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Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

VSK PROJECT: SUSAN THOMSON’S THE AUTHOR OF UNUSUAL PAPERS

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 at 9:54 am

Diana Caramaschi, 30 Days, Video animation, 5:50 mins.

VERYSMALLKITCHEN writes: Susan Thomson’s THE AUTHOR OF UNUSUAL PAPERS is a wall text that opens an exhibition of the same title at Dublin’s The LAB (27 May- 25 June 2011). A row of headphones extend an invitation to hear the text read aloud.

The text also appears on the handout/ brochure for the show, which also includes work from Claire Behan, Diana Caramaschi, Monica Flynn, and Colleen Lambe. This informs me that “following several months discussions amongst the artists a body of work emerged in response to this text.”

Several projects and texts on VerySmallKitchen have explored the relationship of writing and exhibition. I was interested in how this text seemed to function variously as proposal, fiction, catalogue essay, and art work. I wondered how it would function in the further context of this blog.

THE AUTHOR OF UNUSUAL PAPERS is reprinted below, followed by a short essay from Susan in response to an email from VerySmallKitchen 31/05/11 asking how she understood the functions of such a text.

Diana Caramaschi, 30 Days, grid, mixed media on paper, 224 x 160cm

Monia Flynn, Astrological Chart for 26th May, 2011, vinyl graphic, 2.5m (accompanied by live event on 24th June)

The Author of Unusual Papers

Am I the author of this text, and if not, who is? I have examined the text for evidence of my usual themes, subjects, preoccupations, sentence length, adjective use etc. I have found many key words that correspond to articles I have written in the past.  Desire, the self, blank, return of the repressed, art, Glasgow, time, lovers and many more. It seems that I may be the author of this text.

While it is perhaps a more unusual text written by me, I think that I have written it. No, more than that, I feel sure that I have written it. Then, there is the fact that it is a self-reflexive text, a text about identity, that it is a text searching for an author, and that makes me even more convinced of my own authorship. The author is in question, a kind of detective story unleashed, and forensic linguistics is the detective’s tool digging up clues, the lists of similar nouns, like echoes, a stylistic marker of my work, the self-referential, the endless mirrors, mise en abime. Forensic linguistics allows me to dig into what I think is my own writing in order to see more clearly: was it really me who wrote this? Why was it written? What are the clues and what do they point to?

Stylometry makes me cry. What if I am not the author? My sentence lengths are variable, the algorithm learns my style. There is a characterization of which papers are most and least typical for a given author; when I am most myself in my writing and when I am least. And which if either is better? Or when I am most consistently myself at any rate. The text is reduced to a bag of words. I will make it as consistent with myself as possible, in the future. Death, desire, sex, food, text. Why can I write nothing new, nothing inconsistent, nothing that a piece of software would pass over, not merely as an unusual paper for me, but instead a text that is so different that it would simply fail to recognise it as emanating from me. It must be by someone else. But why do I desire this at all? Better surely to accept the prison of my own limitations, of my personality, my style, whatever that is. It’s predicting my words…

WORD                PROB
AUTHOR            0.1965
MIRRORS          0.234
RECOGNISE     0.13
PRISON              0.02

PROB            AUTHOR
0.45               SUSAN THOMSON
0.23               DIANA CARAMASCHI
0.1                  COLLEEN LAMBE
0.3                  MONICA FLYNN

Is this an overlapping text, one in which the authors bleed into one another, or co-author? The first trope consists entirely of French words. There was an apparent peaking of French words in the mid-1990’s. The more red a word, the more likely it is to have been generated by me, the more blue by someone else, the nameless author.
The resulting author model was shown to extract significant hidden information about the author, from the set of abstracts, including all the unusual papers for specific authors. And so we may conclude with a question, is it always the same old story or is there the possibility of an author writing a text that cannot be detected as her own.

Susan Thomson, The Author of Unusual Papers; The Lost Word, installation text, books, copies of manuscripts

Post Script

The text is now a post-script I suppose. It has become audio, in a play version of itself, and is now on the blogosphere, post-play.

It has mutated and spawned versions of itself, mimicry in the text in the windows, things I never wrote but it looks like I wrote them.[1]

The text is now in multiple places; the springboard-text for the show, in the handout, on the wall, through the earphones, on the blog; it seems to be reproducing itself at an alarming rate. The text is in transit. Who knows where it will go next? And still the author has not been found, ascertained.

There is a Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Reigate Squires’, where the case involves handwriting analysis. A torn piece of paper is found in the murdered man’s hand. Finally, Sherlock deduces that it was father and son who had alternately written each word of the note. Copies of Arthur Conan Doyle’s letters to Roger Casement appear in the show, as well as a copy of Casement’s Black Diaries.[2]

The Black (overtly homosexual) Diaries and White (day to day censored) Diaries is the Reigate story’s historical opposite in that it was believed the diaries were by two separate authors but handwriting analysis subsequently proved both to be authored by him. Conan Doyle and Casement step up to the task, spilling ink for one another, and they sit now in a museum, the ink dried up and their tears lying in the manuscript room.

Our childhood portraits hang in the gallery, painted or drawn from childhood photos after the fact. [3] We all become Dorians living on in youth in the gallery as our adult selves wander the streets. The artists pull facts, words, signs, insights from the text and knowledge they have about my life into their own work. They psychoanalyse and try and reveal through metaphor what lies between the lines. They convert the words into visuals, apply semiological analysis. [4]

Then they add their own personalities, their own thoughts, lives, analyses. They explore archetypes, they animate a month of unusual papers, an unusual paper for every day.[5]

The text on the wall is pinned beside the audio version; with the audio came voice, the freedom to walk around the gallery; with the text, the pleasure of reading. Many seemed to return to their childhoods and opted for both at once. Like learning a new language, in a language booth.

I know who the author is, yes; but the author, invisible, unnameable, has just left the building, escaping, minutes before the show opens, the scene of the crime.

NOTES

[1]Author Claire Behan and anonymous.
[2]Author Susan Thomson.
[3]Author Monica Flynn.
[4]Author Colleen Lambe.
[5]Author Diana Caramaschi.

More about Susan’s work is here.

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ART WRITING IN DUBLIN: PUBLICATIONS/ EXHIBITIONS/ PROJECTS

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 at 12:19 am

Sarah Browne, Second Burial at Le Blanc, 2011, ticker-tape countdown clock with live currency feed

Last week’s trip to Dublin for ART CRITICISM NOW was a chance to find out about a whole host of art writing projects in the city and beyond, running the spectrum from critical writing projects to art-language initiatives of diverse kinds. This post offers a run through of those projects, continuing an exploration of where one becomes the other, or how a practice might involve/ combine/move between these different possibilities of practice.

At the criticism end of the spectrum is +BILLION- , which began as a one person blog by James Merrigan, currently has a call for writers, and published its own summary of the Art Criticism Now event within a few hours of it finishing. Like the other writing on the site it’s a cogent, focused, informed critique, intelligently aware, as the archive on its site is named, that JUDGMENT CALLS.

In the panel discussion at Art Criticism Now one of +BILLIONS- main concerns was how the size and nature of the Dublin art scene makes criticism difficult. I tried to relate this to the concern in my talk with how writing creates and comes out of artistic communities, as well as my recent experience of a range of art writing related artists and projects in Yorkshire (for example: Open Dialogues, The Wild Pansy Press, Information as Material, Not Yet There, Critical Writing Collective, Millpond…)

William Kentridge Office Love, tapestry, 2001

On the same panel, Cristín Leach of the Sunday Times recalled being told at an opening:  “I don’t know how you dare to show your face in here.”  She recalled how, as a starting out journalist, a newspaper editor had told her not to write catalogue essays if she wanted to write for the newspaper, and how it still felt important to hold to that distinction. It was a position useful to consider alongside what can seem the art world’s default position of an embedded writing practice that sees no problems moving wherever opportunities (and payment) allow.

