It is like playing a tasteless war game whilst an actual war is taking place.
Brandeston. Kettleburgh. Framlingham. Bruisyard. Bruise-yard. The bruise yard. A yard of bruises! Peasenhall. Sibton Church. Darsham. Westleton.
And then the sea, on the site of disappeared docks. A lunar expedition such as this is an example the truly sur-real, skimming as it does across the all too real land. I cannot help but think of the vulgarity of Morris-dancers and of the grace of migrating birds as I think of this, immobile as I am.
But, to return to the barely verifiable event in question, a set of engravings were amended by the young Raymond, to be found later on by the younger Marcel.
Conjecture, it should be remembered, is no shameful practice. It is the formation of a conclusion without evidence, but in so doing it is so very close to the creative act; and therefore very close to the reader’s act. It is the perversion of thought’s raw matter into meaning, and for obvious reasons I must believe that there is honour in this, and the possibility of a final recuperation of sense.
‘Secreters’, I may call them, rather than ‘secret-bearers’. ‘Conspirators’ suggests something far too crass, and ‘secreters’ suggests the practice as well as the status of those who hold secrets. With every hour that it remains within their possession they secrete it despite their best efforts not to. ‘Out, damn scab’ the secret cries, without the anxious guilt of a human being.
The box. So material is this artefact (container of artefacts, repository, depository) that it resists digression and evasion. Its contents are quite clear in their statement and script if not their register and tone. They seem to me, who has kept them for so long, to have sharpened in their material form and become like microfilms, or even the writing on the screen of a computer-terminal.
The word ‘representation’ is very often mis-used, the user forgetting that there is meant to be a re-presentation occurring. But what if the representation in question is not only the very first presentation of that which it supposedly represents, and is furthermore a derived presentation? The matter is not merely semantic.
I am, I must concede, perhaps guilty of having become happy in performing the role of their concealer. The keys to a crypt, after all, are not held without some degree of privilege, and their weight (far beyond material weight, and far less than it too.
And, certainly, far more poisonous) has anchored me in my decline. I feel as if I am holding back, but that I must release my knowledge slowly. Not merely to avoid error (although this is almost inevitable), but to safely balance the atmospheres of concealment and disclosure, closure and unconcealment.
The box contains, in no particular order that I can discern: the letter I have already described, the co-signed letter within it, a list of initials, some of which are circled, some of which are not, notes and diagrams pertaining to both a chess problem and a crossword puzzle, a small panel of glass both of whose sides are written on (in brown ink) in the respective hands of its two authors, a shirt-collar, and a key to what I have always supposed must be another such box.
THE LIST OF INITIALS
The initials that are uncircled, first of all, are the following:
The initials that are circled in pencil are:
One name is circled in both pencil and blue ink:
This is not a great surprise. The others circled in blue ink are:
I believe that the list in incomplete.
THE CROSSWORD AND THE CHESS NOTES
I have been unable to discern their meaning, at least until very recently.
THE GLASS PANEL
I can confidently say that one side is written by Raymond, and the other by Marcel. Not all of the text is abundantly clear, but Raymond’s side appears to describe a device that enables the user to convert light into time and time into light.
This I can only assume to be an example of the sort of collar that Raymond was known for the very frequent changing of due to what is most often thought of as a kind of hygiene-mania combined with the less attractive symptoms of excessive wealth.
I suppose that Raymond was something like a gentleman-criminal, or terrorist-riddler, or producer of rumours about people who do not exist in the first place. But I am guilty myself of spreading disinformation, or what must seem at the present time to be disinformation, by listing and beginning to describe these objects whilst suppressing their meanings. The box itself is not especially remarkable.
1 There are three titles here. Locus Desolatus, or Hypermodernism and the Dust of Suns, is overarching, whilst the second (Hypermodernism) is the first of the two books contained with Locus Desolatus.
2 The first chapter is ‘drawer one’, but subsequent chapters are not ‘drawers’. They are ‘shelves’, ‘vials’, ‘folders’, amongst other kinds of containers.
3 Who is the ‘I’? The writer, well-known amongst a certain kind of reader, whose papers these are. Who are we, whose words sit beneath the line? We act as if we were editors, proposing things like the following:
4 Here is a skeleton extraction of chapter one, a read-through that in some ways generates another box of fragments from your original chapter.
5 Jose Corti.
6 Let us know if you think this leads anywhere, if it opens back into the visual for you at all (in terms of images along with the text). I’m interested if such an approach feeds into your work on future chapters….
7 Another editor.
8 I’m extracting gestures and some kind of architecture from the text, but it’s not as separated from the narrative and autobiographical elements as I might have expected…
9 We spoke of David Markson, and now I wonder if he wrote himself into corners, or edited himself into them.
10 You’ve more or less isolated those parts of the first chapter that point outwards from the text into the world, rather than those that look back at the narrator (however fictitious he might be).
11 What I mean is, these fragments seem to refer to shapes and structures, and people, and in so doing seem to outline the cultures the whole text demarcates, if that makes sense.
12 You mentioned the possibility of another box of fragments from your original chapter. That process could be infinite, or infinitely regressive. Or infinitely progressive.
