November 11, 2012

Toward Modernity

We've been working on "Toward Modernity: 300 Years of British Art" for more than a year; tomorrow I set off to Beijing for the opening at the World Art Museum. 

November 08, 2012


Installed this month on the Irwell Sculpture Trail, Tony Lopez's new text work After. This is one of three inscribed plaques installed in Radcliffe, Lancashire, along a footpath and a canal towpath near Radcliffe Metrolink Tram Station, part of the work After, also known as The Scattered Poem, a holocaust memorial piece that Tony has been planning for the last few years. The title After comes from Theodor Adorno: 'Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben ist barbarisch' (To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric) from Prismen: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (1963). The original poem is 28 verses, a particularly abstract piece that was composed using a text generator program that randomised vocabulary combinations from an original draft that he wrote on a visit to Providence, Rhode Island, in the late 90s. The program was run many times to produce a vast text and the results were then edited down to a tiny fraction of the output. This text was then finished work by means of editing and refining. 

Tony aim's to get verses and clusters of verses installed as far as possible from each other, so that the viewer sees only a fragment of the work. If you wanted to see more you'd have to travel, which would always put the work you'd already seen at a distance. The project is intended grow with new installations, extending the network and using local materials.

Rossendale stonemason Ken Howe quarried the stone, carved the lettering and installed the plaques in a retaining wall on a footpath and also on a bridge support on the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal towpath. The stones are located on the Sculpture Trail very near Brass Art's Falls the Shadow and Lawrence Weiner's Water Made It Wet.

October 23, 2012

Bury Light Night

Another long gap between blogs and this time's excuse has been working on Bury Light Night. You can see much more of it on its Facebook page (I was too busy to get many photos of my own) but Saturday night's event drew a crowd of around 25,000-30,000 people to the streets of the town centre. 
 In total, there were 22 artists involved in the night - including 11 local Bury artists;

11 live bands; Circus performers and acrobats performing around the town centre (Custard Storm);

And then Nationally and internationally renowned performers such as Walk The Plank, KMA and Flame OZ;
The laser bus also worked with the Noise Festival and 3 young practitioners to help develop their work, opportunities and practice.

The event was a huge labour and couldn't have been done without the massive support of the Hamilton Project

October 13, 2012

These Are My Twisted Words

I last saw Radiohead live in 2003 and it was the best gig I've been to; so I looked forward to last week's show in Manchester with considerable excitement. Last time the one word summation of the concert was "astonishing" (which coincidentally was exactly the same word the Guardian reviewer also used about the gig). As the band started this time, I thought this wasn't the word. This time I thought "intelligent". This might sound faint praise compared to the first show, and when I realised, it cause me to adjust my expectations for the rest of the show. But this was a mistake: as the band progressed through the track list the power of its structure  was accumulatively awe-inspiring - until "These Are My Twisted Words" a track I had somehow never heard (it turns out it was a free download some years ago): this song was stunning - jaw hanging open with shivers running down your neck. At that moment the heights of the earlier gig were surpassed, with realisation that the artistic intelligence behind its construction was an order of magnitude deeper. 

A supporting aspect of the overall effect was the brilliantly designed light show. The use of colour, the shifting of floating screens which sometimes created bold and stunning visual poems or, when dropped low over the band, a strange intimacy. 

Though an aside to the whole experience, I have to mention that I've never seen such a self obsessed audience: I've been in football stadiums where fans have been less interested in going to the bar; it was more like watching the band from within a grazing herd. Most strange. 

August 04, 2012

Icy Resolution

I received an interesting comment left by “anonymous” in response to my blog post about Ben Gwilliam's  molto semplice e cantabile 

“A number of artists have made records out of ice. A more interesting and 
resolved conceptual idea being Katie Paterson”.

Until this I was unfamiliar with Katie Paterson and I am grateful to the commenter for drawing my attention to her; she has some really interesting work including a piece called Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull which according to her website is made up of sound recordings from three glaciers in Iceland, pressed into three records, cast, and frozen with the meltwater from each of these glaciers, and played on three turntables until they completely melt. The records were played once and now exist as three digital films. The turntables begin playing together, and for the first ten minutes as the needles trace their way around, the sounds from each glacier merge in and out with the sounds the ice itself creates. The needle catches on the last loop, and the records play for nearly two hours, until completely melted.

