November 30, 2009

Inspection to infinity

Has the UK Government found the resources to go beyond the Russell Paradox?

"Suppose that every public library has to compile a catalog of all its books. The catalog is itself one of the library's books, but while some librarians include it in the catalog for completeness, others leave it out, as being self-evident.

Now imagine that all these catalogs are sent to the national library. Some of them include themselves in their listings, others do not. The national librarian compiles two master catalogs - one of all the catalogs that list themselves, and one of all those that don't.

The question is now, should these catalogs list themselves? The 'Catalog of all catalogs that list themselves' is no problem. If the librarian doesn't include it in its own listing, it is still a true catalog of those catalogs that do include themselves. If he does include it, it remains a true catalog of those that list themselves.

However, just as the librarian cannot go wrong with the first master catalog, he is doomed to fail with the second. When it comes to the 'Catalog of all catalogs that don't list themselves', the librarian cannot include it in its own listing, because then it would belong in the other catalog, that of catalogs that do include themselves. However, if the librarian leaves it out, the catalog is incomplete. Either way, it can never be a true catalog of catalogs that do not list themselves."

Today our Department had a Service Excellence Inspector in doing what governmental inspectors do. More interesingly, there was another inspector inspecting the inspector. I couldnt resist asking the inspector inspector whether he recognised the Russell problem and whether he was subsequently inspected by another level of inspector above him. He happily reported that yes he was inspected by someone above and as far as he knew they were also inspected by someone; after that, he thought it shifted to a intergovernmental agency which inspected that level and on and on.

In computability theory, this is called the halting problem: which can be stated as follows: given a description of a program, decide whether the program finishes running or will run forever. So it would appear that inspection goes on forever.

November 28, 2009


Giles Goodland will be reading for Vital Signs at the Chapman Gallery, Salford University, at 1pm on Monday 30thNovember. Admission is free.

Giles is the author of, among other books, the excellent Capital

The 13th Other Room takes place Wednesday, 2nd December. After at the usual venue, The Old Abbey Inn, 61 Pencroft Way, Manchester, M15 6AY (on Manchester Science Park). 7 PM start. Details of readers below. More details at

SOPHIE ROBINSON is a London poet whose work has appeared in various online magazines including Pilot, How2 and Dusie as well as Jeff Hilson's Reality Street Book Of Sonnets and Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe) Her most recent collection is a on Les Figues Press.

NICK THURSTON (b.1982) is a conceptual artist and writer whose primary concerns are the use of languages and the possibilities of languages. Thurston explores modes of reading, in both literary and ‘fine art’ contexts, in such a way that the two coalesce as one praxis of poetics. He is author of "Reading the Remove of Literature" (2006) and "Historia Abscondita (An Index of Joy)" (2007), and co-author of "THE DIE IS CAST" (2009), plus numerous journal articles and artists’ pages. He has performed or exhibited internationally, including presentations at Printed Matter, Inc. (New York), The Text Festival (Bury) and the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven); and since 2006 he has served as the Editor of the independent artists’ book publishing imprint information as material (York). His work is to be featured in several forthcoming anthologies, and his next print editions have been specially commissioned by the Laurence Sterne Museum and the French Centre for Artists’ Books.

November 26, 2009

Not Curating For The Future

I had expected today to blog about the future of curating because I attended the Renaissance North West Conference "Curating for the Future",
which should have given me some interesting things to get my teeth into. However, it turned out that the conference had very little to do with what I think of when I use the word "curate". Indeed, on reflection, I don't think I heard the word used. Come to think of it, artists werent mentioned either. It turned out that curating in the context of the conference meant "our sector strives for organisational and environmental sustainability to ensure we continue to exist, develop and provide relevant and inspirational services to the public we were."

