May 31, 2009

My first show

I have been reading Hans Ulrich Obrist's A Brief History of Curating - which has had the effect of triggering reminiscence. My first show was a display of war etchings by the British Sculptor Michael Sandle. Pictured - his most famous work, I think, A Twentieth Century Monument.

May 27, 2009

Since getting out of Downing St, I've been too busy to do much thinking here. Still focused on finishing the new book, which is on target now and should be completed in Basel next week. Otherwise, I seem to have been tied up in funding issues: I came up with the idea of an international Sculpture Triennial for the North West, which is now going after about £1.5million from different governmental funds; and then there have been various funding applications related to the partnership with Tampere, Finland.

May 22, 2009

Grin Variations

The film created with students of the International School in the Hague with Phil Davenport as part of the Text Festival can now be viewed at
or, of course, at Bury Museum.


Arthur+Martha invite submissions to blog address as part of gathering insider accounts of illness. If you, or anyone in contact with you or your organisation, would like to send material to the blog, we would be delighted to receive it. Please circulate this to anyone you think might be interested. The PATIENCE collection will particularly focus on the experiences of older people. It will be published as a set of pamphlets and a book and also documented online.

Art is capable of depicting the impossible or invisible: hope, pain, joy, fear… states and emotions sometimes inescapable with ill health. We will explore some of our most powerful and yet most elusive moments - times of survival.

Paracetamol Soup, the recent arthur+martha exhibition of work made in healthcare settings, was reviewed in The Guardian (article by Penny Anderson and photostream at ).
The Big Issue will include a feature about arthur+martha and PATIENCE on May 25th.

"a blessing: daffodils
the light, a relief
a relief (the darling)
it comes slowly."

(speak poem, Cherry Tree Hospital , 2009)

May 17, 2009

Studio visit

The Bury Gallery show following "Agency of Words" (Text Festival) has a working title of "Not At This Address". The initial impetus for this was the observation that there are some very interesting artists working in Manchester (but with clearly international locus and impacts), who have not been properly presented in the city, because of the Manchester's curatorial weaknesses, previously touched on here. It is of course a similar situation with the poetry scene - internationally significant poets disconnected from the local structures. (A case in point, the other day, I bumped into Michael Schmidt, who seemed much more interested in his just-bought bags of summer berries and fuzzing over Barney than he was that Ron Silliman had been in town. And he didn't mention the Text Festival at all!).

So in preparation for the next exhibition, I visited 3 artists at Rogue Studios last week, : Pat Flynn (picture), Andrew McDonald and Magnus Quaife - all of whom will be in show. I don't know whether they would agree but while each artist had a very distinctive voice, I sensed a single commonality in their individual questioning of the divergent boundary between reality and conceptual space. Coincidentally Pat and Andrew are both routed in sculpture but have gravitated toward digital practice: Pat Flynn (re)creates objects and environments in software generating images and sculptures eerily mathematically real but reflecting the uncanny valley of between consciousness and object. Andrew McDonald also resolves sculptural dimensionality by turning to the digital. Andrew's scratchily drawn remarkable Beckett landscapes and unspecified warehouse interiors around which a headless man called John endlessly circulates are at once both tragic and affirming. He also creates shocking lightening room-illuminated cinematic tableau.

In similar questioning of perception, expectation and reality, Magnus Quaife takes images and interrogates them directly on that ground. Primarily working in watercolour, Magnus has a series of rural idylls, some rough re-paintings historic landscapes, featuring the box cabinet of one of the first super-computers used to simulate the real world; or seeing images of May 1968, and finding instead images of quirky images of life of the period, which converted into faded graphics accumulatively create an unreal era of non-memory.

Other artists so far confirmed for the show are: Sarah Sanders, Brass Art, Jesse Ash, Maurice Carlin, Amy Pennington, Rachel Goodyear, Rachel Well, and Alison Erika Forde. There will also be a sound art event during the show. It was interesting talking to the 3 artists that none of them had visited Bury Art Gallery since its innovative programme began (and that's probably nearly a decade now!); just as they don't situate their practice in the local and therefore why should they, Bury positions itself in the international context; However, my thinking is that the curatorial practice assumes that important artistic debates are moved forward more significantly through the dialogue between artforms as well as within them - hence events like the Text Festival.
(Tomorrow: down to London for the Comtemporary Art Society reception at 11 Downing St.)