BILLION was responding to Jason Oakley of  VAN (The Visual Artists’ News Sheet), who had outlined a soon to be launched review supplement to the publication which explicitly briefed writers to evaluate  shows under discussion. It’s interesting that within such contexts straight, traditional reviewing becomes the only appropriate form of writing. Whilst I value such an approach as one among a number of possibilities, I am not sure it has the value as either discourse, PR and/or intellectual capital that it is often ascribed, or that expanded writing practices don’t offer more possibilities for an organisation like Visual Artists’ Ireland to fulfill its broader remit of support and advocacy on behalf of professional visual artists.

As in the UK, my sense was that the potentials of an exploratory criticism is more evident in grass roots initiatives, like BILLION and paper visual art journal. These tend to be unfunded DIY initiatives, which might  give them a limited life cycle, but opens up distinct possibilities as long as the writing and editing of such publications can be juggled with all the other jobs and activities their organisers and contributors are likely to be engaged in.

Edited by Niamh Dunphy, Paper Visual Art Journal’s tagline reveals its difference in emphasis from +BILLION-, self-describing itself as “an online publication for contemporary art. Paper recognises the vacuum of critique and dialogue that exists for the emerging artist or artist group, between graduate and established art practice. The emphasis, at outset, is to address this.”

Critical articles are published alongside listings,  artist profiles (perhaps best described as showcases), and Insight, a new series of texts on artist run spaces.  The project is seems one where different functions of criticism, information,  and gallery are all “embedded together” (it made me think again of John Kelsey’s writing/ art/ gallerist role combinations) and it will be interesting to see how this mixture unfolds. At ART CRITICISM NOW, Dunphy spoke of a hands on editorial approach, wanting to ensure writers said what they wanted to say rather than what they thought they should say.

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Allotrope, Issue 1, 2011

Encountering all these projects, made me wonder what the equivalents were in London – a scene that, chatting in the bar afterwards, we decided was best described as “nebulous”. Most of the London projects I could think about as having an equivalent energy and dynamism to +BILLION- or paper visual art journal were artist led magazines like Art Licks, spaces for artists writing about their own work,  print spaces for practice itself rather than locations for critique and review, experimental or otherwise.

The day was also a chance to pick up a copy of the broadsheet format Enclave Review, produced in Cork, edited by Fergal Gaynor and Ed Krčma and whose current issue very much places local exhibitions in an international (and often big-name) context (Issue 3 has pieces on Beuys/ Broodthaers/ Zaha Hadid/ Nancy Spero).  Like other publications here, ER seems very much to be finding a space for in depth essays on contemporary art and thinking through how that is reflected in decisions about print and online distribution (in their case, a freely distributed broadside is followed up by online PDF’s once the free print copies are no longer available).

Moving along the problematic but useful creative critical spectrum  I find Allotrope with its themed inaugural issue on Lies. Allotrope is produced through the University of Ulster, edited by Emma Dwan O’Reilly and Keith Winter, and, at least in my and several other cases, was distributed in the lift on the way up to Art Criticism Now. It takes the format of a single folded sheet which contains image-text contributions from 21 writers and artists including Amanda Coogan, Daniel Jewesbury and Douglas Park.

There is no web site for Allotrope, but a second edition on lists  (each issue is produced in a limited, numbered edition) will be published alongside University of Ulster Festival of Art & Design, Belfast, Ireland, 4 – 19th June 2011. As the images above show, it’s a lively magazine, whose single sheet format, unfolded and turned around again and again to be read, deliberately somewhat unwieldy and initially disorientating, reflects the tangled deception of its theme as it impacts on authorial voice and language.  To find out more email allotropepress@gmail.com

The two days were also a chance to catch up on the projects of Jennie Guy, with whom I collaborated on one of Reading Ensemble projects in January, and the events curator, Fiona Fullam, also responsible for the Art/Writing/Talks series in Dublin, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Bristol last fall, and which will shortly be appearing as a print publication.

Jennie Guy, Reading Ensemble II, 2011. Video Still, courtesy Russell Hart

In the galleries of Dublin there were several relationships of writing and exhibition to explore.  At Project Arts Centre, Sarah Browne’s Second Burial at Le Blanc, includes a pile of free newspapers, entitled “On Hoarding, Accumulating and Gifting: A visual essay in preparation for a film by Sarah Browne.”

Each page of the newspaper contains a photo in a sandwich of English and French language text that describes the situation in Le Blanc, a French town that has revitalised its economy by being a place where it is still possible to exchange french francs. Browne’s newspaper moves out from Le Blanc through a wider frame of quotations, notes and images on economics, globalization and the (gift) economy.

If the text is a preparation for the film, it is also catalogue, explication, handout and document. Without it there is something more surreal about the 16mm film projection of the shopkeepers procession, carefully carrying the ticker tape machine (which is also in the gallery, positioned where I might have expected the projector to be) through the town.

The show is most satisfying, however, once newspaper and film can infect each other with their different modes, combining into a parable as much, of course, about Ireland as France, the present future as the past present.

Two final projects exploring the relationshiop of writing and exhibition: tHREE THOUSAND AND NINE, is a book of short fiction alongside an exhibition by Brian Duggan, which itself has as a starting point E.M.Forster’s novella The Machine Stop.  The book feature stories by Daniel Boland, Pauline O’Hare and Niamh MacAlister, an image sequence by Duggan, and an afterword by Francis McKee, whose suggestive beginnings I could imagine being productively adapted for a future ART CRITICISM NOW:

Any unreliable history needs to duck and dive between parallel dimensions, combining improbabilities in a story that connives with its unscrupulous author. A decent account of science fiction in Ireland needs such deviance. Throwing academic propriety to the wind, imagine for a moment that the beginnings of this story could be seen as a film script. (75)

,

Finally, looking at The Author of Unusual Papers exhibition in the LAB, I noticed the text which Susan Thomson had placed on the handout for the show, and on a wall as one entered the exhibition, where it could also be listened to on several sets of headphones.

I was intrigued by the text and its multiple functions, as both a piece of critical writing, a fiction, a curatorial statement, and a script for this exhibition developed by Susan with Claire Behan, Diana Caramaschi, Monica Flynn (who maintains the contemporary art-writing blog Nelly’s Room) and Colleen Lambe. The complete text, with a short essay by Susan on and around its workings, is forthcoming on VerySmallKitchen.

NEW CHAPBOOK FROM RED CEILINGS PRESS: BLACK GARDENS

In Uncategorized on May 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm

My book BLACK GARDENS has just been published by Mark Cobley’s RED CEILINGS PRESS. It is available for online consumption and PDF download here. The full Red Ceilings Press catalogue of e-books is here.

BLACK GARDENS began with THE SHADOW OF A TRAIN exhibition/ project at the Totalkunst Gallery in Edinburgh, in June 2010, particularly a day I spent writing in the gallery as Mirja Koponen and Sara Sinclair worked on an installation.

My search for the black gardens was proving unsuccessful...

...failing to locate the public sculpture for which the black gardens were famous...

I decided not to project my writing, so whilst the artists work was public throughout the day, it was the act/image of myself writing that was public rather than the specifics of what I wrote.

I returned to this writing in April 2011. It was edited and new material was introduced. The aim is still a sense of “liveness” traceable to that original event, but this is constructed artificially through a layering of different moments.

... what I discovered was the dust jackets of books practicing yoga...

BLACK GARDENS also unfolded out of The Moth is Moth This Money Night Moth, my 2010 chapbook from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, which evidenced a concern for page/ space and for the theatrical operation/ permutation/ extension of a deliberately limited vocabulary.

BLACK GARDENS sought to open those concerns to the daily, the diaristic, rhythms of talking and thought, detail and humor. I was interested in how such garrulousness might play with a minimalist focus on the material of  letter, syllable, word and page.

I wanted a minimal that wasn’t solely about order and contemplation, but which also saw the white of the page and its spare utterances as  a site struggling for any articulation, an inelegant falling apart/ out of form and content…

In the refinement of these concerns, BLACK GARDENS also emerged via the page as simultaneously written and spoken.

... and the black gardens to be found within a self conscious melancholy...

