January 30, 2010

Back to Budapest

Just off to Budapest to write. Having just finished a short poem for the forthcoming second issue of the Other Room Anthology, I am hoping to make some progress with the new book Tesseract. I always like to develop major sections of a text in non-English speaking cities. In 'exile', the foreign language space intensifies the phenomenological reliance on your own creative resources and strangely the transparence of language. No doubt this experience is different for people who speak more than one language, but I find it very conducive. Hopefully I'll also see some shows and I have meetings with various people about the next Text Festival and the 5 Places project that I am setting up with Irene Barberis in Melbourne. One of the people I am looking forward to seeing is visual poet Márton Koppány (one of his works pictured).

January 26, 2010

The Other Room

Wednesday, February 3rd 2010, 7.00
The Other Room with Rob Holloway, Holly Pester and Steve Waling
The Old Abbey Inn, Manchester,
Rob Holloway writes in Vauxhall and teaches in Dagenham. His first book PERMIT was published by the US -based poetry collective Subpress in 2009, and a new chapbook MORTMAIN is forthcoming from Stem. From Nov 2002 to March 2004 he hosted the poetry radio show "Up for Air" on Resonance FM (http://resonancefm.com/). In 2004 he launched the poetry CD label Stem (www.stemrecordings.com).

Holly Pester is an experimental sound poet and writer undergoing practice-led research at Birkbeck College in 'Speech and the Archive in Intermedia Poetry'. Her performances texts are experiments in the sound and shape of speech, blending pre-verbal noises with semantic surrealism in an affecting investigation into language transmission. Holly’s work is published on Onedit and in City Scapes, a new anthology of London poets (Penned in the Margins) and Zimzalla object 002. Holly Pester performed at the Serpentine Poetry Marathon in October and will take part in the Bury Text Festival 2011.

Steven Waling was born in Accrington, Lancashire in 1958, and has lived in Manchester since 1980. He won the Smith/Doorstop Pamphlet Competition with his first publication, Riding Shotgun, in 1988, and also that year was a prizewinner in the Lancaster Festival Poetry Competition. He has since published four books, including Calling Myself On The Phone (Smith/Doorstop)

January 24, 2010

A Manifesto for Monsters in Museums

I have previously expressed exasperation about the pronouncements of the bloody woman who runs the organisation “Kids in Museums” http://www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk/about/
She is at it again – this time an article in Arts Industry magazine www.artsindustry.co.uk – talking about the Kids in Museums Manifesto
Her main agenda obviously is to promote the manifesto, but in the article she does this by attacking the ‘arts sector’ over how bad it is at writing manifestos. Her article and her manifesto manifest to me someone who actually fundamentally dislikes the arts; there is always the subtext of her residual anger that she and her noisy brood were ‘thrown out’ of the Royal Academy.

Her article basically argues:
Galleries, museums and arts campaigns are bad at writing manifestos – they create documents that are either too long or, conversely, if short, too loose – “It’s no good having a manifesto with aims that boil down to nothing more than ‘enabling more people to have access to the arts’”. The Monsters in Museums woman tells ‘us’ that manifestos should be brief and clear. Amusingly, she says if your manifesto is one page long everyone will read it, if it is two pages long, hardly anyone even reads the first page. The Kids in Museums manifesto is two pages long.

Being a journalist and mother, it looks like she only had time to look up a quick dictionary definition for her article: “a public written declaration of the intentions or motives of a party”. As I have written before I have a real problem with this organisation and with its art-destroying agenda; in this article though, I find that I have a problem with their attack on manifestos too! Putting aside that the definition she uses misses reference to the manifesto’s requirement to call to action or that “all manifestos are best at denunciation” (Eric Hobsbawm); it also fails because “almost all manifestos in the past, which took the form of a group statement - assume the voice of some collective ‘we’” (Hans Ulrich Obrist). When you actually look at the KIM/MIM Manifesto you find that it doesn’t even fulfil the bloody woman’s own stated definition as it is not a declaration of the intentions of KIM/MIM, it is a list of patronising hectoring, and, sometimes plain stupid, demands of galleries and museums that have nothing to do with art.

