December 25, 2007

December 24, 2007

Married in Venice

A better excuse than usual for my lack of blogging: I've been in Venice getting married.

A perfect day.

December 08, 2007

Stockhausen Died

Sad news today: Karlheinz Stockhausen is dead.;jsessionid=T4RWBOA5SZZVTQFIQMFCFFWAVCBQYIV0?xml=/news/2007/12/08/db0801.xml

I have enjoyed his music since I was first introduced to it in 1981 - "Set Sail for the Sun" has been one of my desert island discs since I heard it back then.

Mr Worthington's Chapel

object in the eyes boxed and an object that knows too much or does too much saving saccade attention for delicious gauge symmetries
so sweet equiconsistent so cold
happen, recontextualised no artefact in all its capable of being dismantled digested and susceptible to dropping in frequency as it moves away private
this groupish nature at face
arriving at the same place at the same time our ideal fluids desired too in thick and thin telomeres of extra high relatedness
our kitchen and bijective topos

November 08, 2007

Dynamic Rationalisation

As previously mentioned there have been no negative consequences for the Gallery & Museum Service in Bury since it was de-registered for selling the Lowry painting last year. The programme continues to be exciting and innovative and attract a lot of positive attention. Other UK public galleries taking their bat and ball home has had no effect on our programme, and when we have needed to borrow an artwork for an exhibition we have sourced it outside the [public] “Sector”, or more usually outside the country. In fact the only consequence I have noticed is that I get invited to speak on platforms at conferences considering collection and disposal policy. This is usually on the basis that Bury is a pariah service having done the dirty deed – so I guess it is usually expected that I should speak chastely about how desolate it is to be outside the fold. This isn’t my perspective at all. I am invited to yet another conference on Friday called “Dynamic Rationalisation”; the gist of this is that it is alright to dispose of collected items as long as you have some plan that legitimizes it. The opening question I find most strange: “Selling the art treasures: When is it ethical to sell works of art?” So the discussion starts from the same muddle-headed confusion in which it has been mired throughout. Just commenting on the lack of rigour in its wording – artists sell works of art, gallerists and collectors sell works of art. So presumably that is ethical. The implication then is that when a public gallery buys a work (from someone who sells it ethically) it achieves a designation of art treasure and in which miraculous state it is protected for eternity. But no, it is more complicated – you can sell it ethically if you have created a dynamic rationalization for the sale. So where Bury went wrong was that instead of selling it for the dynamic rationalization that I identified – the work didn’t fit aesthetically or historically into the collection and that with the Lowry Centre 20 minutes away the public could see much better examples of his work nearby – the Council acknowledged its financial crisis and tied the sale to saving the whole museum and the rest of the collection. Subsequently however nearly half of the value of the sale has gone back into cultural and museum spending. So it turns out that Bury is guilt of half an unethical act because if it had spent all the money on the museum everything would be ok. But failing to get over itself, “the Sector” still sulks about it.

“The Sector” and the politicians have constructed a description of the world that bears no relation to what is actually going on – the former because of its own fear, weakness of vision and lack of leadership, and the latter because it is responsible for the low value/manipulation of culture of its own ends.

Dealing with governance first, the contradictory positions of the government agenda comes out in the DCMS response to the Culture, Media and Sport Parliamentary Select Committee Report on Caring for our Collections Session 2006/7. The committee find it “incongruous that no sanction at all should apply to local authorities which choose to close museums and disperse collections… it is right that there should be sanctions for those museums that sell parts of their collections purely to meet the financial needs of the council.” In relation to Bury, this is already confused: Bury Museum didn’t sell part of its collection, the local authority did. This judgment is confused about whether it is the local authority or the museum that should be sanctioned. Their very next paragraph beggars this: “Museums & Galleries are a discretionary local authority service and their funding is a matter for the relevant Council, its councilors and the local community”. So these services are discretionary but if a council decides to no longer provide them or to reduce it, then it (or its museum) should be punished. How does that work then? Herein of course is the root of the weakness of the sector – museums are not statutory so when finances are pressured or the government makes the easy “difficult decision” to spend our billions on bombing foreigners, they are the most vulnerable to cuts. This is why the self-righteousness of some of the delegates and platform speakers at these disposals conferences is so laughable – Bury just happened to be the first, it could just as easily happen to them; there are growing examples around the country where the museum has simply been closed completely. Instead of attacking the immorality of Bury, the Sector should have been campaigning with it to protect museum funding, to make museums statutory like libraries or schools.

