August 27, 2010

Sarah Sanders

During the Not at This Address exhibition I curated last July (blogged at the time) I noticed that most of the younger artists involved had very little sense of how to deal with a larger gallery space. This is not surprising really: young artists first show at degree shows which offer them a display space the size of a cupboard; if they are anyways successful in their early career they might show at an artfair, and these spaces are just slightly larger cupboards; after that it's a succession of small galleries or group shows, the latter offering little experience in spatial judgement either. Artists develop their practice and therefore the size of the spaces they show in over years. Young artists rarely get the opportunity to respond to the challenge of a big gallery. I got to wondering what would the young artists whom I rate do with a large gallery. What would they learn? And what would I learn too? So when Bury Art Gallery had a gap in the programme (due to a major chunk of its historic collection touring the far east), the chance to find out was available.

The first to get the opportunity was Sarah Sander, a young artist whom I have been championing for a while - I showed her in the last Text Festival and in Not at this Address. Phil Davenport also included her live writing act in William Blake & the Naked Tea Party.

As one would expect, Sarah admitted that the challenge of responding such a large space was quite daunting, but Sarah is a performative explorer. In consultation with assistant curator Kat McClung-Oakes (a talent that should also be acknowledged), Sarah interweaved two fields of experiment - a personal response to the more obscure more recent figurative acquisitions to the collection and her articulation of visceral drawing qua act.

This combination merged into a fascination with paper itself as a form of drawing, and a dialogue with an artist she found in the collection (of whom I had never heard!) called Paul Hempton with a compositional obsession with triangles. Her installation has taken the form of a discovery of a balanced hang of the focal Hempton's plus some figurative but vaguely and unintentionally cubist landscapes also from the collection in conversation with her exploration of the geometry of the triangle within the format of modern paper proportions. The paper experiments, some drawn some folded, some cut, form a spatial rhythm around the space. Part joke, part first breakthrough, part seminal moment, privileged on a focal plinth with case she located her first terrible lump of paper folded - as far from origami as a lump of carpet. Interestingly this celebrated clumsy failure magnifies the subsequent finese of her artistry. As she installed floating pages hanging in mid-air this act too became performative which led to a final action in the installation on Friday in which she silently took a sheet of paper and like a video stuck in a loop walked to a specific place, threw the paper into the air, collected it from the floor, sliced it in half, returned to the spot, threw the 2 halves into the air, collected them from the floor, sliced again, on and on in a minimalist rhythm of beautiful simplicity.

The result of Sarah Sanders project is an abstract handling of space that is restrained, romantic, multi-centred and lyrically reminiscent of the cubist townscapes of Lionel Feininger.

August 20, 2010

uncontainable excitement

It looks like once a year I will receive an email from the Poetry Society inviting me to recommend ‘exciting new work’ that I might have come across, commissioned, etc., in the last 12 months to be considered for Carol Ann Duffy’s Ted Hughes Award for New Work, which she set up when she took over from Andrew Motion as Poet Laureate.

Somewhat bemused by the source of this request last year, I emailed them back to ask who the judges were going to be (as at the time of launch they hadn’t been announced). I received an email back telling me who they were – I forget now, look it up somewhere if you need to know – but it was obvious that the judges would be incapable of recognising new work if it held a gun to their heads, which is what I replied to the Poetry Society - to offer up real innovators would be to diminish them and validate a sham. The final communication from them took the form of the equivalent of a shrug.

And surprise, surprise, who should win the inaugural award than Duffy-lite Alice Oswald, “a nature poet who writes ‘very much in the tradition’ of Hughes”.

First of April - new born gentle
Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle.
Second of April - eyes half open,
faint light moving under lids. Face hidden.
Third of April - bonny and blossoming
in a yellow dress that needs no fastening.