READINGS

A constellation of texts read during the writing of this text, and/or whose reading was prompted by its completion: Rachel Lois Clapham, WORK, HARD, TRY: A (W)reading (Kaleid Editions, 2010). Online pdf here; James Davies, Plants (Reality Street Editions, 2011). See Colin Herd’s review here; Emmett Williams, A Valentine for Noël (Edition Hansjörg Mayer, Stuttgart 1973 – remaindered copies of this and other EW texts have been [May 2011] for sale in the basement of Koenig Books on Charing Cross Road).

Jonathan Williams, Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon, 2005)is a vital source for where concrete meets garrulous. See also Craig Dworkin’s Eclipse project, particularly for its PDF’s of books by Aram Saroyan and Robert Grenier.

EVENT: ART CRITICISM NOW at The LAB, Dublin 26th May

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2011 at 9:50 am
DSC_1888

Ciara Scanlan, The Product Service Company, The LAB, 2011

 

I’ve been working on a talk for the LAB Dublin’s Art Criticism Now event this Thursday. Its been a chance to think through the Lab’s own programme of commissioned writing; the broader debates and publications in the field, and the issues that have arisen in my own practice. 

I’ve also been trying to think through the implications of the various writing collectives that have informed my work of the last few years, such as Open Dialogues and Critical Writing Collective, who have recently embarked on their own research project in the field, and more broadly how to think through art criticism as part of artist-led culture rather than as the preserve of Frieze, Art Monthly, and certain supposedly hegemonic provincialities of the art market.  

A consideration of critical writing projects that orientate around a thematic or organisational identity – such as Emma Cocker’s Not Yet There or Lisa Robertson’s Office for Soft Architecture – have also been part of my project. I’ve also found the following statement by Nathalie Stephens as generative to the conditions and paradoxes of criticism as I am trying to unfold them:

my own need to very aggressively resist, or think through, what an essay is or might be and to find my own way to a text that isn’t one, that isn’t one that’s compliant with a particular form, right? That doesn’t interest me. I understand these forms viscerally. They’ve been inculcated right? But I don’t want that. So in a sense, the thing that’s internalized, the sense of having to be kicked out again, even though we can sort of agree that there’s no outside, but somehow there’s that tearing or rending that has to happen – or breach out of which might emerge this thing. That is this particular text.

SOURCE: Kate Eichorn and Heather Milne eds. Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (Coach House Books, 2009), 64-5.

 under construction 1

DSC_1584

Ciara Scanlan, The Product Service Company, The LAB, 2011

 

 

I’ll post more info here after the event, and there will also be a book from the Lab including critical writings around their exhibition programme of the last few years.

For the moment, I offer below a brief constellation of recently read texts which have opened up possibilities and situations, wondering, as James Elkins does in the O’Brien/ Khonsary anthology, at what point we stop talking about “art criticism” and start talking about something else altogether.

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https://i1.wp.com/www.sophiemellor.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/manual_close_and_remote_barrow.jpg

from Manual of Marginal Places (2011). Images Sophie Mellor and Simon Poulter

 

 SOURCES: A CONSTELLATION

 Emma Cocker and Sophie Mellor, Manual of Marginal Places (Close and Remote, 2011).

Tom Holert, Distributed Agency, Design’s Potentiality  (Civic City Cahier 3, Bedford Press, 2011).

John Kelsey, Rich Texts: Selected Writings for Art (Sternberg Press, 2010).

Chris Kraus, Where Art Belongs (Semoiotexte, 2011)

Emily Jacir and Susan Buck-Morss, 100 notes/100 Thoughts, no.4 (Documenta/ Hantje Cantz).

Melanie O’Brien & Jeff Khonsary,  Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism (Fillip, 2010).

Jane Rendell, Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism  (I.B.Tauris, 2010).

Nathaniël (Nathalie Stephens), Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book)  (Nightboat Books, 2009).

Here is the LAB’s description of the event: 

The LAB Gallery will host an event to explore, tease out and expose the current thinking around art criticism. Looking specifically at the contexts, language and forms of writing about art, reviews, as well as criticism itself, it seeks to clarify and elucidate how and whether criticism translates art works and what is lost or gained in this process. It would consider what elements critique makes visible, as well as asking how it might achieve this. What are the subtleties between review, descriptive text and criticism and how do the presentation and context (wall panels, book, newspaper, pamphlet, catalogue, online essay, etc.) of this kind of writing affect its nature and purpose.

London based writer David Berridge will give the keynote address for this seminar, which also explores what constitutes criticism, looking at alternative elements such as performance, interview, and exhibition. This is followed by an interview between critic and curator Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith and performance artist Amanda Coogan, considering the merits of having work critiqued as well as the dangers of being reductive. Following this is a panel discussion chaired by Fiona Fullam, with panellists Niamh Dunphy of Paper Visual Art Journal, Cristín Leach of The Sunday Times, James Merrigan of +BILLION- and Jason Oakley from Visual Artists Ireland and VAN. This panel discussion aims to extend the thoughts, ideas and concepts put forward by the other speakers and look specifically at the current state of art criticism in Ireland today.

This event hopes to respond to the current debate around art criticism, its nature and purpose, as well as the function of the critic, which has been considered and probed so extensively of late in journals and online. While the critique of criticism has itself a long history, still there are questions and issues which recur and which merit further discussion and investigation. Art Criticism Now aims to contribute to that continuing conversation.

To book contact Sheena Barrett at sheena.barrett@dublincity.ie
.

NEW ESSAY: RICHARD WILLIAM WHEATER’S NEON LIGHTS

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 at 6:26 am

Richard William Wheater, Neon Lights, gallery shot. All Photos: David Lindsay.

In December last year I went to Site Gallery in Sheffield to write about Richard William Wheater’s NEON LIGHTS, as one of the writing commissions alongside the gallery’s SITE PLATFORM program.

The essay is now published on the SITE website, and can be downloaded as a PDF here. In the context of the work on VerySmallKitchen, it highlights a nexus of issues around neon text art, a critique of its dependence on commercial sign makers, and the alternatives available through engaging more fully with the medium.

The commission was also a chance to unfold some connections of art writing and reportage. This emerged as a response to how Richard’s project unfolded live in the gallery space, and how the best response seemed to be to spend time in the gallery, notebook in hand (like Tom Wolfe alongside Leonard Bernstein’s grand piano in Radical Chic, although minus the suit!).

Richard William Wheater, Them and Us

Recent critical texts such as Chris Kraus’ splendid Where Art Belongs were also crucial in discovering the methodology of this text. My initial response to NEON LIGHTS had been a series of short fictional texts, only one of which is present in the version here. It was the reportage approach which I felt had balance of writer and artist appropriate to the project.

More about Richard’s work can be found here, and information on his Neon Workshops project  is here.

The essay begins:

Visitors to Richard William Wheater’s Neon Lights installation were asked for a word to be made into neon by the mobile neon making factory that occupied the SITE gallery for two weeks in December 2010. The words were written on the floor, then crossed out as they were turned into illuminated glass: SEX, MASSAGE, LAS VEGAS, BLADERUNNER, DISCO, and KEBAB. The neon imagination, it seems, has very particular ingredients, although not necessarily accurate. People think of Piccadilly Circus, Richard told me, although there is not any neon at Piccadilly Circus nowadays.

Richard’s own work has sought to think about neon as material rather than as sign. Trained as a glass maker, he founded Neon Workshops in 2008 to provide an artist friendly service for artists, and also to change a situation where most neon work in galleries is text commissioned from commercial sign makers. At the workshop, however, Richard works with skilled neon makers such as Julia Bickerstaff, who make the lettering. The proposal for Neon Lights would be Richard in the gallery for two weeks, doing everything himself. A neon installation by an artist poised between skilled professional and beginner.

The project took its title from Kraftwerk’s 1978 song, which whilst aware of the massage-scapes of neon’s Soho also expresses the character of the material itself. You don’t extrapolate at length in neon, so the (English) lyrics are repeated four times: neon lights/ shimmering neon lights/ and at the fall of night/ the city’s made of light. In the original video, which you can see on youtube, the members of Kraftwerk float in a black void, whilst the city’s neon signs float over and through them,  sometimes appearing directly out of their foreheads.

