REVIEW

Revival of an old tired horse

ICA, London
15 June - 23 August 2009

Reviewed by: Viviane Blanchard »

'Empathy
By the sea
(…)
A Coastal town view of it all
Alternative view
alternative
(…)
Hello i'm waving at you!
I'm ahead of time
Not too far ahead'

Sue Tompkins' evocative poetry covers part of the walls of the upper room at the ICA, 15 sheets of blue paper scribbled with words, interjections and thoughts, forming short narratives in a numerical order, none of it making much sense but nonetheless (as a result?) I'm drawn to it - the language of the senses, words formed into graphic worlds, bitter-sweet odours emanating from the crunched letters, raw emotions betrayed by a bold typo, the pale blue sky showing through five paper windows - I can smell deep green algae and fish, I swear I've seen the sea, a distant boat bobbing up and down, and heard a scream over there, over the sand dunes, and some mechanics clanking, rusting in the blazing sun.

Sue also performs her graphic words mix - from the snippets I have watched on youtube the written and spoken words are now infused with the rhythmic dimension, the jumping body, the dancing foot, the grimaces that separate one's inner, chattering mind from the raw, hypnotic performer's act, that crack open an emotional gap between the other and the self and create an even more jarring experience between the message and its destabilizing, invigorating delivery.

Liliane Linj's kinetic poetry, words generated from conic 'poem machines' to create narratives in circular fashion, was another exciting discovery in this otherwise short, tentative exhibition that leaves too much to be desired. The curators picked a selection of artists from the substantial pool of individuals that have contributed to the complex, hybrid movement of Concrete Poetry, born in the 1950s and expanding ever since into multifarious activities. What is lacking is a bit more than a passing remark on the source of these radical ideas - namely, the early 20th century performance-driven movements of the Futurists and Dadaists and the poets that gravitated around them. I also wished for a contextualization of the exhibited artists within the early principles of Concrete Poetry, objectifying language and ripping it off its logocentrist habits, and a peep through the post-activities related to it from phonetic poetry to xerography via performance and 'mec-art'. Instead, the 4 rooms of the show contain disparate, famous and lesser-known artists arguably demonstrating the range of positions that the movement embraced, in a vague chronological order, with an emphasis on the British movement around Ian Hamilton Finlay. A few continental Europeans such as Henri Chopin and a couple of American Conceptualists have been thrown in for good measure. To round it up, we are served with a sampling of half-a-dozen contemporary, anglo-saxon, visual/textual/performative practices. The accompanying Roland magazine is an essential complement to the show, compiling visual poems and theoretical essays. This somehow reveals an aporic dimension at the heart of the Concrete Poetry ideas - the difficult liberation of the typed, written words from their entrenchment in books and literary zines into the wider art world, especially when expressed within a gallery format. The small ICA show did not create the alchemy to reverse this - a larger retrospective, with a clearer internal logic and punctuated with performances might have done a better job at reviving poetry as a visual and performative art. The British Library Art of Manifesto 2008 show had successfully rendered, as a free-standing exhibition, the written words of manifesto into its powerful expressive spoken and visual forms. I am looking forward to the schedule performance of Liliane Linj's Power Game at the end of the month, as well as the event xprmntl ptry which, I hope, will give credit to Poor.Old.Tired.Horse and the wonders of the poetic arts.

Poor.Old.Tired.Horse is at the ICA till 23 August.

Writer detail:

Currently training as an art historian, specialising in contemporary visual and sound art

Venue detail:
ICA

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