Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Tamarin Norwood
Writing about writing as artwork
# 34 [3 January 2011]
We say: the writing of the text is its dying song.
# 33 [6 December 2010]
Other people in three studios:
“‘You know,’ Cage reportedly said, ‘when you enter your studio, everyone is there, the people in your life, other artists, the old masters, everyone. And as you work they leave, one by one. And if it is a really good working day, well, you leave too.’” (Robert Storr, pp. 59-60)
“The best ways to waste time in the studio are those that are unproductive and not related in any ostensible way to making art. I’ve fallen into a new way of wasting time, and it doesn’t involve the internet. My new activity is engaging and completely useless. I can’t tell you what it is; it’s embarrassing to me. I find a lot of what I do in the studio pretty embarrassing, but it’s no more embarrassing than what I make. I’ve never been able to work with people around. I don’t want to think about myself when I’m working. It is very hard to get into this state of un-self-consciousness, where I can get lost in the work.” (Rachel Harrison, p. 217)
“Philip Guston was generous to me as a student first in New York City. [...] Puffing on a fat cigar, he told me that before he could begin to work in his studio, he had a daily exorcism to perform. He said, ‘First I have to banish my gallery dealer, then the art historians, the critics, the other painters I am close to, unknown persons, finally my family, and then, when I feel the studio is finally empty of these presences, I can occupy the space and begin to see the brushes, the paints, the canvas’.” (Carolee Schneemann, p. 155)
These are from contributors to The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, Chicago Press (2010)
# 32 [12 November 2010]
This month the Icelandic Embassy in London is hosting an evening of readings by four Icelandic poets – Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Ragnhildur Jóhanns, Jón Örn Loðmfjörð and Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl – with responses presented on the evening by eight British poets. I've been invited to join in as one of the British contributors, and in preparation I’ve been looking at the work of Ragnhildur Jóhanns.
The disruption and reassembly of her cut-up books (the first picture I've posted is one example of these) brings to mind the line drawings I first wrote about in posts #9, 10 and 11. These line drawings – lines drawn between things and pages – are attempts to write things down, or keep them, in a way that words cannot. The lines either begin from the page and stretch out until they reach their object, like extruded words that lack the marked separation of language from the materiality of the object; or they begin at things and then land on the page, extending the materiality of the object all the way to the paper and landing there as material things rather than referential words. And of course once the lines have been drawn their original directions no longer show, and so they hover between referentiality and materiality.
For my reading I’m tempted to reserve a small portion of wall space on either side of the room and draw the lines of a poem between them. It’ll mean fixing a blank sheet of paper to one wall and another to the wall immediately opposite (each framed, with no glass) and walking between them drawing a series of unbroken lines from wall to wall. I’ll carry the lines between the walls in a notebook, and as I carry them I will crimp and curl and form them into words. The words will move with me across the room as I write them into position, and as the pencil moves across the page it will move across the room too, and up, and over, in arches and valleys following my hold on the book.
This week I’ve been experimenting. The second picture I've posted here is a spread from my book of line drawings which I’m borrowing for the purpose. I touched the pencil lead to one wall, pushed the book up against the wall and drew a line from wall to page. With the line on the paper I carried the book to the other wall, pushed it against the wall, and drew the line back off the paper and onto the second wall. Between walls, I used the line as words.
(These words aren’t a poem, they’re just temporary words. And ignore the bird, it’s showing through from the page behind.)
I’m not sure yet what will remain after the event to constitute the poem. Words will be written on the pages of the notebook, though I anticipate composing these words in advance to recite and transcribe from memory on the night, so the words themselves are not the entirety of the poem. The poem comprises the words, their movement about the page, the marks they leave at either shore, and the movements of the book about the room which, after all, are the movements of the lines of text.
And I wonder whether the two pages from either wall might ever meet, and whether one day they might be sellotaped together, forcing the pairs of apprehended ends to join and eschew the interim lines of words.
# 31 [5 November 2010]
On the train yesterday I was reading the London Review of Books (having unrelatedly had a pot of tea with four words in its name at the LRB Cake Shop the very same day) (and cake).
One of the articles was Do Not Scribble, Amanda Vickery's review of two new books on letter writing: The Pen and the People: English Letter-Writers 1660-1800 (Susan Whyman) and Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters (Dena Goodman). Vickery writes:
"No lady's desk was complete without a secret drawer in which to hide valuables and letters. A place of privacy is central to Goodman's conception of the autonomy of the letter-writer. The secrétaire guarded a lady's secrets and advertised her claim to thoughts of her own." (LRB Nov 2010: Vol. 32 No. 21, p.36)
Advertising one's secrecy is contradictory. (We can talk about gender or colonialism here if we like, or about artist statements.) Keeping things in a known secret place makes the secrecy a public practice, and only the detail of the secret remains private. If the compartment weren't generally known about, it follows, then the secrets would only be half valid, the private mind being significant only in relation to the public perception of that mind. (The artist's anguish.) There is still plenty of space for secrecy within the detail of a secret, but its nature changes somewhat when its form is prepared for in the carpentry of a desk.
Instead one might choose to keep a secret compartment with, secretly, no secrets in it at all, or to hide secret things in another truly secret compartment while leaving nothing of particular interest under lock and key in the known hiding place, or to just leave secrets lying around indifferently, disguised as everyday things.
# 30 [11 October 2010]
This month I've spent some happy hours reading the Artists Talking blogs. I've been picking a "Choice Blog" for the month, and landed gladly upon David Minton (see this page here).