On the face of it, the manifesto point that I have the biggest problem with would seem the most innocuous, Point 11: “Be height aware. Display objects, art and labels low enough for a child to see.” In hierarchical order of importance the people who should define the height of a work are the artist, then, if not specified as intrinsic to the work, the curator, and then no-one else. How old is the child who is supposed to see the work? One of the KIM/MIM suggestions (not in the manifesto) apparently is that museums should have pram-parking areas to make them more welcoming to mothers; does that mean that work should be displayed at eye-level of a toddler? As a 6-foot adult why do I have to sacrifice my back so that a toddler can see an artwork which it is unlikely to understand anyway? The government’s (equally stupid) performance indicators for Galleries measure success by the number of adult visitors. Can the forces of idiocy have it both ways?

She is right that the word ‘manifesto’ has been devalued, as much by sloppy use and by political parties which omit the originating impetus to revolution, but manifestos are written by practitioners not institutions; her attack is misconceived because the ‘arts sector’, the institutional examples she quotes, and the KIM/MIM manifesto are not actually manifestos.

Having a ‘manifesto’ that tells museums to have somewhere to sit down, tells me that the writer doesn’t actually go into many museums. It’s also odd that the 2nd point on the manifesto is that museums should have flexible family tickets. Though this may sound unusual to my foreign readers, in the UK virtually all museums are free to enter, certainly I can’t think of a museum in greater Manchester where you need a ticket. It hardly inspires interest in the manifesto shopping list if the 1st item is to be welcoming and the 2nd recommends something you don’t need.

For the first Text Festival (2005), I wrote a manifesto about the future of language art called simply “Text”. It was modelled on John Cage’s “Credo for the Future of Music”
http://transelectronic.net/v2/?p=302 . I wrote it as a poet not an art director. Text was 19 pages long; it was written with ideas, form and vocabulary beyond the reading age of children. It is of no interest if children can not read it. The opening shows were driven by curatorial rigour commensurate with the importance of the project – as Art Monthly reviewed at the time: “According to Foucault, the singularities that serve to rupture and renew normative discourse always emerge from the interstices – in other words, where nobody is looking. Almost certainly nobody was looking in the direction of Bury for the emergence of this significant project…” What’s a Foucault, Mummy?

Don’t get me wrong, the festival and other Bury Art Gallery programmes are supported by a full range of activities and projects aimed at children and young people but how is the cultural experience for them or for any other visitor enhanced by a gallery offering “big open spaces for children to let off steam” (point 15)? O, this relates to point 4 – don’t let galleries be places where people can experience displays without the noise of screaming running children. It is implied that the freedom to make noise in a gallery is related to galleries ‘being places for debate and new ideas’. That is exactly what they are – so how does children ‘letting off steam’ contribute to that? Of course there is the government fantasy that (point 10) ‘older and younger children … bring fresh ideas and insights’. This is plain nonsense. It has never been true and after 20 years of militarization (to paraphrase John Cage) of UK art and music education it is even further from possible. It can be argued that galleries and museums are the avenue through which young people can access and achieve their creative potential; this is true but only if galleries are allowed to be galleries that are places of ideas and not by dragging them down to the dumbness of the UK national curriculum and the chagrin of a mother with a chip on her shoulder.

January 19, 2010

Glow with the Flow

Friday 22nd January
Bispham High School , Bispham Road, Blackpool, FY2 ONH

Seven pods glowing in the dark each telling their own story of Blackpool through dance and light.
Each, a unique contained magical world. Choreographed by Ruth Tyson Jones (with thanks to Kat Irving for additional choreography).Music by Joshua Kopecek.

