August 19, 2009

The Moment of Text

Sean Bonney commented during his reading at the Other Room that no-one writes manifestos these days (so one of the poems performed functioned as one); there is a sense that such change-the-world declarations are too grandiose for modern times – so of course, the first Text Festival launched with a manifesto. Modelled on John Cage’s Credo for the Future of Music, it is a complex of themes but I can pull out an overarching statement:

“Conventional language is about its subject and with the ubiquity of (commercial) typography, the omnipresence of a plenary uniformist language in the public domain has enmeshed the text into the ‘efficient’ and ‘transparent’ – principles of graphic design/language unified as the visual hegemony of packaging, identity and commodity. The aural debris of furniture music burying consciousness in organised marketing noise is the shared fate for text. Restricting the definition of literacy to consensualised standard public organisation, language is co-opted to approved central meanings and decanted through a hierarchy of mediations to allow only poetry expressions of exemplary personal narratives. The question of form is our only constant connection with the past. Although the great forms of the past were the sonnet or free verse, Text, the future will dialectically rise from a Glass Bead Game of
Restricted Languages

Faced with the paradox of language’s militarisation and de-militarisation, invention of new language forms, new literacies, language as a material and field of enquiry must be the response to the challenge of changing experience. Innovation is the negation of the given – the continuity of discovery beyond the colonized sector and the future of text, will rest not with the gatekeepers, but as it always has, with the restless, the investigators of language who disclose and construct experience and meanings in the substantial ambiguity of language.”

It is the nature of manifestos that they are primarily a negation of the current as much as prediction the forthcoming breakthrough: The Text was written from my perception that there was change in the air, that at the beginning of the new century we faced one of those historic moments when something new would be made. After two Text Festival’s it is noticeable that language in art is an increasingly prominent element of what is going on globally. A look at the latest issue of the art magazine ArtWorld, for instance, shows text-based art on virtually every page, and even a feature in the Reviews section under the title “Basel: the joy of text” surveying the “preponderance of interesting text works: that genre, seen only in somewhat predictable neon at last year’s fairs, showed plenty of wit and provocation while playing off the way in which words can be both abstract and meaningful.” Having seen all these works at the fair myself, except for Elisabetta Benassi’s “Telegram from Buckminster Fuller to Isamu Noguchi Explaining Einstein’s Theory of Relativity” (how much does my soft spot for Fuller influence that?); I found most of the work still “somewhat predictable” and from a poet’s viewpoint, somewhat linguistically light.
ArtWorld is interest as it is the only art magazine I know which has a poetry page. Sadly, while the magazine’s art coverage reports and critiques contemporary practice, its poetry is mainstream and therefore more than somewhat predictable. In this month’s issue, there is a poor poem by Sean O’Brien inspired by a painting by Jock McFadyen. Jeffrey Side has a good piece on O’Brien at

Already mentioned here, text work made it to the London ICA (Poor.Old.Tired.Horse.), and I hear on the grapevine that Leeds City Gallery scouted out the Text Festival in preparation of them doing a text show. Even the Serpentine Gallery is preparing a Poetry event in the October. I will be meeting Hans Ulrich Obrist next week to discuss the projected two-day Poetry Marathon. This event will be the fourth in the series of Marathons presented by the Serpentine Gallery, the first being the Interview Marathon, 2006 during which Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed 66 leading architects, artists, philosophers, writers, film-makers and theorists over a 24-hours. This was followed by the Experiment Marathon, 2007, 50 live experiments by leading artists, writers, musicians, architects and scientists and the Manifesto Marathon 2008 which presented 70 manifestos for the 21st century over a two day futurological conference – so it turns out that there actually is a lot of manifesto production going on after all.

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