Wheater’s proposal also made me write down the words from Bruce Nauman’s neon sculpture Human/Need/ Desire (1983). Nauman’s neon lexicon, in addition to the title words, evokes Hope/ Dream/ Hunger amidst a necessary tangle of electric cables. Talking with Richard would gather a small cannon of neon work: Fiona Banner’s Every Word Unmade (Neon Alphabet) (2007), one example where an artist has made their own neon lettering, and the neon hands of Alec Finlay’s Rock, Paper, Scissors at the Northern Art Prize. Richard told me admiringly of Richard Box’s Field installation (2004), where 1301 florescent tubes were controversially powered by the electrical fields of overhead power lines.

I noted some other words on the floor that were still to be neon-ed:

ELECTROPOP
TIMES SQUARE
SEEDY BACK STREET
BURLESQUE
STRIP JOINT
FUTURE

*

Neon Lights was an installation waiting not to happen. Propane and Oxygen cylinders, naked flames, large high voltage transformers, sharp glass and mercury, make a strong list of Health and Safety issues. Mobile Neon Factory might fit a genre of temporary art architectures, but summer pavilions rarely have firm lines of black and yellow warning tape beyond which only the artist can cross. Neon Lights stretched from one end of Site gallery to the other, and, as Richard’s difficult, frustrating process of learning to make letters unfolded, there was soon lots of broken glass around too.

I watched Richard at work to get a sense of how this unfamiliar process worked. At one end of this temporary production line, neon strips are heated by a hand torch or rolling burner, then bent into the desired shapes. At the other, air is removed from the phosphor coated white tubes, making vacuums that can be filled with gas.

Argon, Richard observes, makes blue light, and is the most commonly used gas. The red of neon is too vibrant. Finished lights are laid out on the aging bed and connected to traditional coil wound transformers for ‘ageing’. Lights might fail, due to impurities or tiny cracks in the glass. When first connected the lights are dim but they soon settle as the gas reacts and warms with electricity for the first time. In theory, they could maintain this light level for a hundred years.

In Sheffield, such production is an act with resonances to the city’s industrial manufacturing past (Richard tells me about a visit from an engineering student, keen to see a now rare example of such manufacturing processes). If the words visitors provide imply certain neon associations, the in-gallery response of many visitors forgets the words altogether, absorbed more by a school chemistry class fascination with the bunsen burner’s spurting flame.

*

Selected from an open call, the Site Platform project lets artists use the gallery for up to two weeks to develop new work. Open to the public, it is both studio and exhibition, and the artist is always engaged in a kind of durational performance. Richard chats with visitors, carrying out the neon making process in front of his gallery audience, when there is one. The participatory elements are curtailed by neon’s intensive production process, not to mention flame torch and protective safety goggles.

Several of Richard’s previous explorations of neon as a material have involved performance. Neon requires it, deploying and manipulating its demand to be seen, either with or without human accompaniment. Disappearing Paths involved ladders’ of white neon and the accompanying soundtrack of Arvo Pärt’s Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977). Richard found the music “melancholy and beautiful,” in resonant juxtaposition with neon’s electrical and mechanical qualities.

Richard William Wheater, Disappearing Paths

As the music progresses it descends in scale, and the neon lights of each ladder gradually turn off. Disappearing Paths was performed twice, once at Wakefield Cathedral and again in the outdoor environment of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which Richard admits he found more exciting. “The cathedral seemed obvious” he observed. “I prefer sitting on the fence.”

Another piece, Sirens (2010) was a response to Barbara Hepworth’s 1934 sculpture Mother & Child and the context of the newly completed but then still empty Hepworth Wakefield Gallery. Richard had met two men at a cage fighting competition in Cleethorpes, who were members of a mixed martial arts club in Wakefield. They took part in the performance by wearing A boards featuring images of martial arts fighters. They walked around the space, forming tableau around Wheater, who was wearing a neon version of Hepworth’s sculpture and navigated the space by plugging himself into available power sockets. The tableau formed a shifting human-neon response to Hepworth’s stone forms, as well as the stark minimalism of the David Chipperfield designed building. “It’s unknown… senses are heightened. It’s live” says Wheater of this kind of performance.

Richard William Wheater, Sirens, 2010

As neon has to be plugged in (unless it is Box’s Field), the performance ties us to a place and time. As a neon sign blares its message simply into the darkness, this sort of performance orientates around a single gesture and idea unfolding in time, an experiential equivalent to neon’s own directness. Within this time, we move beyond the “neon as sign.” Neon begins to illuminate a different kind of private, shadow space, that in the meanings it produces might not have anything to do with actual light or some metaphorical “illumination.” Neon’s paradoxes begin to be made (in-)visible.

It doesn’t involve neon, but this is also the space of Richard’s Them & Us. In various locations around the UK, glass birds were made in a mobile kiln, then “set free.” A glass seagull for South Shields, a common house sparrow at Ferrybridge Power Station in West Yorkshire, crows in the New Forest and a swallow in Leicester. “It was filled with the breath of my lungs, and still it would not fly!” was Richard’s byline for the project. If the clarity of the gestures survives such dramaturgy, the glass birds, obviously, do not.

Continue reading here.

CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS: VerySmallKitchen SUMMER SCHOOL, EDINBURGH, 7-10 AUGUST 2011

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

The VerySmallKitchen Summer School will take place at the Totalkunst Gallery, Edinburgh, between August 7-10th 2011. Participants are sought for a small group of practitioners who will work together for three days in the Totalkunst Gallery space, as well as devise and participate in evening events.

The summer school is part of a two week text festival curated by VerySmallKitchen and Mirja Koponen/ Totalkunst Gallery. Participants will also be invited to contribute to a final weekend of exhibitions, performances and conversations on 19-20 August.

VerySmallKitchen will present a number of sessions that unfold from its recent work, including sessions on minimalist poetry, documentary poetics, poets theatre, and boundaries of experimental poetics and art practice. We seek proposals for further sessions/ workshops/ group projects that could take place in the Totalkunst Gallery space.

The final form of the Summer School will unfold from the work proposed and the interests of the group. We welcome proposals that unfold connections of language, writing and art practice, and hope to explore a range of contemporary and historical practices for consideration alongside those of the participants themselves.

Participants should be able to attend all four days of the Summer School, beginning with an opening event on the evening of the 7th. There is no charge for participation. Participants are responsible for arranging their own accommodation. Please note that the event takes place during the Edinburgh Festival, so this should be booked as soon as possible.

Whilst we wish the project to be as open access as possible, the size of the Totalkunst Gallery means places are strictly limited.

TO APPLY: Please send an email outlining the reasons for your interest in the summer school, and include a proposal (250-500 words) for a session you would like to run, to David Berridge verysmallkitchen@gmail.com.  Proposals will be accepted and responded to ongoingly from today until spaces are full.

*

Mirja Koponen, Dispersals, Totalkunst Gallery, 2010

The I AM NOT A POET festival as a whole is still taking shape but here is a rough outline of the structure:

From 7th-21st August Totalkunst Galley and VerySmallKitchen present I AM NOT A POET, a two week project exploring relationships of language, writing and art practice, through a mix of open call, curated and invited work.

I AM NOT A POET has three parts. From 7th to 10th the VerySmallKitchen Summer School makes the gallery space into work space/ exhibition for  exploring a wide range of language based art practice. Between 11th and 18th, the Totalkunst Gallery space has been offered to a range of individuals and groups for 1-3 day “micro-exhibitions.” Artists have been asked to consider how the Totalkunst Gallery can be a generative space in which to produce and show work, emphasizing both display and discussion.

On 19-20 August I AM NOT A POET will conclude with a two day exhibition-event that unfolds from the two weeks, including work by participants on the summer school and contributions from invited participants from Edinburgh’s poetry and art scenes.

I AM NOT A POET is collaboration between David Berridge (VerySmallKitchen) and Mirja Koponen (Totalkunst Gallery).

DEMOTIC ARCHIVES OF ART WRITING (7): JEROME ROTHENBERG on ROBERT MOTHERWELL’S THE DADA PAINTER AND POETS

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

A previous Demotic Archive text-gathering- on artists (mis)understandings of Lenin – included material from Robert Motherwell’s 1951 anthology The Dada Painter’s and Poets. I wanted to unfold further the influence of this book, forming a sense of how it was read and utilised by new generations of poets and artists upon publication.