Despite the claim that the award is for "the most exciting contribution to poetry" in the past year, Oswald, whose work is as indistinguishably mainstream as Duffy’s own, beat the ‘fabulous’ shortlist of Andrew Motion and Jackie Kay – on what planet would any of these names be considered exciting? The only adjective that comes to mind for Motion’s writing is turgid. Sue Trehy is an insanely fast reader and so when we travel she takes piles of books. I noticed that a Jackie Kay book had made it into her luggage recently. She doesn’t like me telling her what she should and shouldn’t read so I kept my mouth shut, interested to see what she thought of it. I’ve never seen her not finish a book, she seems to take it as a point of pride to finish if she’s started whatever it's like; but the Kay was thrown down unfinished. "Ordinary beyond belief, she can't write" she declared, "I’ve read better writing by 6th Form teenagers."
Saying “I would have told you so” isn’t as much fun as saying “I told you so”.

The artistic bankruptcy of the hegemony continues to manifest in an implied but fundamentally aimless desire for renewal. With no recourse or capacity to language itself as the source of renewal, much as they dally in writing for children or try their hand at plays, or as reviewed recently, even curating exhibitions (Duffy at the Tate), supposedly this “very exciting award highlights the many forms in which poets work, from poetry collections to verse novels; radio poems and film poems to libretti and verse dramas; individual poems or poem sequences; work for adults or children; through to poetry written for public sculptures, inscriptions, or other contexts”. Except the evidence so far contradicts this empty rhetoric because Oswald won with a rural book like her other rural books except with illustrations by an artist I can’t be bothered to look up. Amusingly Oswald said: “it’s an award that dips beyond the mainstream into some of the more unusual poetic channels”. ‘dips beyond the mainstream’ ! As well as being talentless, the arrogant writers of the hegemony of the banal are cheeky buggers.

Anyway, this year I emailed the Poetry Society back that having seen their understanding of new work in the first year I thought that they had a brilliant sense of humour and I was looking forward to an excitingly risible second year award. I did momentarily wonder what damage it would do to a poet who actually did write something new if they won it accidentally, an award despite itself, but even after only one year it is clear this is inconceivable.

August 13, 2010

node:space #1

The first installation in node:space. Have I created a visual poem?

Or an architectural poem?

Viewing by appointment.
I'll be inviting other artists into node:space in future moments.

August 10, 2010

Duffy at the Tate

When I first heard that Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy had curated an exhibition called The Sculpture of Language at Tate Liverpool my reaction was an equivalence of anger at the implications of this hegemonic banality and resignation that it was only to be expected.

For a while I intended to traipse over to Liverpool specially, so I could do write an informed critique. Noticeably there appear to have been no reviews of the show. Google just throws up the usual lazy journalism of reprinting the Gallery press release. A quick look at said-publicity, the list of works included, and the execrable sonnet Duffy wrote to accompany her selection made me begrudge the obvious waste of time and effort to actually go and see it but also realise that the information available is more than enough to know what’s wrong with it. Coincidentally I have been reading Tom Raworth’s latest “Windmills in Flames” which includes the appropriate response to Duffy ‘Coda to a Laureate’ – (first line: “If I could take my tongue out of your arse”).

According to the PR the show “Presenting artworks created in a range of media from 1699 to the present day, Duffy's personal selection creates a multi-layered and poetic display. It invites us on a journey towards a universal notion of language, from ‘before words’ to ‘when words come into being’. She explores the numerous ways in which artists have deployed, dissected and engaged with language; by making reference to literature, by exploring the processes and devices of inscription and the formal qualities of typography, by using words to convey meaning or by creating works that are synonyms and metaphors for communication itself.” I always wonder what marketing people and visual arts people (for that matter) mean when they refer to a ‘poetic display’. You frequently read artists and curators refer to images as poetic but I am never sure what that actually means; one can usually infer that it references some form of vague lyricism, which is about all you could expect from Duffy. In her case maybe vaguely lyricist visualism is preferable to

I couldn’t see Guinness
and not envisage a nun;
a gun, a finger and thumb;
midges, blether, scribble, scrum.

Followed by 2 more stanzas of equal banality.

The claim that this has been realized as an installation, which allows visitors to re-write it to create ‘their own sonnet’ is I guess laughable. My bet is that this is nothing more than the usual UK gallery practice of ‘hands-on’ write on cards and pin on a board to ‘have your say’.

