January 04, 2005

The Red Pill or The Blue Pill

In 1916 Eric Satie performed his work 'musique d'ameublement', literally furniture music; music heard but not listened to. It was the first ever muzak; Satie foreseeing the time when our lives would be filled with unheeded music. While ignoring this contemporary sound track most of the time, we are conscious that it is there, neutered, affecting our moods, altering our behaviour – driving us to consume. This musical accompaniment is a new phenomenon – less than one hundred years old; in a same period of time, the textual has become furniture text, text seen but not read – logos, signs, advertisements, labels – affecting our moods, altering our behaviour, constructing our experience of reality.
Morpheus: I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he's expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind – driving you mad. In every moment of your waking life you can see a text – this page. Look up from this page – in any glance in any direction you will see another text. You are immersed in text. You describe your experience to yourself in language and every aspect of your visual field is labelled, text-overlaid. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
From advertising to road signs, from logos
to global branding to digital communications,
text forms the visual and linguistic background to everyone’s existence. Once
poets were seen as developers of language and ideas,
the creators of new ways of thinking and expressing,
but now poets are irrelevant except as marginal entertainers or advertisement copy-writers.
Faced with a modern world where the written word
or sign consumes and clutters virtually every environment,
how can poets and text artists work with language? In what gap can it be used without it being appropriated to sell something or, as George Orwell observed in The Prevention of Literature, without "turn[ing] the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official, working on themes handed down from above and never telling what seems to him the whole of the truth".
It is at this point in the classic sci-fi film, Matrix, where Morpheus offers the choice between the red pill and the blue pill. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. The narrative (and canon) you are given. The structures that offer comfort and conformity. The return to the tyranny of the familiar. The warm voice of the personal poem, self-reflexivity without knowledge.
The crowds’ horror at the gait of a mistake.
"In a passionate age, the crowd would cheer his courage and tremble
as he tried to reach it. But in an age without passion,
people would agree that it was unreasonable to venture out so far,
and think each other clever
for figuring this out.
admire ourselves?
Or there is the red pill.
From March 2005, The Text Festival is a nine month programme of exhibitions, commissions, performances, debates and workshops investigating textual practice in contemporary art and poetry - examining the response of text artists and poets to what Umberto Eco called the substantial ambiguity of language. Post-avant poetry and text art share a range of concerns and in this context the Festival aims to contribute to a greater dialogue and understanding between both fields of language creators. Based in Bury, in Lancashire, but locating text in its international context, the Festival not so much challenges the boundaries between art and poetry as relocates poetry in a vital and revitalising relationship with text art. Accepting that much of British poetry will remain in Guy Debord called ‘the colonized sector’,
the absence
of rejoicing – to that
last minute
wanting longevity and farewell,
the Text Festival will go on to a future, dialectically rising from a Glass Bead Game of Performative writing, Parataxis, Intertextuality, Materiality, Spatialisation, Constricted Systems.

Rooting the debate in a reclaimed literary history, the Festival celebrates landmark bodies of work – the first major retrospective of the works of Bob Cobbing and a rare opportunity to see 30 years of Lawrence Weiner’s poster works from the Vancouver Collection, works by Kosuth, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Hamish Fulton, Robert Grenier; exhibitions of artists books and poets alphabets; Alan Halsey’s complete Memory Screen exhibited and performed with Live Artist Hester Reeve and cris cheek; ; readings from Robert Sheppard and Mark Nowak (USA); new commissions from Lawrence Weiner, Maurizio Nannucci, Shaun Pickard, Caroline Bergvall, cris cheek and Kirsten Laver; intense public dialogues between leading international poets, curators and artists; screenings of poetry film and new digital texts. All this aiming, as Bob Perelman wrote, "To construct room for further efforts”.

Once poets were seen as developers of language and ideas, the creators of new ways of thinking and expressing; they can be again, if they are creators of new ways of thinking and expressing:
As Morpheus says: I'm trying to free your mind, but I can only show you the door, you're the one that has to walk through it.
www.textfestival.com

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