October 13, 2008


I went to Berlin ostensibly to attend the Zebra Poetry-Film Festival http://www.literaturwerkstatt.org/index.php?id=494&L=1
but who needs an excuse to visit your favourite city. The Poetry-Film Festival was execrable. The audience (at least starting out) was impressively large, so it is a double crime to have such poor work showing. Pretty much all I saw was either weak narrative poetry voiced over or subtitled to mediocre illustrative film images; or generally coming out of Eastern Europe/the Balkans laugh-out-loudly-bad Kafkaesque nightmare animations. The fare could be summed up as a festival of banal verse illustrated by plodding film-workshop shorts. “Again and Again” was an 11 minute documentary filmed in a glass factory in the Myanmar countryside with a subtitled and spoken Buddhist poem accompanying. The German producer stood up at the end and talked about her documentaries and how this film by The Maw Naing had come out of a film workshop she had set up in that country. And that is all you could say about it. It certainly did not represent any example of a new art/poetry form. It was a little sad really that the young Myanmar artist was so ill-served by the importation of the Western documentary model.
BlauwBlauw (Bruised) was a Belgian film by Sandy Claes, Miguel Declercq and Daan Wampers featuring a naked woman in an empty room. An animated blue bruise appeared on her body and in stop-motion moved and expanded around her until it bound her in blue elastic ropes, pulling her and tying her to the room. Some words about poetry appear on and off. The makers spoke about it representing domestic violence but this notion was fundamentally dissipated by the absence of violence in the language.
The best worst example of UK practice was Cul-de-sac by Sandra Ensby and a poet who I don’t know called Benedict Newbery. The poem was the usual English poet-first person lilting along about melancholy, slow small life dying and the comforts of pointlessness. The film was a simple watercolour style illustration again. When Newbery spoke he pretty much summed up the problem. He said that Endsby had seen the Zebra Competition and as she had seen his work somewhere emailed him to ask for 5 poems from which she could choose one to animate for the prize. The audience chuckled at the English ingenuous amateurism of it all. But this was the admission of the festival: the works on show are (mostly) film-makers who acquire poems which they illustrate with image. The poems are stuck in an unchallenged linguistic history so these works advance nothing. The Festival programme claims ‘there is no other comparable presentation of poetry films… the most important forum for an independent art form fusing poetry, film and new media.” Unfortunately, if they are able to maintain this eminent position unchallenged the real possibilities of language art and the time-based media will be peripheral.

Thankfully Berlin has endlessly more exciting possibilities and this visit was one of the most brilliant I have ever had. On the Friday I met with Patrick Panetta who was a great guide to more galleries than I can remember. Things that stood out though were Ming Wong at MKgalerie
http://www.mkgalerie.de/ and Josephine Meckseper at www.arndt-partner.com. I was also pleased to see Maurizio Nannucci's ALL ART HAS BEEN CONTEMPORARY at the Altes Museum http://www.museumstechnik.de/en/projekte/beleuchtung/Nannucci-Schriftzug.php .
Lawrence Weiner was a constant presence of course, in various galleries and on street corners. The El Sourdog Hex http://www.elsourdoghex.org/browser/weiner.htm had some nice pieces though there was also a sense that you get a lot nowadays that Lawrence is surveying himself, locating himself as a future historical figure.
I also had the pleasure of dinner and Ukrainian Champagne with Steve Miller and his girlfriend Sonya. Steve’s current installation in Bury is a deeply interesting show which I will talk about soon (when I have been able to convert some of the images to do justice in the blog format).

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