The Select Committee report goes on: “Where a local authority seeks to close a museum or otherwise disperse the collection, the community may seek the help of their councilor who can raise a Community Call for Action requiring the decision be scrutinized.” This is somewhat cheeky to say in the context of Bury; the councilors made the decision to sell after 2 full Council meetings and much consultation. That sentence disingenuously implies that a local authority decides to shut the museum on a whim or philistine putsch. What is much more likely is that this option will be part of a greater crisis where, as it was in Bury, it is a case of sell a painting (or close a service) or shut an old people’s home, or employ less teachers, etc. You get still get local people asking why Council’s waste any public money on art as it is, so the notion that a Community Call for Action is going to save the Gallery over something else is nonsense. It should be noted too that Bury’s decision was made using the full processes of local government democracy whereas no-one voted for the people in the MLA and Museums Association who made the decision to sanction.

Bury gets a specific mention in the report: MPs join the chorus of disapprobation (rather than offering a political solution like calling for museums to be made statutory services), and go on “…we share the concern of the sector that other local authorities may be encouraged to follow Bury’s example, not least by the unexpectedly large sum raised by the sale. We believe that this would be a retrograde step.” It was not good for Bury to be in that position but it was national political policy and local government funding that created the crisis. The punishment and (getting tedious) criticism of Bury is nothing to do with the morality of selling art, it is aimed at scaring other authorities that might see this as a route out of a crisis. What I find fascinating in the subsequent developments is the full realization of pointlessness and irrelevance of the “Sector’s” structures. The MLA has decided that Bury can’t re-apply to join its club for 5 years, but the rumours abroad are that the MLA itself may not exist by then. It was obvious from the start that the “Renaissance in the Regions” policy was no more than a process of centralizing control creating a structure which obeyed government performance indicator culture for not much more money to make it worth it. Bury didn’t seek admittance to this pen for that very reason.

Interestingly the converse of disposal, acquisition, is touched on in the Select Committee paper: “Whether or not the gap between museum’s acquisitions budgets and the cost of acquisitions is properly described as a “crisis”, there is a clear decline in their power to keep collections growing and an urgent need for action to restore museums’ power to develop their collections. We are, however, concerned that the very high prices now commanded by great works of art are calling into question the feasibility of public art galleries regularly continuing to compete for them against enormously wealthy individuals and institutions.”
Gratifyingly, Bury has continued to compete in acquisition of “great works of art” for years. Personally, I think that it is not how much money you have but how cleverly you direct it. The telling phrase is “great works of art”, of course. Capital-centric in both sense of the word, the establishment locates artistic value in economic value. It is a further sign of cultural hegemonic decline that the Imperial of International collecting has shifted away from Britain.

November 07, 2007

Excuses for laziness

My apologies for the long gap: I had a deadline to write 4 poems for a new journal coming out next year. I have a long entry to post by tonight but in the mean time I direct you to a periodic reminder of the bird flu situation - - more than 90 deaths this year alone.

October 27, 2007

Birgir Andresson 1955-2007

Sad news today that Birgir Andresson died yesterday. Each time I have visited Reykjavik arrangements have been made for us to meet but each time for one reason or another we missed each other. After my installation at Safn, his collaboration with Ragna Róbertsdóttir was the next show. He has a couple of works in the ICELAND show at Bury Art Gallery at the moment and we hoped to show him more fully in future years. It feels like a destiny unfulfilled.

October 12, 2007

The Myth of the North

It was with a mixture of nausea and exhilarating irritation that I had to visit the worst modern building I know: the Lowry Arts Centre ( I find myself in that odd bind where something is so appalling you want to warn people not to go near it but at the same time wanting to recommend it so that you can share the adrenaline rush of experiencing something truly jaw-dropping. There is one angle that I don’t mind the Lowry from – that is on Google Earth where you can see that it was designed with some cube, circle, triangle structure. But from the ground it is an absolute stinker. There is no architecture logic from the outside, but when you go inside there is no human sense to it. It is no exaggeration that it makes me feel physically sick to be in there too long. If the spaces had been designed as a centre for Overactively Disordered children with colour blindness it would be excusable but the glaring juxtaposition of brutal purples with orange, red and yellow garishly slanting off at made angles, floors that slope illogically while adding the colours and texture of public toilet blue flecks is maddening. I wouldn’t ordinarily mention this as the building has been there for a few years now and, while it has the same effect on me each time, it is hardly noteworthy. As usual (on my rare visits), I despair at the clumsy geometry and bad lighting of the Lowry galleries themselves; so nothing new there. There is a brilliantly bad column in one of the galleries blocking a series of sight-lines in front of some Lowry drawings which I always make the effort to visit just to confirm to myself that the architect who laid out the spaces was an idiot.

The thing that especially fired me this time though was the current temporary exhibition. Generally the Lowry exhibition programme is not very exciting – maybe the badness of the spaces infects that too – but the current show “the Myth of the North” actually magnified the general annoyance of the Lowry experience. Curatorially the display is fabulously poor – half-arsed ‘sets’ of stereotyped back-to-back terraced housing, daft plastic stone/brick walls, one enjoying the set piece of an umbrella and a suitcase leaning against it. There seems to be no curatorial thread running under these dismal displays. The brochure says that it is “an amused look at how others have chosen to see us”, but by the curation says that is how the Lowry curators see us as well. Lowry’s own paintings are done no favours in this environment (these are supposed to be the guardians of his work!), by association with the tedium of these northern stereotypes Lowry is relegated to being a local painter of local, now extinct, scenes of grime. A sorry state of affairs. A much more insightful show of Northern-ness is the Factory exhibition at Urbis – among other things an exhilarating example of what is achieved if a phenomenon is driven by inspiration and creativity unencumbered by a business plan and target bollocks.