13 The reader will guess many of these, perhaps all of them.
14 I think that what I mean is that the extraction process might work very well with a counterweight; a countertext.
This extraction and commentary is a dialogue between David Price & VerySmallKitchen in response to Drawer One at /seconds.
The author’s PDF version of this project here.
More about David Price’s work here.
The latest VerySmallKitchen paperback is 2 blue cups on two different corners of the table, by Ohad Ben Shimon. It is available for £6 (plus £1 P&P) here.
In a dialogue on the book, in June 2013, VerySmallKitchen asked: where does a book begin and where does it end? Ohad replied:
i think a book begins at the point when all other plans don’t seem to work out.. funny as it is, the strongest form of self expression is actually the last one we think of…perhaps we don’t allow ourselves that freedom. once we feel entitled we create a title. a ‘book’. it ends when someone forces you to end it. and that brings on a new restriction to once again search for that freedom, perhaps in the form of a new book.
Read that dialogue here, and see the posts by Ohad Ben Shimon as part of his VSK Residency. Here is 2 blue cups in the process of being written:
For this online launch, here is a sketch of SWISS read by Mercedes Azpilicueta.
And here is a set of 5 readings by Ohad Ben Shimon, recorded at home in Rotterdam:
a milk carton
things on the table
a poster in arabic saying ‘a thousand and one nights’
the sound of the fridge
i’m putting sugar in the coffee
i’m drinking the coffee
a red chair
a beautiful autumn day
a few emails are awaiting
actually just one
i can’t open it yet
in the meantime i write
writing is a diversion
passing by something
writing hints about a situation
the contours of a reality
i’m a substitute teacher
i teach how to substitute this with that
them with us
me with you
Purchase the book for £6 plus £1 P&P here:
More about Ohad’s work is here.
Ohad Ben Shimon
2 blue cups on two different corners of the table
STORIES I STARTED BUT COULDN’T FINISH
I want to start again. I want to write a book that has nothing to do with any of the books I’ve written before. This is the kind of book you write when you think you might be dead soon. A book to make enemies, to take revenge on people who most likely don’t deserve it…
I don’t remember exactly when I started calling it The Pinocchio Syndrome, this: I want to be a real boy / I want to be a real novel thing. I don’t want to write strange, experimental, impossible to categorize, novel-like-things anymore. I don’t want to be marginalized like that. I want to write a real novel with real characters and a real story that will be taken seriously by the literary world. I think every writer of difficult-to-categorize fiction struggles to some extent with The Pinocchio Syndrome (along with the exceptions to every rule.)
I am fascinated by the novel Mount Analogue by René Daumal and, more specifically, with its ending. As is well known, Daumal died in 1948, in the middle of writing Mount Analogue, and the book ends mid-sentence. The last line is:
I have often wondered if it would be possible to end something I wrote mid-sentence, not because I had died, but for some other reason.
I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are:
1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite.
2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid.
3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.
But it is mainly the first point I obsess over. Let’s say you have solar panels on the roof of your house. Each day, you will use only as much energy as these panels generate. When it runs out you go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. The energy is not infinite, not available twenty-four hours a day. There are limits and you learn, out of necessity, how to live within them.
This, for me, is the main lesson of sustainable technologies. They would force us to live differently, to be aware of daily limits, to find solutions that acknowledge real limitations. They do not make life easier in every way. They make life harder in some ways, ways that force a fundamental shift in how we see the world and our place within it. I also suspect that working within a series of concrete, reasonable limitations would bring along with it a kind of reality and even joy.
RESISTANCE AS PARADOX
The paradox is as follows: we, as artists and viewers alike, know that art is fundamentally conservative, yet we still want to believe that it is radical and revolutionary. Within the space of this paradox there is room for a great deal to happen.
Art is conservative because the moment you call something art (or theatre, literature, etc.) it has already been contained. The things it can change, and the ways it can change our thinking, have already been limited. Art is the corner in which transgression and questioning are allowed, at times even encouraged, and making art is like being told to go stand in that corner.
The recent, romantic history of art is a history of alleged transgression. So many of today’s standard art moves began as small deviances and transgressions. And while it does seem there are now no rules left to break, more to the point is that knowing a transgression, if successful, will soon be canonized and therefore de-fanged, drains all energy from the gesture.
Politics requires efficacy. Trying to change things entails immense frustration. The tension between this lived frustration and potential for efficacy often feels absurd.
Politics as a spirit of resistance, as a desire to open up possibilities. And yet: resistance, in order to remain resistant, must always be unfinished, a work-in-progress, because if you win then you’re in power and somebody else has to resist against you. (I am wondering if this paradox might ease the inherent frustration involved in any act of sustained resistance.) Something similar might be said of opening up possibilities: once they have been opened one has to move on. There is something restless, unsustainable, about such modes of political thinking.
The 3rd text is a PDF of Like A Priest Who Has Lost Faith: Notes on Art, Meaning, Emptiness and Spirituality.
Photos: Hospitality 3: Individualism Was A Mistake by PME-ART.
More about Jacob Wren’s work here.
[I stand before a seated audience.]
There’s three things that I’ve got with me. There’s PaperWork magazine that is over there on the table; a print-out – with some notes – of the text that I have in PaperWork magazine; and also my notebook, which I might refer to at some point.
