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)

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