The conference opened with a speech from the Culture Minister - delivered by the top civil servant from the Dept. of Culture because she had been required to do something more important in London. This "key note" speech padded with a dirge of statistics essentially told the delegates that government culture policy is a great success and its structure of Renaissance in the Regions museum hubs is a great success. But of course, as usual, culture still has to argue for the value of culture for it to survive, to gather evidence of its effectiveness; this circles back in the argument to prioritise visitor numbers and quantitative indicators. This paragraph is boring me - think what 30 minutes of this was like.

The panel discussion started with quite an interesting question: what will the museum sector look like in 10 years time and what should it look like in 2020; but debate was structured with sub-questions which were so uninteresting that I can't be bothered to type them out. The 'answers' were bogged down in how museums should survive the coming economic crisis storm. There was a feeling that in the face of financial threat, museums were more helpless because their crisis of purpose - the result of the 'success' of government cultural policy, I would argue. Surprisingly, Maurice Davis of the Museums Association proposed that the culture of standardisation that has been promoted for the last ten years and homogenised so much should now be relaxed. Diane Lees of the Imperial War Museum also suggested that the desparation of museums to be liked by everyone also has pernicious effects.

Maurice Davis said the most controversial thing (to the room) when he said that much as the public sector had been rolled back in the privatisations of the 80s-90s, maybe the idea that UK public museums collecting was no longer relevant to the 21st Century and "this should be left to Russian billionaires". Although this ellicited a sharp intake of breath in the room, the chasm between this abdication of curatorial vision and the only other imperatives being offered in this forum - amounting to "if we're lucky we'll survive" decorated with fashionable green concern - seemed to only to magnify the vacuum at the 'debate'.

November 24, 2009

fourmill plus quarterinch

Performance and CD Launch of Lemke/Gwilliam’s fourmill plus quarterinch

Castlefield gallery
Thursday, November 26, 2009 (18:00 - 20:00)

fourmill plus quarterinch is the duo of sound artists and improvising musicians Helmut Lemke and Ben Gwilliam. In this collaboration the two artists use different formats of audiotape; pre-recorded, prepared and unprepared. From individual banks of sound recordings on tape comes a subtle and often dense music that is both composed and improvised in concrete time.

FREE EVENT, BOOKING REQUIRED To book please call the gallery on 0161 832 8034 or email with your contact details and number of places.

Castlefield gallery, 2 Hewitt Street Knott Mill, Manchester M15 4GB

November 22, 2009

From Space

Procumbent to be alone would be paradisiacal a walled garden,
solipsistic pause when no-one sees you facing the wrong way
and there is no other waiting no gaze, a state only achieved in
the morning shower before the regular routine of work.

November 20, 2009

News From Phil Davenport

Phil's in China at the moment - this just in:

Speech is code

Philip Davenport’s residency at 501 Artspace in Chongqing, China (2 Nov-31 Dec) features input from several Chinese artists, in a sequence of English/Chinese text art works, titled Speech is Code.

Davenport has made a sequence of 8-word poems, which collage together ancient Chinese poems, lines from iconic conceptual and text art sources and modernist and postmodern poetry, finding parallels in form and intent – and knitting together new meanings completely unintended by the originators.

Davenport moves between literary and visual modes, exhibiting works as in situ billposter/poems in cities throughout Europe, in galleries and as 3D objects. His 2006 Heartshape Pornography series was handwritten onto artificial apples; in 2008 he relabelled street debris; 1998-2008 his Imaginary Missing People, poems made from missing person notices, were billposted in Berlin, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, Paris, London, Bilbao.

The Speech is Code pieces are written onto large pieces of semi-transparent paper, one side scripted in English the other Chinese – they co-exist and intermingle calligraphies, significations, syntaxes.

Principal artists involved are: Wang Jun, Mao Yanyang, Xu Guang Fu and Deng Chuan.

November 15, 2009

Book launch and the publishers fair

London Small Publishers Fair

Reading from Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective

As I said in my preamble, maybe a reading should be more about what the writer learns for the next work rather than how the audience are entertained, so it occurred to me there was something interesting to test in the rhythm of the way Space was written.

