February 27, 2005

Cobbing Retrospective

It seems only a few days ago that the Galleries where covered in dust and workmen but already Philip Davenport and Jennifer Cobbing have virtually finished the hang of the Bob Cobbing retrospective. It’s been great to see the excitement of the hang and the discovery of how remarkable the work is as it is curated categorically in his progress from sound-language toward abstraction. The show’s centre piece is part of the massive 300 book collaboration Bob did with Lawrence Upton, but there are so many gems in the show it will be a must-see event opening on 19 March.

February 20, 2005

Text - the manifesto

The Text catalogue arrives back from the Italian printers this week, care of a fine design by Alan Ward (Axis Design). A few thoughts on the book, written before Christmas last year:

It separates itself from the world 'phenomenologically' - the cover represents the world outside with its Manchester street scene. The whole text is in inverted commas. But of course this isn’t possible, once inside layers of symbols, text and reference accrue again. The first being that it is modeled on another text - John Cage’s The Future of Music: Credo (from Silence). This was partially because the Text needs a manifesto now as contemporary music did then. Having decided to replicate Cage’s structure some time after having read it, I returned to re-read and discover he had done what everyone who has ever written a manifesto does: he attacks the current state of things, points out the direction that new things are (likely) going and waxes lyrical as to why that will be better. But the final future is actually only a humanistic principle, the manifesto can’t prefigure itself, its promised future. The Text book reiterates the questions of the festival:

From advertising to road signs, from 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
they are seen as irrelevant; condemned
as copy-writers, radio clowns or curriculum support.
When written word and sign consumes and
clutters virtually every environment, how
can poets and text artists create new
meaning with language? What are the
innovations and devices that can progress
the tradition of poetic innovation?

The analysis of the current bankruptcy of the mainstream is implicit in the question. So what are the elements of the future? In the catalogue, as in the contextual first exhibition opening on 19 March, I identify 5 text practices common to linguistically innovative art: Parataxis, Intertextuality, materiality, spatialisation, and restricted languages (ie process/system writing).

So far, no-one has proposed a sixth element in this Glass Bead Game; although I have had a criticism that it is too American in its source referencing. This is partially true because Official Verse Culture has done such a good job at atomizing the alternative in Britain, but it does miss the comparisons with French/German OULIPO which offers another possibility ignored in these shores.

As with all manifestos, ultimately it will be a futile gesture but it is having a vision of a better future that brings it about.

February 18, 2005

Grenier Festival Performance

In the early stages of curating the opening exhibition of the Text Festival, I wanted to show Robert Grenier's seminal poem, Sentences, (http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/grenier/ ) and after some research found a rare copy located in a library in California. Sadly, the complications and costs of borrowing it were unsurmountable, but spotting mention on Silliman's blog of a Grenier show in New York, I pursued the link ( http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/grenier/boesky2004.htm ) Ironically, it turned out easier and cheaper to buy 9 new works than to borrow Sentences. A conversation started up - initially around having copyright permission to reproduce the poems for education and publicity purposes. It turned out that Robert had become aware of the Festival and was actually quite keen to attend. Today we confirmed the visit: Robert will read at the Festival on Thursday 29 September.

February 13, 2005


An exhibition at the Cornerhouse by Eva Wohlgemuth, (www.evahohlgemuth.com/BODYSCAN/ ) with a strapline quotation:

“The smallest text file of me is 1MB, so I fit on a disk; you can just about recognise me as a wireframe, but when it’s rendered there can be no doubt, It is me! So, am I more than just my data set – as we always assumed – or has my data set become an essential requirement for me to assert my position in cyberspace?”

The show is a series of screens featuring brightly coloured slow-motion animation of Wohlgemuth’s static naked body plus a series of plinths topped by modelled figurines of the same body and on the way out of the gallery a bank of computers featuring web links and coding for these digital projections. Basically, we can cut to the chase and answer the above question: (there certainly is doubt that it is you) and yes you are more than your data set. The physical/virtual elements are clumsy, and have no more interest than if these were watercolour self-portraits or clay models. By focusing attention on a dataset that is only the blunt topography of scans, Wohlgemuth asks no questions of the phenomenology of technological interface and offers no insights beyond the data set surface.

February 07, 2005

The Man Without Content

At the weekend I attended a symposium bringing together writers, artists and philosophers together ostensibly around “The Man Without Content” by Giorgio Agamben, but ranging into a more general analysis of aesthetic philosophy. The Live Artist Hester Reeve, whom I have commissioned to do two pieces for the Text Festival (of which more another time) has been working around issues raised by the Agamben’s writing and organised the symposium primarily drawing together a group of associated thinkers.

I approached the event highly critical of the Agamben I have read, and can’t say I changed my mind at the symposium. The first point of dispute then is

Agamben has a strange and decidedly unphilosophical approach to arguing a philosophy. I don’t think I have ever read a philosopher whose method so stands on the shoulders of sources. In comparison, a philosopher such as Sartre will start from a position of rigorous analysis of previous thinking, and in drawing out weaknesses or missed opportunities develop an argument that (re)directs ideas in a new direction. Agamben starts with a writer of whom he approves and extends the logic their ideas, introducing his own brand of irrationality. This would not necessarily be a flawed approach if there was some investment in demonstrating that earlier thinking retained its validity. The beginning of …Content is a case in point. It starts with quotation of Nietzsche’s critique of Kant’s definition of the beautiful (“That is beautiful which gives us pleasure without interest”), backs this up with reference to Plato’s eviction of the Poet from the Ideal City, a meander through Romantic literature to accept its own conclusion and ask the question ‘if we really want to engage the problem of art in our time then nothing would be more urgent than a destruction of aesthetics that would …allow us to bring into question the very meaning of aesthetics as the science of the work of art.’ A truly jaw dropping example is in the chapter entitled “The Original Structure of the Work of Art. He starts with a quotation from Hölderlin “Everything is rhythm, the entire destiny of man is one heavenly rhythm, just as every work of art is one rhythm, and everything swings from the poetizing lips of god”. Further information tells us that Hölderlin didn’t actually write it, it was transcribed by a visitor… during the period of his insanity. Despite the serious credibility question that therefore hangs over this source (is it Hölderlin? Did the visitor transcribe it correctly? Is it gibberish?), Agamben proceeds to construct an aesthetic theory where in Rhythm is the defining structure of art. Agamben’s writing gives the strong impression throughout of a syllogistic technique based on invalid initial statements which are followed by equally invalid conclusions. In this regard Agamben may be aware of the weakness of the arguments he strings together hinting at each key step “If this is true…then”.

A response to his theories of art and history another time…

Suffice it to say - all based on an outdated notions of art, 19th Century philosophy exemplified by 19th Century art – ignorant of Modernist or even post-modernist thinking.

February 01, 2005

A Sculptor's Text

- Ulrich Ruckriem