May 16, 2009

we make money not art

A new experience of the Text Festival launch was the way events bounced-referred around different blogs. In that spirit of pointing to interesting things, the other blog that I frequently look at is we-make-money-not-art. Regine Debatty's report on the Knowbotic Research is worth a read.

May 15, 2009

a few left traces

Neil Carver, Ben Gwilliam, Tomas Korber, Helmut Lemke,
Lee Patterson, Matt Wand, Hainer Woermann

Chapman Gallery, University of Salford
Performances Saturday 16th May 7-11pm, Free
Exhibition open: Monday 18th May – Friday 5th June

‘a few left traces’ is a performance and exhibition concept initiated and curated by Ben Gwilliam and Helmut Lemke (both featured in the Text Festival). It will be taking place at the Chapman Gallery at the University of Salford as part of the European Night of Museums and is organized and funded in co-operation with the Arts Unit. Following on from a previous event in 2007 (then the silence increased), ‘a few left traces’ is both a performance event and a subsequent exhibition that unpicks sound/music as an Interdisciplinary Art Practice, bringing together thought and debate as part of the process of making.

On Saturday, the 16th May from 7pm to 11pm, 7 musicians and sound artists collaborate together on one communal surface (20ft x 8ft table). The invited participants are established artists from the UK and abroad. Central to the performance is making new improvisations and to try new collaborations between players who have not done so before. Risk and experimentation are important.
The Audience will experience a performance evening of various improvisations and collaborations that happen in different arrangements of performers.

It is from this performance that the exhibition will form as a document to the processes that took place within the collaborations.

A body of work will be left in the gallery that comprises of:
- Recordings of the process in sound, video and drawing, individually and as a whole and
- Collected objects left over from the sound generating events.

These 'Left Traces' are assembled and projected back onto the table as the exhibition, exposing the temporal and musical processes (traces) that happened in time.
More info at

May 11, 2009

European Museums Forum

If I hadn't been busying myself with the Text Festival, at this time of the year, I would hope to be at the EMF, which this year took place in Bursa, Turkey. My friend museum consultant Benedetta Tiana set up her blog coincident with the event and here is her story of how it has been:

May 09, 2009

Silliman's response to the Text Festival

In case you don't read the Silliman blog, he has put up thoughts about the Festival:

May 08, 2009

apple pie editions

Apple Pie is a lab for poetic artefacts: art objects, billposters, prints, CDs, photographs, as well as books. The list contains work from invited artists, poets, musicians and collaborators.

May 06, 2009

Back from London

Arrived in the metropolis yesterday in time for lunch with Ron, Will Rowe and Carol Watts, followed by Ron’s workshop at Birkbeck. Ron talking brilliantly and continuously (with questions) for 2 odd hours. Then he, me and Carol went to the London Review of Books for coffee. Then Carol left to sort out the details for the evening, and Ron and I chatted about books and writings and especially the paucity of poetry sections in books shops. I bought Viktor Shklovsky’s Knight’s Move.

Ron’s Birkbeck reading had a more durational feel than his Bury reading because he read only two works: Quindecagon and the registration mark (Blogger won't insert the character as it appears in the book). It was a good size audience and there was a good question and answer session at the end. One of the questions was why it had taken so long for Ron to read in the UK and when would he read again. There has already been such massive interest in the plans for the Text Festival – so I can reveal that I have already begun to shape it and am negotiating with both Ron and Geof Huth to return with new projects. So if anyone out there has any ideas they have for the next one, feel free to propose them to me. After the reading, a group went for an Italian meal, where I mostly chatted to Marianne Eigenheer and Ron about Russia, Mexico, and American politics. And with Carol Watts about the plan to take a Bury Poems style Text Festival-on tour to some US venues. This morning I had an interesting conversation with Patrick Fabian Pannetta, continuing our (now-called) “Proxy Conversation” book project.

This morning before my train, I popped into Tate Modern (which is never a disappointment because I visit it with low expectations). Although I had gone to catch the Rodchenko & Popova and the Roni Horn shows, I got distracted by “Poetry & Dreams – which I have seen before but, developing recent curatorial thinking from the Text Festival shows, I am now working on an analytical essay on “Curating Poetry”. This will come out in a post Text publication which will hopefully also include essays from Tom Konyves on videopoetry and Geof Huth/Joanne Fitton on Text and Archives, and anyone else I think will fit into it nicely to move the Text Festival dialogue on. Anyway, on inspection, the curatorial principle behind Poetry & Dreams seems to include no relation or concept of poetry except maybe some romantic non-poetics notion that a hang that sort of juxta-floats lyrically around is poetry. As the show is actually a pretext for the Tate to show their Surrealist permanent collection, it seems totally bizarre to not represent the role of the Surrealist poets in the movement. The show is a useful example for my essay of art curators who know fuck all about poetry .

