August 19, 2008

The Reality Street Book of Sonnets

Having recently received The Reality Street Book of Sonnets edited by Jeff Hilson, I was struck by the exhilarated curiosity one feels when in the presence of a great anthology. I counterpose this feeling with the contrary feeling you get from the salad-mixing of popular anthologies. Bookshop poetry sections offer two shades of negativity in this regard: pick up an anthology at random and you either have that sinking feeling that these people can get away with such sloppy publishing and concomitant sense of superiority you get from seeing these feeble efforts. As Ron Silliman wrote in “In The American Tree” – “[this] anthology is a record of the debate”, but there is an endless stream of imbeciles chattering at the moment. Anyway, these thoughts cause me to return to something I’ve not read for years – ‘A Pamphlet Against Anthologies’ by Laura Riding & Robert Graves. The essay argues that there are only 3 types of anthology that are acceptable:
A non-professional, non-purposive collection, such as the poet’s or amateur’s scrapbook; the rescue-anthology, the value of which is primarily historical; and third – the anthology that is criticism. I think there is a fourth. The question of the form of an anthology is a live one for me at the moment because I am in the process of editing one to accompany next year’s Text Festival. The Book of Sonnets is a particularly good one. It made me think about really good anthologies: “In The American Tree” obviously, Rothenberg & Joris’s definitive “Poems of the Millennium”; “Other” Caddel & Quartermain; the Chicago Review “New Writing in German”. With very positive feelings about the Book of Sonnets, I am pleased to note that the Text Anthology (probably not its final title) shares a number of poets – Tony Lopez, Carol Watts, Robert Sheppard, Alan Halsey, (that I can remember without looking at the list). But having returned to the Riding and Graves, I note they also have a lot to say about the implications of classification within what they call a true anthology – approaches mentioned include alphabetical order of poets’ names or titles, or chronological by birth or death of the poets. Silliman divided In The American Tree geographically – East and West Coast. The fourth type I think is the most exciting to delve into, to read – in the way Lawrence Weiner means with READ ART. It is, as Silliman comments in his introduction the poetic conversation of …“The nature of reality. The nature of the individual. The function of language in the constitution of either realm. The nature of meaning. The substantiality of language. The shape and value of literature itself. The function of method.” So I still have the question of how I will construct the Text Anthology. I’ll want it to do those things. “Anthologies are not facts, but individual viewpoints over complex fields of information.” So it will be a curation.

Anyway, off to Toronto now.

August 16, 2008

Carol Watts

Carol Watts ( ) visited yesterday see the Irony of Flatness (picture 1) and discuss various project possibilities. Also shown introducing Phil Davenport to her "China" series - some of which will feature in the Text Festival anthology. Here is a sonnet from her 'Brass, Running':


difficult and persistent is the light
and its qualities a haunting of precepts
her gunmetal sanctuary where breath mists
famished in its reckoning her absence is
a volume to be accounted for do you know
the desolation of measurement motes
descending second per second without
intimation think of the sound of light as
a guttering of limbs its rush a hunger
to sustain the evidence of breathing snatched
from other open mouths the denial
of burning is not harmless she is not here
is something inflammatory baptism: light
and water implicated in the frenzy of cities

August 09, 2008

Dancing Chairs and a Walking Woman

On a more positive note, the works in the Irony of Flatness (Bury Art Gallery until November) are definitely deserving of more attention. The first is Marianne Eigenheer’s video-drawing “Dancing Chairs and a Walking Woman”. This is a particularly resonant and exciting piece. It recalls Marianne’s experience of walking around the streets of Cairo, having a look round while she was there preparing for a forthcoming show. This meandering came to be represented in the artist’s distinctive arabesque coloured drawing, the depth of her line mirroring her unique sense of space. This drawing in itself became a thirty metre long work which has been exhibited in Germany/Austria (I forget where). During her walk she became fascinated by the way Egyptian men place their chairs in the street, a male gesture of dominance of public space; Marianne began photographing them. “Dancing Chairs and a Walking Woman” is the brilliant counterpoint of these two aspects of the walk – the meandering fluidity circling the sometimes ominous fixed points of maleness – video stills shifting between one set of images to the next spread across to two screens. The depth of Marianne’s spatial dimensionality in this work actually touches you to the core.

By the way, I’ve written the catalogue for Irony of Flatness which is now available for £2 from Bury Art Gallery.

Green Drops and Moonsquirters

Months ago in this blog (more than once) I lamented the state of the English public gallery curating, specifically, as an example I mentioned how it was literally impossible to get into Manchester Art Gallery Asia Triennial video installation because there were so many playing toddlers and crying babies. The Gallery has now gone one step further with its latest offering: Green Drops and Moonsquirters
Of course, because success in the UK galleries is measured by numbers of visitors rather than the artistic quality of exhibitions, this is already a huge hit. But for anyone with any interest in the arts it is truly desperate - the galleries of the City Art Gallery must be hellish. In Manchester, the powers that be are constantly exercised with the notion that the city aspires to being 'world-class'. Every international visitor I have had, visiting the City Gallery can't understand it. Manchester is a great place to live, but without a world class gallery you wonder how it can aspire to be a world-class city; moreover, with a programme like this it is questionable whether the City Gallery is actually an Art Gallery. Maybe the logic of endless years of New Labour cultural pejoration are generating a category of museum practice that at the moment is nameless but is actually an anathema to art itself. In a lot of ways, it is close to the Victorian paternalist notion of the museum as a mechanism for worker's education and betterment. After all, virtually from the cradle citizens are given performance targets. It is frequently noticeable that even young artists, arts development and curatorial staffs have this conditioning which has removed the capacity for free thought. The state managerial approach to public mobilisation through intravenous outputs and outcomes with objectives set in advance means that many young artists dont know how to experiment or challenge themselves without knowing what the result of the experiment will be in advance. State funded galleries are as much part of this cultural ecology - I used "cultural ecology" ironically there because that is the latest jargon bollocks being used by the Arts Bureaucracies. It has been a long running idea in theatre that exposing children and young people to drama you are creating the audiences of the future. But the implementation of this has been didactic theatre endlessly addressing 'issues' of bullying, sex education, "citizenship", etc. So rather than creating the audience of the future, this model is creating citizens who think that is what theatre is. The same is happening in galleries. Children visit galleries either in school parties or with parents. So the school visit teaches them that all art has to be explained and that you have to do worksheets when you visit a gallery/museum. When visiting with parents, you play, dress up and do activities, which teaches you that the gallery is an indoor play centre. This sort of thinking is what has led to some libraries now to be called "ideas stores". So what should we call this thing instead of "Art Gallery"?

August 03, 2008