Paterson’s ice work is indeed interesting but is it more interesting or more resolved that Gwilliam’s? I find both of them interesting conceptually (I haven’t heard Paterson’s ice melting); but the word ‘resolved’ fascinates me. Unresolved can be a faint but damning artistic criticism and to me resolution in a work relates to the degree to which its conceptual arch completes the idea of the work itself. Can one work be more conceptually complete than another? Of course. 

A comparison between Gwilliam and Paterson feels very much like some of the comparisons in the Text Festival  between the work of one language artist and another, who seem to be engaged in very similar enquiries but coming from very different traditions/artforms. Gwilliam’s work is located in a sound art tradition while Paterson is a conceptual artist engaged primarily in questions of knowledge and science. I see these artists as doing something different and valid with ice.

Although I wouldn’t make this point with any serious intent, but one could argue that Gwilliam’s is more resolved than Paterson’s because the latter’s final resolution is in digital films of the discs melting, whereas the former’s return to the vinyl form from which the sound originated.

However that is spurious because the works are doing something different. Paterson’s is a pure commentary on glacial melting and climate change so its resolution in terms of water resides in the one-way process of its melting, completed in digital documentation –  I appreciate it but I find its resolution linear. Gwilliam includes the process and the performative: molto semplice e cantabile was performed twice which immediately places it in a different (music) space; water is added in the form of spray onto the discs, the 'music' was edited, the artist was hands on, active in the creation of sound and melting. I find Gwilliam’s more interesting and more complex - paradoxical since its title translates as:  “very simple and lyrical” - precisely because it is circular, replicating in its structure the physics of the anomalous expansion of water which creates, destroys and metaphorically creates it. 

August 02, 2012

Beauty Outside the Object

In a meeting earlier in the week, a curator suggested setting up a reciprocal peer review system where curators from nearby galleries could visit each others spaces and offer suggestions for improvement. The example offered was new eyes would be able to spot interpretation labels that might not work very well. Though I didn’t say anything at the time, as you might guess, I thought to myself that I would hope that such a visitor wouldn’t fine a label to review.

Because I have been working on the international touring project for most of the year, I have not curated anything in Bury pretty much since the Text Festival; so imagine the near paternal pride I felt when I popped into the Gallery to see the latest show Beauty in Utility curated by our museum curator Susan Lord: not a single label in sight. In discussion with Susan, she used phrases like “what’s wrong with people experiencing the mystery of not-knowing?” I almost feel my mission is complete! The obsession with museums as education has made the visitor experience didactically one-dimensional and devoid of creative space or invitation for imagination. 

As it is a Bury show that I have had nothing to do with, I can say with a certain impartiality and keenness that Susan has created an exhibition of tranquil beauty, demonstrating that curating is more than simply locating objects and images in a space. Informed by and offering up ideas of beauty in utility (the title tells says exactly what it contains in the tin), the exhibition displays tools from the museum social history collection in a central display + a corner of element, in dialogue with a handful of very cleverly curated wall based artworks by Liz Collini and Ian Hamilton Finlay plus a couple of Victorian industrial drawings. The show functions on so many levels and is all the more powerful for them being present unverbalised. At its simplest the show articulates the osmosis of function with formal beauty and the only issue I would take with it is that rather than the beauty residing in the objects or in the juxtaposition between them, it lays in Susan’s brilliant curation.

July 28, 2012

I'm Back!

The publication of my interview about the Text Festival with Derek Beaulieu in Jacket, which was actually concluded just after the Festival, turns out to be coincidental with my ability to return to blogging. It’s been an odd year or more social media-wise. Almost overnight, I went from active and frequent verbosity to near silence, which probably seemed a bit odd to people who follow these writings. Initially there was an element of exhaustion post-festival exacerbated by the urgently depressing/infuriating battle to save cultural services from the sado-monetarist onslaught of the evil which is the coalition government. Paradoxically, the solution to the threat that I came up with precluded even more public comment. To the many participants and followers of the Text Festival, an inclusive open maybe even rambling dialogical event, it may be counterintuitive that my next major cultural project has to be developed in large part through confidential negotiations but that has what has been engaging me for the last 12 months.