(a la Huth & Silliman) Books received:
Peter Jaeger – rapid eye movement (Reality Street Editions)
Wendy Mulford – The Land Between (Reality Street Editions

The Coincidental Laureate

As various other bloggers noted during the Text Festival, Carol Ann Duffy was coincidentally confirmed as the next poet laureate. In the blogs I saw there was only mild criticism of quality of her writing, though I felt that the irony hung in the air that it should be announced in Manchester concurrently with (but disconnected from) the Festival. However in the Thinking Environment Symposium on the Festival Sunday there was more open anger at the appointment. The symposium was an invitation only workshop for the festival artists, premised on the idea that Festivals and conferences usually expect things from their participants and don’t very often give them something back (except some small payment). The artists were offered the space to develop their thinking about their own practice and collaborative ways forward for innovative work (I will return to this in a future blog). The anger expressed at the Duffy appointment was not a major feature of the day’s thinking but is worth thinking about. On face value the anger is legitimate (especially for UK poets who had to live with the doggerel that Andrew Motion came out with and who have not much greater expectation of Duffy). I certainly have complained about the dismal quality of laureate writing many times here and elsewhere, and sometimes with the same anger. However, in the Thinking Environment it occurred to me that the anger was misplaced. We complain that Poet Laureates are mainstream poets – and frequently not even the ‘most capable’ of that empty ‘school’. But actually that is the job description: the poet is recommended on a list drawn up by someone in Government and presented to the Queen who chooses the one she likes. The poet is then approached indirectly to see if they would accept if asked. If they accept they are appointed if they refuse they were never asked – because a subject can’t refuse the Monarch. Even poets in the mainstream have problems with this; I vaguely recall that Andrew Motion wasn’t the first person who wasn’t asked. As a person, when I have met her, Carol Ann Duffy has always been nice to me – I remember her appreciating my explanation of how to read Lyn Hejinian’s Writing is an Aid to Memory and she was once very kind when I needed personal support, and I also had a sense that there was at least some backbone of (feminist) political principle. Fundamentally and obviously the Poet Laureate is the Establishment’s representation of itself, it is an appropriation. This era’s mainstream poets accept because of the carrot that they can use it to promote poetry in general; it is represented as a platform, so despite the obvious negatives, these poets think that they can use it to get more people reading. I don’t see any evidence of Motion achieving this; admittedly he is such a poor poet reading could hardly be helped (he is now Chairman of the Museums Libraries & Archives Agency, which is an equally pointless governmental organisation).

I think it is instructive to look at the Royal/Establishment use of a different artform: visual art. Does anyone get irritated or angry about the Royal Portrait painters? Every few years a mediocre artist that we have never heard of gets commissioned to paint the Queen’s portrait. It is a news item and the only question inevitably is whether the painting looks like her, with the only question to the nobody painter being ‘what is she like as a model?’ It doesn’t register at all in the art world because visual art has an autonomy of purpose, intent and public-private economy which is driven by newness and the next thing (discussion of the Blairite access corporatism of the Tate & other Empires is too much of a digression here). So the nearest Monarch-Government can come to appropriating contemporary art is the Culture Minister attending the Turner Prize or super-star artists at cocktail parties at Number 10: a reflected glory that they can be modern and cool – a state artist would be kitsch. The idea that the Queen could announce that the Turner Prize winner will be designated the official state artist would be laughable, and the official portraitist is in the same way below even that. The anger at the Poet Laureate is often focused on the question of who it is and that there are so many more interesting poets who could do it better, but this is to lose the argument before it starts. The Poet Laureateship is itself the denigration of all poetry. Instead of anger, which exemplifies the artform’s weakness, maybe derision and laughter would be more productive, allied with counter-naming (as Ron Silliman argued in the Thinking Environment): So the post should generally now be referred to as the State Poet – call it what it is – or the Poet Lackey or the Puppy Laureate (although even Barney would refuse the Queen’s offer – Who am I kidding? if she included doggy biscuits, then like the poets who take the job, he will do anything – but at least he would have the transparent canine integrity and lack of conceit to be driven by the urge for biscuits rather than the pathetic obsequiousness of wearing their collar).

