April 30, 2009

Textual Days

It is suddenly a very strange feeling to be in the company of other bloggers who are blogging the same events. It's not so much competitive as contrapuntal. Today after a quick tour of Manchester's more attractive architectural features - Rylands Library, Barton Arcade, Royal Exchange Theatre (I guess Geof will blog that) - we went up to Bury. Tom Konyves went to the Met Arts Centre to prepare for tonight's poetry-film event; while Geof & Nancy came with me to the Gallery. He seemed pleased with the transfer of his concrete poem to a large scale vinyl on glass in the Museum. In the afternoon, Channel M filmed a piece about the festival - with us interviewed and him reading (pictured).

A delightful evening with Ron Silliman, Tom Konyves, Geof & Nancy Huth - which Geof has blogged better than I could: http://dbqp.blogspot.com/. - his camera is better too, though this seems to be the only picture of Barney (with GH) in which he isn't a whirling fur shape.

Sue’s menu:
Canapés: smoked salmon and sour cream blinis accompanied with Petillant de Syrah
Pan-fried fillets of Salmon with ginger & chilli spiced ribbons of courgettes and a lemon & parsley dressing accompanied with Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc
Fricassee of spring chicken in a white wine, cream and asparagus sauce with crushed new potatoes accompanied with a Rio Verde Sauvignon Blanc
A trio of strawberry treats: Strawberry & Chocolate meringue; home-made strawberry ice cream and a chilled Strawberry & Chilli cocktail followed by Coffee (and tea for the Americans) and Cloud Berry liqueur

April 29, 2009

Ron Silliman on the Verb

From Ron's arrival from the US, he went to BBC Radio for an interview and a reading for 'The Verb' http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/theverb/ which I think is broadcast on Friday but worth checking and worth listening to - you'll be able to listen again on the site iplayer.

April 28, 2009

Textual gathering

An exciting day with the first batches of artists arriving and installing for the festival. Pictured Liz Collini constructing something which can only be described as beautiful. Catronia Glover has also started work at the Met Arts Centre and Carolyn Thompson presented her commissioned sound work "Progress". I am hoping to blog events as they happen but things are already intense so I can't guarantee anything. Tomorrow Ron Silliman, Geof Huth (and Nancy), Tom Konyves and Patrick Fabian Pannetta fly in.

April 27, 2009

Festival news

Lunchtime Talk tomorrow
28 April 12.30pm Sign of The Times: Carolyn Thompson Bury Museum
Refreshments from 12 noon Sign of The Times is part of The Text Festival 2009
Text Festival 2009 The Agency of Words 2 May - 18 July
The second Text festival is a celebration of international poetics and language in art. With a focus on performance and sound art, the event features exhibitions and commissions from some of the world's leading practitioners and some great new talents.
For more information and festival highlights go to www.textfestival.com

See Geof Huth's itnerary:

April 25, 2009


What an attractive city! I highly recommend Wiesbaden, and Gottfried Hafemann's gallery. Marianne Eigenheer's show opened last - the picture in my previous entry is a good image of the upper room with the lower room featured 3 tiny screens featuring beautiful little mobile photo footage from Berlin Zoo and this completely unexpected early painting. Today I managed to see another 8 canvases (not in the show) from the 80's, that really much be shown soon.
Tomorrow - back to Manchester and the growing anticipation of the Text Festival - opening night Thursday, but lots to do before then. I would advise anyone thinking of going to the ticket events to book in advance, because they are going fast.

April 22, 2009

Galerie Hafemann, Wiesbaden

With the Text Festival website notching up more than 60,000 hits (since Christmas), I am off to Galerie Hafemann, Wiesbaden (Germany) http://www.galerie-hafemann.de/templates/main.php?SID=20 for the opening of the new show from Marianne Eigenheer. I'll also be to check out what's going on in Frankfurt.

April 21, 2009

Text Festival update

Hot news - In addtion to the readings already announced, Ron Silliman will now read with Geof Huth at the opening of Sign of the Times at Bury Museum & Archives on 1 May.

April 19, 2009

Text 2

The Text Festival anthology (Text 2) is now available. It opens with an introductory 'poetic manifesto' from me and includes:

Phil Davenport
Hester Reeve (HRH.the)
Alan Halsey
P. Inman
Allen fisher
Caroline Bergvall
Carolyn Thompson
Judy Kendall
Tony Lopez
Scott Thurston
Stephen miller
Jesse Glass
Joe Devlin
James Davies
Carol Watts
Carl Middleton

You can get a copy from the Bury Art Gallery shop.
The Text Festival is pretty much formed now so you can see the programme at