When I am writing a piece, each time I sit down with it I work from the start each time; this means when the first complete draft is done, the beginning section is much more worked. Over time, I hopefully work the whole piece to the same level of finish, but it occurred to me that in a book of 6 works written over 4 years, there may well be a relationship, a dialogue between all those beginnings. So for this reading, which had to be short, I read the beginnings of each of the sections. From Vertigo, I just read the first line:

"everything that is the case is a non-recursive set."
Which is, of course, my reworking of Wittgenstein's first line of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

"The world is all that is the case"

Carol Watts reading from her new book - 'This is Red'

Will Rowe reading from his new book - The Earth Has Been Destroyed

Piers Hugill reading his new book - Il canzoniere’

Aodán McCardle reading from Shudder (Stephen Mooney in background)

Sadly I didnt get a photo of Antony John reading ‘now than it used to be, but in the past’

November 14, 2009

About Space

(From a second conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, which will be posted here shortly,) HANS ULRICH OBRIST: How much control does the artist have in the interpretation of his work?

Which got me thinking about the forthcoming reception of Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective. When 50 Heads came out, I didn’t write anything about it or even read at the launch, so essentially there was no interpretation from me. As Ron Silliman noted: “This explains everything. That there won’t be any explanations in the usual sense of that word”. I wondered therefore: What would be different if I offered explanations of Space?

The book is structured to mirror the composition of Paolo Uccello’s “Rout of San Romano” painted in 1432 – a painting which has fascinated me for more than 30 years, and specifically the procumbent soldier in the bottom left corner, whom art history calls ‘the soldier who died for perspective’ – because Uccello, who was obsessed with the complications of perspective, appears to have got it wrong on that soldier. I don’t think it is as simple as that but that discussion is perhaps taking interpretation too far.

Within the overall structure, Space is constructed of six main sections linked by short nodal pieces plus an introductory poem. There is also a concrete structure referencing the construction of perspective in the picture plan and even, at the suitable point, a linguistic representation of the dead figure. Much as the poem ‘Contents’ was a key to unlocking 50 Heads, the first poem in Space Alice & Bob explains how to read the rest of the book. It actual opens with a private joke. Bob Grenier gave me a copy of his drawn poem “Afternoon Sunshine”, which I then quoted in 50 Heads, but as it is only two words, by quoting it, I appeared to be appropriating his whole poem. (In fact, his poem is
AFTER NOON SUN SHINE). Anyway, Bob emailed to say that he liked my use of it and therefore tongue-in-cheek granted me copyright approval – but he also asked whether there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do. So the first line of Alice & Bob is: “Bob emailed: Is there nothing you wouldn’t do?” though the poem immediately rejects the specific individual because the Bob of the poem is the Bob and Alice of cryptography and physics or the way I use them – analogues for the writer and the reader.

The following major sections each written for a specific context or location investigate different ontologies of spatial experience.

The original version of this was written for my exhibition at the Sleeper Gallery in Edinburgh in 2005 but heavily reworked for Space. It is dedicated to Ted and Ted Hoban. My grandfather Ted Hoban and my uncle (also) Ted Hoban. Both men died of lung cancer. In both cases, there was horrifying experience of watching a man shrink before your eyes as the cancer sucks the life out of him. As life itself shrinks into the cancerous black-hole, the vertiginous gravitation of dying: the poem asks how is the space stretched around dying? How is it distorted around you as you look on?

“A man wastes away in an armchair, reductio ad absurdum, arbitrarily before your eyes one among the range of artistically acceptable rooms according to this principle any state of affairs must have the strong and weak forces not yet discovered which explains why it and not some other state of affairs pertains when it comes to our waiting room there must be some reason which explains why it and not some other room pertains by using the infinite continuum of rooms. He dies. By degrees the sinking in, room cannot be divided into what is there and what is seen to be there. Ribs in alto rilievo.”