What follows is a gathering of poetic and discursive materials as “a starter” on this topic selected and written by Jerome Rothenberg, who observes in an email 12/03/11:

… yes, there is in fact a great deal that I could say, with Motherwell’s book as a point of departure.  When David Antin and I first sat down with it, shortly after it appeared, what it opened up was both surprising and needed as a way into a kind of poetry and art that we and others were soon exploring or maybe re-exploring.  Before that Dada was something that would turn up in what were already historical accounts of experimental modernism but it was really Dada Painters & Poets that began to flesh it out for us.

The materials below begin with three poems from Rothenberg’s THAT DADA STRAIN collection, with its varying, exploratory proximities  to the ideas, personalities, languages, and histories of Dada. Two discursive pieces then provide (1) a poetic- historical overview and  (2) a trajectory from Dada through Kurt Schwitters, Eugene Gomringer and Seneca singer and ritualist Richard Johnny John…

I also read these materials in relation to two further quotations. The first is Anne Waldman’s comment on the “various trajectories of collaboration” the Motherwell anthology demonstrates.  The other is Brion Gysin’s recollection to Nicholas Zurbrugg:

Everytime we met [in the late 50s in Paris], Tzara would whine, “Would you be kind enough to tell me just why your young friends insist on going back over the ground we covered in 1920?” What could I say, except, “Perhaps they feel you did not cover it thoroughly enough.” Tzara snorted: “We did it all! Nothing has advanced since Dada – how could it!”

*

THAT DADA STRAIN

the zig zag mothers of the gods
of science       the lunatic fixed stars
& pharmacies
fathers who left the tents of anarchism
unguarded
the arctic bones
strung out on saint germain
like tom toms
living light bulbs
aphrodisia
“art is junk” the urinal
says “dig a hole
“& swim in it”
a message from the grim computer
“ye are hamburgers”

 

 

 

A GLASS TUBE ECSTASY, FOR HUGO BALL
Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, 1916

A glass tube
for my leg    says Hugo Ball
my hat a cylinder
in blue & white
the night    the german ostriches    the sink
he pisses in
all these become his world
his dada song, begun there
holds the image
until it comes at us:
the image from its cross
looks down:
a ribbon
a revolver
mud
these contribute
to his death
also to what his death contributes
later, too hysterical
too sick with god
& time:
a carousel
a roasted poet
fish
the queen says to his mind
& enters
where the street of mirrors starts
she sees his face
reflected
in hunger of the world
as pain, the consciousness
of death    not why we die
bit why we dream about it
& why our dreams can’t save
the dying remnant
Hugo
as I write this poem
the voice cries
from a further room
the dancer / singer calls me
from a further room
I step into an obelisk
below the waist
my mouth opens to sing
but freezes
shut
in grief for you
ombula
tak-e
bitdli
solunkola
the collapse of language
tabla tokta tokta takabala
taka tak
a glass tube ecstasy
escapes from time
babula m’balam
the image & the word
over your bed
hang    crucified
again the cabaret explodes
again again
fatigue
one
foot
in glass
a glass nerve
&
a priestly gas pump
pulls
her hair out

 

 

 

THE HOLY WORDS OF TRISTAN TZARA

sad in his world
or in yours
he walks for years beside
the economic lilies
explores the mysteries of bread
a wax archangel
stands on his tongue
his hands     cold     dry
deprived of water
in the room under the room
where Lenin sat
aromas of Bukovina gather
Moinesti with its corn mush
brinza cheese
petroleum
redheaded Leah
like a hungry wolf
the word he dreams is
dada
dada ice
dada piano
dada flower
dada tears
dada pendulum
dada vanilla
dada don quixote
dada humid
dada archipelago
dada pharmacy
dada sexenial
dada dichotomous
dada dichroic
dada dicrotic
dada didactic
dada didelphian
dada diluvial
dada dingdong
the fur of dada stretched out in the sun
dada on a hill old fox old dada
sammy rosenstock alive old exile
got Zurich on my mind
glass toys betwixt the stars with chains
electric flags & posters
“logic is a complication!
“logic is always wrong!
cries dada
holy cow
o cube
o hobby horse
the freedom first encountered in
first trip to Zurich
ghosts drunk on energy
they pulled the bells of war down
martyred the cabaret
until it exploded
like yiddish dada in the street
the overture to cheese
o Sammy brother
the sad one of your tribe
you said: disgust
you sat next to the photo of
redheaded Leah
under the axe & clock
your monocle hung from your vest
red life grew distant
in the room where Lenin sat
the walls sang politics to us
his nurse’s name was “dada”
so was yours
& sputtered poetry
redbellies laughing thru empty skulls
“my name is Sammy Rosenstock
“Samiro
“is later Tristan Tzara
“I am so sad with life
“I love it
“I am of course Rumanian
“I allow myself to contradict
“I put an owl in a hexagon
“I climb on the stage
“I’m prim
“I’m formal
“I applaud the revolution
“the hands of bandits
“blind worms & dada nightmares
“invade your bowels
” messiahs are passee
“the word we dream is
“dada
“dada sweepeth out
“dada teareth linens
“rips clouds & prayers to shreds
“thou rides on hiccups
“dada has a balcony
“we squat there     pregnant birds
“we shit on thine umbrella
“dada
“dada is against the future
“dada lives
“in fire          wisdom      fear
“– is fear of dada
“like a star? —
“no           like a fish      a plant      the moon
“a metal word
“distorted      boiling
“illumines the urethra
” sixty fingers on each arm
“I am a monster too
“I play with cushions
singing
singing
like hymns of queens
the eye of Lenin
now so wide
pushes the curtains
the chess game opens like a poem
metaphysics of perdition
rules them
tired of the stars
his horse eats colored snakes
o angel horse
on thee rides Hugo Ball
himself an angel horse
here Huelsenbeck & Jung walk
here Arp
here Janco
here kings of Zanzibar
here april nuns
here Tristan Tzara
ghost of Abulafla no ghost
he makes his buttocks jump
like belly of oriental queen
madonna face of Emmy Hennings
a silent fiddle
cuts the room in two
Hugo like a mannikin
at piano
stammers      yodels      farts in rhyme
in lusts of sabbath
— hiccups —
— bowwows —
dusts off the mask of dada
cardboard horsehair leather wire cloth
wears dada collars      dada boots
cothurnus of a bishop
lesbian sardines
ecstatic mice
vanilla derbies
from comers of Cabaret Voltaire
how many kings crow?
how many krazy kittens
cry for you?
how many centuries between
Zurich & Moinesti?
how many grandfathers?
how many clicks before the poem ends?
how much incesticide?
how many accordions to serenade
redheaded Leah?
belated
Lenin dies
brave gymnasts march again
thru workers’ suburbs
Stalin’s moustache adrift
— o feckless future —
writes Mandelstam:
“huge laughing
“cockroaches on his lip
“the glimmer of his boot-rims
“scum & chicken necks
“half human
“the executions slide across his tongue
“like berries
o revolutions of the fathers
you tease us back to death
pink sands of California
line my coast
saloons & oracles
stemming the tide
can’t end it
you are dead
& dada life is growing
from your monocle
ignored      exalted
you lead me to my future
making poems together
flames & tongues      we write
like idiots
ballets of sperm
a brain song for the new machine
squadrons of princes pissing in the street
— intensity      disgust —
an empty church from which
you drew the drapes back
the face of Jesus on each drape
“on each Jesus was my heart”
you wrote
messiah of stale loaves
of frogs in shoes
god dada
messiahs are passee
there is no greater saviour
than this      no eye
so credible
your fart that night was luminous
it stoked the cannons
thruout Europe
in the bus to Amsterdam
in Missouri in Brazil in the Antilles
in a bathrobe
under your bed the shadows massed
like sleeping robbers
the moon became our moon
again o moon
over Moinesti
o moon of tiny exiles
moustaches of antelopes we eat
& cry out “fire”
“water”
“avalanche”
a swamp of stars waits
toads squashed flat against
red bellies
at center of a dream
— magnetic eyes —
whose center is a center
& in the center
is another center
& in each center is a center
& a center on each center
centered
centering
composed by centers
like earth
the brain
the passage to other worlds
passage to something sad
lost dada
an old horse rotting in the garden
maneless      waiting
for the full moon
someone leaps into the saddle
rushes after you
exuding light