So the text that I have in PaperWork magazine is called Exercise and it operates sort of like a poem within in the book. The unique thing about PaperWork that I decided to use in my work is that it is loosely bound with an elastic band so that you’re able to pull the text out- I’ll be able to find it really easily as it’s crumpled from the last time I did this.
So yeah, it’s here. And when you release it from the book it then operates as a script for performance. But without using this one, I’ll use the one with notes on and I just want to try a few things with you first and then develop some of the ideas. So it’ll take about fifteen twenty minutes, something like that.
ME: Yeah of course the object is the thing itself…
Oh yeah the thing that I wanted to mention as well is that the text is like…when it operates as a script…is like a dialogue between three characters. So you’ve got a sculptor, an art critic and an object. And it’s kind of about the miscommunications and misunderstandings of desire those three parties can have within an art practice.
ME: Yeah of course the object is the thing itself, or it can be a fetish. Its materiality and its body are crucial. Its materiality or its body are crucial of course the object is the thing itself. All day everyday objects are asking me to be things. All day everyday objects are asking to be things.
To become a thing the object must transcend its corpus. It must make us sick with sadness. To transform… To transform the object… to… for the object to become things it must transform, it must transcend itself, it must transcend its corpus to become a thing so that it’s no longer and object. The thing must transcend itself, transform from its corpus and become the thing.
What the hell are you talking about? Can’t see that I’m plagued that I’m sick with nostalgia, I’m just rot and memories? Sick with nostalgia, rot and memories…
[I walk off-stage and out through the Fire Exit door.]
… Sick with nostalgia. What the hell
are you talking about? Can’t you see that I’m plagued that I’m ill with nostalgia that
everything I touch becomes a thing? Why you…What you talking about; phantasms and refrains? …
[I return to the stage, through the same Fire Exit door.]
nostalgia and rot. What you talking about? I must become a thing…
[I step over cables and crouch behind a plinth with a computer on it. I am not visible to the audience.]
… I must become a thing. Thing.
[I raise my head and address the audience.]
the object that’s talking now.
[I crouch again.]
ME: I must become a thing. I must become thing. I must become a thing. I must become
[I leave the stage and roll back a partition door that separates the performance space from a workshop. I enter and have a muffled conversation with two people who are not at the gallery for the event.]
Excuse me, erm I just wondered if you could do me a favour? I’m doing a performance next door and wanted to ask if you could read something out for me? – Yeah by all means. – It’s just that line. Yeah, yeah, three or four times. – Three or four times? Now? – Oh, whenever you’re ready.
[I return to the stage side and replace the door.]
ME: I make performative objects, y’know, the object in itself is the medium – like money – and ultimately I want to make money. Ultimately…
VOICE ONE : I must become thing.
ME: … Ultimately I want to make money. Ultimately
I want to make money.
VOICE ONE: I must become the thing.
ME: No you misunderstand me sculptor, or else you’re regurgitating, the object must undergo a transformation, it must produce its own effect.
VOICE TWO: I must become thing.
ME: It’s in the ‘the’
sculptor, do you understand me? We must find ‘the’ murder weapon, not ‘a’ murder weapon. ‘The’ murder weapon not ‘a’ murder weapon. The object here decides to become thing. Can’t you see? A thing as it so plainly desires.
Kathryn will you do something for me, if you
don’t mind? – Yeah. –Will you just come over here?
[Both KATHRYN and I walk behind and away from the audience body and the stage to the gallery window and have an inaudible conversation. Meanwhile IAIN enters the gallery late and stands behind the audience.]
Hey! Iain! Do you want to join in? – Yeah sure. –OK…
[Break in footage. All goes black for half a second though thirty seconds have actually
elapsed and I am now in a hut at the far end of the gallery space.]
KATHRYN: All day every day.
IAIN: What the hell are you talking about? Can’t I am plagued that I am ill…
KATHRYN: All day every day,
objects are asking me things.
IAIN: …with nostalgia. Everything I touch becomes a thing. What are you? Why are you talking about phantasms and refrains? I am nostalgia and rot. What the hell are you talking about? …
KATHRYN: All day every day, objects are asking me
ME: I must become
IAIN: …Can’t you see that I am plagued, that I am ill with nostalgia…
ME: I must become thing!
IAIN: … that everything I
touch becomes a thing. What are you? Why are you talking about phantasms and refrains? I am nostalgia and rot. What the hell are you…
IAIN: …talking about? Can’t you…
[I leave the hut and address IAIN.]
Iain, will you begin
with the line ‘Cease! Desist!’?
IAIN: Cease! Desist! Can you hear it? Endless demands. Cease this trickery!…
KATHRYN: All day, every day, objects are asking me things.
[KATHRYN and I have another inaudible conversation at the window.]
KATHRYN: All day, every day, objects are asking me things.
IAIN: …I am bound
to the symbolic! Desist in your demands on me.
[I return to the front of the audience to address JESSA inaudibly.]
IAIN: Cease! Desist! Can you hear it? Endless
demands. Cease this trickery. I am bound to the symbolic
KATHRYN: All day! Every day objects are asking me
things. All day! Every day objects are asking me things.
JESSA: I must become thing. I must
[JESSA moves from the audience to another window to the left of the stage.]