Thickness (lusting) was written in Budapest, Hungary in 2006. In this poem a related question: what is the quality of experience of itself? The feel of its fabric between your fingers? The thickness of thinking? I am fascinated with scientific language and the scientific method; the dialogue between the creative artistic method and the scientific method is also a running theme through the whole book. A frequent approach in quantum experimentation involves monitoring the motion of invisible particles by their mysterious effects on observable phenomenon. So in Thickness, I have attempted to replicate this method by testing an absence: the act of lusting, a pouring in an outward direction to an object not synonymous with that content – and therein a gravitational flow analogous to the vertigo of the previous poem.

Drawing on the curatorial thinking in the Irony of Flatness exhibition I organised in Bury, (2008), this poem shifts the spatial register to the question of the dimensions of the creative act in the viscous inertia of experience’s thickness …

“– significations, the measure of flatness, projectivity, and freeness are all equivalent. The concentrated axis (we happy few asymptotically combine to form a fused-group) – self reflexive, disdainful of the larger wheel that takes more effort to accelerate, moments of inertia moving/shifting interference; time appointed explosive only for observers who are ‘stationary’ preserving all distances. Now. How long does a moment require?”

The Mirror Canon Snips text was exhibited in Melbourne, Australia in 2008, in this case, rather than the creative act, I try to work out both the possibility of intentional motion in space and the question of the fundamental nature of the physical, the bodily, specifically building some model of action with the raw materials of my own (accelerating) medical atrophy.

Arriving at the Same Place at the Same Time was a phrase Lawrence Weiner sent to me as a response to my poem called “Sculpture” in 50 Heads which was a response to his work. Artistically I doubt that we were arriving at the same place at the same time but it was an interesting question of artistic/spatial/temporal coincidence. Subsequently a lot of this section was written to be a performance collaboration with sound artist Helmut Lemke and choreographer/dancer Ruth Tyson-Jones called “Gauge Symmetries”. Gauge Symmetries is the scientific term for the universality of phenomena - the results of an experiment are not dependent on where the experimental apparatus is, or in which direction it faces: we live assuming that gravity or light, etc, are the same wherever we are. The “Gauge Symmetries” work was re-worked and finished this year in Basel, Switzerland.

The Queue & the Radio Broadcast
The final poem in the book was written for an exhibition in Berlin – which didn’t happen but has been the basis of the texts used in Bonn and Barnsley this week – and re-worked to conclusion in Finland last year. It responded to the context of scarcity. The title comes from an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre which demonstrates how capitalism alienates individual experience (instead of collectivising the experience of waiting for a bus, the artifice of scarcity turns the individuals in the queue into serial agents who perceive the Other as a competitive threat). This describes the Berlin context for artists with hundreds of galleries opening, hundreds of artists/galleries competing for space and for attention. This is the same context that Ron Silliman has analysed in the massive increase in the number of living poets and the problem of being heard. So Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective has the same obstacle – who will read it? Does it matter if no-one reads it – especially, to repeat my favourite William Carlos Williams reference, if I built a bridge that I can cross. So logically the book concludes with Vasari’s 1550 judgement the ‘failure’ of Uccello’s project – his lifetime commitment to solve the problem of the soldier who died for perspective was not what the audience wanted.
And finally, the cover photo: I vividly remember crouching in that garden jungle in 1965; my first and last childhood memory - it was my rosebud moment.

(Veer launch the book - ISBN: 978-1-907088-06-3 - today at the London Small Publishers Fair. I'll be doing a short reading, and report on the events tomorrow)

November 12, 2009

Reading Room - Barnsley

Finished the installation of my text "Reading Room" in the "Reading by Light" show at the Barnsley Civic Gallery - things were still being hung and the lighting still needs to be sorted but I couldn't resist putting up these immediate pictures - official ones next week. The show opens tomorrow.