 

PROLOGUE TO DADA


“You are mistaken if you take Dada for a modern school, or as a reaction against the schools of today. … Dada is not at all modern.  It is more in the nature of an almost Buddhist religion of indifference. … The true Dadas are against Dada.” (Tristan Tzara)

Which was Tzara’s way of proclaiming Dada’s postmodernity — not as chronology but as an irritation (a disgust) with solutions altogether (“no more solutions! no more words!”) & with prescriptions (old or new) for making art.  It is important to remember: that at the heart of Dada was a pullback from the absolute: from closed solutions based on single means: not a question of technique, then, but of a way of being, a state-of-mind (of “spirit”), “a stance” (: Charles Olson, decades later) “toward reality.”  For which the only technique was the suppression of technique, the only sense of form was to deny form as a value.  And for all of that, Dada drew from means that were common to its time & to its predecesors in Futurism & Expressionism: a series of projects it would work on until its own (predicted) self-destruction as a movement.  Collage.  Performance.  New Typographies.  Chance operations.  And a high devouring humor.

At the same time Dada had its myth(s) of origin.  Its time was one of war, its place the neutral heart of Europe.  In Zurich, then, a group of artists/poets, brought together by a flight from war & time, set up a venue of their own (the Cabaret Voltaire) & took a name at total variance with the names that came before (expressionism, futurism, constructivism, orphism, etc.).  Their strategy was what a later poet (E. Sanders) would call “a total assault on the culture” — or in the words of one of their own (R. Huelsenbeck) “the liberation of the creative forces from the tutelage of the advocates of power.”  From Zurich the movement dispersed to Germany & France & elsewhere: a first international & generational outcry, by means of art & at the same time making Art (with capitals) its central target.  The “official” German version lurched toward a leftist politics, while the French, holding the center of European modernism, turned Dada into Surrealism (1924) & brought the movement to an end.  With that turning came a realignment with Art or an attempt to conquer Art’s domain: a sense that Dada-qua-Surrealism — like Dada-qua-Bolshevism in Berlin — was itself a solution rather than a challenge to all possible solutions, Dada included.  But the Surrealist accomodation — if it was that — was mild compared to other attempts to rein in the revolutionary nature of the new poetry & art, in favor of a middle-ground & fashionable modernism.  Through all of which, Dada remained a lurking presence, erupting from then to now in a string of neo-Dadaisms, the careers of which will be charted in the volume still to follow.

As with other “movements” before & after, Dada was largely the work of poets or of those who saw in poetry a liberating gesture setting it apart from that of Art.  Of the poets in the Zurich group, Hugo Ball was the founder of the Cabaret Voltaire & of the first Dada magazine, with which it shared its name; he claimed — in a Dada act that turned into a kind of mystic seizure (see below) — to have invented a new “poetry without words,” but fled Zurich shortly thereafter to live out his life in the Swiss mountains, as a kind of Catholic Dada saint.  Tristan Tzara (b. Sammi Rosenstock in Rumania) was — at nineteen — the movement’s principal publicist & its link to the Dada poets of Paris (Breton, Soupault, Peret, Picabia, et al.), some of whom would be, in turn, the founding fathers of Surrealism.  In a similar vein, Richard Huelsenbeck brought Dada to Berlin & a new life at the edge of postwar German politics.  Less overtly political, the work of a number of other German & Dutch Dadas (Kurt Schwitters, who changed his movement’s name to Merz; Hans Arp; Max Ernst; Theo van Doesburg, working through the Dutch De Stijl) crossed notably into poetry, with Schwitters & Arp approaching major status as new language artists.  Finally, New York Dada (so-called) virtually preceded that of Zurich & focused, oddly, on such European expatriates — circa World War One & early 1920s — as Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Else von Freytag-Loringhoven.  Like Futurism & Surrealism, the movement also had worldwide implications.

EXCERPT FROM “THE SIBILA INTERVIEW”

(with Charles Bernstein, Regis Bonvicino, Marjorie Perloff, Cecilia Vicuña)

Marjorie Perloff: How has translation of German Dada and Concrete poetry – Schwitters, Ball, Jandl, etc.— influenced your own poetry? Does it seem more congenial to you than French Dada?

Among the Dadas, Schwitters was clearly the one with whom I had the most extended encounter through translation, while the Concrete poet on whom I worked extensively wasn’t Jandl so much as Gomringer.  With Ball the only kind of translation I attempted was a performance of his soundwork, Karawane, which I slipped into my own performance of That Dada Strain.  The translations also included a smaller group from French-language poets such as Tzara and Picabia, but it was That Dada Strain, the whole series of poems, that was as much my response as the translations.

Back in the late 50s or early 60s, when Motherwell’s big Dada book opened me up to Dada, I thought that what was needed was a gathering of actual poems.  Motherwell had presented very few of those, and so I announced that I was preparing an anthology to be called That Dada Strain and to be published by my press, Hawk’s Well.  I translated a handful from Tzara, Arp, Schwitters, Huelsenbeck, and Picabia, but the press didn’t last and I got otherwise diverted.  I didn’t really come back to anything like that until sometime in the 70s, and That Dada Strain, as it emerged then, was a series of poems addressed to the Dada poets – transcreations of a sort, to use Haroldo De Campos’s term.  Translations and appropriations were embedded or collaged in some of the poems, and sound poems and  actual translations were sometimes included in performance versions.

In doing that I don’t think I was so much favoring German Dada as Zürich Dada – not least of all because the antiwar and transnational stance of the Zürich exiles corresponded to my own feelings about Vietnam and the Vietnam aftermath – about the whole twentieth-century experience of war and repression if it came to it.  Even so, Paris is very much there in the two opening poems, as well as Schwitters’ Germany in the poem addressed to him.  It was Schwitters too on whom I focused later – by way of translation – because I saw him as an experimental extremist whose work coincided with much in our own time but had never been translated and carried over into English.  (Except by him, of course, when he was in exile in England.)  That Schwitters was himself a victim of war and fascism also had an appeal to me.

What I did with Schwitters was both to translate him and to follow him into performance.  I also tried to bring him forward as a precursor of concrete poetry, but his concrete poems like his sound poems and his poems in English needed no translation.  Where I got into the translation of concrete poetry was with Gomringer – a whole book of poems translated into English as a kind of primer, I thought, not only of Gomringer’s poetry but of the fundamentals of translation, operating in an area of minimal poetry that seemed to eschew translation.  Even more of a transcreation for me was a series of ritual songs that I translated from the Seneca Indian “society of the mystic animals.”  I had collected these in a collaboration with the Seneca singer and ritualist, Richard Johnny John, and I wanted a way to show the sophistication of the apparently minimal use of words and vocables (“meaningless” sounds) in Seneca chanting.   Instead of setting up a song poem like this

 

A POEM FOR THE MYSTIC ANIMALS

 

The animals are coming
He-eh-eh-heh

I set it up like this:

 

HEHEHHEH

HEHEHHEH

The animals are coming     HEHUHHEH

HEHEHHEH

HEHEHHEH

 

The results, I thought, followed along the lines of what Ernest Fenollosa, early in the game and speaking of something quite different, had called “a brilliant flash of concrete poetry.”

*

SOURCES: “THAT DADA STRAIN”, “A GLASS TUBE ECSTASY, FOR HUGO BALL,” and “THE HOLY WORDS OF TRISTAN TZARA”  are from  That Dada  Strain (New Directions, New York,  1983).

PROLOGUE TO DADA appears in  Poems for the Millenium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Press, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995), whilst the concluding Excerpt From the Sibila Interview appears in Poetics and Polemics 1980-2005 (University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2008).

The quote from Anne Waldman is from her Vow to Poetry: Essays, Interviews and Manifestos (Coffee House Press, Saint Paul), 2001 319. That by Bryon Gysin is from Nicholas Zurbrugg ed. Art, Performance, Media: 31 Interviews (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis), 190.