The irritation about this show is in the oft-repeated fiasco of the visual arts co-opting poetry and in their choice demonstrating that they have absolutely no idea of what is going on in contemporary poetry. In curating the Text Festival I have reviewed the Tate Collection myself to borrow from so I know what Duffy had to work with. Seeing what she chose I am drawn to a comment from Marjorie Perloff’s ‘Differentials; Poetry, Poetics, pedagogy’ which I am also reading at the moment: “the what might happen subordinated to the what has happened”- this actually describes the problem in the hegemony of the banal, Duffy and her oppos write as if modernism didn’t happen; their past is not modern (her selection at the Tate is at best artistically static); their present is not contemporary and their future can only be the past.

August 06, 2010


Blogging has take a back seat recently as I focus on putting the Text Festival together and preparing the Nono project. Despite the impending dark age initated by the new Government, I am hopeful that the Text Festival will still be a mighty gesture. I am losing count of how many artists are involved now. The main announcement of the programme will be in October but maybe I can whet your appetite by letting slip that Christian Bök will do his first UK readings at the Festival and Ron Silliman will be back - reading and with a surprising manifestation of Northern Soul, the poem he began during his last visit.

(These recently rediscovered illustrations are from my distance past (1980's) when I trained as a potter)

August 01, 2010

This Week

Two gigs this week:

The Other Room
Linus Slug, Chris McCabe, Ben Gwilliam
4th August 2010, 7pm

The Old Abbey Inn, Pencroft Way, Manchester, M15 6AY

Ben Gwilliam is a sound artist and improvising musician based in Manchester, England. He works in the cross fields of experimental music, sound art, film and performance. Since the early 2000's he has been working with open reel tape, magnetics and amplified processes in solo and collaborative arrangements.
His work is a curiosity about sound-making/recording and listening, the 'sounds between' things as Installations, performances and appropriations. He has worked, performed and exhibited in Europe and the USA. He will be performing with Philip Davenport.

Chris McCabe’s poetry has featured in a number of magazines including Magma and Poetry Review. His first collection The Hutton Inquiry was published in 2005. He has discussed and read his poetry on BBC World Service, featured a poem on the Oxfam CD Lifelines and performs his work regularly. He currently works as Joint Librarian of The Poetry Library

Linus Slug is an obsessive compulsive disorder + pretend poet of the Putney Heath. In 2009 Slug graduated from the Hilson School of Poetry + is currently employed by the Insect Library in London. Slug runs the small press 'ninerrors' [] and is editor of FREAKLUNG. In June 2010 Slug organised a reading in memory of Barry MacSweeney at Morden Tower to accompany FREAKLUNG Odes [the current issue of the zine]. Work can be seen in Cannibal Spices, Klatch and issue 1 of Cleaves + Freaklung. Chapbooks include ffrass gazette [Arthur Shilling Press], sporangiaphores [yt communication] and a series of pamphlets via ninerrors. Obsessions include Art Garfunkel, anagrams + pseudonyms and the no. 9.

Counting Backwards is a new series of text-sound-performance events. It takes place on the first Thursday of alternate months at Fuel cafe bar in Withington. After a successful launch in June the series returns on Thursday 5 August 2010 with performances from Blood Stereo, Becky Creminand Jennifer McDonald & Louise Woodcock.
Start time is 7:30pm, and entry is free.
Blood Stereo is husband and wife duo Karen Constance and Dylan Nyoukis, each legendary in their own right, with Smack Music 7 and Prick Decay/Decaer Pinga respectively. Mangling sonic forms (musique concrete, sound poetry etc.) and tapes alike, the opportunity to see and hear them in action should not be missed.

Becky Cremin works in process and draws on traditions of live art, fluxus, performance writing and site specific work to construct a hybridity of practice which uses language as an object to expose, to investigate, to locate. She is a founding member of the poetic collective PRESS FREE PRESS, she regularly performs in London and beyond and her first chapbook Cutting Movement is now available from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press.

Jennifer McDonald & Louise Woodcock are Manchester-based artists, and part of a collective artists project called Rare Experiments. Jennifer is better known as a visual artist, and draws inspiration from significant cultural spaces. Louise curated the Lost Language exhibition earlier this year at Kraak gallery, and is one half of improvising noise band Blood Moon.