April 15, 2009

about everything

Back in January, Phil Davenport’s book about everything came out http://tony-trehy.blogspot.com/2009/01/about-everything.html . It has taken me a while to get round to reviewing it, and as I have digested it over the last few months, I am confirmed in my belief that Davenport is the synthesising heir of Bob Cobbing and Ian Hamiton Finlay. While I could comment on the double column form – drawn from newspaper layouts – the paratactic rhythm of the mirroring colour images to the text, the cutting of ontological meditation with media verbiage, for me I think there is something much deeper and more significant going on in the way the language progresses and at the same time dissolves to [][][][][][]. The following passage from a completely unrelated web site seems to me to encapsulate an important phenomenon about everything:

“A phase transition or, phase change, describes when a substance changes its state of matter - eg. ice melting to water is a phase change because a solid changed to a liquid. For a phase change to occur, energy must be added or removed from the substance. Normally adding or removing energy will change the temperature of the substance as the kinetic energy of the particles will increase or decrease. During a phase change however, the potential energy of the substance changes as the particles are moved further apart or closer together. When a system goes from one phase to another, there will generally be a stage where the free energy is non-analytic. This is a phase transition. Due to this non-analyticity, the free energies on either side of the transition are two different functions”

April 10, 2009

Make It New

Manchester International Festival (MIF) http://www.mif.co.uk/ claims to be the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events. The Festival launched in 2007 as “an artist-led, commissioning festival presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, music, visual arts and popular culture.” As I mentioned the other day, attending the media launch, my doubts from the first festival were confirmed for the second. Alex Poots, the Director, introduced the festival roughly with: this is the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events, an artist-led, commissioning festival presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, music, visual arts and popular culture. He then handed the platform over to the first artist (I can’t recall which one it was now), who, after explaining his planned work, handed on to the next and then they had handed on to the next, etc. The first thing that stands out in this ‘presentation’ is that the director did not presenting any sense of a Manchester vision on the international stage, what Manchester contributes to the global dialogue which accrues in the circuit of biennials and festivals; admittedly partnerships with other international festivals were flagged up but that is not the same as saying something, that is membership of a club. The ‘vision’ becomes simply the concatenation of the projects – without over-arching aspiration the festival is the symplectic geometry of arriving at the same place at the same time. The absence of the vision perforce throws attention onto the projects themselves – is there an implicit position threaded through them? Well, no, not really; what there is is a sort of cultural parlour game: Damon Albarn/opera/Chinese theatre (in the first festival), Damon Albarn/Kronos Quartet/Punchdrunk Theatre/BBC Documentaries, Steve Reich with Kraftwerk, Elbow with the Halle Orchestra, etc. We can all play this game: how about the Gallagher brothers (Oasis) with Vienna Lippizaner horses performing at the Manchester City Eastlands Stadium or Madonna choreographing the Kirov with original music by the Malawi Children’s Choir. You have a go, it’s fun.

This might sound churlish, and don’t get me wrong, I am not critical of the individual projects per se (although some of them invite some trenchant commentary - the excerpt of the Rufus Wainwright neo-romantic elevator-music opera played at the launch was terrible) – I have already booked tickets for the Bach concert in the specially designed space by Zaha Hadid - but then again, how ground-breaking is Bach? I’ll probably also see the Marina Abramović curation at the Whitworth Art Gallery (although, I am drawn to this in the same spirit of the shopping list, the chance to see that many live artists in one hit); no here, I am more concerned by the MIF qua Festival, its underlying fallacy and the recurring issue of corporate language. Let’s put aside some of the peripheral ripostes to the ‘vision’. Factually, the world’s first festival of original new work would surely be the 1895, or in modern times, the 1948 Venice Bienniales. Moreover it is almost a defining characteristic of contemporary international arts festivals to be made up of new work and special projects, so claiming distinction on this ground only convinces people who don’t attend many real international festivals.

The glaring and operative word in all this is “new”. I am reminded of TV presenters who introduce a live performance broadcast from the studio with “Live and exclusive…” as if the artist could have achieved quantum uncertainty and be live somewhere else at the same time. So Laurie Anderson (who was terrible in Salford a few years ago) performing with Lou Reed might be new in Manchester but it’s not actually new. Anyone of a certain age and musical orientation would salivate at the prospect of Steve Reich and Kraftwerk playing in the Velodrome, but it is only the parlour game juxtaposition and venue which are new. I saw Reich in 1998 at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and while the old classics that he performed were great, the later Hindenburg was very disappointing and it was clear by then that his creative powers were waning – that was ten years ago. To be fair, MIF does not claim a Poundian ‘Make it New’ but it certainly lays claim to newness and in some press communications to originality too. This is one of those Government-speak things, like ‘excellence’, which infect our cultural language. They offer up a category of partial newness or relatively new but not so new to challenge anything. A section of my next book seems to appropriate comment here:

Lines synonymous with their content in either order concatenation between
breathers and catalysis between breathers and catalysis worth nothing unless
they predict something new; non-trivial zeros except on the line iff it
redirects here if something is new to us it is new to everyone; people perceive
the existence of these risks and react by shopping or perseveration…

In MIF artistic risk is demonstrably missing. I felt this very clearly when the Whitworth Gallery curator was proudly recounting the challenging moment when Marina Abramović proposed that the Gallery spaces be emptied of the collection and replaced with her curation of live art performances. If you hear this empathising with endless storage problem of most galleries, you can read this as the Gallery breaking new ground, and to that extent it is. But I am reminded of when I was started working with Ulrich Rückriem; prior to meeting him, Robert Hopper the late Director of the Henry Moore Institute convinced me that Rückriem was one of the 5 great living artists. At that stage as a curator you know that whatever the artist proposes is what you are going to do, because if you don’t accept the proposal of artists of a certain status, you announce to the world that you are not committed to work of the highest quality. With Abramović’s status, the Whitworth is not actually taking an artistic risk.

This line of argument suggests at least some credence to the claim that the festival is artist-led. However, my perception is that, while it is well organised, it is not actually led in artistic terms. In the absence of an over-aching meaningful vision at its heart, MIF has an under-arching institutionalist market-orientation inertia. Classic proof of its privileging of institutions in comparison with its piecemeal attitude to artform and artists is the Manchester Open Commission. This year’s festival sought to commission a Manchester artist or arts organisation to create a major work. Remember this is in the context of the festival organisers trotting out the cliché about Manchester being characterised by its feisty go-for-it (madchester) city with attitude reputation! Out of many submissions, they chose the proposal from the Cube architecture gallery (http://www.cube.org.uk/) to commission Gustav Metzger. This projected work is an fallacious eco-stinker which I will return to analyse in future, but here I am interested more in the choice of the Cube as representing a Manchester artistic statement. Although its programme has improved in recent years, it is still a pretty uninspired node in the city landscape - limited as it is by the paucity of contemporary architecture in Manchester and the scourge of the Access Agenda. There are artists in Manchester who function on the international stage and some younger talents that soon will. But MIF went for Cube. This is the most telling statement of the festival’s inclination to institution before artist. Primarily the festival’s success is measured by fulfilling the requirements of its sponsors and the City Council’s tourism & marketing performance indicators, not artistic drives – and it shows in the programme.

Barney on the Beach

Barney's first experience of the sea was a shock - not knowing what it was, he followed the black labrador in. The look of horror on his face is hilarious.

April 06, 2009


Off to the Isle of Man until Easter:

April 04, 2009

A Day in the Capital

Just back from the opening of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/. The main ground floor spaces look pretty much how I remember them from when I was last there; the main changes are on the upper floors with numerous other gallery and archive spaces, topped by some community rooms. I say numerous because it was quite hard to know how you navigated (and counted) how the spaces connected. Some of them had potential for good display, some didn’t. Overall, my inkling was that the modernisation had a ‘trying-too-hard’ feel and that some of the character of the old building had been lost. The original vision of the founders was proudly stated: bringing great art to all people whatever their circumstances - for which read 'including the poor of the east end of London'. The refurbishment was located in this tradition, but over the years subtle entropy has eaten into such a small number of words in such an aspiration. In modern Britain the emphasis in this statement is placed 'on all people' - which isn't a problem in itself, but it raises the big question as to whether the modern curators can actually recognise the great art to bring them.

The British Council Collection display was over-crowded and ill-curated. The London-based Polish artist Goshka Macuga Bloomberg commission is only interesting for seeing the textile reproduction of Guernica, otherwise it is missable. Because of the lack of promenading logic, I saw the retrospective of German artist Isa Genzken in ‘reverse order’, coming across her late work first – some version of what they called her ‘remarkable’ installation for the German pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. People who thought this ‘remarkable’ need to get out more. Thankfully I saw her early sculpture at the end which was remarkable, showing a fine-tuned sense of space, beautiful proportions and confidence in materials (especially concrete) and colour. The only down-side of this great work was the curation. The installation was over-crowded (again) and over-egged, with the eye distracted from some of the powerful sculpture by ill-considered location of wall works. These failures feed into the photo images of this section of her exhibition - great works are clearly diminished in the web-images by the jumbling and crowding.

The star show of the visit though was the Utagawa Kuniyoshi at the Royal Academy.
http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/ - a really fabulous display from a 19th Century Japanese print master. (The accompanying Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) is confused – wanting to be a museological display without any engagement with the architecture of the Academy context).

As a footnote: Monsters in the Museum – despite the Kids in Museums campaign nonsense (see
http://tony-trehy.blogspot.com/2009/02/monsters-in-museums.html), the children were completely absent from the galleries, so visitors were able to appreciate the experience without disturbance.