For more details please visit:

January 17, 2010

on a day unknown

It may not be immediately obvious how Jason E. Bowman’s new show “Untitled (on a day unknown)” at the Whitworth Art Gallery resonates with Damien Hirst’s “Nothing Matters” at the White Cube for me. On first viewing of the simple installation of court artist drawings, pinhole camera photos and quotation panels from the 1936 trial of 29 gay men in Chester, I found it lacked something. At the artist’s conversation yesterday, the discussion centred on the temporal re/dis/location of oppressive attitudes and violence against gay, lesbian and transgender identity. Jason had worked with a group of older LGBT people to reconstruct the trial – the choice of which was to span 3 generations of gay experience from pre-war oppression through 50s-60s legalisers to his present. It was in this discussion that I put my finger on what was missing – everything. I realised that the exhibition is fundamentally a structured absence. The archival process is a presence that represents a series of absences:

- the absence of a title
- the absence of time, the figures in the images are modern surrogates for the original defendants
- the absence of participants – Jason commented that the participants carry layers of secret knowledge developed through the project
- the absence of the artist himself, he doesn’t actually make any of the work on display
- the absence of technology – images displayed use rudimentary technologies (pin-hole, drawing)
- the absence of images from the time,
- the absence of the subsequent histories of the trial victims
- the absence of presence at the trial – court rules disallow drawing so the court artist has to make written notes and then draw from them from memory (I would love to have seen those notes)
- the absence of LGBT experience in mainstream consciousness
But (especially as a heterosexual) this absence is experienced a powerful analogy of knowing the unknowable. So what made me link this experience with the Hirst paintings? The experience of absence: in Bowman’s show absence is a central presence; Hirst blandly offers an absence too, an absence of insight or serious intent.


January 13, 2010

London - Nothing Matters

Just back from London: Very enjoyable lunches with Holly Pester (agreed her input into the next Text Festival) and Museum consultant Benedetta Tiana. Sadly Carol Watts had to cancel.

With Lois and CJ at the Live Arts Development Agency, I agreed a Language Moment DIY project in September this year and a Live Art Platform event in the 2011 Text Festival.

I only managed to see a couple of exhibitions – one of which was Nothing Matters – Damien Hirst’s painting show at the White Cube.
The only interesting thing about the Hirst show is the question whether it reads as Nothing (actually does) matter or nothing at all matters – and that is not that interesting. What Hirst does generally tends to pass me by and I have a feeling that he didn’t actually paint the works, that assistants did them, much as his teams of technicians build the Pharmacy cabinets, etc. Whoever painted them was being taken much too seriously. The ground floor featured 3 large triptychs – each panel featured 3 elevations of a ‘flying’ crow being shot in mid ‘flight’, a explosion of red paint representing presumably a bullet hitting the birds. The birds have no painterly life and no sense of aerial dynamism so there is no emotive charge to their mid-air death. It reminded me of school level projects painting death – empty of any sense of what it actually could mean. Paradoxically although one of the nine blood red bursts is quite expressive, all are undermined by paint dribbles maybe meant to be blood falling from the wound moment but just looking like someone who didn’t know when to stop dribbling – the gravity is not falling from the bird but falling from the brush, drawing attention to the act of painting these given the limited ability further undermines. In the gallery upstairs there were six much smaller paintings of skulls. I have a soft spot for skull paintings, primarily because in the summer holidays before I went to University, back when people didn’t have a year out, I spent my summer in the local medical school studying anatomy – I spent days drawing and painting especially skulls; so I like to think I approach the paintings with a detailed understanding of the requirements of the object. I feel qualified then to say that Hirst (or his assistant) are crap at it and because they are so badly observed there is nowhere to hide in claims of emotive depth. In the hand-out, extracted from the catalogue essay, Rudi Fuchs compares the visual mood of the paintings to the austere dryness of Beckett. This is to load something onto these works that is fundamentally not there; the claim that they “direct us towards a clearer perception of the real” can not be substantiated by the evidence of my eyes at least; what they do give is a clearer perception of the difference between existential nausea, the viscous horror of nothingness, and, like bad acting, the shallow melodrama of someone barely pretending.