I must become thing!
IAIN: Cease. Desist. Can’t you hear it?
JESSA: I must become a
[I lead all participants to the far end of the gallery space, behind the large hut structure, obscuring us from the audience.]
[Two minutes pass. All participants simultaneously shout their lines twice. I lead participants back to the audience and collect my papers from the stage.]
The following are three sections of Ohad Ben Shimon’s 2 blue cups on two different corners of the table, forthcoming from VerySmallKitchen Books in June 2013.
the morning is an event
my narrative capabilities are destroyed
all I can do is describe what I see
making connections is hard these days
nothing seems to fit into one coherent whole
fragments of a reality
and you are in the middle
you move around
close and far
you are the writer
attaching your words to objects
in hope that one day it will make sense to someone
and the ends come closer
they arrive faster
once you used to start something
and it took you a while to get there
nowadays you start
and it ends
many people running
they seem like they can steal my laptop
rain on the ground
some guy is smoking a big joint
the tram lines run
we just finished our performance
it was nice
elegance says one street sign
r&b says another
an orange umbrella
a strong smell of weed coming out of a coffeeshop
a burger king
someone says ‘money’
more plastic bags
a guy with a coat looking at my laptop and bags
2 guys laughing
a few girls throw some redbull cans into a garbage can
a guy in a rickshaw
a theater building with the sign ‘macbeth’ on it
below it another sign says ‘to see or not to see’
2 spanish guys with cotton hats saying ‘amsterdam’
with a black coat on a brown bench
another rickshaw guy passes
some guy says bye to a girl
to work around things
to shift them
to replace one with another
to exchange values
re re re
to rest some place
to let it rest
to change your ways
to come back to them
to change again
to create sockets
pockets of air
reaches a high point and a low point
somehow somewhere sometime
you always find yourself back on the saddle
it’s never really gone
what has gone are layers of times
somehow somewhat peeled off by their own movement
and you imagine a place
where all these changes take place
whilst at the same time not really taking place
the internet and the computer
are helpful for that illusionary space
it’s there and not there
it allows you to dream
it harbors your imaginary right and wrong doings
by presenting an ordered software and hardware
to renegotiate your own order
your own mechanism
the state of your affairs
the never ending
yet always already ending
life that you are living today
and the next day
and the next
whatever energy is left in you
make it happen
reach that land
it is there waiting for you
you called for it to appear
you will become
you will become
The following dialogue was conducted between VerySmallKitchen and Ohad Ben Shimon during the writing of the book:
VSK: I wrote some questions for you today – about the book, the book to be, the book as it is, the book as it is being imagined, will be and won’t…. where does a book begin and where does it end?
OHAD: i think a book begins at the point when all other plans don’t seem to work out.. funny as it is, the strongest form of self expression is actually the last one we think of…perhaps we don’t allow ourselves that freedom. once we feel entitled we create a title. a ‘book’. it ends when someone forces you to end it. and that brings on a new restriction to once again search for that freedom, perhaps in the form of a new book.
VSK: Do some experiences look wrong on the page or perhaps “too right”?
OHAD: i try to see all experiences as part of this thing we call life and in that sense always ‘right’. what’s in the book is not the experience. it’s just the transformation of that experience into an artistic form, in this case text. so in a way all the experiences look wrong on the page as they don’t represent exactly the experience. the only true or ‘right’ experience in the book and on the page is the one the reader is having, because for him or her it is the first time they have the experience of reading such things.
VSK: What else does a list do?
OHAD: i’m thinking here actually of a list as a registration of desire. of things you want. so a list can create desire in the mind of the reader. now the question is a desire for what.
VSK: Does writing encourage fidelity or fiction?
OHAD: i believe you can’t run away from your own writing. in that sense it has always been a form of fidelity for me, even when it’s introduced as fiction. the reader will always find your blind spot whilst reading or you will eventually find it given sufficient time.
VSK: Is a notated day different to a not notated day?
OHAD: not really. i see breathing, walking, swimming, eating, basically many everyday actions as forms of writing if they’re on some page or not.
VSK: When do you read this in the future?
OHAD: in mornings.
VSK: When do details affirm and when do they erase?
OHAD: it’s an exchange. they affirm their own presence. the presence of the detail. but at that same very moment they erase the whole. that’s why i can’t really get my head around them. they are slippery creatures.
VSK: How does the text function as gift?
OHAD: it’s wrapped. in the same unexplainable material that life itself is wrapped in. it requires the reader to unwrap it.
VSK: How does the text function as instruction?
OHAD: maybe it’s an instruction to keep my eyes open. perhaps in the form of note to self.
VSK: Is it some sort of record that is breaking?
OHAD: yes it’s a record that is breaking but the record itself remains intact. what is being broken is language. it’s in a constant state of self annihilation. the text is at once a living organism in the sense that it has a breaking force and at the same time it is a residue or cinder.
VSK: Aren’t you really just trying out a form of magic?
OHAD: only if this form of magic has some kind of thera-poetic power like the word abracadabra.
VSK: Does the writing imagine you or someone else?
OHAD: of course. the image-nation.
Ohad Ben Shimon’s 2 Blue Cups on 2 Different Corners of the Table is forthcoming from VerySmallKitchen in June 2013.
