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 Anyway, I have withdrawn by paper from the publication.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 Ĺ arcevic’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.