January 09, 2010

Ekphrastic Poem-Book of The Year

As I did a review of the year a couple of blogs ago, it turns out that I have made into someone else’s review. Namely, Steven Fama (in California, I think)

It’s a long blog review but some great observations in there. Gratifyingly, Space the Soldier Who Died for Perspective received Steve’s accolade for “Ekphrastic Poem-Book of The Year”. As Steve comments on my expansive and often obscure vocabulary, it amused me that I had to look up ‘ekphrastic’. It means, as you will all know, “a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness”. Readers of my work will of course recognise that commitment to illuminative liveliness(!) despite Steve’s observation that it is “almost utterly incomprehensible, in terms of positivist, or straight-line logical, meaning”. (no offense taken). Interestingly, my experiment in offering some explanation of the work (on my blog in November) didn’t have much effect, as Steve notes that it remains ‘wondrous’ obscure. I am impressed with readers like Steve who enjoy burrowing into the layers despite the difficulty – that act is analogous to my labours in building it. It is the same endeavour that a reader needs to fathom, say, Robert Grenier’s moment of realisation of the drawn poems. In the explanatory blog, I only dealt with the big themes of the ‘Space…’ poems without thinking about “Trehy’s particular Trehy ways with words”. This may seem contrary but when I am using particular words, stretch and pull, locating loaded vocabularies it obviously needs work to read it, but it all seems fairly transparent to me. Steve extracts a partial list of words, from the first 25 pages: (I’d mention that my vocabulary doesn’t change greatly between books. You can find most of the words in Reykjavik and 50 Heads too) and references “Mirror Canon Snips”. That title is a case in point, as it is a fairly straight epithet for the motion of the text – the investigation of the experience/act of moving in space being one of the threads of the poem: In music a mirror canon is “A canon or fugue in which two or more voices are inverted so that the intervals appear simultaneously upside down as well as right side up, looking on paper like a mirror image of each other.” This is juxtaposed with “Snips”. Snips is the way you pronounce the acronym SNP = Single nucleotide polymorphisms which is the most common type of genetic variation. So the title attempts to agglomerate the interweaving of musical lines with the twisting movement of DNA.

Medical terms I use are usually conditions from which I have suffered. Much as “alto rilievo”, which comes from classical architecture/carving meaning high relief was an attempt to describe how the ribs rise up in relief from the wasting flesh of a dying relative, many of the poems are attempts to get to the thickness of an actual experience through language as metaphor. An example from 50 Heads, which comes to mind just now, because of the UK weather, is Lassitude – which comes from an experience from a previous winter when I fell down some icy steps, momentarily losing consciousness in the snow:


0. Sleeps a moment fallen on snowy steps. Will resignation to decay happily (few can resist). Martyrdom can only be given not taken, invited through the rejection of pension arrangements, to tire of the age spent and starving – on the street can still be screaming at the storm – despite compulsory annuity solutions. Regardless, they never allow shock in production & consumption, nothing collapses. Proceeding by exhaustion, from this great mass of details decomposed into a small part containing action, relinquishing cognition, personality, rather than fearing disability to function, embracing our counter-finality. Reject. Peace doesn’t tell us about the fate of fluents not affected by aphasia we can have two different, but equivalent, fears; subversion only as revolt is co-opted if there are simply a finite number of models, these propositional genes are hence vocabulary dependent: bodies in motion or at rest are freed momentarily prior to treatment for concussion: something missing: 1

January 04, 2010

jean-luc guionnet

Friday 8th January 2010
7:30 pm
St. Philips Church, Encombe Place, Salford, M3 6FJ
Entry: £5 on the door

A first for the North West, this well known French Improvisor and electro-acoustician graces our shores by performing his careful pipe preparations on the historic Church organ of St Philips. Expect a post-christmas audio treat of maximalist sounds and mictrotonal tendencies