November 07, 2009

Fully Booked

Output-wise, it’s a busy week for me: two exhibitions and a book launch. First up is Fully Booked in Bonn; then (also on Friday) Reading by Light in Barnsley; and then on Saturday the launch of “Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective” at the London Small Publishers Fair. More of the latter two later.

The Beethoven hotel in Bonn will be demolished in 2010 to make way for a large complex with apartments and a restaurant. The old, and now empty, hotel occupies a very central location – directly opposite Bonn 's opera house, and overlooking the west bank of the Rhine. But before it is pulled down, it is being brought to life with a varied program of artistic interventions. The website gives you some idea of the sort of things that are going on - including some exuberant installations.

There are also a number of minimalists at work too, of which I am one. My text, called Broadcast Room, is an edit of "The Radio Broadcast & The Bus Queue" which was originally written for a space in Berlin and appears in "Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective." In terms of the room, I wanted to keep the sense of the stripped out hotel, adding a simple thickness of language, (hand-written on the ceiling) as an act of passing, a work that is nearly not there.

The preview is on Friday from 6pm and the show runs till February.
My thanks to Christoph Dahlhausen for his help with the show and the installation.
Other artists in the show:

Nir Alon (ISR)
Nathan Baker (USA)
Carola Bark
Nicholas Bodde
Ingo Bracke
Lars Breuer
Silke Brösskamp
Götz Bury
Laura Bruce (USA)
Christoph Dahlhausen
Bruno Dorn
Reinhard Doubrawa
Martin Durham (GB)
Karsten Födinger
Manuel Franke
Marcel Frey
Sebastian Freytag
Tom Früchtl
Daniel Göttin (CH)
Wiebke Grösch und
Frank Metzger
Yvo Hartmann
Geka Heinke
Graham Hudson (GB)
Gary Jolley (AUS)
Laresa Kosloff (AUS)
Andreas Lorenschat
Antonia Low (GB)
Tumi Magnússon (IS)
Guido Münch
Aki Nakazawa (JAP)
Esther Neumann
Frank Piasta
Jan van der Ploeg (NL)
Trevor Richards (AUS)
Kai Richter
Rita Rohlfing
Christine Rühmann (CH)
/Sjaak Beemsterboer (NL)
Karen Scheper
Christiane Schlosser
Arne Schreiber
Nicola Schudy
Daniel Schürer
Paul Schwer
Cony Theis
David Thomas (AUS)
Tony Trehy (GB)
Jan Verbeek
Cornel Wachter
Achim Zeman

November 06, 2009


Manchester's Piccadilly Metro station features a set of nine lightboxes facing the platforms which are devoted to display of artworks. Originally part of the Text Festival but delayed due to engineering works, the station has just reopened with text works selected by me supported by the Hamilton Project.

Various artists featured including Madrid-based Finn, Riiko Sakkinen (Future Cola) (below)

"Some Infinities are larger than others" part of a text work by me in collaboration with Kerry Morrison,

plus a couple of works by Márton Koppány from Budapest (introduced to me by Geof Huth).
40,000 people a day stand on these platforms looking at the work while they wait for their trams - an exposure reaching nearly 2 million by the end of the display in February. It would have been nice if the Station had not located those awful yellow "Piccadilly" signs next to the lightboxes, though.