September 30, 2007

A personal post

For various reasons, it was my intention not to waste readers' time with personal details. Until recently, when it was pointed out to me that the odd thing that slipped in was becoming the raw material for someone writing a poem using my personal words. Marguerite Heywood has now sent me the poem, here it is:

The personal words of Tony Trehy

as a city boy I steered clear
of all this outdoor Romanticism
although personally I don’t subscribe to this equation
that makes a child death more meaningful
don’t often mention Galleries in Manchester though
I visit them frequently
as a city-dweller, I’m not sure that I would class fishing rods
as “everyday objects”, but maybe books are

ok why should I suffer alone
o fuck

paradise for me would be a cross
between Berlin, Venice, Manchester
people, noise, excitement, food, culture
it is going to sound like I am in grumpy mood
no wonder the majority of us have moved to cities

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

but ever since I was a teenage artist
it’s been a while since I visited the Park
I had a writing deadline of my own to hit
so I was out and about
writing and thinking in the Spring sunshine
someone who
I have never met and
I expect has never heard of me

I will never live in this town
what could be more invigorating
than sitting in the studio
of one of German’s leading sculptors
writing while he works
I first complained
to the Bury Librarian
and sent an alternative list

I think the definition of fame (in case there are any pedants out there) is
you are famous when someone knows you and you don’t know them
sadly I am too slow a reader to make a dent in this fabulous pile
for about 30 years I have bought (literally)
into a personal future plan believing the wisdom
that saving for the future was a vital part of your life at the end
I will be poor and ill
I am suddenly much richer to live my life now while
I can enjoy it a small resistance
be every little helps

September 26, 2007

Dinner with the Rothenbergs

A first meeting and a delightful evening with Jerry and Diane Rothenberg, (plus Phil Davenport) visiting the UK to present a paper at the forthcoming Kurt Schwitters conference in the Lake District. Conversation about poetry - obviously - and art and travel - "it was nice to have people round who came to enjoy themselves" as Sue said. For anyone who has been to one of Sue's extraordinary dinner parties, it will be no surprise that the evening revolved around her fabulous cooking:

Starter: Spiced roasted butternut squash soup
Wine: Prosecco from Veneto

Fish Course: Grilled fillet of Salmon marinated with lemon grass on a bed of courgette ribbons stir-fried with ginger and chilli with a lemon tarragon and parsley dressing
Wine: Alsace Riesling

Main Course: Roasted boned leg of lamb stuffed with garlic, rosemary, lemon and parsley with a flagelot bean gratin and roasted vine tomatoes
Wine: 1998 Stag's Leap Fay vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Dessert: Tartes aux Pommes with home-made Madagascan vanilla and toffee ice-cream
Wine: Morande late harvest Sauvignon blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile

Coffee and home-made chocolate truffles

September 04, 2007

The Safn Installation

Back from a great visit to Reykjavik - the launch of the eponymous bookwork and the spatial edit. Met many interesting artists and writers - of whom more in later bulletins. The Safn collection looked brilliant - in this latter photo you can make out Dan Flavin and Roni Horn.

August 26, 2007


The exhibition of my eponymous text opens on 1 September at the Safn Museum in the Icelandic Capital. The accompanying limited edition, hand-bound, publication is a new text-poem available from me or from Safn for £30.

August 21, 2007

More from MPA Gallery

Above: Thickness by me; Monster by Hester Reeve; Atom by Mark Jalland; Shaun Pickard has a brilliant piece in also but I am missing a photo at the moment.

August 16, 2007


18th August - 13 October

Mid Pennine Gallery
Yorke St

I have curated a new text show featuring Phil Davenport, Mark Jalland, Shaun Pickard, Hester Reeve, Carolyn Thompson and a new piece - "Thickness" by me. Preview is 6pm on Friday. I'll be doing a talk on Thursday 13 September at 6.30pm. More about it after it opens plus photos when they are available.

July 25, 2007


Friday 27 July 7pm

I've curated this show at Bury Art Gallery, a exhibition of outstanding international art selected from the largest and most significant collection of contemporary art in Iceland. Pétur Arason and Ragna Róbertsdóttir have been collecting contemporary art for 30 years and have amassed a superb collection of leading artists from Minimalism, Fluxus, and Conceptualism, together with many important Icelandic artists, which they show at Safn in Reykjavik. This is the first time many of these works have been shown in the UK.