See Jerome Rothenbergs POEMS AND POETICS blog archive here and the UBU Web ethnopoetics gallery here.

DEMOTIC ARCHIVES OF ART WRITING (6): THE ARTISTS LENIN

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2011 at 12:22 am

 

The latest installment of the Demotic Archives – in which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin offers a set of resources for art writing – developed alongside I DID NOT KNOW THAT LENIN WAS LENIN, my current commission for the Merzman festival in Manchester.

As part of this project I began to explore how Lenin was/is figured in numerous texts by artists, writers and philosophers (both his contemporaries and our own). The quotations that follow chart a certain “artists’ Lenin” emergent through the work of Viktor Shklovsky (quoting Maxim Gorky), Sergei Eisenstein, “the young Roumanian Marcu”, and Dziga Vertov.

The Lenin that unfolds from these writings is, of course, highly partial and radically different to the Lenin of Lenin’s own writings, or of most historical account. Read in this way, the quotes propose a  figure of Lenin composed of the radical (or not) nature of art practice, and the artists “eccentric” or otherwise stance-in-relation to reality… The images for this post are stills from Vertov’s Three Songs About Lenin (1934).

This gathering also suggests how notions of legacy between artists – and between art, literature and politics – might be operating. The story by Marcu is quoted in and from the introduction to the Robert Motherwell edited The Dada Painters & Poets: An Anthology, a text with a history of influence and appropriation amongst artists and writers in New York and elsewhere, upon its publication in 1951 (a future post of the Demotic Archive will explore this influence further).

This sixth installment of the Demotic Archive concludes with Antonio Negri, whose The Porcelain Workshop: For A New Grammer of Politics, is a key text for the movement of philosophical ideas and methods into writing and art practices. The Negri quote here is from the first chapter of Porcelain. Negri is responding specifically to Lenin, and the “impasse” around conceptions of power in both Lenin, Max Weber and Carl Schmitt…

1. VIKTOR SHKLOVSKY

“It so happened that we had a free evening in London, and a small group of us went to a music hall, a small democratic theater. Vladimir Ilyich laughed easily and infectiously on watching the clowns and vaudeville acts, but he was only mildly interested in the rest. He watched with special interest as workers from British Columbia felled trees. The small stage represented a lumber yard, and in front, two hefty fellows within a minute chopped down a tree of about one meter circumference.

“‘ Well, of course, this is only for the audience. They can’t really work that fast, ‘ said Ilyich. ‘But, it’s obvious that they do work with axes there, too, making worthless chips out of the bulk of the tree. Here you have your cultured English-men!’

“He started talking about the anarchy of production under capitalism and ended by expressing regret that nobody had yet thought of writing a book on the subject. I didn’t quite follow this line of reasoning, but I had no time to question Vladimir Ilyich because he switched to an interesting dicussion on ‘eccentrism’ as a special form of theater art.

“‘ There is a certain satirical and skeptical attitude to the conventional, an urge to turn it inside out, to distort it slightly in order to show the illogic of the usual. Intricate but interesting.’

SOURCE: Viktor Shklovsky, Mayakovsky and his Circle (Pluto Press, London, 1972), 116-17. The story here is Shklovsky’s quotation of a text by Gorky.

2. SERGEI EISENSTEIN

“I have seen the Montagues in a tiny theater in Paris, the very same Montagues whom Vladimir Ilyich Lenin crossed the whole city to see…” (78)

“I notice with astonishment that today’s student, freed from the study of religious instruction reveals the same hostility to the study of dialectics. And I believe this is because, in the process of teaching this almighty shining miaculous method of cognition,  the heavy hands of our sophists, catechists, Plisses and Perekhavalskys are too often laid on it.

Instead of an all-penetrating science, as it was understood and presented by Lenin; a science invoking us to study and reveal its nature and essence everywhere, in everything and over everything (“Begin with the most simple, ordinary, mass-evident, etc., from any premises: the leaves of the tree are green; Ivan is a man; Zhuchka is a dog, etc. Already here, as the genius of Hegel noted, is dialectics…”). Instead of this, the boring catechists, pettifogging pedants, and casuists come to the institutes, and in their hands the living spirit of the sorceress Dialectics disappears. All that remains is an indigestible skeleton of paragraphs, abstract propositions, and the perpetual motion of the vicious circle of once-and-for-all chosen quotations. (204)

SOURCE: Sergei Eisenstein, Immoral Memories: An Autobiography (Peter Owen, London, 1985).

3. YOUNG ROUMANIAN MARCU

When we left the restaurant, it was late in the afternoon. I walked home with Lenin.

“ ‘You see.’ he said, ‘why I take my meals here. You get to know what people are really talking about. Nadezhda Konstantinova is sure that only the Zurich underworld frequents this place, but I think she is mistaken. To be sure, Maria is a prostitute. But she does not like her trade. She has a large family to support – and that is no easy matter. As to Frau Prellog, she is perfectly right. Did you hear what she said! Shoot all the officers!

“ ‘Do you know the real meaning of this war?’

“‘ What is it?’ I asked.

“‘It is obvious,’he replied. ‘One slaveholder, Germany, who owns one hundred slaves, is fighting another slaveholder, England, who owns two hundred slaves, fora fairer distribution of the slaves.’

“‘ How can you expect to foster hatred of this war,’ I asked at this point, ‘ if you are not, in principle, against all wars? I thought that as a Bolshevik you were really a radical thinker and refused to make any compromise with the idea of war. But by recognizing the validity of some wars, you open the doors for every opportunity. Every group can find some justification of the particular war of which it approves. I see that we young people can only count on ourselves…’

“Lenin listened attentively, his head bent toward me. He moved his chair closer to mine… Lenin must have wondered whether he should continue to talk with this boy or not. I, somewhat awkwardly, remained silent.

“‘Your determination to rely upon yourselves,’ Lenin finally replied, ‘is very important. Every man must rely upon himself. Yet he should also listen to what informed people have to say. I don’t know how radical you are or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. Once can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself…’”

4. DZIGA VERTOV

I’ve managed to make Three Songs About Lenin (at least to some degree) accessible and comprehensible to millions. But not at the price of cinematographic language, and not by abandoning the principles which had been formulated earlier. No one would demand this of us.

The important thing is not to separate form from content. The secret lies in unity of form and content. In refraining from shocking the spectator by introducing objects or devices that are unnatural or extraneous to the work. In 1933, while thinking about Lenin, I decided to draw from the source of the people’s creative folklore about Lenin. I would like to keep on working in this direction.

If he saw darkness, he created light.
From the desert, he made orchards.
From death – life.

or

A million sand grains make a dune.
A million peas make a bushel.
A million weak – a great strength.

Are these images and songs of nameless poets of the people any poorer than the images of the most refined formal works?

The subject in which I am working is the least studied, the most highly experimental subject of cinematography.

The road along which I am going, in an organizational, technical, down-to-earth manner, and in all other senses, demands superhuman efforts. It is a thankless and, believe me, a very difficult road.

But I am hopeful that, in my field, I will be able to defeat formalism, to defeat naturalism, to become a poet not for the few but for the ever increasing millions.

It is far from simple to show the truth.
But truth itself is simple.

SOURCE: “The Writings of Dziga Vertov”, in P.Adams Sitney, Film Culture: An Anthology (Secker and Warburg,1971), 364-5.

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5. ANTONIO NEGRI

We are faced with a double impasse that seems to impose a necessary choice between two possibilities. The first consists in taking power and becoming another power, that is to say, inescapably remaining a power. The second attempts to totally deny the power exerted over life, and therefore emerges as a negation of life itself. From this point of view, the concept of proletarian power that we find in Lenin is completely symmetrical to that of bourgeois power. The concept of liberation is caught in the vise of power. Might we not imagine, on the contrary, that freedom, singularity and potency (puissance) come about as radical difference from power? (17-18)

SOURCE: Antonio Negri, The Porcelain Workshop: For A New Grammar of Politics (semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2008).