For more about Ohad’s work see here. His VSK Residency posts are here.
The trick is not putting the fire too high.
He scoops out crispy moons.
licking the nose of the lost English.
One saw a cicada
flew barking in the ether
angry as an ancient monster,
doused in dirt.
harvest had finished
so there wasn’t much
storm and all the trees
take you to the coral reef.
curled with lashes
but being unfamiliar
who calls for his starship, mouth mouthing
as they hang from the branches.
it’s too late, and her cold hasn’t gone.
Bol renversé: Literally ‘upside down bowl’, a special rice dish
Kiran and I stay in her mother’s old home. Like a little wattle and daub Tudor dwelling the house is made from beams from the mountain and painted white, but roofed with corrugated metal sheets. Her mother and father built this haven helped by the oldest children. Dev, second son, carried the longest log.
Last night we went up to the place where they had found the trunks and branches. Long ago there had been a big storm and all the trees had blown over. The government announced that anyone could take the uprooted, broken wood.
The clouds cleared and we beheld the starry archer aiming his bow beyond Port Louis. The children stayed in the minibus, chattering.
The minibus company has grown into a major service with seven buses and four charioteers. Dev and Jay do not drink; not Red Label, not sweet Johnnie Walker. But sometimes they do on Bank Holiday because then NOBODY wants to drive.
This VSK Project is a sample from Jude Cowan Montague, The Goodroyals of Terre Rouge, published by Dark Windows Press in 2013.
Jude and Daniel Lehan’s CARDBOARD PASTORAL is a VSK Project here.
VerySmallKitchen: Several of your texts adopt the forms of play scripts. Is this best understood in relation to the category of poets theater, outlined in David Brazil and Kevin Killian’s The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater?
seekers of lice: Poets theater is not something I identify with. I use play to include the idea of a drama and of playing. Playing within the text and with conventions of the genre. Scripts, yes – because that points to something beyond the text, to a staging including other elements which aren’t specified.
VSK: When did you start using script forms? What elements of the conventional play text did you adopt?
seekers of lice: dumb show were the first scripts. I like to use the formal layout of conventional play texts. It provides a structure which is immediately recognisable so that if you write STICK: followed by some words, those words are seen as something spoken by a character who is a stick or is called Stick.
VSK: The focus on objects in your work suggests other models of theatre: Joseph Cornell’s boxes, Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise-
seekers of lice: The characters in dumb show were objects I was making at the time – wax and pigment painted balls, polyps and boxes. A version consisting of a cardboard box of wax polyps with the THEATRE OF OBJECTS scripts was exhibited and later bought by Dusseldorf Library.
VSK: What do you mean or not mean by “character.” In The Bride of L’Amor-mor-l’amor characters seem to be types. Is that always the case?
seekers of lice: Yes in The Bride there are roles rather than characters. I was interested in dumb show- and also LOUSE FACTORY – to see if the objects could become subjects. They are treading a line between subject and object.
And the idea for The Bride came from things I was making at the time. But I feel much more aligned to the aesthetic of Dubuffet and early Oldenburg than to the refinement of Duchamp and Cornell.
…whereas Claes Oldenburg sears his page with a mud-luscious Whitmanesque catalogue of the materials of art, and for Oldenburg the list is inexhaustible because he is for an art that is everything, everything that is “that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum,” and preferably everything that is not self-consciously refined, in other words that is raw, quick, smelly, holy, many small “sweet and stupid” acts of ungracious side-splitting, nose-blowing living that are supposed to be left for keeps in dirty abandoned corners.
Oldenburg’s Store has that unkempt look; the items hang in blobbish disregard for civilized order; the store articles are sculptured in relief with muslin strips dipped in plaster and placed over chicken wire, then painted with enamel to give the business a high dripping festive gloss.
These environments, situations, spaces are not going any place; they’re not on the market for immortality; they’re just not negotiable at all, except for tempting traffic with the eye and heart that is looking for more or less anything, or ready to stumble on something; and even that is saying too much, or too little, and no doubt Robert Whitman is right when he says that “this whole business has been complicated by people who say all smart things . . . “
Jill Johnston Village Voice, 6 Jul. 1961, 13.
VSK: It’s interesting to see affinities and art histories being constructed around an emotion or tone…
seekers of lice: Yes that’s a good way of putting it – the influence of a tone or sensibility. I would add Kharms to my list, and Philip Guston.
VSK: Viewed in the context of the scripts the objects propose a scenography-
seekers of lice: The physical objects from the boxes? I see them as seductive in a tactile way, but mute, dumb, unthinking.
VSK: And in relation to the words?
seekers of lice: I see the objects as haptic, visual… completely outside language. I’m interested in putting things next to each other and seeing what happens, words next to words, objects to objects and words next to objects.
VSK: The dumb plays are published by The Theatre of Objects. Is this a personal repertory company? It relates to your seekers of lice pseudonym.
seekers of lice: seekers of lice isn’t a pseudonym, it’s a space to inhabit with its own separate existence.
There was a manifesto for objects, demanding the space to speak. So Theatre of Objects was an imagined theatre not of seekers of lice but of the objects themselves. Benjamin Buchloh writes about the “object theater of fluxus”. I wondered what an object theatre was.
