Sara Lane Studios March 7th 2010
Last Sunday night the ART WRITING FIELD STATION met for a conversation about the meaning and possible applications of Marianne Holm Hansen’s lexicon of art writing. Actually, I probably shouldn’t call it a lexicon. One of the fascinating things about this project is how difficult it is to even find a short hand word for describing it in conversation. Score? List? Diagram? Drawing? Minutes? I have yet to find a word that feels right.
Given this difficulty it seemed useful to start with some definition. Helen Kaplinsky looked up each word in a large, hard backed dictionary. Each definition was read aloud, before being covered in glu and the page sealed. Several times we asked for clarification, to hear a definition again, but it was too late, glued and gone.
Helen notes: “The reading process is a meeting between two bodies of knowledge, and in this meeting the pedagogical body of the book is destabilized by the subjective touch of the human body. This project allows for elaboration for further performances or to present the work in publication form. A further performance may include re-reading the pages where the definitions once were, most probably consisting of a jumbled nonsensical reading of various definitions which have coalesced.” A previous project enacted something similar upon the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Kaplinksy’s performance brought to mind a number of book-writing-art projects, where the textual encounter instigates a process of book destruction or transformation, including John Latham’s 1966 digesting of Clement Greenburg and Marcel Broodthaers act two years earlier of embedding unsold copies of his books of poetry in plaster.
All these works work with and against a fetishistic reverence for the book object, relating to the actual and implied content by rendering it as (devastated) form. So Latham’s act of book eating was focussed upon Clement Greenberg’s essay collection Art and Culture; whilst Broodthaers act was a personal ritual marking the shift from poet to artist. Helen’s performance had a considered and meditative tone, but its implications for the book itself were just as severe!
In preparation for the evenings discussion, Marianne Holm Hansen had cut out all the words on her list from another dictionary and placed the small pieces of thin paper in a petri dish. This also balanced construction and erasure, the small slips juxtaposed with a dictionary now composed of gaps and piecemeal pages, where new words fitted into the skeletal gaps to create new orders. It was hard, if you needed to, to find a particular word in the petri dish, the definitions becoming lost in their new materiality. We noted the slip for POEM had the definition for PNEUMATIC fitting perfectly on its backside.
After 15 or so minutes, Helen stopped reading and wondered what length her performance should be. It would have been good to read and paste the whole list, but it quickly felt like this would take several days! The time of listening to the definitions, made Marianne observe that only words that were emotions should be kept on the list. This was the original focus of the for the record project, but the Five Years session had expanded into more general minute taking, including phrases. This seemed now to have been a mistake, too akin to what would be Marianne’s own process of note making, and not true to the rather different process required by for the record.
As for my own notes: I became aware of our own additions – often adding “ed” to words to shift language into a dynamic state. I noted the relation of a word to its definition seemed paralleled by the relation of the word to the whole list. I enjoyed the humor of focussing on the minutiae of language definitions (What should one do when words – mis- or alternatively spelled – are not in the dictionary?). I noted how, once the word became separated from its original context, all its other possible definitions became operative once again.
Also on Sunday night I presented a text piece FROM SCORE TO HOUSE TO ISLAND TO DINNER TO STORY TO POEM. The text had been a series of writing experiments, in response to the leixcon, conducted throughout the preceding week. I’d proceeded through the experiment as they occurred to me, not sure what was taking shape, later editing the text and fragments into a new body, freely moving around and editing without fidelity to the original exercises.
FROM SCORE… was interested in an ethics of relationship: what did it mean to write in relation to the Marianne’s list? Often I found the text itself offered the best language for its own description. For example, my own attempts to articulate the lists unfolding pattern gave way to a description drawn from the vocabulary itself:
it digests, it manifests, it misspells, it conducts
it backwards, it dreamed, it fixated, it forced
Starting from an interest in score and script I ended up trying out a number of poetic strategies – syllabics, for example – interested in the imposition of these fixed systems, perhaps an appreciate of the Oulipo strategies, but more flexible. For example, part of my text entitled “A Short Adventure Story” corralled such words into genre, in doing so enabling them to function in multiple ways:
I scratched. The slippage was slippery. Suspended in reverie, relinquishing control, I rephrased. I turned into a transitional threshold. The coming together of two different things worked: Secure and writerly. Unconsciously influenced, I worked backwards. Under the weight of things, I shared and I spammed.