The artists included in ICELAND are Lawrence Weiner, On Kawara, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Ragna Róbertsdóttir, Richard Long, Carl Andre, Birgir Snæbjörn Birgisson, Þór Vigfússon, Hörður Ágústsson, Karin Sander, Birgir Andrésson, Roni Horn, Ólafur Eliasson, Hreinn Friõfinnsson, Stanley Brouwn, me, Helmut Lemke and Tacita Dean.

The show runs 28 July – 3 November 2007
For more about the Safn collection, go to

July 21, 2007


secession quickly satiated open-source as
surface disregulation i are more discrete

secession laughter over central dogma
breathers experience concrete or abstract

secession in application not in principle
desquamate is nothing iff memento mori

secession zugzwang and vertigo

secession spring, and all thickness waits
the implicate order of other stations i are

July 03, 2007

July 01, 2007

Luminous Detail Launched

Friday night at Islington Mill: Helmut Lemke and Ben Gwilliam, two of the sound artists performing at the launch of Phil Davenport's new poetry cd "Constellation of Luminous Detail".

June 27, 2007

Adieux to Silence

To quote On Kawara: I am still alive. Most irritatingly my net connection has been broken, but more positively I have been busy completing Reykjavik, the text-poem and book for my installation at Safn in Iceland in September and briefly writing this piece called Shut UUUUUp for a show at the Chapman Gallery in Salford curated by Ben Gwilliam and Helmut Lemke. It has been noted that I rarely mention personal things here and in the same vein some of the reviews of 50 Heads have magnified my distain for mainstream poetry (and its reliance on the personal voice of the poet). This is actually not quite accurate since many of the Heads are quite personal. I also have a reputation for not explaining the poems – this is also not true. So… As Sound Artists, Ben and Helmut’s show set out to address the question of Silence…

I have always been touched by the opening page of Simone deBeauvoir’s Adieux to Sartre in which she recounts that during some philosophical or political debate whichever one of them won the argument would cap it off with “That’s you in your little box”. She notes that Adieux to Sartre is the only one of her books that he would not be able to comment on because he was dead and literally in his box. Sue and I have an inverted version of this argument closer. The one who is losing usually resorts to the phrase “Shut UUUP” (the extended ‘up’ is conclusive). In thinking about Silence for the show, the final silence of its last utterance, similar to Adieux’s box, would give the phrase a particular poignancy – with the one in their box literally shut up.

Ben and Helmut noted that artists and writers in the show fell into either those embracing silence and those rejecting it. My text is the latter. As everyone knows I celebrate the City and that is where the text begins. Well not quite. In 50 Heads each poem begins with zero and ends with one; this is because in mathematics the probability of something happening is said to be a number between nought and one. So if the poem isn’t read – ie a reader doesn’t read passed the zero – the poem hasn’t happened; and if the reader gets to the one at the end then it has happened. With Shut UUUUP the poem begins with one and ends with zero because it progresses from noise (ie life) to silence (ie death).
One other thing, the quotation is from Pierre Boulez about Karlheinz Stockhausen (both of whom I like). It was a little joke for the German co-curator. This is followed by writing as thinking about consciousness, the difference between noise and sound, and finality.

Shut UUUUp

1. Silence is a bad thing a bad way Shut up

SAY falling descant every city still joyous
humming traffic and pneumatic humming and
uplifting sirens and retail palaver praise be
rest tested rejected

reductio ad

“the endless chord, how typically German”
walking – at least partially in high
prevalence in functional importance
in periodic crystal-like lattice
structures with long range order in
ability to be transiently isolated from
interaction/observation functionally
coupled to events in emptiness so the foot
hitting the ground projects into amplified future
knowing cancelling out accompanied frequencies
silence is not the answer to itself
neither is an even distribution of all frequencies
without definite pitch
besieged one always dies
too soon or too yet is complete
at that moment with a line
drawn and when
examining the function
values between
the stationary points equals:

May 15, 2007

Northern Mirror

Radcliffe was worth a visit just to see the twelve stones by Ulrich Ruckriem, now with the addition of Alan Johnston's northern mirror sculpture to the same site, the Outwood Country Park is a special experience. Without exaggeration, Alan's sculpture is brilliant. I don't need to say much about it here, as the accompanying website is comprehensive, including Alan's voluminous research, image files and critical essays.

May 02, 2007


I'm happy to see that Ron Silliman appreciated 50 Heads:

More on which I will write next week when I return from the European Museums Forum in Spain:

April 29, 2007

50 Heads read

Around 50 people turned up for the launch party for 50 Heads. As Orwell observed - Poetry readings can be grizzily affairs - so instead of me reading, I invited other artists to interpret a poem each. Alan Johnston, Phil Davenport, Hester Reeve, Helmut Lemke and Mark Jalland did the honours/did me the honour. Phil opened with “Reciprocity”. Alan read “Yddrasill”. Then sound artist Helmut Lemke did a brilliant interpretation of “Entscheidungsproblem” - this involved a tape of him reading it underpinning reading a strip of the poem spooling along a fishing rod, periodically punctuated with a yarrow stick inserted into holes in the rod. This was followed with “Faces” from Mark Jalland who, with intense clarity, took up the challenge with about 15 minutes notice. Hester ended the readings with “Place”. Then we ate Chinese and drink happily.