VSK: There is a distinctiveness to scripts -
seekers of lice: Yes, I see the scripts as different to other forms: scripts as dialogues, the spoken word interacting between separate characters, consecutive speeches are read as responses in some form to the previous speech. They point to an existence beyond the writer.
But the page presence is always important as well. I am continuing to use the play form in eg Poem to be Felt, published in VLAK 3, 2012.
VSK: Poets Theater confounds any straight forward transition/ translation of text into space. In your own work the book form itself is the primary performance -
seekers of lice: dumb show took different forms, eg the shine on the nose was published in The Blue Notebook as a tipped in A7 sheet of translucent paper with a hand-painted square of manganese blue. A note said:
The first script, the shine on the nose : dumb show is published here. Each copy of the journal contains 1 page of the 10 page script. The complete script is distributed through the different copies.
So that was a kind of performance. And the performance of LOUSE FACTORY was in its distribution.
VSK: In LOUSE FACTORY the use of the paper bag requires a brevity. It becomes an ideogram, an object, a sign for a new form of distribution that simultaneously makes the work ephemeral-
seekers of lice: The plays on paper bags were indeed exploring forms of distribution. They were used in bookshops for purchases without any explanatory comment. I wondered how a script could exist when each recipient ended up with a third or a quarter or a fifth of a play. So each page (bag) had to have an independent existence.
They were very visual texts, playing with patterns and spacings of words and letters. The space of the bag is the arena for action. The scene could be framed in any environment it reached.
VSK: The texts are not, for example, instructional scores. They are more about their own language…
seekers of lice: The texts are things I have made and put in the world. They are presentations not explanations. I don’t conceptualise how they might be used.
The frame provides a context and a meaning. I like Weiner’s position, that art is what happens when you stop making metaphors, stop mediating the world through words which give the appearance of making sense of things, of translating reality into assimilable form.
Weiner says: “This is the reason why people like Carl Andre are such good artists. They’re not telling you what to think, they’re telling you to stand still and watch how your thoughts no longer work.”
Work which is not intrinsically metaphorical can then be used by people for their own purposes as a metaphor– as he puts it: to find your own place in the sun.
VSK: And the form of the paper bag is well suited to an enactment or performance of these ideas-
seekers of lice: The change to printed bags allowed me to design and control the layout, yes the ideogram of the text, very precisely. I hoped it would also speed production.
In fact I was using a basic computer printer and the bags were too thick to go through, so I had to open up the bottom of each bag, print it and then refold and reglue the bag. So production was very very slow!
I liked the boldness of printed text which was possible, and the factory production- line feel – closer to mechanical reproduction with me as machine.
The single gesture, the liminal, the infrathin, the peripheral – how much to move someone? Just reading an essay on Bonnard which links Duchamp’s infrathin with Bonnard. Yes I was/am interested in slightness.
VSK: How does slightness take form in your work?
seekers of lice: Slightness – the idea that art doesn’t have to be spectacular or dramatic(!) to create a profound effect. Also as a strategy, in finding ways to distribute work. Paper bags are ephemeral but function as a mode of circulation. I make the work and other people distribute it for me. So an individual bag is slight but its value to the recipient might exceed that.
Slightness. Lightness. A sliver inserted into the world. Finding a gap in which to operate. Buchloh again: “Fluxus doesn’t aspire to radical transformations of everyday life but to ludic practices which open up sudden ruptures within that system’s mesmerizing totality and numbing continuity.”
I had a short correspondence by email with a librarian at MOMA’s art library. She wrote:
Got your package today. Thanks for sending the books. They look great. I didn’t understand your name at first, but it hit me about 6 weeks ago when I was riding the subway home….
So I also regard the name as a work. This reminds me of Christian Morgenstern, “Korf erfindet eine Art von Witzen” or, according to Google Translator “Korf invents a kind of jokes”:
Korf invents a kind of jokes,
Act until many hours later.
Everyone listens to them with long while.
But as a scale if geglommen still,
will you suddenly alive at night in bed
smiling like a rich baby blessed.
VerySmallKitchen: These questions are explored differently in The Bride of L’Amor-mor-l’amor. Its length asks how your works are structured and develop, what sort of resolution they seek, if any.
seekers of lice: I see The Bride as a different sort of text, more formal and artificial. At the time I described it like this:
The Bride of L’Amor-mor-l’amor is an abstract conceptual work. It uses different vocabularies for different speakers which are married when the words of the Bride and Groom are literally combined, first word by word then with each of their words severed and rejoined to make new words.
Specific vocabularies are drawn from fairy tales such as Bluebeard and Donkey Skin, from works of philosophy and from the procedural fiction of Kafka. Simple construction using ‘as’ ‘is’ ‘and’ and ‘or’ are used to counter the forward movement of the line.
The layout reflects the initial opposition between the bride and groom; when they are married the text becomes centred. The use of bold type in the final dance is to suggest emphasis.
So for me it follows a conventional trajectory. I wanted an opposition between the bride and groom. He uses the language of romance and her speech is supposed to be overtly sexual. The action takes place in the restructuring of their language.