November 01, 2009

On Jazz or Comedy

As regulars here will know it is only in recent times that I have begun to do readings. Previously I had taken the view that the work was specifically written for the page, with effects for the readers’ eye and silent voice. When I wrote “Mirror Canon Snips” for Melbourne the idea that it would be performed by moving readers through the installation caused me to become intrigued with the question whether it was possible to make them stumble by making the language of the poem too complex to read while walking. But then when I was persuaded to read at the Other Room, I discovered that there were things that I could learn from performing the poems which weren’t evident in silence. There were also dramatic effects that I discovered that were more for the entertainment of the audience – particularly the way Reykjavik opens when you read it. I remember recording the first part of the performance for me to review any insights in that reading, having not anticipated that it was also videoed by the Other Room and then put up on the website. While the things I needed to learn were captured by both recordings, it occurred to me afterwards that the movement of unfolding in Reykjavik or the reason why I wrote the poem “Lassitude” which informs the aural understanding of it would no longer be unexpected to future audiences. Around the time, I recall a comedian commenting that, while it paid much better than live performance, TV was very consuming of material. A routine on television could only be used once, with thereafter audiences knowing the jokes. Obviously having films and recordings online is an artistic resource, part of the poetic dialogue and an extension of a poetry readings meagre audience, but is there a down side? At Ron Silliman’s afternoon lecture at Birkbeck when he was over for the Text Festival, I asked him about this issue: whether each performance captured and broadcast online was in anyway like the consumption of the comedian’s material. Ron’s view was that the poetry performance is more like a jazz improvisation, with each reading being a fresh interpretation of the material.

I think this is probably true but the Oxjam reading last Sunday (again recorded) I was looking for something else again. I started the reading with “Doubt” from 50 Heads. Then the sections from the new book “Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective”. For this reading I wasn’t interested in comedy or jazz.

I have referenced before William Carlos Williams analogy that writing (art) is like bridge building – the artist constructs the artwork cross a stream or mountain gorge, with the purpose of crossing: “Don’t blush to write a poem, stand up to it, provided it is a structure, a structure built upon your own ground to assert it, your ground where you stand on your own feet, in every man’s despite”. Expanding on his metaphor, he goes on to the next barrier to continue his journey, with the experience of previous bridges informing each subsequent solution. The function is the crossing. As Picasso said, it is for epigones coming after to make it look better. It is the job of critics to describe the bridge. It is for governmental hierarchies of mediation to erect signs and health & safety barriers to make sure the bridge or even obstacle of the stream are not perceived as worth crossing.

Often, especially if an artist’s work is not easy to fathom, I ask myself: what question (what gorge) is this artist trying to answer(bridge)? It is obvious I think for instance what question the Language Moment attempts to address. Although Sue says I shouldn’t say anything about the north west winner of the Olympiad commission – the Projected Cloud by Anthony McCall, because it will sound like sour-grapes, when you look at it from this perspective its question would seem not really worth asking. Most of its substance would appear to be engineering and technical – how the cloud is generated, how the projections work on the cloud, how it will ever exist in the windy environment of the Mersey estuary – not artistic. If the question context is the public realm question of the Monument, the bankrupt refuge of UK public art in the celebration of scale (Angel of the North, B of the Bang, Mark Wallinger’s White Horse, etc), the question to which all these refer has already been answered with more conceptual rigour by Lawrence Weiner with ‘AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE’. Coincidentally, having been brought up on the ‘Cheshire plain’ where presumably you will be able to see the new work, I can’t see how it can better than the steam columns of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station (my Dad worked on that construction). This landscape was actually the inspiration for my poem “Yggdrasill” in 50 Heads. Maybe that was my answer to the question – deeper than McCall’s column will be, but depth wasn’t what the Olympics wanted obviously, maybe they wanted comedy.

Anyway, I digress. My reading of “Space The Soldier Who Died For Perspective” had a different function. By the time I came to read 50 Heads and Reykjavik I had lived with them for about 2-3 years, whereas Soldier was only finished in June. While some sections of it date back to exhibition installations around the world, the bringing them together, the re-structuring, the integration as a whole work are still as new to me as the audience who heard me read. A while back there was an argument going round that the radical understanding of the reader/audience was the most important aspect of contemporary poetic development. This is of course bollocks. It is the radical understanding of the writer that is most important. So the reading wasn’t a comedy or jazz, it was a test installation, it was stretching to grasp something spatial in the language - and so I wonder whether that is something that needs to be recorded.