October 29, 2005

Venice and Edinburgh

As mentioned last – I’ve been away: first Venice then a conference in Edinburgh. It won’t surprise anyone who has been, but as a first timer: Venice was a revelation – really extraordinary. Ostensibly I had gone to catch the end of the Biennale and was prepared to be sceptical because of the hype and the romantic stereotypes but Venice was fabulous, a completely new experience – and much too good to think about contemporary art. I did get to the Guggenheim, most of which is not contemporary; the Rückriem-Nannucci juxtaposition was personally gratifying having worked with them both but aesthetically problematic. Not only that but the Rückriem piece has not been installed as it should, having gaps between the stone splits. The only other artist was the futurist Carlo Carra whose text collages were a revelation. My reading matter was William Carlos Williams’ Autobiography – a great read, full of poetry and medicine tales (two of my favourites!) – by coincidence the 1918 flu featured during his career.

One day stop over back in Manchester to the delightful surprise of the new Anglo-French box of Bob Grenier SENTENCES. Brilliant. Immediately it has become a treasured item (along with the print he brought on his visit) in my collection. Then:


My first trip to Scotland (would you believe?) for the Blinky Palermo conference. (
http://www.eca.ac.uk/palermo/ ) Palermo Restore is an Edinburgh College of Art research project centred on the possible restoration or reconstruction of the Blinky Palermo wall painting, Blau/Gelb/Weiss/Rot (Blue/Yellow/White/Red). Originally made for the Strategy: Get Arts exhibition in 1970, the work was painted over shortly after the exhibition closed. I was interested in this for its own sake and to see how Palermo’s work related to Rückriem’s and to pursue the offer of an exhibition of my work. First I met up with the painter Alan Johnston who took me across town to see the Sleeper Gallery (www.sleeper1.com) where I have the show next May.

I had lunch with him, Tom Lange (German Art Historian from the University of Amsterdam) and an artist/Director of Curatorship & Education Marianne Eigenheer. Then Tom and I went to Inverlieth House to see Ian Hamilton Finlay’s SENTENCES. Absolutely none of the excitement of the Grenier SENTENCES back on my desk in Manchester. This was a big disappointment knowing what Finlay has done; there were one or two interesting sentences but the overall work was graphically and linguistically sloppy. It is not good enough to have epigrammatic or mild amusing observations about the weather floating over a wall.

In the early evening at Edinburgh College of Art, I attended the preview of 8 Colours and met the Kyoto artist/curator Takaya Fujii. Happily I was able to do the ritual of exchanging business cards.

The conference – opened with Richard Demarco the original curator of the STRATEGY: GET ARTS exhibition.

The conference was really interesting, though rather too academic. There was (or should have been) some debate about whether or not it is/was legitimate to restore Blinky’s temporary wall painting but this was pre-empted by someone in the University (probably Alan) deciding that since there were decorators in anyway they might as well repaint the piece while the scaffold was up. There was a bit of irritation about this as there were people who thought it shouldn’t be reinstated. Dr. Martha Buskirk of Montserrat College of Art, hit the nail on the head by raising the questions of the legitimacy of restoring a temporary conceptual work. The original wall painting was within a context with 2 other works in direct contact – a water jet piece in the College foyer and another piece of broken chairs on the stairs. (ah, those where the days, when an artist could use a ladder without a permit or a health & safety inspector). So why not restore the other works too? Why not recreate the whole exhibition again? My response to the experience of the (restored) work tended to suspend disbelief because in situ the Palermo ‘restored’ is an impressive spatial experience seeming to focus invisible energies of stair movement and the mathematics of the classical proportions. Anyway, Alan defused the argument by announcing that this wasn’t the restoration but only a ‘homage’ to Blinky’s original. I am not so convinced as they had spent a lot of time and money getting exactly the right paint and colours from the original manufacturers. The whole history and incident of this work is quite indicative of the relationship of power, transgression and value in the arts. In its context, the work (and the exhibition) were a remarkable challenge from to the Scottish Art Establishment by the then European Avant-garde. Much as my work in Bury has been carried the kudos of periphality – Barthes’ comment about the importance of things that happen at the margins – Edinburgh was then in that position (with the Edinburgh Festival itself not what it has become). But the artistic commitment to innovation was not embedded in the institution and thus the Art College painted over the work as soon as the show was over. Now in the competitive environment of the Art Market/World/Academy, the Institution embraces the artist for its own credibility. As Ricky Demarco said: Palermo became the Kurt Cobain of the art world, growing fame and early mysterious death. So now it is safe and credible to restore and associate Palermo with the Art College, rather than the work being transgressive it is now an institutional decoration. Fired or maybe sometimes bored by the academic analysis and the power of the ‘actual’ work, I deserted for a time to write a poem in response to it. I’ll show it here when it’s finished.
In the evening I went to the Conference Dinner at the magnificent Playfair Library sitting between Andreas Karl Schulze, based in Köln whose work was shown at one point in the weekend and is well worth you looking up, and Ceal Floyer, a conceptual artist based in Berlin. I expect to commission them both at some time. Had a really interesting conversation with Ceal about poetry which I will return to in the next bulletin.

October 28, 2005

A New Text Postcard Pack

Sorry I've been away for a good while - Venice and Edinburgh, of which more in the next bulletin. Meantime, the latest postcard pack is available now, featuring Robert Grenier, Lawrence Weiner, me, Phil Davenport, Hester Reeve, Brass Art and Shaun Pickard. Let me know if you would like to receive one.

October 05, 2005

Pandemic Awareness Week

Mostly my interests here are cultural but ever since I was a teenage artist I knew of the early death of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. So over the years I have had occasion to note the rare references to it. The WHO has declared that it is not a question of if but when the bird flu spreading in the Far East will become the next pandemic. Preoccupied with the War on an Abstract Noun, the governments are not preparing and in reality could do very little to save the millions who are risk. You need to start thinking about this:

http://aetiology.blogspot.com/2005/10/pandemic-influenza-awareness-week-day.html