April 26, 2007

Poetry Collection Launch

50 Heads
my new poetry collection published by Apple Pie Editions
written during 2006 in Venice, Cologne, Reykjavik, Tokyo, Edinburgh and Manchester.

Friday 27 April from 7pm
food and drink and guest readings
Venue: LotusBar & Dim Sum
35a King St
M2 6AA

It's ticket only. email me for details.

April 17, 2007


I'm off to this week. All being well I will spend some time going round with American Poet Marjorie Welish

I'll be staying with Ulrich Ruckriem and getting him up to speed on the proposals for a new gallery in Radcliffe.

April 08, 2007

Plymouth and the Trojan Frog

Tony Lopez is to be congratulated on a very successful (if over-academic) conference at Plymouth University – “Poetry & Public Language”. One of the high points for me was Will Rowe’s opening paper - which I am pleased to say he has said I can reproduce here soon. Other highlights for me where the papers presented by Piers Hugill and Allen Fisher. As with all this sort of event some of the most interesting dialogue takes place in the coffee breaks and over dinner.


Oddly though, the paper that most fired me to response was the worst. Richard Kerridge’s preamble to it can be read on Carrie Etter’s blog at She raves about it but maybe that is because she works with him. Anyway, the most damnable phrase of the paper comes at the end: “poetry could not have any subject matter more important than this [climate change]”. I don’t think I have actually come across this thing called ecocriticism – though maybe I have since nowadays sticking ‘eco’ on the front of anything makes it the thing of the moment. The paper was illustrated with a poem by Kathleen Jamie (Frogs), a range of excerpts form J R Prynne and from a forthcoming work by Tony Lopez. It is instructive that the only ‘transparent’, mainstream poem mentioned in the whole conference came here. It was flagged up as an early Green poem. Prynne was analysed primarily as an ‘eco-difficulty – “insistently rejecting apocalyptic discourses” and I couldn’t tell how the Lopez fit into the original thesis. I have had a number of conversations in the past about how the mainstream conservativism of British poetry renews itself – since the 1970’s it has been through the appropriation of dialects and regionalism and communities of identity (Black poetry, Gay & Lesbian poetry, etc), and here we have its next potentiality: environmental poetry. If they aren't doing it already, I expect eco-poems from Armitage, Duffy and Motion are coming to Waterstone's soon. Subject matter – the very idea is fundamental to pre-modernism – which no-one can disagree with, a poetry fit for the curriculum, a poetry a government department could probably even draft access performance targets for. At one point, Kerridge declared that all the natural sanctuaries have been violated. Though this is one of those apocalyptic declarations that are supposed to sadden us and rally us to save the planet (without any ideology that could actually achieve change): I find sanctuary in the City so the notion that natural ‘sanctuary’ has been violated, its viscous threat punctured, is a source of some relief.

March 29, 2007

Mobile again

Last week I was at the National Maritime Museum for the Lawrence Weiner Opening - please to catch up with Lawrence and finally meet Alan Charlton, an artist whose work I have appreciated for some years and looked forward to meeting. At the weekend, I'm down to Plymouth for the Poetry and Public Language conference.
Things have been a bit hectic up to now, but I hope to do a more detailed report on the conference when I get back.

March 16, 2007

Mobility again

Following from the Mobility think-tank in Tokyo which I attended last September, there are plans to produce a bi-lingual book of the papers and notes of the discussions. Bizarrely, the editor, Dr. Deliss has asked me to agree a version of my paper that removes complexity of argument on the basis that the Japanese language can't translate complex English(!) and that there are sections she doesnt understand herself. I can't remember: is it Pound or Adorno who dubbed academics as "competing supplicants"? I gather others are having similar problems so the publication seems a pointless exercise. Anyway, I have withdrawn by paper from the publication. I did do an edit that I am happy with; here it is:

The inverse geometry of contradiction is the dominant direction of travel, by-passing the demand that maps (originally concentric) serve as aids for accurate measurement.

Place (as a continuous function) and Placing matter little and. Geography, landscape, location, the quaint, the steppe and desert surpassed; for clarity, for mobility, for certainty, the heresy lays inside dedication to the vertical axis.

Troops moved across the city though hundreds of metres of ‘overground tunnels’ carved out of the dense and contiguous urban structure, using none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of infestation redefines inside as outside, and Euclidean structure as thoroughfare; a conception of the city as the medium of passage – a freeform, axial medium that is contingent to intent and in flux.