VSK: How does voice work in your plays? You have included CDs with books, worked with your children to record texts-
seekers of lice: I was interested in what happens when objects are given a voice. I’ve since discovered in Martin Esslin’s Theatre of the Absurd Christian Morgenstern’s sandwich paper lying lonely in a wood which
“…Commenced, from fright, there is no doubt,
To think. Commenced, began, set out
To think, just think, what here combined,
Received (by fear) – a thinking mind ….”
Das Butterbrotpapier (the sandwich paper) ends up being eaten by a bird. Reading the scripts aloud raises questions of how these texts can be read, how intonation can be used, how the characters can be presented.
The readings I made with my children (not out of sentimentality – they were available and could be bribed to participate) were of quandaries. I liked the idea of the repetition of “or” acting as a drone. I made a short recording which just had the “or”s threaded together to make or-or -noise.
At the same time I made a recording of farcical tricycle which I put on a short promo disc for William English. Listening to it 3 years later I realise the extent to which I saw them as different voices, different characters.
The reading, the sound is important to me – I like to create the desire to read aloud or mouth the words, to feel the physical shapes. When I did creamy language [an installation for I AM NOT A POET, Totalkunst Gallery, Edinburgh, 2011] I was pleased that Mirja’s son walked in to the gallery and immediately started reading aloud from the walls.
But more of an indicator for the evolution of Cointet’s practice was The Paintings of Sophie Rummel, 1974, in which Viva stood before twelve of the artist’s new paintings composed of red letters and numbers on white canvas (consisting of license plate and phone numbers found randomly, together they seem like nonsensical signage, or else eye charts).
Ultimately, for audience members these became paintings and texts at the same time that they were representations of paintings and texts–in short, props. Viva read aloud from sheets containing the exact same text, introducing different potential meanings by using a variety of intonations and rhythms of speech as she revisited the passages over and over. Is it praise? Adoration? Puzzlement? Depending on the intonation, “1256″ could be a tragic number.
Marie de Brugerolle, “Enigma Variations” in Artforum, Summer 2007, 413.
VSK: As well as the forms of the texts themselves, it is the circumstances of how such writing is produced that offers parallels between your own work and poets theater. In To Be At Music: Essays & Talks Norma Cole writes:
The projects of Poets’ Theatre are communal. They accrete and gather momentum, a kind of critical mass, building on local relationships in time. Someone is writing – often the “someone” is a composite, a dyad, the multiple author – writing for known members of the future cast so the future is here and now. So even the primary or originary moment of writing is expansive, interactive, a function of the vitality of ongoing conversations in a community. The boundaries of the community are permeable and shifting, since it consists of singularities, to use Agamben’s term. Individuals express interest in participating. This interest is incorporated. So the dynamics of the participants, a kind of multiple person, or mega-organism live in solution in continuous flux. (54)
seekers of lice: I don’t identify with any of this at all.
VSK: Really? Why not!? If there’s not the performance context Cole talks about, your texts still seem to evidence this originary moment that is expansive, interactive -
seekers of lice: Isn’t that true of all art/writing?
VSK: You don’t want to conceptualise your work like this.
seekers of lice: I don’t conceptualise my work. I’m only interested in doing it and getting it out there. So I’m not a Conceptual writer/artist.
VSK: Cole also quotes Brecht: “One might say that everything hangs on the ‘story’ which is what happens between people.’
seekers of lice: Are you asking what happens between the text/writer and the reader?
VSK: You told me before that the plays of Gertrude Stein are not intended for performance. Why is that?
seekers of lice: I’m distinguishing between reading and theatrical performance with sets, costumes, action, conflict, resolution etc, or a theatrical performance within that context.
I think theatre requires action and the dialogue is only a part of that, not necessarily the most significant element. In Stein’s plays I feel the dialogue is the action. I think that is also true of The Bride. Giles [Goodland] said he would like to see it set to music like Edith Sitwell’s Façade – I like the idea but need a composer.
VSK: When you saw Einstein on the Beach recently did that offer any connections to thinking about staging?
seekers of lice: No. I thought the music and singing in Einstein on the Beach were fantastic, and the dancing, but was less convinced by the staged set pieces.
I wonder whether dumb show could be performed; or rather become part of a theatrical performance; perhaps in the manner of a Bauhaus / Oscar Schlemmer performance with dance and acrobatics? Perhaps LOUSE FACTORY could be performed as a cabaret. I think it’s a possibility because they are very open texts.
Fundamentally I agree with Martin Esslin: “Theatre is always more than mere language. Language alone can be read, but true theatre can become manifest only in performance.” So they – dumb show and LOUSE FACTORY – are scripts for a potential performance.
VSK: A default performance style in poets theater and also in art writing performances at venues like X Marks the Bökship is the artist and their friends in everyday clothes holding A4 typescripts or books and reading them aloud.
seekers of lice: I prefer the intimate unmediated relationship between reader and text, the scale of performance that produces.
VSK: Perhaps again, as with the bags, you need a form that reduces and restricts in order to reveal…
seekers of lice: Yes I like the scale, the smallness of the disembodied reading.
VSK: LOUSE FACTORY opens with a manifesto for the absurd. Is the absurd a category for these scripts, for theatre, the body, and your practice as a whole?
seekers of lice: dumb show and LOUSE FACTORY play with the ridiculous and absurd. The tradition of the absurd includes verbal nonsense, clowning and fooling.