VSK GALLERY: EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY: THE VISUAL ART OF JOHN CAGE

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm

My essay on EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY: THE VISUAL ART OF JOHN CAGE has just been published in The Fanzine here. Entitled NEW POETHIC FOLK CULTURES OF JOHN CAGE GO LARGE it begins as follows:

Still trying to hold in mind the experience of viewing Every Day is a Good Day, the show of John Cage’s visual art, first seen at BALTIC in Newcastle last summer, and now touring the UK. Or, rather, keep some memory of the show in dialogue with the reproductions in the catalogue; hold to its distinctiveness whilst seeing it alongside Cage’s music and writing; unfold its specifics without losing sense of the contemporary. A relationship to Cage in 2011, as always, is a shifting, complex thing.

The show itself has developed its own strategies for negotiating between process and object, the somewhat occasional role of visual art in Cage’s practice and the central focus such a monographic exhibition bestows. As conceived by the artist Jeremy Millar it has adopted Cage’s own structure, developed for Rolywholyover A Circus at MOCA, Los Angeles in 1993, of a “composition for museum” that sought to ensure no two visits encountered the same exhibition….

Continue reading over at The Fanzine here. Before you go, VerySmallKitchen offers a sampler of EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY, sequenced less according to methods of chance circus than via the images available from the Hayward Press Office.

EVERY DAY IS A GOOD DAY is at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow 19 February-2nd April 2011, and at the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill on Sea, 16 April-5 June 2011.

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IMAGE CREDITS (FROM TOP): Mushroom Book Plate X (with Lois Long and Alexander H. Smith), 1972  Colour lithograph; Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel, 1969. Lithograph on Black Paper; River Rocks and Smoke: 4-11-90 #1, 1990;  Score Without Parts (40 Drawings by Thoreau): Twelve Haiku, 1978. Hard-ground etching, soft-ground etching, photoetching, drypoint, sugar aquatint, and engraving; Dramatic Fire, 1989. Aquatint on smoked paper; Where There is Where There – Urban Landscape, No.27, 1987- 89. Flat bite etching with aquatint. Courtesy Crown Point Press; New River Watercolour Series IV, No.6, 1988. Watercolour on paper; New River Watercolour Series I, No.3, 1988. Watercolour on paper; HV2, No. 17b, 1992. Aquatint (using twenty-four plates). Courtesy Crown Point Press; Global Village 37-48 (Diptych), 1989. Aquatint on brown smoked paper; Dereau, No.11, 1982. Colour photoetching with engraving, drypoint and aquatint; 75 Stones, 1989. Aquatint on smoked paper; 10 Stones, 1989. Colour soap ground aquatint and spit bite aquatint on smoked paper; (7R)/15 (Where R=Ryoanji), August 1983. Pencil on Japanese handmade paper. Courtesy Ray Kass; Where R=Ryoanji: R3, 1983. Drypoint. Courtesy Henning Lohner. All images © The John Cage Trust.

 

VSK PROJECT: SANDRA HUBER SLEEP/ WRITING/ ROOMS (3)

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 at 9:03 pm

[Free Writing from the Sleep Room]

05.07.10

[verbatim] If I could cross time. Beckett writes, “straggling grey moustache and hunted look.” A good way to describe. It is 22:07. Not yet time, the registration does not start for another hour. Black nails. Clock ring. Blue pen. Glowing finger. Red. Lamp x 2, 2 x on. White blanket. White room. Eye in the sky directly in front of me & omniscient. “Watch the television, you’re on vacation.” “But to me this is work.” Structures repeat & give, with only a small space of tenure. I forget words lately. Keep wanting to write, “she winged into the room.” Volcanic ash fastens these electrodes to my head. “She winged into the volcano.” How does one write when one’s being winged into a volcano? Only urgent words. Punctuation gets thrown to the sidelines. A bird in the falafel restaurant, it brushed up against me. One of those small precious things, I felt the flutter of its wings against my ankle & N. said, “that’s for your dreams tonight.”  But Faulkner, I was thinking of Faulker repeating “attenuation” in Absolom, Absolom! again and again & at 1st you think it’s because he’s forgetting that he’s used it, but then, he points to it at one point. He says something like “‘attenuation’, a better word ,” – something like that – it’s a wonderful moment, you see that he chooses it and no other. And that’s the key: that a word itself can become a character. Also a sentence, if repeated enough. This, this, this. Character is repetition of structure. I am wrapped in special kinds of tapes & wires. I am islanded w/i this exoskeleton of measurement. A half an hour has passed. Not quite enough. What is it to wake & write. Perhaps I will try tonight. The room is on the cool side. My apartment lies alone, uninhabited, away from my restless sleeps & somnamulent wakings. What extents do we go to for material. What is this material for? All this stuff. Who. What. Nohow On is Beckett’s book here in front of me under the writing pad. Indeed. “Bonjour,” Nessie says outside to one of the patients. 4 of us here tonight, I only know of 1 other. I heard him through the wall. An American guy. Here for epilepsy I think. All those delicate wires. I found a blonde hair amongst them. Remnant of 1 who has been here before. Blonde hair, feathers, brushing against. One of the small, delicate ones. There are so many textures in this room, a corrugated plastic that looks like a snake shedding. The EMG tight around my ribcage reads

Embla

patient unit

“You can be  my first patient,” she said at the beginning of the night. Pathologized from the getgo, though I am only here to. Writing as pathology. So we have: the bird at the falafel place (brushing), word as character, my right index finger glowing red. Faulkner & ‘attenuate’, McCarthy, this amazing sentence in the opening of The Road – something about a spider. He takes from what he knows & he makes it into these delicately wrought epics. So much attention to each little thing. 10:49 & still on the page. Maybe this is how to write. Extreme situations. Embla Patient Unit. Islanded. Patiented. Pathological. Slightly chilly. My task here is to sleep. No computer. Black lines coming through this white page, penned. Biking through Kreuzberg is where I felt most free. To go straight into sleep from writing, when is the last time I’ve done that. Writing –> then straight into sleep. Glowing red finger. Experience as character. Vice versa. To write in the you & have it be spoken aloud (11 :00) would give the idea of a voice talking to the one who looks upon the writing. Beckett: “what an additional company that would be! A voice in the first person singular. Murmuring now and then, yes I remember” (13). Images are sentences. I look at myself from the inside, not the out. Sleep: is also looking from the inside & yet I must compose from the out. How do I get in? Not unless I am asleep. And yet to record sleep in words from the outside, words, which are always awake, does it even make sense. The images are an algorithm. Imagist. McCarthy’s spider. Faulkner’s ‘attenuation’, Beckett’s play with ‘you’ ‘I’ ‘he’ so that the ‘I’ dissolves. I in the sky. Filmed. There are no windows in this room of walls.

—–

FYI

“… a (you couldn’t call it a period because as he remembered it or as he told grandfather he did, it didn’t have either a definite beginning or a definite ending. Maybe attenuation is better) – an attenuation from a kind of furious inertness and patient immobility…” (Faulkner Ab, Ab !)

“And to the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders” (McCarthy The  Road)

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Sketch by Gilles Boss. Note: in the installation, the projector is meant to go behind the mattresses, not in front.


You walk into a simple black room with a curtain entrance and lie down on one of the mattresses provided. You look up. There’s a video projected onto a white ceiling and a small mirror angled down towards you. It looks like jagged brainwaves are passing across a large computer screen and you can see them pass across your body, too, in the reflection.

There is a layering of voices surrounding you inside the black room, female, somehow connected to the brainwaves. You realize it is words. In the shape of waves. The voices are repetitive, at times a whisper. Every once in a while a single word or a fragment crests from the waves, and you can read something; sometimes, amongst the voices, you can listen in, understand; the two connect.

The video seems to loop and repeat, and you get the feeling of being trapped in the middle of a very small apperture of space that is somehow unfathomable. The time at the top of the screen shows no more than minutes, very early in the morning, but its seconds seem to stretch out forever.

When you emerge from the black room, you are asked what the words said and what the voices said and you find this difficult to describe.

 

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This is the last of three posts that comprise Sandra Huber’s SLEEP/ WRITING/ ROOMS. Part 1 is here and Part 2 here.