A poetics of epistemology. In a language of situations, fluents (propositional pseudogenes within situations) and actions (labelled transitions between situations), we are not told about the fate of fluents not affected by actions. A relation between situations allows you to say how close they are to each other; the result of an action is closest to the starting situation plus an extra ingredient: closeness measured by how many fluents change.

Extending the hierarchy of mediations which is the urban global network, infected with the conditions of production (the default category of the room), the artist-poet-curator, radiating their Hill sphere, can be a Glass Bead Game player, within intervening quasicrystalline space, inventing language and (wearing protective clothing) institutions.

An artistic paradigm retaining renormalization processes but based on differential calculus, “which is concerned with the instantaneous rate of change of quantities with respect to other quantities, or more precisely, the local behaviour of functions”.

March 09, 2007

Sligo's Secret Theory of Drawing

I've made the pilgrimage to The Model Arts and Niland Gallery, Sligo in Ireland to see The Secret Theory of Drawing
The gallery has a great feel and very conducive spaces - one of those places where you think "what would I do here?" rather than as I often think "I'm glad I don't have to do anything here". Coaimhin, who I first met at my Edinburgh show at Sleeper, has put together a thoughtful show, circling, I think, around the act and the space of drawing. I was particularly impressed with Alan Johnston's wall drawing - I've seen a lot of Alan's drawing in the last 12 months and this one I found very refreshing, somehow free and relaxed, and relating beautifully to the architectural space. The other high point for me was Patrick Ireland's Portrait of Marcel Duchamp. Bojan Šarcevic’s wall-bound ‘drawings’ were also very striking. The show is much better than the "Draw" show at MIMA which I visited last month. The new gallery itself is an architectural disappointment, spaces that are both unimaginative and incoherent at the same time, material finishes that are similarly irrational. That drawing show clearly suffered from the New Labour infection of cultural practice, a curatorial concept that seemed contaminated with a didactic accessibility imperative. You could almost taste the school worksheet that went with the selection of artworks.

March 07, 2007

The ordinary can be absolutely banal

I read in the latest brochure from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park that Simon Armitage is Visiting Artist 2007 with the usual line that Armitage “is widely regarded as one of Britain’s foremost contemporary poets”. Before I go on to my point on poets and galleries, to locate this ‘foremost’ talent, here is an extract of my review of his book ‘The Universal Home Doctor’: “With one or two exceptions the familiar Armitage narrative/narrator runs throughout this slim volume. There are a small number of one-line joke ideas milked till the faint smile wears thin. And Gardening and DIY feature heavily. No gardening with attitude or allegory here, not the artisan invention of Titchmarsh or the visionary passion of Diarmuid, instead there is the feeling that indifferent varnishing of his summer house (in the poem of the same name) or the banal drama of strimming pampas grass evidence too long around the house scratching about for an idea. In The Jay – featuring the immortal phrase "the gardening gloves of humankind" - the three-letter baby bird can neither be killed nor loved against a backdrop of hanging laundry out. Feel the thickness of the Emperor’s clothing where the poet's descriptive power reminds us that the bird name has three letters. In Working from Home – the stop-at-home poet has finished doing the gardening completely and is surreptitiously watching a tree-cutter doing it for him. An Expedition mines that other rich seam for poetic invention – DIY. The vocabulary of polar exploration is spliced with household painting and decorating – a poetic idea which looks to have been triggered by the flimsy alliteration of Arctic with all-purpose 70s ceiling finish, Artex. Interspersed are some rather uncertain political forays. The Laughing Stock is deeply patronising about the working class poor while the portentously titled The English uses out-dated stereotypes of such limited relevance that you are left wondering not what it is he wanted to say but why it was worth trying to say it. It Could Be You attempts to comment on the manipulation and superficiality of media war coverage interrupted for the National Lottery results, but seems dated and naive since we have just passed through a media war in which War was the entertainment. The Twang transposes St.George and all things English into New York's St.Patrick's Day celebrations, a jokey lampoon that stumbles into a daft comparison of the extremism of the National Front with Irish nationalism – an ideological complexity the poem is not equipped to handle. The poet leaves home for drives and walks which are as uneventful as the DIY. There is a sense of desperation when we get to The White-Liners – you guessed it, a poem about the men who paint lines on the road containing the admission of guilt: "You'd think they could tell a few tales – you'd be wrong". In A Nutshell his world shrinks down to poem about a ship in a bottle. He needs to get out more; excitement seems only to visit vicariously in the Night-Watchman in which the ubiquitous narrator wakes in a cold sweat not because his wife is having an affair but because an imaginary other husband (not him) suspects infidelity. We are only offered the banality of his experience, but Armitage, is not Beckett, and can offer nothing to illuminate for us, no new insights through language. He became ‘important’ in the regionalisation of English poetry in the 1980s and 1990s – rather than test language, the establishment needed a new accent…”