Separately, I've been struck by the role of the studio in many of the blogs: it appears variously as a place separate from the proper bits of life; the only place where proper life happens; a place where mistakes are allowed and enjoyed; a place where things are still; where things are never still; where things stay and wait until the artist next returns. (Do the things dance around like Woody and Buzz while we're away, and flop back down in naturalistic poses just as we open the door? Wouldn't that be nice. Maybe we should spend more time out of our studios to let the artworks play on their owns.)
I don't seem to have a studio. I work at home, at the end of a room with my desk and my shelves and a view of branches and leaves and birds. I love the view and the desk and the shelves. When I come upstairs with my teapot and a couple of books I can stay here for hours and Mean Business. But there are also days when I don't quite make it: I stay downstairs at another table, I de-fur the kettle, I linger online, I flap up and down the stairs distractedly doing odd jobs unnecessarily slowly. I ask myself whether things would be different if I had a specific medium that I knew I worked in.
Imagine I were a painter. I think if I were a painter I would know that paint brushes, paint and something flat would make a good start. I imagine I could go to a room and spend time with these three things, and that would already be something. I wouldn't even need to paint. I could mix the paint, or smell the paint, or look at the grain of the canvas, run my fingernail across the bristles of the brushes, transfer bits of paint between canvasses using these bristles.. is that what it's like? Perhaps not. I've never been a painter. As a painter, I imagine I would also paint actual paintings, but I imagine the time I spent with my equipment would count too.
With what I do, what counts? What doesn't count? Since I don't have a specific medium, perhaps choosing which teabag to have today is a thing that counts. It's a slippery slope. It isn't that choosing the teabag is itself ART (hello Allan Kaprow) any more than smelling the paint is painting - but it's part of the work. I mean the verb of the work not the noun.
Perhaps one of the things writing a blog can do is make the teabag count. This is a platform for artists talking. If I write about the teabag, then it's the voice an artist writing about the teabag. The teabag becomes part of my story about my practice. Perhaps the blog serves in lieu of a real studio: by writing things down in here I can get them to count. It's comforting but I'm ambivalent about its effect- it's just a story after all.
# 29 [10 October 2010]
In the closing pages of Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre’s protagonist listens for the last time to a voice singing on a familiar gramophone record, and he writes:
“Couldn’t I try … Naturally, it wouldn’t be a question of a tune … But couldn’t I in another medium? … It would have to be a book: I don’t know how to do anything else. But not a history book: history talks about what has existed – an existent can never justify the existence of another existent. [...] Another kind of book. I don’t quite know what kind – but you would have to guess, behind the printed words, behind the pages, something which didn’t quite exist, which was above existence. The sort of story, for example, which could never happen, an adventure. It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence.” (1938; trans 1965, p. 252)
Emphasis mine. TEXT AS MACHINE.
# 28 [6 September 2010]
Lately there are always birds outside my window.
Fitfully watching these birds as I approached a writing deadline last month I was continually distracted by the thought that they looked a good deal better equipped for writing than me. The birds have certain ways of being that I think would lend themselves to the practice of writing. Ways of organizing ideas, putting sounds together, getting priorities in order. I’d like to learn about writing from these birds. I don’t know how to begin.
So I’ve been trying to approach the birds via the smoother detours of other non-writing practices: human practices rather than avian ones, but physical, material, manual practices distinct from writing by their direct interaction with the physical properties of the world. Writing like bottle collecting. Writing like potholing. Writing like ornithology. Writing like repairing drains.
On Friday night at The Pigeon Wing I read a few extracts from books on topics like these, manhandled into instructions for writing. I've scanned a couple of examples to post here.
Over the coming month I’m writing at The Pigeon Wing as part of the WRITING/EXHIBITION/PUBLICATION programme, and I hope to put some of these instructions into practice while I’m there.
# 27 [12 August 2010]
A line describing a curve:
# 26 [29 July 2010]
Procrastinating on Moday, looking out of the window:
# 25 [27 July 2010]
This is one solution to a problem I can't quite nail down. I've been imagining a lot of these solutions, and I'm hoping that if I collect up enough of them, I might get a better idea of what the actual problem might be.
I propose we each carry a purse containing threads with small clips fastened at each end. One end of each thread would be attached to the inside of the purse, and the other would be clipped in passing to objects and people we expect might be relevant later on. Over time we would each amass tens of thousands of these clipped threads, both issuing from our purses and clipped to our person and personal effects by others.
Provided the threads are sufficiently long and robust and numerous, instead of speaking we could physically tug at the things we wish to denote and finally abandon language once and for all.
Admittedly communication would proceed painstakingly. There would be no grammar of course, and I should add that I disprefer the development of any standardized ‘tug order’ because it smacks of iconicity from which it’s only a short step to fully blown representational grammar and the end of all our extralinguistic efforts. Not least because of this constraint, it would take almost insurmountable imaginative leaps to express causal and temporal forms and abstract ideas and using only personally clipped concrete nouns. Moreover, interpersonal communication would depend on each interlocutor having happened to clip a thread to the very same instance of an object in such a way that a tug by one might be felt by the other. Such tugs would continually risk intercepting the threads of unrelated interlocutors any distance away as they pick through the thick webs of thread that would gradually engulf areas of the world populated by people and things within reach of thread. Because of the need to wade through networks of threads without snapping or dislodging any of them, it would be difficult to move even short distances at any speed, though even these slow movements would suffice to keep the web in continual movement.
Nevertheless I would think these obvious communicative drawbacks are far offset by the clear gain to be made by finally outmanoeuvring the grip of language upon on our order of reality.
NOTES: Any purse or bag will do provided it can be securely fastened to the body and carried about at all times. Clips like these are available inexpensively and in bulk, and their swivelling hooks facilitate movement in any direction from the clipped object. Dental floss is ideal for both its strength and its convenient dispenser, though nylon threads like these are longer and less costly.
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