May 05, 2009


Off to London today for Ron Silliman's Birkbeck reading and spending time with Marianne Eigenheer & Patrick Fabian Pannetta discussing future projects. Because of the pressure of organisation of the Text, my blog relied on photographs but I hope to write more thoughtfully on the train and post by tomorrow.

May 02, 2009

Ron Silliman explains poetry to Barney

Agency of Words

Opening Agency of Words

The exhibition opening was a great success (except for me dropping my camera just before it started - so no photos of my own; this is from Nancy Huth - me with Ron and Geof). There were about 100 present and lots of friends. Geof's reading was great and with people in the spaces the curatorial concept still held true. I'll expand on the show and its works when I have the official photos.

May 01, 2009

Curating The Agency of Words

Curating The Agency of Words was an interesting challenge, given the disparate works that I had selected. One of the elements of my curatorial style is the importance of understanding the spaces and spatial relations between works, the proportions and sightlines of the gallery and the often subconsciously influenced meanderings of the viewer. I would characterise this as something along the lines of a classical minimalism. As I located the works in preparation of the hang it became clear that there was something missing, the works did not gel together. Standing in the middle of the gallery, I realised that the problem was the absence of a problem. My thinking returned to my 50 Heads poem "Entscheidungsproblem" which opens with the line "is there some procedure which could solve all problems one after the other?" This was a theory from the history of mathematics that suggested that ultimate all problems could be solved through each solution resting on previous solutions. It was disproved by Gödel. But it raised the question whether artists do/can or should think that they accrue creative (or in the context of the festival) linguistic solutions. (Another reference to 50 Heads is the location of 3 Carl Middleton Apology prints - the book finishes with a poem called Apology")
So the curation invited Entscheidungsproblem at its centre - which takes the form of Helmut Lemke's fishing reel version of that poem. While now there was a central context, the implications of this were that my usual interest in 'manipulating' the perceptions of the viewer through balance and location of interest could no longer hold sway. The composition of the show now needed to orbit its central question: so the artworks function very subtly turned inwards either actually or implicitly. With the linear reading of the spatial experience re-oriented, the relationship of the works as (found) objects begins to feel more Duchampian, and with the addition of a 19th Century Grandfather clock (textual face) the curation does what it does.
As Marcel Broodthaers said: "Every exhibition is one possibility surrounded by many other possibilities which are worth being explored"

Staff Briefing

"Before I begin the briefing about the works in the show and the ideas behind it, I just want to say that in any career there will only be a few occasions in which you can say something magical happened, the people who you work with gelled together to achieve something remarkable. It has happen to me twice before in my working life; and now I can say it has happened for a third time. I'd like to thank you all for making this a special moment"

The Agency of Words opens tonight.

Irony of Flatness

The Standardised Moment

How to spell it antiquarian divestitures of fact and faction
the bubble that pops as it expands realization like the intake
of breath on a cold day the truth of neither ether Nora
what falls as rain arrives as water we see within the chalice
the frequency of a complex system repetition inspires preservation
instinct toward flight away from return the right of the left of
the rest arabesques of colour and the chairs in rows and tiers
the physiognomy of a clown at birth humour without teeth
teeth with teats their judgement and the interference haunted
by morning what goest away returneth again take a message
to Garcia y Vega notes written on palms text degenerated
by fronds Kafka knew the way to beetlehood though being
a cockroach seeing faster as ink blots seeing slower as it,
just interminable specific it each pencil of coincident
value a marker of meaning a maker of meant “Just one
thin meant?” a diminution of obsequies to an increase of word
a tendency to overestimate the importance of our own experience
on the hither side of any on the thither side of zither How long
does a moment require? flattened-out epiphanous justifications
decoherence, dreams and decay lotions and potions but
I gave Geof Huth a copy of "Irony of Flatness" (published last year) yesterday and within an hour I had back his response in his poem-a-day exercise. About the same time, Marianne Eigenheer confirmed the forthcoming arrival of a sequence of her drawings which we are acquiring for the Bury Art collection. So here you get them together, as I did.
(again, Geof's blog of yesterday's Test events is definite).