As the YSP brochure copy reminds us at the start: “Born, raised and resident in the Huddersfield area.” Which leads me to the question: Why do such a large number of visual arts organisations and galleries have such an uncritical relationship with poetry and text? I have asked the question the other way, previously; noting how frequently many visual artists simply stick up a quotation or simple sentence onto a wall or projector and think that its paratactic relationship to the space has sufficient weight to carry the work. But there is an increasing fashion for galleries to engage ‘poets’. I wonder first what drives that. My first inkling is that it is a dynamic of the New Labour infection of culture – with the imperative for accessibility over value or insight, the emasculated form of mainstream poetry makes it ideal to give the gallery the implication of innovation – ‘poetry’ in dialogue with art – and, given that most of what passes for public poetry can be digested by a 10 year old, it is reassuringly family/curriculum friendly – which is good for their government targets. I was talking to someone who teaches GCSE literature the other day, who reported that when the class had read an Armitage poem, they got it on first reading and wondered, with such a thin source, what they were then supposed to say or write about it. To which the teacher replied, ‘for the exams, just pretend that it is deeper than it is’. Of course, I have commissioned lots of poets and text art in Bury but with the crucial difference that the poetry was actually deeply engaging with the local, spatial, cultural and social context in linguistically challenging ways from which new forms of expression and understanding could be developed/experienced by the audience. A case in point, hot of the presses, as they say, is Phil Davenport’s remarkable CD ‘Constellation of Luminous Details’ – a commentary on which I will return to in a forthcoming blog. So what are the first products of Armitage’s visitation at YSP? His first project has been to provide fortune cookie texts, taken from his new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. At this point in the blog I conceived that I would deconstruct this first effort but as a GCSE pupil would say, there isn’t enough to work with. Maybe the text’s own ephemeral form, its decorative irrelevance, is comment enough.

February 25, 2007

Iceland Bury

Last weekend I had the pleasure to host a visit from Petur Arason and Ragna Róbertsdóttir from Iceland (pictured at Outwood viewing Ruckriem's most recent installation. I've mentioned their great Safn museum before ( In July, I will curate a show drawn from their collection at Bury Art Gallery. Although the dates are to be confirmed, I will show some of the new thickness texts in Reykjavik before Christmas.

February 08, 2007

Must see gigs

I'm away when these are on but if you get the chance you shouldn't miss:

Philip Davenport & Hester Reeve Poetry/Performance
12 February 7.30pm
The Octagon Theatre, Bolton, UK
£4 (£2 concession)
Ticket Office 01204 520661 or online

Philip Davenport makes poems from shopping lists, fashion magazines, porn,
overheard conversations... Davenport is one of a new wave of experimenters
who are as much artists as they are poets. HRH is the conceptual persona of
UK artist Hester Reeve. She is a performance artist who encompasses live
art, philosophy, drawing and photography.

Philip Davenport has a second reading on 21 February 1pm at Adelphi House, Salford University

February 04, 2007

Bird Flu update

Up to now the only not art subject I comment on is the bird flu situation. With the first big UK outbreak of the season at the Turkey firm down south, I thought I'd return to it. The media will reassure everyone that the outbreak is contained and is not a threat to the population, which is true. Given our cultural disconnection from live fowl, the chances of it being caught in Britain are tiny. The threat is in the virus evolving across the species barrier in the far east or Africa. The latest news I read in the New Scientist was that it has made a significant leap into cats. This phenomen had already been noted - it had been killed a tiger in a zoo in Singapore, I think. But this latest research found thousands of cats had died from it in Indonesia. This is one of those worrying developments. Although much is unknown about the 1918 pandemic, there is evidence that there was a flu-like pandemic in pigs at the same time as the human pandemic. I've read some things that say it could have been human's that gave it to pigs, but more likely is that the virus jumped from birds to pigs and then to humans. Anyway, despite the media silence for months on the disease not reporting its movements around the world, it is always worth keeping an eye on

As I was born in 1960, I thought I'd selfishly celebrate this piece of research news from that site:
"Too old to catch H5N1?
Via CIDRAP, a very interesting letter to Emerging Infectious Diseases about the preference of H5N1 for young people: Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Age Distribution in Humans. Excerpt (citations removed and text re-formatted for easier reading):
Subject to multiple selection biases in the identification and reporting of WHO-confirmed human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1), our analysis yields 3 noteworthy observations:
1) case counts and case rates suggest similar levels of disease activity in the age categories 0–9, 10–19, and 20–29 years;
2) few cases have occurred above the age band of 30–35 years; and
3) the skewed distribution of cases toward children and young adults transcends sex, reporting period, patient outcome, geographic location, and, by implication, local cultural and demographic determinants.Behavioral factors increase the risk for exposure in younger persons and have been proposed as 1 determinant of the age distribution of confirmed human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1).
However, the possible role of biologic (immunologic and genetic) and other factors has yet to be determined. Such factors may include an age-related bias in case recognition, in which clinical suspicion about the cause of respiratory disease in older persons is lower.
Alternatively, we suggest that the 3 observations listed above are consistent with a biological model of geographically widespread immunity to avian influenza A (H5N1) in persons born before 1969, i.e., ≈35 years before the onset of the currently recognized panzootic in domestic poultry.
Such a model would account for the similar rates of disease activity in younger age categories, the sudden and pronounced reduction of cases in patients >30–35 years of age, and the age skew that transcends the sociocultural and demographic contexts of countries and continents.
The implication is that those of us who remember the 1960s (more or less) acquired immunity in our youth. That in turn implies an unrecognized worldwide exposure to some kind of influenza virus—perhaps in the 1958 pandemic—that conferred immunity to H5N1.
But I'm guessing here. I'd appreciate the thoughts of someone more informed than I."

