September 28, 2005

The arrival of a captive audience

Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Grenier off the plane from San Francisco at Manchester Airport. Although having exchanged photos so we would recognise each other I thought to be on the safe side I would print out one of his recent drawn poems and stand with it opposite the arrival gate like people do with notices such as “TAXI – MR SMITH”. And something quite unexpected happened: virtually everyone who came through the gate paused to read the poem (without realising that it was a poem of course). I actually began to feel like I was doing a performance. One daft old American Fascist walked up to me, tapped me on the chest through the poem and said “I’m not Osama Bin Laden” - presumably mistaking Bob’s use of line with Arabic. But otherwise people seemed genuinely to be caught be the unexpected textual intervention. Another passing reader actually left the building and then returned to ask what it said! As well as making a mental note that this could well be an interesting avenue for future Trehy textual intervention, I got to thinking about the nature of the interactions that had taken place. As I have argued through the Text Festival our existence is embedded now by Text, so the people getting off the plane were already surrounded by texts as the gate opened and were bombarded by countless texts in the landscape in which suddenly the strange Grenier poem emerged. It was like any other text in competition with every other text in the visual field. So why did it catch them? I can think of two mechanisms: The psychology of arrival: we arrive at an airport even if we are in a strange land and know no one with a subconscious desire to be recognised as arriving; there is always a fascination in the waiting notices held up – is our name being heralded? Followed by the fascination that if I am not on the boards, who is? The second mechanism I think relates to the intent of an artist’s textual intervention in competition with commercial, informational or state textual apparatuses: We have structured our Being as readers with levels of filtering which subconsciously sift the functions of public texts so that we don’t have to read them, but poetic/artistic texts present a reading which does require us to buy anything or act in a proscribed way and because the Ideological Apparatuses have conditioned us that buying and acting appropriately is immanent to Being, such a text has the shock of a glimpsed freedom.

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