Later, layer upon layer was malleable. I interrupted, patient and performative. Outside, interactioned, I needed poems. The multiplicity, incorporated, hammered on top of tools. I needed and mis-used, playful and hands on. I modeled. It was just how I liked it: practice was provisional and potential projected.
Wanting to think through the workings of constraint, I came upon this quotation by Vanessa Place:
Because I do not believe in the parsing of condition and content, I think it is a false advantage not to reveal form, and that the more intentionally hidden the constraints, the more the work proves a coward’s coup, where the shot is not called, and responsibility dodged, but all credit taken for whatever’s dug up. I also think it equally pathetic to assume every constraint should be revealed, as many matters bubble beneath our meanings. Show all the cards you like, and then there’s the dealings of geography and psychology, matters of some fact and great fancy, there’s mutation and desecration, and the hope of better things, there’s candlesticks and sealing wax and the pink buds of a pig’s wings.
We write now, are read then, and inbetween the writing and reading lies the incipient sublime and a future quite conditional. Whether we are reluctant gods, or those who elbow in, the consciousness of the concrete means our creations go on regardless of our intentions, willed free though wrought determinate. Rather than pretend not to be casting in clay, or trying to duck the consequences of conception, he author must lean in, attempting to force as much as possible from a form while constantly compressing its constituents. It’s candy-making and atom-splitting, fission with a toy surprise inside.
SOURCE: Vanessa Place, “Form: Revealing or Not Revealing” in Christine Wertheim and Matias Viegener eds. The Noulipian Analects (Los Angeles, Les Figues Press), 87-8.
For ten minutes I read FROM SCORE…. alongside, over the top, underneath and inbetween Helen’s dictionary reading. Listening whilst reading turned the dictionary entries into novelistic narratives, that I couldn’t quite grasp, but which were rich in character and incident. There was a considerable energy generated by this juxtaposition of texts, each with its own mix of specificity and variation, something of which is captured in the photographs below:
Hyun Jin Cho was interested in consequences of writing the lists twice. She discussed a proposal to cook two of the same food stuffs, as a way of highlighting the similarity, difference and impossibility of replication. But what food stuffs would best illustrate this? Jin suggested burgers. Later in the evening, Matthew Mackisack presented a series of responses to the lexicon, improvising around three words inparticular: (1) reverie, (2) control and (3) performative.
Matthew talked around issues of the “picturable,” whether words conveyed a sense of the visual, and where and how there might be a space for thinking beyond the visual. In regards to Marianne’s list, control was a way of asking whether forms of writing were allowing some thoughts and disallowing others. One mental exercise for exploring this issue was to look at the chart without knowledge of where it came from and to ask, as Matthew did, “what situation could have given rise to these words?”
Matthew’s method highlighted the list as a score for a conversation, or a more formal spoken discourse. This evoked memory palaces – the list as mnemonic – as well as how talk figures as poetry in the work of, say, Steve Benson, David Antin and – on a more performative, self-styled “demotic” level – Chris Cheek. Cheek’s description of his writing process is, like Antin and Benson, a further elucidation of a POET TALK ARCHITECTURE. I wonder, in this context, how much these words also apply to Marianne’s list:
… models of poetic writing practice drawn out of engagement with demotic tensions between self, community, neighborhood and the public sphere. Documents in conversation with the demotics of attention, not to say at times mundane, but complex occasions of linguistic experience – open to off-the-cuff commentary and exquisite interference, uninvited intervention and reflection. Ways by which the ordinary can be rendered extraordinary. Writing thought through at every stage, full of decision and with a sense of mediated, conscious performance in every aspect of its making; a hang of interstices, jolts, between utterance and silence (given that both cod categories remain porous to the other).
TEXT SOURCE: Chis Cheeks preface from his recent collection part: short life housing (Toronto: The Gig, 2009), ix.
I write down another phrase from Matthew’s talk: “transfer idea across.” I unfold this into a tentative definition of the process of for the record: to translate for and into unknown future(s).