January 20, 2007

Cultural Vandalism

Reading the European Museums Forum bulletin ( Bury's decision to sell the Lowry painting resurfaced. Apparently the Director of the National Gallery, Charles Saumerez Smith described it as "an arbitrary act of cultural vandalism". Bollocks. The Taliban destroying the statues of buddha ( is cultural vandalism; the US Army destroying ancient Persian archeology sites with a massive base in Iraq is cultural vandalism. Bury didn't burn the bloody painting. It sold it. If this was such a threat to the cultural heritage, why didn't the National Gallery buy it? Either they didn't have enough money - which was the same reason that Bury had to sell it - or it wasn't important enough to 'save' for the nation - which contradicts the claim that it was too important for Bury to sell.

January 12, 2007

Disposals, Local Authorities and Fine Art

I have been invited to speak at a Museums Libraries Archives North West (MLA) symposium on the issues around disposal of artworks today. The reason being Bury Art Gallery & Museum’s recent sale of its LS Lowry painting to balance the budget. The MLA’s response was to de-register the Museum from the national network. Since the curatorial practice has been directed to international partnership and local communities, this disconnection has virtually no direct effect on the museum. It’s a government target dropped but hey, I see today a leaked government memo admitting that they will fail to meet their cleanliness/anti-superbug target in the Health Service – so in the scale of things Bury museum isn’t killing anyone so that’s a good thing. Its difficult to know in advance whether Bury has been invited for a real dialogue about how to deal with the threat culture faces or whether it is a session for potshooting. I am treating it as the former.

I plan to start in about 2002 when Hull City Council decided to dispose of the 'Hull Horizon' text by Lawrence Weiner. On hearing this, I moved to purchase the work for Bury and relocate it on the banks of the Irwell in the centre of Radcliffe. This was the start of a relationship with Lawrence that lead to WATER MADE IT WET, the exhibition of his posters in 2005 as part of the Text Festival and the public conversation. In the context of the Lowry debate it is interesting to speculate what would be the meaning of some future authority disposing of/selling WATER MADE IT WET. (Contractually difficult but say in 200 years when none of us care). Lawrence was very clear that WATER MADE IT WET was not site-specific and that it was as self-contained an artwork as a painting seeking the fundamental human relationship to material – in this case water. So theoretically some future authority could ‘sell’ the text. Maybe the dematerialisation of the object needs more dematerialising. In connection to disposing of artworks, the one that really upsets me is Manchester City Council’s destruction of Lawrence’s Castlefield text, which was painted over by unidentified workmen, presumably mistaking it for graffiti.

Crucially for the museums people, the works above are not their problem because they had not been accessioned to a collection, whereas the Lowry painting had.

In the 1970’s Bury closed its Radcliffe town museum. The collection lay in a box for thirty years. In 1999 I wrote a vision for the future of Bury’s collection that took into account that its real importance to the town and the town’s posterity was the 19th Century collection and that if all we could do was hand that on to future generations then we had wasted our time. Therefore, I argued we should set out to create a 21st Century collection which in our judgement could stand in commensurate status as the Turners and the Constables in the year 2101. This is why we have commissioned and acquired artists like Weiner and Rückriem. Pursuing a rigorous curatorial logic, since the Lowry Centre was opening just 20 minutes away, there was even an argument for deaccessioning the 20th Century art, which except for one or two items (including the Lowry) was pretty forgettable. That was a curatorial reason. But Bury ultimately decided to sell the Lowry for a financial reason. Could the Gallery have been closed if it didn’t sell the painting? Maybe. But no-one thinks the sale was a good idea. The democratically elected members who made the final decision, the professional advisors and staff, the public. It wasn’t a good idea but it was the only cut that could be thought of. Personally I think if we stopped bombing and killing foreigners we’d have less financial pressures.

So it was sold, not destroyed. The Gallery stayed open to provide its world class museum experience to its visitors, who if they want to see Lowry paintings can take a 20 minute tram ride to see loads of them (in a really badly designed building, but that is another story). And Bury has been cut off from polite (British) museum company, an action which I see as indicative of the MLA and museum sectors own weakness rather than ours.