Finding the solution to the threat to cultural provision was an interesting challenge. The problem could be defined thus: the arts in the UK had spent the last 20 years justifying their legitimacy by association with other fields - mainly social, education and welfare policy. The arts had developed a body evidence tailored to impacts on government indicators for social cohesion, learning, health & well-being, etc. The problem came when the new fundamentally anti-social government re-defined public policy as simply related to its cost. By this criterion, the arts are buggered – all that social good stuff is meaningless to politicians whose rightful place is in the Museum of Dead Bastards Heads.  The knee-jerk response from the arts sector was to re-double its use of the arguments and evidencing of arts as social value, because this had mitigated the worst extremes of previous cost-cutting assaults – although tellingly not without notable cultural losses. By definition this was a doomed strategy this time round and there developed almost a feeding frenzy of cultural cutting. Going to museums meetings during that period involved seeing lots of haunted resignation. It occurred to me early on that the arts’ response was inadequate – primarily, I suppose, because I was never convinced in the first place that art needed to be justified through its contribution to non-cultural agendas. Readers of my blog will have observed this over the years as I have criticised, for example, art in regeneration where you get bad environmental development because it is driven by the artistically compromised; or my attacks on the nonsense of the Kids in Museums organisation which turns cultural facilities into vacuous crèches; or my smugness over my "intrepid resistance to interpretation", etc. All the solutions on offer in those early days were either administrative or financial – move around or share the deckchairs, shed staff or cut budgets. Once you head down that road, you have lost the argument and might as well shut up shop straightaway.
So I set up to find an artistic solution.

The answer turned out to be unexpectedly simple: We should curate our way out of trouble. The arts should do what Art does. Specifically: to curate exhibitions and projects aimed at international galleries and networks; to move the cultural horizon beyond the constricted UK context to where there were still opportunities for funding and partnerships committed to culture qua culture. It may seem simple now but I lost count of the number of meetings at which someone said: why has no-one thought of this before?

I had imagined that this would be the way forward for Bury, but unexpectedly galleries and museums across the north threw their hats into the ring realising that it offered opportunity to all. Pretty quickly I had lost count of how many had joined the project – it is somewhere around forty now, I think.

I planned to focus on Japan initially, as we had experience working there; but as the British Council got involved we were quickly steered to China as the UK’s top priority: hence my trips to China in October 2011 and April 2012 to negotiate and set up projects. As much of the detail was delicate, diplomatic and intensely demanding, confidentiality became essential to progress the plans: so behind the scenes me and my team (who have been remarkable) have been working on the hardest, most complicated project we’ve ever attempted; meanwhile outwardly, my social media presence was near silence.

However, as the first project of this new vision is close to opening, it’s now time to resurface. I’ll expand on the project in a future blog, but suffice it to say our team has put together an exhibition called “Toward Modernity: 300 years of British Art” - drawn from 19 UK museums and touring to 6 national museums in China. So I’ll be in Changsha (Hunan Provincial Museum pictured) again in September for the opening and then again in Beijing in November. In between I’ll be in Austria and Italy setting up a new partnership in the area of public art and creative industries and in the early new year I’ll be in Japan and maybe South Korea working on more touring exhibitions. (It’s not just me; by the way, members of my team are booked for the European Sculpture Network in Celle, Germany in September and the Glasgow Europe conference in November. As I write the incomparable Kat McClung-Oakes is in Tampere, Finland, setting up our Turner exhibition and Josef Minta has just come back from an EU digital museums conference in Barcelona).

Having ‘worked through’ the transition from the Text Festival to world tours, I thought that my observations in the interview with Derek would now seem out of date but I think it still covers what I thought of the Festival. As I predicted despite my protestations I am now working on a 2014 Text Festival, and as I projected then, the questions that seemed to me unacknowledged challenges for poets will probably surface; although maybe not, as poetry has seemed less and less relevant as the year has passed: my latest poetry book will be lucky if it is read by 50 people; the exhibition I have organised in China will be seen by 4 million. Maybe this was one of the reasons why my book was called “The End of Poetry”. 