For me the risk in writing is being prepared to risk stupidity, dumbness and the laughable in order to write something which is not just a parody of writing, or of poetry – not something which merely looks like art.
So bolt in moebius dispute ends “no armour / be ridiculous I am rid- / / iculous.” I’m always verging on the ridiculous – or trying to.
VSK: I relate this to a forcefulness in your writing. To articulate this quality, I’m thinking of texts by Maggie O’Sullivan and Hélène Cixous, some hybrid model of poet as shaman, linguistic animism, écriture féminine…
seekers of lice: I’ve not read O’Sulllivan or Cixous and I’m resistant to écriture feminine. I believe gender is irrelevant to the way I work.
I want to be a man; as Eileen Myles wrote, why can’t we all be men? This is why I like an ungendered name – not because I’m trying to make a mystery, but because I don’t see it as relevant. But Beuys is one of my heroes.
VSK: You feel regret after a performance. Is this from the failure of the absurd to fully exist as public discourse?
seekers of lice: No, regret at my failure to do justice to the performance. Discourse after all is running hither and thither so very open to the absurd.
This dialogue was conducted by email July-Sep 2012. THEATRE OF OBJECTS, a collection of play scripts, will be published by VerySmallKitchen in Nov 2012.
Stephen Emmerson writes: The Last Ward is a series of 6 A3 posters and a 6 track CD. Each track title corresponds with one of the visual poem titles. They should be considered part of the same poem, working symbiotically rather than responding to one another.
2. speech is written in capitals
3. time runs backwards as well as forwards and will one day meet
5. voices in radiator falling through sink
6. you are not a concept i am familiar with
AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN EMMERSON
I think instructed reading, or innovative reading, is an interesting way to frame a work that may otherwise have been freed from authorial control. i.e. the audiovisual pieces are in one way open and abstract because they do not utilise a regular written language, however, by giving an instruction or guideline on how to read the work it becomes more definite.
The choreography of the reading came about as an attempt to examine the notion of reading as creativity. I am also interested in obstructing the reading of any given work, and I think it’s interesting to see how closely someone might follow any given set of essentially arbitrary rules.
The interest in sound and visual comes from reading as well. I mean when we read a text we are taking visual cues and transforming them into sound, and I see the audio aspect of this work as being a way to cue up the visuals and hopefully open up the possibility of a different way of reading.
The starting point for The Last Ward came from a quote by Trotsky. He said: ‘England is the last ward of the European madhouse’. I began this work during the riots last year.
Yes – all of these images began as writing, if you look closely you can see letters and parts of letters, fragments of typewriter keys, and pen strokes. Yet in these images there are repetitions of glyphs and patterns within those repetitions that to me at least makes this something very close to writing.
I think you give up a certain amount of specificity of meaning when you begin creating something like this – to some extent that’s the point, but at the same time I’m creating a frame to read or examine these works within, and knowing when and why they were written makes them much more specific to a certain time and place, and even pushes it towards certain critical boundaries. But the reader will know more about that than me.
There was a lot of editing, I mean I think it took the best part of a year to create the images and the audio. There were lots of different versions. It’s funny that you talk about endless new touches of paint, because sometimes that happened and pieces were ruined and I had to start the whole process over again. I think the details are very important, just like in any other kind of writing, the whole is nothing without them.
With the audio it was much the same, some of it was recorded live, but it might have taken many takes to get just right, some of the other pieces were more programmed, and that’s a totally different way of working.
The collaboration with Lucy Harvest Clarke is a work that does reveal the process to some extent. We started by taking a notebook page and folding it down the middle. Lucy wrote half a line, (3 – 6 words) and then turned the page over so that I couldn’t see what she’d written, and then I’d finish the line. It’s kind of like an exquisite corpse.
The first part of that work, which was published on VSK, was mostly written on train journeys so there’s loads of repeated imagery and words like ‘window’ and ‘pylon’ that keep cropping up. I think we were both shocked at just how complete those pieces turned out, being that we couldn’t see what the other was writing.
Having the hand written versions alongside the printed text brings a visual aspect to the work where the urgency of the writing is revealed. It also lets the reader into our state of mind at the time of writing whilst allowing the same words to be revealed as a different version of the same poem.
Even if I’m creating audiovisual work its still centred around language, so I feel it’s more centred around poetry than visual art per se.
For instance – in August I’m exhibiting a William Blake poem-installation in Camberwell that includes audiovisual work centred around a large pentagram with a typewriter at each point.
People coming to see the work will be invited to sit inside the pentagram and channel Blake whilst using the typewriters to create a text. Aside from channeling Blake, which is a reference to his paranormal conversations, this method can also be seen as a way of translating audiovisual work into text, the fact that I won’t be creating any of the text doesn’t necessarily mean that I am not the author, nor does it mean that I am more interested in the audiovisual than the text, it simply means I’m more interested in how people read, because again, this work is about reading, and about translating, and I think if you’re interested in that as an author then you are better off staying away from text.
THE LAST WARD by Stephen Emmerson is available for £6 (plus £1.50 UK P&P). Please email email@example.com for postage details if ordering from outside the UK.
More about Stephen’s work is here.