I have missed blogging: I originally started blogging because I liked moaning about crap books, films and exhibitions. And over the last year there have been many things I could and should have moaned about, but now I’m back! 

May 17, 2012

The End of Poetry

I wrote The End of Poetry in October 2010 in Tampere, Finland. On my return to Manchester I was then buried in the planning and preparation of the 2011 Text Festival and after that went straight into setting up the international projects (most notably in China); so I didn't have time to think about poetry. Thanks to patience and persuasion of Irene Barberis at the Metasenta in Melbourne, with some editing the poems have made it to print. The book will be available via Metasenta shortly, but I have a supply now. 

It is a collection which opens with a return to the 'heads' form I used in 50 Heads, followed by my response to Luigi Nono's opera Intolleranza (seen from the grim position we find ourselves in the collapse of capitalism) and then a sequence of 23 poems mirroring the tormented and treacherous last days of Louis Althusser counting down to his murder of Hélène Rytman. In the imperative spirit of stepping outside his/its intense enclosure, the book finishes with an unconnected short poem written in China in October 2011 called "Beijing".

April 21, 2012

Visual Poetry Event

Sunday 22 April 2012 at TR1, Tampere, Finland 

13.00 - 14.00 Curators' tour on the exhibition: Karri and I talking about the works in the exhibition and its links with the Text Festival.
 14.00 - 15. 00 A panel discussion about visual art/text with me, Karri, and some of the artists in the show, questions and answers.
 15.00 - 16.00 Artists performing  - Karri Kokko, Satu Kaikkonen, Marko Niemi, & Mia Toivio.

March 29, 2012

Text Art - Poetry for the Eye

It is a source of satisfaction that the relationship with Tampere Art Museum in Finland, which last manifested itself in the Moomins exhibited at Bury Art Museum, has led to a partnership in Text Art now. "Text Art - Poetry for the Eye" opens on Saturday at TR1 and runs until 29 May.

Finnish artists included are Tytti Heikkinen, Satu Kaikkonen, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Karri Kokko, Tiina Lehikoinen, Marko Niemi & Miia Toivio and JP Sipilä. From the Text Festival, we have added Tony Lopez, Liz Collini (pictured), Steve Miller, Shaun Pickard, Derek Beaulieu and Márton Koppány.

Due to my Chinese trip, I won't get to see the show until mid April - there's a poetry event as part of the show on 22 April, which I will be doing something at.
...and now, to Beijing...

February 25, 2012


I've been so busy with new projects (about which I hope soon to be able to write) over the last few months that I've not had the brainspace to return to blogging. However, I couldn't let the release of Phil Davenport’s new book-length poem APPEAL IN AIR go by without celebration. Visitors to the Requiem exhibition at the Bury Transport Museum during the Text Festival will have seen his spreadsheet form work in progress.
By using an accounting tool for an anatomy of sadness, the poem questions the way that we place value in our own lives. Who gets overlooked, what is unheard, what’s too loud?

The poem begins with a pile-up of noise, urban overload, into which is inserted the story of “A”, a true story of a suicide, verbatim from an overheard conversation. “… a thought lost in noise sold as music…” The poem drowns in random information, out of which come soaring flights of birds – first in tiny letters, then in flurries of word/birds that fill the page. The final section leaves us in the big wilderness spaces of the air.

“ringin beyond yr ears/blackbirds in London/starlings of Manchester/stitch th blue postcodes of th sky…”

Davenport’s debut was published by seminal avant-garde press Writers Forum in 1999; his porn/poems written on apples were shown at the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. His work has been variously billposted and exhibited throughout Europe and in China. Davenport curated the largest survey exhibition of Bob Cobbing’s work for Bury Text Festival in 2005 and the first posthumous gallery exhibition of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work in 2006. He often collaborates with other artists and writer, including Ben Gwilliam, Lee Patterson, Tom Jenks. His current sequence of spreadsheet poems have been exhibited in the Henry Moore Institute and will be shown at Turnpike gallery this April.

APPEAL IN AIR is published by Knives Forks and Spoons press, UK.
isbn 978-1-907812-77-4

Further information contact:

The book can be ordered online at this weblink: